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Title: The Rosy Cross
Author: Fred M White
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Language: English
Date first posted: January 2012
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THE MASTER CRIMINAL

VI. - THE ROSY CROSS

by

Fred M White

ILLUSTRATED BY PAUL HARDY

First published in The Ludgate, London, Nov 1897


Felix Gryde - Master Criminal


CHAPTER I

JOB POTTER cannot by any stretch of imagination be called a euphonious name, but in the case of a capitalist a little thing like this is excusable. Between Potter the millionaire and the Hon. Augustus Vansittart, the dude, the gulf was a wide one. There were, however, reasons for the friendship between them.

A common-looking little man was Potter, but shrewd withal. There was nothing solid to be obtained from Vansittart. Only there was a Mrs. Potter, away in England, ambitious for social distinction, and Vansittart might be used as a lever. Vansittart was quite ready to respond. The dinners given by Potter at the Royal Banner, Chicago, were quite poems in their way. They were dining together this evening.

"This," Potter remarked, "is my last business trip to America. A couple of months more and I return home to settle down."

"Ditto," responded the exquisite Augustus. "I haven't seen my people since I was a lad. They—er—sent me over here. And now I've come into money, don't you know. Accounts for my being here. Gad, it's worth something to have a Bond Street coat on again. All the same, the Bishop is a nuisance."

"What Bishop?" Potter asked interestedly.

"His Grace of Croydon. Sort of connection. Came out here for his health. So I arranged to meet 'em here and go home together. They arrive to-morrow. Guess they won't recognise me. And it's a good job Lady Ella's along."

"And who may Lady Ella be?"

Potter rang the title sonorously.

"Niece, old chap. Regular beauty, and a flier. But don't worry. I shall certainly tell them how kind you have been to me, and if you like, when they do come, I'll get the old man and Ella to come and dine with you."

Potter beamed. If he played his cards right, here was a fine opening for the introduction to capital S Society for which Mrs. Potter yearned. More for an advertisement of this kind than anything else, he had bought the "Rosy Cross" diamond.

"Delighted," he said. "I'll show Lady Ella the 'Rosy Cross.' Women love diamonds. Suppose you saw by the papers I'd bought the stone?"

Vansittart succumbed to a yawn.

"Yes," he drawled; "you syndicate chaps will be after the earth next."

"It's a pretty stone," Potter said parenthetically. "Like to see it?"

Vansittart nodded, but did not enthuse, although the famous gem known as the "Rosy Cross" was exciting a deal of interest just at present. The stone, or rather a cluster of stones, long and twisted like a snake, was supposed to have been found in California, but good judges declared it to be a stolen Brazilian treasure brought to that favoured spot, buried and dug up again so as to give the yarn local colour.

Roughly speaking, the stones might have been worth £100,000—as a matter of fact, they might have fetched double that. Potter brought the curio from his adjacent bedroom, for they were dining privately, and handed it to Vansittart.

"Pretty little thing, isn't it?" he asked complacently.

Vansittart boiled up enough enthusiasm to say yes. Had Potter only known how near he stood to being shot in cold blood and robbed of his treasure then and there, he would have looked less satisfied. Vansittart, otherwise Felix Gryde, lighted another cigarette with the air of a man who regards life as too violent an exercise.

"Put the thing up," he said. "Think I'll go to bed; I'm tired to death. Let you know when the Bishop and Lady Ella come along."


* * * * *

Three days later Potter was flustered and delighted to hear that the Right Reverend the Bishop of Croydon had arrived with Lady Ella, and would the millionaire mind if they dined with him on the Friday? Their eastern train left on the Monday morning, so there was not much time.

It need hardly be said that Potter was delighted. The manager of the Royal Banner was interviewed, and departed with carte blanche and a promise of no quibbling over the bill if everything was "done up to the 'ilt."

Thereupon a suite of rooms were actually transformed for the occasion. A bed-chamber was specially furnished for Lady Ella, also a dressing-room for the Bishop, to say nothing of a drawing-room where after the amber wine had ceased to foam her ladyship should dazzle the men with her beauty and dispense to them coffee and sweet smiles.

"Blow the expense," said Potter; "these are the nobs I'm after. I'll give these toffs something to talk about when they get home. Lord, won't Maria be pleased when she hears all about it!"

