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Date first posted: Aug 2012
Most recent update: Apr 2021
This eBook was produced by Colin Choat, Gordon Hobley and Roy Glashan:
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IN addition to the homonymous novel Edgar Wallace wrote at least three short stories featuring Angel, Esquire, none of which, so far as is known, was collected during the author's lifetime. These were:
• "The Yellow Box." This story made its first appearance in The Story-Teller in March 1908, and was evidently syndicated. The version included in the present book, for example, was found in the issue of The Timaru Herald, New Zealand, published on November 18, 1916. It was later reprinted under the title "The Monkey and the Box" in the 1984 collection The Sooper and Others.
• "The Silver Charm," published in The Story-Teller in June 1910 and reprinted in the 1934 collection The Woman from the East.
• "A Case for Angel Esquire," published in Ideas on March 24, 1909 and reprinted as "The Inspector Gets a Brainwave" on January 26, 1929. This story also appeared in the 1984 anthology The Sooper and Others under the title "The Impossible Theft."
This PGA/RGL special edition of Angel, Esquire includes the original novel and the short stories listed above. —Roy Glashan.
WHEN Christopher Angle went to school he was very naturally called "Angel" by his fellows. When, in after life, he established a reputation for tact, geniality, and a remarkable equability of temper, he became "Angel, Esquire," and, as Angel Esquire, he went through the greater portion of his adventurous life, so that on the coast and in the islands and in the wild lands that lie beyond the It'uri Forest, where Mr C. Angle is unknown, the remembrance of Angel, Esquire, is kept perennially green.
In what department of the Government he was before he took up a permanent suite of rooms at New Scotland Yard it is difficult to say. All that is known is that when the "scientific expedition" of Dr Kauffhaus penetrated to the head waters of the Kasakasa River, Angel Esquire, was in the neighbourhood shooting elephants. A native messenger en route to the nearest post, carrying a newly-ratified treaty, counter-signed by the native chief, can vouch for Angel's presence, because Angel's men fell upon him and beat him, and Angel took the newly-sealed letter and calmly tore it up.
When, too, yet another "scientific expedition," was engaged in making elaborate soundings in a neutral port in the Pacific, it was his steam launch that accidentally upset the boat of the men of science, and many invaluable instruments and drawings were irretrievably lost in the deeps of the rocky inlet. Following, however, upon some outrageous international incident, no less than the—but perhaps it would be wiser not to say—Angel was transferred bodily to Scotland Yard, undisguisedly a detective, and was placed in charge of the Colonial Department, which deals with all matters in those countries—British or otherwise—where the temperature rises above 103 degrees Fahrenheit. His record in this department was one of unabated success, and the interdepartmental criticism which was aroused by its creation and his appointment, have long since been silenced by the remarkable success that attended, amongst others, his investigations into the strange disappearance of the Corringham Mine, the discovery of the Third Slave, and his brilliant and memorable work in connection with the Croupier's Safe.
To Angel, Esquire, in the early spring came an official of the Criminal Investigation Department.
"Do you know Congoland at all, Angel?" he asked.
"Little bit of it," said Angel modestly.
"Well, here's a letter that the chief wants you to deal with—the writer is the daughter of an old friend, and he would like you to give the matter your personal attention."
Angel's insulting remark about corruption in the public service need not be placed on record.
The letter was written on notepaper of unusual thinness.
"A lady who has had or is having correspondence with somebody in a part of the world where the postage rate is high," he said to himself, and the first words of the letter confirmed this view:
My husband, who has just returned from the Congo, where he has been on behalf of a Belgian firm to report on alluvial gold discoveries, has become so strange in his manner, and there are, moreover, such curious circumstances in connection with his conduct, that I am taking this course, knowing that as a friend of my dear father's you will not place any unkind construction upon it, and that you will help me to get at the bottom of this mystery.
The letter was evidently hurriedly written. There were words crossed out and written in.
"Humph," said Angel; "rather a miserable little domestic drama. I trust I shall not be called in to investigate every family jar that occurs in the homes of the chief's friends."
But he wrote a polite little note to the lady on his "unofficial" paper, asking for an appointment and telling her that he had been asked to make the necessary enquires. The next morning he received a wire inviting him to go to Dulwich to the address that had appeared at the head of the note. Accordingly he started that afternoon, with the irritating sense that his time was being wasted.
Nine hundred and three Lordship Lane was a substantial-looking house, standing back from the road, and a trim maid opened the door to him, and ushered him into the drawing-room.
He was waiting impatiently for the lady, when the door was flung open and a man staggered in. He had an opened letter in his hand, and there was a look on his face that shocked Angel. It was the face of a soul in torment—drawn, haggard, and white.
"My God! My God!" he muttered: then he saw Angel, and straightened himself for a moment, for he started forward and seized the detective by the arm eagerly.
"You—you," he gasped, "are you from Liverpool? Have they sent you down to say it was a mistake?"
There was a rustle of a dress, and a girl came into the room. She was little more than a girl, but the traces of suffering that Angel saw had aged her. She came quickly to the side of the man and laid her hand on his arm.
"What is it—oh, what is it, Jack?" she entreated.
The man stepped back, shaking his head. "I'm sorry, ver' sorry," he said dully, and Angel noticed that he clipped his words. "I thought—I mistook this gentleman for someone else."
Angel explained his identity to the girl in a swift glance.
"This—this is a friend of mine," she faltered, "a friend of my father's," she went on hesitatingly, "who has called to see me."
"Sorry—sorry," he said stupidly. He stumbled to the door and went out, leaving it open. They heard him blundering up the stairs, and after a while a door slammed, and there came a faint "click" as he locked it.
"Oh, can you help me?" cried the girl in distress. "I am beside myself with anxiety."
"Please sit down, Mrs Farrow," said Angel hastily, but kindly. A woman on the verge of tears always alarmed him. Already he felt an unusual interest in the case. "Just tell me from the beginning."
"My husband is a metallurgist, and a year ago, he was commissioned by a Belgian company interested in gold-mining to go to the Congo and report on some property there."
"Had he ever been there before?"
"No; he had never been to Africa before. It was against my wish that he went at all, but the fee was so temptingly high, and the opportunities so great, that I yielded to his persuasion, and allowed him to go."
"How did he leave you?"
"As he had always been—bright, optimistic, and full of spirits. We were very happily married, Mr Angel—" she stopped, and her lips quivered.
"Yes, yes," said the alarmed detective; "please go on."
"He wrote by every mail, and even sent natives in their canoes hundreds of miles to connect with the mail steamers, and his letters were bright and full of particulars about the country and the people. Then, quite suddenly, they changed. From being the cheery, long letters they had been, they became almost notes, telling me just the bare facts of his movements. They worried me a little, because I thought it meant that he was ill, had fever, and did not want me to know."
"And had he?"
"No. A man who was with him said he was never once down with fever. Well, I cabled to him, but cabling to the Congo is a heart-breaking business, and there was fourteen days' delay on the wire."
"I know," said Angel sympathetically, "the land wire down to Brazzaville."
"Then, before my cable could reach him, I received a brief telegram from him saying he was coming home."
"There was a weary month of waiting, and then he arrived. I went to Southampton to meet him."
"To Southampton, not to Liverpool?"
"To Southampton. He met me on the deck, and I shall never forget the look of agony in his eyes when he saw me. It struck me dumb. 'What is the matter, Jack?' I asked. 'Nothing,' he said, in, oh, such a listless, hopeless way. I could get nothing from him. Almost as soon as he got home he went to his room and locked the door."
"When was this?"
"A month ago."
"And what has happened since?"
"Nothing; except that he has got steadily more and more depressed, and—and—"
"Yes?" asked Angel.
"He gets letters—letters that he goes to the door to meet. Sometimes they make him worse, sometimes he gets almost cheerful after they arrive; but he had his worst bout after the arrival of the box."
"It came whilst I was dressing for dinner one night. All that afternoon he had been unusually restless, running down from his room at every ring of the bell. I caught a glance of it through his half-opened door."
"Do you not enter his room occasionally?"
She shook her head. "Nobody has been into his room since his return; he will not allow the servants in, and sweeps and tidies it himself."
"Well, and the box?"
"It was about eighteen inches high, and twelve inches square. It was of polished yellow wood."
"Did it remind you of anything?"
"Of an electric battery," she said slowly. "One of those big portable things that you can buy at an electrician's."
Angel thought deeply.
"And the letters—have you seen them?" he asked.
"Only once, when the postman overlooked a letter, and came back with it. I saw it for a moment only, because my husband came down immediately and took it from me."
"And the postmark?"
"It looked like Liverpool," she said.
He questioned her again on one or two aspects that interested him.
"I must see your husband's room," he said decisively.
She shook her head.
"I am afraid it will be impossible," she said.
"We shall see," said Angel cheerfully.
Then an unearthly chattering and screeching met their ears, and the girl turned pale.
"Oh, I had forgotten the most unpleasant thing—the monkey!" she said, and beckoned him from the room. He passed through the house to the garden at the back. Well sheltered from the road was a big iron cage, wherein sat a tiny Congo monkey, shivering in the chill spring air, and drawing about his hairy shoulders the torn half of a blanket.
"My husband brought one home with him," she said, "but it died. This is the fifth monkey we have had in a month, and he, poor beastie, does not look as if he were long for life."
The little animal fixed his bright eyes on Angel, and chattered dismally.
"They get ill, and my husband shoots them," the girl went on. "I wanted him to let a veterinary surgeon see the last one, but he would not."
"Curious," said Angel musingly, and, after making arrangements to call the next morning, he went back to his office in a puzzled frame of mind.
He duly reported to his chief the substance of his interview.
"It isn't drink, and it isn't drugs," he said. "To me it looks like sheer panic. If that man is not in mortal fear of somebody or something, I am very much mistaken."
The girl had given him some of the earlier letters she had received from Africa, and after dinner that night Angel sat down in his little flat in Jermyn Street to read them. In the first letter—it was dated Boma—occurred a passage that gave him pause. After telling how he had gone ashore at Flagstaff, and had made a little excursion up one of the rivers, the letter went on to say:
Apparently, I have quite unwillingly given deep offence to one of the secret societies—if you can imagine a native secret society—by buying from a native a most interesting ju-ju or idol. The native, poor beggar, was found dead on the beach this morning; and although the official view is that he was bitten by a poisonous snake, I feel that his death had something to do with the selling of the idol, which, by the way, resembles nothing so much as a decrepit monkey....
