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Title: His Majesty's Mails
Author: Fred M White
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1100301.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: March 2011
Date most recently updated: March 2011

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

Title: His Majesty's Mails
Author: Fred M White

*

Author of "The Mummer's Throne," "A Fateful Face," etc.

*

Published in the Barrier Miner (Broken Hill, N.S.W.), Wednesday, 20
December, 1911.

*

CHAPTER I.


The journalist moved a little nearer to the man by the fireplace. For
the journalist was interested, and the man by the fireplace had let drop
certain hints and insinuations which seemed to have behind them the
making of a story, and the journalist was not only a writer of
paragraphs per se, but a fairly well-known writer of fiction besides. He
laid a half-crown on the table.

"Will you have another?" he said persuasively. "Didn't I hear you say
something just now about the mailbag robbery at Silvertown Post Office
some two years ago. So far as I recollect, the matter was never properly
solved."

The man in the corner grinned. Up to a certain point he had been
spinning out his glass of vitrolic whisky with the faint hope that
someone might come along and replace the potent fluid and here was an
obvious angel unawares. Properly told, the story might result in the
aggrandisement of the journalist's entire half-crown.

He was a seedy, sodden, savoury little man, with swollen features
picturesquesly adorned with pink spots. His nose was red and damp, and
deflected corners of his mouth twitched convulsively. A broken down man
is a pathetic figure enough in any case, but a broken down rascal is one
of the saddest sights to be sifted out from the scrap heap of humanity.
The journalist's instinct spotted right enough. He had unerringly
spotted the little man as one who, in his time, had been looked up to as
one of the captains of crime.

"You were talking of Silvertown robbery," he said huskily. "So happens,
guv'nor, I can tell you a good deal about it. I reckon, you are one of
those writing chaps. Is that so?"

The journalist admitted the soft impeachment.

"Very well, then," the little man picked up the thread again. "It was
just like this. Mind you, what I am telling you now I have never
mentioned to a soul before." Prefixing the whole thing with a question.
"Did you ever hear of Martin Stryde?"

The journalist nodded. The name was familiar enough to him. Stryde had
been a well-known figure in certain circles a year or two before, but of
late he had been lost sight of, and he was troubling the police no more.

"I thought you had heard of him," the little man said with a certain air
of pride. "Well, about four years ago Martin Stryde was sitting in this
very bar waiting for business, so to speak. He had not had much luck of
late, for one or two things had gone wrong, and he was getting pretty
short of the ready. He was thinking of moving on when a man that he knew
came in and asked for a drink of whisky. You see, you can never tell who
you are going to pick up a valuable tip from, consequently Martin Stryde
was pretty free handed in the way of little treats of that kind. Just
casual like he asked the other if anything was going on. Then Stryde's
friend, he leans across the table and says with a wink of his eye:

"'What's the matter with Silvertown Post Office?'

"'I don't quite catch on, Jimmy,' says Stryde.

"'Well, it's this way, Mr. Stryde. The Silvertown Post Office is a small
one--practically a sub-office for the dispatch of mails. There is a
postmaster there and two clerks. I went in there the other night to get
a stamp or two, and they were that busy they kept me waiting nearly
twenty minutes.'

"'Selling stamps, do you mean, Jimmy?' Stryde asks.

"'Stamps be blowed! I tell you, Mr. Stryde, thousands of pounds' worth
of parcels go through that office every day. Did you ever hear of a firm
called Morgor and Enrstine?'

"'One of the biggest jewel dealers in the world, Jimmy.'

"'Well,' Jimmy goes on, 'they're making up a case for some foreign
exhibition, and one of these cases will be dispatched some evening next
month by registered parcel. Here's a chance for a man with a head on his
shoulders. Only two small bags to pinch and two clerks and a postmaster
to deal with.'

"Stryde, his eyes glistens. Then he laughs in a careless way.

"'Have you examined the back premises, Jimmy?' he says.

"'There ain't no back premises, Mr. Stryde. There is no outlet behind at
all. The post office used to be a shop at one time, and over it are
flats let out to men by the week. It would all have to be done by the
front door. The post office people ain't quite fools, either. It's an
understood thing that the parcels to be registered should be left as
late as possible, so as to have them on the premises no longer'n is
necessary. A special van comes for them at ten minutes to 6.'

"'Quite dark at this time of the year, Jimmy,' says Stryde.

"'Yes, sir. Well, those chaps locks the door of the counter, and as the
parcels are registered they are dropped into two bags on the inner edge.
Do you follow me, sir?'

