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Title: A Christmas Capture
Author: Fred M White
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1601341.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: Nov 2016
Date most recently updated: Dec 2016

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------------------------------------------------------------------------

Title: A Christmas Capture
Author: Fred M White



A CHRISTMAS CAPTURE


By


FRED M. WHITE


Published in the Chronicle (Adelaide, SA : 1895 - 1954), Saturday 16
December 1922.



The Slagburn Police Amateur Dramatic Society were giving their annual
Christmas entertainment on Christmas Eve, and the rank and fashion of
the great manufacturing town had gathered in support of that deserving
quasi-charity in the town hall.

There were no professionals in the cast, even the feminine characters
were taken by the men, and with marked success in one outstanding
instance--Detective-Sergeant George Temperley.

"Pass for a woman anywhere, by gad," said his worship.

"Rather useful for a detective, what?" the chief chuckled as a
programme-seller thrust a note into his hand. "Confound it, I have to
see to something pressing. Good-night, Mr. Mayor. No peace for the
wicked--and the police."

"Too bad," the great man murmured. "Nothing serious, I hope."

Martin smiled non-committally and vanished. He made his way under
the orchestra to the back of the stage and thence into one of the
dressing-rooms, where he found what looked like a fair-haired
equestrienne of the upper classes arrayed for the chase. Quite a
pretty, dainty girl, in fact, just touching up her lips and adding a
dust of powder to her elegant nose. Without apology for his abrupt
entrance the chief spoke.

"Afraid I shall have to cut your sketch out, Temperley," he said. "I
want you at the office at once."

Detective-Sergeant George Temperley removed his blonde wig and swiftly
took off his pink and white make-up.

A little later, in the seclusion of his private office, the chief
handed his subordinate a letter to read. "What do you make of this,
George?"

Temperley read the note, thus:--


17, Paston Crescent,
Balham.
December 23rd, 19--.

"Dear Sir--I am coming to Slagburn to-morrow afternoon by the London
train arriving at 2.13, with the object of calling to interview Mr.
Lean, of Magley Hall, Magley-road, with a view to some business
connected with the stage. I am told that he is a gentleman of position,
who is interested in theatrical matters financially. Will you kindly
advise me by wire on this point, for which purpose I enclose postal
order for two shillings.

"I would not trouble you, but for the fact that I am out of a regular
engagement, and am anxious to invest some little capital in what looks
like an exceptional theatrical opening. I don't know Mr. Lean, but I am
told he is all right, and a personal interview is essential. I am not
shy or nervous of strangers, but lately there have been some dreadful
things in the papers about girls like myself who have answered these
advertisements, and therefore I am taking no foolish risks.

"With many apologies for troubling you.

"Yours sincerely,

"DORITHY WADE."


"Actress, of course," Temperley commented. "No other class would spell
Dorothy with an 'i.' Not quite a fool, all the same. Quite right to
take precautions."

"But this man Lean is all right, isn't he?" Martin asked. "Good
neighborhood, good address, and apparently all above board."

"Mr. Lean is a man of considerable means," Temperley explained. "Has
been living at Magley Hall for many years and he is interested in
theatrical ventures. This letter doesn't sound to me like one from a
regular actress, but more like a stage-struck amateur with a little
money to burn. Juliet is a first-class travelling company for 100 down
touch. And at the mercy of any scoundrel who has the wit to bait the
trap nicely. I have always thought that the Granmere murder was worked
that way."

Temperley paused significantly and Major Martin reached for his desk
telephone. He called up the Magley-road Police-station and had a few
words with the sergeant-in-charge there.

"Matter of fact," he said, "Lean is away in Florida and the house is in
the hands of a man caretaker who has been in Lean's employ for years.
Um, it does suggest the Granmere mystery. What would you do if you were
in my place?"

"Wire the lady to come down," Temperley said eagerly. "Let her come as
arranged, and 'phone Balham to send a man in the same train so that
he can point her out to me on her arrival. I'll be at the station and
steer her here by a roundabout way, and we can see what she has to say
before she goes to keep her appointment. If there is some rascal in
this it is long odds he doesn't know the girl by sight, and that the
whole thing is worked through a newspaper advertisement. And if I might
make a suggestion, sir, as a further precaution----"

Temperley bent forward and eagerly whispered a few words in the ear of
his chief.

He broke frankly into a broad grin. "Quite unofficially, of course," he
said.

"Absolutely, sir," Temperley responded gravely.

The office clock in Slagburn Police-station pointed to the hour of half
after two the following afternoon when the expected guest was ushered
into Major Martin's office without undue ostentation by means of a
modest back entrance. Her smile and manner were equally fascinating,
and her accent and dress proclaimed her gentle upbringing.

"I don't want to alarm you, Miss Wade," Major Martin began after the
preliminary courtesies. "Am I to understand that Mr. Lean has been
advertising for ladies in connection with some theatrical venture he is
interested in?"

