Project Gutenberg Australia
a treasure-trove of literature
treasure found hidden with no evidence of ownership


Title: Again the Three (1928)
Author: Edgar Wallace
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 0800211.txt
Language:  English
Date first posted: March 2008
Date most recently updated: March 2008

This eBook was produced by: Jon Jermey

Project Gutenberg Australia eBooks are created from printed editions
which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice
is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular
paper edition.

Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the
copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this
file.

This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions
whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms
of the Project Gutenberg Australia License which may be viewed online at
http://gutenberg.net.au/licence.html

To contact Project Gutenberg Australia go to http://gutenberg.net.au

--------------------------------------------------------------------------

Title: Again the Three (1928)
Author: Edgar Wallace




The characters in this book are entirely imaginary and have no relation
to any living person.

Contents

1 The Rebus
2 The Happy Travellers
3 The Abductor
4 The Third Coincidence
5 The Slane Mystery
6 The Marked Cheque
7 Mr Levingrou's Daughter
8 The Share Pusher
9 The Man Who Sang in Church
10 The Lady from Brazil
11 The Typist Who Saw Things
12 The Mystery of Mr Drake
13 'The Englishman Konnor'



1. The Rebus


As The Megaphone once said, in its most pessimistic and wondering mood,
recording rather than condemning the strangeness of the time:

"Even The Four Just Men have become a respectable institution. Not more
than fifteen years ago we spoke of them as 'a criminal organization';
rewards were offered for their arrest...today you may turn into Curzon
Street and find a silver triangle affixed to the sedate door which marks
their professional headquarters...The hunted and reviled have become a
most exclusive detective agency...We can only hope that their somewhat
drastic methods of other times have been considerably modified."

It is sometimes a dangerous thing to watch a possible watcher.

'What is Mr Lewis Lethersohn afraid of?' asked Manfred, as he cracked an
egg at breakfast. His handsome, clean-shaven face was tanned a
teak-brown, for he was newly back from the sun and snows of Switzerland.

Leon Gonsalez sat opposite, absorbed in The Times; at the end of the
table was Raymond Poiccart, heavy-featured and saturnine. Other pens than
mine have described his qualities and his passion for growing vegetables.

He raised his eyes to Gonsalez.

'Is he the gentleman who has had this house watched for the past month?'
he asked.

A smile quivered on Leon's lips as he folded the newspaper neatly.

'He is the gentleman--I'm interviewing him this morning,' he said. 'In
the meantime, the sleuth hounds have been withdrawn--they were employed
by the Ottis Detective Agency.'

'If he is watching us, he has a bad conscience,' said Poiccart, nodding
slowly. 'I shall be interested to hear all about this.'

Mr Lewis Lethersohn lived in Lower Berkeley Street--a very large and
expensive house. The footman who opened the door to Leon was arrayed in a
uniform common enough in historical films but rather out of the picture
in Lower Berkeley Street. Mulberry and gold and knee breeches...Leon
gazed at him with awe.

'Mr Lethersohn will see you in the library,' said the man--he seemed;
thought Leon, rather conscious of his own magnificence.

A gorgeous house this, with costly furnishings and lavish decorations. As
he mounted the wide stairs he had a glimpse of a beautiful woman passing
across the landing. One disdainful glance she threw in his direction and
passed, leaving behind her the faint fragrance of some exotic perfume.

The room into which he was shown might have been mistaken for a bedroom,
with its bric-a-brac and its beauty of appointments.

Mr Lethersohn rose from behind the Empire writing table and offered a
white hand. He was thin, rather bald, and there was a suggestion of the
scholar in his lined face.

'Mr Gonsalez?' His voice was thin and not particularly pleasant. 'Won't
you sit down? I had your inquiry--there seems to be some mistake.'

He had resumed his own seat. Though he might endeavour, to cover up his
uneasiness by this cold attitude of his, he could not quite hide his
perturbation.

'I know you, of course--but it is ridiculous that I should set men to
watch your house. Why?'

Gonsalez was watching him intently.

'That is what I have come to learn,' he said, 'and I think it would be
fairest to tell you that there is no doubt that you are watching us. We
know the agency you employed--we know the fees you have paid and the
instructions you have given. The only question is, why?'

Mr Lethersohn moved uncomfortably and smiled. 'Really...I suppose there
is no wisdom in denying that I did employ detectives. The truth is, the
Four Just Men is rather a formidable organization--and--er--Well, I am a
rich man....'

He was at a loss how to go on.

The interview ended lamely with polite assurances on either side. Leon
Gonsalez went back to Curzon Street a very thoughtful man.

'He's afraid of somebody consulting us, and the detective people have
been employed to head off that somebody. Now who?'

The next evening brought the answer.

It was a grey April night, chill and moist. The woman who walked slowly
down Curzon Street, examining the numbers on the doors, was an object of
suspicion to the policeman standing on Claridge's corner. She was in the
region of thirty, rather slim, under the worn and soddened coat. Her face
was faded and a little pinched. 'Pretty once,' mused Leon Gonsalez,
observing her from behind the net curtain that covered the window. 'A
working woman without a thought beyond keeping her body and soul
together.'

He had time enough to observe her, since she stood for a long time by the
kerb, looking up and down the street hopelessly.

'Notice the absence of any kind of luring finery--and this is the hour
when even the poorest find a scarf or a pair of gloves.'

Manfred rose from the table where he had been taking his frugal meal and
joined the keen-faced observer.

'Provincial, I think,' said Leon thoughtfully. 'Obviously a stranger to
the West End--she's coming here!'

As he was speaking, the woman had turned, made a brief scrutiny of the
front door...They heard the bell ring.

'I was mistaken--she hadn't lost her way; she was plucking up courage to
ring--and if she isn't Lethersohn's bete noire I'm a Dutchman!'

He heard Poiccart's heavy tread in the passage--Poiccart played butler
quite naturally. Presently he came in and closed the door behind him.

'You will be surprised,' he said in his grave way. That was peculiarly
Poiccart--to say mysterious things gravely.

'About the lady? I refuse to be surprised.' Leon was vehement. 'She has
lost something--a husband, a watch, something. She has the "lost"
look--an atmosphere of vague helplessness surrounds her. The symptoms are
unmistakable!'

'Ask her to come in,' said Manfred, and Poiccart retired.

A second later Alma Stamford was ushered into the room.

That was her name. She came from Edgware and she was a widow...Long
before she came to the end of preliminaries Poiccart's promised surprise
had been sprung, for this woman, wearing clothes that a charwoman would
have despised, had a voice which was soft and educated. Her vocabulary
was extensive and she spoke of conditions which could only be familiar to
one who had lived in surroundings of wealth.

She was the widow of a man who--they gathered--had not been in his
lifetime the best of husbands. Rich beyond the ordinary meaning of the
term, with estates in Yorkshire and Somerset, a fearless rider to hounds,
he had met his death in the hunting field.

'My husband had a peculiar upbringing,' she said. 'His parents died at an
early age and he was brought up by his uncle. He was a terrible old man
who drank heavily, was coarse to the last degree, and was jealous of
outside interference. Mark saw practically nobody until, in the last year
or the old man's life, he brought in a Mr Lethersohn, a young man a
little older than Mark, to act as tutor--for Mark's education was
terribly backward. My husband was twenty-one when his uncle died, but he
retained a gentleman to act for him as companion and secretary.'

'Mr Lewis Lethersohn,' said Leon promptly, and she gasped.

'I can't guess how you know, but that is the name. Although we weren't
particularly happy,' she went on, 'my husband's death was a terrible
shock. But almost as great a shock was his will. In this he left one half
of his fortune to Lethersohn, the other half to me at the expiration of
five years from his death, provided that I carried out the conditions of
the will. I was not to marry during that period, I was to live at a house
in Harlow and never to leave the Harlow district. Mr Lethersohn was given
absolute power as sole executor to dispose of property for my benefit. I
have lived in Harlow until this morning.'

'Mr Lethersohn is of course married?' said Leon, his bright eyes fixed on
the lady.

'Yes--you know him?'

Leon shook his head.

'I only know that he is married and very much in love with his wife.'

She was astounded at this.

'You must know him. Yes, he married just before Mark was killed. A very
beautiful Hungarian girl--he is half Hungarian and I believe he adores
her. I heard that she was very extravagant--I only saw her once.'

'What has happened at Harlow?' It was the silent, watchful Poiccart who
asked the question.

He saw the woman's lips tremble.

'It has been a nightmare,' she said with a break in her voice. 'The house
was a beautiful little place--miles from Harlow really, and off the main
road. There I have been for two years practically a prisoner. My letters
have been opened, I have been locked in my room every night by one of the
two women Mr Lethersohn sent to look after me, and men have been
patrolling the grounds day and night.'

'The suggestion is that you are not quite right in your head?' asked
Manfred.

She looked startled at this.

'You don't think so?' she asked quickly, and, when he shook his head:
'Thank God for that! Yes, that was the story they told. I wasn't supposed
to see newspapers, though I had all the books I wanted. One day I found a
scrap of paper with the account of a bank fraud which you gentlemen had
detected, and there was a brief account of your past. I treasured that
because it had your address in the paragraph. To escape seemed
impossible--I had no money, it was impossible to leave the grounds. But
they had a woman who came to do the rough work twice a week. I think she
came from the village. I managed to enlist her sympathy, and yesterday
she brought me these clothes. Early this morning I changed, dropped out
of my bedroom window and passed the guard. Now I come to my real
mystery.'

She put her hand into the pocket of her wet coat and took out a small
package. This she unwrapped.

'My husband was taken to the cottage hospital after his accident; he died
early the next morning. He must have recovered consciousness unknown to
the nurses, for the top of the sheet was covered with little drawings. He
had made them with an indelible pencil attached to his temperature chart
and hanging above his head--he must have reached up for it and broken it
off.'

She spread out the square of soiled linen on the table.

[The book here includes a drawing: three irregular shapes at the left
with a car and a motorbike below them, a three-storey building in the
centre, and to the right of it twenty small circles, a line, the shape of
a pear with a long stem, and a flower with four short strokes above it.]

'Poor Mark was very fond of drawing the figures that children and idle
people who have no real knowledge of art love to scribble.'

'How did you get this?' asked Leon.

'The matron cut it off for me.'

Manfred frowned. 'The sort of things a man might draw in his delirium,'
he said.

'On the contrary,' said Leon coolly, 'it is as clear as daylight to me.
Where were you married?'

'At the Westminster Registry Office.'

Leon nodded.

'Take your mind back: was there anything remarkable about the
marriage--did your husband have a private interview with the registrar?'

She opened her big blue eyes at this.

'Yes--Mr Lethersohn and my husband interviewed him in his private
office.'

Leon chuckled, but was serious again instantly.

'One more question. Who drew up the will? A lawyer?'

She shook her head.

'My husband--it was written in his own hand from start to finish. He
wrote rather a nice hand, very easily distinguishable from any other.'

'Were there any other conditions imposed upon you in your husband's
will?'

She hesitated, and the watchers saw a dark flush pass over her face.

'Yes...it was so insulting that I did not tell you. It was this--and this
was the main condition--that I should not at any time attempt to
establish the fact that I was legally married to Mark. That was to me
inexplicable--I can't believe that he was ever married before, but his
early life was so remarkable that anything may have happened.'

Leon was smiling delightedly. In such moments he was as a child who had
received a new and entrancing toy.

'I can relieve your mind,' he said, to her amazement. 'Your husband was
never married before!'

Poiccart was studying the drawings.

'Can you get the plans of your husband's estates?' he asked, and Leon
chuckled again.

'That man knows everything, George!' he exclaimed. 'Poiccart, mon vieux,
you are superb!' He turned quickly to Mrs Stamford. 'Madam, you need
rest, a change of clothing, and--protection. The first and the last are
in this house, if you dare be our guest. The second I will procure for
you in an hour--together with a temporary maid.'

She looked at him, a little bewildered...Five minutes later, an
embarrassed Poiccart was showing her to her room, and a nurse of Leon's
acquaintance was hurrying to Curzon Street with a bulging suitcase--Leon
had a weakness for nurses, and knew at least a hundred by name.

Late as was the hour, he made several calls--one as far as Strawberry
Hill, where a certain assistant registrar of marriages lived.

It was eleven o'clock that night when he rang the bell at the handsome
house in Upper Berkeley Street. Another footman admitted him.

'Are you Mr Gonsalez? Mr Lethersohn has not returned from the theatre,
but he telephoned asking you to wait in the library.'

'Thank you,' said Leon gratefully, though there was no need for
gratitude, for he it was who had telephoned.

He was bowed into the ornate sanctum and left alone.

The footman had hardly left the room before Leon was at the Empire desk,
turning over the papers rapidly. But he found what he sought on the
blotting-pad, face downwards.

A letter addressed to a firm of wine merchants complaining of some
deficiency in a consignment of champagne. He read this through
rapidly--it was only half finished--folded the paper and put it into his
pocket.

Carefully and rapidly he examined the drawers of the table: two were
locked--the middle drawer was, however, without fastening. What he found
interested him and gave him some little occupation. He had hardly
finished before he heard a car stop before the house and, looking through
the curtains, saw a man and woman alight.

Dark as it was, he recognized his unconscious host, and he was sitting
demurely on the edge of a chair when Lethersohn burst into the room, his
face white with fury.

'What the hell is the meaning of this?' he demanded as he slammed the
door behind him. 'By God, I'll have you arrested for impersonating me--'

'You guessed that I had telephoned--that was almost intelligent,' smiled
Leon Gonsalez.

The man swallowed.

'Why are you here--I suppose it concerns the poor woman who escaped from
a mental hospital today--I only just heard before I went out....'

'So we gathered from the fact that your watchers have been on duty again
tonight,' said Leon, 'but they were a little too late.'

The man's face went a shade paler.

'You've seen her?' he asked jerkily. 'And I suppose she told you a cock
and bull story about me?'

Leon took from his pocket a piece of discoloured linen and held it up.

'You've not seen this?' he asked. 'When Mark Stamford died, this drawing
was found on his sheet. He could draw these strange little things, you
know that?'

Lewis Lethersohn did not answer.

'Shall I tell you what this is--it is his last will.

'That's a lie!' croaked the other.

'His last will,' nodded Leon sternly. 'Those three queer rhomboids are
rough plans of his three estates. That house is a pretty fair picture of
the Southern Bank premises and the little circles are money.'

Lethersohn was staring at the drawing.

'No court would accept that foolery,' he managed to say.

Leon showed his teeth in a mirthless grin..

'Nor the "awl" which means "all," nor the four strokes which stand as
"for," nor the "Margaret," nor the final "Mark"? be asked.

With an effort Lethersohn recovered his composure. 'My dear man, the
idea is fantastical--he wrote a will with his own hand--'

Leon stood with his head thrust forward. So far Lethersohn got, when:

'He couldn't write!' he said softly, and Lethersohn turned pale. 'He
could draw these pictures but he couldn't write his own name. If Mrs
Stamford had seen the registrar's certificate she would have seen that it
was signed with a cross--that is why you put in the little bit about her
not attempting to prove her marriage--why you kept her prisoner at Harlow
in case she made independent inquiries.'

Suddenly Lethersohn flew to his desk and jerked open a drawer. In a
second an automatic appeared in his hand. Running back to the door, he
flung it open.

'Help...murder!' he shouted.

He swung round on the motionless Gonsalez and, levelling his gun, pulled
the trigger. A click--and no more.

'I emptied the magazine,' said Leon coolly, 'so the little tragedy you so
carefully staged has become a farce. Shall I telephone to the police or
will you?'



Scotland Yard men arrested Lewis Lethersohn as he was stepping on to the
boat at Dover.

'There may be some difficulty in proving the will,' said Manfred, reading
the account in the evening newspapers; 'but the jury will not take long
to put friend Lewis in his proper place....'

Later, when they questioned Leon--Poiccart was all for pinning down his
psychology--he condescended to explain.

'The rebus told me he could not write--the fact that the will did not
instruct Mrs Stamford to marry Lewis showed me that he was married and
loved his wife. The rest was ridiculously easy.'



2. The Happy Travellers


OF THE THREE men who had their headquarters in Curzon Street, George
Manfred was by far the best looking. His were the features and poise of
an aristocrat. In a crowd he stood out by himself, not alone because of
his height, but the imponderable something which distinguishes breeding.

'George looks like a racehorse in a herd of Shetland ponies!' said the
enthusiastic Leon Gonsalez on one occasion. Which was very nearly true.

Yet it was Leon who attracted the average woman, and even women above the
average. It was fatal to send him to deal with a case in which women were
concerned, not because he himself was given to philandering, but because
it was as certain as anything could be that he would come back leaving at
least one sighing maiden to bombard him with letters ten pages long.

Which really made him rather unhappy.

'I'm old enough to be their father,' he wailed on one occasion, 'and as I
live I said no more than "Good morning" to the wench. Had I held her hand
or chanted a canto or two into her pink ear, I would stand condemned.
But, George, I swear--'

But George was helpless with laughter.

Yet Leon could act the perfect lover. Once in Cordova he paid court to a
certain senorita--three knife scars on his right breast testify to the
success of his wooing. As to the two men who attacked him, they are dead,
for by his courting he lured into the open the man for whom the police of
Spain and France were searching.

And he was especially effusive one spring morning to a slim and beautiful
dark-eyed lady whom he met in Hyde Park. He was on foot, when he saw her
walking past slowly and unattended. A graceful woman of thirty with a
faultless skin and grey eyes that were almost black.

It was by no accident that they met, for Leon had been studying her
movements for weeks.

'This is an answer to prayer, beautiful lady,' he said, and his
extravagance was the more facile since he spoke in Italian.

She laughed softly, gave him one swift, quizzical glance from under the
long lashes, and signalled him to replace the hat that was now in his
hand.

'Good morning, Signor Carrelli,' she smiled, and gave him a small gloved
hand. She was simply but expensively dressed. The only jewels she wore
were the string of pearls about her white throat.

'I see you everywhere,' she said. 'You were dining at the Carlton on
Monday night, and before that I saw you in a box at a theatre, and
yesterday afternoon I met you!'

Leon showed his white teeth in a delighted smile.

'That is true, illustrious lady,' he said, 'but you make no reference to
my searching London to find somebody who would introduce me. Nor do you
pity my despair as I followed you, feasting my eyes upon your beauty, or
my sleepless nights--'

All this he said with the fervour of a love-sick youth, and she listened
without giving evidence of disapproval.

'You shall walk with me,' she said, in the manner of a queen conveying an
immense privilege..

They strolled away from the crowd towards the open spaces of the park,
and they talked of Rome and the hunting season, of runs on Campagna and
the parties of Princess Leipnitz-Savalo--Leon read the society columns of
the Roman press with great assiduity and remembered all that he read.

They came at last to a place of trees and comfortable garden chairs. Leon
paid the watchful attendant, and, after he had strolled away:

'How beautiful it is to sit alone with divinity!' he began ecstatically.
'For I tell you this, signorita...'

'Tell me something else, Mr Leon Gonsalez,' said the lady, and this time
she spoke in English and her voice had the qualities of steel and ice.
'Why are you shadowing me?'

If she expected to confound him it was because she did not know her Leon.

'Because you are an extremely dangerous lady, Madame Koskina,' he said
coolly, 'and all the more dangerous because the Lord has given you
kissable lips and a graceful body. How many impressionable young attaches
of embassies have discovered these charms in you!'

She laughed at this and was seemingly well pleased.

'You have been reading,' she said. 'No, my dear Mr Gonsalez, I am out of
politics--they bore me. Poor Ivan is in Russia struggling with the work
of the Economic Commission and living in dread because of his well-known
Liberal views, and I am in London, which is delightfully capitalistic and
comfortable! Believe me, Leningrad is no place for a lady!'

Isola Koskina had been Isola Caprevetti before she married a dashing
young Russian attache. She had been a revolutionary from birth; and now
she had developed a zeal for revolution that amounted to fanaticism.

Leon smiled.

'There are worse places for a lady even than Leningrad. I should be
grieved indeed, my dear Isola, to see you making coarse shirts in
Aylesbury convict establishment.'

She looked at him steadily, insolently.

'That is a threat, and threats bore me. In Italy I have been threatened
with...all sorts of dreadful things if I ever showed myself on the wrong
side of the Simplon Pass. And really I am the most inoffensive person in
the world, Monsieur Gonsalez. You are, or course, employed by the
Government--how eminently respectable! Which Government?'

Leon grinned, but was serious again in a second.

'The Italian frontiers are practically closed since the last attempt,' he
said. 'You and your friends are causing everybody an immense amount of
trouble. Naturally the Government are concerned. They do not wish to wake
up one morning and find that they are implicated, and that some
successful assassin made a jump from--England, shall we say?'

The lady shrugged her pretty shoulders. 'How very dramatic! And therefore
poor Isola Koskina must be watched by detectives and reformed
murderers--I suppose you and your precious comrades are reformed?'

The smile on the thin face of Leon Gonsalez widened. 'If we were not,
signorita, what would happen? Should I be sitting here talking
pretty-pretty talk with you? Would you not be picked out of the Thames at
Limehouse all cold and clammy some morning, and lie on the slab till a
coroner's jury returned a verdict of "Found drowned"?'

He saw the colour leave her face: fear came to her eyes. 'You had better
threaten Ivan--' she began.

'I will cable him: he is not in Leningrad but living in Berlin under the
name of Petersohn--Martin Lutherstrasse 904. How easy it would be if we
were not reformed! A dead man in a gutter and a policeman searching his
pockets for a card of identity--'

She rose hurriedly; her very lips were bloodless.

'You do not amuse me,' she said and, turning from him, walked quickly
away.

Leon made no attempt to follow her. It was two days after this encounter
that the letter came. Many people wrote to the Just Men, a few abusively,
quite a number fatuously. But now and again there could be extracted from
the morning correspondence quite a pretty little problem. And the dingy
letter with its finger-marks and creases was quite worth the amount that
the postman charged them--for it came unstamped. The address was:

Four Just Men, Curzon Street, May Fair,

West End, London.

The writing was that of an illiterate, and the letter went:

DEAR SIR,

You are surposed to go in for misteries well hear is a mistery. I was a
boiler makers mate in Hollingses but now out of work and one Sunday I was
photoed by a foren lady she come in front of me with a camra and took me.
There was a lot of chaps in the park but she only took me. Then she ast
me my name and address and ast me if I knew a clergyman. And when I said
yes she wrote down the name of the Rev J. Crewe, and then she said shed
send me a picture dear sir she didn't send me a pictur but ast me to
joyne the Happy Travlers to go to Swizzleland Rome, etc. and nothing to
pay all expences payed also loss of time (Ten ) and soots of close
everything done in stile. Well dear sir I got ready and she did
everything close ten  &c. also she got tickets &c. But now the lady says
I got to go to Devonshire not that I mind. Now dear sir thats a mistery
because I just met a gentleman from Leeds and has had his photo took and
joyned the Happy Travlers and hes going to Cornwall and this lady who
took the picture of him ast him if he knew a clergyman and wrote it down.
Now what is the mistery is it something to do with religion? Yours
Sincerely, T. B A R G E R.

George Manfred read the ill-spelt scrawl and threw the letter across the
breakfast table to Leon Gonsalez.

'Read me that riddle, Leon,' he said.

Leon read and frowned.

'"Happy Travellers," eh? That's odd.'

The letter went to Raymond, who studied it with an expressionless face.

'Eh, Raymond?' Leon asked, his eyes alight.

'I think so,' said Raymond, nodding slowly.

'Will you let me into your "mistery"?' asked Manfred.

Leon chuckled.

'No mystery at all, my dear George. I will see this T. Barger, whose name
is surely "Thomas" and will learn certain particulars as, for example,
the colour of his eyes and the testimonial he has received from the
Foreign Secretary.'

'Mistery on mistery,' murmured George Manfred as he sipped his
coffee--though in truth the matter was no longer a mystery to him. The
reference to the Foreign Secretary was very illuminating.

'As to the lady--' said Leon, and shook his head.

His big Bentley created a mild sensation in the street where T. Barger
lived. It was situated near the East India Dock, and T. Barger--whose
front name was surprisingly Theophilus--proved to be a tall, dark man of
thirty with a small black moustache and rather heavy black eyebrows. He
was obviously wearing his new 'soot' and had expended at least a portion
of his 'ten ' on alcoholic refreshment, for he was in a loud and
confident mood.

'I'm leavin' tomorrow,' he said thickly, 'for Torquay--everything paid.
Travellin' like a swell...first class. You one of them Justers!'

Leon induced him to go into the house.

'It's a myst'ry to me,' said Mr Barger, 'why she done it. Happy
Trav'ler--that's what I am. She might have took me abroad--I'd like to
have seen them mountains, but she says if I don't speak the Swiss
language I'd be out of it. Anyway, what's the matter with Torquay?'

'The other man is going to Cornwall?'

Mr Barger nodded solemnly. 'An' his mate's goin' to Somerset--funny
meetin' him at all....' He explained the coincidence, which had to do
with a public-house where Mr Barger had called for a drink.

'What was his name?'

'Rigson--Harry Rigson. I told him mine, he told me his. The other man?
Harry's pal? I call him Harry--we're like pals--now let me think,
mister....'

Leon let him think.

Tunny name...Coke...no, Soke...Lokely! That's it--Joe Lokely.'

Leon asked a few more questions which were seemingly irrelevant but were
not.

'Of course I had to be passed by the committee,' said the communicative
Theophilus. 'Accordin' to Harry, this lady photoed a friend of his but he
didn't pass.'

'I see,' said Leon. 'What time do you leave for Devonshire?'

'Tomorrow mornin'--seven o'clock. Bit early, ain't it? But this lady says
that Happy Travellers must be early risers. Harry's goin' by the same
train but in another coach....'

Leon went back to Curzon Street well satisfied. The question he had to
decide was: was Isola an early riser too?

'I hardly think so,' said Raymond Poiccart. 'She would not take the
risk--especially if she knows that she is watched.'

That night Scotland Yard was a very hive of industry, and Leon Gonsalez
did without sleep. Fortunately Isola had been under police observation,
and the Yard knew every district in England she had visited for the past
month. By midnight two thousand ministers of religion had been awakened
from their sleep by local police and asked to furnish certain
particulars.

Isola went to a dinner and dance that night and her partner was a very
nice young man, tall and dark of face. She chose the L'Orient, which is
the most exclusive and plutocratic of night clubs. Men and women turned
to admire or criticize her beauty as she entered, a radiant figure in a
scarlet dress with a dull gold stole. The colours set off the glories of
her lovely face, and there was sinuous grace in every movement.

They had reached the dessert when suddenly she laid two fingers on the
table-cloth.

'Who is it?' asked her companion carelessly as he saw the danger signal.

'The man I told you about--he is at the table immediately opposite.'

Presently the dark young man looked.

'So that is the famous Gonsalez! A wisp of a man that I could break--'

'A wisp of a man who has broken giants, Emilo,' she interrupted. 'Have
you heard of Saccoriva--was he not a giant? That man killed him--shot him
down in his own headquarters when there was a guard of revolutionary
brethren within call--and escaped!'

'He is anti-revolutionary?' Emilo was impressed.

She shook her head. 'Comrade Saccoriva was very foolish--with women. It
was over some girl he had taken--and left. He is looking this way: I will
call him over.'

Leon rose lazily at the signal and came across the crowded dance floor.

'Signorita, you will never forgive me!' he said in despair. 'Here am I
watching you again! And yet I only came here because I was bored.'

'Bore me also,' she said with her sweetest smile, and then, remembering
her companion: 'This is Heir Halz from Leipzig.'

Leon's eyes twinkled.

'Your friends change their nationalities as often as they change their
names,' he said. 'I remember Herr Halz of Leipzig when he was Emilo
Cassini of Turin!'

Emilo shifted uncomfortably, but Isola was amused.

'This man is omniscient! Dance with me, Senor Gonsalez, and promise that
you will not murder me!'

