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Title: The Thief in the Night and Other Stories Author: Edgar Wallace * A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook * eBook No.: 1305401h.html Language: English Date first posted: Sep 2013 Most recent update: Aug 2017 This eBook was produced by Paul Moulder 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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THIS story concerns four people: Larry Vanne, who understood men and lived on his knowledge; Eli Soburn, who both understood and liked diamonds, and never traveled without a hundred thousand pounds' worth in a little leather wallet attached to his undergarments; Mary Perella, who understood most of the things that a ladies' school could teach, and, in addition, had that working knowledge which comes to a girl who has been left penniless and must shift for herself; and fourthly, Jeremiah Fallowby, who had a knowledge of the world geographically, and who was suspicious of all women who might love him for his wealth alone.
Of these four, only one had a definite objective. Larry Vanne, pacing up and down his hired flat in Jermyn Street, a long cigar between his strong white teeth, his thumbs in the arm-holes of his waist coat, confided to his slightly bored wife that the North Atlantic trade had dwindled to vanishing-point.
"I don't know what's coming over New York, Lou," he said despairingly. "We hadn't been tied up ten minutes to the river end of Twenty-third Street when along came McCarthy with a couple of bulls, and it was 'The Captain wants to see you, Larry.'—"
"They had nothing on you," said Mrs. Vanne; "not if I'm to judge from the presents you brought home!"
"Sure they had nothing on me!" said Larry. "But it shows the tendency of the age, Lou. Suspicion, suspicion, suspicion! And I did no more than to sit in a game with that Boston crowd to trim a half-witted cinema boy—my share was less than a thousand dollars. I haven't worked the North Atlantic for years, and things have gone from bad to worse, Lou. There wasn't a dame on board that didn't park her jewelry in the purser's safe."
"Any man who works one-handed is asking for trouble," was her dictum. "That's where you're all wrong, Larry. Now suppose you and me—"
"You and I," said Larry gently. "Let's keep the conversation out of the steerage."
It was true that Larry had never worked the North Atlantic. He had confined himself mainly to the Pacific trade, and had made bigger pickings between Shanghai and Vancouver, B.C., than any man in his line. He had worked scientifically, allowing certain routes to lie fallow for years, had watched and noted changes in personnel, so that he could tell you off-hand who was the captain of the Trianic and just whereabouts in the world you might find that red-nosed purser who nearly gaoled him in '19.
He made no or few mistakes; his patience was remorseless. On one occasion he took two journeys to Australia and back, and caught his man for £8000 worth of real money when the ship was in sight of port.
"I'm trying a new trade, anyway, and this time you 11 work for your living," he said, but gave no further information.
It was his practice to be frank in general and reticent in particular, and he told his companion nothing of Mr. Soburn and his wallet of diamonds. He could have told quite a lot. He could have traced Mr. Soburn *s family history from the day he started peddling buttons in New York; of his legitimate deals in furs, of his questionable transactions in the world of low and high finance. He carried these wonderful cut diamonds of his for the same reason as a girl carries a doll or a boy a clockwork motorcar. They were his toys and his comforts, and he had frequent satisfaction in displaying these behind locked doors to his cronies with all the hushed pride that a Japanese virtuoso would display a carved jade box of the Ming period.
Larry knew his movements, past, present, and prospective; but, mostly, he knew Mr. Soburn's chiefest weakness, which was for a pretty face.
Larry's wife was beautiful enough in her hard-cut way, but it was not the kind of beauty that would appeal to Mr. Soburn.
"What I want," he told her frankly, "is something that hasn't lost the bloom; the sort of big-eyed girl who would faint at the sight of a sparkler."
Mrs. Larry nodded her head slowly.
"That sounds so much like me that you might be painting my portrait," she said; "but I gather you want a different type."
That day she sent in an advertisement to two newspapers. On the third day came Mary Perella. Mary walked from Bayswater because she had reached the stage where pennies counted. She had had three jobs in six months. Her three employers suffered from a common misfortune, which they confessed at an early stage of her engagement—they were unhappily married. Unhappily married employers who absent-mindedly paw their secretaries' hands are not so infrequent a phenomenon as many people would imagine. Mary descended the secretariat scale from rich city merchants to a musical composer who lived in a world of writs, and she had broken her last pound sterling and was owing one week's rent when she set forth to Jermyn Street, never dreaming that the lady who required a secretary-companion to travel abroad, at a wildly exorbitant salary, would be likely to choose her from the thousands of applicants.
"She's made for the part," said Larry, who, unobserved, had made a very complete scrutiny of the new secretary. * * Orphan and everything; no relations in London..." He scratched his chin thoughtfully. "Fix her tomorrow. Get her passage booked and our own at the same time.
"We'll travel on the Frimley passports."
He was very practical now.
"She '11 want some money for clothing—give her twenty-five on account. You told her that she was my secretary and not yours!"
Mrs. Larry nodded.
"She bore the blow very well," she said. "I suppose you 're sure that Soburn is traveling on that ship?"
"Sure I'm sure!" he said scornfully. "He's got the royal suite, two bathrooms—God knows why—and two of his best pals are traveling. Besides, the next packet is booked up. And, Lou, you can tell that kid to report on board. I don't want to see her till we get to Southampton. Somehow I don't make a good impression on girls."
Mary Perella came the next morning and nearly dropped when the gracious lady confirmed her in the engagement.
"I'm quite sure you will do, my dear," said Mrs. Larry Vanne sweetly, "and you will find my husband a very generous employer. He is writing a book on rare jewels, but nobody must know this, because..."
The excuse, flimsy as it was, convinced Mary.
"What about Dennis?" asked Mrs. Larry suddenly, when she saw her husband after the interview.
Though he was a man who did not usually display his emotion, Larry Vanne was surprised into a grimace. Detective-Inspector Dennis, of Scotland Yard, was an atom in the molecule of uneasiness which never quite ceased to perturb him. And Dennis had met him on his arrival in England, and in his suave, nice way had said "Don't," He hadn't been quite as terse as that, and had added a sermon, the text of which was "Watch out," that had left Mr. Vanne distinctly uncomfortable.
Detective-Inspector Dennis does not really come into the story at all, so it would be superfluous to describe that very wise man, who read the minds of jewel thieves and confidence-men with such devastating accuracy.
At ten o 'clock on the Thursday morning Mrs. Larry Vanne booked stateroom No. 15, the last available accommodation on the London Castle. A quarter of an hour later, Mr. Jeremiah Fallowby also rang up the Castle office, and was answered by a junior who was deputising for the booking-clerk, who had just gone out to lunch.
People often said that Jeremiah Fallowby was good-looking. They qualified the statement in various ways: some said that he would be really handsome if he had a little more expression; some thought that his features were irregular, but he had nice eyes; others were inclined to the belief that it was his mouth which spoiled him. On one point they were all agreed: he could be very dull. He seldom went anywhere—you never met him, for example, dining at the Ambassadors' on the night of the Grand Prix. He certainly went to Deauville—but ways in the off-season. The month he spent in Venice was the very month that the Lido was a wilderness. He was in town when everybody else was out of town, and Ascot usually coincided with the period that he chose for his stay at Aix.
At the height of the London season he was pretty sure to be somewhere in the country and when the north-bound trains were overloaded with guns bound for the moors, Jeremiah would be writing excuses from Madeira.
"Jerry, you're absolutely impossible!" rasped his aunt. "You never meet a gel worth knowing, and you'll end up by marrying a waitress in a tea-shop!"
"Which tea-shop?" asked Jerry^ momentarily interested.
"You're coming to us for Christmas," said his aunt. ^ ^ I am not going to allow you to wander alone. If you go away, I '11 come with you—I warn you."
"Thank you," said Jeremiah gratefully.
"You would like me to come!" asked the astonished lady.
"No," said Jeremiah truthfully. "I'm thanking you for the warning."
None of his many relatives were really very rude to his face, because he was worth a quarter of a million sterling. But the uncles and aunts and cousins who planned to marry him off, and who arranged the most cunningly devised house- parties, only to receive a letter which began:
"...most terribly sorry, but I shall be in Venice on the 10th..."
had no scruples in speaking of him in the plainest possible manner.
"It is his damned romanticism," fumed Uncle Brebbury, who had five eligible daughters. "He's got a fairy prince complex... thinks he'll find a (naughty word) Cinderella. Tea-shop gel! He 11 be bringing home a—a!"
"Bertie!" murmured his shocked wife. "Please... The gels!"
But "the gels" were in complete sympathy.
Jeremiah wrote a little, read much, thought even more. He was modest enough to believe that he was entirely without attraction, sophisticated to the extent of suspecting that most mothers were prepared to sacrifice their daughters on the altar of his fortune.
One gloomy morning Jeremiah, having sworn to be a member of Mrs. Leslie Fallowby's Christmas house-party, was contemplating the dismal prospect. The glory of autumn is at best the wan beauty of decay; and since healthy men do not love caducity in any expression, Jeremiah had met the early frosts and the mists which lie in the tawny hollows of Burnham Beeches with an uneasy yearning for the moorland when spring was coming in, with arum lilies growing on the seashore and gladiolas budding on verdant slopes. He would rise from his writing-table and pace restlessly the worn carpet of his study. And inevitably he would be drawn to the drawer where, with the supreme indifference which summer brought to him, he had thrown the early sailing lists.
For hours this morning he had sat turning them over. He could go to the east coast, stop off at Naples or Port Said... He could spend a week in Nairobi... he knew a man who was trying to grow cotton somewhere in Kenya—or was it tobacco?
It would be rather fun to end the sea journey at Beira—push off up country to Salisbury, and work down through Bulawayo and Kimberley to the Cape.
There was a delightful boarding-house at Rondebosch, kept by an ex-civil servant, with great hedges of blue plumbago. Behind, like the backcloth of a theatrical scene, the ranges of Constantia.
Jeremiah Fallowby made a little face and, walking to the casement window, stared out over the darkening lawn. Rain was falling steadily. Every tree dripped dismally. Near at hand was a bed of bedraggled chrysanthemums—white they had been, and their soiled petals littered the ground.
He looked at his watch mechanically. Really, he intended looking at the date block. One o'clock. 27th October... November in four days—fogs and drizzle and colds in the head.
He sat at his table again and reached for the telephone, gave a London number, and waited indecisively till the bell rang.
"Is that the Castle Line? Good... have you anything on the London Castle—deck cabin if possible?"
He waited, the receiver at his ear, his pen drawing uncouthly arabesques on his blotting-pad.
A voice at the other end of the wire awakened him to realities.
"Good... my name is Fallowby... yes, Jeremiah Fallowby. I'll arrange to collect the ticket right away."
He rang off, and immediately connected with a London agent in Threadneedle Street, and gave him instructions. The tickets arrived by the first post in the morning, and Jeremiah went joyously to the task of packing.
If he had only been content to stay at Burn-ham Beeches he might have been saved a great deal of inconvenience. Within two hours of the receipt of his letter he had left his house with instructions that neither letters nor telegrams should be sent on to him, and had deposited himself in his club in St. James's Street, so that he did not receive the frantic wire addressed to him by the Steamship Company, nor yet interview a penitent junior clerk who had booked a stateroom that was already engaged. In complete ignorance, he motored to Southampton, had a breakdown on the way, and arrived only just in time to hurl his baggage on board.
The cabin was a large-sized one. He was annoyed to discover that there were two beds, and directed the steward to remove one.
"Traveling alone, sir," said the steward phlegmatically. (Nothing surprises stewards.) And then, "There was some trouble about your ticket. Another gent was booked."
He glanced at the initials on the suitcase, took the counterfoil of the steamship ticket, made a few inquiries about Jeremiah's taste in the direction of early-morning coffee and baths, and vanished.
To the purser, as he handed in the counterfoil:
"Seventeen's aboard. The other fellow hasn't come."
"That's all right," said the assistant purser, and spiked the paper.
¦ The ship had cleared Southampton waters and was nosing its way to the Channel when Jerry, writing letters at the little desk in the cabin (the usual and untruthful excuses to Mrs. Leslie Fallowby), became aware that somebody was standing in the open doorway.
He looked up and saw a girl.
"Um... er... do you want anything!" he asked.
Mary Perella came into the stateroom a little boisterously. She had that excited pinkness which adventure gives to young skins—the day was unexpectedly mild; there was a blue, cloud-flecked sky above, and the white cloisters of the Needles on the port quarter.
Ahead a summery land, and the immense possibilities of new lands.
Jeremiah glared up at her from his writing-table.
He got to his feet slowly.
"Fallowby," he said, and she looked relieved.
"I've been worrying terribly about the name," she said. "You know when Mrs. Fallowby told me I didn't really catch it, but I hadn't the courage to ask."
Mrs. Fallowby? "Which of his innumerable aunts was this? Mrs. Hector Fallowby, or Mrs. Richard—or was it that terrible little Mrs. Merstham- Fallowby with the impossible daughters?... He uttered an exclamation, but swallowed its violent end.
"Not Mrs. Le—" he said.
