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Title: The Poisoners Author: Edgar Wallace * A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook * eBook No.: 1306201h.html Language: English Date first posted: Nov 2013 Most recent update: Nov 2013 This eBook was produced by Roy Glashan from a donated text. 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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The first version of "The Poisoners" was printed in the May 1912 issue of The Novel Magazine without an ending, and a prize was offered to the first reader who submitted the correct dénouement. It was rewritten for the collection The Just Men of Cordova, where it appeared under the title "The Three Men of Cordova." The version given here is the one that appeared in The Thriller on March 2, 1935. The dénouement that Wallace wrote for The Just Men of Cordova has been added for comparison.
MR. ESSLEY paced up and down his study at Forest Hill. The table was a litter of opened letters, for the doctor was paying one of his brief visits to the practice.
He took up one of the letters and read it again. It was written in French and bore at its head the stamp of the Ministry of Justice. The writer had the honour and felicity to inform M. le Docteur that the Four Just Men had disappeared, as from the face of the earth, and that they were certainly not domiciled in France.
The doctor threw the letter down. They had all said the same. No authority helped him. The new Spanish writer, De la Monte, whose work on crime had recently been translated into English, made no mention of the men. Yet he wrote with assurance, and was a likely man to supply information.
A thought struck him. He turned the leaves of the telephone-book and found a number. He asked for this, and in a few minutes he was speaking with the publisher.
"I am Dr. Essley," he said. "I am most anxious to find the address of the author of a book you have recently published; it is called 'Modern Crime.'"
"De la Monte's?"
"That's the man."
"If you will wait, I will find out," said the voice.
The doctor held on till the speaker returned.
"It is in Cordova."
A sudden light came to Dr. Essley's eyes.
"Yes?" he said eagerly. "Can you give me the exact address?"
"Forty-one Calle Moreria."
"Thank you!" The doctor hastily scribbled the address and hung up the receiver.
Cordova! Of all the providential things in the world! Interest of another kind called him to that city. There was a certain Dr. Cajalos ho wished to see.
He rang the bell, and the old woman who formed the domestic staff of his little house answered it.
"I am going away for a few days," he said. "I have been called to Paris."
"If Mr. Black rings up, sir—"
"He won't ring up," he said shortly; "and, if he does, you may tell him that I am away from town."
Dr. Essley then left the house, walking briskly to the railway-station, very briskly for a grey-haired man, and the vigour of his stride no less than the swing of his shoulders spoke of a strength which is not ordinarily possessed by a man of fifty.
Yet, for all the buoyancy of his walk, he was uncomfortable. He had a hateful suspicion at the back of his mind that he was being watched. Twice he looked round sharply, but saw nothing. Under his breath he cursed his folly.
"I have got these infernal Four Just Men on my nerves," he said to himself.
He reached Victoria and took a taxi-cab to Charing Cross. He had a quarter of an hour to wait. Standing before the bookstall, he had that uncomfortable feeling again. He was being watched. He turned sharply and saw nothing but unoffending passengers. The man who had been watching him had turned a fraction of a second before, and Essley only saw his broad back as he stooped to fasten the strap of his valise.
The doctor, with a bitter little smile of self-disgust, returned to a contemplation of the bookstall. A flaming placard announced the fact that Cresswell Black had gained control of the F. and B. Railway. He bought a paper and read:
"We understand that all obstacles to the amalgamation of the Finsbury and Burset with the North-East London Railway have disappeared with the death of Mr. George Wallison, the late chairman of the F. & B. line. Mr. Wallison, it will be remembered, was taken suddenly ill at a City banquet, and though attended by a doctor, succumbed from heart failure. Mr. Cresswell Black, presiding at a meeting of the N.-E. L. expressed his regret that the realisation of his plans had been made possible by so sad a happening."
Dr. Essley folded the paper under his arm and walked thoughtfully along the platform to his train.
THE man who sat at the marble-topped table of the Café de la Gran Capitan, in Cordova, was a man of leisure. A tall man was George Manfred, with a trim beard and grave grey eyes that searched the street absently as though not quite certain of his quest. He sipped a coffee and drummed a little tune on the table with his slender white hands.
He was dressed in black. His cloak was long and lined with black velvet, and the deep collar was faced with the same material. His attire was conventional enough—for Cordova—and, in spite of his grey eyes, he might have been a Spaniard.
His speech was flawless. He spoke with the lisp of Andalusia, clipping his words as do the folk of the South. Also, there was evidence of his Southern origin in his response to the whining beggar who shuffled painfully to him, holding out crooked fingers for largesse.
"In the name of the Virgin, and the Saints, and the God who is above all, I beseech you, senor, to spare me ten centimos."
The bearded man brought his far-seeing eyes to focus on the palm.
"God will provide," he said, in the Arabic-dialect of Spanish Morocco.
"Though I live a hundred years," said the beggar monotonously, "I will never cease to pray for your lordship's happiness."
He of the velvet-lined cloak looked at the beggar.
The mendicant was a man of medium height, sharp-featured, unshaven after the way of his kind, terribly-bandaged across his head, and with one eye. Moreover, he was lame. His feet were shapeless masses of swathed bandages, and his discoloured hands clutched a stick fiercely. "Senor and prince," he whined, "there is between me and the cursed pangs of hunger ten centimos, and your worship would not sleep this night in comfort thinking of me tossing in famine."
The man at the table sipped his coffee unmoved.
"Go with God," he said.
Still the man lingered.
He looked helplessly up and down the sunlit street. He looked into the cool, dark recess of the café, where an apathetic waiter sat at a table reading the "Heraldo." Then he leant forward, stretching out a slow hand to pick a crumb of cake from the next table.
"Do you know Dr. Essley?" he asked in perfect English.
The cavalier at the table looked thoughtful.
"I do not know him. Why?" he asked in the same language.
"You should know him," said the beggar; "he is interesting."
He said no more, shuffling a painful process along the street. The other watched him with some curiosity, then, standing up to his full height—he was well over the six-foot mark—he shook his cloak and began to walk slowly in the direction taken by the beggar.
He overtook the man in the Calle Paraiso, passed him, and finally came to the Bridge of Calahorra. He reached the centre of the bridge and leant over, watching with idle interest the swollen yellow waters of the Guadalquivir.
Out of the corner of his eye he watched the beggar come slowly through the gate in his direction. He had a long time to wait, for the man's progress was slow. At last he came sidling up to him, hat in hand, palm outstretched. The attitude was that of a beggar, but when he spoke the voice was that of an educated Englishman.
"Manfred," he said earnestly, "you must see this man Essley. I have a special reason for asking."
"What is he?"
The beggar smiled.
