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Title: Burglar Bill's Pupil Author: Fred M. White * A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook * eBook No.: 1200851h.html Language: English Date first posted: Aug 2014 Most recent update: Aug 2014 This eBook was produced by Maurie Mulcahy and Roy Glashan. Project Gutenberg of Australia eBooks are created from printed editions which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular paper edition. Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this file. This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg of Australia License which may be viewed online at http://gutenberg.net.au/licence.html To contact Project Gutenberg of Australia go to http://gutenberg.net.au
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A GREAT DEAL of human misery is, unhappily, attributable to a lack of that worldly dross which everyone tells us is vain and empty, but which, nevertheless, everyone is extremely anxious to possess. There are various degrees of poverty, from the absolute want of a meal, to an occasional inability to meet an adverse balance at one's bankers; but the fine line between comfort and poverty is perilously close when it comes to parting with articles of 'bigotry and virtue,' such as personal ornaments, and the like.
This uncomfortable truth had thrust itself unpleasantly upon pretty Mrs. Brassey more than once lately, though, to the casual observer, appearances did not denote such a desperate state of affairs. Dalebrook Lodge, Chislehurst, was prosperous looking enough, a 'cottage of gentility,' standing in its own neatly kept grounds. No element of refinement was lacking, and the fair chatelaine's graceful figure was clad in a costume bearing the unmistakable stamp of Redfern's handiwork.
"I cannot understand it at all," she said, innocently, as she turned a pair of liquid blue eyes upon her consort, who stood in the typical British attitude before the blazing logs, pulling his moustache for inspiration. "I had no idea we were short of money, Reg."
"Nor I, dearest," Reg replied, ruefully. "When my father died twelve months ago, just after we were married, he led me to understand that he was in comfortable circumstances. It was a near shave, you mind, but a lucky coup on the Stock Exchange pulled back all he lost, and enabled him to pay old Bartley the money borrowed from him on security of the Battiscombe property. That is worth £2,000 a year, and at that figure I naturally estimated my income. Of course, Bartley being left executor, and matters being a little complicated, I have not asked for any money, till this affair of poor Jack's turned up. You can imagine my surprise when, on asking for the last year's rents, I was informed that the £30,000 was never repaid to Bartley, and that no release was ever executed by him, as I have been informed it was."
A puzzled frown settled down upon the young wife's fair face. The explanation was caviare to her to a certain extent, but she understood sufficient to grasp the fact that Septimus Bartley, whose word was worth something on 'Change, flatly denied receiving the money borrowed by Reginald's father, and that the release of the Battiscombe property was merely the chimera of an old man's imagination.
"What does it all mean?" she asked.
"Unless I can prove that the document in question exists, it means that we are paupers," Reg replied, ruefully. "As executor, Bartley took possession of the papers when my father died, and naturally the mortgage to him is with the Battiscombe deeds. It would be easy enough for him to destroy the release and preserve the mortgage."
"Are you certain that this release, as you call it, really existed."
"My dear girl, I have had it in my hand. I never read a legal document, 'for that way madness lies,' but I am prepared to stake my existence on the fact that such a document does or did exist, despite Bartley's denial. It looks uncommonly like an attempt at robbery."
The conference paused and they regarded one another dismally. It seemed as if a bolt from the blue had fallen, burying in its descent all the happiness and comfort of that model little household. The bank people had heard something of the matter, as more than one local tradesman holding cheques marked with the mysterious legend 'N.C.' angrily testified. Nellie Brassy looked round her dainty drawing-room, at once the pride and plague of young matronhood, with a sigh of dismay. There were those pair of vases which Reggie had given her on her last birthday, the placing of which had caused so much anxious time and thought, still waiting a selection for a final resting place. There were other contemplated improvements, but now the very thought brought tears into the bright eyes. It was too hard.
"We might just as well face the inevitable," Reg observed, the orthodox consolation being duly administered. "It will be bad enough when it comes, meanwhile it is imperative that we should have some ready money. There is some advantage after all in possessing some good jewellery, and—"
"Reggie," Nell cried, stopping her pink ears, "don't be horrid."
"That's what it must come to," Brassey replied, in what was intended for a matter-of-fact tone. "It doesn't matter much what you call it. A temporary loan on personal property is quite a common thing now-a-days."
"What does Kitty say about it?"
"I haven't told her. Let her enjoy herself while the sun shines."
"You had better tell me now, for in any case I am certain to find out," said a fresh, clear voice, as the speaker came in unobserved. "Is the drawing-room clock broken or has the Bank of England stopped payment? You look as grave as if you had the cares of Europe on your shoulders."
Kitty Brassey looked from one to the other, with a gleam of mischief in her dark eyes. A small, vivacious looking girl, wilful, and somewhat headstrong; a generous heart and strong determination of purpose underlay the pleasing, but withal frivolous exterior.
But Miss Kitty's face was grave enough as she returned to the garden, when at the end of a quarter of an hour she repaired to her favourite seat at the more secluded end of the garden. She felt no dismay. Her heart was too hot and angry for that. Her father had shared most of his secrets with his only daughter, before Reggie had sold out of the service on his marriage, and she alone knew how great the danger to the honourable house of Bainbridge, Brassey, and Co. had once been. She was perfectly well aware how the danger had been tided over, and that her elderly, admirer, Septimus Bartley, had been paid to the full.
Mr. Bartley's business relationship with his own firm consisted of an occasional visit to town, though he had direct telephonic communication with the Gresham-street establishment, of which he availed himself whilst enjoying his dolce far niente at Chislehurst.
She remembered, too, how disappointed the elderly Adonis had been when Mr. Brassey's last and most desperate speculation had freed him from the clutches of his quondam friend. And yet, strangely enough, the reputable stockbroker proved to be Brassey's executor, and that the said executor was playing a game of duplicity, Miss Kitty did not for a moment doubt.
"What a shame it is!" she said, aloud. "I had a great mind go and have it out with him myself."
She smiled at her own vehemence, and half rose from her recumbent position as the sound of footsteps disturbed her meditations. The new comer was a young man, under, rather than over, the average height; an exceedingly good-looking fellow, dressed in the most immaculate style, and wearing the now almost obsolete glass in his eye, as if it had taken root and grown there.
"I am so glad to see you!" Kitty exclaimed. "Sit down and let us talk."
"It is mutual," said the new comer, with almost provoking deliberation, as he hooked a chair with his cane, and sat down with the air of a man in the last stages of exhaustion. "I have been up to the Lodge, and heard that melancholy has marked you for her own. I immediately guessed the reason. I have not been stranded so often in my hot youth upon the bleak and desert shores of impecuniosity for nothing; and the cruel tale was unfolded."
Charles Daintree did not add, as he might have done, that he had placed his assistance and cheque-book, figuratively at the feet of his friend Brassey.
"Then you know everything?" Kitty asked.
"As far as recent developments go, yes. I was never so surprised in my life!"
"You don't say so!" Kitty exclaimed, with flattering interest. "I wish I had been there. Portrait of Mr. Charles Daintree as he appeared when surprised. It must have almost repaid Reg for all his anxiety."
"I was surprised," Daintree returned, imperturbably; "and again, I was not. For some occult reason my late uncle insisted that for three years I should occupy a seat in his City office. The event created no sensation in London—in fact, I allowed matters to take their own course. But one could not keep altogether free from City jargon, and I remained there quite long enough to make a tolerably fair estimate of the virtues of the estimable Bartley."
Kitty nodded approval. Much as she enjoyed the luxury of contradicting her companion upon most occasions, the point at issue was one upon which she felt in perfect accord with Daintree.
"Have you thought of anything?" he asked.