'"Upon my word, Jimmy, I am quite interested,' Stryde says presently.
'Is it a narrow counter one could reach across and lift the bags in case
anything happened to the gas, for instance?'

"'No it ain't,' Jimmy he says emphatically. 'There's a strong brass
grating like a metal summer house all along the edge of it.'

"After that Stryde he has no more to do with it. He says to Jimmy as the
thing is impossible, and of course Jimmy takes this for granted. Jimmy
finishes up his drink and drifts out of the bar, and out of the story,
too, for that matter; and Stryde he sits there until he begins to see
his way pretty clear.

"Somehow or another a lot of information concerning the Silvertown Post
Offices comes along in Stryde's direction the next two or three days. On
one or two occasions he found it necessary to register a small parcel
there. At the end of a week he posts a letter to a certain Mr. George
Tatton, asking the pleasure of that gentleman's company to dinner at
Hendon on Sunday evening. For Stryde he has a weakness, a little place
in the country, and a nice snug shop he had of it, too. Ah, those were
good days."

The man by the fireplace sighed and reached his hand out mechanically
for his empty glass. The hint was not wasted.

"Well, George Tatton he turns up in due course--solemn, undertaking
looking chap he was, dressed from head to foot in sober black. Sort of
man who would have passed for a lay-preacher or street missionary
anywhere.

"'And now, Martin," he says, 'what's your little game?'

"Stryde he goes on in great detail to speak of the information what he
has got from Jimmy. There was a good deal more which might have caused
Jimmy to prick up his ears if he had been present.

"'That brass trellis work is a fair knock-out,' Tatton he says, after a
long pause.

"But Stryde, he doesn't seem to think so. When he had finished speaking,
Tatton, he so far forgets himself as to smile.

"'You are a genius,' he says. 'Why, with an intellect like yours you
might be Prime Minister. There ain't a flaw anywhere.'

"Well, for a day or two this same publichouse, where we are seated now,
and where I don't mind having another, as you so kindly suggest, plays
an important part in this little comedy. From this 'ere desirable
establishment two evenings later there emerged a certain ship's fireman,
Ben Barnes by name, in that state of silly drunk that leans towards a
single-handed defiance of the law. Tatton was with him, and Tatton was
trying to keep the fool quiet.

"'You let me alone,' says the fireman. 'I've got money in the Savings
Bank, and I mean to get it out.'

"Saying that he lurched breezily into the Silvertown Post Office. A rare
bit of luck it was getting hold of Ben Barnes, who really had money in
the post office, and about as much to do with the story as you have. A
puppet in the game, sir, no more.

"'I want,' he says, lurching forward, 'I want my money.'

"'You can't have your money without notice,' the clerk says curtly. 'Go
away, or I'll whistle for a policeman.'

"Ben Barnes he loses his head at that. He clutches at the grill, shaking
it backwards and forwards, for he was a pretty powerful man, then down
comes the whole thing, together with the cast iron standards supporting
the railing, and a moment later the police step in and take a hand in
the game. Finally they gets Barnes down on the floor and straps him to a
stretcher. Tatton he discreetly disappears, and by a strange coincidence
runs against Stryde, he happened to be at the end of the street on
business.

"'Well,' Stryde says, 'and how did it go?'

"'Beautiful,' Tatton explains. 'Real artistic, I call it. Barnes fell
into the trap, never suspecting anything, and there's a fine specimen of
modern brasswork to be sold cheap at the post office. They'll probably
fine Barnes a couple of pounds in the morning, and compel him to make
the damage good, so you had better hang about the court to-morrow and
offer to pay the fine. Also you can find Barnes an expert workman who
will repair the mischief in little less than no time. You don't want me
for anything else, do you?'

"It turned out just like that. Ben Barnes he has nothing to say for
himself except in the way of gratitude for Tatton, who pays his fine,
and not only that, produces the workman to make good the damage. And
then Barnes, like Jimmy, goes his own way, and he drops out of the story
and there's an end of him."




Chapter II.

"The same evening a new tenant moves into the industrial flat over the
Post Office. A quiet looking chap he was, who appeared to have seen
trouble in the past. Come to think of it, I fancy he called himself an
insurance agent, and his little bit of furniture was hired from a small
shop close by on the instalment system. Reuben Taylor we'll call
him--not that it matters. At midnight of the first day, in his now
house, Taylor, he has a visitor. I won't deceive you, sir, when I tell
you that the visitor was Stryde.

"'Have you found out the lie of those pipes yet,' he asks.