Even in his agitation he thought she was extraordinarily pretty: she, at any rate, was no Fallowby. Gray eyes, rather big; there was the faintest film of powder on her face, but young girls did that sort of thing nowadays.
She nodded smilingly. He was, she thought, being a little facetious. Husbands and wives spoke about one another in such queer ways.
"It will be rather fun spending Christmas Day on board ship," she went on. "We are going to South Africa, aren't we?"
"Unless the captain changes his mind," said Jeremiah, and they both laughed.
Then he became conscious of his remissness.
"Won't you sit down?"
She sat on a sofa under the square window that looks on to the promenade deck.
"I suppose you have a letter from Mrs. Fallowby?"
It wasn't like any of the Fallowbys to give letters of introduction to pretty girl outsiders.
He saw a look of consternation come to the girl's eyes.
"Isn't she here!" she gasped.
Jeremiah blinked at her.
"Who—Mrs. Fallowby? I hope not!"
Mary Perella went pale.
"But... I suppose it is all right... but... she said she was coming."
Jeremiah frowned. If there was one experience in the world he didn't want, and which he intended to avoid, it was a tete-a-tete with a female Fallowby. Mrs. Leslie had evidently kept her promise.
"I suppose she's here, then," he said unhappily.
There was an awkward pause. Into Mary's mind crept a doubt.
"She engaged me as traveling secretary, and she said I was to see you as soon as I got on board. Fortunately, I remembered the number of your cabin."
He could think of no comment more illuminating.
"So you're going to South Africa? Do you know the country?"
She had never been abroad. Her father had served in Africa: he was so interested a listener that she found herself telling him about the tragedy of two years before.
"I stayed with an aunt for six months, but it was rather—well, impossible."
"I never knew an aunt that wasn't," he sympathized. "You seem to have had a pretty unhappy time, Miss Perella—that is an Italian name, isn't it?"
She thought it had been Maltese two hundred years before, and he seemed to remember a General Sir Gregory Perella who had done tremendous things in the Abyssinian War—or was it the Mutiny?
"What do you want me to do! I have a portable typewriter—"
"Nothing," he said hastily. "The best thing you can do is to go along and find Mrs. Fallowby—no, I don't think I should do that. If I remember rightly, she is a terribly bad sailor, and won't be on deck for a week. Just loaf around. If there is anything I can do for you, let me know... got a nice cabin! Fine! If you see Mrs. Fallowby, tell her I'm... er... awfully busy. In fact, I thought of writing—"
She nodded wisely.
"A book—I know."
She left him a little dazed.
He saw her that night at dinner, sitting at a little table by herself, and they exchanged smiles as he passed. There was no sign of Mrs. Leslie Fallowby, but the ship had a slight roll on, and that would explain her absence. After dinner he saw the girl leaning over the rail, and went up to her.
"I haven't seen your—" she began.
"You wouldn't," he interrupted her. "Poor dear, she thinks this is rough weather."
He commandeered a chair for her, and they sat down and talked till nearly ten o'clock.
"You're going to let me help you with your book!" she said, as they stood at the head of the companion-way before she went below for the night.
"My book?" He started guiltily. "Oh, of course! Did I say I was writing a book? Naturally, I will be happy for you to help me, but I haven't got very far."
He found himself awaiting her arrival on deck the next morning with some impatience. They were in the dreaded Bay, but the sea was as smooth as a pond, and, save for the chill in the air, the weather was delightful. Pacing round and round the deck, they discovered mutual interests—she also would one day write a book, which was to be a tremendous affair about life and people. He did not even smile. Jeremiah was rather diffident: possibly he credited her with as extensive an acquaintance with the subject as he himself possessed.
"I can't find Mrs. Fallowby's cabin anywhere," she said. "My conscience has been pricking me. Couldn't I do something for her?"
"She's quite all right," said Jeremiah hastily.
It was time enough to brace himself for an interview with Mrs. Fallowby when she made her appearance. The letter of excuse he had written was already torn up. How like that enterprising lady to discover that he was sailing!
And yet he was puzzled a little. Why should Mrs. Fallowby have taken this voyage without her unprepossessing daughters? He resolved at the earliest convenient moment to discover from Mary Perella a solution to this private mystery.
"We shall be in Funchal Harbor on Christmas Eve, by which time it ought to be fairly warm," he told her in the course of the afternoon walk. "It will be rather jolly doing one's Christmas shopping."
"Mrs. Fallowby will be well enough to come ashore by then?" she suggested.
Jeremiah prayed not, but refrained from giving expression to the hope.
The next night they leaned over the rail together and watched the faint star of light which stood for Cape Finisterre sink down behind the horizon; and he told her what a bore life was, and how he hated crowds and people who were terribly resolved to be gay to order. And she reviewed some of her landladies, and told him of a restaurant where one could get a wonderful lunch for 3d., or 6d.; and once he squeezed her arm to attract her attention to a passing sailing ship, its white sails looking ghostly in the faint light of the crescent moon, and she did not seem to resent that method. Yet, curiously enough, when he took her arm again to lead her to the companion-way, she very gently disengaged herself.
"I hope Mrs. Fallowby will be better in the morning," she said, "and I do hope you will do some work—I feel a great impostor: I haven't done a stroke since I've come on to this ship!"
He went to bed and dreamed of gray eyes and very soft arms that gave under his grip.
The night before the ship came into Funchal Bay, and whilst he was dressing for dinner, the purser came to see him, and the tone of that officer was rather short, and his manner strangely hostile.
"In what name did you book this cabin, Mr. Fallowby?"
"In my own name," said Jeremiah in surprise.
The purser looked at him with suspicion.
"The name I have on the list is Frimley—the same initials, J. F., 'John Frimley.' Are you sure that isn't the name in which the cabin is booked?"
"You've seen my ticket—and really, does it matter?" asked Jeremiah, a little impatiently.
"It does and it doesn't," said the purser. "Who is this young lady you're with, Mr. Fallowby?"
"I am with no young lady," said Jeremiah, with pardonable asperity. "If you mean Miss Perella, she is my aunt's secretary. Nobody knows better than you that my aunt is somewhere on this ship. I suggest that you should interview Mrs. Leslie Fallowby, who I have no doubt will give you the fullest information."
"There is no person named Mrs. Leslie Fallowby on the ship," said the purser, and Jeremiah stared at him. "The young lady," went on the officer, " states that she is your secretary, and that she is traveling in that capacity."
"My secretary!" said Jeremiah incredulously.
"She says she is your secretary, engaged by your wife."
Jeremiah sat down with a thump.
"Say that again," he said.
The obliging purser repeated his tremendous tidings.
"Now I don't want any trouble with you, Mr. Fallowby," he said, not unkindly, "or with your wife. I'm going to show you a copy of the wireless we have received from London, and you'll understand that the game is up."
"Which game?" asked Jeremiah faintly.
The purser took a sheet of paper from his pocket, evidently a typewritten copy of a radio that had been received that day. It ran:
"To Captain, London Castle. Believe passenger named John Frimley and his wife are traveling under assumed name on your ship. They booked Suite No. 17, but they may be traveling separately to avoid detection. Frimley escaped our officers sent to arrest him at Waterloo, and has not been traced. He is a tall, good-looking man, clean-shaven, may wear horn-rimmed spectacles—"
(At this point Jeremiah quickly removed the reading-glasses he had been wearing when the purser came into the stateroom.)
"His wife is pretty, looks younger than she is. If any persons answering this description or occupying Suite 17, hand them to Portuguese Police, Funchal, to await extradition."
Jeremiah read the document twice.
"Your wife is already under guard in her cabin," said the purser, "and there'll be a master-of-arms on duty outside your stateroom to see that you do not attempt to leave until the Portuguese authorities arrive."
Jeremiah gaped at him.
"My wife is what?"
The purser waved a majestic hand and left the cabin before Mr. Jeremiah Fallowby began the exercise of the colorful vocabulary which he had acquired in his travels.
It was in the bare and whitewashed office of a Portuguese police office that he saw again Miss Mary Perella. He expected her to be carried in, a pallid and wilting wreck, whose nights had been made sleepless by the thought of her tragic sorrow; but it was a very healthy and indignant girl who came across the uncovered floor towards him.
"What is the meaning of this, Mr. Frimley!" she asked. Reproach was rather in her eyes than in her voice. "It isn't true that you are a jewel thief?"
"My name is Fallowby," protested Jeremiah.
"You told me your wife was on board, and she isn't."
He guessed that this was his real offense.
"I never said my wife was anywhere," said Jeremiah loudly. "I was talking about my aunt, Mrs, Leslie Fallowby. You told me you were her secretary."
"I did nothing of the kind," she stormed. "I told you I was your secretary—that your wife had engaged me."
"But I've never had a wife!" he wailed.
"Attention!" The fat man behind the desk boomed the word. "I know English too well! Now you spik my questions when I ask them!"
"Fire ahead," said Jeremiah recklessly.
He slept that Christmas Eve in a stone cell which was very dark and very unpleasant in other respects. He had no acquaintance with the Portuguese language, but he spoke Spanish rather fluently, and he learned that the girl had been taken to a convent. The British Vice-Consul had been requisitioned, but that worthy was not in Funchal. So Jeremiah despatched long and vehement cables to London... and might have saved himself the trouble.
In the early hours of the morning came a wire to the Chief of Police, announcing the arrest of "Mr. and Mrs. Frimley," whose other name was Vanne, and an apologetic police dignitary of the first class came personally, and in uniform, to offer apologies.
It was from him that Jerry learned of Mr. Vanne's little plot (revealed to the London police by his wife); of the engagement of a secretary who was to charm from a susceptible millionaire a view of his diamonds and such information about their safeguarding as she could secure.
Apparently, Miss Mary Perella had been similarly informed: he met her half-way up the steep slope which led to the convent, and she came running down with her hands outstretched.
"Welcome, and a merry Christmas, fellow-convict!" she said, with a gaiety that was immensely infectious.
He took her arm as they walked down the cobbled hill lane together, and came to a bench that overlooked the bay.
She was beautifully sympathetic—apparently saw nothing in her own experience but a thrilling adventure.
"I knew, of course, that something must be wrong. I couldn't imagine you were a burglar, or whatever this Mr. Frimley was." She sighed. "I've lost a very good job," she said ruefully.
"Let me find you another," said Jeremiah eagerly. "I really am going to write a book—I have threatened to do it for years, and you can come along and correct my spelling."
She half shook her head. Yet apparently she accepted the position, for they went on to the Cape by the next mail steamer, and the English chaplain who had married them on the morning they sailed came down to see them off.
AT Carolina, in the Transvaal, was a store kept by a man named Lioski, who was a Polish Jew. There was an officers' clubhouse, the steward of which was a Greek sportsman named Poropulos, and this story is about these two men, and about an officer of Hampton's Scouts who took too much wine and saw a pair of boots.
I have an intense admiration for George Poropulos, and I revere his memory. I admire him for his nerve; though, for the matter of that, his nerve was no greater than mine.
Long before the war came, when the negotiations between Great Britain and the Transvaal Government were in the diplomatic stage, I drifted to Carolina from the Rand, leaving behind me in the golden city much of ambition, hope, and all the money I had brought with me from England. I came to South Africa with a young wife and £370—within a few shillings—because the doctors told me the only chance I had was in such a hot, dry climate as the highlands of Africa afforded. For my own part, there was a greater attraction in the possibility of turning those few hundreds of mine into thousands, for Johannesburg was in the delirium of a boom.
I left Johannesburg nearly penniless. I could not, at the moment, explain the reason of my failure, for the boom continued, and I had the advantage of the expert advice of Arthur Lioski, who was staying at the same boarding house as myself.
There were malicious people who warned me against Lioski. His own compatriots, sharp men of business, told me to 'ware Lioski, but I ignored the advice because I was very confident in my own judgment, and Lioski was a plausible, handsome man, a little flashy in appearance, but decidedly a beautiful animal.
He was in Johannesburg on a holiday, he said. He had stores in various parts of the country where he sold everything from broomsticks to farm wagons, and he bore the evidence of his prosperity.
He took us to the theater, or rather he took Lillian, for I was too seedy to go out much. I did not grudge Lillian the pleasure. Life was very dull for a young girl whose middle-aged husband had a spot on his lung, and Lioski was so kind and gentlemanly, so far as Lil was concerned, that the only feeling I had in the matter was one of gratitude.
He was tall and dark, broad-shouldered, with a set to his figure and a swing of carriage that excited my admiration. He was possessed of enormous physical strength, and I have seen him take two quarreling Kaffirs—men of no ordinary muscularity—and knock their heads together.
He had an easy, ready laugh, a fund of stories, some a little coarse, I thought, and a florid gallantry which must have been attractive to women. Lil always brightened up wonderfully after an evening with him.
His knowledge of mines and mining propositions was bewildering. I left all my investments in his hands, and it proves something of my trust in him, that when, day by day, he came to me for money, to "carry over" stock—whatever that means—I paid without hesitation. Not only did I lose every penny I possessed, but I found myself in debt to him to the extent of a hundred pounds.