"Nothing, save that my mind has turned feebly once or twice in the direction of governessing. It will be hard at first. I shall have a harsh, arbitrary employer, who has a number of marriageable daughters, all plain, who envy the superior charms of—in short—me. Then the hero will come upon the scene, and, after a few tribulations, all will end happily."
"There is a certain element of risk attending such enterprises," Daintree observed, tranquilly. "I can show you a much better plan."
"I wish you would," Kitty laughed. "The governess scheme ends my resources."
"Why not marry me and thus reach the denouement at once?"
"What an end to my cherished romance," Kitty answered, with a faint tinge of pink flushing her cheeks. "I never had a lover! but I am under the impression that upon such occasions—"
"Fiction," Daintree put in calmly, but more earnestly than usual. "Yes; I know all you are going to say. Nevertheless, I was never more serious in my life. I am not a good hand at making impassioned speeches and all that kind of thing; but I do love you honestly and truly, and I would do my best to make you a good husband and you a happy wife."
All the mischievous sparkle died out of Kitty's eyes, as she glanced up at the speaker's calm, but none the less determined face. She had half-expected this, but hitherto the suggestion had always struck her as being somewhat ludicrous. Now, however, there was something comforting, almost happiness in the idea, as she replied with tender seriousness.
"I think you mean it," she said; "and I—I do not know what to say. It seems almost selfish of us to be talking in this strain now, while Nell and Reggie are so unhappy. Oh, dear, if we were only people in a book, you would hit upon some clever scheme for recovering that horrid release, and—"
"We should all live happy ever afterwards. Were you going to say that?"
"Something very like it," Kitty blushingly admitted. "But it is all nonsense."
"And supposing I told you that I have a clever scheme to recover the missing parchment—what then?"
"But you couldn't," Kitty answered, strategically. "The fated paper is concealed with others in Mr. Bartley's safe, not more than a mile from where we are at this moment. Only think of that, only think that, given a little bit of steel, you or I could walk up to Mr. Bartley's house some day when he was away, and in less than five minutes virtue would be triumphant and vice defeated. The thought is maddening!"
"Then don't think of it," Daintree replied, soothingly. "However, we are wandering from the point. Kitty, be serious a moment. If I can recover that paper for Reg, will you be my wife?"
"I think I would without that," Kitty murmured, without attempting to withdraw the fingers he had imprisoned. "But since you have thrown down a challenge, I will accept it, Charlie. Suppose I give you a formal answer when you bring me that dingy sheet of parchment?"
Daintree raised the white finger-tips to his lips, and kissed them gallantly. There was a bright light of inspiration in his eyes, a light which seemed to warm Kitty's heart and fill her with trust and confidence. Had she known it, the great battalions of chance were fighting upon her side and on behalf of those she loved. Kitty was a bright, lovable little soul, and was strictly loyal to her friends; her happiness would not have been complete had not they been in a position to share it. Charlie Daintree was a gentleman, and, what is more in worldly eyes, a rich man; but Kitty seemed to have forgotten this in her eagerness for her brother and his wife, and Daintree, whose eyeglass saw most things, felt himself drawn nearer to her for this self-abnegation.
"It is a challenge," he said. "If I do not bring you the precious document within a week, my head be the forfeit. But you were wrong as to the tiny tube of steel which is supposed to be like a barrier between our united happiness. Now, I happen to know that, since the burglary at Charleston Hall, our friend Bartley has had a very elaborate new safe constructed, one with a time lock, which opens itself at any hour to which it is set by the owner. It is the most ingenious of the recent American inventions, and the designer boasts that it is absolutely thief-proof. And yet I have an idea I know an 'open sesame,' even for that stronghold."
"You are not going to do anything rash?" Kitty cried, in alarm.
"Now, did I ever do anything rash?" Daintree asked. "I did contemplate such an act some time back; but fate kindly guided my steps into the lodge gates on my way to town, since when my project has been abandoned. My bounden duty is to punish two rascals; but I prefer to let them down easily, and use them as my instruments to confound a third."
Daintree's mind was extremely active as he sauntered leisurely home, leaving the lady of his choice to construe the above sphinx-like remark as best she might. Apparently utterly indifferent to the world at large, he strolled along the broad avenue leading up to Bolitree, which envied spot constituted his home for the time being, when not engaged upon more distant pleasures. It was a fine old house, one of the best and noblest in the neighbourhood, and as yet secluded from the advent of the speculative builder, who has laboured so hard to ruin the picturesqueness of suburban London.
He walked through a spacious hall and into a noble dining-room, wherein, as in the rest of the house, the evidences of wealth and lavish taste were discernible to the most indifferent eye. The late owner, a childless City man, with proverbially enough money to set the Leaning Tower of Pisa straight, had spared nothing to gratify his mania for art and kindred treasures; indeed, many of these were displayed with a carelessness sufficient to tempt the honesty of those in whose charge they were usually placed.
Daintree ate his solitary dinner, waited upon by a solemn butler of stately mien—quite a prize in the way of a butler, he was wont to say, when complimented upon the latest addition to the Bolitree menage, and one who, under happier auspices, would certainly have graced a bishopric.
"You will kindly take the claret and cigarette-box into the smoke-room," Charles commanded, at length. "I shall not go out again this evening; and, Brace, see that all the doors are fastened early."
"It shall be done as usual, sir," replied the solemn functionary. "One cannot be too careful with so many suspicious characters about, sir."
When the immaculate guardian of his employer's property repaired presently to the smoke-room, he found his master already there. Daintree lay back in his chair, a cigarette between his teeth, and his eyeglass gleaming on Brace, who seemed almost uncomfortable under the keen scrutiny.
"You were saying just now," he commenced, "that there are several suspicious characters about. Always look out for suspicious characters, Brace. I do."
The butler coughed in deferential acknowledgment of his master's wisdom.
"Always do that, Brace; for, really, you never know who you are dealing with. Now, for all you have been with me over twelve months—for all you have been with me that time, to say nothing of your excellent references—you might be a burglar's confederate in disguise; I mean, the old dishonest servant who plans the robbery for others to execute. I daresay that this strikes you as being a very comical idea, Brace?"
"If it pleases you to think so," said Brace, uncomfortably.
"Well, it does," Daintree replied, contemplating the irreproachable servant with grim irony. "Such things frequently happen. Now, supposing you were similarly tempted. You sleep with William in the butler's pantry, and the first thing is to get him out of the way—by the way, I understand William is away just now—and the rest of the servants being in the west wing, makes your task easier. You look offended, Brace, thinking of your references. But you might have forged a testimonial from your previous employer, Lord Kennington, knowing that his lordship and myself were not likely to meet—by the way, I was introduced to him yesterday morning, Brace—and as for the dogs, they are easily settled. And really, Brace, it is a strange, very strange, coincidence that both the mastiffs should have to be sent to the veterinary surgeon's this morning."
With a sense of exquisite enjoyment, Daintree watched the gradual change passing over the countenance of his peerless servant. Anxiety, fear, and terror chased one another rapidly, till at length the immaculate solemnity collapsed to a flabby and absolute fright.
"We merely suppose all this, Brace, and, to continue, we suppose a fast-running dogcart with Savernake wheels, and a blood mare shod with those now patent india-rubber horseshoes, to be waiting tonight, or, say, to-morrow night, at the Mother Goose, in the City-road, ready to run down here and back between midnight and daybreak. You see how easily it is done, Brace."
Brace nodded; he could not have spoken to have saved his life.
"We will carry our romance a little further. The man in the cart drives up the avenue, the gates being left open—by the way, they were unlocked, and someone has been oiling them lately, Brace—and you let him in. By you, of course, I mean an individual called, in the select profession to which the new-comer belongs, Solemn James. Did you ever know a man called Solemn James, Brace, a burglar's confederate, who by means of forged testimonials finds his way into—"
Brace collapsed, and fell on his knees with a dismal cry. Daintree rose and approached him, speaking more sternly than the prostrate thief ever heard his easy-going employer speak before.
