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Title: The Platinum Chain
Author: Fred M White
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1100261.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: April 2011
Date most recently updated: April 2011

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

Title: The Platinum Chain
Author: Fred M White

Author of "Secret of the River," "The Man Who Knew," "On the Night
Express," etc. etc.

*

Published in the Sunday Times (Perth, W.A.), Sunday, 6 August, 1933.

*

MALCOLM Anderson had worked out the whole thing deliberately. Just as he
worked out those weird short stories of his in the seclusion of his
cottage in the fens where he lived with his aged mother who had never
quite understood the peculiar bent of her son's genius. For genius it
undoubtedly was.

A man of moods, without friends, and living inside himself to the
exclusion of the outside world, though compelled by force of
circumstances to work for his living in urban surroundings. That is,
before a distant relative had left him enough in the way of an income to
enable him to retire from the strenuous life and free to live where he
chose. And that had been a lonely house in the fens some three miles
from Luckmere. And there he would have been content to pass the rest of
his life had it not been for the fact that George Leverson was
blackmailing him.

Leverson had been his only friend--if the word 'friend' is
applicable--in London. The one person in the world who knew of his
solitary slip from the straight path.

And now Leverson was holding him to ransom. Very carefully and cunningly
in the shape of borrowed money without a single hint at a threat,
nothing that could be used in evidence in a court of justice. But
blackmail all the same, and getting more weighty with every letter
asking for a loan until Anderson was beginning to feel the weight of
financial pressure.

Physically Anderson was a fine figure of a man, one who lived a hard,
frugal life by choice and one who took a deal of outdoor exercise.
Whereas Leverson was a typical town product with a natural bent towards
dissipation.

Leverson must be got rid of, and that speedily if Anderson was not to be
bled to death slowly--in plain English, murdered. Nor was the project
particularly hazardous. Anderson lived with his mother in that lonely
house on the fens with no outside help save an elderly woman who came in
daily for a few hours. What more easy, then than to write a note to
Leverson asking down for a night, having previously arranged that his
mother should not be present, since she had relations in the next
county, friends whom she frequently visited.

So the stage was set in conditions that were quite normal and the
friendly note to Leverson was written. Would he come down by a late
train one evening and walk the three miles from the station to the house
in the fens? It was quite a friendly note for, so far, there was no sign
that Anderson in any way resented the constant appeals to his purse.

And so Leverson, being in sore need of cash, as usual, came in reply to
the invitation. But he never reached the lonely house in the fens for
the simple reason that Anderson stole out of his abode under cover of
the darkness and met his victim half-way and murdered him.

A smashing blow with a cudgel, and then the unconscious body was dragged
from the deserted highway and plunged into a deep boghole, selected
beforehand for the purpose, and the crime was hidden for ever. But not
before Leverson had put up some sort of a fight and had grappled with
his assassin. Half an hour later Anderson was back in his house,
satisfied that his coming and going had been entirely unobserved, and
that the menace which had been so long hanging over him was removed.

But there was one thing the troubled him greatly. In the brief struggle
he had lost a dozen links or more in a platinum chain to which his old
verge watch was attached. There was one end holding on to the watch and
the other secured to a silver sovereign purse, but the middle of the
chain was gone.

What had become of it? Was it lying on the road for some curious person
to pick up or was it still in Leverson's grasp at the bottom of the
boghole? A clue, perhaps a vital clue pointing directly to the scaffold.
And, if it fell into the hands of the police ...

Of course inquiries would be made by Leverson's relations, though he had
no wife to raise the alarm. Even if the letter asking him down to the
house in the fens was still intact, it would be an easy matter to say
that Leverson had not turned up although he, Anderson, had expected him.
Nor was there a single soul in the world who had the remotest idea that
the two men were anything but the best of friends.

But the missing links in the watch chain worried Anderson terribly. A
number of people knew about it; his mother to begin with, and the other
clerks in the office where he had worked in London before that small
fortune came his way. There was Carter, the cashier, for instance, who
had under estimated its value, only to be told that it was platinum, and
therefore worth far more than a gold chain would have been--and others.

