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Title: Adventure
Author: Fred M. White
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1100631.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: September 2011
Date most recently updated: September 2011

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

Title: Adventure
Author: Fred M. White

*

Published in the Townsville Daily Bulletin, Saturday 9 November, 1935.

*


She stood in the dock, barely conscious of her environment, clinging to
the rail in front of her as if it were some sort of Rock of Ages cleft
between her and the sea of troubles that overwhelmed her.

A thief--that was what they said--a thief. Shoplifter? A mean pilferer
of unguarded trifles! Not that a compact gold manicure set was by any
means a trifle.

She had come up from Shepperton for an afternoon's shopping. She, a
young married woman with money in her purse, and in a social position
which should have rendered her impervious to temptation. The mistress of
a delightful home, with a mate occupying a sound position in the City.
Holding her head high as she entered the mammoth store of Bronsons,
intent upon the purchase of some expensive trifle--a wedding present for
a friend who had been her bridesmaid less than a year ago. Happy and
wholly care free.

What followed was like some evil dream. A long glass counter strewn with
tempting objects in silver and gold, half a dozen women hanging over
them in patent admiration--women, like herself, adumbrating prosperity.
Then, like the flashing change of a kaleidoscope, a different and more
terrible picture. A sudden stir, a commotion, the arm of a policeman
grabbing a vanity bag (hers), and producing therefrom, like some grim
conjuror, a gold manicure set which only a few moments before had been
lying on the crystal surface of the table.

The kaleidoscope flashed once more on a prison cell, with a widely
protesting woman passionately proclaiming her innocence. A long,
distracting night in the cell, and now another and no less trying ordeal
in the shabby police court whilst a trim, self-assured young woman from
Bronsons was giving her evidence.

"No, your Worship," she said in answer to a question from the bench, "I
did not actually see the theft committed. But my suspicions were
aroused. Being one of the firm's lady detectives, it is my duty to keep
a sharp look-out on certain counters. But I did see a hand move, and
immediately I noticed that a certain article was no longer on the
counter. I also saw a woman's open bag on the counter, and came to the
conclusion that the missing article was inside it. I stopped the accused
as she was leaving the shop without making a purchase and told her she
would be detained. When the policeman came to examine the bag, the
manicure set was discovered inside. Whereupon, acting on instructions, I
gave accused into custody."

Very terse and to the point, but none the less damning for all that.
Hopelessly, Elsie Squire lifted her eyes and glanced round the court.
She met the glance of a man sitting behind the solicitors' table and
forced a smile. She could see no condemnation in her husband's eyes,
only a world of sympathy and suffering. It was good to know that one man
in the world believed in her innocence, though all the rest of creation
was against her. But here was the policeman giving his evidence.

"When called in," he said, "I found the prisoner detained in the office.
In her bag I found the article which is the subject of the charge, and
produce it in evidence."

"Is the prisoner represented?" the magistrate asked.

A little man in glasses bobbed up from his seat.

"She is, your Worship," he said. "I represent her. I hope to have an
answer to the charge, however black appearances are against her. I ask
for a remand for a week, bail being fixed as your Worship desires."

"Very well," the Bench decided. "The prisoner in 50 with a further
surety in 100. Next case."

Outside in the sunshine a large saloon car was waiting. Into it Evan
Squire handed his wife tenderly.

"You poor darling," he whispered passionately. "God, how much you must
have suffered!"

"Then you don't believe, Evan?"

"That you would even dream of such a thing? Of course not. There is some
diabolical trick of fate here. But, darling, how came your bag to be
open on the counter?"

"I was taking out my handkerchief," Elsie explained. "Do you think it
possible that, in replacing it, I swept the gold set into my bag? It was
quite a bijou set."

It was possible, Squire admitted to himself. But all the theory in the
world was so much beating of the wind.

"Are we going--home?" Elsie asked.

Impossible to face that, she was telling herself. Yet sooner or later
such would have to be done, The home she loved so well! All those
artistic treasures. The rose garden in the sun, the velvet tennis lawn.
Never again could she see life from the same perspective. And the
neighbors? The tennis club, the golf and badminton? She would have to
resign, all these social amenities.

"I--I can't go back, Evan," she said piteously.

"Not until this ordeal is over, darling," Evan reassured her. "I have
arranged all that. Last night and early this morning. I packed
everything you need, all of which is in the luggage carrier behind us.
We are on our way to Brighton now, where we shall stay until you. . .
And I am taking a week off from the office. Garden has got a theory----"

"Garden? Who is he, Evan?"