"I am going to give you a chance," he said. "Listen to me."
Brace did listen, as a criminal follows the evidence at his own trial. At the end of a quarter of an hour he left the smoking-room, white and cold, but with a sensation something like gratitude agitating that portion of his anatomy where the heart is supposed to be.
"You know the alternative," Charlie said, curtly. "Penal servitude or strict obedience."
BURGLARY, like stockbroking, and such hazardous professions, is occasionally of a very precarious nature, add to which members of the body are prone to be lavish in moments of affluence, which moments, a member of the profession tells me, occur much less frequently than they used to do. In the good old days—i.e., before the advent of photography and mounted police—the same authority tells me, that in the exercise of his profession he has frequently plundered the house when the inmates were perfectly aware of his presence, and he was equally alive to the fact that they dared not raise an alarm.
But if organization and science is fast killing the old school of burglary, the modern branch is quite equal to the advancement of thief-proof inventions and detective skill. Mr. William Jarvis, for instance, could, if his native modesty permitted, make such a display of rachet drills, plate cutters, braces, and bits as would put the finest efforts of Sheffield to the blush. The police have yet to discover where the majority of these perfect little instruments are manufactured, though William Jarvis, of 75, Pitt-street, City-road, would probably have refused to supply the information. These were only used on special occasions, such as when a collection of the aristocracy of crime clubbed forces and took a country house, or a jeweller's warehouse was marked down for plunder, for James was a shining light who kept his own horse and trap, and frequented Epping Forest with his wife and family on Sundays. He it was who collected the property (of others) in the still watches of the night, his confederate arranging date and time of collection, after which Jarvis visited the 'fences,' and divided the proceeds with the strictest integrity, for, strange as it may seem, he was an honest man, and his word was good for anything in certain circles. Members of other professions one could name possess equally irregular natures.
The burglar is popularly supposed to be a thickset, bulldog-looking individual, who inclines to fur caps and belcher handkerchiefs, unlimited beer, and florid conversation. As a matter of fact, Jarvis was nothing of the kind. He was a slim, wiry man, approaching forty, with keen, dark eyes, and a resolute-looking mouth. He did not drink, as alcohol is apt to interfere with a profession above all calling for steady nerve, and he eschewed smoking, as, in his own words, a surreptitious pipe has often been the means of getting 'a pore bloke into trouble.' He had a tidy wife, to whom he was kind and affectionate, a home scrupulously clean and neat, and there were no children in the district better clad or cared for than those of William Jarvis.
On the evening following the little episode between Charles Daintree and his butler, Jarvis was seated at supper, a meal of cold roast beef and pickles, to which, with one modest glass of beer, he was doing ample justice. A bright lamp lighted up a cheery apartment; the burglar's wife sat smiling opposite him over her work of darning stockings, while a huge great-coat and muffler were airing before the fire, warm as the evening was. Mr. Jarvis was more than usually amiable, as a man generally is who, after an enforced spell of idleness, returns to a congenial occupation.
"You have everything you want, William?" asked the thoughtful wife. "Just one more glass of the beer before your long drive."
"Not for me, lass," William replied, drawing on his coat and gloves. "Beer and business never mix, which is my motto, and allus will be. You make up the fire and fill the kettle, so as I can get a bit of breakfast when I comes home; I'm sure to be back before five."
With this parting injunction, Jarvis stepped out into the dark and moonless night, and made his way into the City-road. It was nearly twelve, and the streets were thinning rapidly. A little way along he plunged into a deep court smelling strongly of the stable and, in a short space of time, returned leading a horse attached to a dogcart, the animal's hoofs clattering over the stones, whilst the wheels followed noiselessly behind. The patent horseshoes were not for the town—Jarvis was far too astute for that—they being reserved for the approach to Bolitree, which, as the reader has guessed, was Jarvis's destination, and the Bolitree plate the end in view.
The gleaming lamps flashed along out into the open country turning now to the right and again to the left, for, like Sam Weller's knowledge of London, Jarvis's acquaintance with the suburbs was extreme and peculiar. The monument on Chislehurst Common being passed, the driver drew a deep breath, and softy descended at the lodge gates where the patent shoes were attached, and the well-oiled gates being opened, led his steed inside, and having closed the (to him) friendly portals, drove rapidly towards Bolitree with all the nerve and self-possession of an invited guest.
He paused a moment on the broad gravel drive to tether his horse and throw a rug over her, for the merciful man is merciful to his beast; but this did not deter him from feeling in his pistol pocket for the one weapon without which no burglar's outfit is complete. He had never drawn his 'iron' hitherto, but was quite prepared to do so if necessary.
He walked along the facade and round the domestic offices with the assured step of a man who knows his ground perfectly; as, indeed, considering the robbery in contemplation had effectually ripened for twelve months, he should. Trying a shutter gently, it yielded, as he expected, to his touch, and a minute later he was in the house. He listened with every nerve strained to its highest tension, but no sound came; whereupon he lighted his lantern and crept through the stone-flagged corridors to the front of the house.
"That's all right," he said, sotto voce. "Let me see: third door to the right, next to the statue of Mercury." The light flashed for a moment on a still white statue, that appeared almost lifelike in the gleam. "This seems to be my gentleman. Mercury was the cove what took messengers to the gods, so I read somewhere. Well, Mr. Mercury, you'd better run upstairs and tell your master as a gent is a going to take away some of his valuables to get 'em cleaned. I wonder where Solemn James is? Pretendin' to be asleep most like. Cautious blade is Jim, but he might ha' given me a hand, and saved me two journeys."
With the same noiseless, catlike step he crept into the dining-room, where he flashed his lamp round, and as the concentrated rays fell upon the huge oak sideboard, he gave a gasp of wonder and delight.
All the most valuable treasures in the house had apparently been gathered together there. There was a dazzling flash of silver and gold plate, jewelled tazzas, rare ornaments, almost a king's ransom, enough to fill his cart, and, more important still to a practical mind, enough to render him independent of work for many a month to come.
"Well!" he exclaimed, quite naturally and aloud, "I've pulled off a few good things in my time, but never anything to touch this. Two journeys! I shall have to make three. I never did believe in partnership jobs, but, for the first time in my professional career, strike me blind, if I don't regret as I didn't bring a pal."
"Can I be of any assistance?"
The words, slowly, calmly uttered, and coming apparently from space, struck the marauder with something like awe. It was not fear—he had never known that feeling—but the sensation was equally unpleasant.
"That's funny," he muttered. "I could have sworn I heard a voice. Come out there, my man, or I'll shoot."
Scarcely had he uttered the words when the room was instantly filled with what Jarvis feared more than all the policemen in London—a dazzling, blazing, searching light. Electricity he had only known in town, he never expected to encounter such an enemy here. And in the centre of the room was the lonely figure of a young man lounging back in an arm-chair, a solitary diamond flashing on the bosom of his dress shirt, and who was regarding his visitor calmly through his eyeglass.
"I have been expecting you," said Daintree; "take a chair. No? You need not put your hand behind you, because I have the advantage, and before you can get out your weapon I can kill you. Now, turn your back to me, place your hand in your pocket, and throw your revolver towards me. Thank you."
Jarvis obeyed reluctantly enough, but there was something in the cool, ringing tones, a vibration of calm, contemptuous mastery absolutely resistible.
"What are you going to do with me?" he asked, sullenly.
"That, my friend, altogether depends upon circumstances. I ought to hand you and Brace over to the police, but that point we will defer for a future occasion. What is you name?"
"Find out," Jarvis retorted. "I wish I had that Brace here."
"I wish you had, the interview would be exciting. But you may disabuse your mind of the idea that he has betrayed you. As a matter of fact, your pal, I think you call it, has shown towards you a faith which does honour to his early training. I am to blame for this little interruption, for which accept my sincere apologies. And now, sit down."