In his search through the letters he could find no other reference to the incident, except in one of the last of the longer epistles, where he found:
...the canoe overturned, and we were struggling in the water. To my intense annoyance, amongst other personal effects lost was the coast ju-ju I wrote to you about. A missionary who lives close at hand said the current, not being strong about here, the idol is recoverable, and has promised to send a boy down first, and if he finds it to send it on to me. I have given him our address at home in case it turns up...."
"In case it turns up!" repeated Angel. "I wonder—"
He knew of these extraordinary societies. He knew, too, how strong a hold they had in the country that lay behind Flagstaff. These dreadful organisations were not to be lightly dismissed. Their power was indisputable.
"The question is, how far are they responsible for the present trouble?" he said, discussing the affair with his chief the next morning. "How far the arm of the offended ju-ju can reach. If we were on the coast I should not be surprised to find our young friend dead in his bed any morning. But we are in England—and in Dulwich to boot!"
"The yellow box may explain everything," said his chief thoughtfully.
"And I mean to see it today," said Angel determinedly. He did not see it that day, for on his return to his office he found a telegram awaiting him from Mrs Farrow:
PLEASE COME AT ONCE. MY HUSBAND DISAPPEARED LAST NIGHT AND HAS NOT RETURNED. HE HAS TAKEN WITH HIM THE BOX AND THE MONKEY.
He was ringing at the door of the house within an hour after receiving the telegram. Her eyes were red with weeping: and it was a little time before she could speak. Then, brokenly, she told the story of her husband's disappearance. It was after the household had retired for the night she thought she heard a vehicle draw up at the door. She was half asleep, but the sound of voices roused her, and she got out of bed and looked through the Venetian blinds. Her room faced the road, and she could see a carriage drawn up opposite the gate. A man walking beside her husband, who carried a box, which she recognised as the yellow box, and in the strange man's arms she could discern, by the light of the street lamp, a quivering bundle which proved to be the monkey.
Before she could move or raise the window her husband entered the carriage, taking with him the monkey, and the other man jumped up by the side of the driver as the vehicle drove off, and, as he did, she saw his face. It was that of a negro.
Angel suppressed the exclamation that sprang to his lips as he heard this. It was evident that she had not attached any importance to the story of the ju-ju, and he did not wish to alarm her.
"Did he leave a message?"
She handed him a sheet of paper without replying. Only a few lines were scrawled on the sheet:—
I am a moral coward, darling, and dare not tell you. If I come back, you will know why I have left you. If not, pray for me, and remember mo kindly. I have placed all my money to the credit of your banking account.
The girl was crying quietly.
"Let me see his room," said Angel; and she conducted him to the little apartment that was half laboratory and half study. A truckle bed ran lengthways beneath the window, and a heap of blackened ashes were piled up in the fireplace.
"Nothing has been touched," said the girl.
Gingerly, Angel lifted the curling ashes one by one.
"I've known burnt paper to..."—he was going to say "hang a man," but altered it to "be of great service."
There were one or two pieces that the fire had not burnt, and some on which the letters were still discernible. One of these he lifted and carried to the window.
"Hullo!" he muttered.
He could not find a complete sentence, but, as he read it: ... very bad ... monkey ... take you away ... your own fault....
There was a blotting pad upon the little table, and a square dust mark, where he surmised, the mysterious box stood. He lifted the pad; underneath were a number of strips of paper.
He glanced at them carelessly, then:
"What on earth?" he said.
Indelibly printed on the slips before him were a dozen red thumb prints.
He looked at them closely.
The thumb prints were of blood!
Then, in the midst of his mystification a light dawned on Angel, and he turned to the girl.
"Has you husband bought a methylated spirit lamp lately?" he asked.
She looked at him in astonishment.
"Why, yes," she said, "a fortnight ago he bought one."
"And has he been asking for needles?"
She almost gasped.
"Yes, yes, almost every day!"
Angel looked again at the charred paper and smiled.
"Of course, this may be serious," he said; "but really I think it isn't at all. If you will content your mind for a day, I will tell how serious it is; if you will extend your content for four days, I would almost undertake to promise to restore him to you."
He left her that afternoon in an agony of suspense, and three hours afterwards she received a telegram:
FOUND YOUR HUSBAND—EXPECT HIM HOME TOMORROW.
To his chief Angel explained the mystery in three minutes.
"I thought the ju-ju had nothing to do with it," he said cheerfully. "The whole thing illustrates the folly of a man who had never been further from home than Wiesbaden penetrating God's primaeval forest. Farrow, on the Congo, surrounded on all sides by the disease, must needs be suddenly obsessed by the belief that he has sleeping-sickness. So home he comes, filled with dread forebodings, and visions of the madness that comes to the people, with trypanosomiasis. Buys microscopes—our yellow box—and jabs his finger day by day to examine his blood for microbes. As soon as I heard he had got the approved spirit lamp for sterilising purposes, I knew that. He corresponds with the Tropical Schools of Medicine in London and Liverpool, boring those poor people to death with his outrageous symptoms. Jabs his blood into monkeys, and when they die—of cold and bad feeding—fears the worst. So, at last, some wise doctor at the London School, after writing and telling him that he was an ass, that he couldn't be very bad, and that the monkey's death wasn't any sign—except of cruelty to animals—offers to take him into hospital for a few days and put him under observation. So along comes the hospital carriage, with their nigger porter, and away goes our foolish hypochondriac, with his monkey and his box of tricks. They are turning him out of hospital tomorrow."
ANGEL, ESQUIRE, has a little office at Scotland Yard, which is partly fitted as a laboratory and partly as a tiny museum; here he keeps strange drugs and, in glass-stoppered vessels, curious withered-looking plants with uncanny properties. There is a faint spicy odour everlastingly present in Angel's office, which is something between the fragrance of freshly cut cedar wood and cloves.
When the King of Kantee came to England on his ceremonial visit he was lionized by London society, and being a man of some European education, speaking English with a peculiar intonation, he became remarkably popular. The popularity of King O'fwa had the natural result of making him rather insufferable. One day the officials at the Colonial Office, showing him the sights of London, brought him to Scotland Yard, and in due course he swaggered into the Colonial Department and favoured Angel with a patronizing nod.
"Ah, varry nace," said the King amiably.
"King," said Angel, speaking the peculiar drawl of the Kantee people, "there is that here which is not so pleasant."
The native's insolent eyes met Angel's, and he dropped them before the calm gaze of the white man.
"Shall I show you," said Angel, still speaking in the vernacular, "something that the Kings of the Kantee people see but seldom?"
He stretched out his hand and reached down a bottle; he carefully removed the stopper and drew forth a tiny pencil of cotton-wool, which he as carefully unrolled. Inside was what looked like a dried twig, and the King smiled contemptuously.
"Is it magic?" he asked, and held out his hand.
The dry twig lay on the King's palm, and he smiled again.
"This is wood—a twig," he said. Then he sprang back with a scream, his eyes wide with terror, and the little twig fluttered to the ground. Angel picked it up tenderly and wrapped it about with cotton-wool, the King all the while, with his back against the wall, shaking in abject fear.
"Is it good magic?" asked Angel carelessly; and the King's voice was hoarse when he answered:
"It is good—master!"
Later came a fussy official, sorely puzzled and inclined to be querulous.
"Look here!" he said—he was a Permanent Under-Secretary —"Mr.—er—Angel: about this nonsensical thing you showed his Majesty—we are inclined to think that you overstepped the mark, sir—overstepped the mark." He was a little pompous and a little ruffled, and wholly disagreeable.
Angel inclined his head respectfully, but said nothing.
"Mr. Secretary begs one to say," said the official impressively, "that it is against all our conception of the—er—system for a great department like Scotland Yard, or—er—for any of its officers, however important or unimportant they may be, to practise—er—trickery and chicanery of the kind you introduced to his Majesty, and—er—in fact, we think it extremely reprehensible, sir!" And he looked his disapproval.
"Mr. Masser," said Angel quietly, "you and I do not view 'his Majesty' with a common eye. The last time I met the King he was dining off a relative who had displeased him; the last time I addressed the King was through the twisty rifling of a point three-naught-three. The little twig I showed him was a gentle reminder of an obligation."
The official was still more puzzled.
"One of these fine days," Angel went on calmly, "there will come a man to the King carrying such a stick as I showed. It may be Meta, the Congo man, or it may be Abiboo, the Kano man, or it may be the boy, Jack Fish, from the Monrovian coast; but, whosoever it is, you may be sure that when they meet the King will surely die."
How Angel, Esquire, came to know of the blood brotherhood that was sworn on the Oil River in '84 I do not pretend to know, nor do I know how he came to possess the fetish-stick—which answered the purpose of the broken sixpence so dear to the lads and lassies of civilization who plight their troth. But the circumstances of the passing of the King of the Kantees is well known, and forms the subject of Blue Book (Africa—Kantee Protectorate) 7432-07. They found the King's body in the royal hut one morning; the knife was an N'Gombi knife, and the rope about his neck was Kano made, but the method of the killing was distinctly Monrovian, so the chances are that all three survivors of the blood-pact of '84 took part in the assassination.
The part the fetish-stick played in the fortunes of at least three unimaginative City men is now well known; they were three stout, comfortable underwriters, as far removed from mysticism as is Clapham Common from Bassam.
They do not come into this story. The outward and visible sign of their connection with the blind witch-doctor is the service of plate that adorns Angel's sideboard, but there were days when the man of Basaka held their suburban fortunes in the hollow of his hand.
In response to communications from Sir Peter Saintsbury, Angel travelled to Liverpool to see the millionaire controller of the Lagos Coastwise Line.
There is no need to describe Sir Peter. The story of his meteoric career is common property. A short, swarthy man with closely-cropped grey hair and black, piercing eyes, the years he lived on the Coast have tinted his face a dusky brown. There are people less charitable who ascribe another cause for his copper-coloured skin, people who point to his thick lips and the curious bluish tint of his fingernails.
Sir Peter plunged straight into the matter in hand.
"I have sent for you, Mr. Angel, because my board has decided that there is some other influence at work beside that which may be vaguely termed 'bad luck'."
Angel duly noticed the thickness of the voice, and went over to the side of the uncharitable.
"You are referring to the wreck of the Kinsassa?" said Angel.
"Yes; and the Noki and the Bolobo," said the great ship owner impatiently; "three ships in one year, three new ships, captained by some of my best men, and every one of them gone ashore in exactly the same spot."
The detective nodded gravely.
