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Title: Meet Mary Cronig and Other Stories Author: Aidan de Brune * A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook * eBook No.: 1701291h.html Language: English Date first posted: November 2017 Most recent update: November 2017 This eBook was produced by: Terry Walker, Roy Glashan and Colin Choat 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 Australia Licence which may be viewed online.
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THIS book is a product of a collaborative effort undertaken by Project Gutenberg Australia, Roy Glashan's Library and the bibliophile Terry Walker to collect, edit and publish the works of Aidan de Brune, a colourful and prolific Australian writer whose opus is well worth saving from oblivion.
1. Meet Mary
2. Mary Quite Contrary
3. Mary's Little Lamb
4. Mary's Fleece
5. Just a Woolly
6. Who Killed David Condon?
7. The Five-Minute Murder
9. Voodoo Vengeance
10. Silver Bells
11. The Empty Match-box
12. The Three Cats
13. Adelbert Cay
14. The Three Snails (a novelette)
15. The Marrickville Murders
16. The Pearl of Peri
17. The Gift to See Ourselves As Others See Us
18. The Dope Runner
19. Where the Lost Legions Go
TWO wide-open, grey eyes, set deep in a pale, pinched face, and overshadowed by a wealth of badly-dressed, deep-brown hair. A slim boyish body, faintly outlined by the short, skimpy frock, vivid, flesh-coloured silk stockings, supported on stilt-heeled, light tan shoes.
Detective-Sergeant Robert Greyson suddenly squared his shoulders, smoothing down the growing curve under his waistcoat, that was beginning to cause him concern. He realised that he had been staring at—analysing—the girl. He knew now that she was in trouble.
Greyson pushed through the crowd of shoppers thronging the huge third floor of Matthew Wheelon's mammoth store in Elizabeth Street, Sydney, to where the girl stood listening with disdainful unconcern to the excited remarks of a very obvious shopwalker and a still more obvious lady store-detective.
"Any trouble?" Greyson tapped the shopwalker on the shoulder.
"Shop-lifter!" The man turned suddenly. "Say, who are you?"
The officer turned to the girl.
"Prove it!" A bright, gamine smile parted the pursed lips. "Heard of you before. How d'you do?"
For a moment a spark of merriment in the detective's eyes answered the girl's smile. It went as suddenly as it came. He turned to the shopwalker.
"She refuses to be searched unless first given in charge," the
woman detective answered, quickly. "I saw her take them." The woman
detective was trembling with anger. "When I spoke to her she
"A pair of silk stockings."
"Humph! Where are they?"
"I don't know. She has them; I'm certain of that."
"Can't you do something?" The shopwalker turned to the detective, almost pleadingly. "People are watching us. There'll be a crowd presently. I'll leave it in your hands."
"Not unless you formally give her In charge. That is, unless Miss—" He looked at the girl, expectantly.
"Cronig. Mary Cronig." Again the flickering smile crossed the girl's lips.
"Object to this lady searching you, Miss Cronig?" Greyson spoke easily.
"I shouldn't feel pleased." Mary looked direct into the detective's eyes.
"No objection to a search, then?"
"No, not at all." Mary's manner suddenly changed. The quick smile came again, this time to stay. She caught at the detective's arm, arranging herself by his side.
"Can't be done here. Send them on to the office; I'll go with you. That good enough?"
"Suit me." The detective nodded to the shopwalker. "By the way, you haven't an odd pair of stockings on you?"
"I should be in a fix if I had." The girl beamed up at the tall officer delightfully, walking easily towards the offices at the end of the long room. At the door she paused suddenly, catching Greyson by the arm. "See that girl, Mr. Greyson; the one with the golden curls. Let her search me; not that woman."
"I thought only gentlemen preferred blondes." Greyson grinned. He beckoned to the shop-girl to accompany them. "All right. Let's get it over."
He hold the door for the two girls to pass into the outer office. Mary hesitated a moment, standing just within the door. The shop-walker motioned her angrily to an inner room. Mary braced herself with an apparent effort. She walked slowly across the room, passing between the shop-walker and the woman detective. Suddenly she stumbled, catching at the woman and almost dragging her to the ground. With a slight laugh she regained her feet and went into the room where the blonde girl was awaiting her. The door closed and for five minutes there was silence.
Then the inner door opened abruptly and Mary and the shop-girl came out, chatting and laughing easily. The latter caught the detective's eyes and shook her head, negatively. "Nothing!"
Greyson could not help smiling as he turned to the crestfallen shopwalker. "It's up to you now, mister. This young lady's entitled to your apologies. That's the worst..."
"Ridiculous!" Mrs. Andrews spoke impatiently. "I'm certain she took them. Now, if I'd searched her..."
"You would certainly have found them on me." Mary turned to the woman, speaking gravely and with significance in her voice. "You've done that before, Mrs. Andrews—found stolen goods on other girls you're searched haven't you."
"Satisfied, Mr. Greyson?" The girl turned nonchalantly on the detective. "Am I still under arrest?"
"Haven't been there, yet, Miss Cronig." Again the stern lips of the detective twisted to a smile.
"Then I let you search me without being arrested." The girl spoke quickly. She nodded towards the woman detective. "What do you think of her?"
"In what way?" Greyson spoke cautiously. He had no intention of becoming embroiled In the evident antagonism between the two women.
"I'll speak plainly." Mary turned to face the group. "If I'd let her search me she'd have planted the goods on me. No, hold your tongue, Mrs. Andrews, until I've finished. Mr. Greyson, I let you have me searched without being under arrest. Now have her searched."
"You damned huzzy!" With a screech of anger, Mrs. Andrews darted forward, to come up against Greyson's extended arm.
"Any objections, Mrs.—er—Andrews?"
"Of course!" The woman had regained some of her control. "Of course I object to such a thing. I'm an employee of the store."
"That's no answer." The keen eyes of the detective searched the woman's face. "So far as I understand, Miss Cronig states that if you'd searched her you'd have planted the goods—that's the silk stockings, on her. I guess that means they're on you now. No, don't start to scratch. You've got just one choice: let this girl search you or refer the matter to Mr. Wheelon."
"I shall certainly complain to Mr. Wheelon." Mrs. Andrews flounced towards the door, to find Greyson blocking the way.
"Search, Mrs. Andrews?" The detective spoke stolidly. The last restraints on the woman's temper gave way. She tried to thrust the detective on one side. Falling in this she flew at him with shrieks of anger, clawing at his face. Greyson caught her by the wrists laughing softly at her futile struggles.
"Search, Mrs. Polly Andrews?" He laughed down into her crimsoned face. "Now, Polly, you're giving yourself away. If you hadn't lost your temper I mightn't have recognised you for it's a long time since you caused that scene at Darlinghurst Police Station. No, Polly Andrews. This young lady's—the blonde one—going to search you. If not, you hand in your resignation to this gentleman, right now, and get out of this store in ten minutes. Get me?"
He turned to the amazed shopwalker.
"You've heard enough, Mr.—Mr.—yes, Mr. Hendry. Guess you've understood. Mrs. Polly Andrews resigns. If she chooses to stay, come round to Hunter Street for her credentials. I'll have 'em ready. Now, Miss Cronig, we'll get out of here." He held the door for the girl, escorting her down to the street. On the pavement Mary turned and held out her hand, impulsively. "Thanks, Mr. Greyson." She spoke with a little gasp in her voice. "I've never had a fairy god-mother, but..."
"Guess I'd make a bad hand of the fairy, business. Here, hold up, kiddie!" Ho seized the girl as she stumbled against him. "What's the matter?" He whistled slightly as an explanation dawned on him. "Here, when did you feed last, Miss Cronig?"
"Yesterday." The word came in a whisper from the pale, drawn lips.
"Whew! Got any money?"
"Couple of shillings—perhaps."
"Then it was true." Greyson looked into the girl's face, suspiciously.
"My stockings are quite sound, thank you!" The girl's assumption of gaiety was pathetic.
"Got any friends?"
"About half a million, rather more, I think." She laughed at the look on his face. "All the men in Sydney, y'know. Half of 'em feed one on chocolates and kiss when parting; the others feed more satisfactory, but...but...they don't want to part...too soon."
"You poor kid!" Greyson slipped his arm In the girl's. "I was going homo to dinner, but—"
"You'd better go." Mary quietly released her arm. "I'm not stopping you." Greyson eyed the girl. He realised now that her antagonism in the store was due to exhaustion.
"Where are you staying?"
"If you want to know, I'm out of work—wouldn't sell my body with my labour. Turned out of my lodgings because I owed too much and declined an...an...arrangement. If you want my address, Mister Detective, mark it down 'The Domain'—until further notice, or..."
"Here's our tram!" Greyson turned towards the roadway. The girl held back. "Come along!"
"Married?" She turned suddenly on the officer.
"Yes. No kiddies, though. Only the missus and me. There's a spare room always ready."
"What'll she say, you blowing in with a bit of fluff on your sleeve?"
"Alice ain't a fool!" Greyson growled.
WITHOUT a word the girl allowed him almost to lift her to a seat in the car. There was complete silence between them until the tramcar drew up in Randwick High Street.
Greyson alighted and helped the girl down. A score of yards along the street he led into a quiet road bordered by pretty red-brick cottages. At one of these he opened a gate and motioned the girl to enter. As they mounted to the veranda the front door opened and a handsome, well-built, grey-haired woman came to welcome them.
"Meet Mary Cronig, mother." Greyson bent to kiss his wife.
"Mary Cronig, down and out!" There was almost defiance in the clear grey eyes lifted to Mrs. Greyson's face. For an instant the eyes of the women met, and held. Suddenly the elder woman caught Mary to her in a strong embrace, kissing her warmly.
"Can you say that at seventeen, child?"
There was a slight catch on Alice Greyson's voice. "Nineteen, and I feel like ninety-one!" Although the words were light, tears stood in the grey eyes. Greyson lingered behind, watching the two women pass. into the house. A little puckered frown came between his brows. He was not satisfied. Had the girl really been guilty?
Against that stood the woman, Polly Andrews. She had a record—a nasty one concerning young girls. She had refused to be searched, even when Mary had deliberately accused her of planting goods on girls she accused of shoplifting. And, Mary had been, searched. Every fact stood in the girl's favour. Yet...
MARY did not come down to breakfast; Alice Greyson had said she was to remain in bed and in that house her word was law. Robert Greyson ate his breakfast In silence. As he bent in farewell to his wife she spoke suddenly.
"What of Mary, Bob?"
"What of her, old girl?"
"Leave her to me, Bob?"
"Sure. She's a bit of a kid to be up against it."
"We—I—could do with a girl, Bob." The woman turned her cheek on the rough cloth of his sleeve.
"Company for you, Alice?"
"Duets are sometimes monotonous, Bob."
Greyson gulped quickly. He bent and kissed her heavily on the lips and strode out of the house, not looking back.
More than once during the day he wondered if he had acted wisely. Alice Greyson met him as he mounted the house veranda that night.
"She's gone, Bob." Alice spoke with a slight tremor. "Went while I was out, shopping. Wouldn't come with me. When I returned I missed her. There's a parcel on the sitting-room table addressed to you."
Hand in hand they entered the house. Alice almost pulled him to where a small brown paper roll lay on the table. It was addressed In girlish, unformed writing to "Detective-Sergeant Robert Greyson."
With trembling hands he tore It open and a pair of silk
stockings fell on the cloth. A slip of white paper was pinned to
You're too good a man for a girl to fool. Remember when I fell against you. Well, don't let the flaps of your jacket pockets turn in. Sorry, turn these in to Matt Wheelon for me.
P.S.—I can't say good-bye to Alice. I'm not good enough. —M.
When I fell against you! Greyson almost grinned. The little devil! She had come to his side clutching his arm in the store.
Alice brought her plate to the side of her husband. Yet it was a silent meal.
"Got to put an advertisement in the paper, mother." Greyson rose from his seat, awkwardly.
"Yes." Alice looked up at him, listlessly.
"Least! I've signed your name to it, mother." Again he hesitated. "Just said: 'Mary Cronig, come home. A pair of silk stockings ain't worth it.—Alice.' That do?—"
"Yes." Suddenly the indecision left the woman's face. She smiled up at her man, linking her arm in his and walking towards the door.
"Bob, I think you could alter that a bit. Put in two more words just before my name. Just, 'Love—mother.'"
THE hot air throbbed and quivered to the syncopated blare of a famous jazz orchestra. From orifices, hidden in the gaudily painted ceiling, long streamers of ever-changing coloured lights fell on the fantastically-garbed throng on the crowded dancing floor. It was a gala night at the Auxiliaries.
At a table in the corner of the low balcony sat Detective Sergeant Robert Greyson, immaculate in full evening dress. Before his left eye shone an apparently immovable rimmed monocle. It was a fixture. But for the touch of spirit-gum Greyson could not have retained it five consecutive seconds.
There was a man in Sydney who caused the high officials at Police Headquarters many sleepless nights. His place of abode, his ostensible profession, his intimate friends, were unknown to them. In the official records he was designated "Mr. Y." Greyson had come to the Auxiliaries that night on the track of one Con Cleek, international crook and collector of loose jewellery. He had a theory that when Con and the mysterious "Mr. Y" met, Mrs Samson Levy's famous rope of pearls, valued at five thousand pounds, would change hands.
There had been nothing mysterious in the theft of the pearls. Mrs. Samson Levy had attended a famous society wedding wearing her much advertised jewels. Con Cleek had also been a guest, uninvited and disturbing. He had left suddenly, and the pearls disappeared about the same time. Mrs. Samson Levy had raised a great outcry. For over a week Con had been assiduously shadowed by the police. The jewels had not been found in his possession; yet Greyson was prepared to swear the man had not had opportunity to "fence" them.
Suddenly Greyson leaned forward over the low rail of the balcony. Two of the dancers had halted close under where he sat. Some hint of remembrance caused him to examine the girl closely. The wide grey eyes glanced up at him carelessly through slits in the silk mask. A light, nervous laugh parted the over-red lips.
What was Mary Cronig doing in that jazz-mad throng? The last time he had seen her she had said she was down and out. Ironically, she had given her address as "The Domain."
Now she was well-dressed, well-fed. Mary, the shop-lifter—yet the girl he had taken to his home to his wife's care. His lips curled with disgust. He glanced at the girl's partner. He was Con Cleek, the thief. The detective looked past the man. Lounging against a pillar stood a lonely Pierrot. An almost imperceptible signal passed between Greyson and the man. If Con had the jewels he had not yet parted with them.
The girl caught at the man's arm, dragging him, impatiently, towards the dancing floor. The detective watched until they were lost to sight amid the crowd; then strode to the back of the balcony, where a man waited.
Ten minutes later he stepped on the dancing floor, his evening clothes hidden beneath the white loose raiment of a Pierrot. Across his eyes stretched a strange patterned mask of yellow and blue silk. Time was passing quickly. Soon the last dance of the night would be announced. Before that dance terminated Con would have passed the jewels to the mysterious "Mr. Y." Yet, could he?
The man had pluck! Greyson grimly acknowledged that. He had come to the ball in conventional evening clothes, not even donning a mask. Did he know that not for one single second was he free from observation; that always some lynx-eyed detective lurked at his elbow? Again he caught sight of the girl. She was standing alone, close to the band platform. Keeping well in the crowd, Greyson moved around until he stood immediately behind her.
"Mary, what are you doing here?"
The girl whirled round. Then, as Greyson lifted the piece of silk covering his face.
"What is it now, Mary? Shop-lifting, or—"
"You beast!" The girl flung from him, angrily. He caught her by the wrist. "Let me alone. I'm honest! I've got a job!"
"A job that pays for guinea tickets to the Auxiliaries?"
"I came with a friend. Let me go, or I'll scream!"
"Scream, my dear." Greyson shifted his grip to above the elbow, "Suppose you know your friend's a convicted thief—one of the swells of his profession?"
"He's a gentleman!" Something in the detective's eyes made her pause. Her voice dropped. "Straight, Mr. Greyson?"
"Notice this mask; Mary?" He touched the piece of silk across his face. "Watch the Pierrots. See any more, masks like this? Well, they're Con's bodyguard for the night. He's not been free from one of 'em all the evening."
"Where is he, Mary?" The low voice held an authority, the girl could not resist. "He told me to wait for him here." Then she spoke more freely. "I thought he was straight..."
"Wouldn't be Con Cleek if he was." Greyson chuckled. "Well, we'll let that pass, Mary. What are you doing? Didn't you see my advertisement?"
The girl nodded. Her eyes were watching the ever-changing throng.
"Got a Job, Mr. Greyson. Good job, too. In an importer's office. I can type, y'know."
"Why didn't you come and tell me. Mrs. Greyson—Alice is anxious. You've hurt her, rather, Mary."
"I couldn't come back. I'm not fit for her." The girl lifted her mask and touched her eyes with a flimsy ball of lace. "Perhaps...later...when...Say, Mr. Greyson, what's Con done?"
"Heard of the Levy's pearls, Mary?"
The girl nodded. "Well, Con's got them. 'Least we think he has. Long rope of pearls, something like those duds you're wearing. Just about the same size and length. Mind if I have a look at them, Mary?"
Without speaking, the girl slipped the rope of beads over her head and placed them in the detective's hand. A quick examination and he touched them with his tongue.
"Duds, yes. No, didn't think you'd got the Levy pearls, Mary." Greyson laughed quietly. "Best to be sure, though. Con's up to all sorts of tricks."