"I am dependent upon memory to a great extent," he said, "the library at my humble lodgings being somewhat limited; but I have a dim idea that he is a doctor in the suburbs of London; rather a clever surgeon."
"What is he doing here?"
Gonsalez—for such was the beggar's name—smiled again.
"There is in Cordova a Dr. Cajalos. A marvelous man, George, performing miracles undreamt of in your philosophy. Making the blind see, casting spells upon the guilty, and creating infallible love philtres for the innocent."
"I have seen him and consulted him."
The beggar was a little astonished.
"You're a wonderful man, George," he said with admiration in his voice. "When did you do it?"
Manfred laughed softly.
"There was a certain night, not many weeks ago, when a beggar stood outside the worthy doctor's door patiently waiting till a mysterious visitor, cloaked to his nose, had finished his business."
"I remember," said the other, nodding. "He was a stranger from Ronda, and I was curious. Did you see me following him?"
"I saw you," said Manfred gravely. "I saw you from the corner of my eye."
"It was not you?" asked Gonsalez, astonished.
"It was I," said the other. "I went out of Cordova to come into Cordova."
Gonsalez was silent for a moment.
"I accept the humiliation," he said. "Now, since you know the doctor, can you see any reason for the visit of a commonplace English doctor to Cordova? He has come all the way, without a halt, from England by the Algeciras Express. He leaves Cordova to-morrow morning at daybreak by the same urgent system, and he comes to consult Dr. Cajalos."
"Poiccart has written?" asked Manfred.
"Poiccart is here; he has an interest in this Essley. So great an interest that he comes blandly to our Cordova, Baedeker in hand, seeking information of the itinerant guide, and submitting meekly to his inaccuracies."
Manfred stroked his little beard with the same grave thoughtful expression in his wise eyes as when he had watched Gonsalez shuffling from the Café de la Gran Capitan.
"Life would be dull without Poiccart," he said.
"Dull, indeed. Ah, senor, my life shall be your praise, and it shall rise like the smoke of holy incense to the throne of heaven."
He dropped suddenly into his whine, for a policeman of the town guard was approaching with a suspicious eye for the beggar who stood with expectant hand outstretched.
Manfred shook his head as the policeman strolled up.
"Go in peace," he said.
"Dog," said the policeman, his rough hand descending on the beggar's shoulder. "Thief of a thief, begone lest you offend the nostrils of this illustrious."
With arms akimbo, he watched the man limp away, then he turned to Manfred.
"If I had seen this scum before, excellency," he said fiercely, "I should have relieved your presence of his company."
"It is not important," said Manfred conventionally.
The man walked by his side to the end of the bridge, where they stood chatting near the principal entrance to the cathedral.
"Your excellency is not of Cordova?" asked the officer.
"I am of Malaja," said Manfred without hesitation.
"I had a sister who married a fisherman of Malaja," confided the policeman.
Manfred merely nodded. He was interested in a party of tourists who wore being shown the glories of the Puerta del Perdon.
One of the tourists detached himself from the party and came towards them. He was a man of middle height and strongly built. There was a strange reserve in his air, and a saturnine imperturbability in his face.
"Can you direct me to the Passeo de la Gran Capitan?" he asked in bad Spanish.
"I am going that way," said Manfred courteously. "If the senor would condescend to accompany me—"
"I shall be grateful," said the other.
They raised their hats to the policeman—Manfred with ease, the other a little awkwardly—and moved off.
They chatted a little on divers subjects—the weather, the delightful character of the Mosque Cathedral.
"You must come along and see Essley," said the tourist suddenly. He spoke in perfect Spanish.
"Tell me about him," said Manfred. "Between you, my dear Poiccart, you have piqued my curiosity."
"This is an important matter," said the other earnestly. "Essley is a doctor in a suburb of London. I have had him under observation for some months. He has a small practice—quite a little one, and he attends a few cases. Apparently he does no serious work in his suburb, and his history is a strange one.
"He was a student at University College, London, and soon after getting his degree, left with a youth named Black for Australia. Black had been a hopeless failure, and had been badly ploughed in his exams, but the two were fast friends, which may account for their going away together to try their luck in a new country. Neither of them had a relation in the world.
"Arrived in Melbourne, the two started off up-country with some idea of making for the new gold-diggings which were in full swing at that time. I don't know where the diggings were; at any rate, it was three months before Essley arrived—alone, his companion having, it was reported, died on the road. This report could not have been true, for Black eventually turned up after a complete disappearance.
"Essley does not seem to have started practising for three or four years. We can trace his wanderings from mining camp to mining camp, where he dug a little, gambled a lot, and was generally known as Dr. S.—probably an abbreviation of Essley. Not until he reached Western Australia did he attempt to establish himself as a doctor. He had some sort of practice, not a very high-class one, it is true, but certainly lucrative. He disappeared from Coolgardie in 1900. He did not reappear in England until 1908." They had reached the Passeo by now. The streets were better filled than they had been when Manfred had followed the beggar.
"I've some rooms here," said Manfred. "Come in and we will have some tea."
He occupied a flat over a jeweller's in the Calle Moreria. It was a well-furnished apartment, "and especially blessed in the matter of light," explained Manfred as ho inserted the key. He put a silver kettle on the electric stove.
"The table is laid for two?" questioned Poiccart.
"I often have visitors," said Manfred with a little smile. "Sometimes the begging profession becomes an intolerable burden to our Leon, and he enters Cordova by rail, a most respectable member of society, full of a desire for the luxury of life—and stories. Go on with yours, Poiccart; I am interested."
The "tourist" seated himself in a deep armchair.
"Where was I?" he asked. "Oh, yes, Dr. Essley disappeared from Coolgardie, and after an obliteration of eight years he reappeared in London."
"In any exceptional circumstances?"
"No, very ordinarily. He seems to have been taken up by the newest kind of Napoleon—that same companion whose death had been reported, but who was very much alive."
"Cresswell Black?" asked Manfred, raising his eyebrows.
"The same," he said. "At any rate, Essley, thanks to what practice he could steal from other practitioners in his own suburb—somewhere in the neighbourhood of Forest Hill—and what practice Napoleon's recommendation gives him, seems to be fairly well off. He first attracted my attention—"
There came a tap at the door, and Manfred raised his finger warningly. He crossed the room and opened the door. The concierge stood outside, cap in hand; behind him, and a little way down the stairs, was a stranger—obviously an Englishman.
"A senor to sec your excellency," said the concierge.
"My house is at your disposal," said Manfred, addressing the stranger in Spanish.
"I am afraid I do not speak good Spanish," said the man on the stairs.
"Will you come up?" asked Manfred in English.
The other mounted the stairs slowly.
