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Title: The Master's Voice
Author: Fred M White
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1000781.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: November 2010
Date most recently updated: November 2010

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

Title: The Master's Voice
Author: Fred M White

*

Published in The Queenslander, Saturday, 5 November, 1921.

*

Everard Dix was exceedingly sorry, but so far as he could see there was
no help for it, as he explained to his friend, Max Clayton, as they sat
over a cigar in the former's comfortable flat after dinner. Max Clayton
was a writer of some repute, with aspirations in the direction of the
stage, and Everard Dix had promised to finance the new comedy which was
destined to mark an epoch in the history of the drama. And so on.

"It's a blow," Clayton murmured. "It's a blow, and there's no getting
over it. But I know you too well to think that you would let me down
without some very good reason."

"Oh, there's reason enough, all right," Dix groaned. "And I owe you an
explanation. Now, you know what my business is, don't you?"

"Oh, something to do with paper, I believe," Clayton said vaguely.
"Something in the City."

"Yes, we make paper, but only of a peculiar kind. It's the sort of stuff
that bank notes and exchequer bonds and all those kind of things are
printed on. With the possible exception of the Bank of England note
paper, there is nothing like it, and we have always boasted that it
cannot be forged. And that, my dear chap, is where we made a mistake,
and that, indirectly, is why I can't let you have the money."

"That is interesting. Go on."

"Recently we lost one or two big contracts in America because a clever
gang there have been extensively forging gold dollar bonds on a splendid
imitation of our paper. Most of our paper has been supplied to a firm
called Goldsack, in Liverpool, who are probably the biggest printers of
Government and bank securities in the world. Amongst their secrets is a
marvellous ink, the ingredients of which are only known to the heads of
the firm themselves, and with that ink, plus our paper, we were able to
laugh at forgers. But not now. My idea was to get a new paper that would
only take the Goldsack ink, and that if the printing was tampered with
the forgery would be detected at a glance. And I managed it."

"Then what have you got to worry about?" Clayton asked.

"Well, my idea was to get a paper that would show forgery by heat or
damping, so that they would change colour. In other words, supposing you
warmed one of those securities, or wetted it with a moistened finger,
the ink would change colour, that is on a genuine bill. If the thing was
a forgery then there would be no change. And I did it."

"Well," Clayton said. "If you've done that you ought to be a jolly sight
better off than ever."

"I did it, and sent on a specimen of the work to Goldsack's in
Liverpool. But it never got there. Three specimens went through the
post, and none of them were delivered. Then we tried registering. The
postman who delivered the registered letters was waylaid in a business
lane in Liverpool, and robbed of his bag. That had been fairly early in
the morning, before people were about, and not so difficult as it
sounds. I telephoned Goldsacks, but I'm not quite sure they believe my
story. Our paper is perfect, and I can do all we claim in connection
with Goldsack ink. But I can't get the specimen up to Liverpool. I don't
want to go myself, because those chaps will be watching me, and I don't
feel inclined to trust anybody else. Now, can't you think of some scheme
to get to Goldsack's without incurring the suspicions of those rascals?
I don't want them to know anything about it. I want to make them feel
that we have dropped the whole business, as it is too dangerous to go on
with. You are an ingenious-minded chap, who has written a good many
clever stories--can't you show me a way? It's worth thinking about, even
if only for your own sake."

Clayton helped himself to a fresh cigar, and smoked thoughtfully.

"Did you ever read a story of Poe's called 'The Purloined Letter'?" he
asked.

"I can't cay I have," Dix said languidly.

"Ah, well, that's a pity. It's all about a clever political Johnny who
stole a compromising letter which he had to use daily, and which he hid
from the police, who were searching for it day and night. They couldn't
find it, because he had put it in a place where everybody could see it.
It doesn't sound very much told in bald words, but it is one of the most
convincing stories, in the English language."

"I begin to see your drift," Dix said more enthusiastically.