They went twice round the dance floor before Leon spoke. 'If I had your
face and figure and youth, I should have a good time and not bother with
politics,' he said.

'And if I had your wisdom and cunning I should remove tyrants from their
high positions,' she retorted, her voice quivering.

That was all that was said. Going out into the vestibule, Leon discovered
the girl and her escort waiting. It was raining heavily and Isola's car
could not be found.

'May I drop you, gracious lady?' Leon's smile was most entrancing. 'I
have a poor car but it is at your disposition.'

Isola hesitated.

'Thank you,' she said.

Leon, ever the soul of politeness, insisted on taking one of the seats
that put his back to the driver. It was not his own car. Usually he was
very nervous about other drivers, but tonight he did not mind.

They crossed Trafalgar Square.

'The man is taking the wrong turning,' said Isola with quick vehemence.

'This is the right road to Scotland Yard,' said Leon. 'We call this the
Way of the Happy Traveller--keep your hand away from your pocket, Emilo.
I have killed men on less provocation, and I have been covering you ever
since we left the club!'

In the early hours of the morning telegrams were despatched to police
headquarters at Folkestone and Dover:

'Arrest and detain Theophilus Barger, Joseph Lokely, Harry Rigson'--here
followed five other names--'travelling to the Continent by boat either
today or tomorrow.'

There was no need to give instructions about Isola. For a perfect lady,
her behaviour was indefensible.

'She blotted her copybook,' said Leon sadly. 'I've never seen a Happy
Traveller less happy when we got her to Scotland Yard.'

Considering the matter at the morning conference which was part of the
daily routine in Curzon Street, Manfred was inclined to regard the plot
as elementary.

'If you speak disparagingly of my genius and power of deduction I shall
burst into tears,' said Leon. 'Raymond thinks I was clever--I will not
have that verdict challenged. George, you're getting old and grouchy.'

'The detection was clever,' Manfred hastened to placate his smiling
friend.

'And the scheme was clever,' insisted Leon, 'and terribly like Isola. One
of these days she'll do something awfully original and be shot.
Obviously, what she set out to do was to collect seven men who bore some
resemblance to the members of her murder gang. When she had found them,
she made them get passports--that of course is why she asked if they knew
a clergyman, for a padre's signature on the photograph and application
form is as good as a lawyer's. Seven poor innocent men with passports
which she handed over to her friends while the happy travellers were sent
into out-of-the-way places. She was heading the gang into Italy--all the
passports were visaed for that country.'

'Tell me,' said Manfred, 'did they arrest the spurious T. Barger at
Dover?'

Leon shook his head.

'The man who was to have travelled with T. Barger's passport was one
Emilo Casbini--I spotted the likeness immediately. Isola was very
abusive--but I quietened her by suggesting that her husband might like to
know something about her friendship with Emilo...I have been watching
Isola for a long time and I have seen things.'



3. The Abductor


IT WAS A year since Lord Geydrew invoked the aid of the Just Men who
lived at the sign of the Triangle in Curzon Street. He was a
narrow-headed man; the first time they met with him, Poiccart hazarded
the opinion that he was constitutionally mean. The last time they met it
was not so much an opinion as stark knowledge, for his lordship had most
boldly repudiated the bill of expenses that Poiccart had rendered--even
though Manfred and Gonsalez had risked their lives to recover the lost
Geydrew diamond.

The Three did not take him to court. Not one of them had need of money.
Manfred was satisfied with the experience; Poiccart was cock-a-hoop
because a theory of his had worked home; Gonsalez found his consolation
in the shape of the client's head.

'The most interesting recession of the parietal and malformation of the
occiput I have ever seen,' he said enthusiastically.

The Just Men shared one extraordinary gift--a prodigious memory for faces
and an extraordinary facility for attaching those faces to disreputable
names. There was, however, no credit due for remembering the head of his
lordship.

Manfred was sitting in his small room overlooking Curzon Street one night
in spring, and he was in his most thoughtful mood when Poiccart--who
invariably undertook the job of butler--came hobbling in to announce Lord
Geydrew.

'Not the Geydrew of Gallat Towers?' Manfred could be massively ironical.
'Has he come to pay his bill?'

'God knows,' said Poiccart piously. 'Do peers of the realm pay their
bills? For the moment I am less concerned about the peerage than I am
about my ankle--really, Leon is a careless devil. I had to take a
taxi....'

Manfred chuckled. 'He will be penitent and interesting,' he said, 'as for
his lordship. Show him up.'

Lord Geydrew came in a little nervously, blinking at the bright light
that burnt on Manfred's table. Evidently he was unusually agitated. The
weak mouth was tremulous, he opened and closed his eyes with a rapidity
for which the bright light was not wholly responsible. His long, lined
face was twitching spasmodically; from time to time he thrust his fingers
through the scanty, reddish-grey hair.

'I hope, Mr Manfred, there is no--um--er--'

He fumbled in his pocket, produced an oblong slip of paper and pushed it
across the desk. Manfred looked and wondered. Poiccart, forgetful of his
role as butler, watched interestedly. Besides, there was no need to
pretend that he was anything but what he was.

Lord Geydrew looked from one to the other.

'I was hoping your friend--um--'

'Mr Gonsalez is out: he will be back later in the evening,' said Manfred,
wondering what was coming.

Then his lordship collapsed with a groan, and let his head fall upon the
arms that lay on the desk.

'Oh, my God!' he wailed...'The most terrible thing...It doesn't bear
thinking about.'

Manfred waited patiently. Presently the older man looked up.

'I must tell you the story from the beginning, Mr Manfred,' he said. 'My
daughter Angela--you may have met her?'

Manfred shook his head.

'She was married this morning. To Mr Guntheimer, a very wealthy
Australian banker and an immensely nice fellow.' He shook his head and
dabbed his eyes with a handkerchief.

Light was beginning to dawn on Manfred.

'Mr Guntheimer is considerably older than my daughter,' his lordship went
on, 'and I will not conceal from you the fact that Angela has certain
objections to the match. In fact, she had very stupidly arrived at some
sort of understanding with young Sidworth--good family and all that, but
not a penny in the world...It would have been madness.'

Manfred now understood quite clearly.

'We had to hurry the marriage, since Guntheimer is leaving for Australia
much earlier than he expected. Happily my daughter gave way to my
legitimate wishes and they were married this morning at a registrar's
office and were due to leave for the Isle of Wight by the three o'clock
train.

'We did not go to see her off, and the only account I have of the
occurrence was from the mouth of my son-in-law. He said that he was
walking up to his reserved compartment, when suddenly he missed my
daughter from his side. He looked round, retraced his steps, but could
see nothing of her. Thinking that she might have gone ahead, he returned
to the compartment, but it was empty. He then went back beyond the
barrier: she was not in sight, but a porter whom he had engaged to carry
his luggage and who followed him, said that he had seen her in earnest
conversation with an elderly man and that they walked into the booking
hall together and disappeared. Another porter on duty in the courtyard of
the station saw them get into a car and drive off.'

Manfred was jotting down his notes on his blotting-pad. Poiccart never
lifted his eyes from the visitor.

'The story the porter tells--the outside porter, I mean, went on his
lordship, 'is that my daughter seemed reluctant to go, and that she was
almost thrust into the car, which had to pass him. As the car came
abreast, the man was pulling down the blinds, and the porter says that he
has no doubt that my daughter was struggling with him.'

'With the elderly man?' said Manfred.

Lord Geydrew nodded.

'Mr Manfred'--his voice was a wail--'I am not a rich man, and perhaps I
would be wise to leave this matter in the hands of the police. But I have
such extraordinary faith in your intelligence and acumen--I think you
will find that cheque right--and in spite of your exorbitant charges I
wish to engage you. She is my only daughter....' His voice broke.

'Did the porter take the number of the car?'

Lord Geydrew shook his head. 'No,' he said. 'Naturally I wish to keep
this out of the press--'

'I'm afraid you've failed,' said Manfred, and took a paper from a basket
that was at his side, pointing out a paragraph in the stop press.

"REPORTED ABDUCTION OF BRIDE

"It is reported that a bride, just before leaving Waterloo on her
honeymoon trip, was forcibly abducted by an elderly man. Scotland Yard
have been notified."

'Porters will talk,' said Manfred, leaning back in his chair. 'Have the
police a theory?'

'None,' snapped his lordship.

'Has Mr Sidworth been interviewed?'

Lord Geydrew shook his head vigorously.

'Naturally that was the first thought I had. Sidworth, I thought, has
persuaded this unfortunate girl--'

'Is he an elderly man?' asked Manfred, with a twinkle in his eye which
only Poiccart understood.

'Of course he isn't,' snapped his lordship. 'I told you he was young. At
the present moment he's staying with some very dear friends of mine at
Newbury--I think he took the marriage rather badly. At any rate, my
friend says that he has not left Kingshott Manor all day, and that he has
not once used the telephone.'

Manfred rubbed his shapely nose thoughtfully.

'And Mr Guntheimer--?'

'Naturally he's distracted. I have never known a man so upset. He's
almost mad with grief. Can you gentlemen give me any hope?'

He looked from one to the other, and his lean face brightened at
Manfred's nod.

'Where is Mr Guntheimer staying?' asked Poiccart, breaking his silence.

'At the Gayborough Hotel,' said Lord Geydrew.

'Another point--what was his present to the bride?' asked Manfred.

His visitor looked surprised, and then: 'A hundred thousand pounds,' he
said impressively. 'Mr Guntheimer doesn't believe in our old method of
settlement. I may say that his cheque for that amount is in my pocket
now.'

'And your present to the bride?' asked Manfred.

Lord Geydrew showed some signs of impatience.

'My dear fellow, you're on the wrong track. Angela was not spirited away
for purposes of property. The jewel case containing her diamonds was
carried by Guntheimer. She had nothing of value in her possession except
for a few odd pounds in her handbag.'

Manfred rose.

'I think that is all I want to ask you, Lord Geydrew. Unless I'm greatly
mistaken, your daughter will come back to you in twenty-four hours.'

Poiccart showed the comforted man to his car, and returned to find
Manfred reading the sporting column in an evening newspaper.

'Well?' asked Poiccart.

'A curious case and one in which my soul revels.' He put down the paper
and stretched himself. 'If Leon comes in, will you ask him to wait my
return unless there is something urgent takes him elsewhere?' He lifted
his head. 'I think that is him,' he said, at the sound of squealing
brakes.

Poiccart shook his head.

'Leon is more noiseless,' he said, and went down to admit an agitated
young man.

Mr Harry Sidworth was that type of youth for which Manfred had a very
soft spot. Lank of body, healthy of face, he had all the incoherence of
his age.

'I say, are you Mr Manfred?' he began, almost before he got into the
room. 'I've been to that old devil's house and his secretary told me to
come here, though for the Lord's sake don't tell anybody he said so!'

'You're Mr Sidworth, of course?'

The young man nodded vigorously. His face was anxious, his air wild; he
was too young to hide his evident distress.

'Isn't it too terrible for words--' he began.

'Mr Sidworth'--Manfred fixed him with a kindly eye--'you've come to ask
me about your Angela, and I'm telling you, as I told Lord Geydrew, that
I'm perfectly certain that she will come back to you unharmed. There's
one thing I might ask--how long has she known her husband?'

The young man made a wry face.

'That's a hateful word to me,' he groaned. 'Guntheimer? About three
months. He isn't a bad fellow. I've nothing against him, except that he
got Angela. Old Geydrew thought I'd taken her away. He rang up the people
I was staying with, and that was the first news I had that she'd
disappeared. It's the most ghastly thing that's ever happened to me.'

'Have you heard from her lately?' asked Manfred.

Sidworth nodded.

'Yes, this morning,' he said dolefully. 'Just a little note thanking me
for my wedding present. I gave her a jewel case--'

'A what?' asked Manfred sharply, and the young man, surprised at his
vehemence, stared at him.

'A jewel case--my sister bought one about a month ago, and Angela was so
taken with it that I had an exact copy made.'

Manfred was looking at him absently.

'Your sister?' he said slowly. 'Where does your sister live?'

'Why, she's at Maidenhead,' said the young man, surprised.

Manfred looked at his watch.

'Eight o'clock,' he said. 'This is going to be rather an amusing
evening.'

The clocks were striking the half-hour after ten when the telephone in Mr
Guntheimer's private suite buzzed softly. Guntheimer ceased his restless
pacing and went to the instrument.

'I can't see anybody,' he said. 'Who?' He frowned. 'All right, I'll see
him.'

It had been raining heavily and Manfred apologized for his wet raincoat
and waited for an invitation to remove it. But apparently Mr Guntheimer
was too preoccupied with his unhappy thoughts to be greatly concerned
about his duties as host.

He was a tall, good-looking man, rather haggard of face now, and the hand
that stroked the iron-grey moustache trembled a little.

'Geydrew told me he was going to see you--what is your explanation of
this extraordinary happening, Mr Manfred?'

Manfred smiled.

'The solution is a very simple one, Mr Guntheimer,' he said. 'It is to be
found in the pink diamond.'

'In the what?' asked the other, startled.

'Your wife has a rather nice diamond brooch,' said Manfred. 'Unless I am
misinformed, the third from the end of the bar is of a distinctly pinkish
hue. It is, or was, the property of the Rajah of Komitar, and on its
topmost facet you will find an Arabic word, meaning "Happiness."'

Guntheimer was gazing at him open-mouthed.

'What has that to do with it?'

Again Manfred smiled.

'If there is a pink diamond and it is inscribed as I say, I can find your
wife, not in twenty-four but in six hours.'

Guntheimer fingered his chin thoughtfully.

'That matter's easily settled,' he said. 'My wife's jewels are in the
hotel safe. Just wait.'

He was gone five minutes and returned carrying a small scarlet box. He
put this on the table and opened it with a key which he took from his
pocket. Lifting the lid, he took out a pad of wash-leather and revealed a
trayful of glittering jewels.

'There's no brooch there,' he said after a search; he pulled out the tray
and examined the padded bottom of the box.

There were brooches and bars of all kinds. Manfred pointed to one, and
this was inspected--but there was no pink diamond; nor was there in any
other brooch.

'Is that the best you can do in the way of detective work?' demanded Mr
Guntheimer as he closed and locked the box. 'I thought that tale was a
little fantastic...'

Crash! A stone came hurtling through the window, smashing the glass, and
fell on the carpet. With an oath Guntheimer spun round.

'What was that?'

He grabbed the jewel box that was on the table and ran to the window.
Outside the window was a small balcony which ran the length of the
building.

'Somebody standing on the balcony must have thrown that,' said
Guntheimer.

The sound of smashing glass had been heard in the Corridor, and two hotel
servants came in and examined the damage without, however, offering a
solution to the mystery.

Manfred waited until the distracted bridegroom had locked away the jewel
box in a strong trunk, and by this time Guntheimer was in a better
humour.

'I've heard about you fellows,' he said, 'and I know you're pretty
clever; otherwise, I should have thought that story of the pink diamond
was all bunkum. Perhaps you will tell me what the Rajah of Who-was-it has
to do with Angela's disappearance?'

Manfred was biting his lip thoughtfully.

'I don't wish to alarm you,' he said slowly. 'But has it occurred to you,
Mr Guntheimer, that you may share her fate?'

Again that quick turn and look of apprehension.

'I don't quite understand you.'

'I wondered if you would,' said Manfred and, holding out his hand, he
left his astonished host staring after him.

When he got to Curzon Street he found Gonsalez, his head in one deep
armchair, his feet on another. Apparently Poiccart, who had reached home
first, had told him of the callers, for he was holding forth on women.

'They are wilful, they are unreasonable,' he said bitterly. 'You
remember, George, that woman at Cordova, how we saved her life from her
lover and how we barely saved our own at her infuriated hands--there
should be a law prohibiting women from possessing firearms. Here is a
case in point. Tomorrow the newspapers will tell you the harrowing story
of a bride torn from the arms of her handsome bridegroom. The old ladies
of Bayswater will shed tears over the tragedy, knowing nothing of the
aching heart of Mr Harry Sidworth or the great inconvenience to which
this strange and tragic happening has put George Manfred, Raymond
Poiccart, and Leon Gonsalez.'

Manfred opened the safe in a corner of the room and put into it something
he had taken from his pocket. Characteristically, Gonsalez asked no
questions, and it was remarkable and significant that nobody discussed
the pink diamond.

The following morning passed uneventfully, save that Leon had much to say
about the hardness of the drawing-room sofa, where he had spent the
night, and the three men had finished lunch and were sitting smoking over
their coffee, when a ring of the bell took Poiccart into the hall.

'Geydrew, full of bad tidings,' said George Manfred, as the sound of a
voice came to them.

Lord Geydrew it was, shrill with his tremendous information.

'Have you heard the news?...Guntheimer has disappeared! The waiter went
to his room this morning, could get no answer, opened the door with his
key and walked in. The bed had not been slept in...all his luggage was
there, and on the floor--'

'Let me guess,' said Manfred, and held his forehead. 'The jewel case was
smashed to smithereens, without a single jewel in it! Or was it--'

But Lord Geydrew's face told him that his first guess was accurate.

'How did you know?' he gasped. 'It wasn't in the papers--my God, this is
awful!'

In his agitation, he did not notice that Leon Gonsalez had slipped from
the room, and only missed him when he turned to find the one man in whom,
for some extraordinary reason, he had faith.

('Geydrew never did trust you or me,' said George afterwards.)

'I'm ashamed to confess it,' smiled Manfred. 'That was sheer guesswork.
The jewel case had the appearance of being jumped on--I don't wonder!'

'But--but--' stammered the nobleman, and at that minute the door opened
and he stood amazed.

A smiling girl was there, and in another instant was in his arms.

'Here's your Angela,' said Leon, with great coolness, 'and with all due
respect to everybody, I shan't be sorry to sleep in my own bed tonight.
George, that sofa must be sent back to the brigands who supplied it.'

But George was at the safe, lifting out a red leather jewel case.



It was a long time before Geydrew was calm enough to hear the story.

'My friend Leon Gonsalez,' said Manfred, 'has a wonderful memory for
faces--so have we all, for the matter of that. But Leon is specially
gifted. He was waiting at Waterloo to drive friend Poiccart home. Raymond
had been to Winchester to see a surgeon friend of ours over a matter of a
sprained leg. Whilst Leon was waiting he saw Guntheimer and your daughter
and instantly recognized Guntheimer whose other name is Lanstry, or
Smith, or Malikin. Guntheimer's graft is bigamy, and Leon happens to know
him rather well. A few inquiries made of the porter, and he discovered,
not the identity of your daughter, but that this man had married that
day. He approached Angela with a cock and bull story that some mysterious
body was waiting to see her outside the station. I will not say that she
imagined that mysterious body was Harry Sidworth, but at any rate she
went very willingly. She showed some little fight when friend Leon pushed
her into the car and drove away with her--'

'Anybody who has tried to drive a car and control an infuriated and
terrified lady will sympathize with me,' broke in Leon.

'By the time Miss Angela Geydrew reached Curzon Street she was in full
possession of the facts as Leon knew them,' Manfred went on. 'Leon's one
object was to postpone the honeymoon until he could get somebody to
identify Guntheimer. The young lady told us nothing about her jewel case,
but we all guessed the hundred-thousand-pound cheque, presented too late
to be banked; before it could be cleared, Guntheimer would be well out of
the country with any loot he was able to gather--in this case the family
diamonds--and of course it would have been pretty easy to arrest him last
night. When your lordship called yesterday Leon was out finishing his
investigations. Before he returned, I learnt where I could get a
duplicate jewel box, and with Poiccart made a call on friend bigamist.
Poiccart was on the balcony, listening, and at an agreed word signal he
smashed the window, which gave me just the opportunity I wanted to change
the jewel boxes. Later, I presume, Mr Guntheimer opened the box, found it
was empty, realized the game was up and fled.'

'But how did you induce him to show you the jewel box?' asked Lord
Geydrew.

Manfred smiled cryptically. The tale of the pink diamond was too crude to
be repeated.



4 The Third Coincidence


LEON GONSALEZ, like the famous scientist, had an unholy knack of
collecting coincidences. He had, too, strange faiths, and believed that
if a man saw a pink cow with one horn in the morning, he must, by the
common workings of a certain esoteric law, meet another pink cow with one
horn later in the day.

'Coincidences, my dear George,' he said, 'are inevitabilities--not
accidents.'

Manfred murmured something in reply--he was studying the dossier of one
William Yape, of whom something may be told at a later period.

'Now here is a coincidence.' Leon was in no sense abashed, for it was
after dinner, the hour of the day when he was most confident. 'This
morning I took the car for a run to Windsor--she was a trifle sticky
yesterday--and at Langley what did I find? A gentleman sitting before an
inn, very drunk. He was, I imagined, an agricultural labourer in his best
Sunday suit, and it was remarkable that he wore a diamond ring worth five
hundred pounds. He had, he told me, been to Canada, and had stayed at
the Chateau Fronteuse--which is an expensive hotel.'

Poiccart was interested.

'And the coincidence?'

'If George will listen.' Manfred looked up with a groan. 'Thank you.
Hardly had I begun questioning this inebriated son of the soil when a
Rolls drove up, and there stepped down a rather nice-looking gentleman
who also wore a diamond ring on his little finger.'

'Sensation,' said George Manfred, and went back to his dossier.

'I shall be offended if you do not listen. Imagine the agriculturist
suddenly jumping to his feet as if he had seen a ghost. "Ambrose!" he
gasped. I tell you his face was the colour of milk. Ambrose--if he will
pardon the liberty--could not have heard him, and passed into the inn.
The labourer went stumbling away--it is remarkable that one's head sobers
so much more quickly than one's legs--as though the devil was after him.

'I went into the inn and found Ambrose drinking tea--a man who drinks tea
at eleven o'clock in the morning has lived either in South Africa or
Australia. It proved to be South Africa. An alluvial diamond digger, an
ex-soldier and a most gentlemanly person, though not very communicative.
After he had gone I went in search of the labourer--overtook him as he
entered a most flamboyant villa.'

'Which, with your peculiar disregard for the sacredness of the
Englishman's home, you entered.'

Leon nodded.

'Truth is in you,' he said. 'Imagine, my dear George, a suburban villa so
filled with useless furniture that you could hardly find a place to sit.
Satin-covered settees, pseudo-Chinese cabinets, whatnots and wherefores
crowding space. Ridiculous oil paintings, painted by the yard, in heavy
gold frames, simpering enlargements of photographs covering hideous
wallpaper--and two ladies, expensively dressed, bediamonded but without
an "h" between them; common as the dirt on my shoes, shrill, ugly,
coarse.

'As I entered the hall on the trail of the labourer I heard him say: "He
wasn't killed--he's back," and a woman say:

"Oh, my God!" And then the second woman said: "He must be killed--it was
in the list on New Year's Day!"--after which I was so busy explaining my
presence that further enlightenment was out of the question.'

George Manfred had tied his dossier neatly with a strip of red tape, and
now he leaned back in his chair.

'You took the number of the Ambrose car, of course?'

Leon nodded.

'And he wore a diamond ring?'

'A lady's--it was on his little finger. A not very magnificent affair. It
was the sort of dress ring that a girl would wear.'

Poiccart chuckled.

'Now we sit down and wait for the third coincidence,' he said. 'It is
inevitable.'

A few minutes later Leon was on his way to Fleet Street, for he was a man
whose curiosity was insatiable. For two hours, in the office of a
friendly newspaper, he pored over the casualty lists that were published
on four New Year's Days, looking for a soldier whose first name was
'Ambrose'.



'The Three Just Men,' said the Assistant Commissioner cheerfully, 'are
now so eminently respectable that we give them police protection.'

You must allow for the fact that this was after dinner, when even an
Assistant Commissioner grows a little expansive, especially when he is
host in his nice house in Belgravia. You must also allow for the more
interesting fact that one of the famous organization had been seen
outside Colonel Yenford's house that very night.

'They are strange devils--why they should be watching this place beats
me; if I'd known I should have asked the fellow in!'

Lady Irene Belvinne looked at one of the portraits on the wall: she
seemed scarcely interested in the Three Just Men. Yet every word Colonel
Yenford spoke was eagerly stored in her memory.

A beautiful woman of thirty-five, the widow of a man who had held Cabinet
rank, she might claim to be especially favoured. She had been the wife of
a many-times millionaire who had left her his entire fortune; she had the
lineless face and serene poise of one who had never known care....

'I don't exactly know what they do?' Her voice was a soft drawl. 'Are
they detectives? Of course, I know what they were.'

Who did not know what that ruthless trio were in the days when every hand
was against them? When swift death followed their threat, when a whole
world of secret lawbreakers trembled at their names.

'They're tame enough now,' said somebody. 'They wouldn't have played
their monkey tricks today, eh, Yenford?'

Colonel Yenford was not so confident.

'It's strange,' mused Irene. 'I didn't think of them.'

She was so wholly absorbed in her thoughts that she did not realize she
was speaking aloud.

'Why on earth should you think about them?' demanded Yenford, a little
astonished.

She started at this and changed the subject.

It was past midnight when she reached her beautiful flat in Piccadilly,
and all the staff except her maid had gone to bed. At the sound of a key
turning in the lock the maid came flying into the hall, and with a
sinking of heart Irene Belvinne knew that something was wrong.

'She's been waiting since nine, m'lady,' said the girl in a low voice.

Irene nodded.

'Where is she?' she asked.

'I put her in the study, madam.'

Handing her coat to the maid, the woman walked up the broad passage,
opened a door and entered the library. The woman who had been sitting on
the hide-covered settee rose awkwardly at the sight of the radiant woman
who entered. The visitor was poorly dressed, had a long, not too clean
face, and a mouth that drooped pathetically. She looked up slyly from
under her lowered lids, and though her tone was humble it also held a
suggestion of menace.

'He's terribly bad again tonight, m'lady,' she said. 'We had all our work
cut out to keep him in bed. He wanted to come here, he said, him being
delirious. The doctor says that we ought to get him away to--' her eyes
rose quickly and fell again '--South Africa.'

'It was Canada last time,' said Irene steadily. 'That was rather an
expensive trip, Mrs Dennis.'

The woman mumbled something, rubbing her hands still more nervously.

'I'm sure I'm worried to death about the whole business, me being his
aunt, and I'm sure I can't afford no five thousand pounds to take him to
South Africa--'

Five thousand pounds! Irene was aghast at the demand. The Canadian trip
had cost three thousand, but the original request was for one.

'I should like to see him myself,' she said with sudden determination.

Again that swift, sly look.

'I wouldn't let you come and see him, me lady, unless you brought a
gentleman. I'd say your 'usband, but I know he's no more. I wouldn't take
the responsibility, I wouldn't indeed. That's why I never tell you where
we're living, in case you was tempted, me lady. He'd think no more of
cutting your throat than he would of looking at you!'

A smile of contempt hardened the beautiful face.

'I am not so sure that really terrifies me,' said Irene quietly. 'You
want five thousand pounds--when do you sail?'

'Next Saturday, me lady,' said the woman eagerly. 'And Jim say you was to
pay the money in notes.'

Irene nodded.

'Very well,' she said. 'But you mustn't come here again unless I send for
you.'

'Where shall I get the money, me lady?'

'Here at twelve o'clock tomorrow. And won't you please make yourself a
little more presentable when you call?'

The woman grinned.

'I ain't got your looks or your clothes, me lady,' she sneered. 'Every
penny piece I earn goes on poor Jim, a-trying to save his life, when if
he had his rights he'd have millions.'

Irene walked to the door and opened it, waited in the passage until the
maid had shut out the unprepossessing visitor.

'Open the windows and air the room,' said Irene.

She went upstairs and sat down before her dressing table, eyeing her
reflection thoughtfully.

Then, of a sudden, she got up and crossed the room to the telephone. She
lifted the receiver and then realized that she did not know the number. A
search of the book gave her the information she wanted. The Triangle
Detective Agency had their headquarters in Curzon Street. But they would
be in bed by now, she thought; and even if the members of this
extraordinary confederation were not, would they be likely to interest
themselves at this late hour?