"The last was under the command of Ryatt, the most competent skipper in the mercantile marine—a young man who knows his business from A to Z. It was he who discovered the shoal passage into Sierra Leone that cuts off fifty miles of sea travel on the homeward voyage."
"The weather?" asked Angel.
"Here's the log," said Sir Peter. He took from a table a discoloured volume, and opened it. "Here you are: 'nine-fifteen —course W. by W.N.W.—sea smooth—wind light S.W.—no Fog'."
"Was that the correct course?" asked Angel.
"Yes. I have compared all logs and questioned the commodore, and, of course, the Board of Trade has verified it."
"And she went ashore at nine-thirty?"
"Yes; and, apparently, if you will look at the log again, there was no sign of the shore."
"H'm." said the detective. "You couldn't very easily miss it—high, upstanding cliffs and mountains, so far as I remember. Who was at the wheel?"
"A reliable quartermaster; the chief officer was on the bridge, and the captain himself was in his cabin, which is practically on the bridge. He had left word to be called at eleven o'clock, at which hour he intended changing the course a point or so west."
"And then?" questioned Angel.
"And then," said Sir Peter, with a despairing gesture, "before anybody seemed to realize the fact, the ship was close inshore—from what the chief officer said the mountains appeared as if by magic from the sea. The officer rang the engines astern, and put the helm over hard to port, but before the 'way' could get off the steamer, she was piled up. The captain was on the bridge in an instant and stopped the engines—in fact, put them ahead again, for he was afraid of backing off into deep water and foundering."
"And she is a total wreck?" queried Angel.
"Absolutely; hard and fast on the teeth of a bad reef, with a hole in her you could drive a coach through." The ship owner walked to his desk and took from one of the drawers an oblong box.
"This is the peculiar feature of all the wrecks," he said with a frown, and opened the box. What he took from it were three little crosses made of untrimmed wood and lashed across in their shapes by native grass string.
Angel's eyes lit as he saw them, and he stretched out his hand eagerly to take them.
"Whew!" he whistled, and handled them gingerly.
"On every wreck," said Sir Peter impressively, "we found one of these things roughly nailed to the foredeck."
Angel's face was grave as he carried the little emblem to the window; then:
"You had better let me investigate this matter on the spot," he said. "When does the next Coast boat leave Liverpool?"
"One left yesterday," said the ship owner; "another leaves in a fortnight."
"That will be too late," said the detective decisively. "I can get a Union-Castle boat to Teneriffe, and pick up your ship there; to make sure, cable your people to hold the boat for my arrival."
He stopped at the door.
"You know the Coast?" he asked.
The great ship owner frowned.
"Yes," he said slowly; "as a young man I lived on the Coast—I was not always a wealthy man."
"Have you offended any of these people in any way?"
Sir Peter shrugged his shoulders.
"There in no need to bring me personally into the matter," he said gruffly.
"I see," said Angel, Esquire.
A fortnight later he landed at Sierra Leone and transhipped to a coasting vessel en route for Bassam.
Going into Cabinda to land sixteen barrels of raw spirit for the civilization of Portuguese West Africa, the "second" of the Imagi found time to express his disgust at inquisitive passengers. The second officer was an excellent seaman, but had spent the greater part of his life "tramping", and the occasional passenger was a source of intense annoyance. The solitary passenger of the Imagi had come aboard at S. Paul de Loanda, and had worked a slow and inquisitorial way up the coast. He was a man desirous of acquiring information on every conceivable subject, but mostly his eternal note of interrogation was set against the question of curious watch charms.
He had buttonholed the entire mess-room, from the skipper to the fourth engineer, buttonholed them at inconvenient moments, held them helpless against bulkheads and immovable cabin doors, whilst he threshed out the question of "curios".
He caught the purser, unaccustomed to a passenger list and in awe of his solitary charge, and reduced him to a condition of incoherence bordering on imbecility; led him—he protesting feebly—to the tiny purser's office-cabin, domineered him into opening his desk and displaying his interesting collection of native table mats and crudely carved ivory napkin rings, and left him limp and perspiring.
It is also on record that on the transparent pretence of inspecting the chief engineer's domestic photographs—at his own artful suggestion—he insinuated himself into the chief's most private domains, and, leading the conversation to native customs (by way of patent medicines and native doctors), he caused the stout chief, at great personal inconvenience to uncord a box which had lain snug for at least two voyages.
On the ninth day of the voyage up from Loanda the steamer stood inshore.
A strip of yellow beach, with the inevitable fringe of palm trees, showed up over the horizon, and a patch of white stood for a white man's house—and civilization.
The inquisitive passenger standing by the third officer set up his monotonous interrogation.
"Basaka," said the third brusquely; "we always put in here. If you are keen on curios, this is the place to get 'em."
"Oh, any kind. There is an old chap who lives a couple of miles in the bush who's the biggest medicine man on the Coast. Wait till the Kroo boys get ashore—you'll see nothing of 'em for a couple of hours. They always make a point of a palaver with the old man. They get medicine and charms."
"Basaka!" mused Angel aloud. "Isn't that where Sir Peter lived?"
The mate grinned.
"The governor! Yes." He looked around for the presence of his superiors. "He lived here for ten years, did the old man, and a pretty tough nut he was, from all accounts. Made all his money in oil and rubber—as thick as thieves with old Chingo, the Basaka king." He shook his head wisely.
"Oh," said Angel; and when the ship had anchored he went ashore.
Paterson, the tired-looking man at the factory, gave him a chair in the deep veranda, mixed him a cocktail, and furnished him with some information.
"Going into the bush!" he said in astonishment. "Man, you're mad. We're a British Protectorate, and all that sort of thing, we've got a company of Haussas along at Little Basaka—but it's not safe."
He whistled a native, and the man came running.
"Hi, Jim," he said in the villainous lingo of the Coast, "dem massa, he like go for bush, you savvy? For O'saka by them ju-ju man. You fit for take 'um?"
The man looked at Angel sullenly.
"I no be fit," he said in a low voice: "them ju-ju be bad for white man."
"You hear?" said the host.
"I hear," he said calmly, and addressed the man, speaking quickly and easily in the native tongue.
"What is your name?" he asked.
"Kosongo, master," replied the man.
"Why will you not take me into the bush?"
"Because of the Blind Man's Magic," answered the other readily. "I am afraid."
"Yet you shall show me the way. When the sun sets I will be by the big palm at the edge of the bush."
"I cannot come," said the man sulkily.
"By the dried heart of the goat you shall come," said Angel quietly; and the man shrank down until his hands were fumbling in the dust.
"I will come," he whispered.
Paterson looked on in amazement.
"What have you said to the chap?" he asked wonderingly, "and how the deuce did you pick up the lingo?"
Angel's reply was plausible, but not exactly true. Angel dined ashore, first sending a runner to Little Basaka, carrying a few words scribbled on the torn leaf of a notebook.
The hut was set away from the village. It stood in a clearing of its own by a little lagoon. Behind it, on the land side, a semi-circular screen of tall palms, all hubbly with the ball-like nests of weaver birds.
The great throng that squatted in a circle about the hut kept a respectful distance. The sun had gone down—one by one they had stolen in from the shadows of the bush, sinking into their places silently, and as silently remained. No man approached the door of the hut, they waited patiently as though some appointed hour had been fixed, seemingly unconscious of one another's presence, neither greeting the constantly arriving newcomer nor receiving greeting. Kroo men in tattered sailor dress, raw natives from the bush, here and there one who bore the fez or cowl that spoke of his faith in Islam. More than one was of the educated native class, and squatted gingerly in his immaculate white ducks. All of them were men—young men and old men.
The moon came up over the still lagoon and lit the silent congregation with its yellow light. One wearing a turban about his head and a white jellab about his shoulders stole from the forest and made his way to the front rank. Suddenly from the hut came a noise like a pattering rain—practised ear would have detected it as the sound of little sticks played rapidly on the tightly stretched skin of a tom-tom. Then a deep voice from the crowd asked:
"Who sits in the darkness?"
The throng answered with one voice:
"He who sees."
Again the deep voice:
"Who sits in the silence?"
And the whole congregation replied:
"He who hears."
There was a pause, and someone within fumbled at the coarse native cloth that screened the doorway.
Then from the dark interior of the hut a cracked old voice croaked:
"Who hath the seeds of Death in his hand and the water of Life in his gourd?"
With one accord the whole concourse led by one deep voice shouted, swaying their bodies as they sang:
"Make as strong, oh Ju-ju-ba. Make us rich, oh Ju-ju, We are weak, we are poor, Give us of thy great surplus."
As they spoke a man came from the hut.
He was old and tall and he came into the flood of yellow moonlight, staring with sightless eyes toward the lagoon. Medicine-man as he was, the streaked face and the mask and wig of his office were absent. A great scar ran down his withered cheeks as though from the blow of a knife, and yet another parted the white of his head. A staff was in his hand, and as the chant finished he struck the ground, and a silence fell upon the throng.
Sightless he was, but by some extraordinary instinct he singled out men by name, and they came to him, blundering through the worshippers—for such they were—and breathing heavily like men who had run a distance. These fell at the feet of the blind old men, and so waited his pleasure. Supplicants as they were, he did not ask their business.
"Nogi, of Emfeeta," croaked the old man.
"What charm can make the mealies grow where the fire has been. What you ask is folly."
The man at his feet slunk away, and another took his place.
"Who is this? Obero, the Kroo man, who has an enemy?"
The man spoke in a strangled tone, for his mouth touched the dust. The old man loosened a charm from a string that hung over his bare shoulder.
"Take this. He will die of the sickness, wasting away slowly."
One by one they crawled to his feet—bush man, Mohammedan, and Kroo boy; slave and slave owner, chief and subject—and, according to their needs, he served them. Hour after hour the play went on: the naming of men he could not see, the uprisings of the summoned man, the prostrations and the pleadings.
Then it came to an end, and from the crowd he called two men. Unlike the rest, they rose and stood before him. He spoke to them by name.
"N'Saka and Igobi—children of the stars."
"Master." they murmured in unison.
"Who gave you power of hand and eye?"
"You, O master," they said in a low voice.
"Who gave you the magic of the silver charm?"
"Master, it was you!"
"Who taught you to gather sleep from the air—so!"—he waved his thin hands quickly—"who taught you the great magic that brings death to the living—death that is not death?"
"Master, you taught us!"
The old man bowed his head before he spoke again.