HE was a man of fifty. His hair was grey and long. His eyebrows were thick and shaggy, and his under jaw stuck out and gave his face an appearance which was slightly repulsive. He wore a frock coat and carried a big, soft wide-awake in his gloved hand.
He peered round the room from one to the other.
"My name," he said, "is Essley. Essley," he repeated as though he derived some satisfaction from the repetition—"Dr. Essley." Manfred motioned him to a chair, but he shook his head.
"I'll stand," he said harshly. "When I have business I stand."
He looked suspiciously at Poiccart.
"I have private business," he said pointedly.
"My friend has my complete confidence," said Manfred.
Essley nodded grudgingly.
"I understand," he said, "that you are a scientist and a man with considerable knowledge of Spain."
Manfred shrugged his shoulders. In his present rôle he enjoyed some reputation as a quasi-scientific literateur, and under the name of "De la Monte" had published a book on "Modern Crime."
"Knowing this," said the man, "I came to Cordova, having other business also—but that will keep."
Ho looked round for a chair, and Manfred offered one into which he sank, keeping his back to the window.
"Mr. de la Monte," said the doctor, leaning forward with his hands on his knees and speaking very deliberately, "you have some knowledge of crime."
"I have written a book on the subject," said Manfred, "which is not necessarily the same thing."
"I had that fear," said the other bluntly. "I was also afraid that you might not speak English. Now I want to ask you a plain question, and I want a plain answer."
"So far as I can give you this, I shall be most willing," said Manfred.
The doctor twisted his face nervously, then:
"Have you ever heard of the Four Just Men?" he asked.
There was a little silence.
"Yes," said Manfred calmly, "I have heard of them. Are there not only three now? One was killed, don't you remember?"
"Are they in Spain?"
The question was put sharply.
"I have no exact knowledge," said Manfred. "Why do you ask?"
"Because—" The doctor hesitated. "Oh, well, I am interested. It is said that they unearth villainy that the law does not punish; they—they kill—eh?"
His voice was sharper, his eyelids narrowed till he peered from one to the other through slits.
"Such an organisation is known to exist," said Manfred; "and one knows that they do happen upon unpunished crime—and punish."
"Even to—to killing?"
"They even kill," said Manfred gravely.
"And they go free!" The doctor leapt to his feet with a snarl and flung out his hands in protest. "They go free! All the laws of all nations cannot trap them! A self-appointed tribunal—who are they to judge and condemn? Who gave them the right to sit in judgment? There is a law, and if a man cheats it—"
He checked himself suddenly, shook his shoulders, and sank heavily into the chair again.
"So far as I can secure information upon the subject," he said roughly, "these men are no longer an active force; they are outlawed; there are warrants for them in every country."
"That is very true," he said gently; "but whether they are an active force, time must reveal."
Dr. Essley twisted uncomfortably in his chair. It was evident that the information or assurance he expected to receive from this expert in crime was not entirely satisfactory to him.
"And they are in Spain?" he asked.
"So it is said."
"They are not in France, they are not in Italy, they are not in Russia, nor in Germany," said the doctor resentfully. "They must be in Spain."
He brooded awhile in silence.
"Pardon me," said Poiccart, who had been a silent listener, "but you seem very interested in these men. Would it be offensive to you, if I asked you to satisfy my curiosity as to why you should be anxious to discover their whereabouts?"
"Curiosity also," said the other quickly. "In a sense I am a modest student of crime, as our friend De la Monte is."
"An enthusiastic student," said Manfred quietly.
"I hoped that you would be able to give me some help," said Essley, unmindful of the significant emphasis of the other's tones. "Beyond the fact that they may be in Spain—which, after all, is conjectural—I have learnt nothing."
"They may not even be in Spain," said Manfred, as he accompanied his visitor to the door; "they may not even be in existence; your fears may be entirely groundless."
The doctor whipped round, white to the lips. "Fears?" he said, breathing quickly. "Did you say fears?"
"I am sorry!" laughed Manfred easily. "My English is perhaps not good."
"Why should I fear them?" demanded the doctor aggressively. "Why should I? Your words are chosen very unwisely, sir. I have nothing to fear from the Just Men—or from any other source."
He stood panting in the doorway like a man who is suddenly deprived of breath.
With an effort he collected himself, hesitated a moment, and then, with a stiff little bow, left the room.
He went down the stairs, out to the street, and turned into the Passeo.
There was a beggar at the corner who raised a languid hand.
"Por dios—" he whined.
With an oath Essley struck at the hand with his cane, only to miss it, for the beggar was singularly quick, and, for all the discomforts he was prepared to face, Gonsalez had no desire to endure a hand seamed and wealed; those sensitive hands of his were assets to Gonsalez.
The doctor pursued a savage way to his hotel.
Reaching his room, he locked the door and threw himself into a chair to think. He cursed his own folly; it was madness to have lost his temper even before so insignificant a person as a Spanish dilettante in science.
There was the first half of his mission finished—and it was a failure. He took from the pocket of his overcoat, hanging behind the door, a Spanish Baedeker. He turned the leaves till he came to a map of Cordova. Attached to this was a smaller plan, evidently made by somebody who knew the topography of the place.
He had heard of Dr. Cajalos first from a Spanish anarchist he had met in some of his curious nocturnal prowlings in London. Under the influence of good wine this bold fellow had invested the wizard of Cordova with something approaching miraculous powers: he had also said things which had aroused the doctor's interest to an extraordinary degree. A correspondence had followed; the visit was the result.
Essley looked at his watch. It was nearly seven o'clock. He would dine, then go to his room and change.
He made a hasty toilet in the growing darkness of the room—curiously enough, he did not switch on the light—then he went to dinner.
He had a table to himself, and buried himself in an English magazine he had brought with him. Now and again as he read he would make notes in a little book which lay on the table by the side of his plate. They had no reference to the article he read; they had little association with medical science. On the whole they dealt with certain financial aspects of a certain problem which came into his mind.
He finished his dinner, taking his coffee at the table. Then he rose, put the little notebook in his pocket and the magazine under his arm, and made his way back to his room. He turned on the light, pulled down the blinds, and drew a light dressing-table beneath the lamp. He produced his notebook again, and with the aid of a number of closely-written sheets of paper taken from his valise, he compiled a little table. He was completely engrossed for a couple of hours.
As if some invisible and unheard ala rum clock warned him of his engagement ho closed the book, locked his memoranda in the valise, and struggled into his coat. With a soft felt hat pulled down over his eyes, he left the hotel, and without hesitation took the path which led down to the Calahorra Bridge. The streets through which he passed were deserted, but he had no hesitation, knowing well the lawful character of these unprepossessing little Spanish suburbs.
