a treasure-trove of literature
treasure found hidden with no evidence of ownership
Title: The Destroyer Author: Arthur Gask * A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook * eBook No.: 1301561h.html Language: English Date first posted: March 2013 Date most recently updated: March 2013 Produced by: Bev Benneworth and Maurie Mulcahy Project Gutenberg 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 Australia Licence which may be viewed online at http://gutenberg.net.au/licence.html
GO TO Project Gutenberg Australia HOME PAGE
In the dark hours of the night the destroyer had descended upon the little village of Finchingfield. Convulsions had seized his victims, their limbs had stiffened, and in a great agony their bodies had been arched. Then death had come, and the friends of man had sped to the Valhalla where the spirits go.
And there they lay—five dogs outstretched upon the village road.
The landlord of "The Goose and Feathers" had lost his greyhound; Mr. Spraggs of the village store, his fox terrier; old Mrs. Jinks, weeping more than she ever wept when her husband died, her little dog of most mysterious descent; Joe Rolls, the butcher, his prize cocker spaniel; and Dr. Kains, his beautiful and soft-eyed collie, beloved by every child for miles around.
Strychnine had killed them all. Dr. Kains knew it instantly, when he saw his own dog beside two others on the road before his house, and, at once, he used language that as a churchwarden should have fallen from his lips only upon Whit-Sunday, in the singing of the Athanasian Creed.
The whole business was as a little earthquake in the lives of the homely village folks, and speculate as they might, they could hazard no idea as to the identity of the fiend who had laid the poor animals low.
The news spread like wildfire through the district, and consternation and terror took possession of all whose dogs had so far escaped.
The Vicar locked up his setter in the tool-shed, pending the coming of the Chelmsford detectives, whom he insisted should be communicated with at once. The Misses Wardle, to whose cook the dreadful news had been imparted by the milkman, telephoned instantly to Braintree, imploring that a strong leather dog-lead for their little Pekinese be dispatched forthwith by the carrier, and Professor Welder's housekeeper, arriving in the village for her usual morning's shopping and hearing what had happened, rushed precipitately back home, remembering then in trepidation that she had not noticed their bull-dog, Ajax, about that morning.
The village constable, Abel Dance, was urged to instant action, and he did his best to pacify the bereaved by his confident assurance that all steps would be taken at once to get to the bottom of the matter.
Then Rumour began to clamour with her thousand tongues, and with no delay Professor Welder's dog, along with several others, was added to the number of the slain. Indeed, to a passing but highly interested stranger who had alighted from his motor cycle at "The Goose and Feathers" for a double rum were very quickly imparted the names of no less than eleven dog owners whose animals had died.
Rumour, as it happened, had some reason for her clamouring, for at twenty minutes to ten news filtered through that Squire Manning's little Pomeranian was sick unto death and at 9.55 old Colonel Jones, with a red and furious face, was ushered into the little office of Police-Constable Dance to announce the passing of his bull-terrier, Bill.
Now, Colonel Jones was a very important person in the village and, as chairman of the bench of magistrates at Braintree, he could not be put off with vague promises like the other sufferers. So the constable at once proceeded to give him chapter and verse as to what had been done.
Chelmsford had been communicated with and the whole matter laid before them, the seriousness and widespread nature of the outrage being stressed, most urgently.
"But I'm afraid, sir," added Dance with a shrug of his shoulders, "that they won't take much notice. All their comment was that if any of the dead dogs were not registered, then I was to take immediate steps to proceed against their owners."
"But it is monstrous," boomed the Colonel, "for the poisoning may go on. Other kinds of animals may die next and in a few days there may not be a paw or a hoof in the district." His face was purple in his indignation. "They ought to send down the best detectives they've got, at once."
Dance put his finger to his lips and, glancing furtively round to make sure that the door of his little sanctum was firmly closed, dropped his voice into a very low tone.
"Speaking about detectives, Colonel Jones," he whispered, "it happens we have one of the best staying in the village now." His eyes were opened very wide. "Gilbert Larose, one of the cracks up at the Yard is at the present moment at 'The Goose and Feathers'. He's there on holiday under the name of Brown. He doesn't know me, but I recognized him in the tap-room last night."