Jarvis took the indicated seat, though sorely against his will. There was nothing to prevent him flying at the cool, insolent-looking face opposite him; but the very coolness of it seemed to freeze his headlong courage.
"You will help yourself to wine. No? Well, perhaps you are wise not to drink; but I can recommend those cigars. An interesting conversation is always much more enjoyable over cigars, and I am sure it will be an interesting conversation, which is very complimentary to you, Mr. Jarvis, considering the lateness of the hour, and the fact that you are an uninvited guest."
Jarvis pulled at his cigar uncomfortably. Afterwards he described that evening as one of the most uneasy in his life. There he was, completely at the mercy of his attentive host, though the house was quiet as death. But Jarvis was a thoughtful man; and, for all he knew, there might have been a score of constables concealed behind the heavy plush curtains.
"You are a burglar by profession, I believe?" Daintree asked, with polite interest.
"Amongst the best of 'em," answered Jarvis, with professional pride. "Go on, sir."
"Certainly. I am going to ask you a few questions. For the nonce you shall be the teacher, and I will assume the role of a pupil. In the first place, is there such a thing as a burglar-proof house?"
The listener shifted uneasily, and little beads of perspiration gathered on his forehead.
Steeled as he was against surprises, there was something in the cold chill tones of the immaculately-dressed questioner that seemed to deprive him of all his boasted courage.
"Look here, sir," he said, with a last desperate effort. "Give me your word as you don't mean no harm to me, and I'll tell you all you wants to know. A cove ain't made of iron to be stared at and cross-questioned, and him never knowing all the time what's going to happen to him arter all. Is it to be the fair thing between one man and another?"
"So far as I am concerned, it is," Daintree replied. "You need fear no treachery. With the solitary exception of ourselves, a footman, and our mutual friend here, whom I took the precaution of locking in his room, there is probably not a soul awake in the house at the moment."
Jarvis breathed more freely. He was about to be 'discharged with a caution,' after all—a decision with which he was tolerably familiar.
"Very well, then," Daintree continued; "and, having satisfied you that your valuable person is in no jeopardy from the strong arm of the law, I will trouble you for a few particulars as to your calling. Now about the house."
"There ain't no house ever made as 'ud keep me out," the burglar replied. "Stands to reason that anything you can get out of you can get into. Houses, safes. Take safes, now. As fast as ever they make new ones, we find out ways to open them. And why? Because we can afford to pay the best workmen such rates as the employers can't or won't. Suppose I need a drill warranted to cut the best plate ever tempered, I can get it. And who from? Why, the best workmen in the trade. He ain't supposed to know me or what I want it for so long as he gets his price. That's for safes."
"You seem to speak from experience," Daintree observed carelessly.
"Well, you are right about there, guv'nor," Jarvis said with modest pride. "One down, t'other come to take the old 'knob' safe, where the keyhole was found in one of the knobs, the safe being covered in knobs. Did we look for the knob? Not much. All there was to do was to drill a hole through the door, and fill it with powder. Not much noise? No; but it has tumbled in like a house of cards."
"But that is a very old-fashioned kind of safe."
"Not so old-fashioned as you'd think for," Jarvis stated. "The next one was goin' to be a puzzler; bolts in the door to be sprung into the framework on locking by a spindle connected with a T handle on the door. Yes, that was a werry clever contrivance; we knock off the handle with a hammer, soften the plate with a lamp and blowpipe, and, after drilling it, put in powder, and carry away the whole framework, was cleverer."
"Designed to hurt the feelings of the inventor," Daintree put in, quietly.
"Well, yes," laughed Jarvis, quite at his ease now. "The next dodge was to make a safe of alternate layers of boiler-plate and drill-proof steel. They thought they had us there. Ah, ah! One of our workmen invented a plate-cutter that went through the boiler plate like through rotten cheese; then we broke the chilled steel easily enough."
"And after that? Surely there are more safes yet?"
"They beat our plate cutter," Jarvis continued; "but we had an easier job than ever, after that. What do you think of filling up all the cracks with putty, except about two inches at the top, so as to insert a tube and exhaust the air, when by removing a little putty at the bottom, he could drive in enough powder for our purpose. Then the door had to give way, being weakest. Lor, bless you, sir, safes are child's play to a man as knows his work."
Charlie toyed with his cigarette a moment before he resumed his questioning. He was coming to the point but scarcely knew how to approach his man without creating a suspicion of his real design in his mind.
"There is one kind you seem to have forgotten," he said slowly, seeing that Jarvis had turned to him inquiringly; "I allude to the comparatively new time safes. You know what I mean—a lock invented to automatically open the doors at a certain time, according to the fancy of the owner. For instance, I have a safe here now which I close at three, previously putting the hands of the clock inside on to, say, half-past three when I wish it to open. There are no bolts, no handle, and nothing to get a leverage upon. How do we?"
By way of a reply, a smile gradually dawned upon Jarvis's features, gradually widening to a broad grin. He had been partly expecting the question, and the smile was equally a tribute to his own skill and the quality of his questioner, for whom the burglar felt, if possible, a greater deference than before.
"So they say," he replied; "but, up to the present, I haven't had an opportunity of trying. I'd half a mind to buy one, only things have been slack lately; and after all, it pays better to experiment on other peoples. And I've got it too, sir; I've got it, sure as you're sitting in that chair!"
"Got what?" Charlie asked. "Let us hear your inspiration."
In the excitement of the moment Jarvis rose and paced the room. He had almost forgotten that he was speaking to a gentleman who in his eyes was tantamount to an armed enemy of himself and all his creed.
"The way to open those safes!" he exclaimed. "It came to me all of a moment since I've been sitting here. And simple, too; so simple, that a little child could do it. I'll just take a half-ounce of—"
"Don't let your modesty overcome you," he said. "You need not fear that I shall infringe upon your copyright."
"It isn't that so much, sir," remarked Jarvis, with a seriousness which again threatened to overcome the man's gravity. "It isn't that so much, sir, as how I should like to be the first. The fust time you read in your paper as a time lock have been ax-picked, you'll know as William Jarvis done it."
"There is no occasion to go out of the neighbourhood," Daintree replied. "I know of more than one city gentleman in this locality who has invested in one since the recent burglar scare. My immediate neighbour has recently had one erected. Come, here is an opportunity for you, while, for my part, I promise not to 'blow the gaff,' as you term it, in professional circles."
Jarvis picked up his ears. The name of Mr. Daintree's neighbour was familiar enough to him, as indeed were the names of most suburban magnates. But, on the other hand, Chislehurst would hardly be safe ground for the present.
Daintree rose to his feet, and moved towards the door as if to signify that the interview was ended. Jarvis stood behind him as he lighted a lamp, and followed his host to the door.
"I give you your liberty as I promised," he said to the burglar, now only too anxious to be gone. "I have learnt something from you, and in return I shall say nothing of this visit. Neither, I think, will the individual whom you term Solemn James, who will also be at liberty to-morrow. And now, good night. Mind the steps. It would be a thousand pities if anything happened to a life so valuable as yours."
"Thank you kindly, sir," Jarvis returned; "and I leave something in return. If I am the man I take myself for, you can leave your doors open, so far as the London lot are concerned, for many a day to come."
Daintree extinguished his lamp, and calling to the servant who alone and remained up, to extinguish the electric light, walked slowly to his room. He has done something, certainly, but not so much as he had anticipated. But if the worst came to the worst, he had a secure hold on Mr. Jarvis, whose assistance, professionally, might with safety be relied upon for a pecuniary consideration.