"Go quickly," he said, "as you went before. Show the white man the silver charm—the white man who stands in the palaver house of the great ship. Show him the charm so that the moonlight falls upon it, and when his heart is full of the little charm, wave your hands—so! Then you shall say to him three times in your own tongue: 'The Nogi Rock is the open sea.' Three times shall you say this; and you shall stay with the ship till the end, and leave the mark of the Ju-ju."
"It shall be so, master," said the men, and they came back to the throng and sank silently in their places.
The old man waited a moment, leaning on his stick, his blind eyes fixed on the glittering waters.
Then he turned to go.
Two paces he look towards the hut, then turned back swiftly.
"What does he want?" he asked hoarsely. "What does he want—the white man who sits in the garb of an Arab?"
A dead silence followed the question, then a man who sat on the inner edge of the circle rose to his feet.
"I am he," he said quietly; and a shiver ran through the people.
The old man took a step towards him and craned his neck forward as though he would see the face of the man who had courted the terrible death.
"I am he," the stranger went on. "I have come—to learn."
The blind doctor of Basaka curled his lips like an old dog in his anger.
"You shall learn," he said, and raised his hand. "Strike!" he cried, and a hundred men rose to his bidding in silence.
Quick as a flash, Angel sprang past the old man and gained the door of the hut. "The dried heart of the goat," that symbol of Fantee mysticism, would avail him little here. This much he realized as he reached the dark interior of the hut. He would gain a little time by his action. He knew enough of the Coast to know the superstitious natives would not follow him to the medicine-man's sanctuary. As he reached the middle of the hut and turned, revolver in hand, he heard the old man's voice.
"White man," he wheezed mockingly, "come back to the quick death, lest death come all too slowly."
"In time," Angel answered coolly.
"Come, white man," said the voice again; "come, eater of goats' hearts! Ah, I know you!"
Angel mentally consigned his unwilling guide to an early grave.
"Come," said the voice, "seeker of charms, who hath sipped the wisdom of the Blind Man of Basaka—the hour is at hand. Yet be sure I will send to him who sent you a sign that you have learnt what you have learnt—for I will send him your heart."
Angel set his teeth and softly pulled back the steel envelope of his Browning pistol.
"Come for me," he answered; "come, oh wise man, or will you send one whose life you hold lightly? Oh, people of Basaka, bushmen, and sons of mad mothers, who will lay his hand on the white man?"
He heard a whispered order and a patter of bare feet, and the shadows of two men fell across the threshold.
The first fell dead at the doorway, the second squirmed into the hut with a bullet through his brain, and the little hut was filled with the smell of powder.
Angel waited for the inevitable rush.
If they came by twos he could keep them at bay.
He had slipped off the clinging Arab robe and turban. If the worst came to the worst, he could run.
Again he heard the voice of the blind seer. It was hoarse with rage, and broken.
He heard the order that meant his death, the hustle of the closed rank, and the rattle of spear shafts; and then a loud crack, and another and another, and over all the shrill call of a bugle and a great rush of feet.
Through the doorway he saw the line of charging Haussas and heard the fresh voice of the young Englishman in command; then, as the throng of natives about the hut scattered, he leapt the bodies of the men in the doorway and caught the arm of the old man.
The witch-doctor turned with a snarl, and, raising his iron-shod stick, struck at the detective with surprising force. Twice he struck, and twice Angel dodged the blow, then he slipped, and the old man was on him.
For a moment Angel thought his last hour had come. Lean and old as the witch-doctor was, he was possessed of the strength of a maniac. He loosened one hand to fumble in the rags about his middle, and Angel, making a last despairing effort, threw himself over to where his fallen pistol lay.
"Dead?" said the Haussa captain, looking down at the fallen man.
"I think not," said Angel. "Phew!" He wiped the streaming perspiration from his forehead.
"H'm," said the officer looking at the prostrate witch-doctor. "So the Blind Wizard is finished. There will be an awful palaver over this."
"He's not blind," he said quietly. "I found that out an hour ago. Some dreadful thing must have happened to his eyes—but he can see."
The old man groaned and looked up. He saw Angel and smiled. Then, to the detective's amazement, he spoke in perfect English.
"So now you know all about it—eh?"
He spoke painfully.
"Yes," said Angel in English. "I know all about it."
The old man inclined his head.
"The trick of mesmerism that I taught my men—it is simple to mesmerise a man who is looking at some bright object."
"And as simple to suggest to the subject that the course that brings up at the Nogi Rock is the open sea," he said.
"I wanted to ruin Peter," said the old native, "and when I had ruined him, I wanted to kill him. He is my brother."
He made the monstrous statement calmly and Angel believed him.
The old medicine-man was silent for a while, then he resumed.
"My younger brother—born of the same black mother—inheriting the same fortune. I was at Christ's College, Cambridge," he said inconsequently.
"Peter took the money and the stores. He sent me to trade in the bush. Then he sent men after me to put out my eyes—because he was ambitious and looked down upon his blacker brother."
He was silent so long that they thought he was dead, but after a while he spoke again.
"Christ's College, Cambridge," he murmured. Then in the native tongue he uttered the proverb of the Kantee people: "The river overflows but runs back to its bed." Then he died.
As for Sir Peter Saintsbury, the swarthy ship owner, he too died within the year, and I'saka, the Kroo boy who was with him when he died, was hanged at Liverpool a few months later.
THERE was a Minister of France—was it Necker?—who suggested on a memorable occasion that the people should eat grass. He was no vegetarian, he was just being rude; and when, on a subsequent occasion, an indignant populace slew him, in some grim way they decorated the body significantly.
If it should happen that the lawless folk of Notting Dale should ever fall upon Police Constable Lee, I doubt not that the jibe with which they will assail him will have some reference to 'sparrows,' for to the mysterious agency of the 'little sparrow' is due a great deal of the worthy officer's unpopularity amongst a certain class of people in his salubrious district.
PC Lee, in mufti, stepped round to the marine store of Cokey Salem, and asked to see the proprietor.
Cokey, so-called because of the commodity he runs as a side line to the rag-and-bone business, was not at home.
He shouted down the stairs to his frowsy wife to that effect and PC Lee was not convinced.
After a while, Cokey was induced to come down into the evil-smelling shop, and he did this with an ill grace.
'Hullo,' he said, gruffly, 'what's this—water rates?'
'To be exact,' said PC Lee, gently, 'it's a question of lead pipin', feloniously removed from unoccupied premises, to wit, 914, Kensington Park Road.'
'Ho!' said the defiant Cokey, 'an' what's that gotter do with me?'
'If you'll kindly step round to the station,' said the police-constable, 'I daresay you can explain the whole matter to our inspector in a few words.'
'Suppose I don't?'
'In that case,' said the thoughtful constable, 'I shall be under the painful necessity of takin' you.'
Cokey choked back a wicked word, put on his coat and hat, and accompanied the constable.
'Where did you nose this job?' he asked, vulgarly.
'A little sparrer,' said the reflective PC, 'happened—'
'I'd like to get hold of that sparrer of yours,' said Cokey, between his teeth, I'd wring his blanky neck.'
On the occasion under review, Cokey did not convince a sceptical inspector of his innocence. Nor had he any better luck with a frozen-faced magistrate, who listened dispassionately to Cokey's somewhat involved story. According to Cokey the lead piping found on his premises had
"Fallen like the gentle rain from heaven, upon the place beneath."
This magistrate, who had never been known to smile, relaxed when Cokey adduced his crowning argument that the piping had been placed in his yard by the police, and committed Cokey to the Middlesex Sessions.
The Chairman of that Court, aided by a bored jury, found Cokey guilty of receiving, and the Chairman having, figuratively speaking, said it would be as much as his place was worth to give him less, sent Cokey to prison with hard labour for nine calendar months.
Whereupon the prisoner, affectionately addressing PC Lee, said that on some future occasion he would have the heart, lungs, and important blood vessels of the impassive officer—though exactly what he would do with them he did not say.
I saw PC Lee some nine months later, and knowing that Cokey was at liberty, I expressed my surprise at finding him still alive.
PC Lee smiled.
'If the Government would give prisoners leave of absence on the day they are sentenced,' he said, 'I daresay he might have caused me inconvenience; but barrin' that, I shall die a natural death. If a chap who had been sentenced heavily suddenly found himself pardoned, he'd be so overjoyed that he wouldn't have any time to hate me or any other constable, an' even a man who goes to a long term soon loses all the bad feelin' he ever had, an' comes out of "stir" full of a peace-on-earth-an'-good-will feelin'.
'In prison you've got a lot of time to think, an' if a man isn't a lunatic, he works out the situation reasonably an' comes to the conclusion that the constable has only done his duty, an' by the time the sentence is worked out, he's lost all his dislike for the man who lagged him.
'The only time I ever knew a man to bear animosity was in the case of the Newton Lane Robbery.
'If you don't remember the case, I'll give it to you in a few words. A cashier from one of the Ladbroke Grove shops was goin' back to his premises from the bank at Notting Hill Gate, when he was set upon by half-a-dozen roughs, knocked down an' robbed. All this happened in broad daylight, but in an unfrequented little turning, an' the assailants got away.
'It so happened that I was off duty (I was in X Division at the time), but I got to hear of the case when I reported for duty that night.
'The young fellow who was robbed had been taken to the hospital, but as he wasn't so badly hurt, he was allowed to go home. Accordin' to him, he wouldn't be able to recognise any of the party.
'Now, the detection of crime, as I see it, is a simple matter. The criminal is the obvious person. Don't you believe these detective stories that tell you that the feller found with the diamonds in his pocket is the innocent hero—he's only the innocent hero in story books. In real life he's the feller that did the robbery.
'When the police find a little sub-post-office has been robbed, an' the postmaster lyin' bound an' gagged, or when they see a bank clerk lyin' on the floor with the smell of chloroform hangin' round an' the safe open, they know it's 33 to 1 that they've got the robber first pop, an' that the enterprisin' burglar, as the song says, is the young feller found in such a romantic attitude.
'Unprofessional criminals spend too much of their time in preparin' picturesque scenes, an' professional criminals spend too much time in gettin' ready alibis, an' between one an' the other the police have a fairly easy time.
'So that it was only natural that our first suspicions fastened on the feller that had been robbed, an' there were certain features of it that made this view likely. Nobody had seen him attacked, nobody had seen men comin' away from the scene of the crime, an' if he hadn't been so badly injured there would have been no doubt whatever that he was the robber himself, an' the whole 'outrage' a fake.