"Gilbert Larose!" ejaculated the Colonel. "Ah, I've heard of him." He looked fierce and important. "Well, do you think if I approached him and gave him my name, suggesting some small remuneration for his trouble, say a couple of pounds, that he would take up the case?"
The constable would have given a week's pay to have been able to laugh. "Oh, I wouldn't do that, Colonel," he smiled. "These chaps high up are very touchy and easily offended." He nodded vigorously. "But I'll tell you how you might get at him. He's a fisherman and I heard he caught nothing yesterday. Why not approach him accidentally and, not telling him you know who he is, say he may fish in your private water? Then bring up the poisoning and ask his advice." He nodded again. "He's very keen on all crime work and although he's on holiday may take this up, just for the sport."
"But giving him my name should be quite sufficient," the Colonel frowned. He thought for a moment, "Still, it's not a bad idea. I'll think over it," and with a curt nod he marched out of the room.
Now if there was one thing Colonel Jones loathed it was the presence of strangers in his grounds. There were boards up everywhere notifying that trespassers would be prosecuted, and it was well known on the bench that, in his particular outlook on life, blacking a wife's eyes or striking a mother-in-law were far less heinous offences than snaring a partridge or a rabbit or the hooking of an unlawful trout. So it was with rather reluctant steps that he made his way to the village inn and enquired for Mr. Brown.
There he learnt that that gentleman had gone fishing for the day, but would probably be found at "the bend", for he had been heard to say he was going to try his luck there.
So at the bend of the little river he came upon Larose, and smoothing his rather frowning face into a good humour he approached and entered into conversation. No, there was nothing much doing, Mr. Brown told him, and except upon his hands and face, where the midges were much in evidence, he had not had a single bite.
The Colonel appeared to consider and then remarked grandly, "Well, come into my place. I'm Colonel Jones, and I own the river for a mile higher. I'll show you a place where you'll get some big two-pounders." He frowned. "But I must limit you to a round dozen, for my friend, Lord Rottingdean, is coming down next week, and I don't want the water fished out. Pick up your tackle now and I'll show you where to go."
Larose was delighted with the prospect, but at the same time very puzzled at the amiability of this red-faced man of Mars, for already in the tap-room of "The Goose and Feathers" he had heard quite a lot about his irascibility and intolerance to strangers.
Proceeding leisurely in the direction of where the great two-pounders were to be found, Colonel Jones at once began to discuss the dreadful deeds of the poisoner in their midst, and insisted vehemently that he, of all sufferers, had been especially singled out.
"By Gad, sir," he exclaimed, "the brute made no mistake about getting my poor dog, for I picked up no less than three unswallowed baits upon the drive, cunning baits, too, thin pieces of prime beef, rolled up and tied loosely with strips of stringy membrane from under the fat." He shook his head angrily. "Diabolical, I call it. They made a dead set at me, for no untaken baits have been found anywhere else!"
"Tied up with membrane!" Larose exclaimed. "As carefully done as all that!"
"Yes," snorted the Colonel, "quite little works of art, and each one appears to contain just enough strychnine, not too much, to make the animal vomit, but just the right quantity that he would keep down and that would kill him." He snorted again. "I am convinced the poisoner was an expert and has poisoned many times before."
"If you have kept them, I'd like to see these baits," said Larose. "I might be . . ."
"Come straight away, sir," said the Colonel. He waved his hand towards the little river. "You can have the fishing of my water any time."
So Larose was led up to the house, a comfortable and roomy old English home, and shown the baits that had been preserved in a cardboard cigarette box. Then he asked to see where they had been found, and was taken to just inside two big gates, about a hundred yards distant from the house.
Colonel Jones, with all his pomposity, was in some ways as simple as a little child, and he was soon finding it most difficult to keep up the deceit that he was unaware of the identity of his visitor. So all at once, getting even redder than ever, he pulled a most apologetic smile and burst out, "Look here, sir, forgive the little subterfuge of a very sad old man, for I was devoted to my dog and shall feel his loss for many a long day." He looked intently at Larose. "I know who you are, sir. You are Mr. Gilbert Larose."