He plunged into a labyrinth of narrow streets—he had studied his plan to some purpose—and only hesitated when he reached a cul de sac which was more spacious than the street from which it opened. One oil lamp at the farther end added rather to the gloom. Tall windowless houses rose on either side. Each was pierced by a door. On the left door the doctor, after a moment's hesitation, knocked twice.
Instantly it opened noiselessly. He hesitated.
"Enter," said a voice in Spanish. "The senor need not fear."
He stepped into the black void, and the door closed behind him.
"Come this way," said the voice.
In the pitch darkness he could make out the indistinct figure of a little man.
"The lantern went out," said the voice, with a chuckle. "Doubtless blown out by the spirits."
He chuckled again.
"Spirits and devils abound," he said. "In this patch of ground I have spoken with many such. Pleasant enough and obedient, but disconcerting to the stranger. Look"—he stopped suddenly and clutched the other by the arm—"look!" he whispered. "That is the spirit of one who died by poison. He, he!" He giggled horribly, and Essley felt a shiver run down his spine. "A green devil!" the little man went on—"and very sad. This is the way of green devils; they do not hop and jump as the others, but drag their feet and sob great tears. Dios!" he muttered. "Why weep they when they died so easily?"
"In God's name do not talk like that!" said Essley hoarsely.
"You must not be disturbed," said the other. They had come to the black bulk of a house, and the doctor heard the fumble of a key in the lock and the snick of it as it turned. "Enter, my friend."
The doctor stepped inside and surreptitiously wiped the sweat from his forehead. The old man lit a lamp, and Essley took stock of him. He was very little; scarcely more than four foot. He had a rough, white beard and head as bald as an egg. His face and hands were both grimy, and his whole appearance bore evidence of his aversion to water.
A pair of black, twinkling eyes were set deep in his head, and the puckering lines about them revealed him as a man who found humour in life. This was Dr. Cajalos, famous man in Spain, though he had no social standing.
The room they were in was vast and high. It was furnished very poorly. On one big table stood an untidy retort, and there were innumerable test-tubes, balances, scales, and graduated measures in various stages of uncleanliness.
"Sit down," said Cajalos. "We will talk quietly, for I have in the next room a senora of high quality to see me, touching a matter of a lost affection."
Essley took the chair offered to him and the doctor seated himself on a high stool by the table. A curious figure he made, with his dangling little legs, his old, old face and his shining bald pate.
"I wrote to you on the subject of certain occult demonstrations," began the doctor, but the old man stopped him with a quick jerk of the hand.
"You came to see me, senor, because of a drug I have prepared," he said—"a preparation of physostymonine."
Essley sprang to his feet.
"I—I did not tell you so," he stammered.
"The green devil told me," said the other seriously. "I have many talks with the foot-draggers, and they speak very truly."
"Look," said the old man. He leapt down from his high perch with agility. In the dark corner of one of the rooms were some boxes to which he went. Essley heard a scuffling, and by-and-by the old man came back holding by the ears a wriggling rabbit.
With his disengaged hand he unstoppered a little green bottle on the table. Ho picked a feather from the table, dipped the point gingerly into the bottle. Then very carefully he lightly touched the nose of the rabbit with the end of the feather, so lightly indeed that the feather hardly brushed the muzzle of the animal. Instantly, with no struggle, the rabbit went as limp as though the life essence had been withdrawn from the body. Cajalos replaced the stopper and thrust the feather into a little charcoal fire that burnt dully in the centre of the room.
"Physostymonine," he said briefly; "but my preparation."
He laid the dead animal on the floor at the feet of the other.
"Senor," he said proudly, "you shall take that animal and examine it; you shall submit it to tests beyond patience. Yet you shall not discover the alkaloid that killed it."
"That is not so," said Essley, "for there will be a contraction of the pupil, which is an invariable sign."
"Search also for that," said the old man triumphantly.
Essley made the superficial tests. There was not oven this invariable sign.
A dark figure pressed close to the wall outside, listening. He was standing by the shuttered window. He held to his ear a little ebonite tube with a microphonic receiver, and the rubber which covered the bell-like end was pressed against the shutter.
For half an hour he stood thus, almost motionless, then he withdrew silently and disappeared into the shadows of the orange grove that grew in the centre of the long garden.
As he did so the floor of the house opened, and, with lantern in hand, Cajalos showed his visitor into the street.
"The devils are greener than ever," chuckled the old man. "Hey, there will be happenings, my brother!"
Essley said nothing. He wanted to be in the street again. He stood quivering with nervous impatience as the old man unfastened the heavy door, and when it swung open, he almost leapt into the street outside.
"Good-bye!" he said.
"Go with God," said the old man, and the floor closed noiselessly.
CRESSWELL BLACK was a name to conjure with in certain circles. In others it was never mentioned. The financial lords of the City, the Farings, the Wertheimers, the Scott Teasons, had no official knowledge of his existence.
They read of Cresswell Black in their grave way, because there were days when he dominated the financial columns. They read of his mighty stock deals, of his Argentine electric deal, his rubber flotations, and his Canadian copper mines. They read about him, neither approving nor disapproving. They regarded him with the dispassionate interest that a railway engine has for a motorcar.
Black came to the City of London one afternoon to attend a board of directors' meeting. He had been out of town for a few days, recruiting in advance, as he informed the board with a touch of facetiousness, for the struggle that awaited him.
He was a man of middle height, broad of shoulder. His face was thin and lank, his complexion sallow, with a curious uniform yellowness. If you saw Cresswell Black once you would never forget him. Not only because of that yellow face of his, that straight black bar of eyebrow and the thin-lipped mouth, but the very personality of the man impressed itself indelibly on the mind of the observer
His manner was quick, almost abrupt; his replies brusque. A sense of finality marked his decisions. If the financial lords knew him not, there were thousands that did. His name was a household word in England. There was hardly a middle-class family that did not hold his stock. The little "street punters" hung on his word; his issues were subscribed for twice over. And he had established himself in five years. Unknown before that time, he had risen to the dizziest heights in that short space of time.
Punctual to the minute, he entered the board room of the suite of offices he occupied in Moorgate Street.
The meeting had threatened lo be a stormy one. Again an amalgamation was in the air, and again the head of one group of ironmasters—it was an iron combine he was forming—had stood against the threats and blandishments of Black and emissaries.
"The others are weakening," said Fanks. "You promised us that you would put Sandford straight."
"I will keep my promise," said Black shortly.
"Widdison stood out, but he died," continued Fanks. "We can't expect Providence to help us all the time."
Black's eyebrows lowered.
"I do not like jests of that kind," he said. "Sandford is an obstinate man, a proud man; he needs delicate handling. Leave him to me."
The meeting adjourned lamely enough, and Black was leaving the room when Fanks beckoned to him.