She had hardly given the number before she was through. She heard the
rattle of the receiver as it was raised, and the distinctive tinkle of a
guitar; then an eager voice asked her who she was.

'Lady Irene Belvinne,' she said. 'You don't know me, but--'

'I know you very well. Lady Irene.' She could almost detect the unknown
smiling as he answered. 'You dined at Colonel Yenford's tonight and left
the house at twelve minutes to twelve. You told your chauffeur to go back
by way of Hyde Park....'

The guitar had ceased. She heard a distant voice say: 'Listen to Leon:
he's being all Sherlock Holmes.' And then a laugh. She smiled in
sympathy.

'Do you want to see me?' This was Leon Gonsalez speaking, then.

'When can I?' she asked.

'Now. I'll come right away, if you're in any serious trouble--I have an
idea that you are.'

She hesitated. An immediate decision was called for and she set her
teeth.

'Very well. Will you come? I'll wait up for you.'

In her nervousness she dropped the receiver down while he was answering
her.

Five minutes later the maid admitted a slim, good-looking man. He wore a
dark suit, and was strangely like a Chancery barrister she knew. On her
part the greeting was awkward, for the interval had been too short for
her to make up her mind what she should tell him, and how she should
begin.

It was in the library tainted, to her sensitive nostrils, with her late
frowsy visitor, that she made her confession, and he listened with an
expressionless face.

'...I was very young--that is my only excuse; and he was a very handsome,
very attractive young man...and a chauffeur isn't a servant...I mean, one
can be quite good friends with him, as one couldn't be with--well, with
other servants.'

He nodded.

'It was an act of lunacy, and nasty, and everything you can say. When my
father sent him away I thought my heart would break.'

'Your father knew?' asked Gonsalez gravely.

She shook her head.

'No. Father was rather quick-tempered, and he bullied Jim for some fault
that was not his--that was the end of it. I had one letter and then I
heard no more until two or three years after I was married, when I got a
letter from this woman, saying that her nephew was consumptive and she
knew what--good friends we'd been.'

To her surprise her visitor was smiling, and at first she was hurt.

'You have told me only what I've guessed,' he said to her amazement.

'You guessed...but you didn't know--'

He interrupted her brusquely.

'Was your second marriage happy, Lady Irene? I am not being impertinent.'

She hesitated.

'It was quite happy. My husband was nearly thirty years older than I--why
do you ask?'

Leon smiled again.

'I am a sentimentalist--which is a shocking confession for one who boasts
of his scientific mind. I am a devourer of love stories, both in fiction
and in life. This Jim was not unpleasant?'

She shook her head.

'No,' she said, and then added simply: I loved him--I love him still.
That is the ghastly part of it. It is dreadful to think of him lying ill
with this dreadful aunt looking after him--'

'Landlady,' broke in Leon calmly. 'He had no relations.'

She was on her feet now, staring at him.

'What do you know?'

He had a gesture which was almost mesmeric in its calming effect.

'I went to Colonel Yenford's house tonight--I happened to learn that you
were his guest and I wanted to see your mouth. I'm sorry if I am being
mysterious, but I judge women by their mouths--the test is infallible.
That is why I knew the hour you left.'

Irene Belvinne was frowning at him.

'I don't understand, Mr Gonzalez,' she began. 'What has my mouth to do
with the matter?'

He nodded slowly.

'If you had a certain type of mouth I should not have been interested--as
it is...'

She waited, and presently he spoke.

'You will find James Ambrose Clynes in his suite at the Piccadilly Hotel.
The dress ring you gave him is on his little finger, and your photograph
is the only one in his room.'

He put out his hand and steadied her as, white and shaking, she sank into
a chair.

'He's a very rich man and a very nice man...and a very stupid man, or he
would have come to see you.'

A car drew up before an ornate villa in the village of Langley and a
poorly-dressed woman got down. The door was opened by a thickset man and
the two passed into the over-furnished parlour. On the face of Mrs Dennis
was a smile of satisfaction.

'It's all right--she'll part,' she said, throwing off her old coat.

The coarse-looking man with the diamond ring turned to his other sister.

'As soon as we get the money it's Canada for us,' he said ominously. 'I
won't have another fright like I had on Tuesday--why were you so late,
Maria?'

'A tyre burst on the Great West Road,' she said, rubbing her hands at the
fire. 'What are you worrying about, Saul? We've done nothing. It ain't as
though we ever threatened her. That'd be crime. Just askin' her to help a
poor feller who's ill, that ain't crime.'

They discussed the pros and cons of this for nearly an hour. Then came
the knock at the door.

It was the man who went out to interview the visitor....

'If I don't come in,' said Leon Gonsalez pleasantly, 'the police will.
There will be a warrant issued tomorrow morning and you will be held on a
charge of conspiring to defraud.'

A few seconds later he was questioning a trembling audience....

Poiccart and George Manfred were waiting up for him when he returned in
the early hours of the morning.

'Rather a unique case,' said Leon, glancing through his notes. 'Our
Ambrose, a well-educated man, had a love affair with the Earl of
Carslake's daughter. He loses his job--because he loves the girl he
decides not to communicate with her. He goes into the Army and, before he
is sent overseas, he writes to his landlady, asks her to take out a
sealed envelope, full of letters from Irene and burn them. By the time
she gets these instructions, Ambrose is reported killed. The landlady,
Mrs Dennis, with the inquisitiveness of her class, opens the envelope and
learns enough to be able to blackmail this unfortunate girl. But Ambrose
isn't dead--he is discharged from the army on account of wounds and,
accepting the invitation of a South African soldier, goes to the Cape,
where he makes good.

'In the meantime the Dennises wax rich. They pretend that "Jim", as they
called him, is desperately ill, trusting that Irene has not heard of his
death. By this means, and on the threat of telling her husband, they
extract nearly twenty thousand pounds.'

'What shall we do to them?' asked Poiccart.

Leon took something from his pocket--a glittering diamond ring. 'I took
this as payment for my advice,' he said.

George smiled.

'And your advice, Leon?'

'Was to get out of the country before Ambrose found them,' said Leon.



5. The Slane Mystery


THE KILLING OF Bernard Slane was one of those mysteries which delight the
Press and worry the police. Mr Slane was a rich stockbroker, a bachelor
and a good fellow. He had dined at a Pall Mall club and, his car being in
the garage for repairs, he took a taxi and ordered the driver to take him
to his flat in Albert Palace Mansions. The porter of the mansions had
taken the elevator to the fifth floor at the time Mr Slane arrived.

The first intimation that there was anything wrong was when the porter
came down to find the taxi-driver standing in the hall, and asked him
what he wanted.

'I've just brought a gentleman here--Mr Slane, who lives at Number
Seven,' said the driver. 'He hadn't got any change so he's gone in to get
it.'

This was quite likely, because Slane lived on the first floor and
invariably used the stairs. They chatted together, the porter and the
driver, for some five minutes, and then the porter undertook to go up and
collect the money for the fare.

Albert Palace Mansions differed from every other apartment-house of its
kind in that, on the first and the most expensive floor, there was one
small flat consisting of four rooms, which was occupied by Slane.

A light showed through the transom, but then it had been burning all the
evening. The porter rang the bell and waited, rang it again,
knocked--without, however, getting an answer. He returned to the driver.

'He must have gone to sleep--how was he?' he asked.

By his question he meant to inquire whether the stockbroker was quite
sober. It is a fact that Slane drank rather heavily, and had come home
more than once in a condition which necessitated the help of the night
porter to get him to bed.

The driver, whose name was Reynolds, admitted his passenger had had as
much as, and probably more than, was good for him. Again the porter
attempted to get a reply from the flat and, when this failed, he paid the
driver out of his own pocket, four shillings and sixpence.

The porter was on duty all night, and made several journeys up and down
his shaft. Through the open grille on the first floor he commanded a view
of No 7. His statement was that he saw nothing of Mr Slane that night,
that it was impossible for the stockbroker to have left the building
without his seeing him.

At half past five the next morning a policeman patrolling Green Park saw
a man sitting huddled up on a garden chair. He wore a dinner jacket and,
his attitude was so suspicious that the policeman stepped over the rails
and crossed the stretch of grass which intervened between the pathway and
the chair which was placed near a clump of rhododendrons. He came up to
the man, to find his fears justified. The man was dead; he had been
terribly battered with some blunt instrument, and a search of the pockets
revealed his identity as Bernard Slane.

Near the spot was an iron gateway set in the rails leading to the Mall,
and the lock of this was discovered to be smashed. Detectives from
Scotland Yard were at once on the spot; the porter of Albert Palace
Mansions was questioned; and a call was sent round, asking the driver
Reynolds to call at the Yard. He was there by twelve o'clock, but could
throw no light on the mystery.

Reynolds was a respectable man without any record against him, and was a
widower who lived over a garage near Dorset Square, Baker Street.


'A most amusing crime,' said Leon Gonsalez, his elbows on the breakfast
table, his head between his hands.

'Why amusing?' asked George.

Leon read on, his lips moving, a trick of his, as he devoured every
printed line. After a while he leaned back in his chair and rubbed his
eyes.

'It is amusing,' he said, 'because of the hotel bill that was found in
the dead man's pocket.'

He put his finger on a paragraph and Manfred drew the paper towards him
and read:

'The police discovered in the right hand pocket of the murdered man's
overcoat a bloodstained paper which proved to be an hotel bill, issued by
the Plage Hotel, Ostend, five years ago. The bill was made out in the
name of Mr and Mrs Wilbraham and was for 7,500 francs.'

Manfred pushed the paper back.

'Isn't the mystery why this half-drunken man left his flat and went back
to Green Park, some considerable distance from Albert Palace Mansions?'
he asked.

Leon, who was staring blankly at the farther wall, shook his head slowly;
and then, in his characteristic way, went off at a tangent:

'There's a lot to be said for the law which prohibited the publication of
certain details in divorce cases,' he said, 'but I believe that the
circumstances which surrounded the visit of Mr and Mrs Wilbraham to the
Plage would have been given the fullest publicity if the case had come
into court.'

'Do you suspect a murder of revenge?' Leon shrugged his shoulders and
changed the subject. George Manfred used to say that Leon had the most
amazing pigeon-hole of a mind that it had been his fortune to meet with.
Very seldom indeed did he have to consult the voluminous notes and data
he had collected during his life, and which made one room in that little
house uninhabitable.

There was a man at Scotland Yard, Inspector Meadows, who was on the
friendliest terms with the Three. It was his practice to smoke a pipe,
indeed many pipes, of evenings in the little Curzon Street house. He came
that night, rather full of the Slane mystery.

'Slane was a pretty rapid sort,' he said. 'From the evidence that was
found in his house, it is clear that he was the one man in London who
ought not to be a bachelor if about two dozen women had their rights! By
the way, we've traced Mr and Mrs Wilbraham. Wilbraham was of course
Slane. The lady isn't so easy to find; one of his pick-ups, I suppose--'

'And yet the only girl he was willing to marry,' said Gonsalez.

'How did you know that?' asked the startled detective.

Leon chuckled.

'The bill was obviously sent to give the husband evidence. The husband,
either because he was willing to give his wife another chance or because
he was a Roman Catholic, did not divorce her. Now tell me'--he leaned
forward over the table and beamed on the detective--'when the taxi drew
up before the door of Albert Palace Mansions, did Slane immediately
alight?--I can tell you he didn't.'

'You've been making inquiries,' said the other suspiciously. 'No, he
waited there. The driver, being a tactful individual, thought it best to
keep him inside until the people who were in the hall had gone up in the
lift--which is visible from the door.'

'Exactly. Was it the driver's idea or Slane's'?

'The driver's,' said Meadows. 'Slane was half asleep when the man pulled
him out.'

'One more question: when the elevator man took this party to the fifth
floor, did he come down immediately?'

The Inspector shook his head.

'No, he stayed up there talking to the tenants. He heard Slane's door
slam, and that was the first intimation he had that somebody had come
in.'

Leon jerked back into his chair, a delighted smile on his face.

'What do you think, Raymond?' He addressed the saturnine Poiccart.

'What do you think?' said the other.

Meadows looked from Poiccart to Gonsalez.

'Have you any theory as to why Slane went out again?'

'He didn't go out again,' said the two men in unison.

Meadows caught George Manfred's smiling eyes.

'They're trying to mystify you. Meadows, but what they say is true.
Obviously he didn't go out again.'

He rose and stretched himself.

'I'm going to bed; and I'd like to bet you fifty pounds that Leon finds
the murderer tomorrow, though I won't swear that he will hand him over to
Scotland Yard.'

At eight o'clock next morning, when, with a cigarette in his mouth,
Reynolds, the taxi-driver, was making a final inspection of his cab
before taking it out for the day, Leon Gonsalez walked into the mews.

Reynolds was a man of forty, a quiet, good-looking fellow. He had a soft
voice and was courteous in a particularly pleasing way.

'You're not another detective, are you?' he asked, smiling ruefully.
'I've answered as many foolish questions as I care to answer.'

'Is this your own cab?' Leon nodded to the shining vehicle.

'Yes, that's mine,' said the driver. 'Cab-owning is not the gold mine
some people think it is. And if you happen to get mixed up in a case like
this, your takings fall fifty per cent.'

Very briefly Leon explained his position.

'The Triangle Agency--oh, yes, I remember: you're the Four Just Men,
aren't you? Good Lord! Scotland Yard haven't put you on the job?'

'I'm on the job for my own amusement,' said Leon, giving smile for smile.
'There are one or two matters which weren't quite clear to me, and I
wondered if you would mind telling me something that the police don't
seem to know.'

The man hesitated, and then: 'Come up to my room,' he said, and led the
way up the narrow stairs.

The room was surprisingly well furnished. There were one or two old
pieces, Leon noticed, which must have been worth a lot of money. On a
gate-legged table in the centre of the room was a suitcase and near the
table a trunk. The driver must have noticed his eyes rest on these, for
he said quickly: 'They belong to a customer of mine. I'm taking them to
the station.'

From where he stood, Leon could see they were addressed to the Tetley
cloak room to be called for; he made no comment on this, but his
observation evidently disconcerted his host for his manner changed.

'Now, Mr Gonsalez, I'm a working man, so I'm afraid I can't give you very
much time. What is it you want to know?'

'I particularly wish to know,' said Leon, 'whether the day you brought
Slane to his house had been a very busy one for you?'

'It was fairly profitable,' said the other. 'I've already given the
police an account of my fares, including the hospital case--but I suppose
you know that.'

'Which hospital case was this?'

The man hesitated.

'I don't want you to think I'm boasting about doing a thing like that--it
was just humanity. A woman was knocked down by a bus in Baker Street: I
picked her up and took her to the hospital.'

'Was she badly hurt?'

'She died.' His voice was curt.

Leon looked at him thoughtfully. Again his eyes roved to the trunk.

'Thank you,' he said. 'Will you come to Curzon Street tonight at nine
o'clock? Here's my address.' He took a card from his pocket.

'Why?' There was a note of defiance in the voice.

'Because I want to ask you something that I think you'll be glad to
answer,' said Leon.

His big car was waiting at the end of the mews, and he set it flying in
the direction of the Walmer Street hospital. He learnt there no more than
he expected, and returned to Curzon Street, a very silent and
uninformative man.

At nine o'clock that night came Reynolds, and for an hour he and Leon
Gonsalez were closeted together in the little room downstairs. Happily,
Meadows did not consider it necessary to call. It was not until a week
afterwards that he came with a piece of information that surprised only
himself.

'It was rather a rum thing--that driver who took Slane back to his flat
has disappeared--sold his taxi and cleared out. There's nothing to
associate him with the murder or I should get a warrant for him. He has
been straightforward from the very first.'

Manfred politely agreed. Poiccart was staringly vacant. Leon Gonsalez
yawned and was frankly bored with all mysteries.



'It's very curious,' said Gonsalez, when he condescended to tell the full
story, 'that the police never troubled to investigate Slane's life at
Tetley. He had a big house there for some years. If they had, they
couldn't have failed to hear the story of young Doctor Grain and his
beautiful wife, who ran away from him. She and Slane disappeared
together; and of course he was passionately fond of her and was ready to
marry her. But then, Slane was the type who was passionately fond of
people for about three months, and unless the marriage could be arranged
instantly the unfortunate girl had very little chance of becoming his
wife.

'The doctor offered to take his wife back, but she refused, and
disappeared out of his life. He gave up the practice of medicine, came to
London, invested his savings in a small garage, went broke, as all garage
proprietors do unless they're backed with good capital, and having to
decide whether he'd go back to the practice of medicine and pick up all
that he'd lost in the years he'd been trying to forget his wife, he chose
what to him was the less strenuous profession of cab-driver. I know
another man who did exactly the same thing: I will tell you about him one
of these days.

'He never saw his wife again, though he frequently saw Slane. Reynolds,
or Grain, as I will call him, had shaved off his moustache and generally
altered his appearance, and Slane never recognized him. It became an
obsession of Grain's to follow his enemy about, to learn of his
movements, his habits. The one habit he did discover, and which proved to
be Slane's undoing, was his practice of dining at the Real Club in Pall
Mall every Wednesday evening and of leaving the club at eleven-thirty on
those occasions.

'He put his discovery to no use, nor did he expect he would, until the
night of the murder. He was driving somewhere in the north-west district
when he saw a woman knocked down by a bus and he himself nearly ran over
the prostrate figure. Stopping his cab, he jumped down and, to his
horror, as he picked her up, he found himself gazing into the emaciated
face of his wife. He lifted her into the cab, drove full pelt to the
nearest hospital. It was while they were in the waiting-room, before the
house surgeon's arrival, that the dying woman told him, in a few broken,
half-delirious words, the story of her downward progress...She was dead
before they got her on to the operating table--mercifully, as it proved.

'I knew all this before I went to the hospital and found that some
unknown person had decided that she should be buried at Tetley and had
made the most lavish arrangements for her removal. I guessed it before I
saw Grain's suitcase packed ready for that tragedy. He left the hospital,
a man mad with hate. It was raining heavily. He crawled down Pall Mall,
and luck was with him, for just as the porter came out to find an empty
taxi, Grain pulled up before the door.

'On the pretext of a tyre burst he stopped in the Mall, forced open one
of the gates that led to the park, and waited until no pedestrian was in
sight before he dragged the half-drunken man into the gardens...He was
sober enough before Grain finished his story. Grain swears that he gave
him the chance of his life, but Slane pulled a gun on him, and he had to
kill him in self-defence. That may or may not be true.

'He never lost his nerve. Reaching his cab without observation, he drove
to Albert Palace Mansions, waited until the lift had risen, and then ran
up the stairs. He had taken Slane's bunch of keys, and on the way had
selected that which he knew would open the door. His first intention was
to search the flat for everything that betrayed the man's association
with his wife; but he heard the porter up above saying good night and,
slamming the door, raced downstairs in time to be there when the man
reached the ground floor.'

'We're not telling the police of this, of course?' said Manfred gravely.

Poiccart at the other end of the table burst into a loud guffaw.

'It's so good a story that the police would never believe it,' he said.



6. The Marked Cheque


THE MAN WHO called at the little house in Curzon Street was in a rage,
and anxious to say something that would hurt his late employer.

He had also a personal grievance against Mr Jens, the butler.

'Mr Storn took me on as a second footman, and it looked like being a good
job, but I couldn't hit it off with the rest of the staff. But was it
fair to chuck me out without a minute's warning because I happened to let
drop a word in Arabic--?'

'Arabic?' asked Leon Gonsalez in surprise. 'Do you speak Arabic?'

Tenley, the dismissed footman, grinned.

'About a dozen words: I was with the Army in Egypt after the war, and I
picked up a few phrases. I was polishing the silver salver in the hall,
and I happened to say "That's good" in Arabic; and I heard Mr Storn's
voice behind me.

'"You clear out," he said, and before I knew what had happened, I was
walking away from the house with a month's salary.'

Gonsalez nodded.

'Very interesting,' he said, 'but why have you come to us?'

He had asked the same question many times of inconsequential people who
had come to the House of the Silver Triangle, with their trifling
grievances.

'Because there's a mystery there,' said the man vaguely. Perhaps he had
cooled down a little by now, and was feeling rather uncomfortable. 'Why
was I fired for my Arabic? What's the meaning of the picture in Storn's
private room--the men being hung?'

Leon sat upright. 'Men being hanged? What is that?'

'It's a photograph. You can't get it, because it's in the panelling and
you have to open one of the panels. But I went in one day and he'd left
the panel ajar...Three men hanging from a sort of gibbet an' a lot of
Turks looking on. That's a funny thing for a gentleman to have in his
house.'

Leon was silent for a while.

'I don't know that that is an offence. It is certainly odd. Is there
anything I can do for you?'

Apparently nothing. The man left a little sheepishly, and Leon carried
the news to his partner. He remembered afterwards that he had heard
nothing of the grievance against the butler.

'The only thing I learnt about Storn is that he is extraordinarily mean,
that he runs his house in Park Lane with a minimum number of staff, that
he pays those the smallest wages possible. He is of Armenian origin and
made his money out of oilfields which he acquired by very dubious means.

'As to the three hanged men, that is rather gruesome, but it might be
worse. I have seen photographs in the house of the idle rich that would
make your hair stand on end, my dear Poiccart. At any rate, the morbid
interest of a millionaire in a Turkish execution is not extraordinary.'

'If I were an Armenian,' said Manfred, 'they would be my chief hobby; I
should have a whole gallery of 'em!'

And there ended the matter of the morbid millionaire who lived meanly and
underpaid his servants.

Early in April, Leon read in the newspaper that Mr Storn had gone to
Egypt for a short holiday.

By every test, Ferdinand Storn was a desirable acquaintance. He was
immensely rich; he was personally attractive in a dark, long-nosed way;
and to such people as met him intimately--and they were few--he could
talk Art and Finance with equal facility. So far as was known, he had no
enemies. He lived at Burson House, Park Lane, a small, handsome residence
which he had purchased from the owner, Lord Burson, for 150,000. He
spent most of his time either there or at Felfry Park, his beautiful
country house in Sussex. The Persian and Oriental Oil Trust, of which he
was the head, had its offices in a magnificent building in Moorgate
Street, and here he was usually to be found between ten o'clock in the
morning and three o'clock in the afternoon.

This Trust, despite its titled board, was a one-man affair, and
conducted, amongst other things, the business of bankers. Storn held most
of the shares, and was popularly supposed to derive an income of
something like a quarter of a million a year. He had few personal
friends, and was a bachelor.

It was just short of a month after Leon had read the news that a big car
drew up at the door of the Triangle, and a stout, prosperous-looking man
got out and rang the bell. He was a stranger to Leon, who interviewed
him, and was apparently loth to state his business, for he hummed and
hawed and questioned until Leon, a little impatiently, asked him
point-blank who he was and what was his object.

'Well, I'll tell you, Mr Gonsalez,' said the stout man. 'I am the General
Manager of the Persian and Oriental Oil--'

'Storn's company?' asked Leon, his interest awakened.

'Storn's company. I suppose I really ought to go to the police with my
suspicions, but a friend of mine has such faith in you and what he calls
the Three Just Men, that I thought I had better see you first.'

'Is it about Mr Storn?' asked Leon.

The gentleman, who proved to be Mr Hubert Grey, the Managing Director of
the Trust, nodded.

'You see, Mr Gonsalez, I am in rather a peculiar position. Mr Storn is a
very difficult man, and I should lose my job if I made him look
ridiculous.'

'He's abroad, isn't he?' asked Leon.

'He's abroad,' agreed the other soberly. 'He went abroad, as a matter of
fact, quite unexpectedly; that is to say, it was unexpected by the
office. In fact he had an important Board meeting the day he left, which
he should have attended, but on that morning I got a letter from him
saying that he had to go to Egypt on a matter which affected his personal
honour. He asked me not to communicate with him, or even to announce the
fact that he had left London. Unfortunately, one of my clerks very
foolishly told a reporter who had called that day that Mr Storn had left,

'A week after he had gone, he sent us a letter from an hotel in Rome,
enclosing a cheque for eighty-three thousand pounds, and arranging that
this cheque should be honoured when a gentleman called, which he did the
next day.'

'An Englishman?' asked Leon.

Mr Grey shook his head. 'No, he was a foreigner of some kind; a rather
dark-looking man. The money was paid over to him.

'A few days later we had another letter from Mr Storn, written from the
Hotel de Russie, Rome. This letter told us that a further cheque had been
sent to Mr Kraman, which was to be honoured. This was for one hundred and
seven thousand pounds and a few odd shillings. He gave us instructions as
to how the money was to be paid, and asked us to telegraph to him at an
hotel in Alexandria the moment the cheque was honoured. This I did. The
very next day there came a second letter written from the Hotel
Mediterraneo in Naples--I will let you have copies of all these--telling
us that a third cheque was to be paid without fail, but to a different
man, a Mr Rezzio, who would call at the office. This was for one hundred
and twelve thousand pounds, which very nearly exhausted Mr Storn's cash
balance, although of course he has large reserves at the bank. I might
say that Mr Storn is a man who is rather eccentric in the matter of large
deposit reserves. Very little of his money is locked up in shares. Look
here'--he took a note-case from his pocket and produced a cheque
form--'this money has been paid, but I've brought you along the cheque to
see.'

Leon took it in his hand. It was written in characteristic writing, and
he examined the signature.

'There is no question of this being a forgery?'

'None whatever,' said Grey emphatically. 'The letter, too, was in his
own handwriting. But what puzzled me about the cheque were the queer
marks on the back.'

They were indistinguishable to Leon until he took them to the window, and
then saw a line of faint pencil marks which ran along the bottom of the
cheque.

'I suppose I can't keep this cheque for a day or two?' asked Leon.

'Certainly. The signature, as you see, has been cancelled out, and the
money has been paid.'

Leon examined the cheque again. It was drawn on the Ottoman Oil Bank,
which was apparently a private concern of Storn's.

'What do you imagine has happened?' he asked.

'I don't know, but I'm worried.'

Grey's troubled frown showed the extent of that worry.

'I don't know why I should be, but I've got an uncomfortable feeling at
the back of my mind that there is a swindle somewhere.'

'Have you cabled to Alexandria?'

Mr Grey smiled. 'Naturally; and I have had a reply. It struck me that you
might have agents in Egypt, in which case it might be a simple matter for
you to discover whether there is anything wrong. The main point is that I
don't wish Mr Storn to know that I've been making inquiries. I'll pay any
reasonable expenditure you incur, and I'm quite sure that Mr Storn will
agree that I have done the right thing.'

After the departure of his visitor, Leon interviewed Manfred.

'It may, of course, be a case of blackmail,' said George softly. 'But you
will have to start at Storn's beginnings if you want to get under
whatever mystery there is.'

'So I think,' said Gonsalez; and a few minutes afterwards went out of the
house.

He did not return till midnight. He brought back an amazing amount of
information about Mr Storn.

'About twelve years ago he was an operator in the service of the Turco
Telegraph Company. He speaks eight Oriental languages, and was well-known
in Istanbul. Does that tell you anything, George?'

Manfred shook his head.

'It tells me nothing yet, but I am waiting to be thrilled.'

'He was mixed up with the revolutionary crowd, the under-strappers who
pulled the strings in the days of Abdul Ahmid, and there is no doubt that
he got his Concession through these fellows.'

'What Concession?' asked Manfred.

'Oil land, large tracts of it. When the new Government came into power,
the Concession was formed, though I suspect our friend paid heavily for
the privilege. His five partners, however, were less fortunate. Three of
them were accused of treason against the Government, and were hanged.'

'The photograph,' nodded Manfred. 'What happened to the other two?'

'The other two were Italians, and they were sent to prison in Asia Minor
for the rest of their lives. When Storn came to London, it was as sole
proprietor of the Concession, which he floated with a profit of three
million pounds.'

