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Title: The Missing Note
Author: Fred M. White
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1300901h.html
Language: English
Date first posted:  Mar 2013
Most recent update: Mar 2013

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The Missing Note


Fred M. White

First published in The Windsor Magazine, Aug 1911

THE car sobbed and staggered like a spent athlete at the end of a long run, then gave a kind of convulsive jerk and stopped altogether. Over the windscreen a thin, cold rain struck like whip-lashes. Dallas smote his half-frozen hands together. He had been dreading this for the last half-hour. From the back of the car came the sound of a voice swearing fluently.

"Not a bit of good, old chap," Dallas said. "We should have till tomorrow. I told you that beastly plug was wrong before we started. It was all very well for those good people to say that we were quite welcome to come any time, Dalton--"

"No good groaning," Dalton interrupted. "I funked an attack of malaria in that beastly hole of an hotel. We ought to have chucked it days ago and come on here. That's why I got you to telephone and clinch the business. The duck-shooting was all very well; but it's slow work, after all, and the 'pub' accommodation was vile. Give me a few pheasants and a comfortably-cooked dinner afterwards, such as we're tolerably certain to get at Walney Place. Your telegram--"

"May or may not have got there," Dallas cut in. "I know what these telegrams to local branch line stations mean. If there's nobody handy to despatch them, they don't go. As a rule, they are delivered by the rural postman in the morning. Still, its no time to discuss the shortcomings of the post-office. It's past ten o'clock, the car has broken down, and we're two miles or more from our destination. What's to he done?"

"Get the map out and find a short cut," Dalton suggested. "Shove the old car into the hedge and take our suit-cases with us. Lucky thing most of our traps went by train. Come along, old chap! If I catch cold, I'll get that infernal malaria on me to a dead certainty. Where's the dog?"

The big mastiff crept out of the body of the car as if to inquire whether or not his services were required. Stylo had been with his master in many lands, and many adventures had he seen. He blinked benevolently upon the scene now, but. Stylo was not always benevolent. He had his likes and dislikes, and, upon the authority of Dalton, had a fine eye for a "wrong un." This instinct had stood the sportsmen in good stead more than once.

"Put out the lamps and shove the car into the hedge," Dalton growled. "Think you'll get it clear from the map? You don't often go wrong at that game."

Dallas responded curtly that he had no intention making a mistake on this occasion. They fought their way in silence along the muddy lane and into the main road. It was cold, hard work, but there was a good meal and a warm fire awaiting them. They had taken Walney Place for two months pheasant-shooting--in fact, they had taken over the whole place, as Sir George Walney and his daughter Mabel were going abroad for some time, and the shooting, by all accounts, was good. Dallas had heard of the opportunity quite by accident, and in his quick, characteristic way had rushed the transaction through by means of his agent without further inquiry. He, like Dalton, was getting very tired of the "flighting," and still more tired of the mean Essex "hotel" where they had been putting up for the past two weeks. Sir George had asked till Saturday before he turned out, but he would be delighted to see his tenants at any time. They had only to send him a wire. Hence the telegram and the sudden exodus in the derelict motor-car.

They plunged along until they came to a pair of noble iron gates flanked by a lodge which appeared to be empty. Here was the place at last, and here was the home blazing with lights and apparently full of guests. The strains of a brilliantly played piano accompanying a voice singing some of the latest light opera music floated out on the chill air. The beautiful tenor solo merged into a duet of great power and finish of expression. Dalton looked a little uncomfortable.

"They seem to have some musical swells here," he muttered. "By Jove, that girl can sing! So can the man, for the matter of that. My boy, we've struck a big dinner-party, and the odds are about a hundred to one that our telegram has not been delivered!"

"Any money you're right," Dallas grumbled. "I don't half like it, old man."

Stylo was emphatically of the same opinion. He stood on the tips of his toes, the brown fur along his back bristling. The amber-hued eyes gleamed, the great white teeth glistened.

"What's the matter with the dog?" Dalton asked. "There's something wrong here, Dallas. Stylo never behaves like that unless there is mischief afoot. He don't dislike strangers, as a rule, and he's not generally rude to people in their own house. What are we getting at ? "

"Oh, don't ask me!" Dallas retorted. "There can't be anything wrong here. Yet I've rung and rung, and nobody comes. I'll hold on to the bell till I get an answer."

The ripple of the electric bell could be heard somewhere in the distance, but nobody came. It was cold and dismal out there, and Dallas was getting impatient; and all the time the brilliant playing and singing was going on as if the performers had never a care in the world. Somewhat angry, Dallas turned the handle and pushed the door open. The hall was fully lighted, the atmosphere was warm and fragrant, the shallow oak stairs with the crimson carpet gleamed with flowers and ferns. Stylo crept along on his toes in the same stealthy fashion, his fur standing fairly on end. With a low growl he crouched at the foot of the stairs like some great cat. It seemed as if he saw something that was quite invisible to his human companions.