"I was beginning to think you did," laughed Larose, "for I happened to see you going into the policeman's house this morning just as I was coming out of the inn and I had noticed that gentleman give me one or two hard looks when I was in the tap-room last night." He nodded. "Yes, I'll help you all I can, for this seems to be a little problem quite out of the way, but you must promise me you'll let no one know who I am."
So it ended in Larose staying for lunch, and over a couple of glasses of excellent port he asked the Colonel a great many questions, many of which the latter thought were quite irrelevant to the matter in hand. But Larose was evidently meaning to waste no time, for he kept looking at his watch during the questioning and at length asked the colonel to drive him into Braintree, about nine miles distant, in his car. Then they paid brief visits to Professor Welder and Squire Manning, and finally Larose was dropped just outside the village, bidding the Colonel a very cheery farewell and adding that it was just possible there might be good news for him within the next twenty-four hours.
"By Gad!" said the old Colonel to his wife when he returned home, "that chap's a hustler." He frowned. "But he's been ordering me about as if I were a private in my own regiment."
In the meantime Larose was in earnest conversation with the village policeman.
"All right, constable," he laughed to that rather embarrassed young man, "you needn't apologize for telling Colonel Jones I was here, You've introduced me to quite an interesting case, and what's more, with any luck, it may mean promotion for you." He became grave again. "Now tell me all you know about this poisoning."
P.C. Dance, who was no fool, but an alert, intelligent young fellow, in quick staccato tones rattled off everything that had come to his knowledge. Two more dogs had been added to the list, nine in all having been poisoned.
"Now, let us sum everything up," said Larose when the recital was finished, "and see what strikes us first." He nodded impressively. "Now, every one of these baits was thrown down from the high road. I mean the poisoner went up no by-roads and turned into no narrow lanes to distribute his baits. Therefore, I think we may safely assume that he threw them out when he was going along in a car. I am the more inclined to take this view because the only three un-swallowed baits that have been found smelt most decidedly of oil, as if an oily hand had touched them. Then Colonel Jones is positive that two of the baits were close together when he picked them up upon his drive, suggesting, of course, that they were thrown out hurriedly at the same time, and not separately as would be the natural thing to do if the poisoner had been standing still when he cast them away." He looked sharply at the young policeman. "You follow me there?"
"Yes, sir," nodded Dance, "and you are going to argue that, coming in a motor car as he did, he does not belong to the village. He is not a local man."
"Exactly!" nodded Larose. He smiled. "Really, I see it's going to be a pleasure to work with you."
The policeman reddened delightedly, and Larose went on.
"Well, we may presume at once that there was a particular motive for laying these baits. If there were not, if there were no motive for this wholesale destruction, then the poisoner must be mad." He shook his head. "But I dismiss this idea of a madman, at once, for any one mad and in the possession of strychnine would have gone for much bigger game than dogs. He would have tried for human beings and have poisoned wells, or, maybe, that memorial fountain I see you've got here, and then he might have thrown some in that horse-trough in front of 'The Goose and Feathers'. No, we may be quite certain that those baits were meant for dogs, and dogs only."
He spoke very sharply. "Besides, this man is a professional poisoner. It is not the first time he has done it, and he is an old hand at the game. I took those three baits into a Braintree chemist's this afternoon and they had each got exactly the same amount of strychnine in them, one and a half grains, weighed accurately, so the chemist says." He raised his hand. "Well, what was the motive of this man? What is the first thing that comes into our minds?"
"Some dog was in his way, sir," replied the policeman promptly. "He wants to have the coast clear to break into some house somewhere. He contemplates a burglary."
"Just what I think," smiled Larose. "He wanted to get rid of one particular dog, and in order to conceal his special motive, he has poisoned all these other eight."
"Then in that case," commented the policeman with some excitement in his tones, "he is going to break in either at Squire Manning's or Colonel Jones's, and as you say he must have thrown at least three baits on to the Colonel's drive, it's any odds then it's to his house he's going. Yes, he made a dead set at him."