"Here, let me have a chance. And if you'll give me a dummy parcel, a
kind of forgery of what I have to deliver, put up in a separate envelope
with your seal on it, then I think I can properly fool those chaps. It's
just as well, perhaps, in that envelope, to write a few lines to the
effect that you have done the best you could, but that you regret to say
that so far your efforts have not been crowned with success, and that in
the meantime you are sorry that pressure of other business--well, you
know what I mean. Give me that, and the real thing in another sealed
envelope, and if I fail, well, I do."

Dix smiled behind his cigar.

"Oh, my dear chap, don't be absurd," he said. "You must come to grief.
Why, you couldn't keep it secret for five minutes. Everybody would know
what you are going to do, and you will be robbed of that paper long
before you get to Liverpool. Besides, you have been in and out of my
office every day for the last fortnight, and if there is treachery, as I
suspect, then the foe will be certain to have a tip, and keep their eye
on you if it gets known that you are even contemplating going to
Liverpool. Oh, it's impossible."

"Look here," Clayton said eagerly. "I can only fail, like the rest of
them. I want to walk into your office in my own inconsequent way, and
ask you before your staff if you've got the stuff ready for me, as I
propose to go to Liverpool, say, the day after to-morrow. You can frown
and look annoyed, and take me into your private room, and there hand
over to me the real thing. But the skeleton envelope must reach me
without any one being any the wiser. I wonder if you'll give it to me
to-night?"

"Oh, I can, of course."

"Then let me have it, and I will go to Liverpool by the night mail the
day after to-morrow, having first come round to your office openly as
arranged. Then, on the following evening, you dine with me at the Cafe
Royal, and see me into a taxi on the way to Euston. Before I go, I shall
openly ask the waiter to give me one of those glass flagons of special
whisky they keep, and you will see me throw it into the bag by my side.
Then all you've got to do is to go quietly to bed, and I'll come round
within a week and collect that thousand pounds as per contract. Oh, you
needn't worry, I'm not going to fail."

"Oh, very well," Dix said finally. "I'll make up a parcel now for you to
take away, and the next scene of the comedy had better take place in my
outer office after lunch on Thursday afternoon, which I think is the day
you propose to go to Liverpool."

* * * * * * * *

There were a score or more of clerks in the outer office as Clayton
entered, on the following Thursday, including Dix himself, who had
apparently just come back from lunch. Clayton hailed him in his usual
free and easy style in a voice that could be heard all over the office.

"Well, here I am," he cried. "And I haven't much time to lose. I might,
with any luck, be able to meet you this evening at the Cafe Royal for a
mouthful of dinner before I catch the Liverpool express, but it is only
a sporting chance, and if I am not there by 8 o'clock don't you wait.
You had better give me those papers now----"

Dix frowned, and appeared to bite his lip. He glanced somewhat uneasily
round the crowded office, and signified to Clayton to follow him into
his private room.

"I suppose you know what you are doing," he said, dubiously. "I have put
myself into your hands, as I said I would, but it looks to me as if you
were simply asking for trouble. Didn't I tell you I suspected treachery
in the office?"

"It's all a part of the programme," Clayton explained. "And all a part
of the scheme I hinted at the other night. The master's voice, and all
the rest of it. Now, give me that other parcel. I suppose it's all
right. I guess you have got the genuine article this time?"

"Sure thing!" Dix responded. "And if you are successful you get the
cheque, and I make--well, goodness knows how much. But tell me----"

"Not a single word, my boy. Now, you turn up at 8 o'clock, and don't
worry yourself any more about it until you see me in London again."