"Tatton had wasted no time. Of course, you will have guessed by this
time that the man Taylor was only Tatton in another name. He removes a
short board from the floor, and with a candle shows out a mass of pipes
below. It was a bit puzzling to Stryde, but plain enough to a skilled
mechanic like Tatton.

"'I hadn't no difficulty in locating the pipe,' says he. 'I knew they
were under this floor, and that's why I took this particular room. The
finding of that short piece of board was a rare slice of luck. It fits
so tight that I have only to stamp it down, and no one could possibly
know that it had been moved.'

"'Very good,' Stryde he says. 'All you have got to do is to wait for the
signal. Count twenty slowly, very slowly, mind, and then manipulate the
pipes. The point is, are you sure you have got the right one?'

"'Of course I am,' Tatton says contemptuously. 'That's the one with the
bit of red lead dabbed along the top. Loosen that head with a spanner,
then comes a gush of gas into this room that will put the post office
lights out like a shot. Then I'll tighten up the thread again, stamp
this board down once more, and the whole blooming thing is done.'

"'Good again,' Stryde says. 'And after that?'

"'I'll have a cab waiting for me at the corner of the Street. Directly
the gas business is manipulated I am to get to that cab as quickly as
possible. You'll bring me the bags, and then you'll make yourself scarce
as soon as I have them. Then I'm to blind the trail as well as I can,
and get to Hendon without delay.'

"'Mind you get a four-wheeled cab,' Stryde, he says.

"Tatton, he wants to know what the four-wheeler is for. It did not take
Stryde long to explain his reasons.

"'What a chap you are,' Tatton says. 'Seems to me there's nothing you
don't think of.'

"If you listens to me carefully," Stryde goes on. "I can show you a way
of blinding your trail so as to make everything perfectly safe. You
mustn't forget that it is you they'll look for. And now the less we are
seen together for the next two or three days the better. Good-night and
good luck to you."

Nothing happens for a week or more till about six o'clock one evening
when the Post Office is at its busiest and the small registered letter
bags are nearly full. A loafer looks into the office curiously, waiting
as if hesitating till the last of the confidential clerks had registered
his precious packet. Then the loafer he steps into the road and sneezes
two or three times violently. A second later some body closes a window
over the Post Office very gently, and at the same time a most strange
and unexpected thing happens. Like a flash out goes the gas in the Post
Office, and the whole place is plunged into darkness. You can imagine
the clerks looking at one another and wondering what is wrong. You can
imagine, too, them having their suspicions aroused, but they are not
particularly brilliant youths, and it never seems to occur to them that
anything has gone really wrong. When you come to think of it, there is
nothing unusual in gas going out. Anyway, those clerks were not a bit
alarmed, not even when a slide and rattle as of a gate being opened
struck upon their ears.

"'Funny thing,' says one clerk to another, 'funny that the gas is out
again. Can't you smell it?'

"'Rather,' says the other one. 'Got a match?'

"'There's one in my overcoat pocket hanging just past the desk yonder.
You'll find a box of vestas there.'

"Of course it takes a little time fumbling about in the dark, even when
you know a place, and some two or three minutes passed before the
matches were produced and the gas brackets over the counter lighted
again. It didn't seem to strike those chaps as at all funny that the gas
should play them a trick like that. They just looked at one another a
moment, then one of them, who happened to be a bit sharper than his pal,
he staggers back against the counter with his eyes fairly bulging out of
his head.

"'Good heavens, Summers,' he cries, 'the mail bags have gone!'

"Summers he says nothing. He can only stand there gaping with his mouth
wide open, till presently there comes a sound of wheels outside, which
means as the Post Office van has come along and the postman is waiting
for the registered letters.

"'I am a bit early, gentlemen,' he says, 'anything wrong?'

"Then those two clerks come to their senses at the same time, and begin
to explain simultaneously. Of course, all this takes time, and a good
five minutes pass before the post messenger makes a dash for the street,
yelling at the top of his voice for the police. One or two of them come
along presently, and at the end of half an hour some of the Scotland
Yard Division begin to drop in. I believe it was Sergeant Denton who had
the case in hand. It is long ago, and I forget. But, anyway, the
sergeant comes along and clears the office, except for the frightened
clerks and the postmaster. At the end of an hour that shrewd detective
officer makes one or two what he calls important discoveries. There was
a boy in the neighborhood who happened to have seen a tall stranger with
a long coat, a seedy-looking chap, came out of the Post Office with two
bags on his arm. Then somebody else professes to have seen the same man
give the bags into the custody of somebody else, who was waiting at the
top of the street in a four-wheeled cab.