Poor Lil! I broke the news to her of my ruin, and she took it badly; reproached, stormed, and wept in turn, but quieted down when I told her that in the kindness of his heart, Lioski had offered me a berth at his Carolina store. I was to get a £16 a month, half of which was to be paid in stores at wholesale prices and the other half in cash. I was to live rent free in a little house near the store. I was delighted with the offer. It was an immediate rise, though I foresaw that the conditions of life would be much harder than the life to which I had been accustomed in England. We traveled down the Delagoa line to Middleburg, and found a Cape cart waiting to carry us across the twenty miles of rolling veldt. The first six months in Carolina were the happiest I have ever spent. The work in the store was not particularly arduous. I found that it had the reputation of being one of the best-equipped stores in the Eastern Transvaal, and certainly we did a huge business for so small a place. It was not on the town we depended, but upon the surrounding country. Lioski did not come back with us, but after we had been installed for a week he came and took his residence in the store.
All went well for six months. He taught Lil to ride and drive, and every morning they went cantering over the veldt together. Me he treated more like a brother than an employee, and I found myself hotly resenting the uncharitable things that were said about him, for Carolina, like other small African towns, was a hotbed of gossip.
Lil was happy for that six months, and then I began to detect a change in her attitude toward me. She was snappy, easily offended, insisted upon having her own room—to which I agreed, for, although my chest was better, I still had an annoying cough at night which might have been a trial to anybody within hearing.
It was about this time that I met Poropulos. He came into the store on a hot day in January, a little man of forty-five or thereabouts. He was unusually pale, and had a straggling, weedy beard. His hair was long, his clothes were old and stained, and so much of his shirt as was revealed at his throat was sadly in need of laundering.
Yet he was cheerful and debonair—and singularly flippant. He stalked in the store, looked around critically, nodded to me, and smiled. Then he brought his sjambok down on the counter with a smack.
"Where's Shylock?" he asked easily.
I am afraid that I was irritated.
"Do you mean Mr. Lioski?"
"Shylock, I said," he repeated. "Shylockstein, the Lothario of Carolina." He smacked the counter again, still smiling.
I was saved the trouble of replying, for at that moment Lioski entered. He stopped dead and frowned when he saw the Greek.
"What do you want, you little beast," he asked harshly.
For answer, the man leaned up against the counter, ran his fingers through his straggling beard, and cocked his head.
"I want justice," he said unctuously—"the restoration of money stolen. I want to send a wreath to your funeral: I want to write your biography—?"
"Clear out," shouted Lioski. His face was purple with anger, and he brought his huge fist down upon the counter with a crash that shook the wooden building.
He might have been uttering the most pleasant of compliments, for all the notice the Greek took.
Crash! went Lioski's fist on the counter.
Smash! came Poropulos's sjambok, and there was something mocking and derisive in his action that made Lioski mad.
With one spring he was over the counter, a stride and he had his hand on the Greek's collar—and then he stepped back quickly with every drop of blood gone from his face, for the Greek's knife had flashed under his eyes. I thought Lioski was stabbed, but it was fear that made him white.
The Greek rested the point of the knife on the counter and twiddled it round absentmindedly, laying his palm on the hilt and spinning it with great rapidity.
"Nearly did it that time, my friend," he said, with a note of regret, "nearly did it that time—I shall be hanged for you yet."
Lioski was white and shaking.
"Come in here," he said in a low voice, and the little Greek followed him to the back parlor. They were together for about an hour; sometimes I could hear Mr. Lioski's voice raised angrily, sometimes Poropulos's little laugh. When they came out again the Greek was smiling still and smoking one of my employer's cigars.
"My last word to you," said Lioski huskily, "is this—keep your mouth closed and keep away from me."
"And my last word to you," said Poropulos, jauntily puffing at the cigar, "is this—turn honest, and enjoy a sensation."
He stepped forth from the store with the air of one who had gained a moral victory.
I never discovered what hold the Greek had over my master. I gatherered that at some time or another, Poropulos had lost money, and that he held Lioski responsible.
In some mysterious way Poropulos and I became friends. He was an adventurer of a type. He bought and sold indifferent mining propositions, took up contracts, and, I believe, was not above engaging in the Illicit Gold Buying business. His attitude to Lillian was one of complete adoration. When he was with her his eyes never left her face.
It was about this time that my great sorrow came to me. Lioski went away to Durban—to buy stock, he said—and a few days afterwards Lillian, who had become more and more exigent, demanded to be allowed to go to Cape Town for a change.
I shall remember that scene.
I was at breakfast in the store when she came in. She was white, I thought, but her pallor suited her, with her beautiful black hair and great dark eyes.
She came to the point without any preliminary. "I want to go away," she said.
I looked up in surprise.
"Go away, dear? Where?"
She was nervous. I could see that from the restless movement of her hands.
"I want to go to—to Cape Town—I know a girl there —I'm sick of this place—I hate it!"
She stamped her foot, and I thought that she was going to break into a fit of weeping. Her lips trembled, and for a time she could not control her voice.
"I am going to be ill if you don't let me go," she said at last. "I can feel—?"
"But the money, dear," I said, for it was distressing to me that I could not help her toward the holiday she wanted.
"I can find the money," she said, in an unsteady voice. "I have got a few pounds saved—the allowance you gave me for my clothes—I didn't spend it all—let me go, Charles—please, please!"
I drove her to the station, and took her ticket for Pretoria. I would have taken her to the capital, but I had the store to attend to.
"By the way, what will your address be?" I asked just as the train was moving off.
She was leaning over the gate of the car platform, looking at me strangely.
"I will wire it—I have it in my bag," she called out, and I watched the tail of the train round the curve, with an aching heart. There was something wrong; what it was I could not understand. Perhaps I was a fool. I think I was.
I think I have said that I had made friends with Poropulos. Perhaps it would be more truthful to say that he made friends with me, for he had to break down my feeling of distrust and disapproval. Then, again, I was not certain how Mr. Lioski would regard such a friendship, but, to my surprise, he took very little notice of it or, for the matter of that, of me.
Poropulos came into the store the night my wife left. Business was slack; there was war in the air, rumors of ultimatums had been persistent, and the Dutch farmers had avoided the store.
A week passed, and I began to worry, for I had not heard from Lil. I had had a letter from Lioski, telling me that in view of the unsettled condition of the country he was extending his stay in Durban for a fortnight. The letter gave me the fullest instructions as to what I was to do in case war broke out, but, unfortunately, I had no opportunity of putting them into practice.
The very day I received the letter, a Boer commando rode into Carolina, and at the head of it rode the Landrost Peter du Huis, a pleasant man, whom I knew slightly. He came straight to the store, dismounted, and entered.
"Good morning, Mr. Gray," he said. "I fear that I come on unpleasant business."
"What is that?" I asked.
"I have come to commandeer your stock in the name of the Republic," he said, "and to give you the tip to clear out."
It does not sound possible, but it is nevertheless a fact that in two hours I had left Carolina, leaving Lioski's store in the hands of the Boers, and bringing with me receipts signed by the Landrost for the goods he had commandeered. In four hours I was in a cattle truck with a dozen other refugees on my way to Pretoria—for I had elected to go to Durban to inform Lioski at first hand of what had happened.
Of the journey down to the coast it is not necessary to speak. We were sixty hours en route; we were without food, and had little to drink. At Ladysmith I managed to get a loaf of bread and some milk; at Maritzburg I got my first decent meal. But I arrived in Durban, tired, dispirited, and hungry. Lioski was staying at the Royal, and as soon as I got to the station I hailed a ricksha to take me there.
There had been no chance of telegraphing. The wires were blocked with government messages. We had passed laden troop trains moving up to the frontier, and had cheered the quiet men in khaki who were going, all of them, to years of hardship and privation, many of them to death.
The vestibule of the Royal was crowded, but I made my way to the office.
"Lioski?" said the clerk. "Mr. and Mrs. Lioski, No. 84—you'll find your way to their sitting room."
I went slowly up the stairs, realizing in a flash the calamity.
I did not blame Lil; it was a hard life I had brought her to. I had been selfish, as sick men are selfish, inconsiderate.
They stood speechless, as I opened the door and entered. I closed the door behind me. Still they stood, Lil as pale as death, with terror and shame in her eyes, Lioski in a black rage.
"Well?" It was he who broke the silence.
He was defiant, shameless, and as I went on to talk about what had happened at the store, making no reference to what I had seen, his lips curled contemptuously.
But Lil, womanlike, rushed in with explanations. She had meant to go to Cape Town—the train service had been bad—she had decided to go to Durban—Mr. Lioski had been kind enough to book her a room——
I let her go on. When she had finished I handed my receipts to Lioski.
"That ends our acquaintance, I think."
"As you like," he replied with a shrug.
I turned to Lillian.
"Come, my dear," I said, but she made no move, and I saw Lioski smile again.
I lost all control over myself and leaped at him, but his big fist caught me before I could reach him, and I went down, half stunned. I was no match for him. I knew that, and if the blow did nothing else, it sobered me. I picked myself up. I was sick with misery and hate.
"Come, Lil," I said again.
She was looking at me, and I thought I saw a look of disgust in her face. I did not realize that I was bleeding, and that I must have been a most unpleasant figure. I only knew that she loathed me at that moment, and I turned on my heel and left them, my own wife and the big man who had broken me.
One forgets things in war time. I joined the Imperial Light Horse and went to the front. The doctor passed me as sound, so I suppose that all that is claimed for the climate of Africa is true.
We went into Ladysmith, and I survived the siege. I was promoted for bringing an officer out of action under fire. I earned a reputation for daring, which I did not deserve, because always I was courting swift death, and taking risks to that end.
Before Buller's force had pushed a way through the stubborn lines to our relief, I had received my commission. More wonderful to me, I found myself a perfectly healthy man, as hard as nails, as callous as the most- experienced soldier. Only, somewhere down in my heart, a little worm gnawed all the time; sleeping or waking, fighting or resting, I thought of Lillian, and wondered, wondered, wondered.
Ladysmith was relieved. We marched on toward Pretoria. I was transferred to Hampton's Horse with the rank of major, and for eighteen months I moved up and down the Eastern Transvaal chasing a will-othe-wisp of a commandant, who was embarrassing the blockhouse lines.
Then one day I came upon Poropulos.
We were encamped outside Standerton when he rode in on a sorry- looking Burnto pony. He had been in the country during the war, he said, buying and selling horses. He did not mention Lioski's name to me, and so studiously did he avoid referring to the man, that I saw at once that he knew.
It was brought home to me by his manner that he had a liking for me that I had never guessed. In what way I had earned his regard I cannot say, but it was evident he entertained a real affection for me.
We parted after an hour's chat—he was going back to Carolina. He had a scheme for opening an officers' club in that town, where there was always a large garrison, and to which the wandering columns came from time to time to be re-equipped.
As for me, I continued the weary chase of the flying commando. Trek, trek, trek, in fierce heat, in torrential downpour, over smooth veldt and broken hills, skirmishing, sniping, and now and then a sharp engagement, with a dozen casualties on either side.
Four months passed, and the column was ordered into Carolina for a refit. I went without qualms, though I knew she was there, and Lioski was there.
We got into Carolina in a thunderstorm, and the men were glad to reach a place that bore some semblance of civilization. My brother officers, after our long and profitless trek, were overjoyed at the prospect of a decent dinner—for Poropulos's club was already famous among the columns.
My horse picked up a stone and went dead lame, so I stayed behind to doctor him, and rode to Carolina two hours after the rest of the column had arrived.
It was raining heavily as I came over a fold of the hill that showed the straggling township. There was no human being in sight save a woman who stood by the roadside, waiting, and I knew instinctively, long before I reached her, that it was Lillian. I cantered toward her. Her face was turned in my direction, and she stood motionless as I drew rein and swung myself to the ground.
She was changed, not as I expected, for sorrow and suffering had etherealized her. Her big eyes burned in a face that was paler than ever, her lips, once so red and full, were almost white.
"I have been waiting for you," she said.
"Have you, dear? You are wet."
She shook her head impatiently. I slipped off my mackintosh and put it about her.
"He has turned me out," she said.
She did not cry. I think she had not recovered from the shock. Something stirred from the thin cloak she was wearing; a feeble cry was muffled by the wrapping.
"I have got a little girl," she said, "but she is dying." She began to cry silently, the tears running down her wet face in streams.
I took her into Carolina, and found a Dutchwoman who put her and the baby to bed, and gave her some coffee.
I went up to the officers' club just after sunset and met Poropulos coming down.
He was in a terrible rage, and was muttering to himself in some tongue I could not understand.
"Oh, here you are!"—he almost spat the words in his anger —"that dog Lioski—?"
He was about to say something, but checked himself. I think it was about Lillian that he intended to speak at first, but he changed the subject to another grievance. "I was brought before the magistrate and fined £100 for selling field-force tobacco. My club will be ruined —Lioski informed the police—by—?"
He was incoherent in his passion. I gather that he had been engaged in some shady business, and that Lioski had detected him. He almost danced before me in the rain.
