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Title: General Marcos
Author: Fred M White
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eBook No.: 1200581h.html
Language: English
Date first posted: January 2012
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THE MASTER CRIMINAL

XII. - GENERAL MARCOS

by

Fred M White

ILLUSTRATED BY PAUL HARDY

First published in The Ludgate, London, May 1898


Felix Gryde - Master Criminal


CHAPTER I

THE Cretan ferment was at its height. Daily did the Chronicle fume and fret, and call upon England to do something. And yet business proceeded as usual, for level-headed men refused to "enthuse" over gallant Greece in her attempt to obtain immortality and Crete at one and the same time.

Still, there were not wanting thousands of people ready to find both money and sympathy for the cause of liberty. And when the Athens correspondent of the Chronicle announced that General Marcos was on his way to England, a gentle thrill of excitement swayed the pulses of the humanitarians.

Marcos' mission was twofold. In the first place, he desired to make clear the Hellenic side of the question, and collect subscriptions for the good cause at the same time. For, beyond all question, the descendants of those famous warriors were very hard up indeed. And Marcos, who had a fine histrionic talent, and some little knowledge of war, hoped to clear some thousands of pounds by the expedition.

It was rather unfortunate that neither the Star nor Chronicle could supply their readers with the photograph of the illustrious warrior who had so suddenly flashed out of nothingness into the concrete form of a celebrity. An urgent wire to Athens was despatched, asking that the void should be filled.

Meanwhile an astute brain was doing its best to supply the deficiency. There was here the material for an adventure, and an opening for ultimate income after Gryde's own heart. He had come along in the hope of something turning up in the near East, and it looked as if he were not to be disappointed.

The newspaper man was up country—at the residence of General Marcos, in fact—when the demand for the photograph came. The American war correspondent, Horace Melville, also formed one of the party. To clear the situation, it would be as well to state that Melville and Gryde were one and the same person. The newspaper man had taken quite a fancy to the jocund American.

"By Jove! I never thought about the photograph," he said. "Marcos is sure to have one. But how to get it to Athens? I can't possibly leave here for a day or two, and then I am going down to the coast when the General's departed."

"I'll go," Melville said promptly. "It's a bit of a risk over those hills alone, but I daresay I shall manage to get through, I've been in Greece so many times."

The disciple of the journalistic-hysterical thanked Melville warmly. Just now his hands were very full indeed, coaching Marcos, whose English was only fair, and further down the coast some English marines had been stealing cockles or some other blazing atrocity.

"You are very good," he said, "and I accept your offer. Perhaps you wouldn't mind posting a batch of copy for me as well. I'll put the photo inside."

Gryde promised to do as desired. It would be a week later, he heard, before Marcos passed by the same road that he was taking to the coast. Then the messenger rode off as if all the furies were pressing close behind him. Not that he proceeded straight to Athens with his native servant; he had a little business to do first. He turned out of the beaten track, and rode far into the hills till night began to fall.

The place where Gryde and his servant Luli pulled rein at length was wild and deserted. High above them towered a range of mountains, fir-covered almost to the summit. There was no sign of life anywhere.

"If this is the spot," said Gryde, "you can give the signal, Luli."

The murderous-looking and none too cleanly Greek placed his fingers to his lips and three times emitted a peculiar whistling scream. Presently there came an answering reply. Two men dropped hand over hand, apparently from the heights, and in a short space of time stood before Gryde and his companion, Nicholi bowed, with the air of one who appreciates his worth. He had the reputation of being the most daring brigand on the peninsula.


'LULI GAVE YOU MY MESSAGE, OF COURSE,' SAID GRYDE

"Luli gave you my message, of course," said Gryde. "You know what to do?"

Nicholi nodded, and pulled draughtily at his cigarette.

"Oh, yes," he responded. "I am to make myself master of the General. Also I am to detain him here until I hear from you again; also you are to pay me--"

"Five hundred pounds in good English gold," said Gryde. "Here are the sovereigns. As to the rest, Marcos passes this way on Tuesday. He will have one servant only."

"And my band number seven," Nicholi said, with a smile. "If I remember, your Excellency was to provide me with a pair of American revolvers."

"I have brought them. You fully understand me? The thing is quite simple and easy. As to the rest, Luli will let you hear. I can stay with you no longer; in fact, I must be in Athens by daylight."