"Hullo, Mary! Thought I'd missed you!" A tall well-set up young man had crossed to them. "Rotten luck having to miss this dance. Still..." For a moment he stared amazedly at the unmasked detective.
"Well, Con." There was a grim note in the detective's voice.
"Mr. Greyson!" The crook moistened his thin lips with his tongue. "E-r! Busy tonight?"
"Just watching, Con." The detective grinned broadly. "Same as you, Con! just watching! Say, Mary, you didn't tell me where you got those beads?"
"Lent me." The girl spoke restlessly. "The boss imports them."
"Does he, now? Ah, well! They don't interest me. I'm interested in pearls and exports, at the moment."
"What about the dance, Mary?" The crook caught at the girl's hand.
"Sorry, Con." With a deft movement Greyson swung the girl into the crook of his arm. "My dance, y'know." He steered the girl into the throng of dancers. Mechanically she fell into step. "Say, Mr. Greyson, you're some dancer. Why didn't you ask me before? Why—"
"Sorry, Mary!" A turn gave the detective a chance, to glance back to where the crook stood, watching them. "Going to let me know where you work?"
"Anderson and Bligh, York Street. Mr. Anderson's here tonight. He's—Oh, what a shame! They're stopping!"
Almost with the last bars of the music the lights in the hall went out. Greyson suddenly realised he had been caught off, guard. Was the extinguishing of the lights some trick of the crook, to enable him to pass the jewels to the mysterious "Mr. Y?"
But there were other men watching. With a quick movement Greyson swung the girl from the floor, pushing through the crowd to the entrance. Someone opened the exit doors and beams of light filtered into the darkened room. The lights in the corridors and vestibule were still on.
"Get your wraps, Mary. Best to get out of the crush as quick as we can."
"Where are you taking me?" The girl glanced up at him, half-startled. "Not..."
"Not if you don't want to come." He spoke sadly. "Alice will be disappointed, of course. But...Get your cloak, girl. I'll get a taxi."
The girl disappeared into the cloakroom. Greyson walked down the vestibule to the street entrance. There he stood, watching the moving crowd. He had failed, that night. Had Con Cleek succeeded in communicating with "Mr. Y." If so; if they had met under cover of the darkness, then the pearls were finally lost. He would have to go back on his work and try and pick up the trail again. It might be months before he would have so good a chance to solve the mystery surrounding the identity of the elusive fence.
With an impatient shrug of his shoulders he turned, to see the girl coming towards him, "Why, girlie." He caught the cloak at her neck. "You've lost your beads.
"Took them off, so that I shouldn't lose them, Mr. Greyson." Mary laughed lightly. "Thought it would be best to carry them. Mr. Anderson told me to bring them to the office, tomorrow morning."
Someone bumped roughly into the girl. Greyson turned, angrily. Two men, one of them Con Cleek, were passing towards the street. Greyson stiffened. They were talking earnestly in low tones. On the step, Con and his friend halted and I shook hands, warmly. With a shout, Greyson jumped forward. Something had passed from one man to the other. Immediately there was a commotion. Through the gathering crowd pushed a group of men, Pierrot costumes half-hidden by their overcoats.
"Got you, Con!" There was intense satisfaction in Greyson's tones. "And 'Mr. Y,' too. Pleased to make your acquaintance! Now, 'Mr. 'Y,' those pearls."
Ho forced the man's hands roughly open and took a long rope of pearls from it. For a moment there was silence; then the second man laughed harshly.
"Say, what's the game? Who the devil are you and what are you doing?"
"Can that!" Greyson was examining the string of pearls. "You're under arrest—you and Con Cleek—for the theft of Mrs. Samson Levy's pearls. Want me to put the bracelets on, or will you fellows go quietly? I've half-a-dozen of my men here."
"Mr. Greyson!" The detective looked down at Mary, standing at his elbow. "You've made a mistake. This is Mr. Arthur Anderson, my employer. I'm sure..."
"Then Mr. Arthur Anderson is 'Mr. Y.'" Greyson spoke confidently. "Here's Mrs. Levy's string of pearls."
"String of pearls!" Anderson spoke quickly. "Hullo, Miss Cronig. You know this man? Detective-Sergeant Greyson, eh? Well, Mr. Greyson, if you know a head from a pearl, take a look at those. Why, I've got boxes of them over at my office. Miss Cronig's wearing a string of them now."
Motioning to his men to guard the group, Greyson stepped under the bright light of the arc lamps. A few minutes' testing and he knew the string to be imitation. With a sinking heart ho went back to the group, signalling to his men to release the prisoners.
"Want to search me?" Con Cleek thrust his grinning face towards the detective. "Just because me and my friend have a look at a string of beads! Oh, boy! Why he's got half-a-dozen of 'em in his pocket, now. Get him to show you, Greyson. It'll keep you happy while I see Mary home."
He caught the girl by the arm and dragged her towards a waiting car. On the pavement, Mary stopped.
"No, Con," she protested. "I said Mr. Greyson should see me home. I'm not coming with you."
"The hell you won't!" The crook dropped his veneer of gentility. He caught the girl in his arms and lifted her into the waiting car. Greyson took a stop forward, to find Arthur Anderson before him.
"We've got to settle this little matter of the arrest, Greyson." The man was white with anger.
"Stop that car!" Greyson tried to pass Anderson. The man tried to baulk him, to be met by a straight left that knocked him flat on the pavement. The car was gathering speed. Greyson charged after it. He could see Mary struggling with the crook in the car. Again he shouted, but the driver took no notice. He tugged at his automatic, jammed in his hip-pocket.
Suddenly Mary's head came through the window. For a moment she hung there. Something flashed white through the air and lay glistening on. the street. He ran forward and picked it up. It was the string of beads Mary had worn that night.
He went slowly back to where Anderson stood, guarded by the plainclothes men, puzzling over the string of beads. Something in the feel of them made him wonder. Under the bright light he examined them again. They were pearls; true pearls, covered by some kind of colourless lacquer. That was the reason he had been deceived in the hall. He looked up at Anderson, a light, laugh on his lips.
"Just so, Mr. Anderson—or should I say, 'Mr. Y'? The pearls and 'Mr. Y.' Jove, you nearly fooled me. Well, that's a good night's work, boys. You know what to do with him."
They moved off, surrounding their prisoner. For some moments. Greyson stood alone, watching up the street In the direction the car, bearing Mary, had driven. The wave of elation at his success faded, leaving almost depression. He could only think of the girl he had hoped to take again to the grey-haired, lonely woman in the little house at Randwick.
MARY CRONIG sat on a seat in the Domain. In her lap lay a few coppers, amid which gleamed a solitary silver coin.
Alone again in the world, through the sudden deaths of her foster parents she had struggled for work until only a shilling remained. She had hunted work desperately—to find she was only one of too many. She was hungry, with the voracious appetite of a young animal. The pence she possessed would provide food of sorts, but she craved for stronger, more nourishing meats. Before her eyes was visioned the restaurants she had passed that day; the loaded tables, the well-dressed folk at them.
"What's the matter, lassie?" A drawling voice startled her. "Hard up?"
Mary turned to face the man. Young, well-dressed and self-possessed, his hard light blue eyes betrayed him to be of the predatory class. She had met men like him in past days when she had served behind counters—when she had robbed to avert a worse fate than prison.
"Hard up, no!" she laughed. "I've money to burn. I...I was only wondering which blade of grass I should pick to, cash at my bank."
"Hungry?" The man grinned. "So am I. Let's hunt a bite, eh, what?"
"Pommy?" She rose quickly. The invitation was too good to refuse.
"No. Not that I don't know the Old Land. Say, my name's Sam Creek. What's yours?"
"Mary," she answered.
"Good enough!" The man laughed. "Any particular fancy?"
"Porterhouse, fried onions and chips." She flushed. "Awful, ain't I? Should have said nightingale tongues and a thimble of nectar."
"Menu suits me." He fell into step. "What's your lay, Mary?"
"Trimming mugs." The girl's eyes danced. Again she was a Sydney gamine, living on her wits. "What's yours?"
"Con game." A twirl of his cane. "There's a good lay on."
"English boat due. Full of lads and lassies. Worked the con game, lassie?"
"Pal in with me?"
"And..." Mary paused, significantly. Creek did not reply. He looked down on her, appraisingly.
"You're a good looker, kid."
The girl held up a bag-mirror, and laughed. "What's the ritual, laddie?"
"Oh, hell!" His hard eyes lit. "Why shouldn't we team up? You've got tho goods."
"And you the price?"
"What do you think?"
"Porterhouse, onions and chips?"
The girl shook her head. "You speak next, Mr. Creek."
The man stopped at a restaurant door. Mary walked into the long, cool room, glancing appreciatively at tho snowy napery and gleaming silver. She chose her seat carefully.
"Have a look at that." Creek flipped a well-filled note-case into her lap. "That's the good word, ain't it?"
"Chicken-feed," Mary laughed. She saw the notes were only "pounders."
"Madame Alexandre would burn that on lingerie." Yet her heart beat faster at sight of the money. The man was a crook. Into her poise, her voice, she threw all her allurement. Creek ordered while Mary watched him closely. What was his game? She had met men predatory for girls careless or in trouble. This man spoke their language yet his eyes belied his words. She devoted herself to the food, answering his smooth flow of conversation vaguely.
The note-case lay on the table. Creek made no effort to retrieve it. She must have that money! Why did he leave it there? Had he other—larger—money on him?
"Well?" The crook spoke impatiently.
"Your answer." Mary glanced around the restaurant. Here eyes rested on a man seated nearby. A frown momentarily puckered her brow. Detective Tom Martin was watching her. She had known him in her respectable days. She grinned impishly. She could use him; play him against her crook.
"What's tho matter, lassie?" Creek looked round. "Come on, in or out?" Mary remained silent. Martin had finished hiss meal and was reaching for his hat. A light came in her eyes.
"You...you will be good to me?" She reached Impulsively across the table.
"'Course." The hard light almost faded from Creek's eyes. He made to catch her hand. She evaded his touch. His elbow pushed the note-case to the ground almost at Martin's feet. He picked it up.
"Yours, I believe." He spoke to Mary.
"Oh, thanks." Tho girl looked up, puzzled. "How careless of me. Why, it's Mr. Martin."
"And you, Miss Cronig." Martin shook hands warmly. "Haven't seen you for quite an age."
"I've wanted to see you." There was more than friendliness in the girl's tones. "Mr. Creek—Mr. Martin. Wait a moment, Tom. I'm coming with you. Good-bye, Mr. Creek. Thanks awfully!"
She caught Martin's arm and urged him to the door. For the moment Creek was bewildered, then made to follow them. A waiter with his bill delayed him. He hurried to overtake Mary.
"What's the game, kid?" He asked as he drew alongside.
"Mr. Creek?" Mary registered surprise.
"Your money? What do you mean?" The girl spoke indignantly.
"You've got my note-case and money. Twenty pounds. Want me to call a cop?"
"You..." The girl blazed. "Yes, call your policeman. No. Here's Detective Martin. He will serve your purpose, no doubt."
"What's the matter?" Martin was plainly bewildered. "This girl frisked my money. Twenty pounds in a note-case."
"Your note-case? Why, Mary..." The detective stared at the girl. "I picked up a note-case under your table and gave it to you."
"Yes." The girl nodded. "Going to charge me, Mr. Samuel Creek?"
"Yes. That is..." The man hesitated.
"Very well." Mary's lips were set. "Tom, see this through for me."
"Please, I must be searched...at once."
Taking Creek's arm and pressed rather close to his side, she walked to the station house. Creek and Martin waited while a woman searcher took Mary to another room. They returned and the woman shook her head.
"But where is it?" Creek was bewildered.
"You put a note-case in your bag, Mary." Martin spoke suspiciously. The girl held out her bag immediately. The note-case was not there.
"You owe me an apology, Sam Creek." Suddenly Mary dimpled. "I'll forgive you because of your nice lunch, I'm sorry about your money, but..." With a laugh she seized the crook's arm again. "Come! I think I understand." With a nod to the detective she led Creek to the restaurant.
"I put your note-case there, and knocked it down," she explained, standing by the table. "I must have swept it from the table again when I left—in a hurry."
The money was not under the table or in the restaurant. Chagrined, the crook parted from Mary, not renewing his proposals for a partnership.
In her room, an hour later, Mary emptied the note-case into her bag.
"The swindler!" she exclaimed, laughing. "Twenty pounds, and there's only sixteen here. Well...I suppose I must forgive him—for taking care of the money while I was searched."
SIXTEEN pounds is not a fortune—even in these days of financial depression. Yet Mary Cronig felt herself rich. It was her fortune and she regarded it as promise of a brighter future. If the world contained sixteen pounds then might it not contain sixty—or even six hundred.
Her brain whirled under the magic figures. Clothes! Mary looked into the wobbly mirror. Clothes she must have, for in the half-world she would walk clothes meant much.
But clothes—and sixteen pounds! Yet clothes, and good ones, must be obtained. Sixteen pounds crowded into the mouth of a purse discreetly stuffed with tissue paper makes a great showing. Her clothes were old but dainty; her hat had lost chic.
Mary decided that she had arrived in Sydney from the country—having inherited a fortune. That would be almost true. Sydney loves a country cousin—with money. A fashionable hotel was elected to house Mary long before she drove up to its portals surrounded by suitcases. In her luxurious room she totalled her bills. She had spent forty-three pounds—and had still four notes left. Great is the elasticity of sixteen pounds when aided by the power a famous novelist named "IT."
LORD John Fitzgalbyn caught his breath as the lithe, slim damsel in green chiffon georgette floated into the Winter Garden. Here was one of Australia's loveliest daughters, heiress, no doubt, to broad acres and countless sheep. Sheep meant fleeces and fleeces meant gold. For aeons gold had ceased to shower on the Fitzgalbyn family.
Mary passed through the lounge and, purely by accident, her gossamer handkerchief fell almost at the Fitzgalbyn feet. Lord John was nothing lacking. He brought the dainty trifle to Mary.
"My handkerchief! How good of you!" Her eyes were calmly indifferent.
"A handkerchief may break a—a fleece."
"How stupid of me. A heart, I mean."
Lord John had been occupied in dividing fleeces into green chiffon georgette.
"May I?" He subsided into a chair.
"John. Lord John Fitzgalbyn, Miss—err—"
"Mary Cronig—" she hesitated, then, his reference to fleeces giving her a clue, she added: "...of Yandaloo."
"Not the daughter of Peter Cronig, of Yandaloo? Why, I have an introduction to him. From Admiral Neldon, y'know. Great old fellow. Remember him, Miss Cronig? Commanded on the Australian Station in—er—But you were quite a child then. Told me he and your father were great cobbers."
Mary gurgled. She pictured a sturdy British Admiral and Jim Cronig, wharf labourer and Communist, hobnobbing.
"Why, dad will be pleased!" she gasped.
"Jove, there's Mrs. Entwhistle. Came out on the same boat. Great little lady. Wife of Entwhistle—the Tom Entwhistle, y'know. You must meet her. Excuse me!"
In a few moments Lord John returned, escorting a tall, very fashionably-gowned lady. Mary acknowledged the introduction demurely. As she raised her eyes she saw Sam Cleek watching her. For the moment her heart missed a beat. What would he say—or do? With a toss of her head she beckoned to him.
"Lord John, be careful!" she whispered. "Sam Cleek—my cousin. Next run to ours—horribly rich." She turned to Cleek. "Didn't expect to see me in Sydney, Sam? But I just had to have some new clothes. May I, Mrs. Entwhistle. My cousin, Mr. Cleek, of Bylanby. The next station to my home."
"Lord John Fitzgalbyn—Mr. Sam Cleek." Sam was puzzled at her reception of him, but his wits were keen. He guessed Mary was playing some game. Well, he would join in on her invitation until...He had an account to settle with the little lady.
"Beastly bore these Australian notes—and so dirty." Lord John waxed confidential to his new acquaintances. "Went in a shop today and, believe me, I had to put on my gloves before I dare handle the notes they gave me. Now, our Bank of England notes—always clean—"
"I haven't changed my English money yet," interrupted Mrs. Entwhistle. "How do I do it, Mr.—er—Cleek?"
"But your letter of credit, dear lady?" expostulated Lord John.
"Haven't one," The Englishwoman laughed. "Tom will bring his next boat. I have my money in nice, new, crisp, notes. Four hundred pounds."
She opened her vanity bag and showed a comfortable wad of English notes.
"Haven't changed mine, either." Lord John laughed. "But I have only a couple of hundred odd on me."
He opened a wallet and scattered Bank of England notes over the table.
"For goodness sake!" Mary exclaimed. "Put them away! Don't you know these hotels are filled with crooks?"
"Well, where do we change our money, Mr. Cleek." Mrs. Entwhistle turned to the confidence man. "Suppose you know your banknotes are at a premium out here?"
Cleek spoke diffidently. "You can change them for Australian notes at the Commonwealth Bank. Don't forget you should get about twenty-two or twenty-three shillings for each English pound. That's their idea of the rate of exchange; or—"
"Or, what?" Lord John Interjected as the crook paused. "Let me explain." Cleek leaned forward, confidentially. "The Commonwealth Bank will give you about twenty-two shillings, for each English pound. But you can get more than that."
"How?" asked Mrs. Entwhistle, eagerly.
"There are men who buy English banknotes. In England an Australian pound note is only worth fifteen or sixteen shillings. Understand?"