"By the way," he said. "I met a man yesterday who knew your friend, Dr. Essley, in Australia."
Cresswell Black's face was expressionless.
"Yes, he knew him in his very early days. He was asking me where he could find him."
The other shrugged his shoulders.
"Essley is abroad, I think. You don't like him?"
Augustus Fanks shook his head.
"I don't like doctors who come to see me in the middle of the night, who are never to be found when they are wanted, and are always jaunting off to the Continent."
"He is a busy man," excused Black. "By the way, where is your friend staying?"
"It isn't a friend—he's a sort of prospector, name of Weld, who has come to London with a mining proposition. He is staying at Verlet's Temperance Hotel in Bloomsbury."
"I will tell Essley when he returns," said Black, nodding his head.
He returned to his private office in a thoughtful mood. All was not well with Cresswell Black. Reputed a millionaire, he was in the position of many a financier who counts his wealth in paper. He had got so far, climbing on the shadows. The substance was still beyond his reach. He had organised successful organisations, but the cost had been heavy. Millions had flowed through his hand, but precious little had stuck.
He was in the midst of an unpleasant reverie when a tap on the door aroused him. It opened to admit Fanks.
He frowned at the intruder, but the other pulled up a chair and sat down.
"Look here, Black," he said. "I want to say something to you."
"Say it quickly."
Fanks took a cigar from his pocket and lit it.
"You've had a marvellous career," he said. "I remember when you started with a little bucket-shop in Copthall House—well, we won't call it a bucket-shop," he said hastily as he saw the anger rising in Black's face—"outside-broker's. You had a mug—I mean, an inexperienced partner who found the money."
"He died unexpectedly, didn't he?"
"I believe he did," said Black abruptly.
"Providence again," said Fanks slowly. "Then you got the whole of the business. You took over the flotation of a rubber company, and it panned out. Well, after that you floated a tin mine or something. There was a death there, wasn't there?"
"I believe there was—one of the directors. I forget his name."
"He could have stopped the flotation; he was threatening to resign and expose some methods of yours."
"He was a very headstrong man."
"And he died."
"Yes"—a pause—"he died."
Fanks looked at the man who sat opposite to him.
"Dr. Essley attended him."
"I believe he did."
"Yet still he died."
Black leant over the desk.
"What do you mean?" he asked.
"Nothing; except that Providence has been of some assistance to you," said Fanks. "The record of your success is a record of death; you sent Essley to see me once."
"You were ill."
"I was," said Fanks grimly, "and I was also troubling you a little." He flicked the ash from his cigar to the carpet. "Black, I'm going to resign all my directorships on your companies."
The other man laughed unpleasantly.
"You can laugh; but it isn't healthy, Black. I've no use for money that is bought at too heavy a price."
"My dear man, you can resign," said Cresswell Black; "but might I ask if your extraordinary suspicions are shared by anybody else?"
Fanks shook his head.
"Not at present," ho said.
They looked at one another for the space of half a minute.
"I want to clear right out," Fanks continued. "I reckon my holdings are worth £150,000. You can buy them."
"You amaze me," said Black harshly.
He opened a drawer of his desk and took out a little green bottle and a feather.
"Poor Essley," he smiled, "wandering about Spain seeking the secrets of Moorish perfumery. He would go off his head if he knew what you thought of him."
"I'd sooner he went off his head than that I should go off the earth," said Fanks stolidly. "What have you got there?"
Black unstoppered the bottle and dipped in the feather.
He withdrew it and held it close to his nose.
"What is it?" asked Fanks curiously.
For answer Black held up the feather for the man to smell.
"I can smell nothing," said Fanks.
Tilting the tip quickly downwards, Black drew it across the lips of the other.
"Here—" cried Fanks, and went limply to the ground.
DR. ESSLEY was in his study, making a very careful microscopic examination. The room was in darkness, save for the light which came from a powerful electric lamp directed on to the reflector of the instrument. What he found on the slide was evidently satisfactory, for by and by he removed the strip of glass, threw it into the fire, and turned on the lights.
He took up a paper from the table and read it.
One item of news interested him. It was an account of the sudden death of Mr. Augustus Fanks, a well-known company director.
"The deceased gentleman," read the account, "was engaged with Mr. Cresswell Black, the famous financier, discussing the details of the new Iron Amalgamation, when he suddenly collapsed, and before medical assistance could be procured, expired. Death was due, it is believed, to heart failure."
There would be no inquest, as Essley knew, for Fanks had, in truth, a weak heart, and had been under the care of a specialist, who, since his speciality was heart trouble, discovered symptoms of the disease on the slightest pretext.
So that was the end of Fanks. The doctor nodded slowly. Yes, that was the end of him. And now?
He took a letter from his pocket. It was addressed to him in the round, sprawling calligraphy of Sandford.
Essley had met him in the early days when Sandford was on friendly terms with Black, he had been recommended to the ironmaster by the financier, and had treated him for divers ills whenever the northerner had come to London. "My London doctor," old Sandford had called him. The ironmaster was staying in London and had written to him.
"Though I am not seeing eye to eye with our friend Black," he wrote, "and we are for the moment at daggers drawn, I trust that this will not affect our relationships, the more so since I wish you to see my daughter who is staying with me."
Edith Sandford was the apple of the old man's eye. Essley remembered having seen her once—a tall girl, with eyes that danced with laughter and a complexion of milk and roses.
He put the letter in his pocket, went into his little surgery, and locked the door. When he came out he wore his long overcoat and carried a little satchel. He had just time to catch a train for the City, and at eleven o'clock he found himself in the ironmaster's private sitting-room at the Grand South Central Hotel.
"You are a weird man, doctor," said the ironmaster with a smile, as he greeted his visitor. "Do you visit most of your patients by night?"
"My aristocratic patients," said the other coolly.
"A bad job about poor Fanks," said the ironmaster. "He and I were only dining together the other night. Did he tell you that he met a man who know you in Australia?"
A shadow of annoyance passed over the other's face.
"Let us talk about your daughter," he said brusquely. "What is the matter with her?"
The ironmaster smiled sheepishly.
"Nothing, I hope. Yet you know, Essley, she is my only child, and I sometimes imagine she is looking ill. My doctor in Newcastle tells me that there is nothing wrong with her."
"I see," said Essley. "Where is she?"
"She is at the theatre," confessed the father. "You must think I am an awful fool to bring you up to town to discuss the health of a girl who is at the theatre."
"Most fathers are fools," said the other. "I will wait till she comes in." He strolled to the window and looked out on the brilliantly illuminated street.
"Why have you quarrelled with Black?" he asked suddenly.
The older man frowned.