When finally Gryde did arrive in Athens, it was alone, for he had rid himself of Luli. And, moreover, he was disguised beyond recognition. He wore the undress uniform of a Greek general, and he looked the character to the life. There was no need to ask any questions, because Gryde knew Athens perfectly well.

Once Gryde had thoroughly rested himself and partaken of food, he proceeded to the modern part of the city, and there entered a photographer's establishment. Needless to say the proprietor was an Englishman, nothing of an up-to-date character like that could have appealed to the Greek native. And there were always plenty of tourists there. The proprietor received Gryde in person, and asked his requirements.

"Well," Gryde responded, "I want my photograph taken. One good cabinet will be sufficient, and I shall require it to-morrow afternoon, properly mounted. I know I am asking a great deal, but I am prepared to pay for the accommodation.

The photographer demurred a little, and finally agreed, as Gryde knew quite well he would. These were the little things that money always procures. The first attempt proved quite successful, and Gryde left the shop with the assurance that the mounted print would be ready for him on the following afternoon.

He was perfectly satisfied with the same when he got it. So far everything had proceeded with the greatest smoothness. Gryde had embarked in more promising ventures, so far as their pecuniary side were concerned, but he could recall nothing that pleased him better than the present undertaking, there was such an element of adventure about it. Gryde smiled as he laid the portrait on the table of his sitting-room. Then he produced the bulky envelope he had promised to forward to the Chronicle office. A little hot water released the flap, and Gryde proceeded to exchange the two photographs, substituting his own for the original, which he carefully destroyed.

"The thing looks like a success," he muttered, "nobody will know but what Marcos is in England; indeed, will they not see his name in the papers? Who would dream that he was close to his own house all the time? And Nicholi will hold him safe, or forfeit the other half of his money. I've only to wait till Tuesday and then--"

Tuesday came in due course, and towards nightfall Gryde strolled out of the city. At a place where the road was deserted he paused before a flat stone lying in the rank grass and flowers. Gryde raised this.

Beneath he found a piece of dirty folded paper. He opened it, and read the pencilled scrawl with more eagerness than usual.


BENEATH HE FOUND A PIECE OF DIRTY FOLDED PAPER

"We have caught the bird," it ran, "and caged him. Nicholi."

Gryde gave a smile of satisfaction.

"The time has come," he said, "the time to act. Positively my last venture looks like being the most fascinating of the lot."

Twenty-four hours later Gryde was steaming towards England.

CHAPTER II

THE portrait of General Marcos duly appeared, and for once in a way did not constitute the libel which generally follows on pictorial art in penny daily papers. A glowing biography was attached, the perusal of which caused Gryde to smile, for, sooth to say, his insight into human nature was extensive and peculiar; and, from personal knowledge of Marcos, Gryde would not have written him down either as a hero or philanthropist.

Still, there is always an opening for a lion in London, even though there may be more than a suspicion of clockwork about him, and just for the present the celebrity market was tight. Nansen was elsewhere, and there was nobody to take his place. Moreover, the Greeks had not hitherto forwarded anything like a favourable specimen; and the Cretan question really was occupying a good deal of public attention.

There were some hundreds of thousands of people who were burning with sympathy and full of natural horror of the unspeakable Turk. The morning following "Marcos'" arrival, he held quite a levée in his private room at the Métropole.

Quite aknot of prominent journalists— the kind who write "program"—were there. In their raid they had captured a Duke, a poor thing from a democratic point of view, but quite the most reliable brand in the way of a chairman. The Duke of Clifton, who was young and terribly in earnest, spent most of his time occupying chairs. For the rest, his flagrant socialism was quite a matter of the cuticle.

"We can promise you a grand reception," said the editor of the Telephone; "a strong committee has been formed of which his Grace here is the chairman."

"His Grace is very kind," Gryde said solemnly.

"And we have arranged for a great demonstration in Hyde Park on Sunday!" another journalist put in eagerly.

"We estimate that half a million will be present. It is very fortunate, General, that you have such a command of our tongue."

"You expect me to speak?" Gryde asked. He had overlooked this fact, and to boil up the necessary enthusiasm would be a strain.

"It will be absolutely essential," the Duke remarked; "the very thing we require. You will be able to sway your audience at will."