But Larose shook his head. "What is there to burgle at Colonel Jones's?" he asked scornfully. "I've gone over everything with him this afternoon and all he's got is about £150 worth of old silver which he keeps under his bed at night. He is always well prepared, too, as every one in the village appears to know, with a big cavalry revolver. And then Squire Manning's? What's worth taking there? Just a comfortable well-furnished house, but with nothing of any portable value! Certainly, he's got some old and ugly-looking portraits of his ancestors, but who'd take them?"
He lowered his voice impressively. "But what about Professor Welder's place? What about his collection of gold coins? Colonel Jones says he's one of the best-known numismatists in the kingdom and he's got coins there that are not even in the British Museum!"
"Phew!" whistled the policeman, "and not a month ago scores of long-haired elderly men, with high foreheads, and large spectacles, came through the village, asking where he lived! I never saw such a funny-looking crowd."
"Yes," nodded Larose, "I was talking to him not half an hour ago and he told me all about it. He gave an 'at home' to any members of the Numismatist Society who cared to come, and I understand any one can be a member of the society for 10s. 6d." He nodded again. "What an opportunity they had to spy out the land! Yes, if we're right and they're going for anybody, it's Professor Welder's house they've marked down. All his coins could be carried away in a little handbag."
The policeman seemed doubtful. "But look here, sir," he said, "that knocks all our ideas on the head, for remember, they didn't go for the Professor's dog. It was certainly rumoured this morning that he was dead but, as I have to send in a report to Braintree of all the animals killed, I rang up the professor's at midday and one of the maids then said their dog was quite all right and being kept locked up in the garage."
"That doesn't signify in the least," snapped Larose, "for as I make it, it is only by chance he's alive. In the fog that there was last night Colonel Jones's place was mistaken for the Professor's. The gates are not two hundred yards apart and they are very similar in appearance and last night they were both of the same white colour."
"I beg your pardon, Mr. Larose," said the policeman quickly, "but you're wrong there. Colonel Jones's gates are brown, as they always have been. I happened to go by there this afternoon and am quite positive no change has been made in their colour."
Larose looked amused. "But they weren't brown last night," he laughed. "The Colonel's gardener started to repaint them yesterday and he burnt off all the old brown paint and then gave them a good coating of white for the new brown he put on this morning." He snapped his fingers together. "Yes, that's where, I think, Mr. Poisoner made a bloomer by throwing the baits over the wrong gates."
The policeman opened his eyes very wide. "The devil! Then perhaps you're right, sir. That would explain everything." He looked worried. "But what do you suggest I ought to do? You see, the Braintree inspector is not too interested in these poisonings, and thinks I can make all the necessary enquiries myself. He believes some local person has done it, in spite, because dogs have been spoiling his garden, or something like that." He hesitated. "Should I ring him up and tell him what we think?"
"Certainly not," said Larose sharply. "We'll manage this all ourselves. Then if it turns out there is anything in it,"—he laughed—"you shall take all the credit, for I'm on holiday and don't want my name mentioned." He nodded. "My word, but what feather it would be in your cap, constable, if we caught anyone red-handed at the job! It'd mean promotion for you, at once."
The policeman thrilled at the thought and his face flushed. "But I shall want help, Mr. Larose," he said quickly. "If they come, there may be three or four of them. It's not likely to be a one-man job."
"Of course you'll want help," agreed Larose, "and we will get it here in the village. Those chaps who've lost their dogs will be as keen as mustard to come." He smiled. "I'll rope them all in, so that if nothing comes of it, they won't laugh at you. I'll shoulder all the blame." He nodded. "It'll probably be to-night the burglars will come, for it's not likely they'll lose any time."
Then for half an hour and more they discussed ways and means and pored over a large ordnance map that the policeman produced. Then the latter said slowly, "There's a chap here who would be very useful if we could get him. He works on the roads and is called Jim Viles. He's an inveterate poacher and I've been out many nights trying to catch him, but he's beaten me every time. He's got a little mongrel dog who he boasts can smell out human beings when they're two hundred yards away, and I'm inclined to believe him, for I've never been able to get closer to him than that when he's been on his poaching jobs."