The next morning Leon left the house early, and at ten o'clock was
ringing the bell at Burson House.

The heavy-jowled butler who opened the door regarded him with suspicion,
but was otherwise deferential.

'Mr Storn is abroad, and won't be back for some weeks, sir.'

'May I see Mr Stem's secretary?' asked Leon in his blandest manner.

'Mr Storn never has a secretary at his house; you will find the young
lady at the offices of the Persian Oil Trust.'

Leon felt in his pocket and produced a card.

'I am one of the Bursons,' he said, 'and as a matter of fact my father
was born here. Some months ago when I was in London I asked Mr Storn if
he would give me permission to look over the house.'

The card contained a scribbled line, signed 'Ferdinand Storn,' giving
permission to the bearer to see the house at any hour 'when I am out of
town.' It had taken Leon the greater part of an hour to forge that
permit.

'I am afraid I cannot let you in, sir,' said the butler, barring the
passage. 'Mr Storn told me before he went that I was to admit no
strangers.'

'What is today?' asked Leon suddenly.

'Thursday, sir,' said the man.

Leon nodded. 'Cheese day,' he said.

Only for the fraction of a second was the man confused.

'I don't know what you mean, sir,' he said gruffly, and almost shut the
door in the face of the caller.

Gonsalez made a circuit of the house. It stood with another upon an
island site.

When he had finished, he went home, an amused and almost excited man, to
give instructions to Raymond Poiccart who, amongst his other
qualifications, had a very wide circle of criminal friends. There was not
a big gangster in London that he did not know. He was acquainted with the
public house in London where the confidence men and the safe smashers
met: he could at any moment gather the gossip of the prisons, and was
probably better acquainted with the secret news of the underworld than
any man at Scotland Yard. Him Leon sent on a news-gathering mission, and
in a small public house off Lambeth Walk, Poiccart learned of the dark
philanthropist who had found employment for at least three ex-convicts.

Leon was sitting alone when he returned, examining with a powerful lens
the odd marks on the back of the cheque.

Before Poiccart could retail his news, Leon reached for a telephone
directory.

'Grey, of course, has left his office, but unless I am mistaken this is
his private address,' he said, as his fingers stopped on one of the
pages. A maid answered his call. Yes, Mr Grey was at home. Presently the
Managing Director's voice came through.

'Mr Grey--who would handle the cheques which you have received from
Storn; I mean who is the official?'

'The accountant,' was the reply.

'Who gave the accountant his job--you?'

A pause.

'No--Mr Storn. He used to be in the Eastern Telegraph Company--Mr Storn
met him abroad.'

'And where is the accountant to be found?' asked Leon eagerly.

'He's on his holidays. He left before the last cheque came. But I can get
him.'

Leon's laugh was one of sheer delight.

'You needn't worry--I knew he wasn't at the office,' he said, and hung up
on the astonished manager.

'Now, my dear Poiccart, what did you find?'

He listened intently till his friend had finished, and then: 'Let us go
to Park Lane--and bring a gun with you,' he said. 'We will call at
Scotland Yard en route.'

It was ten o'clock when the butler opened the door. Before he could frame
a question, a big detective gripped him and pulled him into the street.

The four plain-clothes officers who accompanied Leon flocked into the
hall. A surly-faced footman was arrested before he could shout a warning.
At the very top of the house, in a small windowless apartment that had
once been used as a box-room, they found an emaciated man whom even his
Managing Director, hastily summoned to the scene, failed to identify as
the millionaire. The two Italians who kept guard on him and watched him
through a hole broken through the wall from an adjoining room gave no
trouble.

One of them, he who had carefully planted Burson House full of ex-convict
servants, was very explicit.

'This man betrayed us, and we should have hanged like Hatim Effendi and
Al Shiri and Maropulos the Greek, only we bribed witnesses,' he said. 'We
were partners in the oilfields, and to rob us he manufactured evidence
that we were conspiring against the Government. My friend and I broke
prison and came back to London. I was determined he should pay us the
money he owed us, and I knew that we could never get it from a Court of
Law.'

'It was a very simple matter, and I really am ashamed of myself that I
did not understand those marks at the back of the cheque at first
glance,' explained Leon over the supper-table that night. 'Our Italian
friend was one of the crowd that got the Concession: he had lived for
years in London, and possibly it will be proved that he had criminal
associates. At any rate, he had no difficulty in collecting a houseful of
servants, playing as he did on his knowledge of Storn's character. All
these men offered to serve Storn for sums at which the average servant
would have turned up his nose. It has taken the better part of a year to
fill our friend's establishment with these ex-convicts. You remember that
the footman who came to us a few months ago said that he had been
employed, not by the butler but by Storn himself. They would have taken
the first opportunity of getting rid of him, only inadvertently he used
an Arabic expression, and Storn, who was suspicious of spies and probably
expected the men whom he had betrayed to return, sent him packing.

'On the day Storn was supposed to leave for Egypt, he was seized by the
two Italians, locked up in a room and compelled to write such letters and
sign such cheques as they dictated. But he remembered, rather late in the
day, that the accountant was an old telegraphist, and so he put on the
back of the cheque, in pencil marks, a Morse message in the old symbols
which were employed when the needle machine was most commonly used.'

He produced the cheque and laid it on the table, running his finger along
the pencil mark:

SOSPRSNRPRKLN

'In other words, "Prisoner in Park Lane." The accountant was on his
holiday, so he did not read the message.'

Manfred took up the cheque, turned it and examined it.

'What handsome fee will this millionaire send you?' he asked ironically.

The answer did not come till a few days after the Old Bailey trial. It
took the form of a cheque--for five guineas.

'Game to the last!' murmured Leon admiringly.



7. Mr Levingrou's Daughter


MR LEVINGROU took his long cigar from his mouth and shook his head
sorrowfully. He was a fat man, thick-necked and heavy-cheeked, and he
could not afford to spoil a good cigar.

'That is awful...that is brutal! Tch! It makes me seek...poor Jose!'

His companion snorted in sympathy.

For Jose Silva had fallen. An unemotional judge, who spoke rather
precociously, had told Jose that certain crimes were very heinous in the
eyes of the law. For example, women were held in special esteem, and to
trade on their follies was regarded as being so dreadful that nothing but
a very long term of imprisonment could vindicate the law's outraged
majesty.

And Jose had offended beyond forgiveness. He ran the Latin-American
Artists Agency to give young and pretty aspirants to the stage a quick
and profitable engagement on South American stages. They went away full
of joy and they never came back. Letters came from them to their
relations, very correctly worded, nicely spelt. They were, they said,
happy. They all wrote the same in almost identical language. You might
imagine that they wrote to dictation, as indeed they did.

But the vice squad had got on Jose's tail. A pretty girl applied for a
job and went to Buenos Aires, accompanied by her father and brother--they
were both Scotland Yard men, and when they learnt all that they had to
learn they came back with the girl, a rather shrewd detective herself,
and Jose was arrested. And then they learnt more things about him, and
the prison sentence was inevitable.

Nobody arrested Jules Levingrou and haled him from his beautiful little
bijou house in Knightsbridge and sent him to a cold bleak prison. And
nobody arrested Heinrich Luss, who was his partner. They had financed
Jose and many other Joses, but they were clever.

'Jose was careless,' sighed Jules as he sucked at his cigar.

Heinrich sighed, too. He was as fat as, but looked fatter than, his
companion, because he was a shorter man.

Jules looked round the pretty saloon with its cream and gold decorations,
and presently his eyes stopped roving and fixed on a framed photograph
that was on the mantelpiece. His big face creased in a smile as he rose
with a grunt and, waddling across to the fireplace, took the frame in his
hand. The picture was of an extremely pretty girl.

'You see?'

Heinrich took the picture and mumbled ecstatic praise.

'Not goot enough,' he said.

Mr Levingrou agreed. He had never yet seen a picture that quite did
justice to the delicate beauty of this only daughter of his. He was a
widower; his wife had died when Valerie was a baby. She would never know
how many hearts were broken, how many souls destroyed, that she might be
brought up in the luxury which surrounded her. This aspect of her
upbringing never occurred to Mr Levingrou. He prided himself that he had
no sentiment.

He was part proprietor of twenty-three cabarets and dance halls scattered
up and down the Argentine and Brazil, and drew large profits from what he
regarded as a perfectly legitimate business.

He put down the photograph and came back to the deep arm-chair.

'It is unfortunate about Jose; but these men come and go. This new man
may or may not be good.'

'What is his name?' asked Heinrich.

Jules searched breathlessly in his pockets, found a letter and opened it,
his thick fingers glittering in the light from the crystal chandelier,
for he was a lover of rings.

'Leon Gonsalez--herr Gott!'

Heinrich was sitting upright in his chair, white as a sheet.

'Name of a pipe! What is the matter with you, Heinrich?'

'Leon Gonsalez!' repeated the other huskily. 'You think he is an
applicant for the post...you do not know him?'

Jules shook his huge head.

'Why in God's name should I know him--he is a Spaniard, that is good
enough for me. This is always the way, Heinrich. No sooner does one of
our men make a fool of himself and get caught than another arises.
Tomorrow I shall have twenty, thirty, fifty applicants--not to me but
through the usual channel.'

Heinrich was looking at him hollow-eyed, and now in his agitation he
spoke in German--that brand of German which is heard more frequently in
Poland.

'Let me see the letter.' He took it in his hand and read it carefully.

'He asks for an appointment, that is all.'

'Have you ever heard of the Four Just Men?'

Jules frowned.

'They are dead, eh? I read something years ago.'

'They are alive,' said the other grimly; 'pardoned by the English
Government. They have a bureau in Curzon Street.'

Rapidly he sketched the history of that strange organization which for
years had terrorized the evil-doers who by their natural cunning had
evaded the just processes of the law; and, as he spoke, the face of Jules
Levingrou lengthened.

'But that--is preposterous!' he spluttered at last. 'How could these men
know of me and of you...Besides, they dare not.'

Before Heinrich could reply there was a gentle knock at the door and a
footman came in. There was a card on the salver he carried in his hand.
Jules took it, adjusted his glasses and read, meditated a second, and
then:

'Show him up,' he said.

'Leon Gonsalez,' almost whispered Heinrich as the door closed on the
servant. 'Do you see a little silver triangle at the corner of the card?
That is on the door of their house. It is he!'

'Pshaw!' scoffed his companion. 'He has come--why? To offer his services.
You shall see!'

Leon Gonsalez, grey-haired and dapper, swung into the room, his keen,
ascetic face tense, his fine eyes alive. A ready smiler was Leon. He was
smiling now as he looked from one man to the other.

'You!' he said, and pointed to Jules.

Monsieur Levingrou started. There was almost an accusation in that finger
thrust.

'You wish to see me?' He tried to recover some of his lost dignity.

'I did,' said Leon calmly. 'It is my misfortune that I have never seen
you before. My friend Manfred, of whom you have heard, knows you very
well by sight, and my very dear comrade Poiccart is so well acquainted
with you that he could draw you feature by feature--and indeed did upon
the table-cloth at dinner last night, much to the annoyance of our
thrifty housekeeper!'

Levingrou was on his guard; there was something of the cold devil in
those smiling eyes.

'To what am I indebted--' he began.

'I come in a perfectly friendly spirit,' Leon's smile broadened, his eyes
were twinkling, as with suppressed laughter. 'You will forgive that lie.
Monsieur Levingrou, for lie it is. I have come to warn you that your
wicked little business must be destroyed, or you will be made very
unhappy. The police do not know of the Cafe Espagnol and its peculiar
attractions.'

He dived into his overcoat pocket and, with the quick, jerky motion which
was characteristic of him, produced a sheet of notepaper and unfolded it.

'I have here a list of thirty-two girls who have gone to one or another
of your establishments during the past two years,' he said. 'You may read
it'--and thrust the paper into Jules' hand--'for I have a copy. You will
be interested to know that that sheet of paper represents six months'
inquiries.'

Jules did not so much as read a name. Instead, he shrugged, pushed the
paper back to his visitor and, when Leon did not take it, dropped it on
the floor.

'I am entirely in the dark,' he said. 'If you have no business with me
you had better go--goodnight.'

'My friend'--Leon's voice was a little lower, and those eyes of his were
piercing the very soul of the man who squatted like an ill-shaped toad in
the luxurious deeps of silk and down--'you will send cables to your
managers, ordering the release of those girls, the payment of adequate
compensation, and first-class return ticket to London.'

Levingrou shrugged.

'I really don't know what you mean, my friend. It seems to me you've come
upon a cock and bull story, that you have been deceived.'

M. Jules Levingrou reached out deliberately and pressed an ivory
bell-push.

'I think you are mad, therefore I will take a very charitable view of
what you say. Now, my friend, we have no more time to give to you.'

But Leon Gonsalez was unperturbed.

'I can only imagine that you have no imagination. Monsieur Levingrou,' he
said, a little curtly. 'That you do not realize the torture, the sorrow,
the ghastly degradation into which you throw these sisters of ours.'

A gentle tap at the door and the footman entered. Mr Levingrou indicated
his visitor with a wave of his hand.

'Show this gentleman to the door.'

If he expected an outburst he was pleasantly disappointed. Leon looked
from one man to the other, that mocking smile of his still playing about
the corners of his sensitive mouth then, without a word, turned, and the
door closed on him.

'You heard--you heard?' Heinrich's voice was quivering with terror, his
face the colour of dirty chalk. 'Herr Gott! you don't understand, Jules!
I know of these men. A friend of mine...'

He told a story that would have impressed most men; but Levingrou smiled.

'You are scared, my poor friend. You have not my experience of threats.
Let him prove what he can and go to the police.'

'You fool!' Heinrich almost howled the words. 'The police! Do I not tell
you they want no proof? They punished--'

'Hush!' growled Jules.

He had heard the girl's step in the hall. She was going to the theatre,
she said--her explanation stopped short at the sight of Heinrich's white
face.

'Daddy,' she said reproachfully, 'you've been quarrelling with Uncle
Heinrich.'

She stooped and kissed the forehead of her father and pulled his ear
gently. The stout man imprisoned her in both his arms and chuckled.

'No quarrel, my darling. Heinrich is scared of a business deal. You
wouldn't imagine he could be such a baby.'

A minute later she stood in front of the fireplace, using a lipstick
skilfully. She paused in the operation to tell him an item of news.

'I met such a nice man today, Daddy, at Lady Athery's, a Mr Gordon--do
you know him?'

'I know many Mr Gordons,' smiled Jules. And then, in sudden alarm: 'He
didn't make love to you, did he?'

She laughed at this.

'My dear, he's almost as old as you. And he's a great artist and very
amusing.'

Jules walked with her to the door and saw her go down the steps, cross
the little flagged garden, and stood there until her Rolls had passed out
of sight. Then he came back to his pretty saloon to argue out this matter
of the Four Just Men.

It was a gay party of young people about her own age that Valerie joined.
The box was crowded, and was hot and thick, for the theatre was one where
smoking was allowed. She was relieved when an attendant tapped her on the
shoulder and beckoned her out.

'A gentleman to see you, miss.'

'To see me?' she said in wonder, and came into the vestibule to find a
handsome, middle-aged man in evening dress.

'Mr Gordon!' she exclaimed. 'I had no idea you were here!'

He seemed unusually grave.

'I have some rather bad news for you, Miss Levingrou,' he said, and she
went pale.

'Not about Father?'

'In a sense it is. I am afraid that he is in rather bad trouble.'

She frowned at this.

'Trouble? What kind of trouble?'

'I can't explain here. Will you come with me to the police station?'

She stared at him incredulously, her mouth open.

'The police station?'

Gordon summoned a waiting attendant.

'Get Miss Levingrou's coat from the box,' he said authoritatively.

A few minutes later they passed out of the theatre together and into a
waiting car.

Twelve o'clock was striking when Mr Levingrou rose from his chair stiffly
and stretched himself. Heinrich had been gone nearly three hours. He had,
indeed, left the house in time to catch the last train for the Continent,
whither he fled without even packing so much as a pocket-handkerchief.
Unaware of this desertion, Mr Levingrou was on the point of mounting the
stairs to bed when a thundering rat-tat shook the house. He turned to the
footman.

'See who that is,' he growled, and waited curiously.

When the door was opened he saw the stocky figure of a police inspector.

'Levingrou?' asked the visitor.

Mr Levingrou came forward.

'That is my name,' he said.

The inspector strolled into the hall.

'I want you to come with me to the police station.' His manner was
brusque, indeed rude, and Levingrou felt for the first time in his life a
qualm of fear.

'The police station? Why?'

'I'll explain that to you when you get there.

'But this is monstrous!' exploded the stout man. I will telephone to my
lawyers--'

'Are you going quietly?'

There was such a threat in the tone that Jules became instantly
tractable.

'Very good, inspector, I will come. I think you have made a very great
mistake and...'

He was hustled out of the hall, down the steps and into the waiting car.

It was not an ordinary taxi. The blinds were pulled down. Moreover, he
discovered as soon as he entered the interior that it was well occupied.
Two men sat on seats facing him, the inspector took his place by the
prisoner's side.

He could not see where the car was going. Five minutes, ten minutes
passed...there should be a police station somewhere nearer than that. He
put a question.

'I can relieve your mind,' said a calm voice. 'You're not going to a
police station.'

'Then where am I being taken?'

'That you will discover,' was the unsatisfactory answer.

Nearly an hour passed before the car drew up before a dark house and the
authoritative 'inspector' ordered him curtly to alight. The house had the
appearance of being untenanted; the hall was littered with refuse and
dust. They led him down a flight of stone stairs to the cellar, unlocked
a steel door and pushed him inside.

He had hardly entered before an electric light in the wall glowed dimly,
and he saw that he was in what looked to be a concrete chamber, furnished
with a bed. At the farther end was a small open doorway, innocent of
door, which he was informed led to a washing place. But the revelation
which came to Mr Levingrou, and which struck terror to his soul, was the
fact that the two men who had brought him were heavily masked--the
inspector had disappeared and, try as he did, Jules could not remember
what he looked like.

'You will stay here and keep quiet, and you need not be afraid that
anybody will be alarmed by your disappearance.'

'But...my daughter!' stammered Levingrou in terror.

'Your daughter? Your daughter leaves for the Argentine with a Mr Gordon
tomorrow morning--as other men's daughters have left.'

Levingrou stared, took one step forward and fell fainting to the floor.

Sixteen days passed; sixteen days of unadulterated hell for the
shrieking, half-demented man who paced the length of his cell for hours
on end till, exhausted, he dropped almost lifeless on his bed. And every
morning came a masked man to tell him of plans that had been made, to
describe in detail the establishment in Antofagasta which was to be the
destination of Valerie Levingrou; of a certain piestro...they showed him
his photograph...who was the master of that hell broth.

'You devils! You devils!' shrieked Levingrou, striking wildly out, but
the other caught him and flung him back on the bed.

'You mustn't blame Gordon,' he mocked. 'He has his living to earn...he is
merely the agent of the man who owns the cabaret.'

Then one morning, the eighteenth, they came and told him, three masked
men, that Valerie had arrived and was being initiated into her duties as
a dancing girl....

Jules Levingrou spent the night shivering in a corner of his cell. They
came to him at three in the morning and pricked him with a hypodermic
needle. When he woke, he thought he was dreaming, for he was sitting in
his own saloon, where these masked men had carried him in the dead of
night.

A footman came in, and dropped the tray at the sight of him.

'Good God, sir!' he gasped. 'Where did you come from?'

Levingrou could not speak: he could only shake his head.

'We thought you was in Germany, sir.'

And then, clearing his dry throat, Jules asked harshly:

'Is there any news...Miss Valerie...?'

'Miss Valerie, sir?' The footman was astonished. 'Why, yes sir, she's
upstairs asleep. She was a bit worried the night she came back and found
you weren't here, and then of course she got your letter saying you'd
been called abroad.'

The footman was staring at him, an uncomfortable wonder in his gaze.
Something peculiar had happened. Jules rose unsteadily to his feet and
caught a glance of his face in the mirror. His hair and his beard were
white.

He staggered rather than walked to his writing-table, jerked open a
drawer and took out an overseas cable form. 'Ring for a messenger.' His
voice was hoarse and quavering. 'I want to send fourteen cablegrams to
South America.'



8. The Share Pusher


THE MAN WHOM Raymond Poiccart ushered into the presence of Manfred was to
all appearances a smart, military looking gentleman approaching the
sixties. He was faultlessly dressed and had the carriage and presence of
a soldier. A retired general, thought Manfred; but he saw something more
than the outward personation of manner revealed. This man was broken.
There was a certain imponderable expression in his face, a tense anguish
which this, the shrewdest of the Three Just Men, instantly interpreted.

'My name is Pole--Major-General Sir Charles Pole,' said the visitor, as
Poiccart placed a chair for him and discreetly withdrew.

'And you have come to see me about Mr Bonsor True,' said Manfred
instantly, and when the other started nervously he laughed. 'No, I am not
being very clever,' said Manfred gently. 'So many people have seen me
about Mr Bonsor True. And I think I can anticipate your story. You have
been investing in one of his oil concerns and you have lost a
considerable sum of money. Was it oil?'

'Tin,' said the other. 'Inter-Nigerian Tin. You have heard about my
misfortune?'

Manfred shook his head.

'I have heard about the misfortunes of so many people who have trusted Mr
True. How much have you lost?'

The old man drew a long breath.

'Twenty-five thousand pounds,' he said, 'every penny I possess. I have
consulted the police, but they say there is nothing they can do. The tin
mine actually existed, and no misrepresentation was made by True in any
letter he sent to me.'

Manfred nodded.

Yours is a typical case, General,' he said. 'True never brings himself
within the reach of the law. All his misrepresentations are made over a
luncheon table, when there is no other witness, and I presume that in his
letters to you he pointed out the speculative nature of your investment
and warned you that you were not putting your money into gilt-edged
securities.'

'It was at dinner,' said the General. 'I had some doubt on the matter and
he asked me to dine with him at the Walkley Hotel. He told me that
immense quantities of tin were in sight, and that while he could not, in
justice to his partners, broadcast the exact amount of profit the company
would make, he assured me that my money would be doubled in six months. I
wouldn't mind so much,' the old man went on, as he raised his trembling
hand to his lips, 'but, Mr Manfred, I have a daughter, a brilliant young
girl who has, in my opinion, a wonderful future. If she had been a man
she would have been a strategist. I hoped to have left her amply provided
for, but this means ruin--ruin! Can nothing be done to bring this
criminal to justice?'

Manfred did not reply immediately.

'I wonder if you realize. General, that you are the twelfth person who
has come to us in the past three months. Mr True is so well protected by
the law and by his letters that it is almost impossible to catch him.
There was a time'--he smiled faintly--'when my friends and I would have
taken the most dramatic steps to deal with the gentleman, and I think our
method would have been effective; but now'--he shrugged his
shoulders--'we are a little restricted. Who introduced you to this
gentleman?'

'Mrs Calford Creen. I met the lady at a dinner of a mutual friend, and
she asked me to dine with her at her flat in Hanover Mansions.'

Manfred nodded again. He was not at all surprised by this intelligence.

'I am afraid I can promise you very little,' he said. 'The only thing I
would ask is that you should keep in touch with me. Where are you
living?'

His visitor was at the moment living in a little house near Truro.
Manfred noted the address, and a few minutes later was standing by the
window watching the weary old man walking slowly down Curzon Street.

Poiccart came in.

'I know nothing of this gentleman's business,' he said, 'but I have a
feeling that it concerns our friend True. George, we ought to be able to
catch that man. Leon was saying at breakfast this morning that there is a
deep pond in the New Forest, where a man suitably anchored by chains and
weights might lie without discovery for a hundred years. Personally, I am
never in favour of drowning--'

George Manfred laughed.

''Ware the law, my good friend,' he said. 'There will be no killing,
though a man who has systematically robbed the new poor deserves
something with boiling lead in it.'

Nor could Leon Gonsalez offer any solution when he was consulted that
afternoon.

'The curious thing is that True has no monies in this country. He runs
two bank accounts and is generally overdrawn on both. I should not be
surprised if he had a cache somewhere, in which case the matter would be
simple--I've been watching him for the greater part of a year, and he
never goes abroad, and I have searched his modest Westminster flat so
often that I could go blindfolded to the place where he keeps his dress
ties.'

All this had occurred in the previous year and no further complaints came
about this fraudulent share pusher. The Three were no nearer to a
solution of their problem when came the rather remarkable disappearance
of Margaret Lein.

Margaret Lein was not a very important person: she was by all social
standards as unimportant a person as one would be likely to meet in a
stroll through the West End of London. She occupied the position of maid
to the Hon Mrs Calford Creen, and she had gone out one evening to the
chemist to buy a bottle of smelling salts for her mistress, and had never
come back.

She was pretty; her age was nineteen; she had no friends in London,
being--so she said--an orphan; and, so far as was known, she had no
attachments in the accepted sense of the word. But, as the police pointed
out, it was extremely unlikely that a rather pretty maid, well spoken and
with charming manners, in addition to her physical perfections, could
spend a year in London without having acquired something in the shape of
a 'follower.'

Mrs Calford Creen, not satisfied with the police inquiries, had called
the Three Just Men to her aid. It was a week after the disappearance of
Margaret Lein that a well-known lawyer crossed the polished dancing floor
of the Leiter Club to greet the man who sat aloof and alone at a very
small table near the floor's edge.

'Why, Mr Gonsalez!' he beamed. 'This is the last place in the world I
should have expected to find you! In Limehouse, yes, prowling in the
haunts of the underworld, yes, but at Letter's Club...Really, I have
mistaken your character.'

Leon smiled faintly, poured a little more Rhine wine into his
long-stemmed glass and sipped it.

'My dear Mr Thurles,' he drawled, 'this is my underworld. That fat
gentleman puffing gallantly with that stout lady is Bill Sikes. It is
true he does not break into houses nor carry a life-preserver, but he
sells dud shares to thrifty and gullible widows, and has grown fat on the
proceeds. Some day I shall take that gentleman and break his heart.'

The red-faced Thurles chuckled as he sat down by the other's side.

'That will be difficult. Mr Bonsor True is too rich a man to pull down,
however much a blackguard he may be.'

Leon fixed a cigarette in a long amber tube and seemed wholly absorbed in
the operation, which he performed with great care.

'Perhaps I oughtn't to have made that horrific threat,' he said. 'True is
a friend of your client's, isn't he?'

'Mrs Creen?' Thurles was genuinely surprised. 'I wasn't aware of the
fact.'

'I must have been mistaken,' said Leon, and changed the subject.

He knew right well that he was not mistaken. That stout share plugger had
been the tete-a-tete guest of Mrs Creen on the night Margaret Lein had
disappeared from human ken; and the curious circumstance was that neither
to the police nor to the Triangle had Mrs Creen mentioned this
interesting fact.

She lived in a modest flat near Hanover Court: a rather pretty,
hard-faced young widow, whose source of income was believed to be a
legacy left by her late husband. Leon, a very inquisitive man, had made
the most careful inquiries without discovering either that she had had a
husband or that he had died. All he knew of her was that she took
frequent trips abroad, sometimes to out-of-the-way places like Roumania;
that she was invariably accompanied by the missing Margaret; that she
spent money, not freely but lavishly, gave magnificent entertainments in
Paris, Rome, and once in Brussels, and seemed quite content to return
from a life which must have cost her at least seven hundred and fifty
pounds a week to the modest establishment near Hanover Court where her
rent was seven hundred and fifty pounds per annum and her household bills
did not exceed twenty pounds a week.

Leon watched the dancing for a little longer, beckoned a waiter and paid
his bill. The lawyer had gone back to his party. He saw Mr Bonsor True,
the centre of a gay table, and smiled to himself, and wondered whether
the share plugger would be as cheerful if he knew that in the right hand
inside pocket of Leon Gonsalez' coat was a copy of a marriage certificate
that he had dug out that morning.

It had been an inspiration that had led Leon Gonsalez to Somerset House.