"And touch their pockets also," Gryde said, with a queer smile. "Shall I confess I came here for that purpose. A poor nation like Greece--"

The Duke hastened to give the desired assurances.

"We have not been idle," he said, "mass meetings are already arranged in all the great towns. Thousands will respond cheerfully to the call. On Sunday you will get an idea what England is like when her ire is roused."

For the first time since the commencement of the present adventure, Gryde began to wish that he had turned his genius in some other channel. It looked as if he was going to be profoundly bored by the whole thing. And if there was one human attribute he disliked more than another it was enthusiasm. Enthusiasm led to all kinds of troubles. All the same, there could be no drawing back now.

The great demonstration duly came off, but the half million of people were conspicuous by their absence. Round the dozen platforms a thin black line gathered, and then finally it came on a pelting storm. Gryde rejoiced from the bottom of his heart.

Nobody appeared to be pleased save the editor of the Telephone. He spoke of the enthusiasm and the crowd, though he was not quite certain that the attendance numbered half a million. He desired to be quite fair, he had no desire to menace the Government unduly as he nobly knocked off an odd fifty thousand.

"All the same," Gryde remarked subsequently, "the thing was an absolute failure. If the North of England only turns out to be the same."

But your real journalist is nothing if not sanguine.

"Wait till you have been to Ironborough," he said.

And after Ironborough, Gryde was fain to confess that things were better than he had anticipated.

The town in question was a great Radical centre; its leading lights were men of wealth, and some six thousand people had gathered for the occasion. At the end of three hours Gryde retired to his hotel the richer by over £4,000. This collection being so large, it was only natural that Coalville, an adjacent and small city, being a city, should desire to go one better. £6,000 odd were collected, and, in the course of a fortnight, Gryde began to feel that he was not living in vain.

An immense concourse of people were packed into the Maryport Town Hall. The Duke of Clifton occupied the chair, and the platform boasted of many a shining light besides. A month had passed, and this was the final meeting in the North, a special effort to wind up a successful tour.

Gryde sat waiting for his turn to speak. He was fairly satisfied, and utterly tired of the whole business. Nearly a hundred thousand pounds had passed into his hands, and he had quite made up his mind, once London was reached, to conveniently disappear. His thoughts were wandering away in the direction of the Southern seas, visions of rest and peace, and sunshine, floated before his eyes.

Then he aroused himself with an effort. Somebody was tugging at his coat-tails. A verbose local actor had just sat down amidst an audible but not too flattering sigh of relief, and Gryde declared that his time had come to speak.

As he lifted himself to his feet a hurricane of cheers burst forth. All he could see was a seething sea of faces as his vision cleared and his senses grew alert. For twenty minutes Gryde was followed with rapt attention. The silence was vivid. A disturbance at the door was followed by a long and angry hiss. Gryde paused. He could hear voices, one of which struck him as familiar. Somebody was trying to come in, and the doorkeeper seemed equally anxious to keep the intruder out. Then the dispute seemed to be ended and two people entered.

Not a muscle of Gryde's face moved, although in that instant he recognised the fact that he stood in the most deadly peril. To a certain extent he was prepared for this emergency—if only he were outside the hall.

But then he was penned in by thousands of people. Instantly Gryde's hand went behind him, and the touch of something hard in his pistol-pocket had a reassuring effect. For in those two men standing there grim and quiet in the door way Gryde recognised two enemies.

They were the Athens correspondent of the Chronicle and the real General Marcos!

Gryde had no occasion for any one to tell him what had happened. Either Marcos had escaped or the brigand Nicholi had betrayed him. Then these two had met, they had compared notes over fugitive English papers, and come to the logical conclusion that some one had played a daring and rascally trick upon them.

It mattered little to Gryde whom they suspected. To all practical purposes they had the daring impostor at their mercy. And meanwhile, given a few minutes' start, Gryde could have laughed at his victims. He had all his changes ready to be used the moment they were required. And in moving from town to town he had not neglected this precaution.

He spoke on quietly and steadily. Not for a fraction of a second did his iron nerve desert him. And all the time he was racking his brain for some way out. Then, with a reckless trust in his own good fortune and fertility of resource, he sat down.

By this time the enemy had pushed their way forward to the edge of the platform. The mine was about to be exploded.

"Excuse my interruption," said the "Special," with slow incisiveness, "but I have a painful task to perform. The man who has just sat down is a swindler and impostor. The gentleman by my side is the real General Marcos."