Anderson sat brooding over his loss long after he got home, sitting
before the dead fire in the grate, thankful that he was alone in the
house. Company then would have been unbearable. It would be futile to
set out in search of those missing links, and, perhaps, a danger if he
did so. He cursed his perfervid imagination and dragged himself
unwillingly to bed.

But not to sleep. He tossed wearily from side to side until the dawn
broke and the haunting ghosts fled before the sunshine. He knew that his
moody taciturnity spelt nothing to the village woman who came presently
to see to his creature comforts, for she had seen him in no other
temperament. And so the day passed and the next with a thankfulness of
sorts that his mother was still away. She would have sensed the subtle
change.

He craved for company and yet dreaded the chance. And so three dreadful
days followed with no human voice other than those that came over his
wireless. It was only the voice he wanted for aught else jangled on his
nerves in discord. And then, on the third night, a sort of call from the
grave.

"We are asked by the police to broadcast the following: 'Missing from
his home since Wednesday last. George Leverson, of 16 Martindale -
terrace, Amber - street, Bloombsbury . . . .'"

Anderson switched off, hurriedly. So the hunt was afoot. Listen further,
he had not dared. Yet from the start he had felt that police
investigation must follow the crime. Once more that vivid imagination
began to work though he strove to stifle it. What if suspicion fell on
him? What if Leverson's body were found with that letter of invitation
on him?

And what if the police kept silence on the point whilst they made
inquiries elsewhere? Clever men, those detectives, and quick in
deduction.

It would not take them long to find out that Leverson's moral character
would not stand investigation. Suppose they obtained an order from the
Secretary of State to examine Leverson's bank transactions? If that were
done, then there would be found a score of instances when Leverson paid
in drafts with Anderson's name as drawer upon them.

What a fool he had been not to have thought of that before. Those
transactions would fairly reek with blackmail. How was he going to
explain all that away? He might have to do that even if the body of the
murdered man was not found. Leverson was a bit of a boaster in his cups,
which were many and he might have told a score of people that he was
going to see Anderson.

And so the self-torturing went on. He could see himself in the dock, and
then in the witness-box facing a deadly cross-examination at the hands
of Crown counsel. Perhaps the fiercest ordeal sinful man is ever called
on to face.

He saw more than that--he saw himself standing on a scaffold with the
prison chaplain intoning the burial service and his spineless self
swinging grotesquely at the end of a rope. Once they hanged murderers in
chains--perhaps it might be a fragment of chain that would hang him.

It was not until the fifth night that Anderson slept. And then only to
dream the tragedy all over again. He was back once more on the lonely
high road leading from Luckmere to the house in the fens seeking the
lost portion of the platinum chain. He was hunting to the verge of the
bog pool in which he had placed the body. It was fairly dry underfoot
now though on the night of the crime there had been some heavy rain. And
it seemed to Anderson, looking down, that the dead man's face was turned
up to him with accusation in the sightless eyes.

Then next day it rained fairly hard so that Anderson, wandering far and
wide for distraction and physical exhaustion, so that he might sleep
again, arrived home at length with boots and clothing more or less
saturated though he was too distrait to notice it. And once more that
awful dream again. There seemed no way of getting rid of it.

Meanwhile nothing further so far as regarded the missing man. No doubt
the police were active enough in their search, but not in the direction
of Luckmere. Perhaps, after all, Leverson had destroyed the
letter--there was no particular object in keeping it. If it had been
found surely some sort of inquiry would have reached Luckmere by this
time.

Then, once again that dreadful dream, this time more poignant than ever,
and much more vivid. An overwhelming desire to revert once more to the
scene of the tragedy, as if he had risen in the dead of night and
tramped the deserted road as far as the boghole. Horribly conscious he
was of his body, too, and of a certain weariness impossible to shake
off.