'This might have been the case with the young cashier, only there was a remarkable flaw in the theory. He'd left the bank with five notes for a hundred pounds (which had been drawn for the purpose of sendin' to Russia to settle an account), an' this he placed in a big handbag which he carried, an' which was found open an' empty.
'He was carefully searched, but no money was on him when he was found. He had been seen enterin' the little street. One of the bank clerks, who happened to leave the bank at the same time, had walked with him to the entrance of the street, an' nobody had been seen to leave at either end before he was discovered. If he'd stolen 'em himself—what had happened to the banknotes? He couldn't bury 'em. There was no place in the street itself where they could have been hidden—you may be sure that we searched every possible hidin' place—an' the police were forced to believe that his story was true.
'The only thing against the man was that his firm had lost money before from their office. Ten, twenty, an' fifty pound notes had vanished, but the cashier was so above suspicion, an' had always insisted upon bein' the first to be searched, that they had never dreamt of connectin' him with any theft, an' had discharged clerk after clerk in consequence.
'It was such an interestin' case that the Yard sent down Mr Angel—you wrote about him didn't you?—a rare nice gentleman, who's always pullin' your leg, but very pleasant with it.
'Our inspector was asked to tell off a man to accompany Mr Angel, an' to my surprise I was chosen instead of some of our smart fellers.
'"Lee," says the inspector, "you go round with Mr Angel, an' introduce him to some of the 'heads' in your neighbourhood." So, in a manner of speakin', I was put in charge of Angel.
'But, bless you, he didn't want any introducin'! He knew all the toughs: knew Nick Moss, an' Percy Steel, an' Jim the Fence; knew 'em as if he'd been brought up with 'em—an' they knew him.
'We might have saved ourselves the trouble, because we learnt very little from these chaps, except from Nick Moss.
'"Hullo. Nick," says Angel, Esquire, most cheerfully, "how is the ladder larceny business?"
'Nick grinned a bit sheepish.
'"I'm straight now, Mr Angel," he says; "the other game's a mug's game."
'"Cutting out all your blessed platitudes," says Angel, "which of your college companions did this last little job?"
'"If I never move from here," says Nick, most solemn, "if I die this very minute, if—"
'"Havin' been duly sworn," says Mr Angel, "it is unnecessary to go any further—I gather from your interestin', but altogether unnecessary, protestation that you don't know."
'"That's right, sir," says Nick.
'Mr Angel told me later that he quite believed Nick didn't know for sure, but he thought that he had a suspicion.
'We examined the street where the robbery was committed. It is a street with stables on one side an' little houses on the other, an' connects Portobello Road with Pembridge Road.
'Nobody could give us any information about the robbery; in the majority of cases the first they knew about it was when the cashier had been found lyin' on the side-walk. Next we made a few inquiries about the cashier an' found that he was a most respectable man, with money of his own in the bank, a churchwarden, an' a member of the Young Men's Christian Association. What was most important was, he'd got money of his own in the bank.
"I'm afraid, Lee," says Mr Angel, "that this case must go down to history as 'The Notting Hill Mystery,'" and so it might have done but for the fact that one of the most curious coincidences happened that you could ever imagine.
'You've heard me talk about my "little sparrow?" It's a wheeze I work on the lads who want to know where I get all my valuable information from. This "cod" of mine got round to Mr Angel's ears, an' he remarked to me, in that jokin' way of his:
'"What a pity, Lee, your feathered friend can't supply us with a brilliant word picture of what happened—"
'He stopped short sudden, an' frowned thoughtfully.
'"By George!" says he, "I wonder if that is possible?"
'I couldn't see what he was gettin' at, so I waited.
'"We'll go round an' see our cashier friend," says Angel, so off we went to a neat little house near Wormwood Scrubbs.
'He was a bachelor, but rented a house, an' he opened the door to us himself, an' invited us in.
'It was a comfortably furnished sittin'-room, an' I saw Angel give a quick glance round as though sizing up the place. The only thing I noticed was that Mr Killun—that was his name—made a hasty attempt to fold up a newspaper that he'd been readin'.
'Killun was a pale-faced youth with uneven features an' a shifty eye, an' I disliked him from the first.
'"Readin', Mr Killun?" says Angel.
'"Yes," says Killun, quickly, "I'm naturally interested in learnin' if the police have any clue as to the people who robbed me."
'Angel, Esquire nodded, but said nothin'.
'By-an'-bye, he asked carelessly: "By the way, what are Southern Pacific Preferred?"
'"Sixty-four," said Killun, quick—then checked himself—"at least, I believe so—I don't take much interest in Stock Exchange transactions."
'"I suppose not," says Angel, an' went on talkin' about the robbery an' about things in general. He touched on the Lincoln Handicap, but Mr Killun said he knew nothin' about racin', an' that was probably so, because Angel referred to the Lincoln as a two mile race, an' no racin' man could have resisted the temptation to correct him.
'We left, an' Angel went away to London to make a few inquiries. He came back that night, an' together we went to Killun's house.
'"I want to see the bag you carried the notes in," says Angel.
'To my surprise the man produced it. I was surprised, because the bag ought to have been in the possession of the police, an' it only shows you how we are sometimes caught nappin', for without that bag the robber might never have been caught.
'Angel took the bag and examined it.
'"This is an enormous bag to carry five hundred pound notes in?"
'"It's the only one I've got," said the man, a little sullenly.
'Angel took it under the light an' inspected the inside. Then he laid a sheet of paper on the table an' shook out the contents. There was nothin' in it, except a few crumbs of tobacco, a little dust, an' somethin' that Angel, Esquire picked up an' examined carefully.
'It was a tiny grey feather, an' he nodded slowly.
'Then he turned to Killun.
'"I shall take you into custody," he said, "on a charge of stealin' five hundred pounds, the property of your employer."
'"It's a lie!" said Killun, hoarsely, an' tried to bolt. But I caught him, an' as he was inclined to be a little bit fresh, I put the handcuffs on him.
'We took him down to the station, an' then went back an' searched the house. On the roof, in a cage, we found a pigeon.
'"There's your little bird, Lee," says Angel, with a chuckle. "That's one of the little birds that was in Mr Killun's big bag. Not this chap, but others like him. A hundred-pound note fastened with an elastic band round each leg—an' whiff!—goes five hundred. He must have sent three birds."
'Angel spent some time that night concoctin' a message. He wrote it on a slip of thin paper an' fitted it to the pigeon's leg. Then he flew the pigeon.
'Next mornin', at eleven o'clock, we arrested an eminent bucket-shop* keeper, who turned up outside the Mansion House by appointment—Angel made the appointment.
[* Bucket-shop: A fraudulent brokerage operation in which orders to buy and sell are accepted but no executions take place. Instead, the operators expect to profit when customers close out their positions at a loss.]
'This,' said PC Lee, impressively, 'proves my words, that the real criminal is the obvious criminal. Killun had been speculatin' an' had got into difficulties with the bucket-shop. The man that ran the shop wanted the money, an' bein' a bit of a pigeon fancier, had suggested a way of gettin' Killun out of his difficulties.
'Killun would take the birds in his bag to the office, an' whenever he could lay his hands on paper money, would nip out into the cloakroom, fix the note, an' fly the bird through a window, an' be back at his desk before anybody noticed his absence.'
MR. WILLIAM SPEDDING, of the firm of Spedding, Mortimer and Larach, Solicitors, bought the site in Lombard Street in the conventional way. The property came into the market on the death of an old lady who lived at Market Harborough, who has nothing to do with this story, and it was put up to auction in the orthodox fashion. Mr. William Spedding secured the site at £106,000, a sum sufficiently large to excite the interest of all the evening papers and a great number of the morning journals as well. As a matter of exact detail, I may add that plans were produced and approved by the city surveyor for the erection of a building of a peculiar type. The city surveyor was a little puzzled by the interior arrangement of the new edifice, but as it fulfilled all the requirements of the regulations governing buildings in the City of London, and no fault could be found either with the external appearance—its facade had been so artfully designed that you might pass a dozen times a day without the thought occurring that this new building was anything out of the common ruck—and as the systems of ventilation and light were beyond reproach, he passed the plans with a shrug of his shoulders.
"I cannot understand, Mr. Spedding," he said, laying his forefinger on the blue print, "how your client intends securing privacy. There is a lobby and one big hall. Where are the private offices, and what is the idea of this huge safe in the middle of the hall, and where are the clerks to sit? I suppose he will have clerks? Why, man, he won't have a minute's peace!"
Mr. Spedding smiled grimly. "He will have all the peace he wants," he said. "And the vaults—I should have thought that vaults would be the very thing you wanted for this." He tapped the corner of the sheet where was inscribed decorously: "Plan for the erection of a New Safe Deposit."
"There is the safe," said Mr. Spedding, and smiled again.
This William Spedding, now unhappily no longer with us—he died suddenly, as I will relate—was a large, smooth man with a suave manner. He smoked good cigars, the ends of which he snipped off with a gold cigar-cutter, and his smile came readily, as from a man who had no fault to find with life. To continue the possibly unnecessary details, I may add further that whilst tenders were requested for the erection of the New Safe Deposit, the provision of the advertisement that the lowest tender would not necessarily be accepted was justified by the fact that the offer of Potham and Holloway was approved, and it is an open secret that their tender was the highest of all.
"My client requires the very best work; he desires a building that will stand shocks." Mr. Spedding shot a swift glance at the contractor, who sat at the other side of the desk. "Something that a footling little dynamite explosion would not scatter to the four winds."
The contractor nodded.
"You have read the specification," the solicitor went on—he was cutting a new cigar, "and in regard to the pedestal—ah—the pedestal, you know—?"
He stopped and looked at the contractor.
"It seems all very clear," said the great builder. He took a bundle of papers from an open bag by his side and read, "The foundation to be of concrete to the depth of twenty feet... The pedestal to be alternate layers of dressed granite and steel... in the centre a steel-lined compartment, ten inches by five, and half the depth of the pedestal itself."
The solicitor inclined his head. "That pedestal is to be the most important thing in the whole structure. The steel-lined recess—I don't know the technical phrase—which one of these days your men will have to fill in, is the second most important; but the safe that is to stand fifty feet above the floor of the building is to be—but the safe is arranged for."