No uproar followed the statement, it was too stupendous.

"Does anybody know the speaker?" some one asked at length.

"I know him for one," the Chairman replied; "in fact, a good many of us do. This is a serious charge made by a responsible man. What does our friend say?"

The Duke turned interrogatively to Gryde. He smiled calmly.

"Nothing whatever," he responded, "only that this is a dramatic interlude which I did not anticipate. My character is entirely in your hands. If you will permit me to retire"

A burly figure on the platform barred the way.

"A, no ya don't," came the grim response. "This has to be settled here and now."

Gryde resumed his seat with a polite smile. The audience followed spellbound.

"Perhaps it would be as well," suggested the Chairman, "if those gentlemen came on the platform and made their charge in a more regular manner."

The thing was done accordingly. The "Special " was first to speak.

"What I am going to say I am in a position to prove," he said. "Who that impostor really is I neither know nor care. For the present I suspect him to be one Melville who imposed upon me under the guise of an American correspondent. The rest emanated from his own busy brain. Knowing the country well, he bribed a noted brigand, Nicholi by name, to kidnap the general. Then he proceeded to Athens with a letter of mine containing a photograph of my companion. This was artfully changed for one of his in the character he now represents. The plot was all the more ingenious because nobody in England knew the real Marcos, and so long as we saw his name in the papers we should not dream that any evil had overtaken him. Fortunately we are in time to prevent further mischief."

Gryde did not need to look up to see what effect this statement had on the audience. He could feel that they believed every word. An angry murmur swelled to a roar.

"Silence!" the Chairman cried; "we must hear the other side. Now, sir?" He turned to Gryde, who shrugged his shoulders.

"Have you nothing to say?" asked the Duke.

"Absolutely nothing," Gryde smiled. "Why fight facts?"

"Then you admit you are an impostor. If you would like to do anything--"

Gryde rose to his feet, his hand went behind him. The light of battle was in his eyes. It was one man against thousands. There was a million to one chance.

"I should like," he said, "I should like to do this."

As the last word escaped his lips he jumped from the platform to the floor. Then the gas-lights gleamed upon a revolver barrel.

"Back!" Gryde cried. "The first man who touches me dies."

The terrified crowd huddled on either side like sheep. The glare in Gryde's eyes seemed to freeze them. As one bolder than the rest put out a hand, Gryde fired past his head. Women screamed and fainted. Gryde pushed his way to the door.

His resolute will seemed to carry all before him. He could see the darkness of the street beyond. Once outside and he might yet be free. A resolute dash, and then--

Then a stalwart policeman grappled with him. A second later and others would overpower him. There was a whip-like crack, a dazzling flash, and the officer's right arm hung useless at his side. With a yell of triumph, Gryde dashed into the street.

But all danger was not yet averted. There were men young and strong in the audience who tumbled down the steps of the hall and dashed after the fugitive. Sprinting was not one of Gryde's accomplishments, and he found himself hard pressed.

More than once he doubled and turned. Folks passing stopped and wondered; and there was the chance of being pulled down at any time. Gryde became suddenly conscious that he was passing the door of his own hotel.

Could he dart sideways into this unseen and lie hidden till the foe had passed? There was just a chance that he might do so. A minute later he had flashed into the hall and taken his way up the stairs to his own room. Here he washed his face and cast off his disguise. Then he crept to the head of the stairs and listened.

Silence below, silence for a little time, and then familiar voices. Gryde could hear what they were saying distinctly. Every word he followed intently.

"We must wait till the police come," said one. "No doubt he thinks he has tricked us finely, and for the present he will remain where he is. As the fellow is armed, we shall have to proceed cautiously."

The slow minutes passed. If only Gryde had a disguise here. But that was lying hidden in a spot outside the town. A bell rang close by, a waiter came along carrying something on a tray for a sitting-room on the same landing. Gryde stood hidden in the doorway until the waiter passed again. Then he stepped out. He had made up his mind what to do.

"You are busy?" he asked.

"No, sir," responded the other, "I am just going off duty. Can I do--"

He said no more. Gryde had him by the throat with a grip like steel. He dragged the frightened man into his room and closed the door. The waiter made no struggle, he was absolutely limp with fear.

With a smile Gryde relaxed the scalding grasp.