The appointed time came and with it Lady Ella and the Bishop. They were gracious and pleasant to the last degree. Before the evening was over Potter felt that Lady Ella had no equal in the wide world. A woman so beautiful and so fascinating had never before crossed his limited horizon.

She was elusive as a dream and fascinating as Ninon. An instinctive knowledge of the genuine was amongst Potter's many gifts—an expert in precious stones is born, not made—and he knew that Lady Ella rang true. Without any previous knowledge of patrician dames, he would at once have recognised and resented any attempt to pass off a counterfeit article.

Lady Ella was gracious and friendly. She appeared to recognise Potter as of her own world, and at the same time conveyed to his senses in an incense-like way the wide difference between them.

Potter found Lady Ella and himself drifting apart from the others. The Bishop appeared to be wrapped up in Vansittart, Lady Ella became confidential. It was not long before she had found out all about Maria.

"Bolton Gardens," she said sweetly; "I don't remember meeting your wife anywhere, Mr. Potter. I must get the Duchess to call."

This was a little vague, but none the less delightful. Potter was curious to know what duchess, but he asked no questions.

"You will be glad to get home, Lady Ella," he said.

"In a way, yes. All the same I am delighted with America. But the dear Bishop is a terrible responsibility. Nervous prostration, you know."

Potter glanced at the Bishop and expressed his sympathy. Despite his handsome face and dignified bearing the Bishop looked anything but strong.

"The sea voyage ought to set him up," he said.

"That is just what I am afraid of," Lady Ella murmured. "The racket and confusion of a long railway journey tries my poor uncle terribly. Constant rest and quietness are absolutely essential to him. It was our mistake—we thought the change and bustle would work wonders. I am so sorry we did not accept the Prince's offer, and use his steam yacht to cross the Atlantic. If I could get a special car to take us from here to New York I should feel easier; really I feel quite capable of pawning my jewels to do so. But that is impossible."

"You would feel more satisfied yourself?"

"Well, no. My nerves need no bracing, and I am looking forward to my trip on the cars. But the Bishop does not care for company, and the expense of a special car—if I could only borrow one of those belonging to those travelling American millionaires. The rest of the voyage could be nothing. But I am talking nonsense."

Potter smiled. He saw a way to clinch the matter of the apochryphal duchess and the friendly call at Bolton Gardens. Mi1lionaires have so many psychological moments from whence to pluck solid opportunities.

"You've come to the right shop," he began. "I mean that I can procure for you the very thing you require. You have perhaps heard of the Pullman built for Duke Alexis when he was doing America."

Lady Ella had. It had been specially designed for a Tartar prince desirous of new channels for the dissipation of his fortune before Monaco came in still more handy for the purpose.

"She was a dream, they tell me," said Lady Ella. "After the prince shot himself she was purchased by some billionaire. Do you know her?"

"Rather," Potter chuckled. "I bought her. Always travelling from place to place I find it a great advantage to run my own Pullman car. The last three journeys here I have made in the saloon. Anyway, she's here now doing nothing for the next few months, and if you like to take the car to New York and give the Bishop the quiet he requires, why take her and welcome, say I."


LADY ELLA WAS DEEPLY TOUCHED

Lady Ella was touched, deeply touched by this friendly offer. She did not say that Augustus had suggested the idea. At first she could not consent to hear anything of the kind. Then she began to struggle between proper pride and her duty towards the Bishop. Should she allow sentiment to stand in the way of a man who by common consent must be the next Primate?

"Uncle shall decide," she said, "but in any case, Mr. Potter, we shall never be able to repay you this great service. Uncle, what do you think Mr. Potter says?"

The Bishop protested. He could not dream of such a thing, he said. His white slim hands were upraised against the temptress. No, he would suffer in silence, he would fight against his nervousness and conquer. Nothing could induce him to listen to such a suggestion, and then, five minutes later, like Byron's fair frail one in that most delightful of all epics:

Swearing he would ne'er consent—consented.

Potter was quite touched to see the change in the Bishop. That good man had evidently fought hard against the dread anticipation of the uncongenial journey. His kindly face became all smiles, he checked himself humming an operatic fragment. Potter glowed with the consciousness of a kindly action well done. Besides, the Primate might one day come and dine in Bolton Gardens.

"Positively, I am ashamed of myself," said the Bishop. "But I am not going to be selfish. Is there anything we can do in return? I feel that nothing could repay you for this—er—stupendous kindness. Mr. Potter, I verily believe that you have saved my reason."