The new arrivals nodded.
"These men have big interests in England. It pays them to buy English notes in Australia at better than Commonwealth Bank exchange rates. They send them to England to pay their commitments there."
"Cute!" Lord John nodded. "Suppose you know these people well?"
"Very well. I will introduce you to them tomorrow."
"Good. I'll have to get change soon. Too late for the bank to-day, I suppose?"
"Yes." Cleek hesitated. "If you're pressed I can let you have a few pounds—but at Commonwealth Bank exchange rates, y'know."
"But I want some Australian money today," Mrs. Entwhistle almost wailed.
Mary started, suddenly. Someone had kicked her shin. She caught Cleek's eyes.
"I can let you have some, Mrs. Entwhistle, if you will come up to my room," she said.
"How dear of you!" The lady gushed. "I must accept if I lose by it. There's the darlingest frock you ever saw in a shop just opposite here. I tremble in case anyone gets there before me. Can you spare me ten pounds?"
Under the table eleven single notes slid Into Mary's hand. She nodded to Mrs. Entwhistle—and rose.
IN her room Mary accepted a ten-pound Bank of England note for eleven Australian pound notes. When Mrs. Entwhistle had departed on her shopping excursion, gallantly escorted by Lord John, Mary sought Cleek in the Winter Garden. She handed him the English banknote.
For some minutes he fingered it in silence, then wrote two words across the face and returned it to Mary. She glanced at it and gasped; then, without a word, tucked it into her bag.
"Thanks for the intros, Mary," Cleek laughed. "Congrats. Couldn't have done better myself. See you tomorrow."
Mary waited for Mrs. Entwhistle's return. She followed the jubilant lady to her room and duly admired the purchase.
"Have you known Lord John long, Mrs. Entwhistle?" she asked carelessly.
"My dear! All my life. We're relations, you know!"
"Relations and—partners!" Mary laughed. "He carries the—the notes and you pass them."
"What?" The Englishwoman gasped. "My dear girl, what do you mean?"
"Exactly what I have said." Mary spoke grimly. "Here is the banknote you passed on me. I guess you would like to buy it back—with my knowledge."
"My dear, of course. I thought—"
"The note is valuable." Mary's tones were significant. "Very—very, valuable."
"Ten pounds, I think," Mrs. Entwhistle spoke, stiffly.
"Three hundred pounds." Mary corrected. She placed her finger against the words Cleek had written on the banknote. "Counterfeit. The police take a serious view of that offence in this country—especially when committed by new arrivals."
Mrs. Entwhistle protested, but Mary was adamant. She knew Lord John had lied to her. She knew the woman and man were confederates; that if she had really been the little rich country girl she had pretended to be they would have looted her without mercy.
THE next morning Mary opened her first checking account with thirty crisp Bank of England notes for ten pounds each. One note she retained and over it held a whispered conference with the teller.
Some time later she met Sam Cleek in the Winter Garden.
"Well?" he asked.
"You were mistaken, Sam." Mary laughed gently. "That banknote was perfectly good."
"What happened?" The man's lips set angrily. "You've got eleven pounds of mine."
"And for it I give you this English banknote." The girl placed it gently on his knee. "Thanks awfully for the accommodation, Sam."
"You didn't take the dame down?" The crook spoke incredulously.
"I fined her—satisfactorily." Mary's eyes became dreamy. "You see, Sam, they thought I was the innocent daughter of a rich squatter and—and coveted my fleece. I—I merely protected myself."
She rose and sauntered to the elevator. As the door closed on her she smiled and waved gaily to the astounded crook.
'Woolly' is a slang term applied to fettlers on the Australian Transcontinental Railway
THE midsummer sun beat down remorselessly on the Nullarbor Plain, covering the bare earth with a haze that quivered unceasingly. There was not a tree to be seen, and the distant horizon encircled the earth as the edge of a vast saucer. Here and there were stunted saltbushes, withered and gaunt, rising only a few inches from the soil. They were bushes in name only, resembling more bundles of dried twigs set on end.
Across the, centre of the greal circle ran the iron road of the Transcontinental Railway, the tie that binds East and West Australia. At intervals along the railway were the slender iron columns bearing on crosspieces half-a-dozen telegraph lines. They were the only things that stood definitely above this plain of desolation. So far as eye could see there was no living thing. There was no vegetation, not a blade of grass to keep life in a kangaroo, had one ventured so far from the bushlands.
On the western horizon appeared a tiny speck. As it advanced it came to resemble a dog trotting along the fettlers' track. When it had come nearer it proved to be a man. He carried no swag, no 'nap' of any kind. His clothes, torn and dusty, had been once a blue suit of fashionable cut, now changed by dust, rain, and sun to a reddish-brown in patches. One hand rested on a beer- bottle carried in a side pocket; the other he continually raised to mop the perspiration from his face with a dirty handkerchief.
Facing a mile-sign attached to one of the telegraph posts he halted and, after a moment's hesitation, sat down on a large block of limestone beside the track. For a time he shifted uneasily in his sun-heated seat, and then, as it became cooler, crossed his legs and drew from his pocket a battered pipe. Another search brought a small plug of tobacco. Carefully husbanding the flame of one of his two remaining matches, he sucked in the fragrant smoke with a sigh of satisfaction.
'Four hundred miles of straight railroad, without a curve.' He spoke aloud as if repeating a lesson. 'Lord! And they're proud of it! What's there to be proud of? Building railroads on a plain as flat as the bottom of a frying-pan. A frying-pan! That's just what this cursed plain is. And the heat—hell's cool to it!'
He looked around him moodily, and away back on the track over which he had come, his eyes fixed, as if counting the monotonous line of telegraph posts that alone broke the skyline. Unthinkingly, he drew the bottle from his pocket and raised it lo his lips. Then without drinking he held it up. 'More than half gone,' he said, with a reckless laugh. 'Half the water gone, and not halfway to O'Neill. Billy, boy, the drinks are off.'
There was a soft rustle in the air above. The man looked up, and then sprang to his feet, quivering with rage.
'Curse you!' He shook his fist angrily at a carrion crow which had alighted on an adjacent telegraph post. 'Curse you ! What are you following me for? Are you waiting for me to fall down and die, for you to pick out my eyes, to wrench the flesh from my bones! Ugh! the thought makes me ill. But I'll do you yet. Forward—forward! I must go forward.'
He staggered to his feet and plodded down the trail. The crow watched him. perched motionless on the post, until the man had travelled about fifty yards, and then, flying past him, perched on a pole some yards ahead. There it waited until the man had passed, and then flew on again. Hour after hour the bird silently attended the man. Sometimes the man looked up at the swish of wings above him and swore under his breath; yet he never ceased his dogged plod on towards the distant camp.
SLOWLY the sun declined towards the horizon, and it beat remorselessly on the back of the traveller. The man strode on mechanically, intent on the track ahead. As he walked he counted the posts he passed. At each mile he took a small mouthful of water from the bottle. He did not swallow it, but held it in his mouth, turning it over and over with his tongue, until, imperceptibly, he absorbed the liquid. Presently he held the bottle up. Only a bare half-inch of water remained at the bottom of the bottle.
'Another drink,' he muttered grimly. 'Drink! God! I could swallow a bottleful! A bottleful! A tank would not quench my burning throat.'
Without lowering the bottle he looked ahead to where the crow perched, awaiting him. Then, recklessly, he raised the bottle lo his lips and drank eagerly, holding the bottle to his mouth until the last drops of the tepid liquid had been drained from it.
'A health to you, you damned bird!' He laughed wildly. 'A health to you and to me! Now we are equal. Ten milest to go through the fires of hell! But I'll beat you—I know it! I cannot fail, whatever the odds against me.'
A new strength came to him, and he strode on boldly. As he passed the watching bird he waved his hat to it.
'Come on, you crow—come on! I'll beat you yet. I'll race you for my life.'
He laughed again as he went swiftly down the track. The spurt lasted for about half a mile, and then he fell into the old slouch that had brought him so many weary miles across the continent.
AS the day waned the heat grew more oppressive. Now his momentary exhilaration had passed, the traveller bitterly regretted the water he had squandered. His mouth was parched, and his tongue swelled until it filled his mouth. Quickly the tortures of thirst crept to his throat and through his body. His head throbbed: it was an effort to hold it upright. The sun concentrated on his back and darted a multitude of shooting pains, like pricks of needles, into his spine. It was an effort to move his feet, and his one overwhelming desire was to get away from the railway—somewhere out on the plain, and lie in the shade of a leafy tree.
He knew it was madness to leave those twin rails that formed the only trail across the Nullabor. He remembered tales he had heard in many railway camps of those who had wandered from this one safe guide, and had later been found, so peaceful and calm that it was almost impossible to believe they had passed through the purgatory of thirst before death brought peace.
There was something on the plan. Struggling on, he presently made out the details of a camp. It was a camp; yet reason told him there was no camp within many miles. Yet he could see it quite plainly. Surely it was but a figment of his disordered brain. But if not—if his eyes saw true! If there he could find water and rest!
As he drew nearer to the unknown camp the details grew plainer. He could distinguish the water-tanks set beside the railway lines. There was the trolly shed; there were the huts of the men, mostly of bags and canvas, with one of flattened kerosene tins. But—where were the men?
The truth struck him as a blow. This was one of the abandoned camps, cut out when the Commonwealth government replaced the hand-propelled trollies with motor-driven vehicles that would carry men and equipment from end to end of the thirty-mile sections well under the hour. On his road he had passed many abandoned camps, some more dilapidated than this, some a mere collection of bare poles, from which the sudden gales that sweep the Nullabor had torn the rotting cloth. The tank remained, however. Did it contain water?
Hope rose in his breast; yet cold reason told him there was none. At other deserted camps he had passed their had been tanks, but never had he found one containing water. Either the fettlers had drained them to prevent corrosion, or the few natives who ventured on the plain had taken what water had been left when the camp was abandoned. As he drew near he gave way to despair. The camp was deserted.
He looked curiously at the ruined huts. It had been a bachelors' camp, he thought. There was no signs that women had lived here. The tank stood upright in its place, and as he passed he lashed out viciously at it with his heel. Then he stopped suddenly. The iron had not rung hollow: there was something in it. Could it be water? The lid was on, and weighted down with heavy stones. With sudden risen hopes he wrenched it off.
There was water—nearly a foot of it at the bottom of the tank. Was it drinkable? He looked around for some utensil with which to raise it. There was nothing he could use. He tried to throw the tank on its side, knowing he would lose most of the precious contents, but hoping enough, would remain to slake, his thirst. His strength had left, him: he could not move it.
His hand touched the empty bottle in his pockel. If he could lower it into the water he could drink and fill it to carry with him on the five-mile tramp before him. He tried to reach down. His greatest stretch left him holding the bottle at least a foot above the coveted fluid. He searched his pockets for string, and found none.
Then he thought of his bootlaces. In a moment he had them free and knotted together. His handkerchief attached to this line allowed the bottle to float easily on the water. A little manoeuvring and the mouth of Ihe bottle dipped below Ihe surface. His heart leapt as he heard the water gurgle in. Cautiously he pulled up his improvised line with its precious burden. A quick taste to test if it was pure, and then a long satisfying drink. Again and again he filled the bottle, pouring it over nis head and shoulders until his clothes and body were saturated. Then another long drink; and he sat down in the scant shade of the tank, refreshed and almost contented.
About an hour later the wanderer stirred. The sun was well down on the horizon, but the heat had not diminished. He felt refreshed and vigorous, and strode along the track at a good pace. Before him lay a low rise that cut off the view of the monotonous lines of iron that had all day stretched out in the distance. Whistling as he went, he breasted the rise, turning carelessly when halfway to shout cheerily at the crow, still patiently attending him.
Over the crest of the hill he looked again on the unvarying Nullabor view. Away eastward the Transcontinental Railway stretched its iron limbs. To the north and south were only fo be seen the bare plain, with its miniature dried saltbush. Quickly the man's eyes followed the railway, seeking the few dilapidated huts that marked the 'station' of O'Neill.
He soon found it, a toy village in the dislance. Quickening his pace, he passed down the small incline to the shelter and refreshment never refused to the traveller on the plain.
IT was a Sunday evening, and the fettlers' gang had gathered outside the trolly-house for the after-tea smoke. There were four men—Tom Joyce, the ganger, and his crew. Topics are few on the plain, and after some casual remarks the group smoked in silence. The sun was just dipping behind the crest of the low rise in the west when one of the men uttered a word of surprise and pointed along the track. The other men looked up.
Just over the top of the rise, sharply outlined by the strong sun rays, appeared the form of a man.
'Say, Tom,' drawled the man, 'this 'ere cove seems in a terrible hurry. 'E's a smart 'un to 'ave 'it it from Mitchell station at that gait. Why, it's a thirty-two-mile stretch.'
Joyce nodded, and pulled at his pipe without speaking. The other men had shifted their positions, so that they could watch the progress of the stranger.
'Blimey!' exclaimed another of the crew, ''e's moving a fair bat! I'd be dead meat to keep up with 'im—an' in this 'eat, too.'
The traveller had now come within hailing distance of the camp, and the gang stood up to welcome him.
'Good lor'!' exclaimed Joyce excitedly, catching the man next to him by the arm. 'Abe, who's he remind you of?'
The man looked startled: then a great awe came into his eyes. 'It's Bill—Bill Morris!' he whispered. But—but—Bill's—'
'Hush!' The ganger's fingers closed like a vice on the man's arm. The man had now come up to the group.
For an instant his eyes swept the men, and then he singled out Joyce. 'You're Joyce—Tom Joyce, the ganger,' he said abruptly, holding out his hand. 'Can you give me food and shelter for the night? I've money and will pay―'
'Keep your money, mate,' answered Joyce, taking the proffered hand. 'Wot we've got, you're heartily welcome to. Come to my ltnt, and I'll get, you some crib.'
The stranger ate sparingly, but drank deeply of the large billy of tea Joyce brewed. When he had satisfed his appetite the stranger filled his pipe from the plug thrust towards him by the ganger. For some minutes the man smoked in silence.
'The men outside—are they all your gang?' The stranger asked the question abruptly.
Again there was a short silence.
'I was told the O'Neill gang consisted of four men and a ganger,' continued the stranger. He made the statement in the tone of a question.
'That is so,' replied Joyce. He rather resented the abruptness of the stranger's tone, and determined not to volunteer information without some reason.
'There are only three men outside?'
'Have you not another man?'
The man rose from his seat and walked agitatedly up and down the tiny tent. At length he came back to his seat opposite Joyce.
'Friend,' said the stranger, with suppressed emotion, 'you are wondering why I ask these questions. It is not from idle curiosity, but because I have reason to believe that in this camp I will reach the end of a search that has led me half-way across this continent.'
There was again silence. Joyce continued to smoke, but the stranger put down his pipe and leaned forward, his hands on the table.
'I will tell you my story, Joyce. Perhaps then you will help me, for God knows I need help badly.' He paused, and looked past Joyce out on to the barrenness of the Nullarbor. 'I came here from Fremantle, walking from camp to camp in the steps of a man I have to find. Yes, I have to find him—I must. On him depends my life, my happiness, my all.'
The man paused, fighting his emotion. 'I must, go back some months. It happened that in a small town in Western Australia I met a young lady. I fell in love with her, and she loved me. I thought life had nothing more to offer me. Life was a paradise.'
Joyce nodded abruptly. In his life a woman had played a part and on the Nullabor one does not forget—one remembers.
'Sometimes I looked back on the years in which I had wandered alone over the face of the world and wondered at my loneliness. But enough of that!
'Myra had grown up in close association with the son of intimate friends of her parents. There was some intangible understanding that when he was in a position to keep a wife they were to he married. My advent put an end to that.
'This youth bore me a grudge. I could laugh at that, as I laughed at his inquiries into my past when I heard of them. I had nothing to conceal; there was nothing of which I need be ashamed.
'Chance placed a weapon against me in his hands. In Perth lived a man with the same name as myself. He was not criminal— only weak, and prone to take the easy way out of his difficulties. My enemy heard of this man, and traced his history. He found this man had deserted his wife in England. More, he learned this man had recently disappeared from Perth. It was easy to couple his history on to mine. Rumour, all too ready to repeat evil, was started; perverted facts were fed to the gossips of the district.
'I had laughed when first the tales were brought to me. Later, when I found I had to combat and refute these lies, their volume was too great. Then so-called proof was produced. Myra and her parents were convinced of my baseness. I was condemned unheard.
'Well, I fought, almost despairingly. I traced the rumours In their source. Then I discovered the identity of my namesake. Could I produce him, I should triumph over my enemies. I determined to follow him, even round the world, and bring him back, a living witness in my truth.
'From Perth In Kalgoorlie I traced my namesake, and on the way I made a fresh discovery. Not only did this man bear my name, but in figure and face he had a strong resemblance to me. At Kalgoolie I learned he had become a fettler on the Transcontinental Railway. I followed, walking from camp to camp, hoping, praying to soon meet him face to face. At Mitchell I learned he worked at O'Neill.'
The stranger's voice had deepened, had become more powerful as he drew to the end of his story. As he spoke the concluding words he rose to his feet.
'I was told he was at O'Neill,' he repeated. 'Joyce, where is William Morris, the fourth man of your gang?'
THE ganger sat silent for a minute: then he rose to bis feet and beckoned the stranger to follow him. He led the way out of the camp, on to the plain, followed by the stranger. The men of the gang, curious at the action of their ganger, followed at a little distance.