He glanced at his watch: late as the hour was, there was still a hope of
finding Mrs Creen. His car was waiting in the park in Wellington Place,
and ten minutes later he had stopped before the doors of Hanover
Mansions. A lift carried him to the third floor. He pressed the bell of
No 109. A light showed in the fanlight, and it was Mrs Creen herself who
opened the door to him. Evidently she expected somebody else, for she was
momentarily taken back.

'Oh, Mr Gonsalez!' And then, quickly: 'Have you had news of Margaret?'

'I am not quite sure whether I have or not,' said Leon. 'May I see you
for a few minutes?'

Something in his tone must have warned her.

'It's rather late, isn't it?'

'It will save me a journey in the morning,' he almost pleaded and with
some reluctance she admitted him.

It was not the first visit he had paid to her flat, and he had duly noted
that, although her method of living was fairly humble, the flat itself
was furnished regardless of expense.

She offered him a whisky and soda, which he accepted but did not drink.

'I want to ask you,' he said, when she had settled down, 'how long you
have had Margaret in your employ?'

'Over a year,' she replied.

'A nice girl?'

'Very. But I told you about her. It has been a great shock to me.'

'Would you call her accomplished? Did she speak any foreign languages?'

Mrs Creen nodded.

'French and German perfectly--that was why she was such a treasure. She
had been brought up with a family in Alsace, and was, I believe, half
French.'

'Why did you send her out to the chemist for smelling salts?'

The woman moved impatiently.

'I have already told you, as I told the police, that I had a very bad
headache, and Margaret herself suggested she should go to the chemist.'

'For no other reason? Couldn't Mr True have gone?'

She nearly jumped at this.

'Mr True? I don't know what you mean.'

'True was with you that night; you had been dining tete-a-tete. In fact,
you were dining as one would expect a husband and wife to dine.'

The woman went white, was momentarily bereft of speech.

'I don't know why you're making such a mystery of your marriage, Mrs
Creen, but I know that for five years past you have not only been married
to True, but you have been his partner, in the sense that you have
assisted him in his--er--financial operations. Now, Mrs True, I want you
to put your cards on the table. When you went abroad you took this girl
with you?'

She nodded dumbly.

'What was your object in going to Paris, Rome and Brussels? Had you any
other object than to enjoy yourself? Was there any business reason for
your move?'

He saw her lick her dry lips, but she did not reply.

'Let me put it more plainly. Have you in any of those cities a private
safe at any of the banking corporations or safe deposits?'

She sprang to her feet, her mouth open in surprise.

'Who told you?' she asked quickly. 'What business is that of yours,
anyway?'

As she spoke, came the gentle tinkle of a bell, and she half turned.

'Let me open it for you,' said Leon, and before she could move he was
down the passage and had flung open the door.

An astonished financier was standing on the doormat. At the sight of Leon
he gaped.

'Come inside, Mr True,' said Leon gently. 'I think I have some
interesting news for you.'

'Who--who are you?' stammered the older man, peering at the visitor, and
then of a sudden he recognized him. 'My God! One of the Four Just Men,
eh? Well, have you found that girl?'

He realized at that moment that the question in itself was a blunder. He
was not supposed to be interested in the missing maid.

'I haven't found her, and I think she's going to be rather difficult for
any of us to find,' said Leon.

By this time Mrs Creen had recovered her self-possession.

'I'm awfully glad you came, Mr True. This gentleman has been making the
most extraordinary statements about us. He is under the impression we are
married. Did you ever hear anything so ridiculous?'

Leon did not attempt to refute the absurdity of his suggestion until they
were back in the little drawing-room.

'Now, sir,' said Mr Bonsor True, his pompous self, 'whatever do you mean
by making--'

Leon cut him short.

'I will tell you briefly what I have already told your wife,' he said;
'and as to your marriage, that is so indisputable a fact that I will not
attempt to show you the marriage certificate which is in my pocket. I'm
not here to reproach you, True, or this lady. The question of your
treatment of the unfortunate people who have invested money with you is a
matter for your own conscience. What I do wish to know is, whether it is
a fact that in certain continental cities you have safes or deposits
where you keep your wealth?'

The significance of the question was not lost upon the stout Mr True.

'There are certain deposits of mine on the Continent,' he said, 'but I
don't quite understand--'

'Will you be perfectly frank with me, Mr True?' There was a hint of
impatience in Leon's tone. 'Are there in Paris, Rome or Brussels safes of
yours, and are you in the habit of carrying the keys of those safes?'

Mr Bonsor True smiled.

'No, sir; I have places of deposit, and they are in fact safes. But they
have combinations--'

'Ah ha!' Leon's face lit. 'And do you by any chance carry the combination
words in your pocket?'

For a second True hesitated, and then he took from his waistcoat pocket,
fastened to a platinum chain, a small golden book about the size of a
postage stamp.

'Yes, I carry them here--and why on earth I should be discussing my
private business--'

'That's all I wanted to know.'

He stared at the visitor. Leon was laughing softly but heartily, rubbing
his hands as at the best joke in the world.

'Now I think I understand,' he said. 'I also know why you sent Miss
Margaret Lein to the chemist to get a little smelling salts. It was you
they were for!'--his accusing finger pointed at the financier.

True's jaw dropped.

'That's true: I was taken suddenly ill.'

'Mr True fainted,' Mrs. Creen broke in. 'I sent Margaret up to my room to
get some smelling salts, but they weren't there. It was she who
volunteered to buy them from the chemist.'

Leon wiped his eyes.

'That's a great joke,' he said; 'and now I can reconstruct the whole
story. What time did you call on Mrs Creen that evening?'

True thought.

'About seven.'

'Are you in the habit of drinking cocktails, and are they usually waiting
for you in the dining-room?'

'In the drawing-room,' corrected Mrs Creen.

'You took a cocktail,' Leon went on, 'and then you suddenly went out. In
other words, somebody had doctored your drink with a knock-out drop. Mrs
Creen was not, of course, in the room. When you fell, Margaret Lein
examined your book and got the combination words she wanted. She had been
abroad with Mrs Creen, so she knew this playful little method of yours of
caching your ill-gotten gains.'

True's face went from livid red to ashy white.

'The combination word?' he said huskily. 'She got the combination word?
Oh, my God!'

Without another word he flew from the room and they heard the front door
thunder as he slammed it.

Leon went at greater leisure, but he arrived, in Curzon Street in time
for supper.

'I'm not going to investigate any further,' he said, 'but it's any odds
that those safes in Paris and Rome are empty by now, and that a very
clever girl, who is certainly the daughter of one of Mr True's deluded
clients, is now in a position to help her parents.'

'How do you know that she has parents?' asked Manfred.

'I don't know,' replied Leon frankly. 'But I am certain she had a
father--I wired to General Pole last week to discover if his clever
daughter was staying with him, and he wired back that 'Margaret had been
abroad finishing her education for the past year. And I suppose that
acting as maid to the partner of a share crook is an education.'



9. The Man Who Sang in Church


To LEON GONSALEZ went most of the cases of blackmail which came the way
of the Three Just Men.

And yet, from the views he had so consistently expressed, he was the last
man in the world to whom such problems should have gone, for in that
famous article of his entitled 'Justification,' which put up the sales of
a quarterly magazine by some thousand per cent, he offered the following
opinion:

'...as to blackmail, I see no adequate punishment but death in the case
of habitual offenders. You cannot parley with the type of criminal who
specialises in this loathsome form of livelihood. Obviously there can be
no side of him to which appeal can be made: no system of reformation can
effect him. He is dehumanised, and may be classified with the secret
poisoner, the drug pusher and...'

He mentioned a trade as degrading.

Leon found less drastic means of dealing with these pests; yet we may
suppose that the more violent means which distinguished the case of Miss
Brown and the man who sang in church had his heartiest approval.

There are so many types of beauty that even Leon Gonsalez, who had a
passion for classification, gave up at the eighteenth sub-division of the
thirty-third category of brunettes. By which time he had filled two large
quarto notebooks.

If he had not wearied of his task before he met Miss Brown, he would
assuredly have recognized its hopelessness, for she fell into no
category, nor had he her peculiar attractions catalogued in any of his
sub-sections. She was dark and slim and elegant. Leon hated the word, but
he was compelled to admit this characteristic. The impression she left
was one of delicate fragrance. Leon called her the Lavender Girl. She
called herself Brown, which was obviously not her name; also, in the
matter of simulations, she wore a closely-fitting hat which came down
over her eyes and would make subsequent identification extremely
difficult.

She timed her visit for the half-light of dusk--the cigarette hour that
follows a good dinner, when men are inclined rather to think than to
talk, and to doze than either.

Others had come at this hour to the little house in Curzon Street, where
the silver triangle on the door marked the habitation of the Three Just
Men, and when the bell rang George Manfred looked up at the clock.

'See who it is, Raymond: and before you go, I will tell you. It is a
young lady in black, rather graceful of carriage, very nervous and in bad
trouble.'

Leon grinned as Poiccart rose heavily from his chair and went out.

'Clairvoyance rather than deduction,' he said, 'and observation rather
than either: from where you sit you can see the street. Why mystify our
dear friend?'

George Manfred sent a ring of smoke to the ceiling. 'He is not
mystified,' he said lazily. 'He has seen her also. If you hadn't been so
absorbed in your newspaper you would have seen her, too. She has passed
up and down the street three times on the other side. And on each
occasion she has glanced toward this door. She is rather typical, and I
have been wondering exactly what variety of blackmail has been practised
on her.'

Here Raymond Poiccart came back.

'She wishes to see one of you,' he said. 'Her name is Miss Brown--but she
doesn't look like a Miss Brown!'

Manfred nodded to Leon. 'It had better be you,' he said.

Gonsalez went to the little front drawing-room, and found the girl
standing with her back to the window, her face in shadow. 'I would
rather you didn't put on the light, please,' she said, in a calm, steady
voice. 'I don't want to be recognized if you meet me again.'

Leon smiled.

I had no intention of touching the switch,' he said. 'You see, Miss--' He
waited expectantly.

'Brown,' she replied, so definitely that he would have known she desired
anonymity even if she had not made her request in regard to the light. 'I
told your friend my name.'

'You see, Miss Brown,' he went on, 'we have quite a number of callers who
are particularly anxious not to be recognized when we meet them again.
Will you sit down? I know that you have not much time, and that you are
anxious to catch a train out of town.'

She was puzzled.

'How did you know that?' she asked.

Leon made one of his superb gestures.

'Otherwise you would have waited until it was quite dark before you made
your appointment. You have, in point of fact, left it just as late as you
could.'

She pulled a chair to the table and sat down slowly, turning her back to
the window.

'Of course that is so,' she nodded. 'Yes, I have to leave in time, and I
have cut it fine. Are you Mr Manfred?'

'Gonsalez,' he corrected her.

'I want your advice,' she said.

She spoke in an even, unemotional voice, her hands lightly clasped before
her on the table. Even in the dark, and unfavourably placed as she was
for observation, he could see that she was beautiful. He guessed from the
maturity of her voice that she was in the region of twenty-four.

'I am being blackmailed. I suppose you will tell me I should go to the
police, but I am afraid the police would be of no assistance, even if I
were willing to risk an appearance in Court, which I am not. My
father'--she hesitated--'is a Government official. It would break his
heart if he knew. What a fool I've been!'

'Letters?' asked Leon, sympathetically.

'Letters and other things,' she said. 'About six years ago I was a
medical student at St John's Hospital. I didn't take my final exam for
reasons which you will understand. My surgical knowledge has not been of
very much use to me, except...well, I once saved a man's life, though I
doubt if it was worth saving. He seems to think it was, but that has
nothing to do with the case. When I was at St John's I got to know a
fellow-student, a man whose name will not interest you and, as girls of
my age sometimes do, I fell desperately in love with him. I didn't know
that he was married, although he told me this before our friendship
reached a climax.

'For all that followed I was to blame. There were the usual letters--'

'And these are the basis of the blackmail?' asked Leon.

She nodded. 'I was worried ill about the...affair. I gave up my work and
returned home; but that doesn't interest you, either.'

'Who is blackmailing you?' asked Leon.

She hesitated. 'The man. It's horrible isn't it? But he has gone down and
down. I have money of my own--my mother left me two thousand pounds a
year--and of course I've paid.'

'When did you see this man last?'

She was thinking of something else, and she did not answer him. As he
repeated the question, she looked up quickly.

'Last Christmas Day--only for a moment. He wasn't staying with us--I mean
it was at the end of...'

She had become suddenly panic-stricken, confused, and was almost
breathless as she went on:

'I saw him by accident. Of course he didn't see me, but it was a great
shock...It was his voice. He always had a wonderful tenor voice.'

'He was singing?' suggested Leon, when she paused, as he guessed, in an
effort to recover her self-possession.

'Yes, in church,' she said desperately. 'That is where I saw him.'

She went on speaking with great rapidity, as though she were anxious not
only to dismiss from her mind that chance encounter, but to make Leon
also forget.

'It was two months after this that he wrote to me--he wrote to our old
address in London. He said he was in desperate need of money, and wanted
five hundred pounds. I'd already given him more than one thousand pounds,
but I was sane enough to write and tell him I intended to do no more. It
was then that he horrified me by sending a photograph of the letter--one
of the letters--I had sent him. Mr Gonsalez, I have met another man,
and...well, John had read the news of my engagement.'

'Your fiance knows nothing about this earlier affair?'

She shook her head.

'No, nothing, and he mustn't know. Otherwise everything would be simple.
Do you imagine I would allow myself to be blackmailed any further but for
that?'

Leon took a slip of paper from one pocket and a pencil from another.

'Will you tell me the name of this man? John--?'

'John Letheritt, 27, Lion Row, Whitechurch Street. It's a little room
that he has rented, as an office, and a sleeping-place. I've already had
inquiries made.'

Leon waited.

'What is the crisis--why have you come now?' he asked.

She took from her bag a letter, and he noted that it was in a clean
envelope; evidently she had no intention that her real name and address
should be known.

He read it, and found it a typical communication. The letter demanded
3,000 by the third of the month, failing which the writer intended
putting 'papers' in 'certain hands.' There was just that little touch of
melodrama which for some curious reason the average blackmailer adopts in
his communiques.

'I'll see what I can do--how am I to get in touch with you?' asked Leon.
'I presume that you don't wish that either your real name or your address
should be known even to me.'

She did not answer until she had taken from her bag a number of
banknotes, which she laid on the table.

Leon smiled. 'I think we'll discuss the question of payment when we have
succeeded. What is it you want me to do?'

'I want you to get the letters and, if it is possible, I want you so to
frighten this man that he won't trouble me again. As to the money, I
shall feel so much happier if you will let me pay you now!'

'It is against the rules of the firm!' said Leon cheerfully.

She gave him a street and a number which he guessed was an accommodation
address.

'Please don't see me to the door,' she said, with a half-glance at the
watch on her wrist.

He waited till the door closed behind her, and then went upstairs to his
companions.

'I know so much about this lady that I could write a monograph on the
subject,' he said.

'Tell us a little,' suggested Manfred. But Leon shook his head.

That evening he called at Whitechurch Street. Lion Row was a tiny,
miserable thoroughfare, more like an alley than anything, and hardly
deserved its grand designation. In one of those ancient houses which must
have seen the decline of Alsatia, at the top of three rickety flights of
stairs, he found a door, on which had been recently painted: 'J.
LETHERITT, EXPORTER.'

His knock produced no response.

He knocked again more heavily, and heard the creaking of a bed, and a
harsh voice on the other side asking who was there. It took some time
before he could persuade the man to open the door, and then Leon found
himself in a very long, narrow room, lighted by a shadeless electric
table-lamp. The furniture consisted of a bed, an old washstand and a
dingy desk piled high with unopened circulars.

He guessed the man who confronted him, dressed in a soiled shirt and
trousers, to be somewhere in the region of thirty-five; he certainly
looked older. His face was unshaven and there was in the room an acrid
stink of opium.

'What do you want?' growled John Letheritt, glaring suspiciously at the
visitor.

With one glance Leon had taken in the man--a weakling, he guessed--one
who had found and would always take the easiest way. The little pipe on
the table by the bed was a direction post not to be mistaken.

Before he could answer, Letheritt went on: 'If you have come for letters
you won't find them here, my friend.' He shook a trembling hand in Leon's
face. 'You can go back to dear Gwenda and tell her that you are no more
successful than the last gentleman she sent!'

'A blackmailer, eh? You are the dirtiest little blackmailer I ever met,'
mused Leon. 'I suppose you know the young lady intends to prosecute you?'

'Let her prosecute. Let her get a warrant and have me pinched! It won't
be the first time I've been inside! Maybe she can get a search warrant,
then she'll be able to have her letters read in Court. I'm saving you a
lot of trouble. I'll save Gwenda trouble, too! Engaged, eh? You're not
the prospective bridegroom?' he sneered.

'If I were, I should be wringing your neck,' said Leon calmly. 'If you
are a wise man--'

'I'm not wise,' snarled the other. 'Do you think I'd be living in this
pigsty if I were? Me...a man with a medical degree?'

Then, with a sudden rage, he pushed his visitor towards the door.

'Get out and stay out!'

Leon was so surprised by this onslaught that he was listening to the door
being locked and bolted against him before he had realized what had
happened.

From the man's manner, he was certain that the letters were in that
room--there were a dozen places where they might be hidden: he could have
overcome the degenerate with the greatest ease, bound him to the bed and
searched the room, but in these days the Three Just Men were very
law-abiding people.

Instead he came back to his friends late that night with the story of his
partial failure.

'If he left the house occasionally, it would be easy--but he never goes
out. I even think that Raymond and I could, without the slightest
trouble, make a very thorough search of the place. Letheritt has a bottle
of milk left every morning, and it shouldn't be difficult to put him to
sleep if we reached the house a little after the milkman.'

Manfred shook his head.

'You'll have to find another way; it's hardly worth while antagonizing
the police,' he said.

'Which is putting it mildly,' murmured Poiccart. 'Who's the lady?'

Leon repeated almost word for word the conversation he had had with Miss
Brown.

'There are certain remarkable facts in her statement, and I am pretty
sure they were facts, and that she was not trying to deceive me,' he
said. 'Curious item Number One is that the lady heard this man singing in
church last Christmas Day. Is Mr Letheritt the kind of person one would
expect to hear exercising his vocal organs on Christmas carols? My brief
acquaintance with him leads me to suppose that he isn't. Curious item
Number Two was the words: "He wasn't staying with us," or something of
that sort; and he was "nearing the end"--of what? Those three items are
really remarkable!'

'Not particularly remarkable to me,' growled Poiccart. 'He was obviously
a member of a house-party somewhere, and she didn't know he was staying
in the neighbourhood, until she saw him in church. It was near the end of
his visit.'

Leon shook his head.

'Letheritt has been falling for years. He hasn't reached his present
state since Christmas; therefore he must have been as bad--or nearly as
bad--nine months ago. I really have taken a violent dislike to him, and I
must get those letters.'

Manfred looked at him thoughtfully.

'They would hardly be at his bankers, because he wouldn't have a banker;
or at his lawyers, because I should imagine that he is the kind of person
whose acquaintance with law begins and ends in the Criminal Courts. I
think you are right, Leon; the papers are in his room.'

Leon lost no time. Early the next morning he was in Whitechurch Street,
and watched the milkman ascend to the garret where Letheritt had his foul
habitation. He waited till the milkman had come out and disappeared but,
sharp as he was, he was hardly quick enough. By the time he had reached
the top floor, the milk had been taken in, and the little phial of
colourless fluid which might have acted as a preservative to the milk was
unused.

The next morning he tried again, and again he failed.

On the fourth night, between the hours of one and two, he managed to gain
an entry into the house, and crept noiselessly up the stairs. The door
was locked from the inside, but he could reach the end of the key with a
pair of narrow pliers he carried.

There was no sound from within, when he snapped back the lock and turned
the handle softly. He had forgotten the bolts.

The next day he came again, and surveyed the house from the outside. It
was possible to reach the window of the room, but he would need a very
long ladder, and after a brief consultation with Manfred, he decided
against the method.

Manfred made a suggestion.

'Why not send him a wire, asking him to meet your Miss Brown at Liverpool
Street Station? You know her Christian name?'

Leon sighed wearily.

'I tried that on the second day, my dear chap, and had little Lew Leveson
on hand to "whizz" him the moment he came into the street in case he was
carrying the letters on him.'

'By "whizz" you mean to pick his pocket? I can't keep track of modern
thief slang,' said Manfred. 'In the days when I was actively interested,
we used to call it "dip".'

'You are out of date, George; "whizz" is the word. But of course the
beggar didn't come out. If he owed rent I could get the brokers put in;
but he does not owe rent. He is breaking no laws, and is living a fairly
blameless life--except, of course, one could catch him for being in
possession of opium. But that wouldn't be much use, because the police
are rather chary of allowing us to work with them.' He shook his head.
'I'm afraid I shall have to give Miss Brown a very bad report.'

It was not until a few days later that he actually wrote to the agreed
address, having first discovered that it was, as he suspected, a small
stationer's shop where letters could be called for.

A week later Superintendent Meadows, who was friendly with the Three,
came down to consult Manfred on a matter of a forged Spanish passport,
and since Manfred was an authority on passport forgeries and had a fund
of stories about Spanish criminals, it was long after midnight when the
conference broke up.

Leon, who needed exercise, walked to Regent Street with Meadows, and the
conversation turned to Mr John Letheritt.

'Oh, yes, I know him well. I took him two years ago on a false pretence
charge, and got him eighteen months at the London Assizes. A real bad
egg, that fellow, and a bit of a squeaker, too. He's the man who put away
Joe Benthall, the cleverest cat burglar we've had for a generation. Joe
got ten years, and I shouldn't like to be this fellow when he comes out!'

Suddenly Leon asked a question about Letheritt's imprisonment, and when
the other had answered, his companion stood stock-still in the middle of
the deserted Hanover Square and doubled up with silent laughter.

'I don't see the joke.'

'But I do,' chuckled Leon. 'What a fool I've been! And I thought I
understood the case!'

'Do you want Letheritt for anything? I know where he lives,' said
Meadows.

Leon shook his head.

'No, I don't want him: but I should very much like to have ten minutes in
his room!'

Meadows looked serious.

'He's blackmailing, eh? I wondered where he was getting his money from.'

But Leon did not enlighten him. He went back to Curzon Street and began
searching certain works of reference, and followed this by an inspection
of a large scale map of the Home Counties. He was the last to go to bed,
and the first to waken, for he slept in the front of the house and heard
the knocking at the door.

It was raining heavily as he pulled up the window and looked out; and in
the dim light of dawn he thought he recognized Superintendent Meadows. A
second later he was sure of his visitor's identity.

'Will you come down? I want to see you.'

Gonsalez slipped into his dressing-gown, ran downstairs and opened the
door to the Superintendent.

'You remember we were talking about Letheritt last night?' said Meadows
as Leon ushered him into the little waiting-room.

The superintendent's voice was distinctly unfriendly, and he was eyeing
Leon keenly.

'Yes--I remember.'

'You didn't by any chance go out again last night?'

'No. Why?'

Again that look of suspicion.

'Only Letheritt was murdered at half past one this morning, and his room
ransacked.'

Leon stared at him.

'Murdered? Have you got the murderer?' he asked at last.

'No, but we shall get him all right. He was seen coming down the rainpipe
by a City policeman. Evidently he had got into Letheritt's room through
the window, and it was this discovery by the constable which led to a
search of the house. The City Police had to break in the door, and they
found Letheritt dead on the bed. He had evidently been hit on the head
with a jemmy, and ordinarily that injury would not have killed him,
according to the police doctor; but in his state of health it was quite
enough to put him out. A policeman went round the house to intercept the
burglar, but somehow he must have escaped into one of the little alleys
that abound in this part of the city, and he was next seen by a constable
in Fleet Street, driving a small car, the number-plate of which had been
covered with mud.'

'Was the man recognized?'

'He hasn't been--yet. What he did was to leave three fingerprints on the
window, and as he was obviously an old hand at the game, that is as good
as a direct identification. The City Detective Force called us in, but we
haven't been able to help them except to give them particulars of
Letheritt's past life. Incidentally, I supplied them with a copy of your
fingerprints. I hope you don't mind.'

Leon grinned.

'Delighted!' he said.

After the officer had left, Leon went upstairs to give the news to his
two friends.

But the most startling intelligence was to come when they were sitting at
breakfast. Meadows arrived. They saw his car draw up and Poiccart went
out to open the door to him. He strode into the little room, his eyes
bulging with excitement.

'Here's a mystery which even you fellows will never be able to solve,' he
said. 'Do you know that this is a day of great tragedy for Scotland Yard
and for the identification system? It means the destruction of a method
that has been laboriously built up...'

'What are you talking about?' asked Manfred quickly.

'The fingerprint system,' said Meadows, and Poiccart, to whom the
fingerprint method was something God-like, gaped at him. 'We've found a
duplicate,' said Meadows. 'The prints on the glass were undoubtedly the
prints of Joe Benthall--and Joe Benthall is in Wilford County Gaol
serving the first part of a ten years' sentence!'

Something made Manfred turn his head toward his friend. Leon's eyes were
blazing, his thin face wreathed in one joyous smile.

'The man who sang in church!' he said softly. 'This is the prettiest case
that I have ever dealt with. Now sit down, my dear Meadows, and eat! No,
no: sit down. I want to hear about Benthall--is it possible for me to see
him?'

Meadows stared at him.

'What use would that be? I tell you this is the biggest blow we've ever
had. And what is more, when we showed the City policeman a photograph of
Benthall, he recognized him as the man he had seen coming down the
rainpipe! I thought Benthall had escaped, and phoned the prison. But he's
there all right.'

'Can I see Benthall?'

Meadows hesitated.

'Yes--I think it could be managed. The Home Office is rather friendly
with you, isn't it?'

Friendly enough, apparently. By noon, Leon Gonsalez was on his way to
Wilford Prison and, to his satisfaction, he went alone.

Wilford Gaol is one of the smaller convict establishments, and was
brought into use to house long-time convicts of good character who were
acquainted with the bookbinding and printing trade. There are several
'trade' prisons in England--Maidstone is the 'printing' prison, Shepton
Mallet the 'dyeing' prison--where prisoners may exercise their trades.

The chief warder, whom Leon interviewed, told him that Wilford was to be
closed soon, and its inmates transferred to Maidstone. He spoke
regretfully of this change.

'We've got a good lot of men here--they give us no trouble, and they have
an easy time. We've had no cases of indiscipline for years. We only have
one officer on night-duty--that will give you an idea how quiet we are.'

'Who was the officer last night?' asked Leon, and the unexpectedness of
the question took the chief warder by surprise.

'Mr Bennett,' he said, 'he's gone sick today by the way--a bilious
attack. Curious thing you should ask the question: I've just been to see
him. We had an inquiry about the man you've come to visit. Poor old
Bennett is in bed with a terrible headache.'

'Can I see the Governor?' asked Leon.

The chief warder shook his head.

'He's gone to Dover with Miss Folian--his daughter. She's gone off to the
Continent.'

'Miss Gwenda Folian?' and when the chief warder nodded: 'Is she the lady
who was training to be a doctor?'

'She is a doctor,' said the other emphatically. 'Why, when Benthall
nearly died from a heart attack, she saved his life--he works in the
Governor's house, and I believe he'd cut off his right hand to serve the
young lady. There's a lot of good in some of these fellows!'

They were standing in the main prison hall. Leon gazed along the grim
vista of steel balconies and little doors.

'This is where the night-warder sits, I suppose?' he asked, as he laid
his hand on the high desk near where they were standing: 'and the door
leads--?'

'To the Governor's quarters.'

'And Miss Gwenda often slips through there with a cup of coffee and a
sandwich for the night man, I suppose?' he added carelessly.

The chief warder was evasive.

'It would be against regulations if she did,' he said. 'Now you want to
see Benthall?'