Potter expressed his delight. He began to dream of himself as Lcrd Potter and of Maria as leading a salon in Bolton Gardens.

"You can't do much," he chuckled, only you might keep your eye on the expressmen on the journey. I'm going to send the 'Rosy Cross' to my bankers by your train."

Lady Ella was deeply interested. Earlier in the evening she had examined and admired that wonderful stone. She declared herself to be thrilled. "You shan't lose it if I can help it," she said.

"Good-night, Mr. Potter!"


* * * * *

During the next day and a-half Vansittart found it necessary to leave his relatives to their own devices in Chicago. Had they seen and watched his movements they would have been both interested and puzzled. By the next evening he was some four hundred miles by mail express along the line. There he alighted with some cases, which he proceeded to place in a buggy awaiting him. Then he drove off through the lonely country alone. Presently he struck the railway-track again at a point where some scrub growing from a deep still part hung close to the edge of the rails. The work took some two hours, but at length it was finished. When Vansittart had completed his task, some sixty feet of the scrub was covered by a strong spongy net, such as acrobats used when fired from cannons, and such-like engaging occupations. Vansittart regarded the thing with satisfaction. The perspiration poured down his face.

But he had not finished yet. Some ten miles nearer to Chicago, in an equally desolate spot, stood a cluster of tall trees, one of which Vansittart proceeded to climb with some large brass instrument in his hand. This was nothing more or less than a powerful oil lamp, which was fixed presently and lighted.


A POWERFUL OIL LAMP

"There!" Vansittart muttered, in a self-satisfied tone, "I calculate that will burn for fifty-six hours; and nobody is likely to come along and disturb it. If they do, so much the worse for Potter. If all goes well and he does meet with an accident here, he won't come to any harm. And what a pleasant time the Bishop and Lady Ella will have afterwards."

Vansittart returned to his horses and drove back to the depot where he had alighted. There was some time to wait for a western train, but it came at length; and long before Chicago was astir, the adventurer was back again. At breakfast-time the Honourable Augustus Vansittart lounged into the private apartment of his Grace of Croydon in his most used-up condition.

"You look as if you had been working hard," Lady Ella laughed.

"Awfully," came the drawling response.

"'Pon my word, I've quite an appetite."

CHAPTER II

WITHIN half-an-hour of the departure of the New York express a breathless individual burst, without ceremony, into Mr. Potter's office.

"My name is Barnes, and I am a detective from New York," he said. "I should have got here before only the rascals got wind of me, and I've been a prisoner for two days. They think I'm safe for a few days."

"What the deuce are you talking about?" Potter demanded.

"I'm talking about the 'Rosy Cross,'" Barnes responded drily, "and I'm talking about the dear Bishop, and Lady Ella, and the Honourable Augustus to boot. There's a very pretty plot afoot to swindle you out of your big diamond."

And Barnes proceeded to reel off a graphic story of personal abduction. He also proceeded to describe the plan for getting the big diamond from the safe.

"We must telegraph," Potter explained. "They've got my private Pullman, and--"

"The wire won't do," Barnes interrupted. "They may be safely off the train in two hours-perhaps the first stop at Fort Anson. Look here, I've got the thing all cut and dried, and if you want to keep your marble, you must do as you're told. The thieves won't recognise me in this disguise, and we shall lay hands upon them yet. You run off to the Central Depot and order a special train to be ready in half-an-hour."

"In the name of common sense, what for?"

"For you and I to pursue the fugitives. I calculate if we are off in an hour we shall catch the express at Winchester. It will be dark then, and we can step aboard the train without being noticed, only we are strangers, mind. Then you'll have to go to the office and get an authority from the Company for their man to give you the package from the safe."

"Man, you are talking like an idiot."

"Nonsense," Barnes said confidently, "a man with your money can do anything. If you mean to allow your jewel to go without an effort, why--"

But Potter was not made of that class of stuff. Within fifty-seven minutes by the watch a special engine and car pulled out of Chicago, and, what was more, Potter had the Express Company's permit in his pocket. His mind did not dwell upon Bolton Gardens now: he groaned to himself as he thought of the cost of this little adventure. And Lady Ella--

Barnes rudely interrupted these gloomy meditations.