About a hundred yards from the. camp the ganger stopped before a small enclosure set about with poles. A mound rose in the centre, and at one end stood a cross of rough wood. Resting his hand on the paling, Joyce turned to the stranger.
'William Morris,'' he said in a strange, resonant voice, 'here lies your namesake, William Morris!'
The stranger leaned forward, gazing at the mound with incredulous eyes.
'Dead!' he whispered. 'I—I'll not believe it. No, no; it cannot—it must not—be true!'
His body shook with the emotion he could not restrain as he turned, almost pleadingly to the ganger. Joyce bowed his head and, turning, walked some paces towards the camp. There he waited for the stranger.
The living Morris stood beside the grave of his dead namesake, the man who had unwittingly injured him. For a long time he remained motionless. His mission had failed at the moment he had anticipated success. The hopes that had sustained him over many weary miles of bush and desert had flown, and with those hopes all the happiness he had come to know and cherish.
The swift twilight had passed, and the star-spangled sky threw a faint light on the Nullabor and the waiting men.
PRESENTLY Morris moved slowly from the graveside. A few steps, and he hesitated; then, turning eastward, he plodded out into the night, unheeding the call of the ganger. As he passed from sight a winged bird passed over the heads of the watching group and followed the stranger into the desert darkness.
NOVELIST WRITES STORY AROUND THE
CONDON MURDER FOR "SMITH'S WEEKLY"
WHAT AIDAN DE BRUNE IMAGINES COULD HAVE HAPPENED
WRITER OF MYSTERY STORIES ADVANCES A NOVEL IDEA
IF MONEYLENDER HAD NOT THROWN UP
GUARD HE MIGHT HAVE LIVED, SAYS DE BRUNE
DESPITE the most searching interrogations of hundreds ot the murdered money-lender's clients, and the most painstaking following up of every clue known to them, the Sydney police are still at a loss to lay their hands on the murderer.
The crime was committed in an upstairs room at 17A Pitt Street, Sydney, on August 11, 1927 between the hours of 1 and 2. Harry Edwards, one of Condon's clients, was waiting outside the room when a man hurried out, closed the door, and ran down the stairs.
Suspicious that something was amiss, Edwards called a policeman. Together they peered into the room through a fanlight and saw Condon huddled in a corner on the floor. When the door was opened, it was discovered that Condon had been battered to death with a shingling tomahawk, though the murderer had taken away the weapon with him.
At first it appeared no money had been stolen, but later £60 was found to be missing. Girls in a neighbouring workroom had heard sounds of a scuffle, but nothing to suggest that an awful crime was being perpetrated within a few feet of them.
Such in outline is the latest of Sydney's unsolved murder mysteries.
"Smith's" has commissioned Aidan de Brune to propound a theory consonant with possibility. Mr. de Brune is well qualified for the task. He has been for years a student of crime, both as a working journalist and as an author, with a reputation now extending far beyond the Commonwealth.
By a strange coincidence, his mystery story "The Dagger and the Cord" commenced serial publication in the Sydney Guardian a few days before the slaying of Condon. And de Brune laid the scene of the murder which forms the central theme of his story within a stone's throw of the room in which the moneylender was done to death!
The brilliant imaginative reconstruction of the Condon crime is, of course, fiction. The novelist has selected names at random, and these and his story are entirely fictitious.
For instance—take the surroundings and Condon's customs of business. They entirely preclude any theory of premeditation. The crime, says de Brune, cannot be other than of sudden passion. Thus the introduction of the murder weapon must be simple.
Is there a simpler way, or one more likely to throw Condon off his guard, than the tomahawk being introduced into the office as an ordinary parcel?
Take the second police theory—that the murderer got his victim into position by paying off a P.N.[*] Here are two faults. First, if the murderer had the money to settle his indebtedness, then why the murder after the money passed?
Again, receipts are not given for discharged P.N.'s. The cancelled note is its own receipt.
"And right through," de Brune argues, "they're looking for things extraordinary, and neglecting the simple things."
[* P.N. Promissory Note. — Ed.]
"'LO, TOM! How's the cottage going?"
"Fine!" The tall, young fellow standing on the steps of the big block of offices turned with a cheerful grin towards his friend. "Going to start shingling, Saturday. You'd better run down and give a hand. Teach you. something."
"Can't. Booked up!" The answer came muffled from the interior hall.
Tom looked hastily at his watch. He had much to do during the remaining fifty minutes of his lunch-hour. First, there was the usual brief meal to be scrambled for at the nearby tea-shop. Then he wanted to go to a tool-maker's and choose a shingling-tomahawk. Lastly...
He had received a letter from David Condon that morning asking him to call on him as soon as possible. The note was abrupt, and Tom frowned as he re-read it. Perhaps it was the man's manner. At his office he was cold and abrupt...
Yet a good fellow! All the boys at the office swore by David Condon. Many a man he had helped out of a difficult hole by the loan of a few pounds—and if he did charge stiffly for the accommodation, well, they were only petty clerks in public offices with only a few quid in each pay envelope, and no proper security.
Tom realised that he must owe David Condon quite a few pounds by this time. It had commenced soon after he took up that sixty-feet frontage block at ____. He had intended to fence it and let it lie idle until he had completed the payments on it. One day, in the future, he would build—a home for the one girl, and himself.
Someone had told him of David Condon, and what a good sort he was. Tom had jibbed, at first. He did not like the term "money-lender." He had heard that dealings with those men always ended disastrously.
His friend had laughed, boisterously, and hauled him down to Sutton Chambers, at the end of Pitt Street, where in a bare upper chamber sat David Condon. He had not looked like a money-lender—he had not talked like one.
Under persuasion from the two men he had told his tale. How he had bought the block of land with the ultimate hope of creating on it the home of dreams, wherein would live the star-eyed girl...
But the money-lender was practical He demanded facts. How much had the land cost? How much had Tom paid off it? What sort of a house did Tom intend to build? What...?
The questions awoke Tom's dormant ambitions. Almost to his surprise he found his plans springing to life, complete in detail. Condon sat and nodded gravely. When Tom finished he reduced the problem to pounds, shillings, and pence. The land would cost so much; timber, cement, and other building materials, so much. Tom, his own builder during his week-ends, would prove a big saving factor on the costs.
Condon offered to finance the building of the house. He would purchase the material as Tom required it, and have it sent down to the land. Tom, on his part, engaged to give all his spare time to the work—and sign P.N.'s for the purchases. Later, when the house was built, or all the material purchased, they would work out terms of repayment. Even then, the old money-lender was able to show estimated figures to prove that the repayments for the building loans would be well under the rental value of such a house.
It was a marvellous offer and Tom's hand shook as he signed the agreement and made out his first requisition for building material.
It was still more wonderful when he and Mary found the cement and timber on the ground—and he plotted and built the first cement piles for their own home. Week by week the work had steadily progressed. The walls were up, and the cement-asbestos outer sheetings in place. The roof was complete—only lacking the shingles he and Mary had decided to use in the place of the usual sheet iron. When they went out that Saturday they would find the shingles stacked ready to hand. There would be over two squares. Could he place them all that week-end?
It was to sign the P.N.'s for the shingles that David Condon had sent for him. Yes, he would go down to the old man, and on the way he would purchase the shingling tomahawk. He would just have time—and to get back by half-past one.
The seed merchant occupying most of the entrance hall of Sutton Chambers was doing a good business as Tom pushed through the small crowd and ran up the stairs to David Condon's offices. The money-lender's door was ajar, and Tom listened before knocking. He could hear the murmur of voices in the room. Condon's door was rarely shut during his hours of business. His clients knocked and, unless bidden to enter, waited. Tom waited, fuming Impatiently up and down the narrow passage. At length a man came out of the office and ran down the stairs.
Tom entered the office, pushing the door shut.
"Hullo, Tom!" The money-lender looked up from some notes he was making. "What have you got there?"
For the moment the clerk looked at the paper-wrapped parcel he was carrying, almost in surprise. Then he laughed.
"A shingling tomahawk, David. Ever seen one? Three tools, and more, in one, y'know. Mighty convenient when one's scrambling on the slopes of a roof." He placed the tool on the desk before where he sat. "What do you want me for, David? I'm due back at the half hour."
"Thought we might get this litter of paper in something like order."
Condon took, a small pile of P.N.'s from under a broken hammer head. "You've had a lot of stuff, y'know, Tom."
"S'pose so. What does it work out to, David? Over a hundred?"
"With the asbestos lining and the doors and windows? Yes, a lot more."
"Well, it shouldn't." The clerk's chin jutted out, determinedly. "Y'know. We estimated on about a hundred and twenty, and I've kept well within my estimate of material."
"You forget you've been working on bills, Tom. Some of 'em ran out and had to be renewed."
"But you. agreed to purchase the material, and when we knew the exact cost we were, to work out a system of repayments, according to the contract."
"Yes." Condon paused for a moment. "But I didn't agree to pay cash for your purchases. All I agreed to do was to get you the credit. Well, I did. I take up all those bills when you've signed up straight with me."
"You sign this bill, covering all the money I've advanced for you on materials, etc. That. will complete the agreement we signed at the first instance, and then everything, will be In order."
Tom drew the bill towards, him and glanced at the figures. Two hundred and thirty-nine pounds! Surely he had never purchased that amount of material. He had been careless, ordering what he thought necessary. But—two hundred and thirty-nine pounds! He'd swear there was some mistake! There was not more than a hundred, or a hundred and twenty pounds' worth of material built into the house, or lying about the land!
"What's this, Condon?" The man's eye blazed across the table at the money-lender. "I don't owe this!"
"It's all there, Tom." The eyes of the money-lender tried to meet those of the angry man. "It looks a lot, but when it's divided into instalments."
"Two hundred and thirty-nine pounds, and that at seven per cent, per annum for two years. That's the agreement, Condon, Isn't it? Well, that and the land repayments will mean well over £3 a week—and I'm getting under six! I'll not pay it!"
He got up from his chair and strode angrily up and down the room. Condon crouched back in his chair, behind his desk. He was accustomed to outbursts of rage from a few clients of a certain excitable type. Let them rage and storm. In time they became calm again, and—reasonable.
"It's robbery! Damned theft!" The clerk halted, facing the money-lender across the desk. "I'll not sign another thing!"
"The material's mine, until I release it to you," suggested the moneylender in quiet, even tones.
"The land's mine!" There was almost a note of triumph in Tom's voice. "Take your stuff off my ground—and be damned to you!"
"You forget, Tom." The money-lender selected a document from the small pile under his hand and spread it open on the desk. "There's your transfer of your interest in the land to secure my rights to the building erected on the land. Now, Tom, be sensible and sign. I'm not a hard man and if you can show me the repayments are―"
His eyes dropped and he fell silent under the hot anger glowering from the face of the clerk. Tom was striving to still the merciless drumming in his head—to face facts, and choose the best course. He had lost his land and his house! Through his carelessness he had allowed himself to be involved in such a mass of debts and agreements that he might never be able to free himself. He could sign this bill and complete the building of his house. Mary and he could complete their long discussed plans. They could marry and go and live In that house. But it would not be their home—it would be Condon's house and more than half of each pay-envelope would have to go to him.
A gust of anger swept the clerk. His hot fingers clenched inwards on the articles on the table. He wanted to take that face, smiling at him across the table, and tear it apart, feature from feature.
"There's nothing to get angry about, Tom!" The smooth voice seemed to come from a long distance off. "You're―"
Nothing to be angry about! Only his life and Mary's trampled on, and destroyed their plans for a dream home—just one little corner of Paradise on earth to belong to them alone―defaced and despoiled. Again his muscles tensed; again he felt the hard substance clutched against his right palm. He looked down. It was the shingling-tomahawk, swathed in its wrappings of shiny brown paper—yet the handle nestled against his palm as if he had used the tool for months.
"You're going to be sensible, Tom?" The old man was almost pleading. "You got engrossed in your work, and didn't think. Perhaps I should have warned you...."
He hadn't thought—but he was thinking now! Even if he signed this bill he might lose his land and house. He might lose Mary! He could not expect the girl to wait for ever—or until he had broken through the web of debt in which this man had involved him. He might even take the land and the house. Could he also saddle him with this enormous debt? Tom began to feel that he could—and would.
In sudden anger he turned to face the money lender. A look of deep fear came on the man's face, and he flung up his left hand, as if to ward off a blow. Tom's right hand had shot forward against that hated face. He felt the jerk of the impact of the blow—and then he hit out again, in a mad frenzy of fear and hatred.
Condon was queerly huddled in the corner of his chair. His left temple was exposed and over the greyness of the close-cropped hair were two ghastly, gaping, red wounds, through which the thick blood welled incessantly. Tom looked down at his right hand. He still held the shingling tomahawk, but now the blade-edge gleamed ruddily through the torn paper.
A groan from the wounded man and Tom sprang forward, sweeping the light desk aside. Condon strove to lift himself on his chair and cry out, but again the keen-edged blade fell, driving him down into oblivion.
He must not call out!
Tom flung a quick glance towards the door. It was fastened; no one could get in. He turned again to the money-lender. He had fallen from the chair to the floor and lay, the limbs squirming and scuffling over the bare boards.
Tom bent over his victim. He was quite cool and collected. He realised what he had done, and felt no remorse. Dully he realised that would come later. For the present he must use every nerve in the fight for his own life—to get away unseen and unknown from that awful room.
The dying man rolled over and strove to sit up. Tom looked wildly around him. He must stop him groaning. That would rouse the inmates of the house. There were girls working in a room along the passage. They would become inquisitive, and perhaps start to investigate.
A towel over a chair-back caught his eyes. In a. moment he had it twisted over the dying man's head, stifling his low cries and moans. He seemed to be kneeling there for hours, holding the twisted towel over the man's lips. Would he never die? The room seemed filled with an uproar of sound, over which rose the stertorous breathing of the dying man. Would he never die!
Again a gust of frenzied fear and rage swept over the man. He believed he could hear voices whispering outside the door—voices accusing him of the murder of the old money-lender—voices naming him a new Cain, accursed!
He looked around him, hopelessly. Almost under his hand lay the shingling tomahawk. He changed the towel-ends to his left hand and picked up the blood-stained weapon. He closed his eyes as he drove down the last blows that separated life from the tortured flesh.
He was free—from That. A moment's hesitation and he rose from beside his victim. He felt no compunction—no remorse. All he knew was that he must get away—silently, and without being seen. Someone knocked at the door—a series of staccato blows on the frosted glass panel of the door! For the moment the man's heart ceased to beat. Who was there? Why had they knocked?
Then he laughed, silently. It was the custom to knock on Condon's door. If he were disengaged and the door closed, he would open it. If not, the caller waited.
Well, Condon was engaged! Tom's face broke into a mirthless grin as he stood facing the door. But, when he went out the man who had knocked would enter—to that! First, he must leave no clue in the room that would lead to him.. There was that little pile of P.N.'s. Sorting them carefully. Tom thrust them into his pocket. Then he turned to the agreement and the bill. These too, he stuffed into a pocket.
For a full minute he stood in the centre of the room, looking around him. Had he left anything to identify him with the crime? The tomahawk, still in its blood-stained paper wrappings, depended from his belt at his back, concealed by the looseness of his open jacket. There was only one thing more. He caught up the receipt book from the desk and slipped it in his pocket. The police must hunt to find who had visited Condon that day.
He crouched against the door, listening for noises in the passage. He could no longer hear the half-giggling whisperings of the girls. No doubt they, had gone back to their work—but the man who had knocked at the door remained. He could hear his impatient pacings on the bare boards. A moment's hesitation and Tom flung open the door and walked out into the corridor. The waiting man immediately advanced towards the door. Tom pulled It shut behind him.
"Condon in?" asked the man.
"He's there. Engaged for the moment, though." Tom had his handkerchief to his face, and spoke through the folds.
He passed the man and ran down the stairs to the street. As he pushed through the seed-merchant's customers he looked at his watch. A quarter to two! Had but a bare 30 minutes elapsed since he had entered those doors? He had lived a lifetime in those scant, swift minutes.
For some, time he walked swiftly up Pitt Street, hardly caring or knowing where he went. Then he remembered his office. He was due back there at one-thirty, and now the clocks were chiming the hour of two. Obedient to the custom of years, he turned back to the huge block of buildings where he spent most of his waking hours.
Something irked his forehead. He took oft his hat and rubbed it with his handkerchief. Something seemed to be clinging there—something he could not shift. Puzzled, he walked on a few steps until he came to a shop displaying long mirrors. There was nothing on his forehead; yet, he could still feel it there... He must get away by himself, and think.
It was a brand on his forehead—the brand burned in the flesh of him who slew brother man. But why on him? He had not intended to kill Condon! If the man had not looked at him with that queer questioning look in his eyes; if he had not thrown his arm up in that involuntary guard against some imaginary blow—if his own hand had not been gripping the handle of that shingling tomahawk. Condon was dead, and he was his murderer. Yet he had had no thought of murder at any time. Some power without himself had driven him to destruction.
Condon was dead! The man with whom his home and happiness had been involved was dead, and would be proclaimed the victim of a brutal murder. He, the murderer, must go forth, ever a hunted fugitive. He raised his arms to the sunlit blue of the skies over the city streets—and groaned.
"THE science of detection, my dear Rider, is..."