"Splendid, the very man we want!" exclaimed Larose. "I'll go round and see him at once." He half rose from his chair, but then reseated himself. "One moment," he said slowly. "There's one little doubt in my mind." He frowned. "I asked Colonel Jones if he'd got any enemies and he said plenty, because he was a magistrate. Then he laughed and said he had even got one on the adjoining property, for his friend Professor Welder was his enemy, inasmuch as they were going to be deadly rivals at the Braintree Flower Show next week."
"Oh, that's nothing," laughed the policeman. "They have a fight at the flower show every year, and one or other of them invariably takes first prize for his roses."
"Ah, but as I've told you, I've seen the professor," said Larose, "and, candidly, I don't altogether like the look of him. He could be petulant as a child in some ways and he seems very cunning to me." He appeared to dismiss the matter from his mind. "Well, never mind about that. I'll go and see this chap with the dog now."
The reputed poacher's cottage was just at the end of the village, and when Larose tapped with his knuckles upon the door, a most appetizing odour assailed his nostrils.
A slim but wiry-looking young fellow, of about twenty-five or twenty-six, opened the door. He had an impudent cockney type efface, with laughing and very light blue eyes. He regarded his caller very shrewdly.
"Mr. Viles, I believe," said Larose. "Then can I have a word with you?"
"A dozen, if you want them," smiled the man, and, stepping out on to the path of the little garden, he carefully pulled to the door behind him.
"You're a poacher, I understand," smiled back Larose, "and, unless I am very much mistaken, it's roast pheasant you've now got for your tea." He sniffed hard. "It smells good."
The man gasped, and his eyes opened as wide as saucers, then, seeing Larose was still smiling, his face relaxed a little, and he growled. "You smell wrong, as it happens, boss. You're too clever. It's only a bit of pork."
"Well, that's all right," nodded Larose reassuringly, "so long as you've not left any of the pig's feathers about."
He looked intently at the man and dropped his voice to a whisper. "See here, now. I've got a job that'll just suit a smart chap like you, and the better poacher you are, the better you'll do me, for it's night work I want you for." He nodded again. "It'll mean a quid for you, anyhow; and, if it turns out as I expect it to, it may mean a tenner."
The man looked suspicious. "What's your game?" he asked with a frown. "Who are you?"
Larose jerked his head towards the village. "I'm staying at 'The Goose and Feathers' on a little fishing holiday, and I happen to be a dog lover. That's what I am, and"—his voice hardened—"I'm out to get that devil who poisoned those poor dogs last night," and then very quickly he proceeded to acquaint the poacher with his suspicions, and what they were intending to do.
"What about the policeman?" asked the poacher quickly. "Is he in it?"
"Rather," replied Larose, "and he sort of sent me to you. He said you were the very man for the job, and had got the sharpest little dog in the kingdom." He grinned. "He is sure he would have had you dozens of times if it hadn't been for that little bitch of yours!"
The man grinned back. "All right, boss," he said quietly, "I'm in with you, and if anyone comes along, my Nellie will smell them out."
So it came about that at eleven o'clock that night a ghostly little band filed out of the back yard of "The Goose and Feathers". Six of them altogether, and they all of them appeared to have weapons, except the poacher, who was carrying a very alert-looking terrier under his arm. The constable had got his truncheon and a pair of handcuffs in each pocket; the landlord, a stout ash stick of good dimensions; the grocer, an axe-handle which he had taken out of stock; the butcher, an ugly-looking hammer; and the doctor, a cricket-wicket, the much prized memento of a great match of his 'Varsity days.
Larose and the policeman, after much anxious thought, had marked out the plan of campaign. They were of opinion that if any burglars were coming, they would, of course, come in a motor car and, with lights out and the engine switched off, would in all probability free-wheel down the hill into a little by-lane just at the back of a small wood, about 200 yards distant from the low fence surrounding Professor Welder's property.
The night was dark but there was faint star-light showing and they took up a position inside the wood and prepared to wait patiently.
"And we mustn't expect them much before one o'clock," whispered Larose, whose identity had not been disclosed to anybody, "for they're not likely to begin the journey where they come from until they expect everybody will be in bed."