Meanwhile Mr. Jarvis drove homewards in meditative silence. He felt strangely elated, but withal cowed, humbled, and not a little disappointed, as the dazzling vision on the oak sideboard rose temptingly before his mental vision. He felt like a man who had disposed of an unprofitable gold mine, only to discover a few hours later that it had been a veritable Golconda.
"And yet he wasn't a bad sort, and a plucky one, too," he ruminated. "Reg'lar took the steam out of me. I'd like to show him that I have some pluck too, and shan't be long either." Here a sudden resolution seemed to warm him like a fire. "I'll do it!" he cried. "Blest if I don't do it before this thing gets wed. Time-lock safes! And me with my knowledge!"
MR. BRACE took himself away from Bolitree the morning following the collapse of his pet scheme, having wished his fellow servants a dignified farewell. He was sorry to leave them, he said, but there were private reasons, not wholly unconnected with a sudden change of fortune, which rendered any further menial work superfluous. Daintree kept his own council, he had good reason for doing so, and Brace was most sincere in his thanks for the kindness extended to him, a leniency he had cause to be thankful for.
"This will be a warning to me, sir," he said, humbly. "I have had a lesson, and I mean to profit by it. From this time I intend to—"
"That will do, Brace," Charlie interrupted. "There is no reason for gratitude, as I was actuated by anything but philanthropic motives. Give my compliments to Mr. Jarvis, and tell him I shall look out for the grand exploit; he will know what is meant. Now be off."
Brace went off, somewhat hurt by this curt dismissal. He wanted an opportunity to display his penitent spirit, not that he was actuated by any feeling of the kind, but he had a natural eye for effect, and there were large possibilities in the present opportunity.
By way of showing his gratitude, the recalcitrant butler carefully collected a few small articles of value, not forgetting some notepaper and envelopes bearing the Bolitree stamp, to say nothing of a few specimens of his late employer's handwriting, as previous experience taught him that such material proves extremely valuable upon occasion. These few souvenirs of a not unpleasant servitude being packed carefully away, Brace was driven from the house to the station at St. Mary Cray, from whence he proceeded direct to London, and once there, with some little fear and trembling, he walked to Pitt-street, with the intention of looking up Jarvis.
He found that worthy in a frame of mind the reverse of seraphic. The feelings of admiration he had conceived for Daintree were swallowed up now by a sense of disappointment as his mind dwelt gloatingly upon the glittering heap of treasure which had so nearly been his own.
He pointed to a seat, and Brace sat down noiselessly. With all his superior mental capacity, the soi-disant butler stood in considerable awe of his colleague's brute courage and reckless abandon.
"You are a nice lot, ain't you?" sneered Jarvis, contemplating his companion with fine contempt. "You are a clever one to work out a thing for twelve months, and get done at last by a little dandy chap as got no mind for anything besides the fit of his boots and collars!"
"And what were you doing all the time?" Brace asked, stung to retort. "The stuff was put out for you. Why didn't you take it? You, the pride of your profession, to be done by a gentleman who doesn't know the difference between a centre-bit and a plate drill! Why didn't you shoot him?"
"It's no use crying over spilt milk," Jarvis replied; "and if I was done, it was by the coolest and pluckiest hand I ever came across. Lor', what a ornament he would be to the profession, surely!"
It was a high compliment—the highest Jarvis could conceive. Presently he went on more quietly, and less aggressively.
"What beats me is how he tumbled to it. He seemed to be so ready that it took all the steel out of me directly he spoke. And that electric light is the very mischief. You don't catch me on another lay where they've got that without cuttin' the wires first. However, it's no use sitting here snarlin' at one another when there's work to be done. I've taken things pretty easy lately, reckoning on this little job, till there's hardly a shiner in the place. Come, you ain't been down yonder all these months for nothing. Can't you put us on to a soft job, just to find the youngsters a bit of food till we can fix you up again."
Brace smiled diplomatically, whilst a responsive grin of approbation illuminated Jarvis's features. Hope, the guiding star of every genius, was the presiding deity of his sanguine nature.
"I've got a very pretty little plant, William," Brace whispered, dropping into the easy style of speech natural to him. "Very neat and very simple, provided you're as clever as you pretend to be with the tools. You can take it from me that last night's fiasco won't be known to a soul, and consequently the neighbourhood ain't likely to be alarmed. What do you say to a deaf housekeeper, a couple of maids, and an old gardener, who sleeps over the stables? There's a master, it's true—"
"Can't you get him out of the way?" asked Jarvis.
"I can keep him in town for a night, if that's what you mean. Any way, it's best to be on the safe side. Now, look here."
For a quarter of an hour Jarvis listened attentively, whilst his companion gradually unfolded a plan of masterly simplicity, combined with a minute attention to detail which, in themselves, paid a high tribute to Brace's mental grasp and power of observation.
"Not that I would have thought of it, perhaps," he concluded, modestly, "but for a little observation as my late employer let drop. And mind you bring everything away, don't leave nothing, as papers, especially private ones, are useful enough sometimes. Remember that Eltree affair."
"I do," Jarvis groaned. "Two days clear away before anybody tumbled to the plant, and a lot of wastepaper thrown away as turned out to be negotiable securities for £11,000. Don't mention it, James, the very idea makes me ill when I thinks on it."
"It was a sin, that was," Brace sighed in company. "And now let me have a fine pen and some ink, so as I can bait the trap for the old gentleman. He'll rise fast enough; why, from all I can hear, he would get up on a frosty night to make a sixpence anytime."
Brace was a smart penman, and one who possessed a singular talent for imitating handwritings, yet nearly a dozen of the thick embossed sheets bearing the Bolitree crest were destroyed before the artist was finally satisfied. At length the envelope was sealed, stamped, and despatched per a small edition of Jarvis, with the most careful instructions as to its disposal.
Meanwhile things showed no signs of improvement at the Lodge. An interview between Brassey and his father's executor had resulted in a stormy scene, in which the old man had been roundly denounced as a thief and a swindler, a state of affairs which certainly had not tended to smooth matters for the young couple.
"Your language is unpardonable," Bartley said, with wounded dignity. He was a large, expansive man, with a solemn, important mien, and his calm indignation sat well upon him; as Reginald grudgingly admitted. "Surely you cannot realize what you are saying. I enjoyed your father's confidence, sir, and, but for the respect I have for his memory, I would not tolerate such language. When you are in a calmer frame of mind, you may come to me again, when I shall, in spite of everything, be pleased to advise and assist you. My position is beyond your insinuations."
Reg returned home, feeling that he had had the worst of the encounter—a fact freely admitted to Daintree in subsequently describing the scene. Charlie listened in his cool way, as they strolled round the garden the morning following the passage at arms with the outraged but virtuous stockbroker.
"You should have kept your temper," Daintree observed. "I called this morning to see if I could pacify the old gentleman, but found that he had been detained in town overnight on important business. Depend upon it, there is something wrong there, old fellow, or I am much mistaken."
"Do you mean that—"
"That Bartley is in Queer-street? Exactly. His confidential clerk came down by the first train to get some papers, and I met him coming out of the house as I went in, with a face as white as the ash on my cigar."
Reginald Brassey laughed. As he looked round his own well-appointed domain, and realized the wrench it would be to leave the scene of so much happiness, as he shortly would be compelled to do, he experienced that sensation as to our neighbour's misfortunes so aptly described by Rochefoucauld. If the sardonic maxim applies to our friends, it loses no force as regards our enemies.
"I am unfeignedly glad to hear it," he said, curtly.
"Well, I don't know so much about that," said Daintree, who rarely spoke without thinking. "Bartley has had an unblemished reputation in the City for nearly forty years, which, taking all things into consideration, means a perfect concatenation of all the virtues. My theory is that he had suppressed that release in a moment of temptation, and that he has temporarily appropriated the money to his own use."
"But I never asked him for the whole of the money," Brassey exclaimed.