"You may bet your life there is mischief here," Dalton whispered. "Stylo would never carry on like that unless he smelt something ugly."

"Well, if there is trouble up those stairs, it is likely to remain there for the present," Dallas said coolly. "The trouble is not likely to come down without a warm time with the dog. We'll leave Stylo to guard the fort. Let's get into one of the rooms. I've no fancy to stand here with the chance that somebody at the top of those stairs is covering me with a revolver."

There were four or five rooms on the ground floor. The billiard- and morning-rooms, though brilliantly lighted, were empty, as was the library. The drawing-room door was locked on the inside, and from it the steady strains of melody were pouring. Dallas knocked on the door, but no reply came. The tenor was singing again, the accompanist rippled on. In ordinary circumstances Dallas would have enjoy all this immensely, for he was a keen lover of music and no mean pianist himself. His ear detected two missing notes from the accompaniment, and he shivered. It seemed a very strange omission for so practised an exponent in the art of accompaniment.

"Well, this is certainly the queerest thing I ever struck," Dallas muttered. "The whole house deserted, no servants anywhere. so far as I can judge, and Stylo guarding something sinister upstairs! The drawing-room door locked, and yet that wonderful singing and playing is going on as if nothing had happened. Let's see the dining-room affords any relief."

An inspection of the dining-room only seemed to increase the mystery. A table set out for two, and covered with flowers and fruit, stood in the centre of the room. On two dessert plates was a litter of nutshells and peach skins. Them were a few dregs of champagne in the glasses, and on one of the dessert plates a cigarette which had burnt itself clean out; evidently it had been laid there fully lighted, and not taken up again. By the fire lay a long strip of grey silk, evidently torn from a lady's dress, and a tangled knot of roses, crushed and battered. By the side of it was a revolver with one chamber empty. A mirror, cracked and starred into a thousand pieces, told as to how the shot had been fired.

"Well, we've certainly struck it rich this time," Dalton said. "I wish that infernal music would stop; it's beginning to get on my nerves! We have all the elements of a tragedy here. There was e struggle, as that fragment of silk shows, to say nothing of the revolver. I could understand it better if it were not for the music in the drawing-room. Anybody outside would think the house was given over to the most abandoned gaiety. What do you make of it, Dallas?"

"Hang me if I now!" Dallas responded. "This is the kind of mystery that make you creep. If Sir George had suddenly gone mad--"

"But there are other people in the drawing~room. What about the tenor, for instance, and the lady with the rich contralto? She's a professional for money, and yet they've got the door locked. There are probably a great many people in there besides our host and his daughter. I dare say there is an explanation."

"It's an explanation they would find it hard to convince Stylo with," Dallas said grimly. "The dog would never behave like that if anything was not unduly wrong; I have never known the hound's instinct to fail. Besides, where are the servants? There is not a sign of one of them to be seen. I've no painful anxiety to make a fool of myself, but I have a great mind--"

"To break the drawing-room door," Dalton said eagerly. "Why not?"

"Because we might look foolish, old chap. Even with all this evidence, there may be nothing wrong; and it would be rather a liberty in another man's house,"

"But suppose those people are being held up?" Dalton urged. "I've heard of such things. The rascals who are responsible for all the mischief might be holding a concert."

"They might," Dallas admitted, as he looked moodily at the dining-room table, "but those two plates and glasses puzzle me. If Sir George has guests in the house--and we can hear ample evidence of it at this very moment--why did he and his daughter dine alone here together? And where did the other guests feed? You may argue that they came after dinner, but there are no wraps or coats in the hall. I noticed that just now. And you can't get over the revolver and the torn piece of silk. There-- they are beginning that concert all over again! I wish they'd stop. As you say, the whole thing gets on one's nerves. Well, we'll wait a bit."

Evidently the programme in the drawing- room was being repeated. Dalton and Dallas listened more or less mechanically. At the end of half an hour Dallas started. Something had jarred upon his musical ear. It seemed to be another of those little slips. Dalton addressed a remark to him, but he did not appear to hear. His face cleared, and a grim smile trembled on his lips.

"I believe I've got it," he said. "Yes, I'm pretty certain I've found a clue. The only wonder is that I did not see it before. It's very wonderful music, old man, but there is one flaw in it. Do you know what I mean "

"No, I'm hanged if I do!" Dalton admitted. "If we are wasting time here--"

" Well, we are not going to waste time any longer," Dallas exclaimed. "There it goes again, exactly in the same bar as it did before! I think I know now why the musicians did not dine here with Sir George and his daughter. They are not very expensive guests. Now, you stay here while go out of the house and see what I can see through the drawing-room window. You are quite safe here so long as Stylo guards the staircase. The source of all the mischief is overhead. I know now why the drawing-room door is locked. You don't mind?"