But one o'clock came and nothing had happened, then half-past one, and the little mongrel upon her master's lap had not once moved or shown any interest in anything. The grocer had dropped off to sleep and the butcher, forbidden to smoke, was sucking viciously at a cold pipe.
Then suddenly the poacher, sitting next to Larose, bent forward and, gripping him by the arm, pointed to his dog. She had pricked up her ears and her sharp little head was now turned intently towards the main road. Then she lifted her face to her master's and gave the faintest of whispers.
"She hears something!" whispered the poacher. "She never makes a mistake. Someone is coming."
A long silence followed, five minutes, ten, and now the dog, who had kept her ears pricked all the time, was gradually turning her muzzle in quite a different direction.
"They've moved off," whispered the poacher. "They're going towards the professor's house." He took command of the situation at once. "But this is no good," he grunted. "I'd better go and see what's happening. Wait here. I won't be long," and, to the professional disgust of the policeman, the man disappeared into the brushwood like the dissolving away of a shadow.
"And that's why I've never been able to catch him," he growled into Larose's ear. "I don't wonder now."
Fully ten minutes passed and then the poacher reappeared, less like a shadow now, for long before they saw him they had heard his hurried progress through the bushes. He was carrying the dog again under his arm.
"Come on, now," he whispered excitedly. "I'll show you something. Better not make too much noise, although I don't think there'll be any danger for a few minutes. They've come, right enough, and they'll be in the professor's grounds by now."
Grasping their weapons with determination and their hearts beating painfully, the little band followed quickly in the poacher's steps. For about 250 yards he glided between the trees and then, gaining the far side of the road, pointed excitedly to a black object by the side of a thick hedge, close by.
"Jerusalem!" exclaimed the grocer, who was a man of mild expletives, "it's a sidecar outfit!"
And a sidecar outfit it certainly was, but so covered over with a large spread of black tarpaulin, that unless anyone were specially looking for it, it might have escaped all notice in the darkness. The cylinders of the engine were quite hot.
"Now, we'll soon see which way they went," said Viles, as he dropped his little terrier on to the ground. "Nose 'em, Nellie, there's a good girl. Nose 'em."
A very short trail led them up to Professor Welder's fence and they peered excitedly over.
"Now what'll we do, Mr. Brown?" asked the constable, "go after them?"
"Not on your life," replied Larose. "We'll ambush them in the wood as they come back to the sidecar. We'll get them red-handed, with the coins in their possession."
Then followed a thrilling hour, with every man crouching in his appointed place. There was no more sleep for the grocer and the butcher could not have smoked a pipe of the sweetest tobacco if it had been offered him. He was grasping his hammer tightly all the time and he wetted his lips nervously every seconds.
Then, all at once, things began to happen very quickly. There was the crackling of twigs, the heavy panting of tired runners and two rushing figures burst through. One of them tore off the tarpaulin and threw himself on to the saddle of the motor bicycle, whilst the other dropped a bag, that gave out a metallic chink, into the sidecar and was preparing to jump in himself—when the avalanche descended.
There was the blinding flash of torches, the uttering of dismayed oaths, and a wave of leaping forms surged over the sidecar. Then, quicker than it takes to tell, the two marauders were overcome and handcuffed, the grocer being with difficulty restrained from using his axe-handle and the butcher his hammer.
It was all over in a few seconds and then the two prisoners were examined. They were both strong and hefty fellows and, but for the sudden nature of their capture, and their exhausted state from their long run, would undoubtedly have put up a good fight. As it was, all they could do was to curse deeply.
At length one of them, overcoming his curiosity, panted out: "How the devil does it happen you came here?"
Police-Constable Dance, in his excitement, forgot his reticence. He coughed importantly. "From information received . . ." he began, when the poacher interrupted rudely.
"Oh! Cheese it, constable," he called out. "Cheese it old chap," and he thrust his face close up to those of the two prisoners who were seated on the ground. "I'll tell you gents how it happens you've been nabbed." He held up his little terrier before them. "You poisoned one dog too few, and also, there was a nosy chap staying at 'The Goose and Feathers' who spotted you had chucked three baits over one gate and he wanted to know the reason why." He chuckled merrily. "That's how it happens you two beauts are now going to get five years."