Here he was by the edge of the pool at last looking down at the clear
imprint of his boots, a double track leading to the pool and back again.
No mistaking the impression of those rubber soles with the maker's
pattern so clearly marked on them. And, so far no sign of disturbance in
the water. And then a change. Voices in the distance followed by the
tramp of feet and then four men unmistakably officers of the law despite
the fact that they were in mufti. One of them carried a coil of rope
with a stout triangular hook at the end of it.

These strangers advanced to the edge of the pool and paused whilst one
of them pointed down to those damning footprints.

"Been here twice," he said. "Perhaps oftener before the rain came.
Before the rain came."

"Stupid thing to do," the man with the drag muttered. "Almost like
signing a confession, sir."

The man who had spoken first, nodded. He was evidently in authority over
the other three, an inspector perhaps.

"Something like that, Symonds," he said. "But many murderers are taken
that way. It's the mad streak that infests their blood. And they do say
that this man Anderson is given to self-torture. Writes stories of the
most gruesome kind. I have read one or two of them in magazines. Sort of
Edgar Poe stuff. It was quite a brain-wave that sent you searching for
Leverson here, Cox."

"Seemed natural, sir," the man addressed as Cox replied. "Especially
after you had examined those two banking accounts. Blackmail, I said to
myself, and blackmail it was. Then there was the letter found at
Leverson's lodgings. And the discovery that Anderson was alone in his
house on the night he had invited Leverson down here. Thinks I, Leverson
was met on his way from Luckmere station by Anderson and murdered. If I
was right, then he was killed somewhere here and the body hidden. And no
better place with all these deep bogholes about. But I did not expect to
discover the marks of Anderson's rubber-soled boots crying out to be
investigated. We'll have the body in half an hour, sir, with any luck."

All this was passing in Anderson's dream. It seemed to him that he was
crouched behind a fringe of tall grass and rushes listening to every
word that was passing. Through the green screen he saw all that was
going on. And in the same dream he knew that his worst fears were
realised. It would be only a few hours before the prison gates would
close on him. But as to those telltale footprints. How on earth had they
got there? But for them, that peat-pool might never have been searched.
They were definite enough to point a damning finger at the author of the
crime. And they were his footprints made by the rubber-soled shoes he
always wore. By what black magic had they got there?

Meanwhile, in his land of dreams, Anderson watched the dread work going
on. He saw the drag lowered into the pool and presently a tightening of
the rope.

"Got something here, sir," one of the men said. "Gently does it. Easy, a
bit to the right. That's better."

Something rose to the surface--a mass of matter much as if a carcase in
a bag had been raised to the light of those flashlights. Something half
hidden in a mass of waterweed. And out of it projecting something in the
shape of an arm. An arm with a hand attached to it. And a hand,
moreover, that had an object firmly in its grip.

"Ah----what's this?" the leader of the group demanded.

"Looks like a bit of watch-chain, sir," the man called Symonds replied,
"Gunmetal I should say."

The man in command took the links from his officer and wiped them dry.
Then held them close to one of the flash-lamps.

"Nothing of the sort!" he said. "These broken links are platinum. I have
a similar chain myself."

"So has Anderson," Symonds cried. "Don't you remember, sir, that we got
that information from the office where he once worked? The other clerks
used to chaff him about it."

The chief smiled on his subordinate before proceeding to examine the
sinister bundle which had been brought to the surface by means of the
drag. The clinging weeds were carefully swept away, and a white sodden
face revealed. All part of the dream that held Anderson in a grip like a
vice.

Subconsciously he was struggling with all his strength to shake it off.
He wanted to wake up and know that this horror was bred of conscience
and the haunting knowledge of his crime. It seemed to him that he slowly
rose from his hiding-place and advanced in the direction of the
officers. Then they saw him and gazed at him in amazement. He stepped to
the side of the corpse and looked down at the dead face.

A great cry broke from him--a cry that rang out into the stillness of
the night like that of some tortured animal, loud as a trumpet call. The
binding spell was broken and the reality of life came back to Anderson
sweating at every pore.

"Anderson himself," Symonds cried. "Our man----"

"Yes--Anderson beyond the shadow of doubt," the officer in charge
assented, "and walking in his sleep!"



THE END



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