Leon shook his head.

'I don't think so,' he said quietly.

Where could a blackguard like Letheritt be singing in church on Christmas
Day?' asked Leon when he was giving the intimate history of the case to
his companions. 'In only one place--a prison. Obviously our Miss Brown
was in that prison: the Governor and his family invariably attend church.
Letheritt was "not staying"--it was the end of his sentence, and he had
been sent to Wilford for discharge. Poor Meadows! With all his faith in
fingerprints gone astray because a released convict was true to his word
and went out to get the letters that I missed, whilst the doped Mr
Bennett slept at his desk and Miss Gwenda Folian took his place!'



10. The Lady From Brazil


THE JOURNEY had begun in a storm of rain and had continued in mist. There
was a bumpiness over the land which was rather trying to airsick
passengers. The pilot struck the Channel and dropped to less than two
hundred feet.

Then came the steward with news that he bawled above the thunder of
engines.

'We're landin' at Lympne...thick fog in London...coaches will take you to
London....'

Manfred leaned forward to the lady who was sitting on the other side of
the narrow gangway.

'Fortunate for you,' he said, tuning his voice so that it reached no
other ear.

The Honourable Mrs Peversey raised her glasses and surveyed him
cold-bloodedly.

'I beg your pardon?'

They made a perfect landing soon after, and as Manfred descended the
steps leading from the Paris plane he offered his hand to assist the
charming lady to alight.

'You were saying--?'

The slim, pretty woman regarded him with cold and open-eyed insolence.

'I was saying that it was rather fortunate for you that we landed here,'
said Manfred. 'Your name is Kathleen Zieling, but you are known better as
"Claro" May, and there are two detectives waiting for you in London to
question you on the matter of a pearl necklace that was lost in London
three months ago. I happen to understand French very well and I heard two
gentlemen of the Surete discussing your future just before we left Le
Bourget.'

The stare was no longer insolent, but it was not concerned. Apparently
her scrutiny of the man who offered such alarming information satisfied
her in the matter of his sincerity.

'Thank you,' she said easily, 'but I am not at all worried. Fenniker and
Edmonds are the two men. I'll wire them to meet me at my hotel. You don't
look like a "bull" but I suppose you are?'

'Not exactly,' smiled Manfred.

She looked at him oddly.

'You certainly look too honest for a copper. I'm OK, but thank you all
the same.'

This was a dismissal, but Manfred stood his ground.

'If you get into any kind of trouble I'd be glad if you'd call me up.' He
handed the woman a card, at which she did not even glance. 'And if you
wonder why I am interested, I only want to tell you that a year ago a
very dear friend of mine would have been killed by the Fouret gang which
caught him unprepared on Montmartre, only you very kindly helped him.'

Now, with a start of surprise, she read the card and, reading, changed
colour.

'Oh!' she said awkwardly. 'I didn't know that you were one of that
bunch--Four Just Men? You folks give me the creeps! Leon something--a
dago name....'

'Gonsalez,' suggested Manfred, and she nodded.

That's right!'

She was looking at him now with a new interest.

'Honest there's no trouble coming about the pearls. And as to your
friend, he saved me. He wouldn't have got into the gang fight, only he
came out of the cabaret to help me.'

'Where are you staying in London?'

She told him her address, and at that moment came a Customs officer to
break the conversation. Manfred did not see her again--she was not in the
closed coach that carried him to London.

In truth he had no great wish to meet her again. Curiosity and a desire
to assist one who had given great help to Leon Gonsalez--it was the
occasion of Leon's spectacular unravelling of the Lyons forgeries--were
behind his action.

Manfred neither sympathized with nor detested criminals. He knew May to
be an international swindler on the grand scale, and was fairly well
satisfied that she would be well looked after by the English police.

It was on the journey to London that he regretted that he had not asked
her for information about Garry, though in all probability they had never
met.

George Manfred, by common understanding the leading spirit of the Four
Just Men, had in the course of his life removed three-and-twenty social
excrescences from all human activities.

The war brought him and his companions a pardon for offences known and
offences suspected. But in return the pardoning authorities had exacted
from him a promise that he should keep the law in letter and in spirit,
and this he had made, not only on his own behalf but on behalf of his
companions. Only once did he express regret for having made this
covenant, and that was when Garry Lexfield came under his observation.

Garry lived on the outer edge of the law. He was a man of thirty, tall,
frank of face, rather good looking. Women found him fascinating, to their
cost, for he was of the ruthless kind; quite nice people invited him to
their homes--he even reached the board of a well-known West End Company.

Manfred's first encounter with Garry was over a stupidly insignificant
matter. Mr Lexfield was engaged in an argument at the corner of Curzon
Street, where he had his flat. Manfred, returning late, saw a man and a
woman talking, the man violently, the woman a little timidly. He passed
them, thinking that it was one of those quarrels in which wise men are
not interested, and then he heard the sound of a blow and a faint scream.
He turned to see the woman crouching by the area railings of the house.
Quickly he came back.

'Did you hit that woman?' he asked.

'It's none of your dam' business--'

Manfred swung him from his feet and dropped him over the area railings.
When he looked round the woman had vanished.

'I might have killed him,' said Manfred penitently, and the spectacle of
a penitent Manfred was too much for Leon Gonsalez.

'But you didn't--what happened?'

'When I saw him get up on his feet and knew nothing was broken I bolted,'
confessed Manfred. 'I really must guard against these impulses. It must
be my advancing years that has spoilt my judgment.'

If Poiccart had a very complete knowledge of the sordid underworld,
Manfred was a living encyclopaedia on the swell mob; but for some reason
Mr Lexfield was outside his knowledge. Leon made investigations and
reported.

'He has been thrown out of India and Australia. He is only "wanted" in
New Zealand if he attempts to go back there. His speciality is bigamous
marriages into families which are too important to risk a scandal. The
swell mob in London only know of him by hearsay. He has a real wife who
has followed him to London and was probably the lady who was responsible
for his visit to the area.'

Mr Garry Lexfield had 'touched' royally, and luck had been with him,
since, unostentatiously and in an assumed name, he had stepped on to the
Monrovia at Sydney. He had the charm and the attraction which are
three-quarters of the good thief's assets. Certainly he charmed the
greater part of three thousand pounds out of the pockets of two wealthy
Australian land-owners, and attracted to himself the daughter of one who
at any rate had the appearance of being another.

When he landed he was an engaged man: happily and mercifully, his
bride-to-be was taken ill on the day of her arrival with a prosaic attack
of appendicitis. Before she had left her nursing home, he learned that
that bluff squatter, her father, so far from being a millionaire, was in
very considerable financial difficulties.

But the luck held: a visit to Monte Carlo produced yet another small
fortune--which was not gained at the public tables. Here he met and wooed
Elsa Monarty, convent-trained and easily fascinated. A sister, her one
relative, had sent her to San Remo--oddly enough, she also was
convalescing from an illness--and, straying across the frontier, she met
the handsome Mr Lexfield--which was not his name--in the big vestibule of
the rooms. She wanted a ticket of admission--the gallant Garry was most
obliging. She told him about her sister, who was the manager and part
owner of a big dress-making establishment in the Rue de la Paix. Giving
confidence for confidence, Garry told her of his rich and titled parents,
and described a life which was equally mythical.

He came back to London alone and found himself most inconveniently dogged
by the one woman in the world who was entitled to bear his name, which
was Jackson--a pertinacious if handsome woman who had no particular
affection for him, but was anxious to recover for the benefit of his two
neglected children a little of the fortune he had dissipated.

And most pertinacious at a moment when, but for his inherent meanness, he
would have gladly paid good money to be rid of her.

It was a week after he had had the shocking experience of finding himself
hurled across fairly high railings into a providentially shallow area,
and he was still inclined to limp, when Leon Gonsalez, who was
investigating his case, came with the full story of the man's misdeeds.

'I would have dropped him a little more heavily if I had known,' said
Manfred regretfully. 'The strange thing is that the moment I lifted
him--it's a trick you have never quite succeeded in acquiring, Leon--I
knew he was something pestilential. We shall have to keep an unfriendly
eye on Mr Garry Lexfield. Where does he stay?'

'He has a sumptuous flat in Jermyn Street,' said Leon. 'Before you tell
me that there are no sumptuous flats in Jermyn Street, I would like to
say that it has the appearance of sumptuousness. I was so interested in
this gentleman that I went round to the Yard and had a chat with Meadows.
 Meadows knows all about him, but he has no evidence to convict. The
man's got plenty of money--has an account at the London and Southern, and
bought a car this afternoon.'

Manfred nodded thoughtfully.

'A pretty bad man,' he said. 'Is there any chance of finding his wife? I
suppose the unfortunate lady who was with him--'

'She lives in Little Titchfield Street--calls herself Mrs Jackson, which
is probably our friend's name. Meadows is certain that it is.'

Mr Garry Lexfield was too wise a man not to be aware of the fact that he
was under observation; but his was the type of crime which almost defies
detection. His pleasant manner and his car, plus a well-organized
accident to his punt on one of the upper reaches of the Thames, secured
him introductions and honorary membership of a very exclusive river club;
and from there was but a step to homes which ordinarily would have been
barred to him.

He spent a profitable month initiating two wealthy stockbrokers into the
mysteries of bushman poker, at which he was consistently unlucky for five
successive nights, losing some 600 to his apologetic hosts. There was no
necessity for their apologies as it turned out: on the sixth and seventh
days, incredible as it may seem, he cleared the greater part of 5,000
and left his hosts with the impression of his regret that he had been the
medium of their loss.

'Very interesting,' said Manfred when this was reported to him.

Then, one night when he was dining at the Ritz-Carlton with a young man
to whom he had gained one of his quick introductions, he saw his supreme
fortune.

'Do you know her?' he asked in an undertone of his companion.

'That lady? Oh, Lord, yes! I've known her for years. She used to stay
with my people in Somerset--Madame Velasquez. She's the widow of a
terribly rich chap, a Brazilian.'

Mr Lexfield looked again at the dark, beautiful woman at the next table.
She was perhaps a little over-jewelled to please the fastidious. Swathes
of diamond bracelets encircled her arm from the wrist up; an immense
emerald glittered in a diamond setting on her breast. She was exquisitely
dressed and her poise was regal.

'She's terribly rich,' prattled on his informant. 'My colonel, who knows
her much better than I, told me her husband had left her six million
pounds--it's wicked that people should have so much money.'

It was wicked, thought Garry Lexfield, that anybody should have so much
money if he could not 'cut' his share.

'I'd like to meet her,' he said, and a minute later the introduction was
made and Garry forgot his arrangement to trim the young guardsman that
night in the thrill of confronting a bigger quarry.

He found her a remarkably attractive woman. Her English, though slightly
broken, was good. She was obviously pleased to meet him. He danced with
her a dozen times and asked to be allowed to call in the morning. But she
was leaving for her country place in Seaton Deverel.

'That's rather strange,' he said, with his most dazzling smile. 'I'm
driving through Seaton Deverel next Saturday.'

To his joy she bit the bait. At noon on the Saturday his car shot up the
long drive to Hanford House.

A week later came Loon with startling news.

'This fellow's got himself engaged to a rich South American widow,
George. We can't allow that to go any further. Let us have an orgy of
lawlessness--kidnap the brigand and put him on a cattle boat. There's a
man in the East India Dock Road who would do it for fifty pounds.'

Manfred shook his head.

'I'll see Meadows,' he said. 'I have an idea that we may catch this
fellow.'

Mr Garry Lexfield was not in that seventh heaven of delight to which
accepted lovers are supposed to ascend; but he was eminently satisfied
with himself as he watched the final touches being made to the dinner
table in his flat.

Madame Velasquez had taken a great deal of persuading, had shown an
extraordinary suspicion, and asked him to introduce her to those parents
of his who were at the moment conveniently attending to their large
estates in Canada.

'It is a very serious step I take, Garry dear,' she said, shaking her
pretty head dubiously. 'I love you very dearly, of course, but I am so
fearful of men who desire only money and not love.'

'Darling, I don't want money,' he said vehemently. 'I have shown you my
passbook: I have nine thousand pounds in the bank, apart from my
estates.'

She shrugged this off. Madame was a lady of peculiar temperament, never
in the same mood for longer than an hour.

She came to dinner and, to his annoyance, brought a chaperon--a girl who
spoke no word of English. Mr Lexfield was a very patient man and
concealed his anger.

She brought news that made him forget the inconvenience of a chaperon. It
was while they were sipping coffee in his over-decorated little
drawing-room that she told him:

'Such a nice man I meet today. He came to my house in the country.'

'He was not only nice, but lucky,' smiled Garry, who was really not
feeling terribly happy.

'And he spoke about you,' she smiled.

Garry Lexfield became instantly attentive. Nobody in England knew him
well enough to make him the subject of conversation. If they did, then
the discussion had not been greatly to his advantage.

'Who was this?' he asked.

'He spoke such perfect Spanish, and he has a smile the most delightful!
And he said so many funny things that I laughed.'

'A Brazilian?' he asked.

She shook her head.

'In Brazil we speak Portuguese,' she said. 'No, Senor Gonsalez--'

'Gonsalez?' he said quickly. 'Not Leon Gonsalez? One of those
swi--men...the Three Just Men?'

She raised her eyebrows.

'Do you know them?'

He laughed.

I have heard about them. Blackguards that should have been hanged years
ago. They are murderers and thieves. They've got a nerve to come and see
you. I suppose he said something pretty bad about me? The truth is, I've
been an enemy of theirs for years...'

He went on to tell an imaginary story of an earlier encounter he had had
with the Three, and she listened intently.

'How interesting!' she said at last. 'No, they simply said of you that
you were a bad man, and that you wanted my money; that you had a
bad--what is the word?--record. I was very angry really, especially when
they told me that you had a wife, which I know is not true, because you
would not deceive me. Tomorrow he comes again, this Senor Gonsalez--he
really did amuse me when I was not angry. Shall I lunch with you and tell
you what he said?'

Garry was annoyed: he was thoroughly alarmed. It had not been difficult
to locate and identify the man who had taken such summary action with
him; and, once located, he had decided to give a wide berth to the men
who lived behind the Silver Triangle. He had sense enough to know they
were not to be antagonized, and he had hoped most sincerely that they had
been less acute in tracing him than he had been in identifying them.

He changed the conversation and became, in spite of the witness, the most
ardent and tender of lovers. All his art and experience was called into
play; for here was a prize which had been beyond his dreams.

His immediate objective was some 20,000 which had come to the lady in
the shape of dividends. She had displayed a pretty helplessness in the
matter of money, though he suspected her of being shrewd enough. Garry
Lexfield could talk very glibly and fluently on the subject of the
market. It was his pet study; it was likewise his continuous undoing.
There never was a thief who did not pride himself on his shrewdness in
money matters, and Garry had come in and out of the market from time to
time in his short and discreditable life with disastrous results to
himself.

He saw her and her silent companion to the car and went back, and in the
solitude of his flat turned over the new and alarming threat represented
by the interest which the Three Just Men were showing in his activities.

He rose late, as was his practice, and was in his pyjamas when the
telephone-bell rang. The voice of the porter informed him that there was
a trunk call for him and trunk calls these days meant the lovely
Velasquez.

'I have seen Gonsalez,' said her urgent voice. 'He came when I was at
breakfast. Tomorrow, he says, they will arrest you because of something
you did in Australia. Also today he applies to stop your money coming
from the bank.'

'Holding up my account?' said Garry quickly. 'Are you sure?'

'Certain I am sure! They will go to a judge in his rooms and get a paper.
Shall I come to lunch?'

'Of course--one o'clock,' he said quickly. He glanced at the little clock
on the mantelshelf: it was half-past eleven.

'And about your investments: I think I can fix everything today. Bring
your cheque-book.'

He was impatient for her to finish the conversation, and at last rather
abruptly he brought it to a termination, dashed down the receiver, and,
flying into his bedroom, began to dress.

His bank was in Fleet Street, and the journey seemed interminable. Fleet
Street was much too close to the Law Courts for his liking. The judge's
order might already be effective.

He pushed his cheque under the brass grille of the tellers' counter and
held his breath while the slip of paper was handed to the accountant for
verification. And then, to his overwhelming relief, the teller opened his
drawer, took out a pad of notes and counted out the amount written on the
cheque.

'This leaves only a few pounds to your credit, Mr Lexfield,' he said.

'I know,' said Garry. 'I'm bringing in rather a big cheque after lunch,
and I want you to get a special clearance.'

It was then he realized that by that time the judge's order would be in
operation. He must find another way of dealing with Madame Velasquez's
cheque.

The relief was so great that he could hardly speak calmly. With something
short of 9,000 he hurried back to Jermyn Street and arrived
simultaneously with Madame Velasquez.

'How funny that caballero was, to be sure!' she said in her staccato way.
'I thought I should have laughed in his face. He told me you would not be
here tomorrow, which is so absurd!'

'It's blackmail,' said Garry easily. 'Don't you worry about Gonsalez. I
have just been to Scotland Yard to report him. Now about these shares--'

They had ten minutes to wait before lunch was ready, and those ten
minutes were occupied with many arguments. She had brought her
cheque-book, but she was a little fearful. Perhaps, he thought, the visit
of Gonsalez had really aroused her suspicions. She was not prepared to
invest the whole of her 20,000. He produced the papers and balance
sheets that he had intended showing her on the previous night and
explained, as he could very readily explain, the sound financial position
of the company--one of the most solid on the Rand--in which he wished her
to invest.

These shares,' he said impressively, 'will rise in the next twenty-four
hours by at least ten per cent. in value. I've got a block held for you,
but I must get them this afternoon. My idea is that immediately after
lunch you should bring me an open cheque; I'll buy the shares and bring
them back to you.'

'But why could not I go?' she asked innocently.

'This is a personal matter,' said Garry with great gravity. 'Sir John is
allowing me to buy this stock as a great personal favour.'

To his joy she accepted this assurance--she actually wrote a cheque for
12,500 at the luncheon table, and he could scarcely summon patience to
sit through the meal.

The proprietors of the flats in which he had his brief habitation did not
cater on a generous scale, but the short time which elapsed before the
dessert stage of the lunch arrived was a period of agony. She returned
once to the question of her investment, seemed in doubt, referred again
to Gonsalez and his warning.

'Perhaps I had better wait for a day--yes?'

'My dear girl, how absurd!' said Garry. 'I really believe you are being
frightened by this fellow who called on you this morning! I'll make him
sorry!'

He half rose from the table, but she put her hand on his arm.

'Please don't hurry,' she begged, and reluctantly he agreed. The bank did
not close until three; there would be time to reach Dover by car and
catch the five o'clock boat.

But the bank was situated in the City, and he must not cut his time too
fine. He excused himself for a moment, went out in search of the valet he
had acquired and gave him a few simple but urgent instructions. When he
returned she was reading the balance sheet.

'I am so foolish about these matters,' she said, and suddenly lifted her
head. 'What was that?' she asked, as the door slammed.

'My valet--I have sent him out on a little errand.

She laughed nervously.

'I am what you call on the jump,' she said, as she pushed his coffee
towards him. 'Now tell me again, Garry, dear, what does ex-dividend
mean?'

He explained at length, and she listened attentively. She was still
listening when, with a sudden little choke of alarm, he half rose from
his feet, only to fall back on the chair and thence to roll helplessly to
the floor. Madame Velasquez took his half-empty cup of coffee, carried it
at her leisure into the kitchen and emptied the contents into the sink.
When he sent his valet out, Mr Garry Lexfield had saved her a great deal
of trouble.

She rolled the unconscious man on to his back, and searched quickly and
with a dexterous hand pocket after pocket until she found the fat
envelope wherein Garry had placed his banknotes.

There was a knock at the outer door. Without hesitation she went out and
opened it to the young guardsman who had so kindly introduced Mr Lexfield
to her.

'It's all right, the servant's gone,' she said. 'Here's your two hundred,
Tony, and thank you very much.'

Tony grinned.

'The grudge I've got against him is that he took me for a sucker. These
Australian crooks--'

'Don't talk--get,' she said tersely.

She went back to the dining-room, removed Carry's collar and tie and,
putting a pillow under his head, opened the window. In twenty minutes he
would be more or less conscious, by which time his valet would have
returned.

She found the cheque she had given to him, burnt it in the empty grate,
and with a last look round took her departure.

Outside the airport a tall man was waiting. She saw him signal to the
driver of the car to pull up.

'I got your message,' said Manfred sardonically. 'I trust you've had a
good killing? I owe you five hundred pounds.'

She shook her head with a laugh. She was still the brown, beautiful
Brazilian--it would take weeks before the stain would be removed.

'No, thank you, Mr Manfred. It was a labour of love, and I have been
pretty well paid. And the furnished house I took in the country was
really not a very expensive proposition--oh, very well, then.' She took
the notes he handed to her and put them in her bag, one eye on the
waiting plane. 'You see, Mr Manfred, Garry is an old acquaintance of
mine--by hearsay. I sent my sister down to Monte Carlo for her health.
She also found Garry.'

Manfred understood. He waited till the plane had passed through the haze
out of sight, and then he went back to Curzon Street, well satisfied.

The evening newspapers had no account of the Jermyn Street robbery, which
was easily understood. Mr Garry Lexfield had a sense of pride.



11. The Typist Who Saw Things


ABOUT EVERY six months Raymond Poiccart grew restless, and began prodding
about in strange corners, opening deed boxes and trunks, and sorting over
old documents. It was a few days before the incident of the Curzon Street
'murder' that he appeared in the dining room with an armful of old
papers, and placed them on that portion of the table which had not been
laid for dinner.

Leon Gonsalez looked and groaned.

George Manfred did not even smile, though he was laughing internally.

'I am indeed sorry to distress you, my dear friends,' said Poiccart
apologetically; 'but these papers must be put in order. I have found a
bundle of letters that go back five years, to the time when the agency
was a child.'

'Burn 'em,' suggested Leon, returning to his book. 'You never do anything
with them, anyway!'

Poiccart said nothing. He went religiously from paper to paper, read them
in his short-sighted way, and put them aside so that as one pile
diminished another pile grew.

'And I suppose when you've finished you'll put them back where you found
them?' said Leon.

Poiccart did not answer. He was reading a letter.

'A strange communication, I don't remember reading this before,' he said.

'What is it, Raymond?' asked George Manfred. Raymond read:

'To the Silver Triangle. Private.

'Gentlemen:

'I have seen your names mentioned in a case as being reliable agents who
can be trusted to work of a confidential character. I would be glad if
you would make inquiries and find out for me the prospects of the Persian
Oil Fields; also if you could negociate the sale of 967 shares held by
me. The reason I do not approach an ordinary share-broker is because
there are so many sharks in this profeccion. Also could you tell me
whether there is a sale for Okama Biscuit shares (American)? Please let
me know this.

'Yours faithfully,

'J Rock.'

'I recall that letter,' said Leon promptly. '"Negotiate" and
"profession" were spelt with c's. Don't you remember, George, I suggested
this fellow had stolen some shares and was anxious to make us the means
by which he disposed of his stolen property?'

Manfred nodded.

'Rock,' said Leon softly. No, I have never met Mr Rock. He wrote from
Melbourne, didn't he, and gave a box number and a telegraphic address?
Did we hear again from him? I think not.'

None of the three could recollect any further communication: the letter
passed with the others and might have remained eternally buried, but for
Leon's uncanny memory for numbers and spelling errors.

And then one night:

A police whistle squealed in Curzon Street. Gonsalez, who slept in the
front of the house, heard the sound in his dreams, and was standing by
the open window before he was awake. Again the whistle sounded, and then
Gonsalez heard the sound of flying feet. A girl was racing along the
sidewalk. She passed the house, stopped, and ran back, and again came to
a standstill.

Leon went down the narrow stairs two at a time, unlocked the front door
and flung it open. The fugitive stood immediately before him.

'In here--quickly!' said Leon.

She hesitated only a second; stepping backward through the doorway, she
waited. Leon gripped her by the arm and pulled her into the passage.

'You needn't be frightened of me or my friends,' he said.

But he felt the arm in his hand strain for release. 'Let me go, please--I
don't want to stay here!'

Leon pushed her into the back room and switched on the light.

'You saw a policeman running up toward you, that's why you came back,' he
said, in his quiet, conversational way. 'Sit down and rest--you look all
in!'

'I'm innocent...!' she began, in a trembling voice.

He patted her shoulder.

'Of course you are. I, on the contrary, am guilty, for whether you're
innocent or not, I am undoubtedly helping a fugitive from justice.'

She was very young--scarcely more than a child. The pale, drawn face was
pretty. She was well, but not expensively, dressed, and it struck Leon as
a significant circumstance that on one finger was an emerald ring, which,
if the stone were real, must have been worth hundreds of pounds. He
glanced at the clock. A few minutes after two. There came to them the
sound of heavy, hurrying feet.

'Did anybody see me come in?' she asked, fearfully.

'Nobody was in sight. Now what is the trouble?' Danger and fear had held
her tense, almost capable. The reaction had come now: she was shaking.
Shoulders, hands, body quivered pitiably. She was crying noiselessly, her
lips trembled; for the time being she was inarticulate. Leon poured water
into a glass and held it to her chattering teeth. If the others had heard
him, they had no intention of coming down to investigate. The curiosity
of Leon Gonsalez was a household proverb. Any midnight brawl would bring
him out of bed and into the street.

After a while, she was calm enough to tell her story, and it was not the
story he expected.

'My name is Farrer--Eileen Farrer. I am a typist attached to Miss
Lewley's All-Night Typing Agenda. Usually there are two girls on duty,
one a senior; but Miss Leah went home early. We call ourselves an
all-night agency, but really we close down about one o'clock. Most of our
work is theatrical. Often, after a first-night performance, certain
changes have to be made in a script--and sometimes new contracts are
arranged over supper, and we prepare the rough drafts. At other times it
is just letter-work. I know all the big managers, and I've often gone to
their offices quite late to do work for them. We never, of course, go to
strange people and at the offices we have a porter who is also a
messenger, to see that we are not annoyed. At twelve o'clock I had a
phone message from Mr Grasleigh, of the Orpheum, asking me if I would do
two letters for him. He sent his car for me, and I went to his flat in
Curzon Street. We're not allowed to go to the private houses of our
clients, but I knew Mr Grasleigh was a client, though I had never met him
before.'

Leon Gonsalez had often seen Mr Jesse Grasleigh's bright yellow car. That
eminent theatrical manager lived in some exclusive flats in Curzon
Street, occupying the first floor, and paying--as Leon, who was
insatiably curious, discovered--3,000 a year. He had dawned on London
three years before, had acquired the lease of the Orpheum, and had been
interested in half a dozen productions, most of which had been failures.

'What time was this?' he asked.

'A quarter to one,' said the girl. 'I reached Curzon Street at about a
quarter after. I had several things to do at the office before I left,
besides which he told me there was no immediate hurry. I knocked at the
door and Mr Grasleigh admitted me. He was in evening dress, and looked as
if he had come from a party. He had a big white flower in the buttonhole
of his tail coat. I saw no servants, and I know now there were none in
the flat. He showed me into his study, which was a large room, and pulled
up a chair to a little table by his desk. I don't know exactly what
happened. I remember sitting down and taking my notebook out of my
attache case and opening it, and I was stooping to find a pencil in the
case when I heard a groan, and, looking up, I saw Mr Grasleigh lying back
in his chair with a red mark on his white shirt-front--it was horrible!'

'You heard no other sound, no shot?' asked Leon.

She shook her head.

'I was so horrified I couldn't move. And then I heard somebody scream
and, looking round, I saw a lady, very beautifully dressed, standing in
the doorway. "What have you done to him?" she said. "You horrible woman,
you've killed him!" I was so terrified that I couldn't speak, and then I
must have got into a panic, for I ran past her and out of the front
door--'

'It was open?' suggested Leon.

She frowned.