"Business," he said shortly. "He is pushing me into a corner. I helped him four years ago—"
"He helped you, too," interrupted the doctor.
"But not so much as I helped him," said the other obstinately. "I gave him his chance. He floated my company, and I profited, but he profited more. The business has now grown to such vast proportions that it will not pay me to come in. Nothing will alter my determination."
"I see," Essley whistled a little tune as he walked again to the window.
Such a man as this must be broken, he thought. Broken! And there was only one way. That daughter of his. He could do nothing to-night. That was evident—nothing.
"I do not think I will wait for your daughter," he said. "Perhaps I will call in to-morrow evening."
"I am so sorry—"
But the doctor silenced him.
"There is no need to be sorry," he said with acerbity. "You will find my visit charged for in my bill."
The ironmaster laughed as he saw him to the door.
"You are almost as good a financier as your friend," he said.
"Almost." said the doctor dryly.
ESSLEY went straight to the nearest call-office and rang up a temperance hotel in Bloomsbury.
He had reasons for wishing to meet that Mr. Weld who knew him in Australia.
He had no difficulty in getting the message through. Mr. Weld was in the hotel. He waited whilst the attendant found him. By and by a voice spoke.
"I am Weld. Do you want me?"
"Yes, my name is Cole. I knew you in Australia. I have a message for you from a mutual friend. Can you see me to-night?"
Dr. Essley had already decided the place of meeting.
"Outside the main entrance of the British Museum," he said. "There are few people about there at this time of night, and I am less likely to miss you."
There was a pause at the other end of the wire.
"Very good," said the voice. "In a quarter of an hour?"
"That will suit me admirably. Good-bye!"
He hung up the receiver. Leaving his satchel at the cloak-room at Charing Cross Station, he set out to walk to Great Russell Street. He would take no cab. There should be no evidence of that description. Black would not like it. He smiled at the thought.
Great Russell Street was deserted save for a constant stream of taxi-cabs passing and repassing, and an occasional pedestrian. He found his man waiting. Rather tall, and slight, with an intellectual, refined face.
"Dr. Essley?" he asked, coming forward as the other halted.
"My name is Cole," Essley said harshly. "What made you think I was Essley?"
"Your voice," said the other calmly. "After all, it does not matter what you call yourself. I want to see you."
"And I you," said Essley. They walked along side by side until they came to a side street.
"What do you want of me?" asked the doctor.
The other laughed.
"I wanted to see you—you are not a bit like the Essley I knew. He was slighter and had not your colouring, and I was always under the impression that the Essley who went up into the bush died."
"It is possible," said Essley in an absent way. He wanted to gain time. The street was empty. A little way down there was a gateway in which a man might lie unobserved until a policeman came.
In his pocket he had an impregnated feather carefully wrapped up in lint and oiled silk. He drew it from his pocket furtively, and, with his hands behind him, he stripped it of its covering.
"In fact. Dr. Essley," the man was saying, "I am under the impression that you are an impostor."
Essley faced him.
"You think too much," he said in a low voice, "and, after all, I do not recognise you. Turn your face to the light."
The young man obeyed. It was the moment. Quick as thought Essley raised the feather.
A hand of steel gripped his wrist. As if from the ground two other men had appeared. Something soft was thrust into his face. A sickly aroma overpowered him. He struggled madly, but the odds were too many, and then a shrill police-whistle sounded, and he dropped to the ground.
He awoke to find a policeman bending over him. Instinctively he put his hand to his head.
"Hurt, sir?" asked the man.
He struggled to his feet and stood unsteadily.
"Did you capture the men?"
"No, sir; they got away. I just spotted them as they downed you, but, bless your heart, they seemed to be swallowed up by the earth."
Essley looked around for the feather. It had disappeared. With some reluctance he gave his name and address to the constable, who called a taxi-cab.
"You're sure you've lost nothing, sir?" asked the man.
"Nothing," said Essley testily. "Nothing. Look here, constable, do not report this." He slipped a sovereign into the man's hand. "I do not wish this matter to get into the papers."
"Very good, sir," said the man, "but I shall have to mention it. You see, I blew my whistle, and my mate will report it even if I didn't."
With that Essley had to be content. He drove home to Forest Hill, thinking, thinking.
Who were these three? What object had they?
He was no nearer the solution when he reached his home. He unlocked the door and let himself in. There was nobody in the house but himself and the old woman upstairs.
His comings and goings were so erratic that he had organised a system which allowed him the most perfect freedom of movement.
There must be an end to Dr. Essley, he decided. Essley must disappear from London. He need not warn Black—Black would know.
He would settle the business of the ironmaster and his daughter, and then—there would be a finish.
He unlocked his study, entered, and switched on the lights.
There was a letter on his writing-table, a letter enclosed in a thin grey envelope. He picked it up and examined it. It had been delivered by a messenger, and bore his name, written in a firm hand.
He looked at the writing-table and started back.
The letter had been written in the room and blotted on the pad!
There was no doubt at all about it. The blotting-paper had been placed there fresh that day, and the reverse of the bold handwriting on the envelope was plain to see.
He looked at the envelope again.
It could not have been a patient; he had none. The practice was a blind. Besides, the door had been locked and he alone had the key. He tore the envelope open and took out the contents. It was a half-sheet of note-paper. The three lines of writing ran:
You escaped to-night and have only forty-eight hours
to prepare yourself for the fate which awaits you.
The Just Men.
He sank into his chair, crushed by the knowledge.
They were the Just Men—and he had escaped them.
The Just Men! He buried his face in his hands and tried to think. Forty-eight hours they gave him. Much could be done in forty-eight hours. The terror of death was upon him who had, without qualm or remorse, sent so many on the long journey.
He clutched at his throat and glared round the room. Essley the poisoner—the expert, a specialist in death. The man who had revived the lost art of the Medicis, and had hoodwinked the law. Forty-eight hours. Well, he could settle the business of the ironmaster. That was necessary to Black.
He began to make feverish preparations for the future. There were no papers to destroy. He went into the surgery and emptied three bottles down the sink. The fourth he would want. The fourth had been useful to Black. A little green bottle with a glass stopper. He slipped it into his pocket.
He let the tap run to wash away all trace of the drug he had spilt. The bottles he smashed and threw into a waste bin.
He went upstairs to his room, but he could not sleep. He locked his door and put a chair against it. With a revolver in his hand, he searched the cupboard and beneath the bed. He placed the revolver under his pillow and tried to sleep.
Next morning found him haggard and ill, but none the less he made his toilet with customary care.
Punctually at noon he presented himself at the ironmaster's hotel, and was shown into the sitting-room.
The girl was alone when he entered. He noted with approval that she was very beautiful. That Edith Sandford did not like him, he knew by instinct. He saw the cloud come to her pretty face as he came into her presence, and was amused in his cold way.