"Certainly you didn't; but you had a sudden call for a large sum, and naturally you applied to him for it. He could not put his hand upon the amount you required, and consequently the danger had to be faced. He is a man of strong determination; he has a high reputation, and it is only his word against yours, which is merely unsubstantiated, after all. Farther than that, he holds the deeds of the Battiscombe property, and the original mortgage to him actually exists."
"In which case, should he pull round, I shall be better off," Reggie said, ruefully. "He couldn't very well say that the release and repayment of £30,000 had been an oversight."
"He won't pull round," Daintree replied. "I was in the City yesterday for my sins, where I was transacting a little business with my own firm, of which I am supposed to be head, and I heard quite enough to tell me that."
"Just suppose he has destroyed the release altogether?"
"That would be awkward. But the release has not been destroyed, take my word for that. Very few men destroy such papers while there is an off-chance of a proof of their execution. Bartley is no fool, and you may depend upon it that he carefully reviewed his position before acting as he has done. The time may come when you can corner him, and prove that such a deed was executed, in which case he will probably produce it, and thus, whilst incurring a deal of odium, keep outside the meshes of the law. Up to the present moment, the matter lies between the two of you, and there is no evidence of fraud. No, Reg, our astute friend has that precious parchment still."
Brassey shook his head doubtfully. Daintree's deductions were logical enough, but a whole morning employed in interviewing angry and anxious creditors had not tended to fan the flame of hope to a dazzling radiance. Things had almost reached a crisis during the last twenty-four hours, more than one execution loomed in the near future, and every ring at the servant's bell sufficed to send Reggie's heart up in his mouth with sickening dread.
As he contemplated his comforter gloomily, the front gate opened, and a suspicious-looking stranger entered. He had a half-diffident, half-swaggering air, to say nothing of a face whereon a free indulgence in strong waters' had told a plainly-written tale. He touched the brim of a veteran silk hat civilly enough, as he requested a few words with Mr. Brassey in private.
"The plot thickens," said Daintree, sotto voce, as Brassey disappeared with his unwelcome visitor. "Were I in Reggie's unfortunate position, I should not feel comfortable till I knew that fellow's business."
The thought that he carried his cheque book was some consolation, though the proffered assistance had been more than once firmly rejected. But Daintree had not studied the weaknesses of human nature in vain and after all, a man in possession is a wonderful factor in the destruction of a proud man's sternest resolution.
"Why don't you come in?" asked Kitty, as she came towards him. "Though perhaps you are wise to remain where you are. I wonder whether there is a more miserable household anywhere just now than ours."
"Lots," said Charlie, taking possession of the hand held out to him, and looking down tenderly into the girl's troubled eyes. "You don't mean to say that you are going to despair after my challenge? I am a selfish man, Kitty, and really, between ourselves I should have never made such a foolish reservation unless I felt tolerably sure of my ground."
"There was no occasion to make it at all," Kitty replied, shyly. "I wonder why it is that one's misery and happiness is so curiously mingled! What a pleasant world it would be just now but for this!"
She looked so sweet and subdued in her trouble that Daintree forgot his contract and the bond under which he had placed himself. The corner of the garden where they were was secluded, and the coolest of lovers is only mortal. He drew her head down upon his shoulder and kissed the trembling lips. There is no sympathy so sweet as the meeting of lips when the heart is too full for speech.
"It is always darkest before the dawn," Charlie said, awkwardly.
"I hope the light won't dazzle me when it comes, then," Kitty laughed, through her tears. "We ought to be all brave and resigned, I know; but, instead of face, I only feel wicked. Oh, dear, look at Reggie's hat! I wonder what new horror has happened now."
The remark was warranted, as Brassey appeared with a countenance sufficiently agitated to convict him of any crime known in the penal calendar. His lips were white and trembling; the words seem to stick in his throat as he turned away from Daintree, whose very eyeglass beamed sympathetically.
"I understand what it is," he said, as Kitty, obediently to a sign, disappeared. "My dear fellow, it isn't absolutely criminal, though poverty is accounted a deadly sin. There is nothing in it, after all. The suspicious stranger in the impossible hat has brought you an oblong slip of paper, containing the information that he must really trouble you to entertain him till you find it quite convenient to pay him. What is the amount?"
"One hundred and eighteen seventeen and sixpence-halfpenny," Brassey replied, as he leant against a tree, and fairly groaned aloud. "It might be as many millions for any chance there is of its being paid."
"Is there any pressing necessity for the halfpenny?" Daintree asked, striving to speak lightly, and signally failing; "because we might manage the rest. If you will permit me to try my fascinations—"
"Not for a moment, my dear fellow; I couldn't dream of it."
"Now, look here, old chap," Daintree observed, calmly. "This is nonsense. I am going to be your brother-in-law—at least I hope so—and consequently I am as one of the family. In this capacity I do not choose for my future wife to be living under the same roof with a man in possession, and consequently I am going to pay him out. Good nature, my dear fellow—nonsense," as Brassey murmured some inaudible commonplace. "Pride, sir; foolish pride."
Reg was fain to follow his self-willed friend, being too broken-down to make any determined resistance to his proposal. It seemed so absurdly simple, after all, when the dread emissary of the law came to be interviewed by Daintree, the mention of whose name appeared to have a powerful effect upon the seedy individual, who, after all, appeared to cherish no personal animus against the peace and happiness of the house of Brassey.
"Business is business, gentlemen," he said, huskily, as he pocketed Daintree's cheque; "and, after all, I only do my dooty. It ain't a nice occupation, is mine; but it's hard to get a living, and I ain't so young as I used to be. Good afternoon, gents, and thank you."
"And thank you," said Brassey, fervently, as he turned to his friend. "Without your assistance I don't know—"
"Now, don't," Daintree responded, wearily. "There is no emotion so exhaustive and less satisfactory than gratitude. So far as I am concerned, the matter is at an end. Are there any more expected?"
"Not for a few days, at any rate, thank goodness," Reg replied. "By the way, I had forgotten all about Nellie, who was under the impression that I was in danger of immediate arrest."
Any anxiety on this head was disposed of by the arrival of the lady in question, who regarded Daintree with such marked favour, that he took up the afternoon edition of the Globe, which, fortunately for him, a servant brought in at the moment, and hid himself behind that friendly sheet, as he conned the various 'full heads' with ludicrous haste.
"Ah, how do you do, Mrs. Brassey?" he said. "Yes, you are looking much better; and, excuse me, I am rather interested in to-day's markets, having some tolerably heavy speculations on hand. Um! Mexicans better, Brighton A's firm. Do you know—Hullo! If you want news of your own locality always look in other papers for it. Listen to this."
"He is actually excited," Kitty laughed. "It must be something strange, indeed."
"It is," Daintree replied. "Don't interrupt as you love me."
"'DARING BURGLARY AT CHISLEHURST.
"'Information was received at Scotland Yard this morning concerning a most daring burglary in the above neighbourhood last night or early this morning. It appears that Mr. Septimus Bartley, the well-known stockbroker, received a communication yesterday afternoon, asking him to meet the writer, Mr. Charles Daintree (head of the firm of Daintree, Muir, and Co., Limited), at his town chambers shortly after midnight, on important business. Mr. Bartley accordingly called at the stipulated hour, and found that Mr. Daintree had not been there for some time, nor was he expected. Mr. Bartley thinking nothing of this, stayed the night at an hotel, repairing to his office the following morning. Happening to require some papers from his private house, he gave the keys to a confidential clerk, who journeyed down to Chislehurst, and, on arriving there, found, to his consternation, that the safe was open and the whole of the contents abstracted. This is all the more inexplicable, as the safe was fitted with one of the patent time locks of the latest burglar-proof design. The clock was broken, but otherwise there is no sign of violence.