"Shylock dies tonight," he said, and waved his enemy out of the world with one sweep of his hand. "He dies tonight—I am weary of him—for eighteen—nineteen years I have known him, and he's dirt right through—?"
He went out without another word. I stood on the slope of the hill watching him.
I dined at the club, and went straight back to the house where I had left my wife. She was sleeping—but the baby was dead. Poor little mortal! I owed it no grudge, but I was glad when they told me.
All the next day I sat by her bed listening to Lillian's mutterings, for she was very ill. I suffered all the tortures of a damned soul sitting there, for she spoke of Lioski—"Arthur" she called him—prayed to him for mercy—told him she loved him—
I was late for dinner at the club. There was a noisy crowd there. Young Harvey of my own regiment had had too much to drink, and I avoided his table.
My hand shook as I poured out a glass of wine, and somebody remarked on it.
I did not see Poropulos until the dinner was halfway through. Curiously enough, I looked at the clock as he came in, and the hands pointed to half past eight.
The Greek was steward of the club, and was serving the wine. He was calm, impassive, remarkably serene, I thought. He exchanged jokes with the officers who were grumbling that they had had to wait for the fulfillment of their orders.
"It was ten to eight when I ordered this," grumbled one man.
Then, suddenly, Harvey, who had been regarding Poropulos with drunken gravity, pointed downward.
"He's changed his boots," he said, and chuckled. Poropulos smiled amiably and went on serving. "He's changed his boots!" repeated Harvey, concentrating his mind upon trivialities as only a drunken man can. The men laughed. "Oh, dry up, Harvey!" said somebody.
He got no further. Through the door came a military policeman, splashed from head to foot with mud.
"District Commandant here, sir?" he demanded. "There's been a man murdered."
"Soldier?" asked a dozen voices.
"No, sir—storekeeper, name of Lioski—shot dead half an hour ago."
I do not propose to tell in detail all that happened following that. Two smart C.I.D. men came down from Johannesburg, made a few inquiries, and arrested Poropulos. He was expecting the arrest, and half an hour before the officers came he asked me to go to him.
I spent a quarter of an hour with him, and what we said is no man's business but ours. He told me something that startled me—he loved Lillian, too. I had never guessed it, but I did not doubt him. But it was finally for Lillian's sake that he made me swear an oath so dreadful that I cannot bring myself to write it down—an oath so unwholesome, and so against the grain of a man, that life after it could only be a matter of sickness and shame.
Then the police came and took him away.
Lioski had been shot dead in the store by some person who had walked in when the store was empty, at a time when there was nobody in the street. This person had shot the Jew dead and walked out again. The police theory was that Poropulos had gone straight from the club, in the very middle of dinner, had committed the murder, and returned to continue his serving, and the crowning evidence was the discovery that he had changed his boots between 7.30 and 8.30. The mud-stained boots were found in a cellar, and the chain of evidence was completed by the statement of a trooper who had seen the Greek walking from the direction of the store, at 8.10, with a revolver in his hand.
Poropulos was cheerful to the last—cheerful through the trial, through the days of waiting in the fort at Johannesburg.
"I confess nothing," he said to the Greek priest. "I hated Lioski, and I am glad that he is dead, that is all. It is true that I went down to kill him, but it was too late."
When they pinioned him he turned to me.
"I have left my money to you," he said. "There is about four thousand pounds. You will look after her."
"That is the only reason I am alive."
"Did you murder Arthur Lioski?" said the priest again.
"No," said Poropulos, and smiled as he went to his death. And what he said was true, as I know. I shot Lioski.
FINDINGS are keepings. That was a favorite saying of Laurie Whittaker—a slogan of Stinie Whittaker (who had other names), her father.
Laurie and a youthful messenger of the Eastern Telegraph Company arrived simultaneously on the doorstep of 704 Coram Street, Bloomsbury, and their arrival was coincident with the absence, in the little courtyard at the back of the house, of the one domestic servant on duty in that boarding-house. So that, while the electric bell tinkled in the kitchen, the overworked domestic was hanging up dishcloths in the backyard.
"I'm afraid there's nobody in," said Laurie, flashing a bright smile at the youth, and then saw the cablegram in his hand. "It's for Captain John Harrowby, isn't it?" she asked. "I'll give it to him."
And the boy, who was new to his job, delivered the envelope and accepted her signature in his book, without a very close regard to the regulations of the Cable Company.
Laurie slipped the envelope in her bag and pressed the bell again. This time the servant heard the signal and came, wiping her hands on her apron, to open the door.
"No, miss, Captain Harrowby's out," she said, recognizing the visitor, and giving her the deference and respect which were due to one who lived in the grandest house in Bedford Square. "He's gone up to the city. Will you step in and wait, miss?"
If Laurie felt annoyed, she did not advertise the fact. She gave her sweetest smile to the servant, nodded pleasantly to the pretty girl who came up the steps as she went down, and, re-entering her limousine, was driven away.
"Who is the lady, Matilda?" asked the newcomer.
"Her?" said the girl-of-all-work. "That's Miss Whittaker—a friend of Mr. Harrowby's. Surely he's told you about her, Miss Bancroft?"
Elsie Bancroft laughed.
"Mr. Harrowby and I are not on such terms that he discusses his friends with me, Matilda," she said, and mounted to her tiny room on the top floor, to turn over again more vital and pressing problems than Captain Harrowby's friendship.
She was a stenographer in a lawyer's office, and if her stipend was not generous it was fair, and might have been sufficient if she were not the mother of a family—in a figurative sense. There was a small brother at school in Broadstairs, and a smaller sister at a preparatory school at Ramsgate, and the money which had been left by their father barely covered the fees of one.
Two letters were propped on her mantelpiece, and she recognized their character with a quaking heart. She stood for a long time surveying them with big, grave eyes before, with a sigh, she took them down and listlessly tore them open. She skimmed the contents with a little grimace, and, lifting her typewriter from the floor, put it on to the table, unlocked a drawer, and, taking out a wad of paper written in a crabbed handwriting, began to type. She had got away from the office early to finish the spare-time work which often helped to pay the rent.
She had been typing a quarter of an hour when there was a gentle tap at the door, and, in answer to her invitation, a man came a few inches into the room—a slim, brown-faced man of thirty, good-looking, with that far-away expression in his eyes which comes to men who have passed their lives in wide spaces.
"How are you getting on?" he asked, almost apologetically.
"I've done about ten pages since last night," she said. "I'm rather slow, but—" She made a little grimace.
"My handwriting is dreadful, isn't it?" he said, almost humbly.
"It is rather," she answered, and they both laughed. "I wish I could do it faster," she said. "It is as interesting as a novel."
He scratched his chin.
"I suppose it is, in a way," he said cautiously, and then, with sudden embarrassment, "But it's perfectly true."
"Of course it's true," she scoffed. "Nobody could read this report and think it wasn't true! What are you going to do with the manuscript when you have finished it?"
He looked round the room aimlessly, before his eyes returned to the pretty face that showed above the machine.
"I don't know," he said vaguely. "It might go into a magazine. I've written it out for my own satisfaction, and because it makes what seems a stupid folly look intelligent and excusable. Besides which, I am hoping to sell the property, and this account may induce some foolish person to buy a parcel of swamp and jungle—though I'd feel as though I were swindling a buyer!"
She had pushed the typewritten sheets towards him, and he picked up the first and read:
"A Report on the Alluvial Goldfields of Quimbo,"
and, reading it, he sighed.
"Yes, the gold is there all right," he said mournfully, "though I've never been able to find it. I've got a concession of a hundred square miles—it's worth less than a hundred shillings. There isn't a railway within five hundred miles; the roads are impossible; and even if there was gold there, I don't know that I should be able to get it away. Anyway, no gold has been found. I have a partner still pottering away out there: I shall probably have his death on my conscience sooner or later."
"Are you going back to Africa?" she asked curiously.
He shook his head.
"I don't think so." He hesitated. "My—my friends think I should settle down in England. I've made a little money by trading. Possibly I'll buy a farm and raise ducks."
She laughed softly.
"You won't be able to write a story about that," she said, and then, remembering, "Did the maid tell you that Miss Whittaker had called?"
She saw his start, and the color deepen in the tanned face.
"Oh, did she?" he asked awkwardly. "Really? No, the girl told me nothing." And in another minute he was running down the stairs. She did not know whether to be angry or amused at this sudden termination of their talk.
Captain Harrowby had been an inmate of the boarding-house for three weeks, and she had gladly accepted the offer, that came through her landlady, to type what she thought was the story he had written. The "story" proved to be no more, at first glance, than a prosaic report upon an African property of his, which, he told her, he was trying to sell.
Who was Miss Whittaker? She frowned as she asked herself the question, though she had no reason for personal interest in the smiling girl she had met at the door. She decided that she did not like this smart young lady, with her shingled hair and her ready smile. She knew that Captain Harrowby spent a great deal of his time at the Whittakers' house, but she had no idea that there was anything remarkable in that, until the next day, when she was taking her lunch at the office, she asked old Kilby, who knew the secret history of London better than most process- servers.
"Whittaker?" the old man chuckled. "Oh, I know Stinie Whittaker all right! He runs a gambling hell in Bloomsbury somewhere. He was convicted about ten years ago for the same offense. I served a couple of writs on him years and years ago. He's more prosperous now."
"But surely Miss Whittaker doesn't know?" said the shocked girl. "She's—she's the friend of a—a friend of mine."
Old Kilby laughed uproariously.
"Laurie? Why, Laurie's brought more men to the old man's table than anybody else! Know? Sure she does! Why, she spends all summer going voyages in order to pick up likely birds for Stinie to kill!"
The news filled the girl with uneasiness, though she found it difficult to explain her interest in the lonely man who occupied the room beneath her. Should she warn him? At the mere suggestion she was in a panic. She had quite enough trouble of her own, she told herself (and here she spoke only the truth). And was it likely that a man of his experience would be caught by card-sharps? For six days she turned the matter over in her mind and came to a decision.
On the evening she reached this, John Harrowby dressed himself with great care, took a roll of notes from his locked cash-box, and, after contemplating them thoughtfully, thrust them into his pocket. His situation was a serious one; more serious than he would admit to himself. Laurie had cautioned him against playing for high stakes, but she had not cautioned him against Bobby Salter, the well-dressed young man-about-town, whom he had met first in the Bedford Square drawing-room. Bobby had told him stories of fortunes made and lost at cards, and even initiated him into a "system" which he himself had tested, and had been at his elbow whenever he sat at the table, to urge him to a course of play which had invariably proved disastrous.
John Harrowby was without guile. He no more thought of suspecting the immaculate Bobby than he thought of suspecting Laurie herself. But tonight he would play without the assistance of his mentor, he thought, and drew a deep breath as he patted his pocket and felt the bulge of the notes.
He threw a light coat over his arm, and, turning off the light, stepped out on to the landing, to stare in amazement at a girl who was waiting patiently, her back to the banisters, as she had been waiting for ten minutes.
"I wanted to see you before you went, Captain Harrowby," said Elsie, with a quickly beating heart.
"Anything wrong with the manuscript?" he asked in surprise.
She shook her head.
"No, it isn't that, only—only I'm wondering whether—"
Words failed her for a second.
He was palpably amazed at her agitation, and could find no reason for it.
"Oh, Lord," he said, remembering suddenly. "I haven't paid you!"
"No, no, no, it isn't that." She pushed his hand from his pocket. "Of course it isn't that, Captain Harrowby! It's something—well... I know you'll think I'm horribly impertinent, but do you think you ought to play cards for money?" she asked breathlessly.
He stared at her open-mouthed.
"I don't quite know what you mean," he said slowly.
"Haven't you lost... a lot of money at Mr. Whittaker's house?" She had to force the words out.
The look in his face changed. From amazement, she saw his eyes narrow, and then, to her unspeakable relief, he smiled.
"I have lost quite a sum," he said gently. "But I don't think you—"
"You don't think that's any business of mine? And neither is it," she said, speaking rapidly. "But I wanted to tell you that Mr. Whittaker ... is a well-known—"
Here she had to stop. She could not say the man was a cheat or a thief; she knew no more than old Kilby had hinted.
"I mean, he has always had... play at his house," she faltered. "And you're new to this country, and you don't know people as—as we know them."
This time he laughed.
"You're talking as though you were in the detective service, Miss Bancroft," he said, and then suddenly laid his hand on her shoulder. "I quite understand that you are trying to do me a good turn. In my heart of hearts I believe you're right. But, unfortunately, I have lost too much to stop now—how you knew that I'd lost anything, I can't guess."
She nodded, and, without another word, turned abruptly away and ran up the stairs to her own room, angry with herself, angry with him, but, more than anything else, astounded at her own action.
No less puzzled and troubled was John Harrowby as he walked into Bedford Square.
Elsie had some work to do; but somehow she could not keep her mind fixed upon her task, and, after spoiling three sheets of paper, gave up the attempt and, sitting back in her chair, let her mind rove at will.
At half-past nine the maid brought her up a cup of tea.
"That Miss Whittaker's just gone, miss," she announced.