"My father is out," she said.
"That is good," said Essley, "for now we can talk."
He seated himself without invitation.
"I think it is only right to tell you, Dr. Essley, that my father's fears regarding me are quite groundless."
At that moment the ironmaster came in and shook hands warmly with the doctor.
"Well, how do you think she looks?" he asked.
"Looks tell you nothing," said the other. It was not the moment for the feather. He had other things to do, and the feather was not the way. He chatted with the two for a while, and then rose. "I will send you some medicine," he said as he rose,
She pulled a wry face.
"Can you come to dinner?" asked Sandford.
Essley considered. That would give him a chance.
"Yes," he said, "I will come."
He took a cab to some chambers near the Thames Embankment, He had a most useful room there.
MR. SANDFORD had an appointment with Cresswell Black. It was the final interview before the break.
The City was busy with rumours. A whisper had gone the rounds—all was not well with the financier; the amalgamation on which so much depended had not gone through.
Black sat at his desk that afternoon, twiddling a paper-knife. He was more sallow than usual; the hand that held the knife twitched nervously.
"Essley will have to go," he muttered. "He is too dangerous—far too dangerous. He has outlived his usefulness, and a man who outlives his usefulness is already dead."
He looked at his watch. It was time Sandford came. He pushed a bell by the side of his desk, and a clerk appeared.
"Has Mr. Sandford arrived?" he asked.
"He has just come in, sir," said the man.
"Show him in."
The two men exchanged formal greetings, and Black pointed to a chair.
"Sit down, Sandford," he said curtly. "Now exactly how do we stand?"
"Where we did," said the ironmaster uncompromisingly.
"You will not come into my scheme?"
"I will not," said the other.
Mr. Cresswell Black tapped the desk with his knife, and Sandford looked at him. He seemed older than when Sandford had last seen him. His yellow face was seamed and lined.
"It means ruin for me," he said suddenly. "I have more creditors than I can count. If the amalgamation went through I should be established."
"That is your fault," said the other. "You have taken on too big a job—more than that, you have taken too much for granted."
The man at the desk looked up from under his straight brows.
"It is all very well for you to sit there and tell me what I should do," he said, and the shakiness of his voice told the other something of the passion he concealed. "I do not want advice or homily—I want money. Come into my scheme and amalgamate, or—"
"Or?" repeated the ironmaster defiantly. "Do you think I am afraid of threats?"
"I do not threaten you," said Black sullenly. "I warn you—you are risking more than you know."
"I'll take the risk," said Sandford. He got up on his feet. "Have you anything more to say?"
"Then I'll bid you good-bye."
The door closed with a slam behind him, and Black leapt up, his face working convulsively.
"Essley shall do his best job!" he vowed.
There was no more work for him to do. He drove back to the handsome flat he occupied in Victoria Street and let himself in.
"There is a gentleman waiting to see you, sir," said his man, who came hurrying to help him out of his coat.
"What sort of a man?"
"I don't know exactly, sir, but I have got a feeling that he is a detective."
He found his hands trembling and cursed his folly. He stood uncertainly in the centre of the hall. In a minute he had mastered his fears and turned the handle of the door.
A man rose to meet him.
He had a feeling that he had met him before. It was one of those impressions it is so difficult to explain.
"You wanted to see me?" he asked.
"Yes, sir," said the man, a note of deference in his voice. "I have called to make a few inquiries."
It was on the tip of Black's tongue to ask him whether he was a police-officer, but somehow he had not the courage to frame the words.
The effort was unnecessary, as it proved, for the next words of the man explained his errand.
"I have been engaged," he said, "by a firm of solicitors to discover the whereabouts of Dr. Essley."
Black looked hard at him.
"There ought to be no difficulty," he said, "in that. The doctor's name is in the directory."
"That is so," said the man, "and yet I have had the greatest difficulty in running him to earth. As a matter of fact," explained the man, "I was wrong when I said I wanted to discover his whereabouts. It is his identity I wish to establish."
"I do not follow you," said Black.
"Well," said the man, "I don't know exactly how to put it. If you know Dr. Essley, you will recall the fact that he was for some years in Australia?"
"That is true," said Black. "He and I went out together."
"And you were there some years, sir?"
"Yes, we were there for a number of years, though we were not together all the time."
"I see," said the man. "You came home together, I believe?"
"No," replied the other sharply. "We came at different periods."
"Have you seen him recently?"
"No. I have never seen him, although I have frequently written to him on various matters." Black was trying hard not to lose his patience. It would not do for this man to see how much the questions were irritating him.
The man jotted down something in his notebook, closed it, and put it in his pocket.
"Would you be surprised to learn," he asked quietly, "that the real Dr. Essley who went out with you to Australia died there?"
Black's fingers caught the edge of the table, and he steadied himself.
"I did not know that," he said. "Is that all you have to ask?"
"I think that will do, sir," said the detective.
"Can I ask you on whose behalf you are inquiring?" demanded Black.
"That I am not at liberty to tell."
After the detective had gone, Black paced the apartment deep in thought. Assuredly Essley must go.
He took down from the shelf a Continental Baedeker and worked out with a pencil and paper a line of retirement. It might well be that Cresswell Black would have to go, too. If so, it was best to be prepared. His game was up. The refusal of Sandford to negotiate with him was the crowning calamity.
He crossed the room to the safe which stood in the corner, and opened it. In the inside drawer were three flat packets of notes. He picked them out and laid them on the table. They were notes of the Bank of France, each tor a thousand francs.
It would be well to take no risks. He put them in the inside pocket of his coat. If all things failed, they were the way to freedom.
As for Essley—he smiled. He must go, anyway.
He left his flat and drove eastwards to the city.
And as he went, two men followed him, unseen.
IT was a gay little party that assembled at the Great South Central Hotel. Edith Sandford had invited a girl friend, and Mr. Sandford had brought back the junior partner of one of the City houses he did business with.
Essley was in his workaday clothes, but that did not occasion any surprise, because he had never been known to wear the conventional garb of the Englishman-at-dinner.
He was obviously ill-at-ease and nervous. The second warning of the Just Men had arrived that evening as mysteriously as had the first.
"Sit down, Essley," said Sandford.
There was a vacant chair between the ironmaster and his daughter, and into this the doctor dropped.
His hand shook as he took up his soup-spoon.
He put the spoon down again and unfolded his serviette.
A letter dropped out. He knew those grey envelopes now, and, crushed the letter into his pocket without attempting to read it.