"I should advise you not to make a noise," he suggested grimly.

"I've got a wife," the panic-stricken waiter gurgled, "and two kids, and I--"

Gryde froze the man with a look. There was no time to lose.

"Now, look here," he hissed; "if you make the slightest noise, I shall be under the painful necessity of scattering your cerebral tissue all over this very tasteful carpet. I should be sorry to do so for the sake of the landlord—and your own. If you care to listen to reason you will be the richer by £50."

The waiter showed signs of returning sanity.

"Seems to me there's no chance to do nothing else," he muttered.

"Quite so. Without asking any further questions, take off your clothes at once. Now then, see if you can do it quicker than I can."

Gryde commenced to peel off his outer garments. In an incredibly short time he had changed places with the waiter. Then he pounced upon the man and with his braces pinned him skilfully to a chair.

"The money I will put in your boot thus," he said. "I am going now, and I shall close the door behind you. See the clock yonder? When that clock ticks off five minutes you can call for help. All you have to do is to tell truthfully how you have been treated, omitting any reference to the Bank of England paper in your boot. But I don't think that I need have any anxiety on that head. You understand?"


I AM GOING NOW, AND I SHALL CLOSE THE DOOR BEHIND YOU

The waiter smiled slightly. He began to see that no harm was likely to come to him from the adventure. And he was about to earn more money than he had ever had in his life before.

"All right, guvnor," he whispered hoarsely, "I'll do as you say, and I hope you'll get out of your bit of trouble all right."

Gryde smiled as he pointed to the clock.

"Once I am outside I will take care of the rest;" he said. "Five minutes, remember. I'm afraid you will have to invest in another dress suit, though."

Standing calmly before the glass, Gryde re-arranged his white tie, and then calmly left the room. Down in the hall an excited group was gathered. There were blue uniforms there amongst the rest. Gryde skirted by them without undue haste. He noted the landlord's agitated face, and heard his trembling tones.

"For heaven's sake, gentlemen," he said, "let there be no violence. It would ruin me."

"We will be careful," the Duke of Clifton was saying. "A desperate character"

Gryde waited to hear no more. The conversation was not sufficiently interesting. With a matchless audacity, all his own, he elbowed his way through the very people who were thirsting for his blood, and took his way to the hatstand. Here he selected an overcoat and hat, and putting the same on, left the hotel.

Hundreds of people had gathered there, for the news had spread like wildfire. Gryde muttered savagely to himself as he found himself shut in. At the end of five minutes he had not progressed beyond the end of the street.

Then suddenly a hoarse roar went up. It spread as if by magic to the edge of the crowd that the impostor had escaped—and how. There is no telegraphy like that which flashes through a huge concourse of people.

Gryde burst through and hailed a passing cab. He plunged in headlong.

"Get me to the top of Craven Road in ten minutes," he shouted, "and I'll give you a sovereign."

The driver whipped up his horse, and was in a deserted side street immediately, neither was he aware of the nature of his fare. In the given time the destination was reached.

Gryde paid his man, and hurried away into the darkness. There was a wild thrill of triumph at his heart, for he was free. He was close to the place where his disguise was hidden, and before midnight the same was assumed, and the dress clothes sunk at the bottom of a deep pool. By daybreak a respectable looking mechanic passed out of Nottingham station to the other side of the town.

Later in the afternoon, Gryde, in propria persona, travelled up to London in a first-class carriage.

"This is the last time," he told himself. "I have more money than anyone wants, and sooner or later I'm certain to make some mistake. I'll destroy all my wardrobe and settle down as a model country gentleman."


'THIS IS THE LAST TIME,' HE TOLD HIMSELF

In one of the most perfectly appointed houses in the North lives Felix Gryde, an English-American, who is reputed to have made a fabulous fortune in the States. Gryde is a popular and respected figure, and his popularity is shared by a wife who is called Cora. Mrs. Gryde takes a prominent place in society, and the younger men find her extremely fascinating. Like most women, she imagines that her husband has no secrets from her, in which she is greatly mistaken—Gryde's adventures will never be told by him.

"If I had my deserts," he frequently tells himself, "I should be a life convict. And after all there are thousands of greater scoundrels ruling the country and helping to make our laws. They have not been found out, neither have I. And assuredly the wicked flourish like a green bay tree. I ought to know"


The Master Criminal


THE END

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