"Miss Whittaker? Has she been here?"
"Yes, miss; she come about a quarter of an hour ago and went up to Captain Harrowby's room. That's what puzzles me."
Elsie stared at her, open-mouthed.
"Why on earth did she go there?" she demanded.
Matilda shook her head.
"Blest if I can tell, miss. She didn't know that I was watching her—she sent me down to the kitchen to make a cup of tea for her, which was only a dodge of hers, and if I hadn't come back to ask her whether she took sugar, I wouldn't 'a' known she'd been out of the droring- room. I see her coming out of Captain Harrowby's room as I was standing in the hall. You can just see the door through the banisters."
Elsie rose, and went downstairs. Harrowby's door was ajar. She switched on the light. What she expected to find, she did not know. There was no sign of disorder. Possibly, she thought, and she found herself sneering, it was a visit of devotion by a love-stricken lady; but there was a cupboard door ajar, and half in and half out the cupboard, a japanned box that was open. She took up the box. It was empty. She put the box back in the cupboard and went thoughtfully out on to the landing.
"I think I'll go and see Captain Harrowby," she said, obeying a sudden impulse, and, a few minutes later, she was walking through the rain to Bedford Square.
She was within a dozen paces of the door of Mr. Whittaker's house when a cab drew up, and she saw Laurie Whittaker alight, pay the cabman and, running up the step, open the door of the house. Where had she been in the meantime? wondered Elsie. But there was no mystery here. It had begun to rain heavily as Laurie left the house in Coram Street, and she had sheltered in a doorway until a providential taxi came along.
Possibly it was the rain that damped the enthusiasm of the amateur detective; for now, with the Whittaker house only a few paces away, she hesitated. And the longer she waited, the wetter she became. The taxi-man who had brought Laurie lingered hopefully.
"Taxi, miss?" he asked, and Elsie, feeling a fool, nodded and climbed into the cab, glad to escape for a second from the downpour, and hating herself for her extravagance.
The cab had turned when her hand touched something on the seat. A woman's vanity-bag—
"Findings are keepings," according to the proverb, though there is an offense in law which is known as "stealing by finding."
Elsie Bancroft knew little of criminal law, but she was possessed of an inelastic conscience, so that when her hand touched the bag in the darkness, her first impulse was to tap at the window of the taxi-cab and draw the attention of the driver to her find. And then, for some reason, she checked the impulse. It was a fat bag, and the flap was open. Her ungloved fingers stole absently into its interior, and she knew that she was touching real money in large quantities.
During the war she had worked in a bank, and the feel of banknotes was familiar. Mechanically, she slipped their edge between her nimble fingers. One... two... three... she went on, until....
They might be five-pound notes—four hundred and twenty pounds. She felt momentarily giddy. Four hundred and twenty pounds! Sufficient to pay the children's school fees—she had had an urgent, if dignified, request from the principal of Tom's boarding-school and a no less pointed hint from Joan's—sufficient to settle the problem of the holidays; but—
She heaved a deep sigh and looked through the rain-blurred windows. She was painfully near to her destination, and she had to make her decision. It came as a shock to her that any decision had to be made; her course of duty was plain. It was to take the number of the cab, hand the bag to the driver, and report her discovery to the nearest police station.
There was nothing else to be done, no alternative line of action for an honest citizen....
The cab stopped with a jerk and, twisting himself in his seat, the driver yanked open the door.
* * * * *
Harrowby blinked twice at the retiring rake. A mahogany rake with a well-worn handle, and with an underlip of brass so truly set that even the flimsiest of banknotes could hardly escape its fine bevel. And there were banknotes aplenty on the croupier's side of that rake. They showed ends and corners and ordered edges, notes clean and unclean, but all having a certain interest to Harrowby, because, ten minutes, or maybe ten seconds before, they had been his, and were now the property of the man who wore his evening suit so awkwardly and sucked at a dead cigar.
John Harrowby put his hand in his pocket; as an action it was sheerly mechanical. His pocket, he knew, was a rifled treasury, but he felt he must make sure.
Then came Salter, plump, philosophical, and sympathetic. Salter could afford both his sympathy and philosophy; the house gave him a ten per cent commission on all the easy money he touted, so that even his plumpness was well inside his means.
"Well, how did you do?"
Harrowby's smile was of the slow dawning kind, starting at the corner of his eyes and ending with the expanse of a line of white teeth.
Salter made a noise, indicative of his annoyance.
"How much?" he asked anxiously.
He gave the impression that if the loss could be replaced from his pocket, it would be a loss no longer. And Stinie, he of the awkwardly worn dinner-jacket, sometimes minimized a client's losses and based his commission note on his pessimistic estimate.
"About two thousand pounds," said Harrowby.
"Two thousand pounds," said Salter thoughtfully.
He would be able to buy the car that he had refused in the afternoon. He felt pleased.
"Tough luck, old man—try another day."
Harrowby looked across to the table. The bank was still winning. Somebody said "Banco!" in a sharp, strained voice. There was a pause, a low consultation between the croupier and the banker, and a voice, so expressionless and unemotional that Harrowby knew it was the croupier's, said "I give."
And the bank won again.
Harrowby snuffled as though he found a difficulty in breathing.
He walked slowly down the stairs and paused for a second outside the white-and-gold door of the drawing-room, where he knew Laurie would be sitting. A moment's hesitation, then he turned the handle and went in. She was cuddled up in the corner of a big settee, a cigarette between her red lips, a book on her lap. She looked round, and for a second searched his face with her hard, appraising eyes. She was a year or two older than he ... he had thought her divine when he came back from Central Africa, where he had spent five bitter years, a trader's half-breed wife and an occasional missionary woman, shrivelled and yellow with heat and fever, the only glimpses he had of womankind.
But now he saw her without the rosy spectacles which he had worn.
"Have you been playing?" she asked coolly.
He nodded again.
"Really, father is too bad," she drawled. "I wish he wouldn't allow this high play in the house. I hope you're not badly hurt?"
"I've lost everything," he said.
For a second her eyebrows lifted.
"Really?" It was a polite, impersonal interest she showed, no more. "That's too bad."
She swung her feet to the floor, straightened her dress, and threw away her cigarette.
"Then we shall not be seeing a great deal of you in the future, Captain Meredith?"
"I'm afraid not," he said steadily.
Was this the girl he had known, who had come aboard at Madeira, who had made the five days' voyage from Funchal to Southampton pass in a flash? And now he must go back to scrape the earth, to trek into the impenetrable jungle, seeking the competence which he had thought was his.
"I think you are damnable!" he said.
For a second her brows met, then she laughed.
"My dear man, you're a fool," she said calmly. "I certainly invited you to come to the house, but I never asked you to gamble. And really, John, I thought you would take your medicine like a little gentleman."
His heart was thumping painfully. Between the chagrined man whose vanity has been hurt, and the clean anger of one who all his life had detested meanness and trickery, he was in a fair way to making a fool of himself.
"I'm sorry," he said in a low voice, and was walking out of the room when she called him by name.
"I hate to part like this." Her voice was soft, had the old cooing caress in it. "You'll think I'm horrid, John, but really I did my best to persuade you not to play."
He licked his dry lips and said nothing.
"Don't let us part bad friends." She held out her hand, and he took it automatically. "I thought we were going to have such a happy time together," she went on, her pathetic eyes on his. "Can't I lend you some money?"
He shook his head.
"I'm sure the luck would turn if you gave it a chance. Couldn't you sell something?"
The cool audacity of the suggestion took his breath away.
"Sell? What have I to sell?" he demanded harshly. "Souls and bodies are no longer negotiable, even if there was a twentieth-century Mephistopheles waiting round the corner to negotiate the deal!"
She toyed with the fringe of a cushion.
"You could sell your mine," she said, and his laugh sounded loud and discordant in the quietness of that daintily furnished room.
"That's worth twopence-ha'penny! It is a cemetery—a cemetery of hope and labor. It is the real white man's grave, and I am the white man."
She brought her eyes back to his.
"As you won't borrow money from me, I'll buy it for a thousand pounds."
Again he shook his head.
"No, I'm afraid there's nothing to be done," he said, "except to wish you good-night."
As he turned, she slipped between him and the door.
"I won't let you go like that, John," she said. "Won't you forgive me?"
"I've already forgiven you, if there's anything to forgive," he said.
"Sit down and write me a letter saying you forgive me. I want to have that tangible proof," she pleaded.
He was impatient to be gone, and the foolery of the suggestion grated on him.
"Then I'll write it," she said, sat down at the little escritoire and scribbled a dozen words. "Now sign that."
He would have gone, but she clutched him by the sleeve.
He took the pen and scrawled his name, without reading the note, which was half concealed by her hand. Looking through her open fingers, he saw the words "Quimbo Concession."
"What's that?" he said sharply, but she snatched the letter away.
"Give me that paper!" he demanded sternly, reaching out for it, but in another second an automatic pistol had appeared in her hand.
"Go whilst the going's good, Harrowby," she said steadily.
But she had not reckoned on this particular type of man. Suddenly his hand shot out and gripped her wrist, pinning it to the table. In another second he had snatched the letter and flung it into the little fire that blazed on the hearth. He held her at bay till the last scrap of blue paper had turned to black ashes, and then, with a little smile and a nod, he went out of the room into the street and the pelting rain.
He was wet through as he opened the door of No. 704 Coram Street. Matilda, half-way up the stairs, turned with her startling news. He listened and frowned.
"Miss Whittaker been here?" he said incredulously.
"Yes, sir... and Miss Bancroft went to tell you all about it. Didn't you see her?"
He shook his head.
What had Laurie Whittaker wanted? he asked himself, as he went up the stairs to his room. The girl must have been mistaken.
He took one glance at the open cupboard, and then the truth leapt at him, and, snatching at the box, he put it on the table and threw open the lid. There had been a square sheet of parchment in a broad envelope, and on that parchment was inscribed his title to the Quimbo Concession. It was gone.
He turned with an oath. A girl was standing watching him with grave eyes.
"Is this what you're looking for?" she asked.
Her face was very pale. She held out the envelope, and he took it from her hand.
"Where did this come from?" he said, in amazement.
"I stole it," she answered simply; "and I think this is yours."
He took the envelope from her hand with a frown, extracted a cable form and read. It was from his partner.
"Gold found in large quantities near Crocodile Creek. Congratulations."
"How did you get this?" he gasped.
She held out a little French vanity-bag, and he recognized it instantly.
"I found it in a cab; Miss Whittaker left it there," she said. "There is also four hundred and twenty pounds which belongs to her."
"Which belong to us," said John Harrowby firmly. "Findings are keepings in this case, my child. She found me and kept most of my money—I've got fifty pounds left at the bank—and I think we're entitled to this little salvage from the wreck."
And then he kissed her, and it seemed such a natural thing to do, that she offered no protest.
MR. Felix O'Hara Golbeater knew something of criminal investigation, for he had been a solicitor for eighteen years and had been engaged in work which brought him into touch with the criminal classes, and his ingenuity and shrewd powers of observation had often enabled him to succeed in securing a conviction where ordinary police methods had failed.
A spare man, on the right side of forty, he was distinguished by a closely cropped beard and shaggy eyebrows, and in the cultivation of these he had displayed extraordinary care and patience.
It is not customary, even in legal circles, where so many curious practices obtain, to bother overmuch with one's eyebrows, but O'Hara Golbeater was a far-seeing man, and he anticipated a day when interested people would be looking for those eyebrows of his, when their portraiture would occupy space on the notice boards of police stations—for Mr. Felix O'Hara Golbeater had no illusions and was well aware of a most vital fact, which was that you cannot fool all men all the time. Therefore he was eternally on the qui vive for that mysterious man who would certainly appear on the scene some day and who would see through Golbeater the lawyer, Golbeater the trustee, Golbeater the patron of field sports, and last and greatest of distinctions, Golbeater the intrepid aviator, whose flights had caused something of a sensation in the little Buckingham village where he had his "country seat." And he had no desire to be "seen through."
He was sitting in his office one night in April. His clerks had long since gone home, and the caretaker, whose duty it was to clean up, had also left.
It was not Felix O'Hara Golbeater's practice to remain at the office until 11 p. m., but the circumstances were exceptional and justified the unusual course.
Behind him were a number of japanned steel boxes. They were arranged on shelves and occupied one half of the wall space from floor to ceiling. On each box was painted in neat white figures the name of the man, woman, or corporation for whose documents the receptacle was reserved. There was the "Anglo-Chinese Pottery Syndicate" (in liquidation), "The Erly Estate," "The Late Sir George Gallinger," to name only a few.
Golbeater was mainly interested in the box inscribed "Estate of the Late Louisa Harringay," and this stood wide open on his polished desk, its contents sorted into orderly heaps.
From time to time he made notes in a small but stout book by his side, notes for his confidential guidance apparently, for the book possessed a hinged lock.
In the midst of his inspection there came a sharp knock at the door of his sanctum.
He looked up, listening, his cigar stiffly held between his even white teeth.