'Yes, it was open. I think the lady must have left it open. I heard
somebody blow a police whistle, but I can't remember how I got down the
stairs or into the street. You're not going to give me up, are you?' she
asked wildly.

He leaned over and patted her hand.

'My young friend,' he said, gently, 'you have nothing whatever to fear.
Stay down here while I dress, and then you and I will go down, to
Scotland Yard and you will tell them all you know.'

'But I can't. They'll arrest me!'

She was on the verge of hysteria, and it was perhaps a mistake to attempt
to argue with her.

'Oh, it's horrible. I hate London...I wish I'd never left
Australia...First the dogs and then the black man and now this....'

Leon was startled, but this was not a moment to question her. The thing
to do was to bring her to a calm understanding of the situation.

'Don't you realize that they won't blame you, and that your story is such
that no police officer in the world would dream of suspecting it?'

'But I ran away--' she began.

'Of course you ran away,' he said soothingly. 'I should probably have run
away too. Just wait here.'

He was half-way through dressing when he heard the front door slam and,
running down the stairs, found that the girl had disappeared.

Manfred was awake when he went into his room and told him the story.

'No, I don't think it's a pity that you didn't call me earlier,' he
interrupted Leon's apology. 'We couldn't very well have detained her in
any circumstances. You know where she is employed. See if you can get
Lewley's Agency on the telephone.'

Leon found the number in the book, but had no answer from his call.

When he was dressed he went into the street and made his way to Curzon
House. To his surprise he found no policeman on guard at the door, though
he saw one at the corner of the street, nor was there any evidence that
there had been a tragedy. The front door of the flat was fastened, but
inserted in the wall were a number of small bell-pushes, each evidently
communicating with one of the flats, and after a while he discovered that
which bore the name Grasleigh and was on the point of ringing when the
policeman he had seen came silently across from the other side of the
road. He evidently knew Leon.

'Good evening, Mr Gonsalez,' he said. It wasn't you blowing that police
whistle, was it?'

'No--I heard it, though.'

'So did I and three or four of my mates,' said the policeman. 'We've been
flying round these streets for a quarter of an hour, but we haven't found
the man who blew it.'

'Probably I'll be able to help you.'

It was at that moment that he heard the door unlocked, and nearly
dropped, for the man who opened the door to him he recognized as
Grasleigh himself. He was in a dressing-gown; the half of a cigar was in
the corner of his mouth.

'Hullo!' he said in surprise. 'What's the trouble?'

'Can I see you for a few minutes?' said Leon when he had recovered from
his surprise.

'Certainly,' said the 'dead man', 'though it's hardly the time I like to
receive callers. Come up.'

Wonderingly Leon followed him up the stairs to the first floor. He saw no
servants, but there was not the slightest evidence to associate this
place with the dramatic scene which the girl had described. Once they
were in the big study, Leon told his story. When he had finished,
Grasleigh shook his head.

'The girl's mad! It's perfectly true that I did telephone for her, and as
a matter of fact I thought it was her when you rang the bell. I assure
you she hasn't been here tonight...Yes, I heard the police whistle blow,
but I never mix myself up in these midnight troubles.' He was looking at
Leon keenly. 'You're one of the Triangle people, aren't you, Mr Gonsalez?
What was this girl like?'

Leon described her, and again the theatrical manager shook his head.

'I've never heard of her,' he said. 'I'm afraid you've been the victim of
a hoax, Mr Gonsalez.'

Leon went back to join his two friends, a very bewildered man.

The next morning he called at Lewles Agency, which he knew by repute as a
well-conducted establishment of its kind, and interviewed its
good-natured spinster-proprietress. He had to exercise a certain amount
of caution: he was most anxious not to get the girl into trouble.
Fortunately, he knew an important client of Miss Lewley's and he was able
to use this unconscious man as a lever to extract the information he
required.

'Miss Farrer is doing night duty this week, and she will not be in until
this evening,' she explained. 'She has been with us about a month.'

'How long has Mr Grasleigh been a client of yours?'

'Exactly the same time,' she said with a smile. 'I rather think he likes
Miss Farrer's work, because previous to that he sent all his work to
Danton's Agency, where she was employed, and the moment she came to us he
changed his agency.'

'Do you know anything about her?'

The woman hesitated.

'She is an Australian. I believe at one time her family were very
wealthy. She's never told me anything about her troubles, but I have an
idea that she will be entitled to a lot of money some day. One of the
partners of Colgate's, the lawyers, came to see her once.'

Leon managed to get the girl's address, and then went on to the City to
find Messrs. Colgate. Luck was with him, for Colgate's had employed the
Three on several occasions, and at least one of their commissions had
been of a most delicate character.

It was one of those old-fashioned firms that had its offices in the
region of Bedford Row, and though it was generally known as 'Colgate's,'
it consisted of seven partners, the names of all of whom were inscribed
on the brass plate before the office.

Mr Colgate himself was a man of sixty, and at first rather
uncommunicative. It was an inspiration for Leon to tell him of what had
happened the night before. To his amazement, he saw the lawyer's face
drop.

'That's very bad,' he said, 'very bad indeed. But I'm afraid I can tell
you nothing more than you know.'

'Why is it so very bad?' asked Leon.

The lawyer pursed his lips thoughtfully.

'You understand that she is not our client, although we represent a firm
of Melbourne solicitors who are acting for this young lady. Her father
died in a mental home and left his affairs rather involved. During the
past three years, however, some of his property has become very valuable,
and there is no reason why this young lady should work at all, except, as
I suspect, that she wishes to get away from the scene of this family
trouble and has to work to occupy her mind. I happen to know that the
taint of madness is a cause of real distress to the girl, and I believe
it was on the advice of her only relative that she came to England, in
the hope that the change of scene would put out of her mind this
misfortune which has overshadowed her.'

'But she has been to see you?'

The lawyer shook his head.

'One of my clients called on her. Some property in Sydney which was
overlooked in the settlement of her father's estate came into the market.
He had a tenth share, it seems. We tried to get in touch with the
executor, Mr Flane, but we were unsuccessful--he's travelling in the
East--so we got the girl's signature to the transfer.'

'Flane?'

Mr Colgate was a busy man; he had intimated as much. He was now a little
impatient.

'A cousin of the late Joseph Farrer--the only other relative. As a matter
of fact, Farrer was staying in Western Australia on his cousin's station
just before he went mad.'

Leon was blessed with an imagination, but even this, vivid as it was,
could not quite bridge the gaps in what he suspected was an unusual
story.

'My own impression,' said the lawyer, 'and I tell you this in the
strictest confidence, is that the girl is not quite...' He tapped his
forehead. 'She told my clerk, a man who is skilled in gaining the
confidence of young people, that she had been followed about for weeks by
a black man, on another occasion had been followed about by a black
retriever. Apparently, whenever she takes her Saturday stroll, this
retriever has appeared and never leaves her. So far as I can discover,
nobody else has seen either the black man or the dog. You don't need to
be a doctor to know that this delusion of being followed is one of the
commonest signs of an unbalanced mind.'

Leon knew something more than the average about police work. He knew that
discovery is not a thing of a dramatic moment, but patiently accrued
evidence, and he followed the same line of inquiry that a detective from
Scotland Yard would follow.

Eileen Farrer lived in Landsbury Road, Clapham, and No 209 proved to be a
house in a respectable terrace. The motherly-looking landlady who
interviewed him in the hall was palpably relieved to see him when he
stated the object of his visit.

'I'm so glad you've come,' she said. 'Are you a relation?'

Leon disclaimed that association.

'She's a very peculiar young lady,' the landlady went on, 'and I don't
know what to make of her. She's been up all night walking about her
room--she sleeps in the room above me--and this morning she's taken no
breakfast. I can't help feeling that there's something wrong--she's so
strange.'

'You mean that she's not quite right in her head?' asked Leon brutally.

'Yes, that's what I mean. I thought of sending for my doctor, but she
wouldn't hear of it. She told me she'd had a great shock. Do you know
her?'

'I've met her,' said Leon. 'May I go upstairs?'

The landlady hesitated.

'I think I'd better tell her you're here. What name?'

'I think it would be better if I saw her without being announced,' said
Leon, 'if you will show me the door. Where is she?'

Eileen Farrer was, he learnt, in her sitting-room--she could afford the
luxury of an extra apartment Leon tapped at the door and a startled voice
asked: 'Who is it?'

He did not answer but, turning the knob, entered the room. The girl was
standing by the window, staring out; apparently the taxi that brought
Leon had excited her apprehension.

'Oh!' she said in dismay, as she saw her visitor. 'You're the man...you
haven't come to arrest me?'

Out of the corner of his eye he saw that the floor was strewn with
papers. Evidently she had bought every available newspaper to discover
tidings of the crime.

'No, I haven't come to arrest you,' said Leon in an even tone. 'I don't
exactly know what you could be arrested for--Mr Grasleigh is not dead.
He's not even hurt.'

She stared at him, wide-eyed.

'Not even hurt?' she repeated slowly.

'He was quite well when I saw him last night.'

She passed her hand over her eyes.

'I don't understand. I saw him--oh, it's terrible!'

'You saw him, as you thought, very badly hurt. I had the pleasure of
meeting him a few minutes afterwards and he was quite uninjured; and,
what is more'--he was watching her as he spoke--'he said that he had
never seen you.'

Wonder, incredulity, terror were in her eyes.

'Now won't you sit down, Miss Farrer, and tell me all about yourself. You
see, I know quite a lot. I know, for example, that your father died in an
institution.'

She was staring at him as though unable to grasp his words. Leon became
instantly practical.

'Now I want you to tell me. Miss Farrer, why your father went mad. Was
there any other history of insanity in the family?'

Leon's calmness was of the dominant kind: under its influence she had
recovered something of her self-possession.

'No, the cause was a fall from a horse; the full effect of it wasn't
known for years afterwards.'

He nodded and smiled.

'I thought not. Where were you when he was taken away?'

'I was at school in Melbourne,' she said, 'or rather, just outside of
Melbourne. I never saw my father from the time I was seven. He was a long
time in that horrible place, and they wouldn't let me see him.'

'Now tell me this: who is Mr Flane? Do you know him?'

She shook her head.

'He was my father's cousin. The only thing I know about him is that Daddy
used to lend him money, and he was staying on the farm when he became
ill. I've had several letters from him about money. He paid my fare to
England. It was he who suggested I should go home and try to forget all
the troubles I'd had.'

'You never saw him?'

'Never,' she said. 'He came once to school, but I was away on a picnic.'

'You don't know what money your father left?'

She shook her head again.

'No, I've no idea.'

'Now tell me, Miss Farrer, about the Negro you have seen following you,
and the dog.'

She had very little to tell except the bare fact. The persecution had
begun two years before, and her doctor had once called to inquire the
cause. Here Leon stopped her quickly.

'Did you send for the doctor?'

'No,' she said in surprise, 'but he must have heard from somebody, though
who I can't think, because I told very few people.'

'Can you show me any of the letters that Mr Flane sent you?'

These she had in a drawer, and Leon examined them carefully. Their tone
was rather unusual, not the tone one would have expected from a guardian
or from one who had control of her destinies. In the main they were
protestations of the difficulties the writer found in providing for her
schooling, for her clothes, and eventually for the trip to England, and
each letter insisted on the fact that her father had left very little
money.

'And that was true,' she said. 'Poor Daddy was rather eccentric about
money. He never kept his stocks at the bank but always carried them about
with him in a big iron box. In fact, he was terribly secretive, and
nobody knew exactly what money he had. I thought he was very rich,
because he was a little'--she hesitated--' "near" is the word. I hate
saying anything disparaging about the poor darling, but he was never
generous with money, and when I found that he had only left a few hundred
pounds and a very few shares, and those not of any particular value, I
was astonished. And so, of course, was everybody in Melbourne--everybody
who knew us, I mean. In fact, I always regarded myself as poor until a
few months ago. We then discovered that father had a large interest in
the West Australian Gold Mine, which nobody knew anything about. It came
to light by accident. If all they say is true, I shall be very rich. The
lawyers have been trying to get into touch with Mr Flane, but they have
only had a letter or two, one posted from China addressed to me, and
another posted I think in Japan.'

'Have you got the letter addressed to you?'

She produced it. It was written on thick paper. Leon held it up to the
light and saw the watermark.

'What shares did your father leave? I mean, what shares was he known to
leave?'

She puzzled over this question.

'There were some absolutely valueless, I know. I remember them because of
the number--967. What's the matter?'

Leon was laughing.

'I think I can promise you freedom from any further persecution, Miss
Farrer, and my advice to you is that you get immediately in touch with
the best firm of lawyers in London. I think I can give you their address.
There's one thing I want to tell you'--there was a very kindly smile in
Leon Gonsalez's eyes--'and it is that you are not mad, that you haven't
imagined you were followed by Negroes and by black dogs and that you
didn't imagine you saw Mr Grasleigh murdered. There's one more question I
want to ask you, and it's about Mr Flane. Do you know what he did for a
living?'

'He had a small station--farm, you would call it,' she said. 'I think
Daddy bought it for him and his wife. Before that I think he had the
lease of a theatre in Adelaide, and he lost a lot of money.'

'Thank you,' said Leon. That is all I want to know.'

He drove straight back to the flats in Curzon Street, and met Mr
Grasleigh as he was leaving his flat.

'Hullo! You've not come to tell me about another murder?' said that
jovial man with a loud laugh.

'Worse than murder,' said Leon, and something in his tone struck the
smile from Mr Grasleigh's lips.

Leon followed him into the study and himself closed the door.

'Mr Flane, I understand?' he said, and saw the colour fade from the man's
face.

'I don't know what you mean,' blustered Grasleigh. 'My name is--'

'Your name is Flane,' said Leon very gently. 'A few years ago you got an
inkling that the man you had robbed--Eileen Farrer's father--was richer
than you thought, and you evolved a rather clumsy, and certainly a
diabolical scheme to retain possession of Eileen Farrer's property. A
shallow-brained man as you are, I have no doubt, would imagine that
because the father was mad the daughter could also be driven into a
mental asylum. I don't know where you got your Negro from or where you
found your trained dog, but I know where you got the money to take the
lease of the Orpheum. And, Mr Flane, I want to tell you something more,
and you might pass the information on to your wife, who is, I gather, a
fellow conspirator. "Negotiate" is spelt with a "t" and "profession" with
an "s". Both words occur in the letters you wrote to Miss Farrer.'

The man was breathing loudly through his nose, and the hand that went up
to take out the dead stump of his cigar was shaking.

'You've got to prove all this,' he blustered.

'Unfortunately I have,' said Leon sadly. 'In the old days when the Four
Just Men were not quite so legally minded as they are today, you would
not have been taken into a court of law: I rather imagine that my friends
and I would have opened a manhole in Curzon Street and dropped you
through.'



12. The Mystery of Mr Drake


ALL EVENTS GO in threes--that was the considered opinion of Leon
Gonsalez. This, for example, was his second meeting with Cornelius Malan.
The last time Mr Roos Malan, the bearded brother of Cornelius, had been a
third party, but now Roos was dead--though of this fact Leon was at the
moment unaware.

This alert and bright-eyed man had never had a driving accident. The fact
that he was alive proved this, for he was never quite happy if the needle
of the speedometer on his big sports car fell below the seventy mark. By
an odd chance it was well below thirty when he skidded on the slush and
snow of a lonely Oxford road and slithered a back wheel into a four-foot
ditch. That the car did not overturn was a miracle.

Leon climbed out and looked round. The squat farmstead beyond the stone
wall which flanked the road had a familiar appearance. He grinned as he
leapt the wall and made his way across the rough surface of an
uncultivated field towards the building. A dog barked gruffly, but he saw
no human creature. And when he knocked at the door there was no answer.
Leon was not surprised. Cornelius kept few servants, even in the
summer--he was unlikely to have his house well staffed in the
unprofitable days of late autumn.

He made a tour of the house, passed through an untidy and weed-grown
garden, and still could find no sign of life. And then from the ground,
not a dozen yards away, arose a big, broad-shouldered giant of a man. He
came veritably from the ground. For a moment the observer was staggered,
and then he realized that the man had come out of a well. The back of
Cornelius Malan was turned to his uninvited guest. Leon saw him stoop,
heard the clang of steel and the click of a lock fastened. Presently the
big man dusted his knees and stretched himself and, turning, came
straight towards where Leon was standing. At the sight of a stranger, the
broad, red face of Cornelius went a shade redder.

'Hi, you!' he began wrathfully, and then recognized his visitor. 'Ah!' he
said. 'The detective!'

He spoke with scarcely a trace of accent, unlike his dead brother, who
could hardly speak English.

'What do you want, eh? Do more people think that poor Roos has swindled
them? Well, he is dead, so you get nothing out of him.'

Leon was looking past him, and the man must have divined what was in his
mind, for he said quickly: 'There is a bad well here, full of gas. I must
have it filled up--'

'In the meantime you've had it sensibly fastened,' smiled Leon. 'I'm
sorry to barge in upon your Arcadian pursuits, Mr Malan, but the fact is
my car has ditched itself, and I wanted help to get it up.'

There had been a strange look of apprehension on the man's face, and this
cleared away as Leon explained the object of his visit.

'I myself could pick a car out of any ditch,' he boasted. 'You shall
see.'

As he walked across the field with Leon he was almost affable.

'I do not like you people from London, and you especially, Mr
What's-your-name. You are like the lawyer who swindled me and my poor
brother by Potchefstroom, so many years ago that I forget his name. Poor
Roos! You and such people as you have hounded him into his grave!
Inspectors of taxes and God knows what. And we are both poor men and have
nothing to say to them.'

When they got to the car, he found that his strength was hardly
sufficient, and they returned to the farm and from some mysterious place
gathered two hungry-looking labourers, who, with planks and ropes,
succeeded in hauling the Bentley to road level. By this time, Cornelius
Malan was his old self.

'That will cost you one pound, my friend,' he said. I cannot afford to
pay these men for extra work. I am poor, and now that Roos is dead, who
knows that I may not have to take that lazy wench of our sister's....'

Very solemnly Leon produced a pound note, and handed it to the old miser.

When he got back to Curzon Street he related his experience.

'I'll bet you we're going to meet for the third time,' he said. 'It is
odd, but it's a fact. One of these days I am going to write a book on the
Law of Coincidence--I've any amount of data.'

'Add this,' said Poiccart briefly, as he tossed a letter across the
table.

Leon smoothed it out: the first thing he read was an Oxfordshire address.
He turned quickly to the end of the letter, and saw it was signed,
'Leonora Malan.'

Manfred was watching him with a smile in his eyes.

'There's a job after your own heart, Leon,' he said.

Leon read the letter.

'DEAR SIRS,

'Some time ago you came into town to see my uncle, who has now, I am
sorry to say, passed over. Will you please grant me an interview on
Wednesday morning in regard to my late uncle's money? I don't suppose you
can help me, but there is just a chance.'

It was signed 'Leonora Malan,' and there was a postscript.

'Please do not let my Uncle Cornelius know I have written.'

Leon scratched his chin.

'Leon and Leonora,' murmured Manfred. 'That alone is sufficient basis for
a chapter on coincidences.'

On Wednesday morning, rainy and gusty, Miss Malan called, and with her
was the young man who was to be the fourth and the greatest coincidence
of all.

A scrawny man of thirty, with irregular features and eyes that were never
still, she introduced him as Mr Jones, the late manager of her dead
uncle.

Leonora Malan was astonishingly pretty. That was the first impression
Leon had of his visitor. He had expected something dumpy and
plain--Leonora was a name to shy at. Malan was obviously Cape Dutch. He
would have known this even if he had not been aware, from personal
experience, of the nationality of her two uncles. He had had an encounter
with the notorious Jappy, and the no less objectionable Roos--less
objectionable now, since he had been gathered to his fathers. And he was
agreeably surprised, for this slim, bright-eyed girl with the peach and
rose complexion was a very happy upsetting of preconceived ideas.

She came with him into the bright little drawing-room which was also the
office of the Three, and sat down in the chair which Poiccart pushed
forward for her before, in his role of butler, he glided out, closing the
door respectfully and noiselessly behind him.

She looked up at Leon, her eyes twinkling, and smiled.

'You can do nothing for me, Mr Gonsalez, but Mr Jones thought I ought to
see you,' she said, with a trustful glance at her ill-favoured companion
which appalled Gonsalez. 'That isn't a very promising beginning, is it? I
suppose you'll wonder why I'm wasting your time if I believe that? But
just now I'm clutching at straws, and--'

'I am a very substantial straw,' laughed Leon.

Mr Jones spoke. His voice was harsh and coarse.

'It's like this. Leonora is entitled to about eighty thousand pounds. I
know it was there before the old boy died. Got the will, Leonora?'

She nodded quickly and sighed, half-opened her little hand-bag, reached
mechanically for a battered silver case, but quickly withdrew her hand
and snapped the bag tight. Leon reached for the cigarette box and passed
it to her.

'You know my uncle?' she said, as she took a cigarette. 'Poor Uncle Roos
often spoke about you--'

'Very uncomplimentarily, I am sure,' said Leon.

She nodded.

'Yes, he didn't like you. He was rather afraid of you, and you cost him
money.'

Roos Malan had figured in one of Leon's more humdrum cases. Roos and his
brother Cornelius had been prosperous farmers in South Africa. And then
gold was discovered on their farm, and they became, of a sudden, very
rich men; both came to England and settled on two desolate farms in
Oxfordshire. It was Roos who had adopted his dead sister's baby with much
grumbling and complaining for, like his brother, he was that rarest of
misers who grudges every farthing spent even on himself. Yet both
brothers were shrewd speculators; too shrewd sometimes. It was a case in
which their cupidity had overrun their discretion, that had brought Leon
into their orbit.

'Uncle Roos,' said the girl, 'was not so bad as you think. Of course, he
was terribly mean about money, and even about the food that was eaten on
the farm; and life was a little difficult with him. Sometimes he was
kindness itself, and I feel a pig that I am bothering about his wretched
money.'

'Don't worry about him,' began Jones impatiently.

'You find that there is no wretched money?' interrupted Leon, glancing
again at the letter she had sent him.

She shook her head.

'I can't understand it,' she said.

'Show him the will,' Jones snapped.

She opened her bag again and took out a folded paper.

'Here is a copy.'

Leon took the paper and opened it. It was a short, hand-written document
in Dutch. Beneath was the English translation. In a few lines the late
Roos Malan had left 'all the property I possess to my niece Leonora Mary
Malan.'

'Every penny,' said Jones, with satisfaction that he did not attempt to
conceal. 'Leonora and I were going into business in London. Her money, my
brains. See what I mean?'

Leon saw very clearly.

'When did he die?' he asked.

'Six months ago.' Leonora frowned as at an unpleasant memory. 'You'll
think I am heartless, but really I had no love for him, though at times I
was very fond of him.'

'And the property?' said Leon.

She frowned.

'All that is left seems to be the farm and the furniture. The valuers say
that it's worth five thousand pounds, and it's mortgaged for four
thousand. Uncle Cornelius holds the mortgage. Yet Roos Malan must have
been very rich; he drew royalties from his property in South Africa, and
I've seen the money in the house; it came every quarter and was always
paid in banknotes.'

'I could explain the mortgage,' said Jones. 'Those two mean old skunks
exchanged mortgages to protect one another in case the authorities ever
tried to play tricks on 'em! The money's gone, mister--I've searched the
house from top to bottom. There's a strongroom built in a corner of the
cellar--we've had that door opened, but there's not a penny to be found.
They're great for strongrooms, the Malans. I know where Cornelius keeps
his too. He doesn't know it, but by God, if he doesn't play fair with
this kid...!'

The girl seemed a little embarrassed by the championship of the man. The
friendship was a little one-sided, he thought, and had the impression
that Mr Jones' glib plans for 'going into business' were particularly his
own.

Jones gave him one piece of news. Neither of the brothers had banking
accounts. Though they speculated heavily and wisely in South African
stocks, their dividends were paid or their stock was bought with ready
money, and invariably cash payments were made in the same medium.

'Both these old blighters objected to paying taxation, and they used all
sorts of dirty tricks to avoid payment. They suspected all banks, because
they believed that banks tell the Government their clients' business.'

Leonora shook her head again despairingly.

'I don't think you can do anything, Mr Gonsalez, and I almost wish I
hadn't written. The money isn't there; there's no record that it ever was
there. I really don't mind very much, because I can work. Happily I took
typing lessons and improved my speed at the farm: I did most of Uncle's
correspondence.'

'During the last illness was Cornelius at the farm?'

She nodded.

'All the time?'

She nodded again.

And he left--?'

'Immediately after poor Roos' death. I haven't seen him again, and the
only communication I've had from him was a letter in which he told me
that I ought to earn my living and that I couldn't depend on him. Now
what can I do?'

Leon considered this problem for a long time.

'I'll be perfectly frank with you, Mr Gonsalez,' she went on. 'I am sure
Uncle Cornelius collected what money there was in the house before he
left. Mr Jones thinks that too.'

'Think it--I know it!' The hatchet-faced man was very emphatic. 'I saw
him coming out of the cellar with a big Gladstone bag. Old Roos was in
the habit of keeping his key of the strongroom under his pillow; when he
died it wasn't there--I found it on the kitchen mantelpiece!'

When the man and the girl were leaving, Leon so manoeuvred the departure
that she was the last to go.

'Who is Jones?' he asked, dropping his voice.

She was a little uncomfortable.

'He was Uncle's farm manager--he's been very nice...a little too nice.'

Leon nodded, and as he heard Mr Jones returning, asked her immediate
plans. She was, she said, staying the week in London, making preparations
to earn her own livelihood. After he had taken down her address and seen
the party to the door, he walked thoughtfully back to the common room
where his two companions were playing chess--an immoral occupation for
eleven o'clock in the forenoon.

'She is very pretty,' said Poiccart, not looking up from the piece he was
fingering, 'and she has come about her inheritance. And the man with her
is no good.'

'You were listening at the door,' accused Leon.

'I have read the local newspapers and I know that Mr Roos Malan died
penniless--not sufficient to meet the demands of the Inspector of Taxes,'
said Poiccart as he checked Manfred's king. 'Both men were terrible
misers, both are enormously rich, and both men have got Somerset House
tearing their hair.'

'And naturally,' George Manfred went on, 'she came to you to recover her
property. What did the man want?'

He sat back in his chair and sighed.

'We're fearfully respectable, aren't we? It was so easy ten, fifteen
years ago. I know so many ways of making Cornelius disgorge.'

'And I know one,' interrupted Leon promptly. 'And if all my theories and
views are correct--and I cannot imagine them being anything else--Mr
Drake will make the recovery.'

'Mr Who?' Poiccart looked up with a heavy frown.

'Mr Drake,' said Leon glibly; 'an old enemy of mine. We have been at
daggers drawn for ten years. He knows one of my most precious secrets,
and I have lived in mortal terror of him, so much so that I contemplate
removing him from his present sphere of activity.'

George looked at him thoughtfully; then a light dawned in his face.

'Oh, I think I know your mysterious Mr Drake. We used him before, didn't
we?'

'We used him before,' agreed Leon gravely. 'But this time he dies the
death of a dog!'

'Who is this Jones?' asked Poiccart. 'I've seen him at the Old
Bailey--and he has a Dartmoor manner. You remember, George--an unpleasant
case, eight-ten years ago. Not a fit companion for the pretty Leonora.'

Leon's car took him the next morning to a famous market town, ten miles
from Mr Malan's farm. Here he sought and had an interview with the local
inspector of taxes, producing the brief authorization which he had
suggested Leonora should sign. The harassed official was both willing and
anxious to give Leon all the information he required.

'I have the devil of a job with these people. We know their main income,
which arrives from South Africa every quarter, but they've got a score of
other South African interests which we're unable to trace. We knew that
they are in the habit of receiving their money in cash. Both men have
obviously been cheating the Revenue for years, but we could get no
evidence against them. If Mr Malan keeps books, he also keeps them well
out of sight! A few months ago we put a detective on to watch Cornelius,
and we found his hiding place. It lies about twenty feet down a
half-filled-in well in his garden.'