Dalton shrugged his shoulders indifferently.

"Not so long as we are likely to do something," he said. "I'll stay here and keep guard. I shall not want to hear a song again for years. If you can only stop that infernal row, I shall be grateful to you all my life. Get a move on you, old chap!"

Dallas slipped through the hall and out into the night. During the last moment or two things were growing clearer. What he was likely to find in the drawing-room he was not quite certain, but he had a pretty shrewd idea of what he was not going to find. His musical ear was standing him in good stead now. What the whole elaborate machinery meant he would discover later on. He came at length to the drawing-room window, and tapped smartly on the glass. There was just a bar's interval in the music, and it seemed to Dallas that he could hear somebody groaning. Then the brilliant concert broke out again.

There was nothing for it but to force a way in. Fortunately, the window was of the French type--one of those long double windows apparently designed with the benign purpose of giving the predatory visitor as little trouble as possible. Dallas pressed his shoulder steadily against the framework, digging his heels into the gravel. A flimsy brass bolt suddenly snapped, and Dallas fell on his back into the room. He was on his feet again in an instant, ready for attack. Not that he expected anything of the kind, but it was best to be ready.

The room was brilliantly lighted--a long, elegant room, perfectly appointed in every way. In one corner stood a grand piano, with a polished pedestal alongside it, and Dallas smiled grimly as his eye noted these things. In an arm-chair by the fireside an elderly man in dress-clothes was huddled up as if he were intoxicated or had fallen asleep in an uncomfortable position. But there was no suggestion of intoxication about him, as a closer examination disclosed.

Opposite the elderly gentleman was the slight figure of s girl dressed in some soft, white material. She appeared to be just as cramped and uncomfortable. The pretty, pleading face was pale as death, the blue eyes were dark with terror.

"Why do you torture us like this?" she whispered.

"Allow me to assist you," Dallas replied. "I see you are both tied up. There is not the least reason to be afraid of me, Miss Walney. I am Mr. Dallas."

The girl's lips quivered and she closed her eyes. Just for s moment it looked as if she were going to faint. Dallas drew a knife from his pocket and cut the cords. Then he turned to Sir George Walney and performed s similar office for him. He had not the least doubt as to the identity of the two. A little stiff and sore, Sir George rose to his feet.

"You have done me a great service, Mr. Dallas," he said. "How you came to be here at this very opportune moment, I don't know. Still, since you are here--"

"I sent you s telegram," Dallas explained. "We took you at your word. My friend Dalton is at the present moment in the dining-room. My telegram failed to reach you?"

"It certainly did," Sir George said. "The telegraphic service is by way of the railway station, and is absolutely unreliable. Will you oblige me by stopping that infernal music?"

Dallas shook his head.

"Would you mind waiting a moment?" he asked. "There are urgent reasons why the music should go on for a little longer. There are certain people in the house whom it would be unwise to alarm just yet. I should like to take them red-handed--"

"Do you mean to sa that they are still here ?" Sir George cried.

"I fancy so," Dallas smiled. "I have every reason to believe that we arrived at what the novelists used to call the psychological moment. My friend's dog Stylo is also of the same opinion. This is s very audacious outrage, Sir George."

Sir George groaned slightly. The anxious, strained look was in his eyes again.

"It is s most terrible business altogether," he murmured. "Mr. Dallas, I am not leaving this house because I have my particular desire to go abroad. I am going sway because I have to, because neither my child nor myself can stand the strain any longer. For the last year those scoundrels have haunted and hunted me. I have given them money until I can do so no longer. Unless they had a certain large sum to-day, they were going to-- Well, I need not go into that. I cannot raise money on the property, and I cannot dispose of the many treasures here, so I am helpless. There are urgent family reasons why I hesitate to proclaim the story abroad and invoke the aid of the police. To a certain extent, I have not done this because the Chief Constable of the county is an old friend of mine. I have a small measure of police protection, and the officers are instructed to do certain things if necessary. The house is more or less watched, and they know that. They came here to-night armed, and drove all my servants into the vaults under the old part of the house. The household staff is under lock and key. Then we were bound and conveyed here. They actually brought that electro-grammophone arrangement with them. You can see for yourself that it is connected with one of the switches that control my electric lights. By some simple automatic arrangement, the pieces are played over and over again. Do you understand why?"

"Perfectly," Dallas exclaimed. "A policeman passing along here would hear the music, and naturally conclude that everything was all right. The concert might go on till daylight, and the officer would not be any the wiser, And this would give your friends many hours' start."