It was a little after 8 that Clayton bustled into the Cafe Royal, and
took a seat at a table where Dix was already waiting him. He was,
apparently, in the highest spirits, he spoke freely in that somewhat
strident voice of his, he did ample justice to a good dinner, and
subsequently turned to the waiter with an order for one of those special
flagons of whisky for which the house is famous. It came presently in
the form of a little round flat bottle, the sort of thing that used to
be called a pocket pistol, and this Clayton dropped carelessly into the
kitbag that stood by the side of his chair. Half an hour later he got
into a taxi, and made his way to Euston station. There he entered the
express train, and placed this bag in a corner seat inside a first class
corridor carriage. Then, as there was plenty of time to spare, he walked
off down the long platform, apparently in search of papers. The guard's
whistle had already gone when he boarded the train again and took his
seat in the carriage.

The compartment was no longer empty. On one side of him was a
well-dressed woman, more or less elaborately clad in furs, and on the
opposite side a youngish man, well turned out and aristocratic-looking,
who carried about him a subtle suggestion of the army. Just as the train
was about to move out of the station the inspector came to examine the
tickets, and the man on the opposite seat suggested that the inspector
would be the richer by half a crown if he placed a reserved label on the
carriage window next to the corridor.

"I hope you don't mind, sir," he said, as he turned smilingly to
Clayton. "You see, we shan't be in Liverpool till 4 o'clock in the
morning, and my wife and I hope to get a little sleep. People are fond
of wandering about in these corridor trains from one compartment to
another----"

"Oh, certainly," Clayton said. "That's rather a good idea of yours. I
never thought of that. But, then, you see, I am not much of a
traveller."

There was a certain amount of fitful conversation afterwards between the
three occupants of the carriage, then gradually it ceased, and Clayton's
companions appeared to slumber. It was nearly 12 o'clock before the
dramatist reached his bag down from the rack, and proceeded to take a
liberal portion of the special whisky from his flask, which he diluted
in a travelling cup with a small quantity of soda. Then he finished his
cigar, made himself as comfortable as possible, and in turn closed his
eyes.

When he came to himself again the train had come to a standstill,
apparently in some terminus, and Clayton came out of a confused dream to
find that a porter was standing over him. Then, in a dazed kind of way,
he heard the man's voice.

"Beg pardon, sir," he said. "But this train 'as been in for quite ten
minutes. I shouldn't 'ave known you'd been 'ere at all, sir, only I
'appened to look into the carriage to see if there was any stray
newspapers lying about. You must 'ave been very sound asleep."

"I suppose I was," Clayton admitted. "You don't mean to say that it is
past 4 o'clock?"

"Ten minutes past, sir. But aren't you well?"

"I do feel most uncommonly stupid," Clayton said. "Here, take my bag and
put it on a taxi."

Clayton stumbled out of the carriage in a dazed sort of way, and lurched
along the deserted platform very much like a man who is getting over a
fit of intoxication. His head was aching, and there was a nasty taste in
his mouth. But this was not troubling him much, nor the fact discovered
later on that the sealed packet which he had carried in the
breast-pocket of his overcoat was missing. Apparently his travelling
companions had vanished some time before, without making any attempt to
wake him, and Clayton's thoughts were just a little confused as he drove
along through the streets in the direction of the Adelphi Hotel. There
he registered and went straight to bed, where he remained till well into
the afternoon, by which time he was practically himself again. He
partook of a hearty lunch, and then called for the local directory. He
was busy for most of the afternoon and the best part of the evening, but
apparently so pleased was he with the result of his labours that it was
early in the following week that he made his way back to London again.
During that time he made no attempt whatever to communicate with Dix,
and it was Wednesday afternoon before the found himself free to call up
Dix on the telephone, making an appointment to meet his friend at the
latter's flat at 7 o'clock in the evening.

"Are you quite alone there?" he asked.

"Oh, yes," Dix said. "I am using the private 'phone of my own office.
Yes, I'll see you at 7 o'clock; in fact, you'd better come round to
dinner."

"That's all right," Clayton said. "And you mind it's a jolly good
dinner, too, because I've earned it."

"Oh, you have, have you?" Dix asked. "Why on earth didn't you send me a
wire, or call me up on the telephone. I've been worried to death about
you."