Leon nodded.

'And it's a solid rock chamber approached by a steel door. It sound like
a fairy tale, doesn't it? It's one of the many in which Charles II was
reputedly hidden, and the existence of the rock chamber has been known
for centuries. Cornelius had the steel door fitted, and as the well is
right under his window and is fastened by an iron trapdoor and is,
moreover, visible from the road, it's much more secure than any safe he
could have in his house.'

'Then why not search the strong-room?' asked Leon.

The inspector shook his head.

'We've no authority to do that--the most difficult thing in the world to
secure is a search warrant, and our department, unless it institutes
criminal proceedings, has never applied for such an authority.'

Leon smiled broadly.

'Mr Drake will have to get it for you,' he said cryptically.

The puzzled official frowned.

'I don't quite get that.'

'You will get more than that,' said the mysterious Leon.

As Leon walked up the muddy cart-track, he became aware of the sound of
voices, one deep and bellowing, one high and shrill. Their words,
incoherent in themselves, were indistinguishable. He turned the corner of
an untidy clump of bushes, and saw the two: Cornelius the giant, and
the rat-faced Mr Jones, who was white with passion.

'I'm going to get you, you damned Dutch thief!' he cried shrilly.
'Robbing the orphan--that's what you're doing. You haven't heard the last
of me.'

What Cornelius said was impossible to understand, for in his rage he had
relapsed into Cape Dutch, which is one of the most expressive mediums of
vituperation. He caught sight of Leon, and came striding towards him.

'You're a detective: take that man from here. He's a thief, a gaolbird.
My brother gave him a job because he could get no other.'

The thin lips of Mr Jones curled in a sneer.

'A hell of a job! A stable to sleep in and stuff to eat that Dartmoor
would turn up its nose at--not that I know anything about Dartmoor,' he
added hastily. 'All that this man says is lies. He's a thief; he took the
money from old Roos' safe--'

'And you come and say "Give me ten thousand and I'll tell Leonora not to
trouble about the rest," eh?' snarled Cornelius.

Leon knew it was not the moment to tell the story of Mr Drake. That must
come later. He made an excuse for his calling and then accompanied the
man Jones back to the road.

'Don't you take any notice of what he said, mister, I mean about my
trying to doublecross Leonora. She's a good girl; she trusts me, she
does, and I'm going to do the right thing by her...Old Roos led her the
life of a dog.'

Leon wondered what kind of life this ex-convict would lead Leonora Malan
and was quite satisfied that, whatever happened, the girl should be saved
from such an association.

'And when he says I was a convict--' began Jones again.

'I can save you a lot of trouble,' said Leon. 'I saw you sentenced.'

He mentioned the offence, and the man went red and then white.

'Now you can go back to London, and I'm warning you not to go near Miss
Leonora Malan. If you do, there is going to be trouble.'

Jones opened his mouth as if to say something, changed his mind and
lurched up the road. It was later in the evening when Leon returned to
tell the story of Mr Drake.

He reached the farm of Mr Cornelius Malan at nine o'clock. It was pitch
dark; rain and sleet were falling, and the house offered no promise that
his discomfort would be relieved, for not so much as a candle gleam
illuminated the dark windows. He knocked for some time, but had no reply.
Then he heard the sound of laboured breathing: somebody was walking
towards him in the darkness, and he spun round.

'Mr Cornelius Malan?' he asked, and heard the man grunt, and then: 'Who
is it?'

'An old friend,' said Leon coolly, and though Cornelius could not see his
face, he must have recognized him.

'What do you want?' His voice was shrill with anxiety.

'I want to see you. It's rather an important matter,' said Leon.

The man pushed past him, unlocked the door and led the way into the
darkness. Leon waited in the doorway until he saw the yellow flame of a
match and heard the tinkle of a lamp chimney being lifted.

The room was big and bare. Only the glow of a wood fire burnt in the
hearth, yet this apparently was the farmer's livings and sleeping room,
for his untidy bed was in one corner of the room. In the centre was a
bare deal table, and on this Leon sat uninvited. The man stood at the far
end of the table, scowling down at him; his face was pale and haggard.
'What do you want?' he asked again.

'It's about John Drake,' said Leon deliberately. 'He's an old enemy of
mine; we have chased one another across three continents before now, and
tonight, for the first time in ten years, we met.'

The man was puzzled, bewildered. 'What's this to do with me?'

Leon shrugged. 'Only tonight I killed him.'

He saw the man's jaw drop. 'Killed him?'--incredulously.

Leon nodded. 'I stabbed him with a long knife,' he said, with some
relish. 'You've probably heard about the Three Just Men: they do such
things. And I've concealed the body on your farm. For the first time in
my life I am conscious that I have acted unfairly, and it is my intention
to give myself up to the police.'

Cornelius looked down at him.

'On my farm?' he said dully. 'Where did you put the body?'

Not a muscle of Leon's face moved.

'I dropped it down the well.'

'That's a lie!' stormed the other. 'It is impossible that it was you who
opened the cover!...'

Leon shrugged his shoulders.

'That you must tell the police. They at any rate will learn from me that
I dropped him down that well. At the bottom I found a door which I
succeeded in opening with a skeleton key, and inside that door is my
unhappy victim.'

Malan's lips were quivering.

Suddenly he turned and rushed from the room.

Leon heard the shot and ran through the door into the night...the next
second he sprawled over the dead body of Cornelius Roos.

Later, when the police came and forced the cover of the well, they found
another dead man huddled at the bottom of the well, where Cornelius had
thrown him.

'Jones must have been detected in the act of forcing the well, and been
shot,' said Leon. 'Weird, isn't it...after my yam about having buried a
man there? I expected no more than that Cornelius would pay up rather
than have the well searched.'

'Very weird,' said Manfred drily, 'and the weirdest thing is Jones' real
name.'

'What is it?'

'Drake,' said Manfred. 'The police phoned it through half-an-hour before
you came in.'



13. 'The Englishman Konnor'


THETHREE JUST Men sat longer over dinner than usual. Poiccart had been
unusually talkative--and serious.

'The truth is, my dear George,' he appealed to the silent Manfred, 'we
are fiddling with things. There are still offences for which the law does
not touch a man; for which death is the only and logical punishment. We
do a certain amount of good--yes. We right certain wrongs--yes. But could
not any honest detective agency do as much?'

'Poiccart is a lawless man,' murmured Leon Gonsalez; 'he is going
fantee--there is a murderous light in his eyes!'

Poiccart smiled good-humouredly.

'We know this is true, all of us. There are three men I know, every one
of them worthy of destruction. They have wrecked lives, and are within
the pale of the law...Now, my view is...'

They let him talk and talk, and to the eyes of Manfred came a vision of
Merrell, the Fourth of the Four Just Men--he who died in Bordeaux and, in
dying completed his purpose. Some day the story of Merrell the Fourth may
be told. Manfred remembered a warm, still night, when Poiccart had spoken
in just this strain. They were younger then: eager for justice, terribly
swift to strike....

'We are respectable citizens,' said Leon, getting up, 'and you are trying
to corrupt us, my friend. I refuse to be corrupted!'

Poiccart looked up at him from under his heavy eyelids.

'Who shall be the first to break back to the old way?' he asked
significantly.

Leon did not answer.

This was a month before the appearance of the tablet. It came into the
possession of the Four in a peculiar way. Poiccart was in Berlin, looking
for a man who called himself Lefevre. One sunny afternoon, when he was
lounging through Charlonenburg, he called in at an antique shop to buy
some old Turkish pottery that was exhibited for sale. Two large blue
vases were his purchase, and these he had packed and sent to the House
with the Silver Triangle, in Curzon Street.

It was Manfred who found the gold badge. He had odd moments of
domesticity, and one day decided to wash the pottery. There were all
sorts of oddments at the bottom of the vases: one was stuffed with old
pieces of Syrian newspaper for half its depth, and it needed a great deal
of patience and groping with pieces of wire to bring these to light.
Nearing the end of his task, he heard a metallic tinkle and, as he turned
the jar upside down, there dropped into the kitchen sink a gold chain
bracelet that held an oblong gold tablet, inscribed on both sides with
minute Arabic writing.

Now it so happened that Mr Dorian of the Evening Herald was in the
kitchen when this interesting find was made, and Mr Dorian, as everybody
knows, is the greatest gossip-writer that ever went into Fleet Street. He
is a youngish man of forty-something who looks twenty-something. You meet
him at first nights and very select functions, at the unveiling of war
memorials--he was a very good artilleryman during the war. Sometimes he
called and stayed to dinner to talk over the old days on the Megaphone,
but never before had he made professional profit out of his visits.
'Poiccart will be indifferent--but Leon will be delighted,' said Manfred
as he examined the bracelet link by link. 'Gold, of course. Leon loves
mysteries and usually makes his own. This will go into his little story
box.'

The little story box was Leon's especial eccentricity. Disdaining safes
and strong rooms, that battered steel deed-box reposed beneath his bed.
It is true that it contained nothing of great value intrinsically: a
jumble of odds and ends, from the torn tickets of bookmakers to two
inches of the rope that should have hanged Manfred, each inconsiderable
object had its attachment in the shape of a story.

The imagination of the journalist was fired. He took the bracelet in his
hand and examined it.

'What is it?' he asked curiously.

Manfred was examining the inscription.

'Leon understands Arabic better than I--it rather looks like the
identification disc of a Turkish officer. He must be, or must have been,
rather an exquisite.'

Curious, mused Dorian aloud. Here in smoky London a jar or vase bought in
Berlin, and out of it tumbles something of Eastern romance. He asked it
he might muse in print to the same purpose, and George Manfred had no
objection.

Leon came back that evening: he had been asked by the American Government
to secure exact information about a certain general cargo which was being
shipped from lighters in the port of London.

'Certain raw materials,' he reported, 'which could have caused a great
deal of trouble for our friends in America.'

Manfred told him of his find.

'Dorian was here--I told him he could write about this if he liked.'

'H'm!' said Leon, reading the inscription. 'Did you tell him what this
writing stood for? But you're not a whale at Arabic, are you? There's
one word in Roman characters "Konnor"--did you see that? "Konnor?" Now
what is "Konnor"?' He looked up at the ceiling. '"The Englishman
Konnor"--that was the owner of this interesting exhibit. Konnor? I've got
it--"Connor"!'

The next evening, under 'The Man in Town,' Mr Dorian's daily column, Leon
read of the find, and was just a little irritated to discover that the
thorough Mr Dorian had referred to the story box. If the truth be told,
Leon was not proud of this little box of his; it stood for romance and
sentiment, two qualities which he was pleased to believe were absent from
his spiritual make-up.

'George, you're becoming a vulgar publicity agent,' he complained. 'The
next thing that will happen will be that I shall receive fabulous offers
from a Sunday newspaper for a series of ten articles on "Stories from my
Story Box," and if I do I shall sulk for three days.'

Nevertheless, into the black box went the bracelet. What the writing was
all about, and where 'the Englishman Konnor' came into it, Leon refused
to say.

Yet it was clear to his two companions that Leon was pursuing some new
inquiry in the days that followed. He haunted Fleet Street and Whitehall,
and even paid a visit to Dublin. Once Manfred questioned him and Leon
smiled amiably.

'The whole thing is rather amusing. Connor isn't even Irish. Probably
isn't Connor, though it is certain that he bore that name. I found it on
the roll of a very fine Irish regiment. He is most likely a Levantine.
Stewarts, the Dublin photographers, have a picture of him in a regimental
group. That is what I went to Ireland to see. There's a big bookmaker in
Dublin who was an officer in the same regiment, and he says "Connor"
spoke with a foreign accent.'

'But who is Connor?' asked Manfred.

Leon showed his even white teeth in a grin of delight.

'He is my story,' was all that he would say.

Three weeks later Leon Gonsalez found adventure.

He had something of the qualities of a cat; he slept noiselessly; the
keenest ear must strain to hear him breathing; he woke noiselessly. He
could pass from complete oblivion to complete wakefulness in a flash. As
a cat opens her eyes and is instantly and cold-bloodedly alert, so was
Leon.

He had the rare power of looking back into sleep and rediscovering
causes, and he knew without remembering that what had wakened him was not
the tap-tap of the blind cords for, the night being windy, this had been
a normal accompaniment to sleep, but rather the sound of human movement.

His room was a large one for so small a house, but there could never be
enough ventilation for Leon, so that, in addition to windows, the door
was wedged open...He snuffled picturesquely, like a man in heavy sleep,
grumbled drowsily, and turned in the bed; but when he had finished
turning, his feet were on the floor and he was standing upright,
tightening the cord of his pyjamas.

Manfred and Poiccart were away for the weekend, and he was alone in the
house--a satisfactory state of affairs, since Leon preferred to deal with
such situations as these single-handed.

Waiting, his head bent, he heard the sound again. It came at the end of a
whining gust of wind that should have drowned the noise--a distinct
creak. Now the stairs gave seven distinct creakings. This one came from
the second tread. He lifted his dressing-gown and drew it on as his bare
feet groped for his slippers. Then he slipped out on to the landing, and
switched on the light.

There was a man on the landing; his yellow, uncleanly face was upraised
to Leon's. Fear, surprise, hateful resentment were there.

'Keep your hand out of your pocket, or I'll shoot you through the
stomach,' said Leon calmly. 'It will take you four days to die, and
you'll regret every minute of it.'

The second man, half-way up the stairs, stood stock-still, paralysed with
fright. He was small and slim. Leon waved the barrel of his Browning in
his direction, and the smaller figure shrank against the wall and
screamed.

Leon smiled. He had not met a lady burglar for years.

'Turn about, both of you, and walk downstairs,' he ordered; 'don't try to
run--that would be fatal.'

They obeyed him, the man sullenly, the girl, he guessed, rather weak in
the knees.

Presently they came to the ground floor.

'To the left,' said Leon.

He stepped swiftly up to the man, dropped the Browning against his spine,
and put his hand into the jacket pocket. He took out a short-barrelled
revolver, and slipped it into the pocket of his dressing-gown.

'Through the doorway--the light switch is on the left, turn it.'
Following them into the little dining-room, he closed the door behind
him. 'Now sit down--both of you.'

The man he could place: a typical prison man; irregular features,
bad-complexioned: a creature of low mentality, who spent his short
periods of liberty qualifying for further imprisonment.

His companion had not spoken, and until she spoke Leon could not place
her into a category.

'I'm very sorry--I am entirely to blame.'

So she spoke, and Leon was enlightened.

It was an educated voice--the voice you might hear in Bond Street
ordering the chauffeur to drive to the Ritz.

She was pretty, but then, most women were pretty to Leon; he had that
amount of charity in his soul. Dark eyes, fine arches of eyebrows, rather
full, red lips. The nervous fingers that twined in and out of one another
were white, shapely, rather over-manicured. There was a small purple spot
on the back of one finger, where a big ring had been.

'This man is not responsible,' she said, in a low voice. 'I hired him.
A--a friend of mine used to help him, and he came to the house one night
last week; and I asked him to do this for me. That's really true.'

'Asked him to burgle my house?'

She nodded. 'I wish you'd let him go--I could talk to you then...and feel
more comfortable. It really isn't his fault. I'm entirely to blame.'

Leon pulled open the drawer of a small writing-table, and took out a
sheet of paper and an inkpad. He put them on the table before the girl's
unshaven companion.

'Put your finger and thumb on the pad--press 'em.'

'Whaffor?' The man was husky and suspicious.

'I want your finger-prints in case I have to come after you. Be slippy!'

Reluctantly, the burglar obeyed--first one hand and then the other. Leon
examined the prints on the paper, and was satisfied.

'Step this way.'

He pushed his visitor to the street door, opened it, and walked out after
him.

'You must not carry a gun,' he said. As he spoke his fist shot up and
caught the man under the jaw, and the man went sprawling to the ground.

He got up whimpering.

'She made me carry it,' he whined.

'Then she earned you a punch on the jaw,' said Leon brightly, and closed
the door on one who called himself, rather unimaginatively, 'John Smith.'

When he returned to the dining-room, the girl had loosened the heavy coat
she wore, and was sitting back in her chair, rather white of face but
perfectly calm.

'Has he gone? I'm so glad! You hit him, didn't you? I thought I heard
you. What do you think of me?'

'I wouldn't have missed tonight for a thousand pounds!' said Leon, and he
was telling the truth.

Only for a fraction of a second did she smile.

'Why do you think I did this mad, stupid thing?' she asked quietly. Leon
shook his head.

'That is exactly what I can't think: we've no very important case on
hand; the mysterious documents which figure in all sensation stories are
entirely missing. I can only suppose that we've been rather unkind to
some friend of yours--a lover, a father, a brother--'

He saw the ghost of a smile appear and disappear.

'No; it isn't revenge. You've done me no harm, directly or indirectly.
And there are no secret documents.'

'Then it's not revenge and it's not robbery; I confess that I am beaten!'

Leon's smile was dazzling, and this time she responded without
reservation.

'I suppose I'd better tell you everything,' she said, 'and I'd best start
by telling you that my name is Lois Martin, my father is Sir Charles
Martin, the surgeon, and I shall be married in three weeks' time to Major
John Rutland, of the Cape Police. And that is why I burgled your house.'

Leon was amused.

'You were--er--looking for a wedding--present?' he asked, mildly
sarcastic.

To his surprise, she nodded.

'That is just what I came for,' she said. 'I've been very silly. If I'd
known you better, I should have come to you and asked for it.'

Her steady eyes were fixed upon Leon.

'Well?' he asked. 'What is this interesting object?'

She spoke very slowly.

'A gold chain bangle, with an identification disc....'

Leon was not surprised, except that she was speaking the truth. He jotted
down the names she had given him. A gold bracelet,' he repeated, 'the
property of--?'

She hesitated.

'I suppose you've got to know the whole story--I'm rather in your hands.'

He nodded.

'Very much in my hands,' he said pleasantly. 'It seems to me that you
will get less discomfort in telling me now than in explaining the matter
to a police magistrate.'

He was geniality itself yet she, womanlike, could detect a hardness in
his tone that made her shiver a little.

'Major Rutland knows nothing about my coming here--he would be horrified
if he knew I had taken this risk,' she began.

She told him, haltingly at first, how her older brother had been killed
in Africa during the War.

'That's how I come to know Jack,' she said. 'He was in the desert, too.
He wrote to me two years ago from Paris--said he had some papers
belonging to poor Frank. He had taken them from his--from his body, after
he was killed. Naturally, Daddy asked him to come over, and we became
good friends, although Daddy isn't very keen on--our marriage.'

She was silent for a little while, and then went on quickly:

'Father doesn't like the marriage at all, and really the fact that we are
getting married is a secret. You see, Mr Gonsalez, I am a comparatively
rich woman: my mother left me a large sum of money. And John will be
rich, too. During the War, when he was a prisoner, he located a big gold
mine in Syria, and that is what the inscription is all about. John saved
the life of an Arab, and in his gratitude he revealed to him where the
mine was located, and had it all inscribed on a little gold tablet, in
Arabic. John lost it at the end of the War, and he'd heard nothing more
of it until he read in the Evening Herald about your discovery. Poor John
was naturally terribly upset at the thought that he might be forestalled
by somebody who could decipher the tablet, so I suggested he should call
and see you and ask for the bracelet back; but he wouldn't hear of this.
Instead, he's been getting more and more worried and upset and nervous,
and at last I thought of this mad scheme. Jack has quite a number of
acquaintances amongst the criminal classes--being a police officer he
very naturally can deal with them; and he's done a lot to help them to
keep straight. This man who came tonight was one of them. It was I who
saw him, and suggested this idea of getting into the house and taking the
bracelet. We knew that you kept it under your bed--'

'Are you sure it was you and not Major John Rutland who thought out this
burglary?'

Again she hesitated.

'I think he did in fun suggest that the house should be burgled.'

'And that you should do the burgling?' asked Leon blandly.

She avoided his eyes.

'In fun...yes. He said nobody would hurt me, and I could always pretend
it was a practical joke. It was very stupid, I know, Mr Gonsalez; if my
father knew...'

'Exactly,' said Leon brusquely. 'You needn't tell me any more--about the
burglary. How much money have you at the bank?'

She looked at him in surprise.

'Nearly forty thousand pounds,' she said. 'I've sold a lot of securities
lately--they were not very productive--'

Leon smiled.

'And you've heard of a better investment?'

She was quick to see what he meant.

'You're altogether wrong, Mr Gonsalez,' she said coldly. 'John is only
allowing me to put a thousand pounds into his exploration syndicate--he
isn't quite sure whether it is a thousand or eight hundred he will
require. He won't let me invest a penny more. He's going to Paris
tomorrow night, to start these people on their way; and then he is coming
back, and we are to be married and follow them.'

Leon looked at her thoughtfully.

'Tomorrow night--do you mean tonight?'

She glanced quickly at the clock, and laughed.

'Of course, tonight.'

Then she leaned across the table and spoke earnestly.

'Mr Gonsalez, I've heard so much about you and your friends, and I'm sure
you wouldn't betray our secret. If I'd any sense I should have come to
you yesterday and asked you for the tablet--I would even pay a good sum
to relieve John's anxiety. Is it too late now?'

Leon nodded.

'Much too late. I am keeping that as a memento. The enterprising
gentleman who wrote the paragraph told you that it is part of my story
collection--and I never part with stories. By the way, when do you give
your cheque?'

Her lips twitched at this.

'You still think John is a wicked swindler? I gave him the cheque
yesterday.'

'A thousand or eight hundred?'

'That is for him to decide,' she said.

Leon nodded, and rose.

'I will not trouble you any further. Burglary, Miss Martin, is evidently
not your speciality, and I should advise you to avoid that profession in
the future.'

'You're not giving me in charge?' she smiled.

'Not yet,' said Leon.

He opened the door for her, and stood in his dressing-gown, watching her.
He saw her cross the road to the taxi rank, and take the last vehicle
available. Then he bolted the door and went back to bed.

His alarm clock called him at seven, and he arose cheerfully, having
before him work which was after his own heart. In the morning he called
at a tourist agency and bought a ticket to Paris--it seemed a waste of
time to go to the office of the High Commissioner for South Africa and
examine the available records of the Cape Police; but he was a
conscientious man. The afternoon he spent idling near the Northern and
Southern Bank in Threadneedle Street, and at a quarter to three his vigil
was rewarded, for he saw Major John Rutland descend from a cab, go into
the bank, and emerge a few minutes before the big doors closed. The Major
looked very pleased with himself--a handsome fellow, rather slim, with a
short-cropped military moustache.

Manfred came back in the afternoon, but Leon told him nothing of the
burglary. After dinner he went up to his own room, took from a drawer an
automatic, laid a few spots of oil in the sliding jacket, and loaded it
carefully. From a small box he took a silencer, which he fixed to the
muzzle. He put the apparatus into his overcoat pocket, found his
suitcase, and came downstairs. George was standing in the hallway.

'Going out, Leon?'

'I shall be away a couple of days,' said Leon, and Manfred, who never
asked questions, opened the door for him.

Leon was hunched up in a corner of a first-class carriage when he saw
Major Rutland and the girl pass. Behind them, an unwanted third, was a
tall, thin-faced man with grey hair, obviously the surgeon. Leon saw them
from the corner of his eye, and as the train pulled out had another
glimpse of the girl waving her hand to her departing lover.

It was a dark, gusty night; the weather conditions chalked on a board at
the railway station promised an unpleasant crossing, and when he stepped
on to the boat at midnight he found it rolling uneasily, even in the
comparatively calm waters of the harbour.

He made a quick scrutiny of the purser's list. Major Rutland had taken a
cabin and this, after the boat began to move out of harbour, he located.
It was the aft cabin de luxe, not a beautiful apartment, for the ship was
an old one.

He waited till the assistant purser came along to collect his ticket, and
then: 'I'm afraid I've lost my ticket,' he said, and paid.

His ticket from Dover to Calais was in his pocket, but Major Rutland had
not taken the Calais but the Ostend boat. He watched the assistant purser
go into the cabin de luxe, and peered through the window. The Major was
lying on a sofa, his cap pulled down over his eyes.

After the assistant purser had taken his ticket and departed, Leon waited
for another half-hour; then he saw the cabin go dark. He wandered round
the ship: the last light of England showed glitteringly on the
south-western horizon. There were no passengers on deck: the few that the
ship carried had gone below, for she was tossing and rolling
diabolically. Another quarter of an hour passed, and then Leon turned the
handle of the stateroom door, stepped into the cabin and sent the light
of his small torch round the room. Evidently the Major was travelling
without a great deal of luggage: there were two small suitcases and
nothing more.

These Leon took out on to the deck and, walking to the rail, dropped them
into the water. The man's hat went the same way. He put the torch back
into his pocket and, returning for the second time to the cabin, gently
shook the sleeper.

'I want to speak to you, Konnor,' he said, in a voice little above a
whisper.

The man was instantly awake. 'Who are you?'

'Come outside: I want to talk to you.'

'Major Rutland' followed on to the dim deck.

'Where are you going?' he asked.

The aft of the ship was reserved for second-class passengers, and this,
too, was deserted. They made their way to the rail above the stern. They
were in complete darkness.

'You know who I am?'

'Haven't the slightest idea,' was the cool reply.

'My name is Gonsalez. Yours, of course, is Eugene Konnor--or Bergstoft,'
said Leon. 'You were at one time an officer in the--' He mentioned the
regiment. 'In the desert you went over to the enemy by arrangements made
through an agency in Cairo. You were reported killed, but in reality you
were employed by the enemy as a spy. You were responsible for the
disaster at El Masjid--don't try to draw that gun or your life will be
shorter.'

'Well,' said the man, a little breathlessly, 'what do you want?'

'I want first of all the money you drew from the bank this afternoon.
I've an idea that Miss Martin gave you a blank cheque, and I've a
stronger idea that you filled that almost to the limit of her balance, as
she will discover tomorrow morning.'

'A hold-up, eh?' Konnor laughed harshly.

'That money, and quick!' said Leon, between his teeth.

Konnor felt the point of the gun against his stomach, and obeyed. Leon
took the thick pad of notes from the man, and slipped it into his pocket.

'I suppose you realize, Mr Leon Gonsalez, that you're going to get into
very serious trouble?' began Konnor. 'I thought you'd probably decipher
the pass--'

'I deciphered the pass without any trouble at all, if you're referring to
the gold tablet,' said Leon. 'It said that "the Englishman Konnor is
permitted to enter our lines at any moment of the day or night and is to
be afforded every assistance," and it was signed by the Commander of the
Third Army. Yes, I know all about that.'

'When I get back to England--' began the man.

'You've no intention of going back to England. You're married. You were
married in Dublin--and that was probably not your first bigamy. How much
money is there here?'

'Thirty or forty thousand--you needn't think that Miss Martin will
prosecute me.'

'Nobody is going to prosecute you,' said Leon, in a low voice.

He took one quick glance around: the decks were empty.

'You're a traitor to your country--if you have a country; a man who has
sent thousands of the men who were his comrades to their death. That is
all.'

There was a flash of fire from his hand, a guttural 'plop!' Konnor's
knees went under him, but before he reached the ground Leon Gonsalez
caught him under the arms, threw the pistol into the water, lifted the
man without an effort and heaved him into the dark sea....

When Ostend harbour came into sight, and the steward went to collect
Major Rutland's luggage, he found it had gone, and with it the owner.
Passengers are very often mean, and carry their own luggage on to the
deck in order to save porterage. The steward shrugged his shoulders and
thought no more of the matter.

As for Leon Gonsalez, he stayed in Brussels one day, posted without
comment the 34,000 in notes to Miss Lois Martin, caught the train to
Calais and was back in London that night. Manfred glanced up as his
friend strode into the dining-room.

'Had a good time, Leon?' he asked.

'Most interesting,' said Leon.



THE END



This site is full of FREE ebooks - Project Gutenberg Australia