"The little lawyer man who has your case in hand," Evan explained. "The
thieves lawyer they call him. He knows the underworld better than anyone
in London. Enormous practice in police courts. Recommended to me. And
he's got a theory. He wouldn't say more than that. Cheer up, dear
heart."

*   *   *   *   *

Montagu Garden, attorney at law, sat in his office interviewing a
client. A youngish-looking woman in the early thirties with a
personality all her own. Attractive undoubtedly, and dressed with that
subtle mixture of simplicity and smartness one associates with one to
the manner born. A cigarette was in her scarlet mouth, her legs crossed
with easy abandon.

"In trouble again, Lil?" Garden asked with easy familiarity.

"You said it, Monty," the woman, known as Liverpool Lil in certain
circles, replied. "Returning to my flat just now I smelt police. And
there were the blighters. Search warrant probably. They didn't pipe me
so I got out whilst the going was good."

"Expecting to be arrested any moment?"

"And here I am."

"You can put your shirt on that, Monty. And there's lots of stuff in the
flat lifted from half the leading stores in the West End. Oh, I'm for it
all right."

"Now how many times have I warned you. . . . ."

"Oh? cut it out. Monty, I knew I was spotted last week in Savages, only
the lady tec was not dead sure, funking a possible action for damages.
You know the game."

Mr. Garden nodded. He most certainly knew the game.

"So they dropped the Yard a hint, and the Yard, knowing your record, has
been shadowing you."

"The boy guessed right the very first time. I'll be for it any old time
now, so the rest is up to you, Monty. Guilty, my Lord, and all that. Six
months' hard, I expect--what?"

Mr. Garden shook his head doubtfully.

"Don't forget that this will be the third time of asking, so to speak,"
he said. "When they trace all that stuff in your flat there will be a
dozen charges to meet. Of course we can plead guilty to the lot before
they get their oar in and fight for summary jurisdiction. If his Worship
is in one of his melting moods, we might get off lightly. By the way, is
there anything of Bronsons in that little--er--collection of yours? Have
you been a 'customer' there?"

"Only casually, Monty. The day before yesterday I did drop in there, and
a jolly narrow squeak I had. When you have been at the game as long as I
have, you learn to spot the lady tecs, by instinct, and keep your eyes
skinned accordingly. I guess I gave that young woman something to think
about."

Mr. Garden helped himself to a cigarette.

"Something original, eh?" he asked. "If you don't mind I should like to
hear that story."

Liverpool Lil proceeded to tell it. There was a queer light in the eyes
of the little attorney, though his fascinating client was unaware of
that. When, at length, she had finished, he turned to her with a smile
on his lips.

"How often have I told you--all your gang for the matter of that--how
important it is to tell me everything? You are keeping something back.
Something you are ashamed of, I am sure. Now, listen to me carefully. In
the circumstances, I can't save you, because this will be the third time
you have stood in the dock. But I might be able to get you away with six
month in the second division if you will tell me everything--mind,
everything, just as it happened when you dropped in at Bronson's the day
before yesterday."

"You are a devil," the fascinating Lil exclaimed. "You spotted it at
once, did you?"

"My dear girl, that's what I am here for. Half you people get into
trouble and suffer because you won't even tell your own solicitor the
whole truth about anything. Now, to begin with, how did you know that
the police had a search warrant?"

"Oh, as to that," Lil said lightly. "I have friends in the force."

"Yes, I suppose you have, only we need not go into that side of the
question now. What you have to do is to play the penitent. When you
leave here, go straight to Scotland Yard and make a clean breast of it.
I suppose I can take it that in your flat is more than one article that
Savage's people can identify? In other words, you have not disposed of
the whole of the loot you picked up during your visit to that
establishment. Careless, careless, just like the rest of them. Are you
never going to learn the necessity of getting rid of the stuff at once?"

"Guilty, my lord," Liverpool Lil laughed. "There were one or two things
that I couldn't bear to part with. Well, there they are in my flat, or
rather, there they were when I got the office about the search warrant.
All that splosh is in the hands of Scotland Yard by this time, you bet."

"Yes," Garden grunted. "You can see it now, can't you? And you can see
why I have got a bit of a task before me. And you can see why, when you
get to Scotland Yard, you must disguise nothing. Why, the thing that you
are ashamed to tell me is the very thing that is going to get you out of
trouble. At least, I hope it will have its effect when we come before
the Bench. You are a bit of an actress, aren't you, Lil? Play the
penitent and shed tears without any special effort?"

"I can do all that," Lil boasted.

"Ah, that's what I want. Now we are getting on. You have to go to
Scotland Yard with tears in your eyes, not dancing. Quite the humble
transgressor seeking grace. But take care not to let whoever examines
you know that you were put wise as to the raid on your flat. What you
told me just now is going to help us both. Can't you see that?"