"That is exactly what they were so good as to tell me," Sir George said dryly. "But how you came to get any grip of the situation is beyond me."

"And yet it is quite simple," Dallas explained. "I am by way of being a musician. I could not quite understand why the same concert should take place twice, and it puzzled me why the same false notes should he sung by brilliant musicians. Suddenly it flashed across my mind that the whole thing was mechanical. The situation began to unroll itself. There was the empty house, devoid of servants, the door was open, the drawing-room was apparently filled with guests, and yet we could not make anybody hear. Add to this the fact that the dog told me, as plain as if he could speak, that there was danger somewhere overhead. And vet all the time the concert was going on. That is why I wished to find out things for myself. But one thing you may rest assured of--you are not going to lose any of your treasures."

"Yon mean that you came in time to save them, Mr. Dallas?"

"As I have already informed you, the men are still here," Dallas explained. "The dog tells me so, and I have never known him to make a mistake. The question is, what are we going to do? If you like to hand them over to the police--"

Sir George looked s little uneasy. The girl laid a hand on his arm imploringly.

"Tell the truth." she pleaded. "My dear father, let everybody know. It is no fault of ours--we have not anything to be ashamed of, and in a few days the whole thing will be forgotten. I cannot go on living the life of the past year or so; it would drive me mad! Be guided by Mr. Dallas; act just as he suggests. At any rate, tell him the truth."

Sir George turned away for the moment, apparently struggling with himself. His face was very white and set as he came hack to the fireplace again.

"Perhaps I had better," he said. "If anything happens to me, I don't want my son and my little girl to suffer afterwards. I'l1 tell you everything, Mr. Dallas."

"Not here," Dallas said. "Let us go back to the dining-room. Dalton will wonder what has become of me. We shall have to go by way of the garden."

Dalton looked relieved as Dallas entered the room. He listened eagerly to the strange story. In the drawing-room the weird concert was still going on. From time to time there came something between a whimper and a growl from the dog patiently squatting at the foot of the stairs.

"What are you going to do?" Dallas asked.

"I am entirely in your hands," Sir George replied. "I have been foolish and cowardly. I should have put an end to this torture long ago. Call the police if you like."

With a grim smile on his lips, Dallas strode into the hall. He uttered a curt command to the dog, and made a motion with his hand towards the head of the stairs. With a deep bay Stylo dashed up the stairs; a second later came hoarse cries for help and the worrying noise of an animal out of all control. After the dog went Dallas. Lights flashed all around him.... It was two minutes later when he came down to the dining-room again, pushing before him two white-faced objects, their clothes hanging in shreds about them. Evidently the dog had lost no time.

"Here are your friends, Sir George," Dallas said. "you need not be afraid of them, for they are no longer dangerous. I noticed a couple of sacks in the corridor, and I have no doubt that they contain the plunder they got together ready for removal. The question now is what we are going to do with them. Shall I call for the police?"

Sir George held up s hand that was none too steady.

"Have patience with me just for a moment," he said. "The tall man on the left is my brother-in-law; I married his sister. People generally were under the impression that my late unhappy wife was an American. As a matter of fact, she came from an orphan asylum. I fell in love with her pretty face, and I had her educated. It was a most unhappy match from the first--how unhappy, my child does not know, because her mother died before she was old enough to understand things. It was a little money these men ask at first, and that humbly. But, by degrees they grew more greed. I found out that they belonged to one of the most dangerous gangs of thieves in London. For two years they have made my life a perfect misery to me. My daughter here learnt the truth at last, and she urged me to take strong measures. I doubt if I should have done so even now but for the dramatic appearance of you two gentlemen to-night. I should probably have put up with the loss, and pretended that I knew little or nothing about where the treasures had gone to. There will be a certain amount of scandal, of course, but I am ready to face it boldly now."

"You'll he sorry for this later on," the tall man growled.

"I don't think so," Sir George replied. "But I am not going to discuss the matter; there is going to be no more said. Mr. Dallas, will you be so good as to take the whistle from the side of the clock, and blow three times outside the front door? Mabel, take Mr. Dalton and show him where the servants are locked up. We must get the gentlemen some supper. No, you need not be afraid for me. This grand specimen of a dog will be all the protection I shall need."

* * * * *

The supper was done and ended, the story had been told again and again. Mabel Walney rose presently and declared that she was too tired to sit up any longer. Dallas opened the door for her, and at a sign followed her into the hall.

"Can I ever show my gratitude to you?" she asked. "You will not think that--that-that--"

"I shall always think of you as one of the bravest of women," Dallas said, as he held the little hand in his for a moment, "and what could s man want more than that?"

"I am sure that you will always be my friend," she said.

"Friendship is only the beginning," Dallas smiled. " I'm afraid I shall want more than that."

And in the course of time he had his own way there.


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