An army of workmen, if the hackneyed phrase be permitted, descended upon Lombard Street and pulled down the old buildings. They pulled them down, and broke them down, and levered them down, and Lombard Street grew gray with dust. The interiors of quaint old rooms with grimy oak panelling were indecently exposed to a passing public. Clumsy, earthy carts blocked Lombard Street, and by night flaring Wells' lights roared amidst the chaos. And, bare-armed men sweated and delved by night and by day; and one morning Mr. Spedding stood in a drizzle of rain, with a silk umbrella over his head, and expressed, on behalf of his client, his intense satisfaction at the progress made. He stood on a slippery plank that formed a barrow road, and workmen, roused to unusual activity by the presence of "The Firm"—Mr. Spedding's cicerone—moved to and fro at a feverish rate of speed.
"They don't mind the rain," said the lawyer, sticking out his chin in the direction of the toiling gangs.
"The Firm" shook his head. "Extra pay," he said laconically, "we provided for that in the tender," he hastened to add in justification of his munificence.
So in rain and sunshine, by day and by night, the New Safe Deposit came into existence. Once—it was during a night shift—a brougham drove up the deserted city street, and a footman helped from the dark interior of the carriage a shivering old man with a white, drawn face. He showed a written order to the foreman, and was allowed inside the unpainted gate of the "works." He walked gingerly amidst the debris of construction, asked no questions, made no replies to the explanations of the bewildered foreman, who wondered what fascination there was in a building job to bring an old man from his bed at three o'clock on a chill spring morning.
Only once the old man spoke. "Where will that there pedestal be?" he asked in a harsh, cracked cockney voice; and when the foreman pointed out the spot, and the men even then busily filling in the foundation, the old man's lips curled back in an ugly smile that showed teeth too white and regular for a man of his age.
He said no more, but pulled the collar of his fur coat the tighter about his lean neck and walked wearily back to his carriage. The building saw Mr. Spedding's client no more—if, indeed, it was Mr. Spedding's client. So far as is known, he did not again visit Lombard Street before its completion—even when the last pane of glass had been fixed in the high gilded dome, when the last slab of marble had been placed in the ornate walls of the great hall, even when the solicitor came and stood in silent contemplation before the great granite pedestal that rose amidst a scaffolding of slim steel girders supporting a staircase that wound upward to the gigantic mid-air safe. Not quite alone, for with him was the contractor, awed to silence by the immensity of his creation.
"Finished!" said the contractor, and his voice came echoing back from the dim spaces of the building.
The solicitor did not answer.
"Your client may commence business tomorrow if he wishes."
The solicitor turned from the pedestal. "He is not ready yet," he said softly, as though afraid of the echoes. He walked to where the big steel doors of the hall stood ajar, the contractor following. In the vestibule he took two keys from his pocket. The heavy doors swung noiselessly across the entrance, and Mr. Spedding locked them. Through the vestibule and out into the busy street the two men walked, and the solicitor fastened behind him the outer doors.
"My client asks me to convey his thanks to you for your expedition," the lawyer said.
The builder rubbed his hands with some satisfaction.
"You have taken two days less than we expected," Mr. Spedding went on. The builder was a man of few ideas outside his trade.
He said again: "Yes, your client may start business tomorrow."
The solicitor smiled. "My client, Mr. Potham, may not—er—start business—for ten years," he said. "In fact, until—well, until he dies, Mr. Potham."
A MAN turned into Terrington Square from Seymour Street and walked leisurely past the policeman on point duty, bidding him a curt "good night." The other subsequently described the passer, as a foreign-looking gentleman with a short pointed beard. Under the light overcoat he was apparently in evening dress, for the officer observed the shoes with the plain black bow, and the white silk muffler and the crush hat supported that view. The man crossed the road, and disappeared round the corner of the railed garden that forms the centre of the square. A belated hansom came jingling past, and an early newspaper cart, taking a short cut to Paddington, followed; then the square was deserted save for the man and the policeman. The grim, oppressive houses of the square werewrapped in sleep-drawn blinds and shuttered windows and silence.
The man continued his stroll until he came abreast of No. 43. Here he stopped for a second, gave one swift glance up and down the thoroughfare, and mounted the three steps of the house. He fumbled a little with the key, turned it, and entered. Inside he stood for a moment, then taking a small electric lamp from his pocket he switched on the current. He did not trouble to survey the wide entrance hall, but flashed the tiny beam of light on the inside face of the door. Two thin wires and a small coil fastened to the lintel called forth no comment. One of the wires had been snapped by the opening of the door.
"Burglar-alarm, of course," he murmured approvingly. "All the windows similarly treated, and goodness knows what pitfalls waiting for the unwary."
He flashed the lamp round the hall. A heavy Turkish rug at the foot of the winding staircase secured his attention. He took from his pocket a telescopic stick, extended it, and fixed it rigid. Then he walked carefully towards the rug. With his stick he lifted the corner, and what he saw evidently satisfied him, for he returned to the door, where in a recess stood a small marble statue. All his strength was required to lift this, but he staggered back with it, and rolling it on its circular base, as railway porters roll milk churns, he brought it to the edge of the rug. With a quick push he planted it square in the centre of the carpet. For a second only it stood, oscillating, then like a flash it disappeared, and where the carpet had lain was a black, gaping hole.
He waited. Somewhere from the depths came a crash, and the carpet came slowly up again and filled the space. The unperturbed visitor nodded his head, as though again approving the householder's caution.
"I don't suppose he has learnt any new ones," he murmured regretfully, "he is getting very old."
He took stock of the walls. They were covered with paintings and engravings.
"He could not have fixed the cross tire in a modern house," he continued, and taking a little run, leapt the rug and rested for a moment on the bottom stair. A suit of half armor on the first landing held him in thoughtful attention for a moment.
"Elizabethan body, with a Spanish bayonet," he said regretfully; "that doesn't look like a collector's masterpiece."
He flashed the lamp up and down the silent figure that stood in menacing attitude with a raised battle-axe.
"I don't like that axe," he murmured, and measured the distance.
Then he saw the fine wire that stretched across the landing. He stepped across carefully, and ranged himself alongside the steel knight. Slipping off his coat, he reached up and caught the figure by the wrist. Then with a quick jerk of his foot he snapped the wire. He had been prepared for the mechanical downfall of the axe; but as the wire broke the figure turned to the right, and swish! came the axe in a semicircular cut. He had thought to hold the arm as it descended, but he might as well have tried to hold the piston-rod of an engine. His hand was wrenched away, and the razor-like blade of the axe missed his head by the fraction of a second. Then with a whir the arm rose stiffly again to its original position and remained rigid.
The visitor moistened his lips and sighed.
"That's a new one, a very new one," he said under his breath, and the admiration in his tone was evident. He picked up his overcoat, flung it over his arm, and mounted half a dozen steps to the next landing. The inspection of the Chinese cabinet was satisfactory. The white beam of his lamp flashed into corners and crevices and showed nothing. He shook the curtain of a window and listened, holding his breath.
"Not here," he muttered decisively, "the old man wouldn't try that game. Snakes turned loose in a house in London, S.W., take a deal of collecting in the morning."
He looked round. From the landing access was gained to three rooms. That which from its position he surmised faced the street he did not attempt to enter. The second, covered by a heavy curtain, he looked at for a time in thought. To the third he walked, and carefully swathing the door-handle with his silk muffler, he turned it. The door yielded. He hesitated another moment, and jerking the door wide open, sprang backward. The interior of the room was for a second only in pitch darkness, save for the flicker of light that told of an open fireplace. Then the visitor heard a click, and the room was flooded with light. In the darkness on the landing the man waited; then a voice, a cracked old voice, said grumblingly:
"Come in." Still the man on the landing waited. "Oh, come in, Jimmy—I know ye."
Cautiously the man outside stepped through the entry into the light and faced the old man, who, arrayed in a wadded dressing-gown, sat in a big chair by the fire, an old man, with white face and a sneering grin, who sat with his lap full of papers. The visitor nodded a friendly greeting.
"As far as I can gather," he said deliberately, "we are just above your dressing-room, and if you dropped me through one of your patent traps, Reale, I should fetch up amongst your priceless china."
Save for a momentary look of alarm on the old man's face at the mention of the china, he preserved an imperturbable calm, never moving his eyes from his visitor's face. Then his grin returned, and he motioned the other to a chair on the other side of the fireplace.
Jimmy turned the cushion over with the point of his stick and sat down.
"Suspicious?" The grin broadened. "Suspicious of your old friend, Jimmy? The old governor, eh?"
Jimmy made no reply for a moment, then—"You're a wonder, governor, upon my word you are a wonder. That man in armour—your idea?"
The old man shook his head regretfully. "Not mine entirely, Jimmy. Ye see, there's electricity in it, and I don't know much about electricity, I never did, except—"
"Except?" suggested the visitor.
"Oh, that roulette board, that was my own idea; but that was magnetism, which is different to electricity, by my way of looking."
"Ye got past the trap?" The old man had just a glint of admiration in his eye.
"Yes, jumped it."
The old man nodded approvingly. "You always was a one for thinkin' things out. I've known lots of 'em who would never have thought of jumping it. Connor, and that pig Massey, they'd have walked right on to it. You didn't damage anything?" he demanded suddenly and fiercely. "I heard somethin' break, an' I was hoping that it was you." Jimmy thought of the marble statue, and remembered that it had looked valuable.
"Nothing at all," he lied easily, and the old man's tense look relaxed.
The pair sat on opposite sides of the fireplace, neither speaking for fully ten minutes; then Jimmy leant forward.
"Reale," he said quietly, "how much are you worth?"
In no manner disturbed by this leading question, but rather indicating a lively satisfaction, the other replied instantly: "Two millions an' a bit over, Jimmy. I've got the figures in my head. Reckonin' furniture and the things in this house at their proper value, two millions, and forty-seven thousand and forty-three pounds—floatin', Jimmy, absolute cash, the same as you might put your hand in your pocket an' spend—a million an' three—quarters exact."
He leant back in his chair with a triumphant grin and watched his visitor.
Jimmy had taken a cigarette from his pocket and was lighting it, looking at the slowly burning match reflectively.
"A million and three-quarters," he repeated calmly, "is a lot of money."
Old Reale chuckled softly.
"All made out of the confiding public, with the aid of me—and Connor and Massey-"
"Massey is a pig!" the old man interjected spitefully.
Jimmy puffed a cloud of tobacco smoke. "Wrung with sweat and sorrow from foolish young men who backed the tiger and played high at Reale's Unrivalled Temple of Chance, Cairo, Egypt—with branches at Alexandria, Port Said, and Suez."
The figure in the wadded gown writhed in a paroxysm of silent merriment.
"How many men have you ruined, Reale?" asked Jimmy.