The telephone bell interrupted. Inspector Rider rose from the chair on which he had been lounging and went to the instrument; he lifted the receiver and spoke his name. Slowly the smile left his lips and wonder dawned in his eyes. For minutes he listened, then turned to his companion.
"Martin T. Dreed is dead—murdered In a Chinese apartment." He turned quickly to the instrument. "What's that?"
Dr. Colven betrayed no signs of astonishment. His eyebrows lifted slightly and the short legs that barely reached the carpet tapped impatiently. A smile came on the full, red lips, set in the small, round face.
Rider was listening intently, a puzzled expression succeeding the wonder that had first flooded his face. At length, with a muttered "All right; I'll come at once," he replaced the receiver and faced the American.
"So...Martin T. Dreed is dead." Arnold Colven, one of the leading operators of the U.S. Federal Secret Service, spoke gently.
Rider nodded. " 'Fraid this is going to put an end to our quiet evening, doctor. I'm sorry, but..."
"You have been called to duty." The long, thin fingers tapped gently on the arm of the chair. "Do you know, Rider, I almost expected this to happen." He watched the Inspector, moving restlessly about the room. "Sit down, my friend. There is much to consider before we can take action."
"Superintendent Vining has asked me to go to Campbell Street at once," Rider explained. "Loring has the case, but..."
"Sergeant Loring is a good man." Dr. Colven nodded.
"Loring has arrested Yo Chai for the murder and Chai refuses to speak—or make any statement—except to me."
"And...the evidence..." The little man nodded sagely.
"I'm afraid Loring's made a mistake." Rider, seated on the edge of the desk, frowned thoughtfully. "It's absurd to suspect Yo Chai. And he doesn't report how the murder was committed—except that Dreed wasn't shot or stabbed "
"Loring found Dreed seated beside a small table—dead. Yo Chai was seated on a divan at the other end of the apartment, watching him."
THE car came to a stop with a grinding of brakes before a large shop in Campbell Street. The shop was really two shops made into one, with large double doors in the centre. Before the shop stood a uniformed constable. The man saluted as Rider jumped from the car and strode to the doors, closely followed by Dr. Colven.
"Sergeant Loring upstairs, Mason?"
The Inspector led through the shop to the stairs in a far corner, partly hidden by bales of merchandise. At their head was a closed door. He knocked impatiently A constable opened the door and stood aside when he saw the Inspector.
They entered a small box-like room. Opposite the door, on the wall, hung a beautiful piece of blue silk tapestry, cunningly patterned in gold brocade. From, the tapestry depended three long scrolls, covered with Chinese writing in long, even columns. Before the tapestry stood a long, narrow table on which stood two quaintly-wrought lanterns.
Rider passed through a door to the left of the tapestry. Now he was in a big room, hung with rare tapestries and rich silks. But his eyes went immediately to the form of a large man seated on a low divan beside a small ebony table The man's attitude betrayed that he was dead. The Inspector's eyes swept the room. In the far corner stood a huge idol with broad jowls and narrow forehead; eyes that joined with the expressive mouth in a leer of utter evil.
Before and beneath the idol, on a divan piled high with cushions, sat an old Chinaman. His face was heavily creased; from the upper lips depended the few sparse hairs that made the moustache. On his head rested a crimson skull-cap with a black tassel. A loose robe, of a color midway between mauve and purple, covered him—a robe heavily brocaded with gold.
Close to the door stood Loring. Rider spoke a few words to him in an undertone, then strode across to the Chinaman.
"Yo Chai." The Inspector spoke abruptly.
"Ta hai!" Gravely the old man rose, bowing low. "Inspector Rider is my father and I am ta shih fu (your big servant)."
"Who is this man?" Rider pointed to the table.
"K'e pu chih tao t'a shi shui." The words were spoken softly.
"You don't know him." Rider repeated thoughtfully. "Yet he is here, in your house—dead. How did he get in?"
The Chinaman shrugged: "Ch'ien men?" he murmured.
The Inspector stared. Come through the front door! He laughed; then looked towards the man at the table. Dr. Colven was sitting beside him, deep in thought. He looked up as the Inspector approached.
"Martin T. Dreed, certainly." The little man spoke precisely. "And...he died as Cyril Q. Allerson did!"
THE room was unchanged, except that Dreed's body had been taken from it. Still Yo Chai sat on his divan beneath the grinning idol.
The detectives had searched the apartment; they had searched the big double house. Nowhere had they found anything they could connect with the murder—for, murdered Martin T. Dreed had been. More, the man had been drunk when he had come to the Chinaman's apartment.
Yo Chai had told a simple tale. He did not know Dreed. That evening, after he had finished business, he had visited a friend. When he had left no one had been in his apartment. When he returned, the dead man was seated beside the ebony table.
Now Rider knew why Yo Chai had insisted that he be sent for. He voiced the explanation, in answer to the query in the American's eyes. Some years before the Inspector had assisted in a raid on a Chinese gambling den. A giant Mongolian had struck him down and would have killed him but for the intervention of Yo Chai.
He owed his life to the Chinaman—now the man had claimed his life from him. He knew that Yo Chai was incapable of murder. Powerful in Chinatown; immensely wealthy; benevolent and charitable; never had suspicion been cast on him. Rider turned to face the man seated beneath the grinning face of the carved, huge idol—impassive, silent, awaiting with impenetrable Oriental patience.
Again Rider turned to the table. On it the articles taken from Dreed's person had been placed. He fingered them, idly. A watch and massive chain; a thick roll of notes; a silver pencil; a fountain pen
No, two fountain pens. He slipped the caps and examined the nibs. One was wet, the other dry. He tested them—only one wrote easily, the other not at all. He turned to the remaining articles. Some bills and letters; a notebook: a handful of silver; a lighter, several cigars, black and rank; two handkerchiefs, one retaining the odor of cheap whisky; rimless pince-nez, in a case. A key-folder, with six keys, one strangely shaped. Suddenly the Inspector looked up, to see the American's eyes fixed on him.
"Well?" Rider asked. "What do you make of it?"
"The Martin T. Dreed touch." Dr. Colven shrugged. "We should have expected this. Still, there is one factor—;"
"Yes?" The Inspector queried impatiently.
"You have not observed." The little man spoke quietly. "A coincidence, yes; but—illuminative."
The Inspector watched the Federal operative in silence. The man was an enigma to him. Less than a week had passed since he had landed in Sydney. Rider had been detailed to give him any assistance possible. A strange friendship had grown between the two dissimilar men.
The man was an enigma! He was totally unlike the typical American. In that city he was as Australian as the men he rubbed shoulders with; and he had a wonderful reputation. In every country he was a different man; in Paris the true Parisian; in Berlin the typical Prussian; in Rome of Italy complete. Therein lay the secret of his wonderful success. He was of all nations, of all times; quiet, unobtrusive; a background, until he had learned what he wanted.
"You do not understand," the quiet voice continued. "Listen then. Yo Chai goes to visit a friend. His apartment is empty. His servant enters—to find it empty. He leaves the room. On the stairs he meets his master and receives certain instructions. Yo Chai comes here—to find Dreed. In five minutes—and the scene has changed."
"In five minutes." Dr. Colven spoke again after a long pause. "And—two men were without the door, while one man, within, was murdered!
"Within five minutes!" the quiet voice continued. "In five minutes a man in New York died—the same way. That I have told you before. Yet, think! Arthur Bishop, of New York, left his apartment to visit a friend. His servant took into the room the coffee percolator and sandwiches—and the room was empty. He met his master on the landing. Within five minutes Bishop enters his apartment—to find a man at the table—dead."
"If Dreed died in the same manner—" commenced the Inspector..
"He did," Colven interrupted. "Both men's mouths smelt of whisky—cheap whisky. Before they died they had drunk freely."
"Where does Dreed enter into the AlIerton problem?" asked Rider.
"To obtain the answer. to that question I traced Dreed across the Pacific." Dr. Colven smiled quietly.
"You expect to find the solution here?"
"It is here.'"
For moments there was silence; then Rider turned on his heel and went to face the silent Chinaman.
"Yo Chai! A man dies in your room. You say you do not know him—that you have never seen him before. Can you tell how he got here—without your or your servant's knowledge?"
"T'ao ch'i!" The impassive eyes were raised for a moment, then lowered again.
The devil! The Inspector translated incorrectly; the words hold no white man's meaning. "Then a devil can get into a Chinese apartment!" He swung to face the American. "Colven, I'll confess, I'm beaten. Unless Loring—"
"Here lies the solution." The American's hand swept over the articles on the ebony table. "When we can read them aright '"
Rider laughed. "That junk!"
"Have you examined them. This fountain pen, for instance?"
The Inspector snatched the pen from the table. It was weighty and large. He slipped off the cap and paused. Then some sixth sense made him unscrew the nib-holder. It moved easily. He tilted the barrel on his hand. From the pen slid a small hypodermic syringe, followed by the plunger, separate. Mechanically he screwed it into place. He scrutinised the barrel. On it were the initials "A.B." He became aware of a fine, elusive smell, and turned to the American questioningly—to suddenly face the door as steps sounded without.
Sergeant Loring shook his head as he entered the room. He went to the table and placed on it a silver flask. Rider snatched it up and lifted it to his nose. It had held whisky—and with the whisky the faint, elusive perfume that had puzzled him so often that evening. On the flask he found a monogram, again "A.B." He turned to the Sergeant.
"Not a sign of anything, sir. We've had all the Chinks in the neighborhood under question, and not one of them has a story to tell—"
"I found it in the yard of this house. Can't place it, but—;"
"It is evidence," Colven interrupted. "There is the fourth factor. Two more, and—;" He turned to the articles on the table. From them he took an American telegraph form and handed it to Rider.
The words on the form were few, and the Inspector read them at a glance. He swung around on the sergeant.
"I want Chan Lew Toi. Comb this quarter till you find him!"
Loring turned to the door. From the other end of the room came a low, whining sound, similar to the cry of a puppy. In a flash the American was on his feet. He went across the room to the Chinaman.
His voice now held certainty. "Yo Chai. I want the White Mogul."
Slowly the man rose to his feet. He bowed until his pigtail swept the floor. When he straightened a fine diamond blazed in his yellow palm.
"Then—;" Rider glanced from Colven to the Chinaman.
"No." The American spoke certainly. "Yo Chai did not murder Dreed. The murderer is many miles away."
Mr. Colven returned to the divan on which he had been seated. Motioning to Rider and Loring to seat themselves. he placed the diamond and telegram on the table with the other articles.
"The fifth factor!'" he muttered. "One more, and I can provide that!" He glanced up at the Inspector's puzzled face and smiled. "You have not solved our puzzle yet, but you have all the clues—no, one you have not. Cyril Q. Allerson was the owner of the White Mogul."
"Was?" The Inspector spoke sharply "Who is?"
"Yo Chai." Dr. Colven laughed gently "Let me tell the story. Yo Chai wished to purchase the White Mogul. His agents in New York approached Allerson. A price was arranged. Allerson withdrew the diamond from his safe deposit, and it was immediately stolen from him. The thief left one clue, and Allerson interpreted that. He went to Bishop—and died."
"What had Allerson to do with Dreed?" asked the Inspector.
"Dreed desired the White Mogul," the American answered. "He learned that Allerson had lost the stone, and trailed him to Bishop's apartment. But he was too late. Allerson had recovered his treasure, true, but he had died. Others were before Dreed. The diamond had again disappeared."
"Who brought it to Australia?" asked Loring.
"Chan Lew Toi." The reply was quick. "Chan Lew Toi was Yo Chai's agent and messenger. He took it from Allerson's dead hand and brought it to his master. Dreed learned that the Chinaman was carrying the diamond and followed him. Chan Lew Toi completed his trust. Dreed waited until Yo Chai went out to-night; then came in to search for the jewel. He found it—and died."
Inspector Rider frowned. The American's quick eyes caught the expression. He motioned towards the ebony table.
"A handkerchief, a fountain-pen, a flask, a telegram, a letter, and a diamond. The six factors that tell the story."
"Easy for you, perhaps." Rider spoke exasperatedly. "I can't make head or tail of it."
"No?" The American smiled. "Perhaps I have lived too much with the problem, and see things which are not here. Listen:
"Cyril Q. Allerson owned the White Mogul. Yo Chai purchased it. Just before the deal was to be completed the jewel was stolen."
"So far, plain." Dr. Colven glanced up keenly. "Bishop, the thief, left clues which Allerson followed, without calling on the police for help. In Morgan's apartment he recovered his jewel—and died."
"How?" Rider questioned, explosively.
"In the same manner as Martin T. Dreed died to-night." The soft voice never altered. "Dreed desired the jewel. After Allerson's death he learned that Chan Lew Toi had the diamond, and was bringing it to Australia. He followed."
"Then Chang Lew Toi killed Allerson and Dreed." stated Loring quickly.
"Patience, my friend." Dr. Colven held up a warning hand. "Shall we trace Dreed's actions? We know he followed Chan Lew Toi to Australia—and I followed them both. On the voyage Dreed searched Chan's luggage—even his person. without success. Yet he continued, certain that the Chinaman carried the jewel.
"Chan Lew Toi accomplished his mission. He handed the White Mogul to Yo Chai. He informed his master that Dreed was trailing him. Fearful for his treasure Yo Chai did not immediately remove it from its concealment. Dreed waited. He broke in here. He discovered the jewel. In obtaining it—he died."
"Where was the jewel hidden?" asked Rider interestedly.
"When Bishop stole the jewel he thought he might come under suspicion. He hid it, here." Dr. Colven raised the silver flask from the table. "To make it secure he filled the flask with whisky. Allerson discovered that the diamond was in the flask. He went to empty the whisky out, then—then the lure of the liquor overcame him; and he died."
"The whisky was poisoned?" exclaimed Rider.
"You have guessed." The American bowed assent. "Chan Lew Toi found Allerson with the flask by his hand. He guessed the secret, and thought the White Mogul was safely guarded. He brought the flask, and the diamond to Yo Chai, warning him that the whisky was poisoned. Until Dreed was disposed of Yo Chai thought wise to leave the diamond in its hiding place. Thus the poison-liquor claimed its second victim."
"Dreed drank the whisky," Loring interjected.
"But," queried Rider. "Why did not the two men smell the poison? I could—that etherised smell, you know."
"Allerson and Dreed were Americans," the Federal operative explained. "And used to that smell on the liquor they obtain there. Once the spirits—the smallest quantity—passed their lips they were doomed."
"Then they were poisoned with etherised whisky?" asked Rider.
"They were poisoned with tetraethyl lead,"' corrected the American. "So far as I know, this is the second time only this poison has been used criminally."
"Tetraethyl lead?" Rider stared, amazedly.
"A constituent of ordinary gasoline," Dr. Colven answered. "It is colorless, closely resembling chloroform in appearance; almost odorless, but for the faint, elusive scent of ether; intensely deadly. More, it is the most easily obtained of all poisons—for the veriest amateur with a home-made still can distill it from ordinary petrol."
He hesitated a moment, then continued:
"Those men died a fearful death, my friends." From his pocket the Federal operative took a notebook and opened it. "Let me read you a few lines from a report from our toxicologist's office." He turned a few pages. '...The oesophagus, for example, and the entire trachael tract appears as, if it had been played on with a blow-pipe'."
Dr. Colven rose from the divan and picked up the White Mogul! He crossed the room to the seated Chinaman, then half-turned to face the detectives.
"With your permission, Inspector Rider"—his formal words belied the twinkle in his eyes—'I will now restore the White Mogul to its rightful owner, Yo Chai."
"THERE'S never been a crime committed that hasn't been capable of being solved by logical deduction—not even an illogical murder."
Constable Martin nodded dutifully. Sergeant Habbard had a habit of lecturing his subordinates in and out of season.
"Where is Wye Street, please, constable?"
"First to right; third on right," Martin answered promptly.
Sergeant Habbard swung round and stared after the constable's interlocutor. They were standing at the corner of Pitt and Hunter Streets.
"Notice that man, Martin?" snapped the sergeant.
"Not particularly." The constable stared down the street. "Just an ordinary sort of chap, I thought."
"Did you? Should use your eyes, young fellow. Why, he has a pure white face."
"Pure white face!" Martin turned to face his superior officer. "Well—never thought him a coloured man."
"Don't be a fool!" Habbard was angry. "You're white; so am I—but we're not white like him. He's got a face like a sheet of paper—dead white, y'know. Not an ounce of blood behind it. Well, s'long. Must get on."
Sergeant Habbard strolled smartly up the street to meet the constable on the next point. Once he turned, to see Martin continue his beat up Pitt Street. He looked at his watch. It wanted five minutes to ten o'clock.
At the corner of Castlereagh and King Streets he found Constable Bliss awaiting him. He received the constable's report, and for some minutes they stood talking. Habbard noticed that the streets were strangely empty. Yet in a bare half-hour the theatres would empty on to them their excited throngs.
A clock chimed the quarters, then struck the hour. Habbard went on talking. Again he had launched on his favourite topic, of logical deduction applied to criminal detection.
Suddenly the shrill call of a police whistle rent the still air. The sergeant swung round and raced to the end of Wye Street. Halfway down he could see a man standing, his hand to his face. Again the shrill call sounded.
"What's the matter, Martin?" Habbard asked as he raced down to where the constable stood, Bliss following close. "What's this? Dead?"
He bent over the body of a man huddled In a recessed shop doorway. By the light of Martin's electric torch he saw the face.
"Why—why, Whiteface!" He looked up at the constable.