The knock came again, and he rose, crossed the carpeted floor softly, and bent his head, as though by this process he could intensify his auricular powers.
Again the visitor rapped on the panels of the door, this time impatiently. He followed up his summons by trying the door.
"Who's there?" asked Golbeater softly.
"Fearn," came the reply.
"Just one moment."
Golbeater stepped back to the desk swiftly and bundled all the documents into the open box. This he replaced in the rack, then returning to the door, he unlocked it.
A young man stood in the doorway. His long Raglan was splashed with rain. In his plain, kindly face embarrassment as at an unpleasant mission struggled for mastery with the expression of annoyance peculiar to the Englishman kept waiting on the door-mat.
"Come in," said Golbeater, and opened the door wide.
The young man stepped into the room and slipped off his coat.
"Rather wet," he apologized gruffly.
The other nodded.
He closed the door carefully and locked it.
"Sit down," he said, and dragged forward a chair. His steady black eyes did not leave the other's face. He was all alert and tense, obeying the atavistic instinct of defense. The very angle of his cigar spoke caution and defiance.
Frank Fearn seated himself.
"I saw your light—I thought I'd drop in," he said awkwardly.
There was a pause.
"Been aeroplaning lately?"
Golbeater removed his Havana and examined it attentively.
"Yes," he said, and spoke confidentially to the cigar.
"Queer that a fellow like you should take it up," said the other, with a glint of reluctant admiration in his eyes. "I suppose studying criminals and being in touch with them... helps your nerves... and things."
Fearn was marking time. You could almost hear the tramp of his intellectual boots.
He began again.
"Do you really believe, Golbeater, that a chap could—could escape from justice if he really tried?"
A wild thought which was half a hope flashed through the lawyer's mind. Had this young fool been adventuring outside the law? Had he overstepped the mark too? Young men do mad things.
And if he had, that would be salvation for Felix 0'Hara Golbeater, for Fearn was engaged to the young heiress who had inherited Miss Harringay's fortune—and Fearn was the man of all men that the solicitor feared. He feared him because he was a fool, a stubborn fool, and an inquisitive fool.
"I really believe that," he answered; "my contention, based on experience, is that in a certain type of crime the offender need never be detected, and in other varieties, even though he, is detected, he can, given a day's start, avoid arrest."
He settled down in his chair to pursue hts favorite theory—one which had been the subject of discussion the last time he and Fearn had met at the club.
"Take myself for instance," he said. "Suppose I were a criminal —one of the swell mob—what could be easier than for me to mount my machine, sail gaily away to France, descending where I knew fresh supplies awaited me, and continuing my journey to some unlikely spot. I know of a dozen places in Spain where the aeroplane could be hidden."
The young man was eyeing him with a glum and dubious expression.
"I admit," Golbeater went on, with an easy wave of his cigared hand, "that I am exceptionally placed; but really in any case it would only have been a matter of prearrangement: elaborate and painstaking preparation which any criminal could take. It is open to him to follow the same course. But what do we find? A man systematically robs his employer, and all the time he is deluding himself with the belief that a miracle will happen, which will allow him to make good his defalcations. Instead of recognizing the inevitable, he dreams of luck; instead of methodically planning his departure, he employs all his organizing power in hiding today the offense of yesterday."
He waited for the confession he had encouraged. He was aware that Fearn dabbled on the Stock Exchange; that he was in the habit of frequenting racecourses.
"H'm," said Fearn. His lean brown face twisted into a momentary grimace.
"It's a pretty good thing," he said, "that you aren't on the lawless side, isn't it? I suppose you aren't?"
Now Felix O'Hara Golbeater was a man very shrewd in the subtleties of human nature and very wise in the reading of portents. He knew the truth which is spoken with a smile, and may be taken either as an exhibition of humor or a deadly accusation, and in the question put to him with quizzical good humor he recognized his finish.
The young man was watching him eagerly, his mind filled with vague apprehensions, so vague and so indefinite that he had spent four hours walking up and down the street in which Golbeater's offices were before he had screwed himself up to the interview.
The lawyer laughed. "It would be rather awkward for you if I were," he said, "since I have at this moment some sixty thousand pounds of your fiancée's money in my possession."
"I thought it was at the bank," said the other quickly. The other shrugged his shoulders. "So it is," he said, "but none the less it is in my possession. The magic words, 'Felix O'Hara Golbeater,' inscribed in the south-east corner of a check would place the money in my hands."
"Oh!" said Fearn.
He made no attempt to disguise his relief.
He got up from his chair, a somewhat gauche young man, as all transparently honest young men are, and spoke the thought which was uppermost in his mind. "I don't care two cents about Hilda's money," he said abruptly. "I've enough to live on, but—for her sake, of course—one has to be careful."
"Oh, you're being careful all right," said Golbeater, the corners of his mouth twitching, though the beard hid the fact from his visitor; "you had better put a detective on the bank to see that I don't draw the money and bolt."
"I have," blurted the young man in some confusion; "at least—well, people say things, d'ye know—there was a lot of talk about that Meredith legacy case—really, Golbeater, you didn't come well out of that."
"I paid the money," said Golbeater cheerfully, "if that's what you mean."
He walked to the door and opened it. "I hope you wont get wet," he said politely.
Fearn could only mutter an incoherent commonplace and go stumbling and groping down the dark stairs into the street. Golbeater stepped into an adjoining room, closing the door behind him. There was no light here, and from the window he could observe the other's movements. He half expected Fearn to be joined by a companion, but the hesitation he showed when he reached the street indicated that he had no engagement and expected to meet nobody.
Golbeater returned to the inner office. He wasted no time in speculation. He knew that the game was up. From an inner drawer in his safe he took a memorandum, and glanced down it.
Twelve months before, an eccentric Frenchman, who had occupied a little country house in Wiltshire, had died, and the property had come into the market; not, curiously enough, into the English market, because its late owner had been the last of a line of French exiles who had made their home in England since the days of the Revolution. The heirs, having no desire to continue residence in a land which had no associations for them, had placed the sale of the property in the hands of a firm of French notaries.
Golbeater, a perfect French scholar and an earnest student of the Parisian papers, came to know of the impending sale. He had purchased it through a succession of agents. It had been refurnished from Paris. The two servants who controlled the tiny ménage had been hired and were paid from Paris, and neither of these staid servitors, who received remittances and letters bearing the Parisian postmark, associated M. Alphonse Didet, the employer they had never seen, with the London solicitor.
Nor did the good people of Letherhampton, the village adjoining the property, trouble their heads overmuch about the change of proprietorship. One "Frenchie" was very much like another; they had grown up accustomed to the eccentricities of the) exiled aristocrats, and regarded them with the same indifference which they applied to the other objects of the landscape, and with that contempt which the bucolic mind reserves for the ignorant fellows who do not speak its language.
Also there was in the neighborhood of Whitstable a little bungalow, simply furnished, whither Golbeater was in the habit of making week-end excursions. Most important and most valuable of its contents was a motor cycle; and in the cloakroom of a London terminus were two trunks, old and battered, covered with the labels of foreign places and the picturesque advertisements of foreign hotels. Felix O'Hara Golbeater was very thorough in his methods. But then he had the advantage of others' experiences; he had seen the haphazard criminal, and had profited by the lesson to be found in the untimely end which rewards carelessness in flight.
He walked to the fireplace, struck a match, and burnt the memorandum to ashes. There was nothing else to burn, for his was the practice of clearing up as he went along. From the safe he took a thick package, opened it, and revealed a tightly compressed wad of banknotes, English and French. They represented the greater part of sixty thousand pounds, which, if every man and woman had their own, should have been at the bankers of Miss Hilda Harringay.
The whole of the sixty thousand was not there, because there were other deficiencies which had claimed more urgent and pressing settlement.
He pulled on a raincoat swiftly, put out the light, artistically left a half-finished letter in the open drawer of his desk, and went out. The advantage of being a bachelor occurred to him as the theatre train pulled out of Charing Cross Station. He had nothing to trouble his conscience: he was the ideal defaulter.
From Sevenoaks Station he made his way on foot along the two-mile road which led to the hangar. He spent the night in the shed reading by the light of a portable electric light. Long before dawn he had changed into his mechanic's kit, leaving his everyday working clothes neatly folded in a locker.
It was a perfect day for a flight, and at five in the morning, with the assistance of two laborers on their way to work, he started the aeroplane and rose easily over the sleeping town. It was his good fortune that there was no wind, more fortunate still that there was a mist on the sea. He had headed for Whitstable, and when he heard the waters washing beneath him in the darkness, he came down and found the shore; he recognized a coast-guard station and went on for a mile, keeping touch with the beach.
* * * * *
The newspapers which published an account of the aeroplane tragedy described how the machine was found floating upside down two miles from shore: they described the search by coastguards and police for the body of the unfortunate Felix O'Hara Golbeater, who in an endeavor to reach his bungalow had evidently got lost in the mist and was drowned. They observed in guarded language that he was making for the French coast and with good reason.
But none of them described how Felix O'Hara Golbeater had set his planes at a sky-climbing angle when only a few feet from the water—and from the water's edge by the same token and had dropped into the sea with close on sixty thousand pounds in the waterproof pocket of his overalls.
Nor how, with surprising swiftness, he had reached the isolated little bungalow on the shore, had stripped his wet things on the verandah, had entered, changed, and reappeared to make his sodden mechanic's kit into a portable bundle: nor how he had placed this in a specially weighted bag and dropped it down a well at the back of the house. Nor how, with incredible rapidity, he had removed his beard and his eyebrows with such tidiness of operation that not so much as a single hair was ever found by the police.
None of these things were described, for the simple reason that they were not known, and there was no reporter sufficiently imaginative to picture them. In the early hours of the morning, a clean-shaven, young- looking motor cyclist, goggled and clad in a shapeless mackintosh kit, went spinning back to London, stopping only in such towns and at such hostelries as motor cyclists most frequent. He reached London after nightfall. His motor cycle he left at a garage, together with his wet waterproofs. He had considered a more elaborate scheme for disposing of them, but he did not regard it as necessary, nor was it.
Felix O'Hara Golbeater had ceased to be: he was as dead as though indeed he lay swaying to and fro on the floor of the ocean.
M. Alphonse Didet, from the porter of the Baggage Department, demanded in French good, and in broken English not quite so good, the restoration of his two trunks.
As for Letherhampton, the expected Frenchman had arrived or returned (they were rather vague as to whether or not he had already stayed at the château), and it served as a "fill" to conversations, heavily charged with agricultural problems and the iniquities of Welsh statesmanship.
In the meantime, London, with breathless interest, discussed the story of Felix O'Hara. Scotland Yard conducted a swift examination of Mr. Golbeater's Bloomsbury offices, and of Mr. Golbeater's Kensington flat, and of Mr. Golbeater's banking account, but though they found many things which interested them they did not discover any money.
A white-faced girl, accompanied by a lean and homely young man, interviewed the detective in charge of the case.
"Our theory," said the policeman impressively, "is that in endeavoring to effect an escape to the French coast he met with a fatal accident. I think he is dead."
"I don't," said the young man.
The detective thought he was a fool, but considered it inexpedient to say so.
"I'm sure he's alive," said Fearn vigorously. "I tell you he's too diabolically clever. If he wanted to leave England, why should he not have gone by last night's mail-boat There was nothing to prevent him."
"I thought you employed private detectives to watch the boats?"
The young man blushed
"Yes," he confessed; "I had forgotten that."
"We'll circularize all the stations," the detective went on, "but I must confess that I do not expect to find him."
To the credit of the police it must be said that they went to work in no half-hearted fashion. The bungalow at Whitstable was searched from end to end without result; there was no trace of him; even the mirror at which Golbeater had shaved was thick with dust; this had been one of the first articles of furniture the detective had examined.
The ground about had been searched as systematically, but it had been a wet day when the fugitive had departed, and moreover he had carried his motor cycle at some discomfort to himself until he had reached the road.
His flat gave no indication of his whereabouts. The half-finished letter rather supported the theory which the police had formed that he had had no intention of making his hurried exit.
Fortunately the case was sufficiently interesting to the French journals to enable Felix O'Hara Golbeater to acquire a working knowledge of what was going on. Punctually every morning there arrived at his château Le Petit Parisien and Le Matin. He did not patronize English papers: he was much too clever for that. In the enterprising columns of the Matin he discovered something about himself: all that he wanted to know, and that all, most satisfactory.
He settled down to the comfortable life of his country house. He had planned the future with an eye to detail. He gave himself six months in this beautiful little prison of his; at the end of that time, he would, by an assiduous correspondence tactfully and scientifically directed, establish his identity as M. Alphonse Didet beyond any fear of identification. At the end of six months he would go away, to France perhaps, by excursion, or more elaborately, by sailing yacht.
For the moment he gave himself over to the cultivation of his roses, to the study of astronomy, to which the late owner's tiny observatory invited him, to the indictment of a voluminous correspondence with several learned societies situated in France.
Now there was at Letherhampton in those days a police superintendent who was something of a student; there were unkindly people who expressed the opinion that his studies did not embrace one necessary to him in his profession—the study of criminology.