"Since you put it in that way, I can, but I should never have thought of
it myself."

"Of course you wouldn't. If you and your kind always thought of those
little things, It would be a poor look out for lawyers like myself. Now
be off. Don't stand about here any longer. I am not in the least anxious
to have my office visited by detectives. You are not supposed to have
seen me at all, so far. You've got to assume that I know nothing until I
am called in on your behalf and visit you in your cell. And, if I were
you, I shouldn't take much trouble to avoid arrest."

       *       *       *       *       *

For some time after his engaging client had left. Garden sat at his desk
busy writing. Then he called up one or two people on the telephone and,
locking his roll-topped desk, informed his confidential clerk that he
was going off on business for the day, and would not be back before the
following morning.

Half an hour later, he was on his way to Brighton. In the seclusion of a
private hotel there, Evan Squire and his wife were passing the days
dreading the hour when Elsie would once more stand in the dock with a
certainty of shame and disgrace before her. So far, they had heard no
more of the defence at which Garden had hinted, and were miserably
speaking of it when the attorney himself walked into the room. There was
a quiet smile on his face, at the sight of which Elsie's heart began to
beat a little faster. Evan jumped on his feet.

"Any news?" he asked anxiously.

"News in plenty," Garden said. "For all I say it myself as shouldn't, it
was one of the best day's work you ever did, Mr. Squire, when you
decided to place your wife's case in my hands. I think I can say,
without boasting, that practically all the swell mob in London have
passed through my hands at one time or another. And a certain young
woman of fascinating appearance and most beautifully dressed happens to
be one of them. I assure you, Mr. Squire, if you met her in the street,
or in a private house, you would be sure that she was to the manner
born. As a matter of fact, she first saw the light in a Liverpool slub,
though, to-day, you couldn't pick a flaw in her equipment."

"What's all this to do with us?" Evan asked.

"Well, the young woman in question is a client of mine, as I told you,
and, at the present moment, is probably enjoying the hospitality of
Scotland Yard. When you came to me, Mr. Squire, and told me the story of
the gold manicure set, my mind at once jumped to a certain conclusion.
Not a coincidence, because I know the underworld so well, and I know
their ways so intimately that in 99 cases out of 100 I could put my
finger upon the real delinquent without much trouble. That happens in
the present instance. I have to be careful what I say, because the woman
in the case is a client of mine as well as your wife, who, of course, is
quite innocent."

"If we could only prove it," Evan sighed.

"That is exactly what I came down here to do. Now, this Liverpool
expert, knowing that she is for it, and having had her flat searched for
valuables lifted from various big stores, has by this time, told the
authorities everything. I wonder if you can cast your mind back a
little, Mrs. Squire. When you were standing by the jewellery counter at
Bronsons, were there other women about you? Did you notice, for
instance, one in an expensive sable coat who stood very close to you?"

"Oh, so I did," Elsie said. "A very distinguished looking woman--quite
the aristocrat, in fact."

"Otherwise--well, you can guess. I mean, somebody who hailed from
Liverpool. It was she who was the cause of all the mischief. Being very
nearly caught by one of Bronson's lady detectives, she slipped the
manicure set out of the palm of her hand into your bag. It was her one
chance of getting away in safety. I got that out of her, because,
indirectly, it is going to lead to a lighter sentence for her than she
would have had otherwise. The conscience-stricken girl who read all
about your case in the paper and has come forward, regardless of
consequence to herself, because she could not bear to see another suffer
for the crime she had committed herself. That you will hear from her own
lips when your case comes up for hearing on the adjournment. Only never
even think of this again."

"Oh, what a relief," Elsie sighed. "But do I really have to go to that
dreadful court again?"

"Why, of course you do," Garden smiled. "I can arrange for Liverpool
Lil's case to be taken just in front of yours. Then, the woman in the
dock, with--ah--tears running down her face, will vindicate you
completely. My dear lady, you will be news! Every daily paper in London
will have a column about it. And, because my client has behaved so
magnanimously. I am hoping that the magistrate will put her on
probation, although she has been before him more than once. But the
great point, Mrs. Squire, is that you will be entirely vindicated, and
not even the most evil-minded person will be able to throw a stone at
you. I think, in the circumstances, you won't mind facing a police court
again. Instead of a criminal, everybody will be making a heroine of
you."

"I don't want to be a heroine," Elsie wept happily. "All I want is to
have this dreadful stain removed from my character, so that I can go
home once more and face my friends, without any feeling of shame. I
cannot quite understand how you managed it, Mr. Garden, but that does
not make to feel any the less grateful. Oh, what it is to feel free once
again!"



THE END



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