"'Just before going to press we learn that the letter from Mr. Daintree is supposed to be a clever forgery. The police are reported to have discovered an important clue to the mystery.'"
"What do you think of that?" Brassey asked, at length. "Where are you going?"
Daintree took up his hat, and hurried to the door. There was no longer any semblance of coolness and want of animation as he examined his watch with a careful scrutiny.
"I am going to town," he said, smiling, curiously. "Don't you see that my character is at stake? Besides, I should like to know the meaning of this clue to the identity of the miscreant who dared to forgo my name."
DAINTREE contrived to catch the 4.15 up from Bromley arriving at Charing Cross shortly before six. Under his placid exterior there was a perfect tornado of excitement, such as he never remembered to have experienced before. It seemed an interminable time before the cab he had taken reached the City-road, the sorry steed pulling up at length at the corner of Pitt-street. Bidding the cabman to await his return, he arrived at length outside the residence of Jarvis, the number of which he ascertained from Brace before that enemy had departed from Bolitree.
"I am sorry that my husband is not at home, sir," Mrs. Jarvis replied, civilly, to Daintree's question. "If you don't mind leaving a message?"
"I must see him," he replied, "on a matter of urgent importance. You may have heard my name mentioned—Mr. Daintree, of Bolitree, Chislehurst. My good woman, all this mystery is very creditable to you, no doubt, but your husband I must and will see immediately, if I have to get all Scotland Yard to my assistance. And Jarvis would regret all that trouble, I am sure."
"He might have come in by the back way," said the mistress, eyeing her visitor with flattering admiration. "Bless me if I don't hear his voice!"
Charlie might have echoed this remark, as the high-pitched tomes of the burglar were palpable enough, but he remained discreetly silent. Without waiting for an invitation, the visitor followed his guide, and to his delight and surprise found himself face to face with Jarvis and Brace, the latter looking up with considerable alarm at the unexpected visitor.
"I am fortunate," Daintree commenced. "Brace, you do not appear to be in any hurry to consummate your promised reformation. Oblige me by retiring to some convenient place whilst I have a little private conversation with Jarvis. Come, my time is limited."
"It isn't a plant?" Jarvis asked, with palpable uneasiness. "'Cause if so you'll find me a different customer here, I promise."
"I shall find you the same kind of customer, as you term it, always," said Daintree. "Neither is this what you figuratively term a plant. I am here to ask a question."
"And blest is it sha'n't be granted," Jarvis responded heartily. "Say on, sir, and if I can do it the thing shall be done."
"Ah! I thought we should understand one another. I dare say in your legal experience you have come across the term 'compounding a felony.' Now I need not tell you that I am not anxious to incur that epithet. Leaving that for a moment, an enthusiast in his calling like yourself must know that a burglary was committed in my neighbourhood last night."
"I shouldn't wonder," Jarvis remarked, with transparent indifference. "There are a lot of shocking bad characters about, sir."
"Well, you and I musn't be hard on them, Jarvis. The burglary in question consisted of robbing a safe—one of the new safes with time locks, you understand. It is a great pity that you should have been anticipated considering that, on your own showing, you are, so to speak, the sole patentee."
Jarvis sighed pleasantly, perfectly understanding the allusion, and comprehending the necessity of keeping up the damning deception.
"The best of us get anticipated at times," he said. "Still, the safe was forced, and I could have done it myself. So far, so good, and mum's the word between us. I can trust you, and you can trust me. Now sir?"
"So far the ground is clear. The contents of that safe are in London?"
"You can bet on that," Jarvis returned, confidentially. "I know that much."
"Very good. I have a fancy to see one of the secret places where articles of an intrinsic value are hidden after a robbery. I want you to show me this, if you could yourself. And, Jarvis, if we came across the very place where the contents of last night's robbery are hidden, what an extremely curious coincidence it would be. I really should like to come across such a singular place today."
"I understand stranger things than that have happened," Jarvis replied seriously. "Without any more being said, come with me."
Daintree reinstated his hat, and followed his guide out into the street. They went along more than one dingy-looking thoroughfare till, at length, Jarvis paused before a respectable-looking clothier's shop, and passed quickly in. With a significant gesture to the amiable, elderly-looking woman who presided at the counter. He made his way upstairs into a fairly well-lighted room, the floor of which was littered with disorderly bags of second-hand garments of all descriptions. Hastily throwing aside a huge pile in one corner, he came to a heap of papers, some neatly folded and stacked, while others were littered in picturesque confusion.
"Not a lot, sir, as you observe, and most if it rubbish," Jarvis explained. "Without boastin', and them sayin' too much, that's every blessed scrap as ever come out of one of those wonderful time-lock safes, and not so many hours ago either. The two parties they belonged to"—Daintree smiled—"were a-goin' to be goin' through this very night."
It was an uncongenial, and not a very cleanly, task to wade through every paper in a close, evil-smelling room, but for nearly an hour Daintree searched the bag, while Jarvis looked on unconcernedly. There was absolutely nothing of value there, nothing save a few private memoranda, except at the very bottom of the accumulation, where a bundle of grimy parchments came to light. The seeker turned them over, till three parts of the way through, when his attention was arrested by one newer and cleaner than the rest, to which it was attached. They were both endorsed, the one being a date early in the last century, the other within two years of the present time.
"I have seen all I want to see," Daintree said, with a strange thrill in his voice. "After all, it is not very interesting. Still, as a memento of my visit, I will keep this old piece of parchment, if you have no objection."
"You can have the whole boiling if you like," Jarvis murmured with all the generosity of one bestowing another's goods. "If I'd ha' known—I mean if the man who went out of his way to get that rubbish had known as much as he does now, they would have been at Chisle—I mean where they came from still. It's a neat discovery wasted, that's what it is."
Daintree felt more easy when the street was reached. Now that the first excitement had worn off, he began to realize the fact that his adventure might have had a far more dramatic conclusion.
"You never told me how those time locks can be opened," he remarked, as he lingered for a moment by the burglar's door.
"I ain't quite sure I know," Jarvis replied, cautiously; "but I don't mind telling you my idea. The clock inside is wound up to a certain hour when it runs out, and the safe doors open. Think of that now—nothing to work up, no purchase for bits, or drill, or plate cutters, and no cracks for the powder. Where are your burglars now? Beaten, of course, you say. But suppose we think of a way to make a clock run faster. Suppose we take a small, very small, dynamite cartridge, and explode that upon the top of the safe—what then. Why, away goes the the spring of your clock, the wheels run down, and in a minute the door is open. Leastways," concluded the speaker, with a grin so broad that his mouth almost reaches back to his ears, "leastways, that's how I should have gone to work if I had anything to do with that little job at Chislehurst."
With a mind curiously exultant, Daintree was driven homeward, where he stopped at his club, and liberally paid the driver, who by this time had begun to regard his fare some considerable degree of suspicion. When there, he rapidly wrote out a letter and a telegram. The latter ran as follows:—
"Daintree, Oxford and Cambridge Club, to Brassey, Dalebrook Lodge, Chislehurst.
"Be at Bolitree to-night, all of you, at seven sharp. Have news of great importance. Remind K. of my challenge."
The letter was addressed to the City offices of Mr. Septimus Bartley, and was certainly calculated to relieve that gentleman's pressing anxiety:—
"DEAR MR. BARTLEY,—
"I have heard of your loss this afternoon, and tender you my condolences upon the annoyance to which you have been subjected. It is a little singular that, while my name being forged has been the cause of all the trouble, I should be fortunate enough to be able to throw an important light upon the robbery. If you can possibly walk up to Bolitree to-night, about nine, I shall be able to elaborate the mystery.
"I think that will do," murmured the writer, as he blotted his neat signature. "By Jove, it is equal to any play I ever saw! One wants to be a Frenchman to enjoy the dramatic scene we shall have to-night."