"Recognise him, Martin?"
"Don't think; that's him—the man who asked direction of you at the corner of Hunter Street. Whiteface! I'd know him any where."
"He's dead, sergeant."
"'Course he is. But how was he done in? Bliss, telephone ambulance and headquarters. It's their Job, not ours; still—"
A careful examination of the body, as it lay, and then Habbard went to straighten it. Immediately he stood up and looked at his hands.
"Why—why, Whiteface! Recognise him, Martin?"
"Stabbed in the back!" He wiped his hands free from the blood. "And he died only a little while ago. How long have you been here, Martin?"
"What's the time, sergeant?"
"'Twas just after ten when I got up here," Martin meditated. "Took me five minutes to reach foot of Wye Street from where we parted, sergeant. Y'know, we stood a couple of minutes, talking, after he spoke to us. That means, that for seven minutes he was out of my sight. Say he walked here quicker than I. That makes-"
"-Him killed five minutes after he left us," Habbard completed. "You were about three minutes behind him coming here. See anyone? Pass anyone?"
"Not a soul."
"See anyone in this street?"
"No. Didn't see anyone after you left me, sergeant, until I saw him again."
"Yet he must have been close handy!" Habbard cocked his head. He turned and gazed at each end of the street. "Couldn't have gone down to Pitt Street. You'd have seen him if he had. Must have gone up to Castlereagh Street. Humph! Not time to reach that corner. Might—"
He stared speculatively about him. Wye Street was ill-lighted and filled with dark corners and little alleys between the houses. The sidewalks were useless for pedestrians, being barely a couple of feet wide. The roadway was narrow—at no part could two vehicles have passed.
Habbard was perplexed. The affair defied his reiterated dictum that all crimes were solvable by pure logic. There was no points to reason here—Constable Martin had been on the spot within three minutes of the murder, and had seen nothing.
"The perfect murder!" the sergeant muttered. "Not a clue. Martin comes in one end of the street; Bliss arid I, the other. There is no one in sight. Yet, one of us should have seen the man who stuck the knife in Whiteface's back."
He had not even the knife to theorise on. The murderer had taken that with him, Habbard frowned. There must be a clue about. Whiteface had walked from Hunter Street to Wye Street within five minutes.
That was quick walking. To do better he would have had to run. The sergeant remembered the man had been walking smartly—not too fast—when he watched him out of sight.
Whiteface had arrived at the Pitt Street end of Wye Street a couple of minutes before Constable Martin. It would have taken him another minute to walk up to the shop-door. Martin had been out of sight of him for a bare couple of minutes.
But—had he? Whiteface had had three blocks to travel when he turned into Pitt Street. Surely the constable must have seen him, ahead, in that brightly-lighted thoroughfare. The sergeant turned to the constable.
"See anyone between turning into Pitt Street and Wye Street corner, Martin?"
"Never noticed anyone, sergeant. Y'know, if a man keeps along the shops, close, he's difficult to see at night, even when the streets are empty."
Habbard nodded. He was baffled. He looked at his watch. It was twenty past ten. In another ten minutes the men from the Criminal Investigation Branch would arrive and take over the inquiry. If only he could hand over an open and shut case, proving his pet theory.
He turned to the shop before which Whiteface lay. The one small window contained oriental rugs and ornaments He tried the door. It was barred fast. He stepped back into the road, and looked up. The one storey above was in darkness.
Who had placed Whiteface in that shop doorway? The man could not have crawled there after he had been stabbed. The position in which he lay precluded the theory that he had been standing in the doorway when struck. Someone had placed him there.
Habbard looked down on the dead man. He was big and heavily built. The blow had not been struck by a woman. Again, only a man with good strength could have moved him. A strong man—or one incited by terror or—
Turning from the doorway, Habbard threw the light of his torch on the roadway. There were blood marks. He traced them a few feet. Then they ceased.
"Was that man wearing his overcoat when he spoke to us, Martin?" Habbard asked abruptly.
"No, sergeant. Carrying it over his arm."
"Thought so. Umph!"
He went back to Whiteface and searched the pockets, arranging the miscellaneous collection of articles he found on the curb. There was nothing of a suspicious character. He rolled the body over, and turned up the overcoat and jacket. Something bulky was in the hip-pocket. He pulled out a large clasp-knife.
"Good enough! One more point and—" He looked at his watch. "Two minutes to go."
"See anything strange here, you fellows?" he asked abruptly,
The constables shook their heads. Habbard smiled grimly.
"Keep on telling you to use your brains—but you won't. Here's a murder committed, almost under your eyes—and you don't see more than a dead body. Work it out! It's plain enough."
"The knife didn't pierce the overcoat, sergeant," Bliss ventured.
"Why?" He waited; then continued. "Because the blow was struck while the murderer helped Whiteface into his overcoat. That's the only answer to the wound in the back and the overcoat being on. Now, that knife I found in his hip-pocket?"
Both constables showed faces of blank ignorance. Habbard felt exasperated. He had spent time and breath in trying to teach these men to think logically. Here was the result.
"Plain as your faces, and they're plain enough to frighten crows." He spoke angrily.
"Whiteface speaks to Martin and I at the corner of George and Hunter Streets. He inquires direction to Wye Street. Martin tells him. A couple of minutes later and Martin leaves me. He comes up Pitt Street, to here. I go up to Castlereagh Street to meet Bliss. What was the time when we met, Bliss?"
"A couple of minutes to ten, sergeant. I looked at my watch as you came up. You were due at ten o'clock."
"Good! Martin follows Whiteface along Pitt Street, yet never caught sight of him. He says he took five minutes to do the journey. As he arrived at Wye Street the clock struck ten. Right, Martin?"
"Taking Martin's times, he reached Wye Street not more than three minutes after Whiteface. Now, Whiteface walked up Wye Street. That would occupy a minute. Therefore Martin was at the foot of Wye Street two minutes after Whiteface arrived here—and met his murderer. Get that?"
The men nodded. They were interested.
"Well, now," Habbard spoke with Increasing confidence. "Well take it the two men exchanged a few words. The murderer helped Whiteface into his overcoat—and struck the fatal blow. That wasn't done in a few seconds. Bay a couple of minutes. Then Martin was at the foot of this street as the blow was struck. What then?"
Again the constables remained silent. Constable Martin's face had blanched suddenly.
"Then the murderer thrust Whiteface into this doorway. That occupied more time. He had then to escape. To go down to Pitt Street would have run him into Martin's arms. To go up to Castlereagh Street—well, Bliss or I would have seen him, for we were facing this way. Remember, the three minutes Martin estimates between Whiteface and he arriving at the Pitt-Wye Streets corner has more than been absorbed. The theory's impossible—unless Martin slipped up on his timing—or was here—" The sergeant's words trailed into silence.
"What?" Martin spoke suddenly, huskily; his face was working strangely.
"To see ourselves as others see us," Habbard misquoted. "We men can't see ourselves, night or day, for we don't carry mirrors, like women. Martin saw no one—not even himself—" The sergeant's voice changed. "Got that sailor's clasp-knife on you, Martin?"
The man felt in his hip-pocket.
"No. Must have left it at home."
"And a sailor's clasp-knife would just fit that wound. Met Whiteface before, Martin?"
"Know how he got that strange pallor? No? Well, look at this." Habbard opened his hand and showed a small white packet.
"That lay under his hand. Know what it is? Cocaine, heroin, or some beastly drug. That's what Whiteface stood for. Drug carrier or dope addict."
He was silent a moment. "Looks mighty awkward, doesn't it?"
"Are you accusing me, sergeant?" Martin stepped, forward, his eyes blazing with anger, his fists clenched, "I'll tell you—"
"Ah! Here they are at last!" the sergeant Interrupted. A motor-car had turned into Wye Street and stopped. Four men alighted and walked down to the group around the gruesome figure, half in the doorway.
"Evening, sergeant!" The man who led, spoke abruptly. "Murder, eh? Any clues about?"
"Wait a minute, Manfred." Habbard caught the detective by the arm. He turned to Martin.
"You asked me if I accused you of the murder. Can you deny that your own statements, every clue here, points to you alone—except one. You'd have mixed those times better."
He walked a few steps up the street and faced a small dark alley. His hand came from behind him, pointing into the alley.
"Come out of there—or I'll shoot!" Habbard spoke commandingly.
A long pause, and then a short, stockily built man came slowly
into the street. In his hand he carried an open
"There's your answer, Martin. Every clue pointed at you, but logical deduction proved your defence. I don't think you fellows will laugh at me again. As I said before, there's never a crime committed but what isn't capable of being solved by logical deduction—not even an illogical murder, and Whiteface's death proves that."
"AWFULLY glad to welcome you back to London, doctor." Inspector Basil Frost, of New Scotland Yard, beamed across the well-decorated table at his guest.
There was a great contrast between the two men. Arnold Colven, sitting well forward on his chair, could hardly reach the ground with his toes. Above the napkin he had tucked into his winged collar rose a round, boyish face, with full red lips and wide, round eyes of baby-blue. On the other side of the table sat Inspector Basil Frost, big, burly, with a full, ruddy face and firm, thin lips, over which shadowed a thick, slightly-grey moustache. To the casual observer the pair might have been father and son, the latter enjoying a respite from school routine.
"Most kind of you, my dear Inspector." The American Secret Service operative wriggled more comfortably into his chair. "As you know, I delight in London—and especially those hours I spend at Luigi's."
"Guessed that." Frost's big voice matched his burly person. "I don't believe I've had a letter from you since you were here last that you haven't mentioned Luigi's. So I thought here would be the proper setting to welcome you back in. Let's see, it must be quite a couple of years since you were last here."
"Two years and two days, Inspector—and the place has changed little; you not at all." A twinkle came in the wide-open eyes. Colven had not missed the involuntary movement that had run through some of the diners in that room when he had entered. Luigi's was known for its cosmopolitan character, and some of those there that night the American knew—and they knew him—professionally.
"I guess I take you, doctor." Frost laughed heartily. He glanced up the room. "There's 'Cash' Dunlop over there, entertaining a lady friend. He knows you, or our cable service is at fault. Then there's 'Flipper' Aaron. By the bye, I hope you're not interested in either of them this trip? They've become almost old identities here, and we might miss them."
"For this journey, no." Dr. Colven shook his head. His voice dropped a tone. "My friend, this time I have a quest that is unique—one that will take all your clever brain to help me solve."
Frost grinned and waited. He knew the American, of old, and admired him greatly. At his personal request the Assistant Commissioner had detailed him to act as associate to the famous secret service operative on this visit.
For some moments Colven toyed with his plate; then looked up quickly. For a brief moment his eyes searched the room, lingering more particularly on the curtained recesses that formed the priyate rooms of this popular and fashionable restaurant.
"Yes, my friend, I have a quest; a quest that is almost bizarre. I seek the Collar of Damballa Ouedda."
A slight commotion drew attention down the long room. A couple of waiters had gathered outside one of the curtained recesses. Standing just within the curtains could be seen the forms of men. Up the room, stepping quickly and lightly between the tables came Luigi, his dark, brilliant black eyes flashing angrily.
Arnold Colven slid forward on his chair, as if attracted by a magnet. His hand came up to the table to support his rounded chin. Frost had turned in his chair, and would have risen but for a slight detaining motion from his guest.
A few minutes and the unrest before the recess ended; yet two waiters remained before the drawn curtains. Luigi came to a stop before the detective's table. But for a slight tenseness about his mouth he appeared unconcerned.
"What is the matter, Luigi?" asked the Scotland Yard man abruptly.
The restauranteur shrugged. "A guest 1s ill." The words, indifferent in tone, were spoken in faultless English.
"You want me?" Frost gathered that much lay behind the careless words.
"If the signor will be so good." The man's shrug was expressive. "May I request that the signors reach the place with as little attention as possible. With my guests..."
Luigi looked round the well-filled restaurant. "The Rialto," or; as it was more popularly known, "Luigi's," was then in the height of its fame. Nightly it was thronged with that queer cosmopolitan gathering that composes London's smart society.
"Who are they?" The Inspector's nod indicated the recess.
"A Mr. Prichard, of Chicago—of your country, signor.'" Luigi bowed to Colven. "To-night he entertains M. Serge Borov, of Moscow, and the Marquis de Vieumont and another."
Frost nodded a dismissal, and the restauranteur strolled away. A few seconds and Colven caught the Inspector's eyes. They rose together and sauntered carelessly down the room.
Outside the recess the eyes of the detectives met again. Frost took the lead, pulling back the curtains, quickly, and entered the private room. A tall man, almost equalling the Scotland Yard man in bulk, turned swiftly.
"This room is private, sir."
"Containing—that?" Arnold Colven nodded towards a red-plush settee on which sprawled a loose figure. "And—your friend is—ill?"
"He was taken ill during dinner." The big man answered involuntarily. "Say, who are you?"
"Allow me." The American spoke before Frost could reply. "May I make known Inspector Basil Frost, of New Scotland Yard, to—"
"James Prichard, of Chicago, U.S.A." A pronounced drawl had crept into the man's tones. "Good of you to look us up, Inspector, but I believe it is merely a case of indigestion. The waiter has telephoned for a doctor."
"The medical examiner would be more to the point." The secret service operative was rubbing his rounded cheek reflectively.
"Why?" The eyes of the four men turned towards the settee involuntarily.
"Because he died one minute before Inspector Frost and I entered this room." Dr. Colven explained carefully. "See, the limbs have not yet relaxed from the—the final convulsion."
For a minute there was silence in the room; then Inspector Frost moved to the small table in the corner on which stood a telephone. A few seconds—and he gained connection with "the Yard," and gave a few terse orders in a low tone. As he replaced the instrument on the table he glanced inquiringly at the American.
Colven had moved from before the curtains, and was now standing at the head on the table. As he looked around the picked up a napkin, placing it carelessly on the table. As he lookde around the room he had Frost on his left, in the far corner of the room. The settee containing the dead man was close by where the detective stood. The three remaining members of the dinner party were gathered in a kont on the opposite side of the room.
"And—a man dies!" The secret service operative paused, musingly. '"And—of indigestion!'" Again he paused. "Will you not introduce me to your friends. Mister Jim Prichard—of Chicago, U.S.A.?"
"M. Serge Borov and the Marquis de Vieumont." The Chicagoan spoke surlily. "I don't know your name."
"N—o?" The wide blue eyes opened wider. "And once I gave nearly three hours of my time to explaining certain activities you had been guilty of to the district attorney—and your—lawyer! Then you do not re—"
"Damn you, Colven!" The man advanced threateningly. "You're not in N'York now, remember.'"
"Shall we return together?" The secret service man spoke softly.
"You've got nothing on me.'"
For a brief moment Colven's eyes wandered to the dead man.
"By God, I'd nothing to do with that!" The words came suddenly.
"Nor, I suppose, had M. Serge Borov—whom I seem to tremember under the more romantic name of 'Majerski.' May I also be permitted to recall myself to the Marquis de Vieumont? He may remember our previous meeting when he was—plain 'Flash' Dungan."
The men shifted uneasily in the following silence. Frost smiled, under his moustache. It was sheer delight to him to watch Arnold Colven handle a situation.
"A dinner for four friends." The slow, precise tones broke the silence. "Let me reconstruct the scene, gentlemen. If I guess right, please be seated; if wrong, I trust you will remain standing. Now; will M. le Marquis be seated—there." He pointed to the end of the table opposite where he stood. "Fortunately, I remembered your habit of crumbling bread when engaged in interesting discussion. Again I guess, M. Borov was seated on his noble friend's right. Ah, I thought so. I remembered your taste for pungent condiments, my Russian friend. Luigi must have been grieved to see his most excellent viands treated so. Only one place remains—for James Prichard, of Chicago, U.S.A.—opposite Borov."
Again the eyes of the detectives met.
Colven slightly indicated the chair before which he stood. Frost shook his head.
"And, to complete our reconstruction." pursued the secret service operative. "Baxter Lee sat—here."
Again came the oppressive silence. Slowly Colven searched the faces of the men upturned to him.
"A dinner for four." There was slight mockery in his voice. "A social gathering? No, I think not. A business gathering. Then there should have been at this table—a fifth."
"Who?" Borov leaned forward, threateningly.
"Arthur Bishop, of New York." The American's tones changed suddenly. "Now, gentlemen, what do you know of the Collar of Bamballa Ouedda?"
"This room is private, sir."
"Containing that?" Arnold Colven nodded towards a red plush settee on which sprawled a loose figure.
"By God, Colven, I'll—"
"Sit down." The words were barely more than a whisper, yet the crook obeyed. "Perhaps, for the information of my good friend. Inspector Frost, the story should be told. Here then is the latest history of 'The Collar of Bamballa Ouedda.'
"Many years ago, in the days of the kings of Ashanti, Bamballa Ouedda, the god, stood in the blood-stained royal square, before the king's golden stool. Around the god's neck, hung a necklace composed of eleven stones—stones of fabulous value."
The secret service operative paused a mofnent, then continued:
"The British Government determined that the orgies of blood that shamed the country could no longer be allowed in a British protectorate. Representations being unavailing, they sent an expedition that captured the blood-stained king and his capital. But before the soldiers of Great Britain arrived, Bamballa Ouedda and his famous necklace, the golden stool of the king, and other precious and rare tokens of royalty disappeared. For some time it was assumed that the 'Collar of Bamballa Ouedda' had been hidden with the golden stool and other treasures. That was not so.