"The Lord knows," the old man answered cheerfully; "only three as I knows of—two of 'em's dead, one of 'em's dying. The two that's dead left neither chick nor child; the dying one's got a daughter."
Jimmy eyed him through narrowed lids. "Why this solicitude for the relatives—you're not going—?"
As he spoke, as if anticipating a question, the old man was nodding his head with feverish energy, and all the while his grin broadened.
"What a one you are for long words, Jimmy! You always was. That's how you managed to persuade your swell pals to come an' try their luck. Solicitude! What's that mean? Frettin' about 'em, d'ye mean? Yes, that's what I'm doin'—frettin' about 'em. And I'm going to make, what d'ye call it—you had it on the tip of your tongue a minute or two ago?"
"Reparation?" suggested Jimmy.
Old Reale nodded delightedly.
"Don't you ask questions!" bullied the old man, his harsh voice rising. "I ain't asked you why you broke into my house in the middle of the night, though I knew it was you who came the other day to check the electric meter. I saw you, an' I've been waitin' for you ever since."
"I knew all about that," said Jimmy calmly, and flicked the ash of his cigarette away with his little finger, "and I thought you would—"
Suddenly he stopped speaking and listened.
"Who's in the house beside us?" he asked quickly, but the look on the old man's face reassured him.
"Nobody," said Reale testily. "I've got a special house for the servants, and they come in every morning after I've unfixed my burglar-alarms."
He grinned, and then a look of alarm came into his face.
"The alarms!" he whispered; "you broke them when you came in, Jimmy. I heard the signal. If there's some one in the house we shouldn't know it now."
They listened. Down below in the hall something creaked, then the sound of a soft thud came up.
"He's skipped the rug," whispered Jimmy, and switched out the light. The two men heard a stealthy footstep on the stair, and waited. There was the momentary glint of a light, and the sound of some one breathing heavily Jimmy leant over and whispered in the old man's ear. Then, as the handle of the door was turned and the door pushed open, Jimmy switched on the light.
The newcomer was a short, thick-set man with a broad, red face. He wore a check suit of a particularly glaring pattern, and on the back of his head was stuck a bowler hat, the narrow brim of which seemed to emphasize the breadth of his face. A casual observer might have placed him for a coarse, good—natured man of rude but boisterous humour. The ethnological student would have known him at once for what he was—a cruel man-beast without capacity for pity.
He started back as the lights went on, blinking a little, but his hand held an automatic pistol that covered the occupants of the room.
"Put up your hands," he growled. "Put 'em up!"
Neither man obeyed him. Jimmy was amused and looked it, stroking his short beard with his white tapering fingers. The old man was fury incarnate.
He it was that turned to Jimmy and croaked:
"What did I tell ye, Jimmy? What've I always said, Jimmy? Massey is a pig—he's got the manners of a pig. Faugh!"
"Put up your hands!" hissed the man with the pistol. "Put 'em up, or I'll put you both out!"
"If he'd come first, Jimmy!" Old Reale wrung his hands in his regret. "S'pose he'd jumped the rug—any sneak thief could have done that—d'ye think he'd have spotted the man in armor? If you'd only get the man in armor ready again."
"Put your pistol down, Massey," said Jimmy coolly, "unless you want something to play with. Old man Reale's too ill for the gymnastics you suggest, and I'm not inclined to oblige you."
The man blustered. "By God, if you try any of your monkey tricks with me, either of you—"
"Oh, I'm only a visitor like yourself," said Jimmy, with a wave of his hand; "and as to monkey tricks, why, I could have shot you before you entered the room."
Massey frowned, and stood twiddling his pistol.
"You will find a safety catch on the left side of the barrel," continued Jimmy, pointing to the pistol; "snick it up—you can always push it down again with your thumb if you really mean business. You are not my idea of a burglar. You breathe too noisily, and you are built too clumsily; why, I heard you open the front door!"
The quiet contempt in the tone brought a deeper red into the man's face.
"Oh, you are a clever 'un, we know!" he began, and the old man, who had recovered his self-command, motioned him to a chair.
"Sit down, Mister Massey," he snapped; "sit down, my fine fellow, an' tell us all the news. Jimmy an' me was just speakin' about you, me an' Jimmy was. We was saying what a fine gentleman you was"—his voice grew shrill—"what a swine, what an overfed, lumbering fool of a pig you was, Mister Massey!"
He sank back into the depths of his chair exhausted.
"Look here, governor," began Massey again—he had laid his pistol on a table by his side, and waved a large red hand to give point to his remarks—"we don't want any unpleasantness. I've been a good friend to you, an' so has Jimmy. We've done your dirty work for years, me an' Jimmy have, and Jimmy knows it"—turning with an ingratiating smirk to the subject of his remarks—"and now we want a bit of our own—that is all it amounts to, our own."
Old Reale looked under his shaggy eyebrows to where Jimmy sat with brooding eyes watching the fire.
"So it's a plant, eh? You're both in it. Jimmy comes first, he being the clever one, an' puts the lay nice an' snug for the other feller."
Jimmy shook his head. "Wrong," he said. He turned his head and took a long scrutiny of the newcomer, and the amused contempt of his gaze was too apparent. "Look at him!" he said at last. "Our dear Massey! Does he look the sort of person I am likely to share confidence with?"
A cold passion seemed suddenly to possess him.
"It's a coincidence that brought us both together."
He rose and walked to where Massey sat, and stared down at him. There was something in the look that sent Massey's hand wandering to his pistol.
"Massey, you dog!" he began, then checked himself with a laugh and walked to the other end of the room. There was a tantalus with a soda siphon, and he poured himself a stiff portion and sent the soda fizzling into the tumbler. He held the glass to the light and looked at the old man. There was a look on the old man's face that he remembered to have seen before. He drank his whisky and gave utterance to old Reale's thoughts.
"It's no good, Reale, you've got to settle with Massey, but not the way you're thinking. We could put him away, but we should have to put ourselves away too." He paused. "And there's me," he added.
"And Connor," said Massey thickly, "and Connor's worse than me. I'm reasonable, Reale; I'd take a fair share—"
"You would, would you?" The old man was grinning again. "Well, your share's exactly a million an' three-quarters in solid cash, an' a bit over two millions—all in." He paused to notice the effect of his words. Jimmy's calm annoyed him; Massey's indifference was outrageous.
"An' it's Jimmy's share, an' Connor's share, an' it's Miss Kathleen Kent's share." This time the effect was better. Into Jimmy's inexpressive face had crept a gleam of interest.
"Kent?" he asked quickly. "Wasn't that the name of the man—?"
Old Reale chuckled. "The very feller, Jimmy—the man who came in to lose a tenner, an' lost ten thousand; who came in next night to get it back, and left his lot. That's the feller!"
He rubbed his lean hands, as at the memory of some pleasant happening.
"Open that cupboard, Jimmy." He pointed to an old—fashioned walnut cabinet that stood near the door. "D'ye see anything—a thing that looks like a windmill?"
Jimmy drew out a cardboard structure that was apparently a toy working-model. He handled it carefully, and deposited it on the table by the old man's side. Old Reale touched it caressingly. With his little finger he set a fly—wheel spinning, and tiny little pasteboard rods ran to and fro, and little wooden wheels spun easily.
"That's what I did with his money, invented a noo machine that went by itself—perpetual motion. You can grin, Massey, but that's what I did with it. Five years' work an' a quarter of a million, that's what that little model means. I never found the secret out. I could always make a machine that would go for hours with a little push, but it always wanted the push. I've been a chap that went in for inventions and puzzles. D'ye remember the table at Suez?"
He shot a sly glance at the men.
Massey was growing impatient as the reminiscences proceeded. He had come that night with an object; he had taken a big risk, and had not lost sight of the fact. Now he broke in—"Damn your puzzles, Reale. What about me; never mind about Jimmy. What's all this rotten talk about two millions for each of us, and this girl? When you broke up the place in Egypt you said we should stand in when the time came. Well, the time's come!"
"Nearly, nearly," said Reale, with his death's—head grin. "It's nearly come. You needn't have troubled to see me. My lawyer's got your addresses. I'm nearly through," he went on cheerfully; "dead I'll be in six months, as sure as—as death. Then you fellers will get the money"—he spoke slowly to give effect to his words—"you, Jimmy, or Massey or Connor or the young lady. You say you don't like puzzles, Massey? Well, it's a bad look out for you. Jimmy's the clever un, an' most likely he'll get it; Connor's artful, and he might get it from Jimmy; but the young lady's got the best chance, because women are good at puzzles."
"What in hell!" roared Massey, springing to his feet.
"Sit down!" It was Jimmy that spoke, and Massey obeyed.
"There's a puzzle about these two millions," Reale went on, and his croaky voice, with its harsh cockney accent, grew raucous in his enjoyment of Massey's perplexity and Jimmy's knit brows. "An' the one that finds the puzzle out, gets the money."
Had he been less engrossed in his own amusement he would have seen a change in Massey's brute face that would have warned him.
"It's in my will," he went on. "I'm goin' to set the sharps against the flats; the touts of the gamblin' hell—that's you two fellers—against the pigeons. Two of the biggest pigeons is dead, an' one's dying. Well, he's got a daughter; let's see what she can do. When I'm dead—"
"That's now!" bellowed Massey, and leant over and struck the old man.
Jimmy, on his feet, saw the gush of blood and the knife in Massey's hand, and reached for his pocket. Massey's pistol covered him, and the man's face was a dreadful thing to look upon.
"Hands up! It's God's truth I'll kill you if you don't!" Jimmy's hands went up.
"He's got the money here," breathed Massey, "somewhere in this house."
"You're mad," said the other contemptuously. "Why did you hit him?"
"He sat there makin' a fool of me." The murderer gave a vicious glance at the inert figure on the floor. "I want something more than his puzzle-talk. He asked for it."
He backed to the table where the decanter stood, and drank a tumbler half-filled with raw spirit.
"We're both in this, Jimmy," he said, still keeping his man covered. "You can put down your hands; no monkey tricks. Give me your pistol."
Jimmy slipped the weapon from his pocket, and handed it butt foremost to the man. Then Massey bent over the fallen man and searched his pockets.
"Here are the keys. You stay here," said Massey, and went out, closing the door after him. Jimmy heard the grate of the key, and knew he was a prisoner. He bent over the old man. He lay motionless. Jimmy tried the pulse, and felt a faint flutter. Through the clenched teeth he forced a little whisky, and after a minute the old man's eyes opened.