A little after eight o'clock the same evening, a small group were gathered round the fire in the Bolitree drawing-room, for the evening had turned chilly, and the flickering light shone gratefully upon the flushed, interested faces looking up to Daintree as he stood leaning on the mantelshelf. It was an interesting tale he had to tell, the recital of which had just commenced.
"Do you mean to say you were alone with a real burglar here?" asked Kitty, her eyes sparkling with alarm. "All by yourself?"
"All by myself. I had no idea of encountering the fellow myself, until I heard of your desperate state of affairs at the Lodge. When Kitty here and I talked the matter over, I had an inspiration. I determined to let Mr. Burglar come and take a few lessons from him, if possible."
"I told you he had been committing burglary!" Kitty cried. "I knew that when he told us just now he had got the best of Mr. Bartley. I am dying to hear that part of the story."
"All in good time," Brassey put in. "But you hav'n't made it clear yet how you know your house had been selected for a robbery."
"William discovered it, as Brace was indiscreet enough to pick upon him for a confederate. I ordered him to say nothing, but to profess himself willing to be the tool, which, as a matter of fact, Brace was to cowardly to enact himself. From William I learnt all particulars. My first idea was to go up to town and put the police upon the alert, and take the burglar Jarvis red-handed. But I had a happier inspiration than that. With the assistance of William, who came home on purpose, I saw Jarvis myself; and a very enjoyable evening it proved to be."
"Did he teach you how to open Mr. Bartley's safe?" Kitty asked, mischievously. "You appear to have learnt your lesson well, 'Burglar Bill's pupil.'"
"I didn't go quite so far as that; but I certainly have learnt how these time locks can be manipulated," Daintree replied. "Indeed, I was also indiscreet enough to let him know that Mr. Bartley's safe was fitted with one, since he seemed so anxious to try. It certainly is a strange thing that it should have been done within so short a time."
"I am absolutely mystified," Mrs. Brassey observed. "There seems to have been some wonderful plot, but I cannot understand whether or not it succeeded. You say Mr. Bartley—"
"Who is here to answer for himself," Daintree interpolated, as that individual was ushered in, to his extreme discomfiture. "We were just discussing your unfortunate loss, Mr. Bartley."
"Ah, indeed!" that worthy stammered. "But I understood that you wished to see me on business—private business."
"It affects us all," Daintree remarked, coolly. "The business upon which I wish to confer with you requires exactly the witnesses who are present. Pardon me if I refer to a painful subject, but I understand from my friend, Mr. Brassey, that you are under the impression that no release of the Battiscombe property was ever executed by you. City men are apt to forget such trifles, but I will ask you once more to consider carefully whether or not you are labouring under a mis-apprehension."
"Really, this treatment is hardly fair," Bartley protested, his long, serious face aglow with indignation. "I certainly did not expect this, and again I shall not attempt to substantiate my emphatic denial that no release was ever executed by me. If you will allow me—"
"You will certainly not leave this room till you have heard all I have to say," Daintree responded, with stern determination. "Your family lawyer, who drew up the document, is dead, and your affairs are now administered by another solicitor. But the witnesses are alive—one in America, where he obtained a situation on your recommendation; and the other, Saunders by name, who is employed in your office. Surely these circumstances may serve to refresh your memory, Mr. Bartley."
"This is a conspiracy," returned the cheat, with faltering dignity. "Surely my reputation is worth something, and surely my word is worth more than that of a mere clerk, who will tell you that—"
"That you signed that deed. You need not hope to coerce him, since he is under my roof at the present moment, ready to substantiate all I say. I will do Mr. Saunders the justice to remark that he knew little or nothing of your attempted fraud, but it is a little singular that you should have arranged to send him out to America also."
The detected listener braced himself for the coming struggle. But, despite his fine assumption of outraged dignity, there was something in his questioner's calm face that seemed to chill his soul and damp all his natural courage.
"Your proofs," he said. "You have made a challenge, and asserted that I am a trickster and a thief. My clerk remembers attesting a document purporting to be made between myself and Mr. Brassey. Where is the document you profess to have discovered?"
"The document is here," said Daintree, as he drew the flat packet from his coat-pocket; "here, neatly tucked away inside an older parchment, so that it might escape discovery. A very pretty scheme, Mr. Bartley; but the game is over now, for even you are not bold enough to deny your own handwriting."
As if fascinated by the sight of the crackling sheepskin, as if its red seal had been a snake to sting him, the detected imposter gazed in dumbfounded confusion upon the yellow sheet in Daintree's hand.
"It has been stolen from me!" he cried. "It is a vile conspiracy to ruin me! Still, I shall be even with you yet! You have that, certainly: but even your hirelings cannot recover the Battiscombe deeds!"
"Now, really, that is a very childish remark," Daintree observed, pitifully. "Of course, they are deposited with your bankers as security for a temporary loan; and when I show the senior partner in Brooks's this document, he will probably prosecute you for obtaining money by false pretences. And it shall be done, unless we have the deeds within a week."
"Is there anything more you want me to do?" Bartley asked, humbly, when at length he found himself face to face in the hall with Daintree, without the faintest notion how he got there. "I—I—You don't know what I have suffered lately, and how I have been tortured."
"We will leave all that to the imagination—where you found it," Daintree replied, with lofty disgust. "Get those deeds back within the week, and rely upon us to say nothing. We are not afraid for our part. Here is your hat. In a week, mind. Good night!"
The flickering firelight showed the tears in Mrs. Brassey's eyes, as Daintree did not fail to notice. Reggie caught him by the hand, while Kitty looked up with a glance in which pleasure, love, and admiration were all mingled. There was happiness enough and to spare, but no one spoke for a moment.
"I declare I could kiss you!" Kitty whispered, as she laid her white arms on her lover's shoulders and looked into his eyes with rapture.
"Don't restrain your feelings," Charlie laughed; but there was a catch in his voice, too. "It is always a bad thing for young people to do. At any rate, I think I have fairly earned my reward, as I have fairly redeemed my promise. And here is the proof of my assertion."
He placed the paper, so insignificant-looking and yet meaning so much, in her hands, Brassey looking on in stolid astonishment.
"But where on earth did you get that from?" he found words to ask.
"Where do you imagine I got it from? Do you think I fired the imagination of my burglar friend for nothing? Why, when I told him where he could find scope for his zeal in the time-lock line, he rose to it directly. My real inspiration of genius came when I opened the Globe this afternoon, and read that Bartley had been robbed. I rushed straight to town, and, by diplomatic means, got a sight of the contents of the safe."
"But how could you possibly know that the same thieves had been at each?" Mrs. Brassey asked. "That was not all guess work."
"Not quite," Daintree admitted, candidly. "William was told off to watch Brace after the attempted burglary here, and he discovered the fact that that rascal had stolen some of my papers. When my name was chosen as the decoy, I felt absolutely certain."
It was a merry, if a somewhat quiet, party who left Bolitree an hour later. Brassey and his wife in front, Daintree and Kitty lingering behind. The peaceful starlight night suited their mood, and for once Kitty was shy and constrained.
"It was clever of you," she whispered, as she tightened her grasp on the arm upon which she was leaning. "But I shall always be afraid of you now."
"Because I am a burglar?" Charles laughed. "There is only one thing more I want to steal, and that I must have, if it is not mine already."
"Your heart, darling. It was a promise, you remember."
"Which was given before the promise was made," Kitty answered, shyly, as her lover stooped and pressed his lips to hers. "It was given before, so that you have had no reward after all. And to think," she continued, with her old gaiety—"to think, that with all my aspirations after the heroes of fiction who come with titles and riches galore to lay them at the feet of the impecunious but beautiful maiden, I should fall so low as to marry 'Burglar Bill's Pupil.'"
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