Superintendent Grayson was a self-made man and a self-educated man. He was the sort of individual who patronizes Home Correspondence Schools, and, by a modest outlay and an enormous capacity for absorbing in a parrot- like fashion certain facts obscure to the average individual, he had become in turn an advertising expert, a civil engineer of passable merit, a journalist, and a French and Spanish scholar. His French was of the variety which is best understood in England, preferably by the professors of the Home Correspondence Schools, but of this fact the superintendent lived in blissful ignorance, and he yearned for an opportunity of experimenting upon a real Frenchman.
Before the arrival of M. Alphonse Didet he had called many times at the château and had spoken in their native language with the two servants who were established there. Being poor ignorant menials, they did not, of course, understand the classic language he spoke, and he dismissed his uncomprehending victims as being provincial, though as a matter of fact they were Parisian born and bred.
With M. Alphonse on the scene, Superintendent Grayson searched round for an excuse to call, in the same helpless fashion that the amateur picture-hanger looks round for the hammer at the critical moment. The ordinary sources of inspiration were absent. M. Didet, being a French subject could not be summoned to a jury, he paid his rates duly, he had never run any person down in his motor car, and, indeed, did not possess one.
The inspector was in despair of ever finding an opportunity when an unfortunate member of the constabulary was badly injured in the execution of his duty, and the county started a subscription for the man, with the permission of the Chief Constable. Inspector Grayson was entrusted with the collection of local offerings.
Thus it was he came to the Château Blanche.
M. Alphonse Didet watched the burly figure arriving, booted and spurred, frogged across the chest, and beribboned, as a superintendent with some army experience should be, and tapped his teeth with his pen speculatively. He opened a drawer of his desk and took out his revolver. It was loaded. He threw open the chamber and extracted the cartridges, throwing them, an untidy handful, into the wastepaper basket. Because if this meant arrest, he was not quite sure what he would do, but he was absolutely certain that he would not be hanged.
Paul, the elderly butler, announced the visitor. "Let him come in," said M. Alphonse, and posed easily in the big arm-chair, a scientific work on his knee, his big spectacles perched artistically askew on his nose. He looked up under raised eyebrows as the officer entered, rose, and with true French courtesy offered him a seat.
Clearing his throat, the superintendent began in French. He wished Monsieur good-morning; he was desolated to disturb the professor learned at his studies, but hélas! an accident terrible had befallen a gend'arme brave of the force municipal. (It was the nearest the good man could get to county constabulary, and it served.)
The other listened and understood, breathing steadily through his nose, long, long sighs of relief, and feeling an extraordinary shakiness of knee, a sensation he had never thought to experience.
He too was desolated. What could he do?
The superintendent took from his pocket a folded sheet of manuscript. He explained in his French the purport of the appeal which headed it, giving the ancestry and the social position of the great names which offered their patronage. Huge sprawling names they were, monstrously indistinct save in the money column where prudence and self-preservation had advised that the figures of the donations should be unmistakable.
What a relief! Alphonse Didet squared his shoulders and filled his lungs with the air of freedom and respectability.
Very gaily within, though outwardly sedate and still the French professor with spectacles askew, he stepped to his desk. What should he give? "How much are a hundred francs?" he asked over his shoulder.
"Four pounds," said the inspector proudly.
So M. Alphonse Didet signed his name, put four pounds carefully in the column allotted for the purpose, took a hundred franc note from his drawer, and handed it with the subscription list to the inspector.
There was some polite bowing and complimentary sentiments murmured on both sides; the superintendent took his departure, and M. Alphonse Didet watched him down the path with every sense of satisfaction and pleasure.
That night when he was sleeping the sleep of the just, two men from Scotland Yard entered his room and arrested him in bed. Yes, they arrested this most clever of criminals because on the subscription list he had signed "Felix O'Hara Golbeater" in a hand which was bold and exuberant
FOLEY, the smoke-room oracle, has so often bored not only the members of the club, but a much wider circle of victims, by his views on heredity and the functions of the hormones—for he has a fluent pen and an entree to the columns of a certain newspaper that shall be—nameless—that one is averse to recalling his frayed theories.
He is the type of scientist who takes a correspondence course in such things as mnemonics, motor engineering, criminology, wireless telegraphy, and character-building. He paid nothing for the hormones, having found them in an English newspaper report of Professor Parrott's (is it the name?) lecture. Hormones are the little X's in your circulatory system which inflict upon an unsuspecting and innocent baby such calamities as his uncle's nose, his father's temper, and Cousin Minnie's unwholesome craving for Chopin and bobbed hair. The big fellows in the medical world hesitate to assign the exact function of the hormones or even to admit their existence.
Foley, on the contrary, is prepared to supply thumb-nail sketches and specifications. When you go to the writing-table in the "Silence" room, and find it littered with expensive stationery, more or less covered with scrawly-wags, it is safe betting that Foley has been introducing his new friend to some wretched member whom he has inveigled into an indiscreet interest.
But Hormones apart, there is one theory of evolution to which Foley has clung most tenaciously. And it is that the ultra-clever father has a fool for a son.
Whether it works the other way round he does not say. I should think not, for Foley senior is in his eightieth year, believes in spiritualism, and speculates on margins.
Foley advanced his theory in relation to Dick Magnus.
John Seymour Magnus, his father, is popularly supposed to be in heaven, because of the many good qualities and characteristics recorded on the memorial tablet in St. Mary's Church. Thus: He was a Good Father, a Loving Husband and a Faithful Friend, and performed Many Charitable Deeds in This City.
There is nothing on the memorial tablet about his Successful Promotions or Real Estate Acquisitions. He was bracketed first as the keenest business man of his day. A shrewd, cunning general of commerce, who worked out his plans to the minutest detail, he ran his schemes to a time-table and was seldom late. All other men (except one) would comprehend the beginning and fruition of their schemes within the space of months. John Seymour Magnus saw the culmination of his secret politics three years ahead.
There was one other, a rival, who had the same crafty qualities. Carl Martingale was his contemporary, and it is an important circumstance that he supplied, in his son, a complete refutation of all Foley's theories. Carl and John died within twelve days of one another, and both their great businesses went to only sons.
Dick took over the old man's chair, and was so oppressed by his uncongenial surroundings that he sold it for a ridiculous figure to Steven Martingale. The two were friends, so the sale was effected over a luncheon for which Dick paid.
Steven had arranged the lunch weeks ahead, had decided upon the course of conversation which would lead up to the question of sale, and had prepared his reply when Dick was manceuvered into offering the property. For Steven was his parent, and worse. Old Carl was a selfmade boor, with no refined qualities. Steven had the appearance and speech of a gentleman and shared certain views on life with the anthropoid ape.
Ugly stories floated around, and once old Jennifer came into the club in a condition bordering on hysteria and drank himself maudlin. He had hoped to bag Steven for the family, and had allowed his pretty daughter Fay a very free hand.
Too free, it seems. Nothing happened which in any way discommoded Steven. The old fellow owed him an immense amount of money, and Steven knew to a penny the exact strength of these financial legirons.
He was a strikingly handsome fellow, the type the shop-girls rave about—dark, tall, broad of shoulder and lean of flank, an athlete and something of a wit. A greater contrast to Dick could not be imagined, for Dick was thinnish and small, fair haired, rather short-sighted (Steven's flashing eye and long lashes were features that fascinated) and languid.
But he did not develop his left-handedness until after he was married.
Both Dick and Steven courted Thelma Corbett, and never a day passed but that their cars were parked in the vicinity of the Corbett ménage. Corbett being on the danger-zone of bankruptcy was indifferent as to which of the two men succeeded in their quest, and Thelma was in a like case.
She was one of those pretty slender creatures whom. meeting, leave you with a vague unrest of mind. Where had you met her before? Then you realized (as I realized) that she was the ideal toward which all the line artists who ever drew pretty women were everlastingly striving. She was cold and sweet, independent and helpless, clever and vapid; you were never quite certain which was the real girl and which was the varnish and the finishing-school.
To everybody's surprise, she married Dick. Steven had willed it, of course. He half admitted as much one night between acts when we were smoking in the lobby of the Auditorium. Dick had at that time been married for the best part of a year and was childishly happy.
"I can't understand how Dick came to cut you out, Steven," I said. He was feeling pretty good toward me just about then, for I had pulled him through a sharp attack of grippe.
He laughed, that teasing little laugh of his.
"I thought it best," he said, a statement which could be taken two ways. That he was not exposing his modesty or displaying the least unselfishness, ho went on to explain:
"She was too young, too placid. Some women are like that. The men who marry them never wake them up. Some go through life with their hearts asleep and die in the belief that they have been happy. They have lived without 'struggle,' and only 'struggle' can light the fire which produces the perfect woman. I figured it that way."
I was silent.
"I figured it that way"—a favorite expression of his—explained in a phrase the inexplicable.
"That is why you find the most unlikely women running away with the most impossible men," he went on; "the heavens are filled with the woes of perfect husbands and the courts shudder with their lamentations. They are bewildered, stunned, outraged. They have showered their wealth and affection upon a delicate lady, and in return she has fled with a snubnosed chauffeur whose vocabulary is limited to twelve hundred words and whose worldly possessions are nil."
I said nothing, and soon after the bell rang and we went back to our seats. He drove me home that night and came up to my den for a drink, and I reopened the subject of Dick and his wife.
"Dick is one of Nature's waste products," he said. "He has neither initiative nor objective in life. How could old Magnus breed such a son? He was the cleverest, shrewdest, old devil in the City. Dick is just pap and putty—a good fellow and a useful fellow for holding my lady's wool or carrying my lady's Chow, but—"
He shook his head. "No 'struggle' there, Steve?" I asked. "Foley's theory works out in this case."
"Foley is a fool," smiled Steven. "What about me? Aren't I my father's son?"
I admitted that.
"No, Dick lives from breakfast to supper, and could no more work out a scheme as his father did than I could knit a necktie."
"And there is no 'struggle' in the establishment?" I repeated, and he nodded gravely. "There is no 'struggle,'" he said, and although he never said the words I felt him saying "as yet."
Steven became a frequent visitor at the Magnus' house—Dick told me this himself. "He's an amusing person," he said—I met him in the Park, and he stopped his car to talk"—and I can't help feeling that life is a little dull for Thelma."
It was much duller for people who were brought much into contact with Thelma, but I did not say so. She was the kind of hostess who wanted entertaining.
Everybody loved Dick in those days, and he was welcomed wherever he went. Later, when he passed through that remarkably awkward stage, a stage which we usually associate with extreme adolescence, he was not so popular, and I was a little bit worried about him. It grieved me to see a man with all the money in the world making a playtime of life, because people who live for play can find their only recreation in work, and he never expressed the slightest desire to engage himself in the pursuit which had built up his father's colossal fortune. He rode well, he shot well, he played a good game of golf, and it was a case of "Let's get Dick" for a fourth at bridge.
"The fact is," said Dick, when I tackled him one day, "heavy thinking bores me. Maybe if I had to, I would. Sometimes I feel that I have a flash of my father's genius, but I usually work out that moment of inspiration in a game of solitaire.
"One afternoon he took me home to tea, arriving a little earlier than usual. He was evidently surprised to find Steve's car drawn up near the house. He should have been more surprised when he walked through the French windows opening from the lawn to the drawing-room, and found Steve and Thelma side by side on a settee examining Medici prints. It may have been necessary for the proper study of Art that Steve's hand should be upon the girl's shoulder. Evidently she did not think so, for she tried to disengage herself, but Steve, much more experienced in the ways of the world, kept his hand in position and looked up with a smile. As for me, I felt de trop.
"Hello, people!" said Dick, glaring benignly into the flushed face of the girl, "do my eyes behold a scandal in process of evolution? Or have I interrupted an exposition on the art of Michael Angelo?"
Steve rose with a laugh.
"I brought Thelma some pictures," he said, "they're a new lot just published; they are rather fine, don't you think?"
Dick looked at the pictures and, having no artistic soul, said that they struck him as a little old-fashioned, and I saw the girl's lips curl in disdain of her husband, and felt a trifle sad.
Another time (I have learnt since) Dick found them lunching together at Madarino's, a curious circumstance in view of the fact that she had said she was going to spend the day with her mother.
Then one afternoon Dick went home and sounded his motor-horn loudly as he swept up the drive, and discovered his wife at one end of the drawing-room and Steve at the other, and they were discussing Theosophy loudly.
After tea Dick linked his arm in Steve's and took him into the grounds.
"Steve, old boy," he said affectionately, "I don't think I should come and see Thelma unless somebody else is here, old man."
"Why in Heaven's name shouldn't I?" asked Steve. "What rubbish you talk, Dick! Why, I've known Thelma as long as I've known you."
Dick scratched his chin.
"Yes, that seems a sound kind of argument," he said. "Still, I wouldn't if I were you. You know, servants and people of that kind talk."
But Steve smacked him on the back and told him not to be a goomp, and Thelma was so nice that evening that, when during a week-end Dick surprised his wife and Steve one morning walking with linked hands along an unfrequented path through the woods, he did no more than give them a cheery greeting, and passed on with a grin.