From then on, that letter in his pocket obsessed his every thought. A letter that he touched secretly from time to time to make certain that it was still there. One half of his brain was engaged in this occupation, the other half concerned itself with a glass. It was a bright wineglass on his left and on the girl's right. She would drink champagne from this later. That was an important matter. She would drink champagne from it, and go sliding to the floor like a marionette figure when the strings were cut. If he could—but he was losing his nerve.
A week ago there would have been no difficulty; he would have taken the bold step. Now he feared. Every movement, he felt, was watched. That was the awfulness of it. Any one of these suave waiters, moving silently from guest to guest, might be one of the Just Men. Once be stretched out his hand to take her glass. Then he had the consciousness that every eye was fixed on him.
It was nearly time; he saw one of the waiters twisting the wires from the champagne bottles. The table was in a roar at some sally made by the junior partner. The waiters were hovering about the man with the bottle.
In a second the bottle of green fluid was on Essley's lap—uncorked. He spilt a little on the corner of his serviette, re-stoppered the bottle, and slipped it into his pocket. He took the glass on to his lap. Twice he wiped the drinking edge of it with the damp napkin. He replaced the glass unnoticed.
Now it was done, he felt better. He leant back in his chair, his hands thrust deep into his trousers' pockets. It was an inelegant attitude, but he derived a sense of comfort.
"Essley! Wake up, my dear fellow!" Sandford was talking to him, and he roused himself with a start. "My friend here was rude enough to comment on your hair."
"Eh?" Essley put his hand to his head.
"Oh, it's all right, and it isn't disarranged; but you're a fairly young man to have white hair."
He did not further the discussion.
The waiter filled the glasses. First, the girl's, then his.
He raised his own with unconcern and drank it off. He saw the young girl's slim white fingers close round the stem of the glass, saw her half-raise it, still looking to her partner.
Essley pushed his chair a little to one side as the glass reached her lips. She drank, not much, but enough.
The doctor held his breath. She replaced the glass, still talking with the matron her left.
Essley counted the slow seconds, he counted sixty—a hundred, oblivious to the fact that Sandford was talking to him.
The drug had failed!
The doctor searched furtively in his pocket. He found the bottle again. With, a finger he removed the stopper and brought it out.
"What is that over there?" he asked suddenly. Every eye was directed to the corner of the room to which he pointed. Quickly he emptied the contents into the girl's glass.
"I see nothing. What is it?" asked Sandford.
"Nothing—nothing, I am afraid I have been overworking."
In two minutes he was normal. Laughing awkwardly over his own folly, he refused, to leave.
Again he watched and waited, but this time he took part in the conversation. Somebody proposed the health of the host. It was a jesting toast, but every glass went up. The girl's with the rest.
Two minutes went past. The drug could not have lost its potency. He put his hand into his pocket and touched the letter. He took it out:
"Excuse me," he said gruffly as he tore open the letter; "I forgot to read this."
He took out a half-sheet of notepaper.
He smoothed it carefully and read it.
"You will save yourself trouble if you know that we have replaced the poison of Dr. Cajalos with water.
"The Just Men."
He left the table hurriedly and went blundering blindly from the room.
In the corridor of the hotel he came in his haste into collision with a man. It was the man who had called upon Black that afternoon.
. . . . . . . . . .
"Excuse me," said the man, catching his arm, "I am Detective-sergeant Kay from Scotland Yard, and shall take you into custody."
At the first hint of danger the doctor drew back. Suddenly his fist shot out and caught the officer under the jaw. It was a terrific blow, and the detective was unprepared. He went down like a log.
The corridor was empty. Leaving the man upon the floor, the fugitive sped into the lobby. He was hatless, but he shaded his face with his hand, and passed through the throng in the vestibule into the open air. He signalled a taxi.
"To New Cross Station," he said.
He dismissed the driver at the station, and took a ticket to London Bridge. The train came in as he reached the platform. He found an empty first-class carriage and entered it.
As the train moved out a man came racing down the stairs. He leapt on the footboard as the train moved.
In his carriage Essley went rapidly to work. He pulled down the blinds. It was by great good fortune a main line train. There was washing apparatus in the lavatory. He went to work rapidly.
He had finished before the train came to London Bridge. He pulled the blinds up; came face to face with a man standing on the footboard—a man with stern, grave eyes.
"De la Monte!" he shrieked, and aimed a savage blow at the other.
It never reached him. De la Monte had slipped along the footboard into the open door of a carriage. Essley pulled up the window again and drew down the blind. He took a revolver from his pocket and looked at it stupidly.
ON the platform a group of officers waited.
"I had a telephone message," explained a panting officer, "telling me our man was on this train."
"Have they arrested the other man yet?" asked the inspector.
"Black? No, sir. We have got men in his flat waiting for him. I wonder who sent the telephone message?"
The train came to a standstill, and the little group began their search. One window had the blind down. They opened the door.
On the floor lay a man, a revolver by his side.
"That's queer," said the inspector, looking at the dead man's face. "So that was Essley's secret!"
A colleague looked up sharply.
"This man isn't Essley," he snapped.
"I'm afraid you're wrong," answered the inspector. "It's Essley—and Cresswell Black as well. They're one and the same man!"
. . . . . . . . . .
"I AM Detective-Sergeant Kay from Scotland Yard, and shall take you into custody."
At the first hint of danger the colonel drew back. Suddenly his fist shot out and caught the officer under the jaw. It was a terrific blow and the detective was unprepared. He went down like a log.
The corridor was empty. Leaving the man upon the floor, the fugitive sped into the lobby. He was hatless, but he shaded his face and passed through the throng in the vestibule into the open air. He signalled a taxi. "Waterloo, and I will give you a pound if you catch my train."
He was speeding down the Strand in less than a minute. He changed his instructions before the station was reached.
"I have lost the train—drop me at the corner of Eaton Square."
At Eaton Square he paid the cabman and dismissed him. With little difficulty he found two closed cars that waited.
"I am Colonel Black," he said, and the first chauffeur touched his cap. "Take the straightest road to Southampton and let the second man follow behind." The car had not gone far before he changed his mind. "Go first to the Junior Turf Club in Pall Mall," he said.
Arrived at the club, he beckoned the porter. "Tell Sir Isaac Tramber that he is wanted at once," he directed.
Ikey was in the club—it was a chance shot of the colonel's, but it bagged his man.
"Get your coat and hat," said Black hurriedly to the flustered baronet.
"No buts," snarled the other savagely. "Get your coat and hat, unless you want to be hauled out of your club to the nearest police-station."
Reluctantly Ikey went back to the club and returned in a few seconds struggling into his great-coat. "Now what the devil is this all about?" he demanded peevishly; then, as the light of a street lamp caught the colonel's uncovered head, he gasped: "Good Lord! Your hair has gone white! You look just like that fellow Essley!"
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