"Not good enough," Clayton explained. "You might have been out, and
possibly the very man in your employ whom you suspect might have
answered the telephone. But I'll tell you all about it when we meet this
evening. Ring off."

Dix did so reluctantly. He was waiting in his flat impatiently enough
for Clayton to put in an appearance, which the latter did all in good
time, though he refused to say a single word till he had done ample
justice to a good dinner, and was lying back in his chair with a choice
cigar between his lips.

"Now then, out with it," Dix said. "Or I shall do you a violence. Did
you manage it?"

"In one word, I did," Clayton replied. "I handed over that skeleton
security to old Goldsack himself, and gave him a pretty general idea of
what was going on. When the old chap properly realised what a desperate
gang we had been up against he was properly impressed. Of course, he
treated me as your confidential agent, and I was permitted to see all
the tests that your work was put to. No, you needn't ask any questions,
they were all absolutely successful, and Goldsack told me that in future
they would have no hesitation in using your new paper for all their best
impressions. So you see I did get the thing through, as I said I should,
and, what's more, those enemies of yours have gone off under the
impression that all your efforts have been failures, and that they can
return to the States under the happy delusion that they can continue
their forgeries with impunity. Well, if the American police do their
duty, the whole of the gang will be laid by the heels before many months
are up. The best thing you can do is to sack the people you suspect,
because you are likely to have some pretty fat orders from old Goldsack
at an early date."

Dix drew a long breath of relief.

"Well, that's all right," he said. "My dear fellow, you have put me
under an obligation that I can never repay. Of course, you shall have
the money for your comedy, and more if necessary, and even then I shall
be in your debt. But I don't quite understand how you worked it, all the
same."

"Well, I came here to tell you," Clayton said. "And it's very simple,
after all. Now, I knew perfectly well, from what you told me, that I
should be followed to Liverpool. One of your clerks gave the game away
after I was in your office last week, and we were shadowed to the Cafe
Royal. In my overcoat pocket I had the dummy parcel, and in the lining
of my kit bag was the real thing. When we were at the Cafe Royal I
spotted the people who were after us. They were seated at the next
table, and heard every word we said. They saw me take that parcel out of
my overcoat pocket and put it back again. And, of course, they heard me
order that whisky. When I got to Euston station I posted the genuine
papers to myself, after taking them out of my kit bag and re-addressing
them to the Adelphi Hotel, Liverpool, to make sure. When I returned to
my carriage, there, sure enough, were the two people, a man and a woman,
who had been dining at the Cafe Royal. Of course, they'd seen me put my
kit bag in the corner of the carriage, but they didn't mind that. And I
didn't mind the man tipping the guard to put a reserved notice on the
carriage, because he said he and his wife wanted to sleep. Directly
after we got to the Cafe Royal they also ordered a flagon of whisky,
which, no doubt, they doctored on the way to Euston with the dope they
had prepared for me, and when my back was turned, and my kit hag proving
to be unlocked, the flagons were changed. You see, that prevented any
violence, which people of that sort always avoid if they can. So,
apparently, I walked into their trap with my eyes open, and when I was
under the influence of the drug they took the bogus envelope out of my
overcoat pocket, and, of course, from their point of view, all was
lovely in the garden."

'"That stuff might have killed you," Dix exclaimed.

"Oh, no, those kind of people don't go in for drama like that. I guessed
I was going to be drugged, and took the stuff because I wanted these
people to know that I was insensible when they robbed me, and not
shamming. And, besides, it was experience. I know now what it feels like
to be drugged, and therefore, if ever I write about it, I shall do so at
first hand. So you see, like a conjurer, I forced my card on those
people, and they took it quite innocently. So there you are, that's the
whole story. Anybody could have done it."

"Could they, indeed!" Dix murmured admiringly. "Well, I beg to differ.
But, at any rate, you have earned your money, and I shall be only too
pleased to pay it to you."



THE END



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