"I had better tell you what my plans are," he said. "How I got on the track of those folks matters little. I did get on it, anyway, and I discovered what their game was. Like most of us, I wanted to get all the kudos of a single-handed capture, and that's why I didn't come to you in the first place. I'd got everything ready—-there's an empty berth and a pile of personal luggage waiting for me on the express now—when they lured me away as neatly as possible, and, I suppose, deemed me to be safe for a spell. Now, my idea is this. Directly you board the train, get your property, then go along to your private saloon and drop in on those people in the most natural way. Don't make any disguise about the special—say you are bound to catch up the express so as to be in New York on a certain day. Don't bother about me at all; I shall be all right. But whatever you do, get your property. As you do so, walk away whistling 'Yankee Doodle.' That will be my signal. The rest of the programme I'll tell you later on."

Potter listened carefully to these instructions. For the next hour or two he paced the saloon restlessly, a prey to the keenest anxiety. If they were to miss the train the consequences might be serious. And there was no stop after Winchester for eight hundred miles. Barnes, on the other hand, was perfectly confident.

"I figured it all out carefully before we started," he said. "We shall have eight minutes to spare. We'll do those rascals yet."

This prophesy was fulfilled to the letter. It was quite dark by the time the special steamed into Winchester depot, and the welcome tail-lights of the express made a pleasing picture in Potter's eyes.

"Now, don't forget," Barnes whispered, "get your gem first. I can do nothing until I know that you have it safely or otherwise. I'm going to my berth. When the time comes to strike, expect me. But not before."

Barnes went straight away for his berth with the carriage of a man who knows exactly what he is doing. When he emerged into the light again, strange to say, all trace of Barnes had disappeared, and the Hon. Augustus Vansittart stood in his stead. Then he hurried along to the Pullman. As he strolled gently in Lady Ella cried out:

"Upon my word, you are too provoking," she said. "Here we have been worrying about you, and you are on the train ail the time."

"I did it to punish you," said Vansittart, "you were so rude last night."

"And whose fault was that, pray?"

"Yours, of course," responded the imperturbable Augustus. "Still, I forgive you, my child. As a matter of fact, I did only catch the train by the skin of my teeth. I hope you are enjoying this unwonted splendour."

"For my part I regard it as a blessing," the Bishop said unctiously. "In the present condition of my nervous system, the absence of stir and chatter"

"The Duchess of Mayfair is aboard," Lady Ella interrupted.

Vansittart lifted his eyebrows,although he knew the fact perfectly well. The Bishop groaned, for already the Duchess had proved the one fly in the clarity of his amber, her grace being a philanthropist who regarded a prelate as her natural prey.

Someone at this moment came down the corridor whistling "Yankee Doodle."

Vansittart's eyes flashed for an instant, then they resumed their sleepy expression. Then the door was pulled aside, and a pallid face with an uneasy grin on it looked in.

"Mr. Potter," Lady Ella cried, "are you a magician or--"

"'Uman, merely 'uman," Potter murmured. "Don't wonder you are surprised to see me. Fact is, directly you had gone I got a telegram that made it necessary to get to New York without delay. I chartered a special to catch you, and here I am."

Lady Ella expressed her pleasure. If she and the Bishop were acting they were doing it marvellously well. Not the slightest sign of uneasiness was to be detected. Potter began to fee! a little more at his ease. If their bearing impressed him, it seemed pretty certain that their suspicions had not been aroused. They sat chatting there for the next two hours. Then Vansittart rose under pretence of a desire to smoke. Some minutes later he looked in again.

"Sorry to disturb your little symposium," he said, "but the Duchess urgently desires to see her friend the Bishop. Shall she come here, or--"

He of Croydon rose with a smothered groan.

"No, no," he said; "of the two evils I would far rather go to her Grace. Once she invades my little sanctum my peace will be broken for the rest of the voyage. A good woman, a most devout woman, Mr. Potter; but her voice--Ella, will you accompany me? I shall get away all the sooner if you do."

Ella rose to her feet at once.

"Certainly," she said, cheerfully. "I will do anything you please. We shall be back as soon as we possibly can, Mr. Potter."

The door closed behind them. Potter measured Vansittart with his eye. The "Rosy Cross" in his pocket rendered him slightly nervous. Still, in a hand-to-hand struggle with a delicate youth like the one opposite—and Barnes was near. Vansittart drew back one of the sliding panels and stepped on to the gangway.