"Years passed and then the 'Collar' turned up in Haiti. There, again, it hung on the neck of the god. Again it disappeared. Through Voodoo-land ran the news that it had been stolen by Americans. True or false, the rumor caused very great trouble to the U.S. Government, for the numerous 'Blacktowns' of the country were in ferment.
"Time passed and the 'Collar' was supposed lost. The negroes became quieter, yet never relaxed their vigilant watch for the thieves. What would have become of them, if they had been traced, I shudder to think." Voodooism is not...not nice.
"Through underground channels, into the gem markets, came the Great Mogul—and following it the rumor that it had, in its rough state, formed part of the 'Collar of Bamballa Ouedda.' Cyril Q. Allerson purchased the stone—and died. It was stolen and Martin T. Dreed followed it, intent on its acquisition—to die."
His quick eyes caught the momentary flinch Prichard gave at the mention of Dreed's name. Colven turned quickly.
"You knew him, Jim?"
"I knew him." The crook sneered. "If that's any good to you. Quite a nice little bed-time story—this Collar of Bamballa Ouedda."
"I have spoken facts." The secret service operative answered, gravely. Suddenly he leaned forward, his voice hardening.
"Eleven stones, all different, composed the Collar of Bamballa Ouedda. One has been recovered. Of the other ten, one should be here. I want it—the Rajah's eye, once the blood-red ruby that hung in the collar of the Voodoo god!"
Before anyone could answer a couple of men from Scotland Yard entered, escorting the doctor. Arnold Colven went with them to the settee on which still lay the dead man. Frost crossed, significantly, until he stood before the drawn curtains.
For long minutes there was silence, while the doctor examined the body; Arnold Colven, but a pace behind him, watching eagerly. Suddenly he moved, pushing aside the medical man and stripped the dead of collar and tie. A quick wrench and he tore the shirt down the back, laying the neck bare.
"What's this?" The doctor's fingers rested on a queer stain at the base of the skull, flowing down the back, as if a bottle of red ink had been spilt on the flesh.
"This man was poisoned!" The American spoke as if to himself.
"And this?" The medical man's finger rested a moment on the strange stain.
"That is the cause of his death."
"What's this?" Frost's exclamation brought Colven quickly to the table. The Inspector was staring down on the cloth, on which rested two burnt matches, tied together in a cross by a piece of red cotton.
"A voodoo warning." The secret service man answered gravely.
"But...Where did it come from? It wasn't..."
"It lay beside Baxter Lee's plate when we entered. I covered it with the napkin, for I believed the others had not seen it."
He parted the curtains and beckoned Luigi into the room.
"My friend," Colven laid his hand on the restauranteur's shoulder. "Somewhere in the big room without is a negro. Will you find him? Do not let him see that you are watching him. Stand close by and look at him when I come out of this room."
Luigi departed and Colven again turned to the men in the room. For a moment he meditated, then idly picked up the little cross of matches.
"The voodoo sign of vengeance, Inspector." He smiled, then dropped the cross on the table and turned to the medical man.
"I must have an autopsy before I can determine the cause of death."
"Just so." Colven shrugged slightly. "Yet there is no reason for us to delay?"
The doctor shook his head and stepped back from the settee. Colven took his place and ran his fingers lightly through the man's pockets. With a sudden exclamation he drew from a side pocket of the jacket a small bag. For a moment he stood regarding it thoughtfully; then placed it on the table and slit it open. From out of it tumbled a strange litter of articles.
"What the hell..." Frost exclaimed, astonished.
"A voodoo hate-onanga. These? Snakebones, lizard-jaws, black-hen feathers, black-lamb's wool. This dust? I'll guess sulphur grains, mud, salt, alum, and certain vegetable poisons."
He glanced up, questioningly at his companion's face.
"You don't have these things in Merrie England, Frost. No? Then you would not understand. An onanga is a charm. There are many. The love-onanga; the Vate-onanga; the protective-onanga; many others. Place an onanga about the person you wish to influence and your desires become facts."
Again he turned to the men in the room.
"I want the real story, Jim?"
"I don't know it," Prichard answered flatly; yet there was no antagonism in his voice. "Baxter Lee asked us here to dinner tonight. He said that he had a proposition for us. When we sat down to table he didn't mention it. We supposed he wanted to wait until after dinner when the waiters wouldn't be about and...when there wouldn't be the crowd outside."
"Then Baxter Lee had the Rajah's Eye?"
"I don't know. I suppose so."
A slight motion of the American's hand brought Frost alert. He followed out into the general restaurant.
A glance showed Luigi standing some twenty feet from the curtained recess in which lay the dead man. When he saw them looking at him he turned towards a table.
"Georges Vallenois." There was a sting in the American's voice. "I want the Rajah's Eye."
The big negro at the table, clad in irreproachable dinner dress, sprang to his feet. For a minute he hesitated. Then at the urge of the automatic pressed against his side his hands slowly went above his head. A moment and Colven's quick fingers drew from the man's waistcoat pocket a splendid ruby. He dropped it carelessly on the cloth.
"Here is your prisoner, Inspector." He spoke formally. "Georges Vallenois, of Haiti."
"How was Baxter Lee killed?" asked Frost, as the two men resumed their long interrupted dinner. Luigi was hovering about their table intent that the two men should have the best his establishment could give them.
"Baxter Lee was killed with manchineel sap," said the American quickly. "Manchineel sap is one of the most deadly poisons known. It comes only from Haiti. It is a distillation from the manchineel tree, the fruit of which resembles small crab apples."
"And that strange mark on his neck?"
"Manchineel sap kills almost instantly. Apply but two drops on the tongue and there is instant death. Drop it on the skin and it takes longer to work, but it is certainly fatal."
"I think I have the picture clear." The wide baby-blue eyes were half closed as the secret service operative sat back, musing. "Georges Vallenois trailed Baxter Lee and the Rajah's Eye to England. Tonight came his opportunity. He found that Lee was sitting with his back to those curtains. He learned that he carried the ruby on his person.
"It was easy for him to slip through the curtains and crouch behind his victim's chair. A magician of Voodooism, it was easy for him to explore Baxter Lee's pockets—if he did not know exactly where the crook carried his treasure. Then he had only to complete the vengeance of his cult. He raised his hand holding the metal vial containing the machineel sap to his victim's collar and poured the deadly drug down his neck."
"You say he's a Voodoo priest?" asked Frost, curiously.
"Georges Vallenois is more than a papalol of voodooism." Colven replied gravely. "In Haiti, he is High Nebo of the culte des mortes." He paused a moment, then added, gravely, "Basil Frost, my friend. In the States we could not hold Georges one single month. Here, perhaps—"
He shrugged, and waited a moment; then added:
"But even England will never hang Georges Vallenois—alive."
LOT 31: SMALL obelisk of pale jade—coloured the transparent green of deep, rolling seas—about six inches high. At the apex a silver bell of heavy metal, dulled and tarnished. From either side of the column came curved, silver arms, supporting similar, but smaller, bells.
"LOT 31, gents. Jade ornament. Very valuable. I'm told it belonged to the—er—Ming era."
The ruddy-faced auctioneer took the obelisk from the attendant and tinkled the silver bells with his pencil. "Quite unique, y'know. Any bids?"
"One pound!" Mary spoke involuntarily. She glanced down at the catalogue a man had thrust into her hands as she entered the room.
What was the man talking about? The sale was of the effects of "Adam Wyss, Esq., dc'd." What did he mean by saying the jade belonged to "Mr. Ming?"
"Twenty shillings—from the lady with the brown hat! Twenty shillings for this wonderful example of Chinese art! Why that's absurd, gentlemen. Any advance? Come on, I can't let It go at that!"
"Twenty-five." A man standing Just under the auctioneer spoke, glancing back at Mary over his shoulder. From a distant corner of the room the price was advanced another five shillings.
"Two pounds!" Mary coloured. All eyes turned in her direction.
"You won't get it that way, miss!" A quiet, tired voice at her shoulder spoke almost in a whisper. "No, don't let them see you talking to me."
Mary glanced furtively at the little bald-beaded man, standing beside her. For a moment small, gleaming, black eyes met hers, then turned uninterestedly towards the auctioneer.
"What do you mean?" The girl asked, lowly. "Only that we're all dealers here. They'll keep you out or run the price up on you. Want that Jade?"
"The bid's against you, lady." The big voice of the auctioneer, boomed across the room. "Another five bob, miss?"
"Guineas!" The little old man spoke before Mary could reply. He dropped his voice to a whisper. "What's your limit, miss?"
"Get it!" Mary spoke recklessly. In the bank lay five hundred golden sovereigns, untouched—the reward for the recovery of the Levy pearls. For days she had wandered about the streets of the city: pricing, longing, yet fearing to break that wonderful nest-egg. Now—she shrugged her shoulders impatiently—she wanted that strange, belled Jade for reasons she could not have explained to herself.
"Going! Going! Gone!" The fall of the hammer cut across the masterful voice that had ruled the bidding. "Mr Silas Maccabbee, isn't it? Thought I recognised you, Mr. Maccabbee, though you haven't favoured us much of late. Well, you've got a bargain, and all for three pounds five. Book it to you, Mr. Maccabbee?"
The old dealer nodded. Another lot was passed up to the auctioneer's table. Mary was no longer interested. She wandered out Into the garden before the house and found a chair under a shady tree. She felt strangely elated. The jade obelisk was hers!
The gentle tinkle of silver bells brought Mary from her reverie. She looked up to see Silas Maccabbee walking across the grass towards her, carrying the jade. He placed it on her knee, looking down into her eyes, a queer twisted smile on his almost bloodless lips.
"Three pounds, five shillings, and five per cent, commission. Should be ten per cent., m'dear, but I'll let you off with five. Quite a nice little ornament for a young girl like you. Cash, m'dear, of course. We don't give credit at sales, y'know."
"Three pounds eight shillings and three pence." Mary produced the unsoiled cheque book. "'Fraid I haven't so much cash, Mr. Maccabbee. Will a cheque do?"
"Do me!" The old dealer walked across the lawn and brought back a chair to where Mary sat. "Take my pen, m'dear; they won't cash cheques written in pencil. Got the name right? Silas M-a-c- c-a-b-b-e-e-!" He watched her draw the cheque, leaning forward with gnarled hands resting on skimpy knees, studying her closely. When she handed him the slip of paper he read it carefully then folded it and stowed it in a dilapidated bill-fold, nodding genially.
"Say!" Mary spoke suddenly. "Who's this 'Mr. Ming,' the auctioneer fellow talked about. That wasn't the name on the catalogue."
"Mr. Ming?" The old dealer looked puzzled, a moment. "Oh, I see. No, m'dear, there isn't a 'Mister Ming' now. The last one died quite a few years ago. So that's all you know about antiques! Now, why did you buy this? Mind, I'm not saying it's Ming, or anything, just now."
"I don't know." Mary frowned, slightly. "When I touched it I felt I just had to have it."
"I know." Old Silas nodded sagely. He was watching the girl stroke the little silver bells. "I know! It's just the soul of the genius that created it, calling to your soul. Well, well! If I'm guessing right that's not the last bit of stuff you'll buy. So, don't forget old Silas Maccabbee and his shop In Castlereagh Street. Number; 421a, m'dear. Everyone knows old Silas Maccabbee."
"Is It valuable?" Mary looked up from the Jade. "That man said..."
"That's part of his business." Old Silas laughed slightly. He stretched out his hand to take the little ornament. "The Jade looks good, but..."
"No, don't touch It!" She sprang to her feet and crossed the lawn. Halfway to the gate she paused and turned back to where the old dealer stood.
"Sorry I was rude, Mr. Maccabbee, but I couldn't bear anyone to touch It. Perhaps I'm mad, but I've a feeling that it was only made for me. Oh, hell!"
She turned quickly and almost ran out of the gate on to the road. Silas Maccabbee watched the girl run down the road and disappear around the corner. A quiet little smile came on his lips as he walked back to the house. He knew he would meet the girl again, one day. He had bought only one article at the sale—a small vase of Crown Derby—a delicate piece of china, almost transparent as jade.
A few words with the auctioneer's clerk and he left the house, carrying the vase under the voluminous folds of his frock-coat. The tram on which he rode to the city stopped at Market Street. Silas descended carefully to the road, still concealing the little vase under his coat. At the corner of Castlereagh Street he almost collided with two men, drawing back with a cry of alarm for his precious china.
"Hullo, Maccabbee." A firm hand caught the Utile dealer by the shoulder. "Why, it's ages since we met."
"Your fault, Mr. Greyson!" The beady eyes twinkled brightly. "There's the old shop. Just across the road. The door's always open for you to come in and smoke a pipe!"
"I know that." Detective-Sergeant Greyson looked down at the little dealer with almost affection.
"What have you got hiding under your coat? Another treasure?''
"Just a bit of china." Old Silas displayed his treasure with pride. "There was another piece I thought of buying—a piece of jade—but a young girl wanted it, and I let her have it."
"A girl?" The detective laughed. "Didn't think girls went in for that sort of thing."
"Just a slip of a girl." The dealer's eyes became reminiscent. "Big grey eyes under a wealth of deep-brown hair; eyes too big for the little, thin face. Quite young, but she understood—yes, she understood. Said it had always belonged to her. Said the man who carved it thousands of years ago worked it for her fingers to caress."
"Well!" Greyson laughed again. "By the way, Maccabbee, take care of yourself. Remember what I said last time I came to see you at the shop. I don't like you living there all alone. Why don't you get a decent young man assistant to live in with you? And, don't forget. Before you engage him let me run the rule over him. 'Day!"
The detectives moved on. At the corner Greyson stayed his companion, looking back after Silas Maccabbee. The old man was mounting the single step to his shop door, holding the vase under his coat while feeling In his pocket for the door-key. A slight, round-shouldered youth came slouching down the street, stopping to speak to the old man. Some warning instinct made the police officer turn to cross the road to the old man. Suddenly the crook made a grab at the vase concealed beneath the old dealer's coat. There was a moment's struggle, then the crook succeeded in wresting the piece of china from the old man. He held it in his hands a brief second, as if puzzled and surprised.
Seeing Greyson racing across the road he turned to fly, dashing the vase into the roadway, shattering it to fragments. Greyson let his companion continue the chase of the crook and turned back to where Silas Maccabbee sat humped on his doorstep.
"Hurt you, Silas?"
The old man shook his head, looking up at the detective with dimmed eyes.
"Get a look at that crook's face? What was he like? But that doesn't matter. Trevor'll run him down. Feel fit enough to come down to Headquarters with me? Trevor will take him there."
"It was a beautiful vase." The old man gazed sorrowfully at the scattered fragments of delicate china littering the roadway. "There was only that and the jade at the sale—and now both are gone. What was he like, you ask, Greyson? What does that matter? Let him go; neither you nor he can mend that broken vase. He didn't want the vase, although he snatched it."
"Well, you saw him." Greyson spoke impatiently. "What was he like?"
"Funny!" Old Silas crouched on the step, speaking musingly. "Looked to me something like a Chinaman. Now, If I'd bought the jade I might be able to understand."
"Who bought the Jade?" The detective shook the old man gently by the shoulder.
"The girl bought the Jade—or rather, I bought it for her. Just a bit of a girl—but likeable, Greyson." The dealer sat silent for some seconds. "Robert, do you know, I feel I made a mistake to-day. That Jade was genuine and I missed it—a Ming piece and I couldn't see it. But the girl did—and she knows nothing of things that matter. Yes, yes, It's true. The souls of those who create..."
Greyson lifted the old man to his feet and led him into the little shop. A quarter of an hour later Tom Trevor returned to the shop very crestfallen. The crook had managed to gain the busy shopping sections of Pitt Street, to lose his pursuer in the crowds.
MARY took the little Jade ornament home and set it on a table. For some time she hung over it, playing with the little silver bells—the small deep notes carrying peace and quietness to her tangled nerves. She had never felt so happy before. Always there had been unrest; vague longings; the desire to be with people; the urge to noise and motion. Now, the deep notes of the silver bells Ailed her thoughts with deep contentment. She would hardly leave the Jade to obtain a meal. When the light faded in the sky she undressed and crept Into bed; placing the jade on a table close to her side, so that she could reach out in the darkness and touch it.
Presently she fell asleep, her arm out-flung towards the jade. Slowly she awoke, to the little deep-toned booming of the silver bell. For some time she lay awake, puzzled, then laughed. In waking she had touched the little bell, setting it swinging. Yet the sound did not die away. It continued, a regular stroke on the thick metal, setting the air of the room throbbing.
She turned, cowering down under the bed-clothes, towards where the jade stood In the dark, regularly ringing out some message to her. It was a message; Mary recognised that as the bell continued to ring. It filled the air with the sound; with a strange warning that struck terror to her heart. She searched the darkness of the room with her eyes. There was nothing to be seen—yet the bell continued to ring.
Cautiously she felt out of the warm bed towards the jade, running her fingers up the cold, smooth stone. The little bell at the apex was slowly swinging—booming out some warning to her. She stilled the bell with her fingers and withdraw her hand. Almost Immediately the deep note rang out again. Now the warning note of danger was more insistent. With hands clasped across her cold face, stifling back the cry, that rose to her lips, she sat up, straining her eyes to see and understand what threatened her.
There was someone in the room.
Through the blackness a queer luminousness shone. It gathered and gradually assumed form—the form of a man with hands held high beside his strained, yellow face. The yellow face; the clutching talon hands, were approaching the bed. And, still the booming, warning bell, rang on.