"Of course," Miss Wade replied, "otherwise I should not be here. I have
my living to get, and as I have saved about 200 I thought I might
invest it in some theatrical venture under a good man. When a friend
of mine who is on tour sent me Mr. Lean's advertisement I decided to
answer it, and I did."

"Quite so," Martin murmured. "Was the advertisement you answered in one
of the recognised theatrical papers? 'Era,' 'Stage' that sort of
thing?"

"Well, no, it wasn't. My friend in Newcastle sent it me."

"An old friend of yours, I presume?"

"Not exactly that either. A girl on the stage I met casually--May
Vaughan. She went on tour some time ago with the 'Orchid Girl' musical
comedy. I suppose she cut the advertisement out of some stage paper and
sent it on to me, with a line on a half-sheet of paper."

"Do you happen to have kept it?" Martin asked.

"Why, of course. I have it here in my bag. You see I had to answer the
advertisement, which was directed from some business office in London.
Would you like to look at it?"

Martin was quite sure he would. From her vanity bag his visitor
produced an advertisement on a slip of paper cut from some popular
print and gummed on a correspondence card. Underneath some one had
scrawled the words, "Likely to suit you, dear, perhaps. Love. May.
Frightful rush." And that was all. Thus:--


"Wanted, lady (young), to join advertiser, who has vast experience
theatrical matters and in position to command openings, country
production, leading towns. Premium 150. Play lead in new comedy by
prominent dramatist, also Shakespearean heroines. Unique opening for
clever novice with a small capital. Apply in first instance to Manager,
Box 745, Gregory & Co., Quair-road, Fulham."


With the slip in his hand Martin crossed the big room and laid the card
to which the advertisement was attached by a spot of gum in one corner,
and laid it on the desk of a man who was writing there with his back to
the others. Temperley looked up and nodded. Then he bent down again as
if deeply engrossed in his work, and carefully examined the card and
its letterpress.

"You wrote to that address?" Martin asked. "And Mr. Lean replied, of
course. Am I right?"

"Not at first. There were two or three letters signed by somebody whose
signature I could not read, and who said he was merely a secretary; and
when things were fixed up I got a typed letter from Mr. Lean addressed
from Magley Hall here asking me to meet him this afternoon and bring
the money along."

"And that you have done? Yes, I thought so. Might I see the letter Mr.
Lean wrote to you?"

Temperley rose from his chair and stole quietly out of the room. Just
as Martin had finished with the letter handed him by his visitor
Temperley looked in through the door.

"Just one minute, sir, if you please," he said. "Might I ask you to
step this way, sir?"

Martin excused himself and vanished. In a little room down the corridor
he faced Temperley eagerly.

"Well, what do you make of it?" he asked. "You heard all that took
place. What paper did that advertisement appear in?"

"None, sir," Temperley said crisply. "It's a pure fake. Printed by hand
on a scrap of what the news trade calls 'news,' and gummed on that card
for the purpose of being forwarded to the young lady by some cunning
scoundrel who managed to get it posted from Newcastle. I have detached
the printed slip from the card. If you turn it over on the other side
what do you find? More print, of course, to give it similitude, but
in printing the reverse side the forger was guilty of the sort of
carelessness which so often plays into our hands. If you look you will
see that the print on the reverse side is upside down. Such a thing
could not happen with a genuine newspaper."

"By gad, you are right," Martin cried. "I can't see a single flaw in
your logic, George. And if you are right, then we are on to a bigger
thing than you and I bargained for. The Granmere murderer, eh--the man
Scotland Yard has been hunting for weeks."

"So I figure it out, sir," Temperley said gravely. "Nobody knows yet
how that poor girl was lured to Granmere and murdered, except that she
went to keep some mysterious appointment, with over a hundred pounds
in her pocket. Still, we have some sort of description of the Granmere
murderer, and let us hope the man lurking in the seclusion of Magley
Hall at this very moment is like him."

* * * * *

The unsuspecting cause of all this excitement made her way along the
exclusive thoroughfare known as Magley road until she came to the
intriguing destination.

Magley Hall loomed large at length, with the name in gold letters
on the gate, with a tennis lawn beyond and the house covered with
creepers. As the eager aspirant approached the door a figure emerged
and a soft hat came off with a flourish.

"I declare you quite startled me," the owner of the hat smiled. "I was
just going for a stroll in the garden when--but you are Miss Wade, I
presume. More than punctual, too. Well, an excellent virtue. Will you
please come inside?"

They were seated presently in a large, well-equipped library,
upholstered in solid Russia leather, with Turkey carpet, and carved
writing tables complete. At a small secretaire in a side window a man
sat busily writing.

"My secretary," the man in the velours hat vouchsafed, "but he need not
trouble us. Now let us understand each other before we go any further.
You are Miss Wade, the young person who came here by appointment to-day
in response to my advertisement."

The Young Person smiled as if amused by some thought. Mr. Lean might be
a prominent and opulent citizen of Slagburn, but he obviously was not
a born gentleman, though the expression on his face was flattering to
his visitor. His eyes were weak and sore, with horrible red rims, and
pupils reminiscent of a poached egg.