After a hurried consultation, the constable, the grocer, the butcher, and the landlord moved off with the prisoners, Viles following with the motor-bicycle, whilst Larose and Dr. Kains made their way to Professor Welder's to acquaint him with all that had happened.
"It's better to knock him up," said Larose, "for it'll be less of a shock to the household than for them to find out in the morning that the burglars have been."
Crossing over the big lawn before the professor's house, Larose thought he saw some movement by the fence adjoining Colonel Jones's property and, instantly, he flashed his torch.
Thereupon, a startled figure began to make away in desperate haste, but upon Larose and the doctor proceeding to give chase, the figure stopped and then, to the amazement of his two pursuers, they saw it was the professor himself.
"Good heavens, Welder," exclaimed Dr. Kains, "then you knew all about it! You were going after them?"
The professor's face was the picture of amazement, and, even when he realized who was speaking to him, the picture of embarrassment, too, Larose thought.
"What is it?" he stammered. "What are you doing here? I'd got a headache and came out for some fresh air. I couldn't sleep."
They told him what had happened, and his exclamations rose to a wail until they assured him the coins were all safe, and had only been taken to the policeman's house to serve as an exhibit when the two burglars would appear before the Braintree magistrates in the morning.
Then the professor invited them into the house to have a whisky and soda, but Larose lagged behind for a couple of minutes or so—to take a stone out of his shoe, so he explained.
In the dining-room, the tale was soon told, and then Larose said he wanted to speak to the professor for a moment, alone. The professor frowned in surprise at the request, but then, leaving Dr. Kains to his whisky, led the way into the study.
"Now, sir," said Larose sternly, "you are either going to drink a couple of mouthfuls of that water in those two cans I saw you had got over by Colonel Jones's fence, or you are going to confess to me you were intending to water your friend's roses with weedkiller, and write a cheque for £100 to be divided among the four men from the village who have done such a good service to-night."
"What do you mean?" gasped the professor, with a scared and white face. "I wasn't touching those cans. It's only ordinary water in them, and they are always left there."
"You are lying, sir," said Larose harshly, "I've just been over to them, and it's warm water they contain now. You were taking advantage of the Colonel's dog being dead, and going to ruin his flowers. Quick! Make your decision, or I shall call Dr. Kains to be a witness."
The professor turned to the desk and snatched a cheque book out of a drawer. "It's blackmail," he exclaimed furiously, "but I can't afford any scandal to be attached to me." He tore out a cheque and seized upon a pen. "Now, what's your name? I don't remember it."
"No, it's not to be made out to me," said Larose with a grim smile. "There's to be no stopping the cheque when the bank opens. You'll make it out to Dr. Kains, please, and you'll give it him yourself, now, telling him for whom it is intended." He nodded significantly. "And if anything happens to Colonel Jones's roses between now and next week you'll hear from me again."
So the next day four very delighted men in the village received £25 each, and much approval was expressed of Professor Welder's generosity. A week later, too, Colonel Jones won the first prize for his roses at the flower show, the judge, however, remarking that it was a close thing between the colonel and Professor Welder.
The burglars, as Jim Viles said they would be, were sentenced to five years' imprisonment, and Constable Dance, as Larose had prophesied, received immediate promotion, a warm tribute having been paid at the Assizes to the intelligence and resource he had shown.
One day, several months later, Professor Welder, who had never ventured to broach the subject before, remarked casually to Colonel Jones, "By-the-by, who was that friend of yours you introduced me to that day before those burglars came? I've often thought since that his face was familiar to me."
"I really don't know anything about him," replied the Colonel. "He was just a chance acquaintance I happened to get friendly with that day, because of the sympathy he expressed when my poor dog was poisoned." Then, always ready to have a joke at his learned friend's expense, he added slyly, "But they do say in the village that he's some sort of relation of that poaching fellow, Viles."
"Ah!" exclaimed the professor viciously, thinking of the nice fat cheque he had parted with, "I'm not at all astonished at it. He looked that very type of man to me," and the Colonel chuckled, enjoying the good joke.
This site is full of FREE ebooks - Project Gutenberg Australia