"It's too hot to be in there a night like this," he said.

He made no suggestion that Potter should join him, which was the reason, perhaps, why the other did so without hesitation. The express car gliding along with lightning speed, the low handrail would have been no protection in case of a struggle.

"What's that down the track yonder?" Potter asked presently. "That light."

"Don't know," Vansittart said carelessly; "it must be five or six miles away yet. Looks to me like a lantern burning on a hill."

"A signal of some kind, perhaps. All the same, I--"

Potter said no more. With a cat-like spring, Vansittart was upon him. There was not the slightest chance for the startled millionaire to cry out, for he was pinned down to the gangway with the grip of a vice, and a handkerchief drenched in some pungent smelling compound was rammed into his throat.


VANSITTART WAS UPON HIM

The next few seconds passed like a dream of minutes. Potter was vaguely conscious of nimble hands going over his pockets, of a low, pleased chuckle, and when he came to himself the gag was still in his mouth. As he scrambled to his feet, he was raised like a child and tossed over the handrail. Almost to a yard he alighted on the spot where Vansittart had intended. The scrub and moss and water broke the force of the fall. And when the discomfited millionaire rose, bruised and giddy, but otherwise unscathed, he could see the tail lamps of the express getting fainter and fainter in the night haze.

Panting and breathless from the struggle, Felix Gryde leaned against the rail. He had closed the panel behind him; he stood in a strip of black darkness. On either side of him the train emitted a stream of dazzling light.

Gryde smiled to himself, for the "Rosy Cross " was in his pocket, and his faithful beacon light flashed ahead. Not one of his carefully-laid plans had gone astray.

He heard the saloon door open, and Lady Ella's voice calling him.

"Coming," he replied. "Mr. Potter and I are discussing a little business. Don't open the slide—its fearfully dusty here."

Then Gryde stood up on the rail, and balanced himself as well as possible. As the train shot past the beacon lamp he began to count slowly up to ten.

"Neck or nothing," he muttered; "here goes!"

He launched himself with a spring into the blackness of the night. The next seconds was an eternity. Then he touched something; there was a rebound, an elastic thrill, as Gryde rolled over and over in the net. He had escaped with not so much as a single scratch.

The rest of the adventure was child's play. Gryde was not the man to leave anything undone. He knew exactly where he was and what to do next. By the time that daylight came the lantern, the net, plus the elegant Bond Street attire of the Hon. Augustus, were buried deep in a pool, and ere sunrise a typical cowboy was making his way across the plain in the direction of the thriving " city " of Birmingham.


A TYPICAL COWBOY

* * * * *

A few days later in the Central Hotel, New York, an angry and sore—with more senses than one—millionaire was having an anything but pleasant interview with the Chief of Police, the Bishop of Croydon and Lady Ella.

"I can assure you, Mr. Potter," said the official suavely, "your friends here are as innocent as yourself. And that they are really what they represent themselves to be, I am in a position to positively prove."

"We have been grossly deceived," quoth the Bishop. "That rascal, it turns out, was no relation to us at all. My real nephew is on his way here, and until he got my cable was not aware of his good fortune. That swindler must have met my nephew, and gleaned enough family history to be able to blind us to his real character."

"And he looked like a gentleman," Potter groaned.

"Many thieves are well educated," said the Chief. "Indeed, a robbery of this kind could only have been planned and carried out by a man of marked intelligence. Probably he gleaned what you were going to do with your diamond, and the coming of the Bishop and Lady Ella to Chicago—which he could glean from the papers—gave him the inspiration. A man like that is always ready to turn opportunities to account."

Potter groaned again. Lady Ella looked sweetly sympathetic.

"He must have been clever in disuise," she said.

"You're right there," Potter moaned.

"Fancy his acting two men to me like that, and I never tumbled. And you'll never catch him either."

The Chief smiled mysteriously. It was his duty to do so, but privately he was quite of Potter's opinion. Then followed an awkward silence. Lady Ella came to the rescue in her charming way as usual.

"Well," she said, "in any case we shall never forget your kindness, Mr. Potter. And when we get home I shall most assuredly make it a point to call at Bolton Gardens. Doubtless you will forgive us in time."

Potter grasped the proffered hand.

"I'm quite sure of one thing," he said; "if I don't, my wife will."


Felix Gryde - Master Criminal


THE END

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