"You did not mind coming here quite alone?" Dreadfuleyes asked. "I have
a most important scheme on which takes every moment of my time, so I
could not meet you in London, as I should have liked. It is absolutely
new in theatrical business, and I should be much annoyed if the secret
leaked out. I am taking if for granted that you have respected my
request for entirely confidential----"

"Certainly," the Young Person interrupted. "I have not mentioned the
matter to a soul. I have not even written to thank my friend who sent
me your advertisement from Newcastle."

"That," Dreadfuleyes murmured, "was very discreet of you. A word
carelessly dropped does a world of mischief sometimes. Now tell me,
please, what stage experience you have had."

"Well, practically none, Mr. Lean. If I try to deceive you I am sure
to be found out. A little chorus work and a couple of walking-on parts
form my experience. But you told me in your----"

"Quite so, quite so," Dreadfuleyes murmured. "You see, I wanted
someone quite fresh and unspoilt by conventional training. The money
I expect you to put down if you decide to go on is quite a secondary
consideration. Really in the nature of a fine if you break your
contract. For 150----"

"I am prepared with that," the Young Person said calmly. "And perhaps a
little more it necessary."

"Oh, indeed. Then perhaps you will tell me----"

"One thing at a time, Mr. Lean," the Young Person drawled. "I have had
to work hard for my little money. I was driving a motor ambulance in
France for two years, and that sort of thing teaches one to look after
the personal equation. Before we talk of any further funds I should
like a receipt for the original sum agreed upon."

Here, obviously, was a development which Dreadfuleyes had not expected.
A keen business mind would have seen at once that he was reconsidering
his position. But the Young Person babbled on.

"Savings Bank, you understand. Besides, the money I brought down here.
I didn't bring the book, of course--that is in my lodgings. But I don't
suppose that this interests you, Mr. Lean."

"One never knows," Dreadfuleyes murmured, as he took up a pen and
commenced to scribble an elaborate receipt for 150 on a sheet of
notepaper. "There! I have practically embodied our agreement on the
face of the receipt. You have only to get that stamped at Somerset
House and I am liable. Later on we can have a more formal instrument.
Of course, if you haven't the money here----"

"But I have," the Young Person murmured. "Here it is all in Treasury
notes, which I have been gradually saving for years."

Dreadfuleyes opened the notes and locked them away in a drawer on his
desk. It was not displeasing to know that those notes had not been
drawn in bulk, but gathered at odd times, and therefore not humanly
possible to trace. And there were more to come. How to get possession
of that bank book! How to detain this confiding young thing for eight
and forty hours in which to forge a letter to the Young Person's
address in London to get away with the rest of the plunder once the
bank book was in the right hands.

Threats, perhaps force--certainly force if necessary. He scraped his
throat, and immediately the man at the writing table got up and, coming
forward, took his seat on a couch close by the other table where
Dreadfuleyes and the Young Person were seated.

There was nothing formidable about him. He was small and weedy, with
a marked obliquity of vision, but his smile was sinister enough. Then
Dreadfuleyes turned a new, and, if possible, more repulsive face to the
Young Person. She rose quickly as she saw it.

"I suggest you make arrangements to stay here," he grinned--"I mean
remain here for a couple of days. Between the two of us we can make
your visit quite pleasant. The fact is my dear young lady, we are most
anxious to see that bank book of yours."

"What do you mean?" the Young Person gasped.

She looked wildly about her as if seeking some avenue of escape from
the danger, and the men smiled.

"Then you really are beginning to understand," Dreadfuleyes said with a
hard laugh. "You didn't learn everything in France. You are perfectly
safe here so long as you are sensible. That bank book and a few hours'
strict confinement to give us a chance to get clear. Don't be afraid."

"I am not afraid," the Young Person cried, "though I know now who you
are. You are the Granmere murderer. Yes, I am safe enough so long as
you don't get hold of the bank book."

A swift and horrible change came over the face of the man by the table.
As he advanced towards the Young Person something gleamed in his right
hand. A demon of rage possessed him, those awful eyes were blood-red
and full of murder.

"Here, not again," the man on the couch wailed.

The man with the knife heeded not. He reached forward on his toes for
the shrinking figure of the Young Person. And then suddenly the whole
tense cinema drama changed as if by magic. A crushing right came from
the hand of the Young Person and crashed on Dreadfuleyes' jaw, followed
by a left uppercut as he was crumpling, and another twisting right laid
him on the carpet in a state of stark insensibility. The man on the
sofa clung to a cushion and gibbered with a fright he made no effort
to conceal. As if in a sort of nightmare the room was full of blue
uniforms.

"There he is," the Young Person cried breathlessly. "And, as I thought
even from the first, the Granmere murderer tallies in every particular,
and on the table you will find a few lines in his own handwriting. Get
busy with the handcuffs and don't overlook the gibbering confederate on
the sofa."

"But who the devil are you?" the bewildered constable in charge asked.
"I don't----"

"Detective Sergeant Temperley," came the reply in a now familiar voice.
"Good old Christmas theatricals! Get on with it."


THE END.


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