It was about this time that Dick started on his maladroit career. He became careless in his dress, could not move without knocking things over, went altogether wrong in his bridge, so that you could always tell which was Dick's score by a glance at the block. There was usually a monument of hundreds, two hundreds, and five hundreds erected above the line on the debit side, and when men cut him as a partner they groaned openly and frankly.
Harry Wallstein, who is a lunatic collector, gave him a rare Ming vase to examine, and Dick dropped it, smashing the delicate china into a hundred pieces. Of course he insisted upon paying the loss, but he could not soothe Harry's anguished soul. He had a trick too, when he was taking tea with some of his women friends, of turning quickly in a drawing-room and sweeping all the cups on to the floor. In the street he escaped death by miracles. Once he stood in the center of a crowded thoroughfare at the rush hour to admire the amethystine skies. A motor lorry and two taxicabs piled themselves up on the sidewalk in consequence, for it had been raining and the roads were slippery.
Dick footed the bill for the damage and went on his awkward way. It is extraordinary how quickly a man acquires a reputation for eccentricity. People forgot the unoffending Dick that used to be, and knew only the dangerous fool who was. When he called on Mrs. Tolmarsh, whose collection of Venetian glass has no equal in the country, the butler was instructed never to leave his side, to guide him in and out of the drawing-room, and under no circumstances to allow him to handle the specimens which Mrs. Tolmarsh invariably handed round for the admiration of her guests. Nevertheless he managed to crash a sixteenth-century vase and a decanter which had been made specially for Fillipo, Tyrant of Milan, and was adorned with his viperish crest.
And in the meantime Steven gave up his practice of calling three times a week on Mrs. Magnus and called every day.
Dick did not seem to mind, although he took to returning home earlier than had been his practice. I might have warned Dick. I preferred, however, to say a few words to Steven, and I got him alone in a corner of the library and I did not mince my words.
"I shall not moralize, Steven," I said, "for that is not my way. You have your own code and your own peculiar ideas concerning women, and so far you've got away with it. I do not doubt that you will get away with this matter because Dick seems to be drifting down the stream towards imbecility—but there are, thank Heaven, a few decent people in this town, and if you betray Dick you are going to have a pretty thin time. I won't commit the banality of asking you to look before you leap, because I know you're a pretty good looker!"
"Leaper!" he corrected. "No person who looks very carefully leaps at all. The world is divided into those two classes—lookers and leapers. Anyway, I am not very greatly concerned by what people think of me. If I were, I should have entered a monastery a long time ago. You've been straight with me, Doctor, and I'm going to be straight with you. My affairs are my affairs and concern nobody else. I shall do just as I think, and take a line which brings me the greatest satisfaction."
"Whosoever is hurt?" I asked.
"Whosoever is hurt," he said, and meant it. "I know just what is coming to me. I have figured it out."
There was no more to be said. To approach Dick was a much more delicate matter, for he was impervious to hints.
A week after I had talked to Steven I met Hariboy, who is a banker of standing and the president of my golf club. I met him professionally, for I had been called into his house to perform a minor operation on one of his children, and I was cleaning up in his dressing-room when he strolled in, and after some talk about the child he said:
"Steven Martingale is going away."
"Going away?" I repeated. "How do you know?"
"I know he has taken steamship accommodations for Bermuda. My secretary and his secretary are apparently friends, and she told my girl that Steven is doing a lot of rush work, and that he is leaving for a long holiday on the 18th."
"Do you know by what line?" I asked, and he told me.
Luckily the manager of the shipping office was a patient of mine, and I made it my business to call on him that afternoon.
"Yes, the ship leaves on the 18th," he said, "but I haven't Mr. Martingale on my passenger list."
We went through it together, and I traced my finger down the cabin numbers and their occupants.
"Who is this in No. 7 suite?" I asked. He put on his glasses and looked.
"Mr. and Mrs. Smith. I don't know who they are. It's not an uncommon name," he added humorously.
So that was that!
I do not think I should have moved any further in the matter if I had had the slightest degree of faith in Steven's honesty. But Steven was not a marrying man. He had once told me that under no circumstances would he think of binding his life with that of any woman, and had expounded his philosophy with that cold-blooded logic of his, which left me in no doubt at all that whatever fine promises he might make to Thelma Magnus, only one end of that advenlure was inevitable.
I sought Dick all over the town, and ran him to earth in the first place I should have looked—the card-room of Proctor's Club. I entered the room in time to hear the peroration of a violent address on idiocy delivered by Dick's late partner. His opponents were too busy adding up the score to take any interest in the proceeding.
Dick sat back in his chair, his hands in his pockets, a little smile on his thin face.
"Fortunes of war, old top," he murmured from time to time.
"Fortunes of war be—" roared Staine; who was his victim. "You go four spades on the queen, knave to five, and not another trick in your hand...!"
"Fortunes of war, old top," said Dick again, paid his opponents and rose, upsetting the table and scattering the cards in all directions.
"Awfully sorry," he murmured; "really awfully sorry!"
That "awfully sorry" of his came mechanically now.
"Now, Dick," said I, when I'd got him into my car, "you're coming straight home with me, and I'm going to talk to you like an uncle."
"Oh, Lord!" he groaned. "Not about Thelma?" I was astounded, and I suppose looked my astonishment. "Everybody talks to me about Thelma," said Dick calmly. "She's a dear, good girl, and as honest as they make 'em. I'm not a very amusing chap, you know, Doctor," he said mournfully, "and Steven is the kind of fellow who can keep a room in roars of laughter."
"But, my dear, good man," I said impatiently, "don't you realize that a man of Steven's character does not call daily on your wife to tell her funny stories?"
"I don't know," said Dick vaguely. "Thelma seems to like him, and I've really no grudge against old Steve. He's a leaper too," he said, with a quick, sidelong glance at me, "and that makes him ever so much more interesting to the women." lie chuckled at my astonishment. "He was telling us the other night about that amusing conversation he had with you."
"He did not tell you the whole of the conversation, I'll swear," said I dryly, but Dick showed no curiosity.
"Old Steven is a good fellow," he repeated. "I like him, and I tell everybody who comes to me with stories about him and Thelma that he is my very best friend."
I groaned in the spirit.
"Then," said I in despair, "it is useless telling you that Steven has booked two berths by the steamer which leaves on the 18th for Bermuda."
He nodded. "I know; he is taking his aunt," he said. "I got the same yarn from Chalmers, and I asked Steven, and he told me, yes, he was going away—"
"In the name of Smith?" I asked pointedly.
"In the name of Smith," repeated Dick gravely. "After all, he's a big power in the financial'world, Doctor, and it is not good business for him to advertise his comings and goings."
After that there was no more to be said.
"We're having a little party on the 17th at the house. I wish you would come along," said Dick before I left him. "I've particularly asked Steve to come. It will be a send-off for him, though of course nobody must know that he is going abroad."
The dear, simple fool said this so solemnly that I could have kicked him. What could I do? I had a talk with Chalmers, who is as fond of Dick as I am, and he could offer no advice.
"It's hopeless," he said, "and the queer thing is that Dick has arranged to go out of town on the night of the 17th. So we can't even drag him to the ship to confront this swine!"
"Do you think he'll marry her?" I asked after a long pause in the conversation.
"Marry her!" scoffed Chalmers. "Did he marry Fay Jennifer? Did he marry that unhappy girl Steele? Marry her!"
It was a big party which Dick gave. His house lay about twenty miles out of town and is situated in the most gorgeous country. It was a hot autumn day, with a cloudless sky and a warm gentle breeze, the kind of day that tempts even the most confirmed of city birds into the open country.
I do not think it was wholly the salubrious weather that was responsible for the big attendance. Half the people, and all the women who were present, knew that on the following day Steven Martingale was leaving for Bermuda, and that Thelma would accompany him.
I saw the girl as soon as I arrived, and noted the bright eyes, the flushed cheek, and the atmosphere of hectic excitement in which she moved. She was a little tremulous, somewhat incoherent, just a thought shrill.
All Dick's parties were amusing and just a little unconventional. For example, in addition to the band and the troupe of al fresco performers and Grecian dancers, he usually had some sort of competition for handsome prizes, and the young people, particularly, looked forward to these functions with the greatest enjoyment. On this occasion there was a revolver-shooting competition for ladies and gentlemen, the prize for the women being a diamond bangle, and for the men a gold cigarette case.
Most men imagine themselves to be proficient in the arts which they do not practice, and nine out of ten who have never handled a gun boast of their marksmanship.
Dick sought me out and took me into the house and upstairs to his own snuggery.
"Doctor," said he, as he dropped into an easychair and reached for his cigarettes, "spare a minute to enlighten me. What was the Crauford smash? I only heard a hint of it last night, and I'm told that dad was positively wonderful."
It was queer he had never heard of Ralph Crauford and his fall. Old Man Magnus and he were bitter enemies, and whereas Crauford must nag and splutter from day to day, Magnus was prepared to wait. As usual he laid his plans ahead, and one morning failed to turn up at his office. The rumor spread that he was ill, and there was suport for the story, because you could never pass his house without seeing a doctor's waiting car. It was a puzzling case, and I myself was fooled. So was every specialist we brought in. For weeks at a time Magnus would be well, and then he would have a collapse and be absent from his office for days.
And all the time the Crauford crowd were waiting to jump in and smash two of the stocks he carried. We had advised a trip abroad, but it was not till the end of a year of these relapses and recoveries that he consented. He went to Palermo in Sicily, and after a month it was announced that he had died. Then the fun started. Crauford jumped into the market with a hammer in each hand, figuratively speaking. Tyne River Silver fell from 72 to 31, and all the time the executors of the estate were chasing one another to discover their authority to act. This went on for three days and then the blow fell. Old Man Magnus appeared on 'Change, looking a trifle stouter, a little browner, and infinitely cheerful.
Crauford had "sold over." It cost him his bank balance, his town house, and his country estate plus his wife's jewelry to get square with Magnus.
Dick listened to the story, his eyes beaming, interrupting me now and again with a chuckle of sheer joy.
"Wonderful old dad!" he said at the end; "wonderful old boy! And he was foxing all the time. Kidding 'em along! The art of it, the consummate art of it! Specialists and sea voyages and bulletins every hour!"
He stood up abruptly and threw away his cigarette.
"Let's go and see the women shoot," he said.
There was the usual fooling amongst the girls when their end of the competition started. In spite of their "Which-end-shall-I-hold-it?" and their mock terror, they shot remarkably well.
I had caught a glimpse of Steven, a silent, watchful, slightly amused man, who most conspicuously avoided Thelma, but came down to the booth and stood behind ier when she fired her six shots for the prize. Incidentally not one bullet touched the target, and the wobbling of her pistol was pitiful.
Steven's shooting was beautiful to watch. Every bullet went home in the center of the target and the prize was assuredly his.
"Now watch me, Steve," said Dick, and at the sight of Dick with a gun in his hand even his best friends drew back.
He fired one shot, a bull's-eye, the second shot was a little bit to the left, but nevertheless a bull's-eye, the third shot passed through the hole which the first had made, the fourth and fifth were on the rim of the black center—and then he turned with a smile to Steven.
"My old pistol is much better than the best of the new ones," he said.
He had refused to shoot with the weapons provided, and had brought a long ungainly thing of ancient make; but as he was not a competitor in the strict sense of the word, there had been no protest.
The sixth shot went through the bull and there was a general clapping.
"How's that?" said Dick, twiddling his revolver.
"Fine," said Steven. "The Looker shoots almost as well as the Leaper," laughed Dick, and pressed the trigger carelessly. There was a shot and a scream. Steve balanced himself for a moment, looking at Dick in a kind of awed amazement, and then crumpled up and fell.
As for Dick he stood, the smoking revolver still in his hand, frowning down at the prostrate figure.
"I'm sorry," he muttered, but Steven Martingale had passed beyond the consideration of apologies. He was dead before I could reach him.
* * * * *
That old-fashioned revolver of Dick's had seven chambers, and people agreed both before and after the inquest that it was the kind of fool thing that Dick would have.
"He ought to have seen there were seven shots when he loaded the infernal weapon," said Chalmers. "Of course, if it was anybody but Dick I should have thought that the whole thing was manoeuvred, and that all this awkwardness of his had been carefully acted for twelve months in order to supply an excuse at the inquest and get the 'Accidental Death' verdict. It is the sort of thing that his father would have done. A keen, far-seeing old devil was John Magnus."
I said nothing, for I had seen the look in Dick's eyes when he said "leaper."
At any rate, the shock wakened Dick, for his awkwardness fell away from him like an old cloak, and Thelma Magnus must have found some qualities in him which she had not suspected, for she struck me as a tolerably happy woman when I met her the other day. But I shall not readily forget that hard glint in Dick's eyes when he spoke the last words which Steven Martingale was destined to hear. I had seen it once before in the eyes of John Seymour Magnus the day he smashed Crauford.
Maybe some of the old man's hormones were working. I should like to ask Foley about it.
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