"Then the inspector he strokes his big moustache and looks like a cat
after a saucer of cream. Of course, he's got an important clue.

"'I shall lay those fellows by the heels yet,' he says, 'and now I'll go
off and find the cabman.'

"Of course, they finds the cabman easy enough. But if they expected him
to tell them anything they were mistaken. As a matter of fact he hadn't
got anything to say but the truth.

"'It was just like this,' he explains 'the man comes along and orders my
cab off the rank by St. Peter's Church to be at the corner of
John-street by five forty-five sharp. He gets into the cab, and just as
he is going to start a moment or two later another chap comes up with a
couple of bags on his arm, a tall, surly-looking man, he was, wearing a
shabby ulster. Nothing passes between them except that the bags were
transferred to my cab, and then I was told to drive to Piccadilly Circus
sharp. Not as I ever did get to Piccadilly Circus by a long chalk. When
we were passing the Swan, in Ford-road, my man tells me to pull up, and
we goes inside together leaving another party to hold my horse, and we
had a drink. Then my party, out he goes, saying he has forgotten
something, and that he'll be back in about ten minutes. Seeing as he had
pitched half a quid on the counter to pay for the drinks, and hadn't
picked up the change, why I didn't feel particularly troubled about
being bilked out of my fare. 'Specially as he tells me, in a laughing
sort of way, to keep the change if he doesn't come back. Well, I waited
for half-an-hour or more and he didn't come back, and I did keep the
change and that's all I can tell you about it.'

"But nobody knows, sir, till this day, and nobody will know, what Stryde
was doing while the cabby waited in the public-house. But I don't mind
telling you. He just goes back to the cab again and practically changes
all his clothes. From under the ulster he produces a collapsible
portmanteau, into which he empties the mail bags and the clothes he has
just taken off. Then he fills the portmanteau with every blessed thing
and steps out of the cab door, and not a blessed soul to notice him. It
is an easy matter, after that, to stand at the corner of the road as if
he had just come off a 'bus, and hire a hansom to take him to
Baker-street Station. Once at Baker-street, he makes his way round to
Charing Cross, and before morning he is on the night boat making for
Calais. Before twenty-four hours are over his head, he is in Amsterdam;
but I don't think there is any necessity for me to tell a smart
gentleman like yourself what happened to the contents of those mail bags
before Stryde turned his back on Holland. And that's the true story of
the Robbery of the Silvertown Post Office."

"So that was the reason why he wanted a four-wheeled cab?" the
journalist asked thoughtfully.

"You've got it first time," the man by the fireplace said. "He wanted a
dressing-room. No, Stryde didn't leave anything to chance in those days.
You see, he hadn't taken to drink then, and always kept a clear head. If
he had only kept off that accursed stuff he might be a rich man now, and
I know for a fact he was very well off at one time."

"The curse of so many geniuses," the journalist said gravely. "I am
greatly obliged to you for your most entertaining story, but there is
still one point which seems to me to need elucidation. I presume from
what you say that the ship's engineer, Barnes, was quite an innocent
party. I suppose he was what you call kidded on to make that disturbance
at the Post Office. It was probably Stryde's brilliant suggestion that
he should pull the railing down. But why?"

The man by the fireplace chuckled. A look of almost intelligence flashed
into his bleared and watery eye.

"That was the gem of the whole thing," he said. "You see, we--I mean,
they--could put the gas out, but there was the grating to be dealt with.
So when Barnes pulled it down, and Tatton so generously repaired the
mischief for him, the grating was fitted with a kind of hinge over the
near end of the counter behind which the bags of the registered letters
were hanging. Nobody suspected, and nobody could have found it out,
unless some meddlesome person happened to raise one of the standards
slightly. At any rate, there it was, and directly the gas was put out,
all that was needed was for someone to sneak quietly into the Post
Office, push a part of the railing back, and reach over for the letter
bags. I know it sounds difficult, but, bless your soul, it was easy
enough."

The journalist had no further questions to ask. He looked at his watch
and rose with an explanation that he had overstayed his time already. At
the same moment a detective, in plain clothes, glanced into the bar and
nodded at the journalist, whom he knew slightly. Then he followed into
the street, and the two walked along side by side for some little way.

"Who was my friend in the bar?" the journalist asked. "He told me a very
entertaining story, just now."

"I daresay," the detective said drily. "At one time he was quite in the
first criminal flight. The name by which we knew him in those days was
Martin Stryde."



THE END


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