"Jimmy!" he whispered; then remembering, "Where's Massey?" he asked. There was no need to inquire the whereabouts of Massey. His blundering footfalls sounded in the room above.
"Lookin' for money?" gasped the old man, and something like a smile crossed his face. "Safe's up there," he whispered, and smiled again. "Got the keys?"
Jimmy nodded. The old man's eyes wandered round the room till they rested on what looked like a switchboard.
"See that handle marked 'seven'?" he whispered. Jimmy nodded again. "Pull it down, Jimmy boy." His voice was growing fainter. "This is a new one that I read in a book. Pull it down."
"Do as I tell you," the lips motioned, and Jimmy walked across the room and pulled over the insulated lever.
As he did there was a heavy thud overhead that shook the room, and then silence.
"What's that?" he asked sharply. The dying man smiled.
"That's Massey!" said the lips.
Half an hour later Jimmy left the house with a soiled slip of paper in his waistcoat pocket, on which was written the most precious verse of doggerel that the world has known. And the discovery of the two dead men in the upper chambers the next morning afforded the evening press the sensation of the year.
Nobody quite knows how Angel Esquire came to occupy the position he does at Scotland Yard. On his appointment, "An Officer of Twenty Years' Standing" wrote to the Police Review and characterized the whole thing as "a job."
Probably it was. For Angel Esquire had been many things in his short but useful career, but never a policeman. He had been a big game shot, a special correspondent, a "scratch" magistrate, and his nearest approach to occupying a responsible position in any police force in the world was when he was appointed a J.P. of Rhodesia, and, serving on the Tuli Commission, he hanged M'Linchwe and six of that black desperado's companions.
His circle of acquaintances extended to the suburbs of London, and the suburbanites, who love you to make their flesh creep, would sit in shivering but pleasurable horror whilst Angel Esquire elaborated the story of the execution.
In Mayfair Angel Esquire was best known as a successful mediator.
"Who is that old-looking young man with the wicked eye?" asked the Dowager Duchess of Hoeburn; and her vis-a-vis at the Honorable Mrs. Carter-Walker's "sit-down tea"—it was in the days when Mayfair was aping suburbia—put up his altogether unnecessary eyeglass.
"Oh, that's Angel Esquire!" he said carelessly. "What is he?" asked the Duchess.
"Oh, no. Scotland Yard."
"Good Heavens!" said Her Grace in a shocked voice. "How very dreadful! What is he doing? Watching the guests, or keeping a friendly eye on the Carter woman's spoons?"
The young man guffawed. "Don't despise old Angel, Duchess," he said. "He's a man to know. Great fellow for putting things right. If you have a row with your governor, or get into the hands of—er—undesirables, or generally, if you're in a mess of any kind, Angel's the chap to pull you out."
Her Grace surveyed the admirable man with a new interest.
Angel Esquire, with a cup of tea in one hand und a thin grass sandwich in the other, was the centre of a group of men, including the husband of the hostess. He was talking with some animation.
"I held three aces pat, and opened the pot light to let 'em in. Young Saville raised the opening a tenner, and the dealer went ten better. George Manfred, who had passed, came in for a pony, and took one card. I took two, and drew another ace. Saville took one, and the dealer stood pat. I thought it was my money, and bet a pony. Saville raised it to fifty, the dealer made it a hundred, and George Manfred doubled the bet. It was up to me. I had four aces; I put Saville with a 'full,' and the dealer with a 'flush.' I had the beating of that lot; but what about Manfred? Manfred is a feller with all the sense going. He knew what the others had. If he bet, he had the goods, so I chucked my four aces into the discard. George had a straight flush."
A chorus of approval came from the group. If "An Officer of Twenty Years' Standing" had been a listener, he might well have been further strengthened in his opinion that of all persons Mr. Angel was least fitted to fill the responsible position he did.
If the truth be told, nobody quite knew exactly what position Angel did hold.
If you turn into New Scotland Yard and ask the janitor at the door for Mr. Christopher Angel—Angel Esquire by the way was a nickname affixed by a pert little girl—the constable, having satisfied himself as to your bona fides, would take you up a flight of stairs and hand you over to yet another officer, who would conduct you through innumerable swing doors, and along uncounted corridors till he stopped before a portal inscribed "647." Within, you would find Angel Esquire sitting at his desk, doing nothing, with the aid of a Sporting Life and a small weekly guide to the Turf.
Once Mr. Commissioner himself walked into the room unannounced, and found Angel so immersed in an elaborate calculation, with big sheets of paper closely filled with figures, and open books on either hand, that he did not hear his visitor.
"What is the problem?" asked Mr. Commissioner, and Angel looked up with his sweetest smile, and recognizing his visitor, rose.
"What's the problem?" asked Mr. Commissioner again.
"A serious flaw, sir," said Angel, with all gravity. "Here's Mimosa handicapped at seven stone nine in the Friary Nursery, when, according to my calculations, she can give the field a stone, and beat any one of 'em."
The Commissioner gasped. "My dear fellow," he expostulated, "I thought you were working on the Lagos Bank business."
Angel had a far-away look in his eyes when he answered—"Oh, that is all finished. Old Carby was poisoned by a man named—forget his name now, but he was a Monrovian. I wired the Lagos police, and we caught the chap this morning at Liverpool—took him off an Elder, Dempster boat."
The Police Commissioner beamed. "My congratulations, Angel. By Jove, I thought we shouldn't have a chance of helping the people in Africa. Is there a white man in it?"
"We don't know," said Angel absently his eye was wandering up and down a column of figures on the paper before him. "I am inclined to fancy there is—man named Connor, who used to be a croupier or something to old Reale."
He frowned at the paper, and picking up a pencil from the desk, made a rapid little calculation.
"Seven stone thirteen," he muttered.
The Commissioner tapped the table impatiently. He had sunk into a seat opposite Angel.
"My dear man, who is old Reale? You forget that you are our tame foreign specialist. Lord, Angel, if you heard half the horrid things that people say about your appointment you would die of shame!"
Angel pushed aside the papers with a little laugh.
"I'm beyond shame," he said light-heartedly; "and, besides, I've heard, you were asking about Reale. Reale is a character. For twenty years proprietor of one of the most delightful gambling plants in Egypt, Rome—goodness knows where. Education—none. Hobbies—invention. That's the 'bee in his bonnet'—invention. If he's got another, it is the common or garden puzzle. Pigs in clover, missing words, all the fake competitions that cheap little papers run—he goes in for them all. Lives at 43 Terrington Square."
"Where?" The Commissioner's eyebrows rose. "Reale? 43 Terrington Square? Why, of course."
He looked at Angel queerly. "You know all about Reale?"
Angel shrugged his shoulders: "As much as anybody knows," he said.
The Commissioner nodded. "Well, take a cab and get down at once to 43 Terrington Square: Your old Reale was murdered last night."
It was peculiar of Angel Esquire that nothing surprised him. He received the most tremendous tidings with polite interest, and now he merely said, "Dear me!"
Later, as a swift hansom carried him along Whitehall he permitted himself to be "blessed."
Outside No. 43 Terrington Square a small crowd of morbid sightseers stood in gloomy anticipation of some gruesome experience or other.
A policeman admitted him, and the local inspector stopped in his interrogation of a white-faced butler bid him a curt "Good morning." Angel's preliminary inspection did not take any time. He saw the bodies, which had not yet been removed. He examined the pockets of both men, and ran his eye through the scattered papers on the floor of the room in which the tragedy had occurred. Then he came back to the big drawing-room and saw the inspector, who was sitting at a table writing his report.
"The chap on the top floor committed the murder, of course," said Angel.
"I know that," said Inspector Boyden brusquely.
"And was electrocuted by a current passing through the handle of the safe."
"I gathered that," the inspector replied as before, and went on with his work.
"The murderer's name is Massey," continued Angel patiently, "George Charles Massey."
The inspector turned in his seat with a sarcastic smile. "I also," he said pointedly, "have seen the envelopes addressed in that name, which were found in his pocket."
Angel's face was preternaturally solemn as he continued—"The third man I am not so sure about."
The inspector looked up suspiciously. "Third man—which third man?"
Well—simulated astonishment sent Angel's eye-brows to the shape of inverted V's.
"There was another man in it. Didn't you know that, Mr. Inspector?"
"I have found no evidence of the presence of a third party," he said stiffly; "but I have not yet concluded my investigations."
"Good!" said Angel cheerfully. "When you have, you will find the ends of three cigarettes—two in the room where the old man was killed, and one in the safe room. They are marked 'Al Kam,' and are a fairly expensive variety of Egyptian cigarettes. Massey smoked cigars; old Reale did not smoke at all. The question is"—he went on speaking aloud to himself, and ignoring the perplexed police official—"was it Connor or was it Jimmy?"
The inspector struggled with a desire to satisfy his curiosity at the expense of his dignity, and resolved to maintain an attitude of superior incredulity.
He turned back to his work.
"It would be jolly difficult to implicate either of them," Angel went on reflectively, addressing the back of the inspector. "They would produce fifty unimpeachable alibis, and bring an action for wrongful arrest in addition," he added artfully.
"They can't do that," said the inspector gruffly.
"Can't they?" asked the innocent Angel. "Well, at any rate, it's not advisable to arrest them. Jimmy would—"
Inspector Boyden swung round in his chair. "I don't know whether you're 'pulling my leg,' Mr. Angel. You are perhaps unused to the procedure in criminal cases in London, and I must now inform you that at present I am in charge of the ease, and must request that if you have any information bearing upon this crime to give it to me at once."
"With all the pleasure in life," said Angel heartily. "In the first place, Jimmy—"
"Full name, please." The inspector dipped his pen in ink.
"Haven't the slightest idea," said the other carelessly. "Everybody knows Jimmy. He was old Reale's most successful decoy duck. Had the presence and the plumage and looked alive, so that all the other little ducks used to come flying down and settle about him, and long before they could discover that the beautiful bird that attracted them was only painted wood and feathers, 'Bang! bang!' went old Reale's double-barrel, and roast duck was on the menu for days on end."
Inspector Boyden threw down his pen with a grunt. "I'm afraid," he said in despair, "that I cannot include your parable in my report. When you have any definite information to give, I shall be pleased to receive it."
Later, at Scotland Yard, Angel interviewed the Commissioner. "What sort of a man is Boyden to work with?" asked Mr. Commissioner.
"A most excellent chap—good-natured, obliging, and as zealous as the best of 'em," said Angel, which was his way.
"I shall leave