Frozen with terror, Mary shrank back against the supporting pillows. Another bell joined In the clamour, ringing insistent warning through her brain. Now she could read the message: "Beware! Escape!"
Suddenly the bonds of terror relaxed. Mary threw herself from the bed and dashed to the door, shrieking. She could not find it and the ghastly yellow face had turned from the bed to follow her. With a cry of mortal terror she sank to the floor, clasping her hands before her eyes to shut out the fearful sight, Now, only the deep booming of the bells remained. Gradually they faded away Into a long silence.
A voice was calling her; a voice she knew well. She opened her eyes to look up into Robert Greyson's strained face.
"You!" She looked round, to see she was again in her bed. "Oh, where Is he? The man with the yellow face!"
"Trevor's got him, Mary."
The detective soothed her with little pats on her shoulder. "My fault! I should have come to you directly Maccabbee was attacked. But I didn't understand at first. I didn't think the Chink was after the Jade.'
"The Jade? Oh, you mean the thing with the silver bells." Mary drew the bed-clothes around her. "Why did he want that? Where is it?"
"In my pocket."
Reluctantly Greyson produced the Jade and placed it on the little table. He strolled to the foot of the bed, resting his folded arms on the foot-rail.
"Look here, Mary; this isn't going on. I'm leaving this room for ten minutes, while you get dressed. Then I'm coming back to take you."
"To take me? Where?" Mary crouched lower into the protecting bed.
"There's to be an end of this nonsense. You can't live alone like this. 'Sides, Alice wants you." The police officer's voice was very gruff. "I'm going to take you home."
"Yes." Mary spoke after a long pause. She felt very small and helpless. "I think you...you're right. Oh, daddy...daddy Greyson, take me home...Quick!"
"YOU say that you do not believe Geoffrey Hampden died a natural death," observed Martin Frayne. "Any reasons for that statement?"
"Not one," Detective-Sergeant Grimes answered curtly. "They think I'm a fool down at Headquarters—I've got the doctors and the men on the case against me. They swear Hampden died from natural causes."
"And the autopsy?"
"Not taken place yet. Dr. Meadows stated that he believed the Professor died a natural death. I pressed him and he hedged on heart-disease. That's the stock phrase of the profession, when in doubt."
"Any wounds on the body?" The journalist spoke briefly.
"Not a scratch."
"No traces of poison?" Frayne persisted. "Surely you must have some reason for believing Hampden was murdered. You state there was no wound. Surely it is not reasonable—"
"To call me a fool!" Grimess laughed harshly. "Why don't you, Frayne? Turn me out on the cold streets and go to bed, forgetting my call. That'd be reasonable. I'm not!"
"No." The journalist snuggled down in the lounge chair, drawing strongly on his cigarette. "Now, just why did you come to me?"
"Because I'm an ass—No, that's not true." The detective rose from his chair and strode the room unevenly. "Frayne, you're my last hope. I remembered—"
Grimes paused, turning to face his companion. Frayne did not move, or even look at the detective. A slight smile was curving his lips.
"I'm remembering the Stanley Ward case," Grimes continued. "There—"
"In that case I was up against the Police Department." The newspaper man turned to face the detective. "If I remember rightly a certain Detective-Sergeant of high standing was particularly bitter in his attacks on me and—"
"Cut it out, man!" The detective winced. "Anyone makes mistakes. By the time you got to the end of that trail I was willing to admit my error. I'll say it again. You fooled the lot of us. We'd have hung Ward as high as the Town Hall clock—if you hadn't intervened. You did—and if I know our men, there's not one of them sore at you for preventing us making a hideous mistake."
"And because of that you come to me."
"Just that." Grimes nodded.
"You took from us the man we thought guilty, proving him innocent. Now I've come to you to see if you can't prevent us allowing a murderer to go free."
For moments there was silence in the room; half study, half sitting-room. Frayne levered himself up from his chair, throwing the butt of his cigarette in the ash-tray. He stretched out his hand for a fresh "gasper".
"I don't know."
"You think Hampden died from natural causes?" persisted the detective, incredulously.
"I'm open to conviction." A light came in the journalist's eyes. "Let's have facts, and I'll give an opinion; Even if you don't convince me there'll be good copy in your narrative. Sit down. How the blazes do you think I'm going to concentrate while you walk about the room?"
Grimes crossed to the chair on the opposite side of the glowing fire. For some minutes he sat silent, his hands stretched out to the dancing flames. At length he spoke.
"Godfrey Hampden was found in his study dead. He—"
"Is that how you recite your cases?" Frayne interrupted. "Start at the beginning, man. Who found him/"
"About half past one in the morning."
"What was the lady doing—wandering about her home at that hour. Been out, or—"
"She had been in bed." Irritation showed in the detective's voice. "If you want all the piffle of recitation I'll start again."
"A good thing, too." Frayne levered himself from his chair, showing a lean, tall figure, surmounted by a thin, hollow-cheeked face from which glowed a pair of keen, bright-blue eyes. "And, don't talk about 'piffle'. Things you people at Headquarters regard as inessentials, are often of consequence. A murder's not planned in ten minutes; often not in ten days."
"All right!" The detective winced at the imputation cast on his beloved department. "Here's the tale, with all rumours and surmises."
He paused a few seconds, then continued: "Geoffrey Hampden was, as you know, one of the cleverest men in Australia. Ostensibly a biologist, he did not confine his activities but has wandered freely publishing books of note on various scientific questions. He—"
"Taken as read," Frayne interrupted with a broad grin. "I read my Who's Who—sometimes."
"Good!" The detective had recovered his normal poise. "No doubt Who's Who has also informed you that he lives at 'Clovelly,' West South Head Road; that he is married—happily; that he has a family of two children—both grown-up. Perhaps, also there were notes of his clubs and honours."
"Correct," the journalist laughed. "I can also inform you that Hampden's son is a married man with three children, making your scientist a triple grandfather. That the other child is a daughter with ambitions towards political career—for which she did not receive a parental blessing. The preliminaries being settled perhaps you will get down to facts."
"I was called to Professor Hampden's house at one-thirty a.m. yesterday—"
"Having been roused out of the Inspector's armchair at the local station house," interposed Frayne. "You rubbed your eyes and looked at your watch. wondering why you were there and not at home in your comfortable bed. For the sake of mike, man—"
"Oh, well, if I must." Grimes shrugged his shoulders. "Mrs. Hampden informed me that after dinner Professor Hampden told her that he had certain work to finish that would take about a couple of hours. Mrs. Hampden protested, for the Professor was not in the best of health. However he Had his way, promising that he would be in bed before eleven o'clock. Mrs. Hampden went to her sitting room and read until nearly ten o'clock. Feeling tired she Want to bed and immediately fell asleep."
"Good!" The journalist purred his contentment. "You're doing fine, Grimes. Keep it up."
"Go to Hades!" Grimes smiled in good humour. "I've said Mrs. Hampden almost immediately fell asleep. Something roused her about midnight. She switched on the light and glanced across to the Professor's bed. It was unoccupied."
"Professor Hampden was not in the room."
"He was not. Mrs. Hampden lay for some time, debating what to do; for the Professor was irritable and disliked being 'mothered.' At length she decided that she would go down to the study door and listen. If as she suspected her husband had fallen asleep at his work, she would make some noise, sufficient to arouse him. She knew that when he was awakened he would glance at the clock, and finding it past midnight would immediately go upstairs."
"She followed out her scheme?"
"Yes. She could hear no sounds from within the study and made a noise, but without result. At length, frightened, she hammered on the study door—without arousing the Professor."
"Then she became alarmed?"
"It had taken the good lady one hour and fifteen minutes to reach a stage of alarm."
Grimes stared at the journalist in amazement.
"I never thought of that," he exclaimed.
"No." There was irony in Frayne's voice. "I presume Mrs. Hampden then went to the telephone and communicated with the local police station. The Sergeant at the desk aroused you and, after getting the sleep out of your eyes you went to her assistance."
"A wonderful deduction." Grimes grinned. "As you infer, I went to 'Clovelly' and found Mrs. Hampden much agitated. At her request I hammered at the study door but obtained no reply. I tried the lock and found the door fastened. Then, after receiving permission from Mrs. Hampden I burst in the door to find Professor Hampden lying on the hearth rug dead."
"So much for the preliminaries." Frayne nodded approval. "Now the facts. You entered by the door. Where the windows open or closed?"
"Both windows were closed and locked."
"I presume there Is a desk in the room. How was it situated— in relation to the Professor's body?"
"He might have risen from the desk chair and fallen immediately on the hearth rug. The desk is close to the fireplace."
"And the papers on the desk—were they in disorder? I mean than would be occasioned by a man getting up from his desk in the middle of his work."
"Any signs of a struggle?"
"Anything unusual on the desk?"
"Nothing that I remember."
The detective hesitated. "Except—it wasn't on the desk though, it was on the rug, almost under his hand, and it wasn't of importance anyway."
"What was it?" The journalist's voice tensed with excitement. "Speak up, man, can't you?"
Grimes Looked Surprised. "It was only an empty match-box. We all have 'em. Run out of matches, I suppose and got up to find a new box, just as—"
"Did he smoke?"
"Pipe or cigar on the desk? Any cigarettes? An ash-tray?" The journalist swung to face his guest. "Lor', man! If you can only remember!"
"No-o." The detective hesitated. "I don't believe I saw any smoking stuff about. I'd have noticed an ashtray, I'm certain, or—"
"Gas or electricity?"
"Electric lights." The police officer spoke more certainly. "Centre lamp and table lamp—both on. The telephone stood in the corner, on table by the fireplace. Say, Frayne—what's the matter?"
The man had strode to the door, Without answering, he left the room, returning wearing his overcoat, his hat in his hand.
"What's the matter?" He spoke in his usual drawling tones. "Only that we are going to West South Head Road, now."
A MASK had settled over Frayne's face as he followed Detective Grimes into "Clovelly". Almost immobile he had listened to Grimes's description of the room where the Professor had been discovered. In silence, he followed to the death chamber in which the scientist lay.
Before Grimes had finished his recital the journalist led back to the study.
For a moment he stood before the big desk at which the Professor had worked. It was flat-topped, and amid the litter of papers stood neither an tray nor tobacco container. Then the Professor had not been a smoker. Grimes's theory that the dead man had run out of matches while working had no foundation. There was no taper nor sealing wax on the desk. Why then the empty box?
His meditations were interrupted by the entrance of Mrs. Hampden. Frayne started slightly, as the detective made the usual introductions. Why had he not thought of that before?
Mrs. Hampden was the professor's second wife. The journalist remembered reading that the scientist had married, some ten months before, an Adelaide lady—a widow.
He glanced at her curiously. About twenty-eight to thirty years of age, fair and good looking. What had induced this woman to link her life with a man of sixty-five, dependent on his salary from the University.
A mental picture of the household rose before Frayne's eyes. The professor, old and engrossed in his work; a young and pretty woman bound to him by the most intimate of ties, a girl of twenty eight, nearly the age of her mother-in-law, playing at politics and possibly neglecting what little home duties fell to her lot. A "Happy Family". A wide smile broke the firm line of his lips.
Mrs. Hampden sat down on the lounge at the farther end of the room, looking from Frayne to the detective in acute irritation. In a few words Grimes explained the journalist's presence.
"But I thought my—the Professor—died from heart failure?" exclaimed Hampden.
The detective entered upon an involved explanation. Frayne watched the pair keenly noticed that the widow's eyes continually wandered from the hearth rug to the mantelpiece, and wondered.
Suddenly he realised that there lay the empty match-box.
Why was the young widow watching the match-box? The journalist was puzzled. He sauntered across the room and picked it up. There was nothing strange about it. The slide-drawer was half-open. He noticed that one of the corners was dented.
Suddenly he looked across at Mrs. Hampden. Her eyes were fixed on him—no, on the match-box he held. He turned and replaced it on the shelf. Why was the woman anxious? Could there be a connection between that common article and the professor's death
From the mantelpiece Frayne turned to the big desk, his brows puckered in thought. He turned over the litter of papers.
Grimes had been wrong. The desk had been searched. Frayne came to the sheet of paper on which the Professor had worked. The last sentence was incomplete—ending in a splattering blot. On the paper lay a fountain-pen, the nib badly bent.
For some seconds the journalist scanned the damaged nib. He took a small, powerful magnifying glass from his pocket. Under it the nib showed covered with black ink, amid which were flecks of red.
Frayne lifted the sheet of paper and held It against the light. There was no puncture in it. Then, the blot had not been made by the point of the nib. Possibly the blot had been made when the Professor dropped his pen, before rising from his seat.
But what did the specks, of red amid the black ink indicate. How had the nib been damaged? Neither question could be answered by the pen-being dropped on the manuscript. Then the damage to the nib and the specks of red had occurred after Hampden's death.
Frayne turned suddenly—to find Mrs. Hampden watching him. Furtively. Almost he thought he read fear in her eyes. What did the woman know? A sudden elation came over him. He knew now that he was on the right track—if only he could read the riddle!
With quick decision he went to the door. In the room where the Professor lay, he hesitated. He had come there on a sudden impulse, not knowing what he sought yet believing that near the dead man lay the key to the mystery.
For long minutes he looked down on the still form. At length he threw hack the sheet and commenced to search the body. He was unsuccessful until, his search almost completed, he lifted the left hand.
On the ball of the index finger was a small puncture, covered with ink.
He dropped the lifeless fingers and stepped back. He remembered asking Grimes if the body held any wound—and the detective's negative reply.
Again he lifted the hand—now examining the puncture under his powerful glass. It bad not bled, although moderately deep. That was strange. For moments he meditated, tapping the rim of his glass against his teeth. The magnifying glass slipped from his fingers and rolled under the bed.
Frayne stooped to recover it. When he straightened he held a screw of white paper. It was a letter.
A whistle of astonishment came to his lips as he read the agitatedly scrawled lines. He had guessed right when he first met Mrs. Hampden. The aged Professor had married a young woman—with the inevitable consequences.
There was no hint of triumph in his manner when he re-entered the study. He strolled across to where Mrs. Hampden and the detective sat.
Grimes looked up, questioningly.
"May I, Mrs. Hampden?" Frayne offered his case. Almost mechanically the widow accepted, a cigarette.
"A light, Mrs. Hampden. Only common house matches." He laughed slightly. "Like the empty box Sergeant Grimes found—er—on the hearth rug."
Again the frightened look came in the woman's eyes. She glanced unwittingly to where the match-box rested on the mantelshelf.
"By-the-bye, Grimes," the journalist spoke carelessly. "When did you put that match-box on the mantelpiece?"
"I—" The detective hesitated. "I thought I left it on the hearth rug. Say, Frayne, you're making a to-do about that match- box."
"It's interesting!" The newspaper man picked up the box, turning it carelessly on his hand. "You left it on the hearth rug? And the key?"
"The key to the door. You remember the door was locked when Mrs. Hampden came to find the Professor."
"Had to force it." The detective acknowledged. "Still—"
"The door was locked when you brought me here." The journalist interrupted. "I suppose you repaired the lock before you left the house?"
"Of course. Wasn't difficult. I had only loosened the screws and—"
"And the key?"
"I put it in my pocket."
"You found it—where?—when you first entered the room."
"On the floor."
"By the desk? You repaired the lock, shot the bolt and pocketed the key?" The newspaper man was insistent.
"Then no one could enter the room while you were absent."
The detective did not answer; he was staring at the journalist. "You told me the Professor was unwounded. When you removed him to where he now lies," Frayne continued. "Then you locked this door and left the house."
The newspaper man smiled. He turned to the woman.
"You smoke a good deal, Mrs. Hampden."
"Sometimes." The widow showed astonishment.
"And usually use house matches? Boxes like this one, Mrs. Hampden?"
Frayne indicated the empty match-box.
The woman nodded, a startled look dawning in her fine eyes.
"Good! Now, may I trouble you for the second key to this door!"
"What do you mean?"
Grimes sprang to his feet "Frayne, do you know you are accusing—"
"The second key!" The journalist spoke imperatively. "Mrs. Hampden, where is it?"
"In my room." The woman covered her face with her hands.
"Jove!" The detective faced Mrs. Hampden, accusingly. "Then you—"
"A moment, Grimes," Frayne interposed. "You found the key by the desk some seven or eight feet from the door. Had it dropped from the lock, it could not have fallen there. It is obvious Professor Hampden locked the door and carried the key to his desk. Later, it was swept on to the floor."
"That does not explain Mrs. Hampden having a key," stated Grimes.
"Does it not? It was obvious that someone entered this room after you locked it."
"Mrs. Hampden missed her husband from his bed. She came down and found this door fastened. An hour later Mrs. Hampden telephoned the Police that she could note get into the room, yet she had a second key."
Sudden suspicion clouded the detective's face. He swung around on the woman.
"Wait, Grimes!" Frayne laid a hand on the detective's arm. "We have another aspect of the case to consider."
"You told me there was no wound on the professor."
"There is not!"
"The professor jabbed his fountain-pen into the ball of his left index finger. Rather a nasty wound."
"Bye the bye." The journalist continued. "Did the professor have anything in his hand when you found him?" Grimes answered. "I wanted to force it open but the doctors dissuaded me. If I thought that—"
"I thought so." The newspaperman interrupted. He produced from his breast pocket a crumpled paper.
"With this letter our case is complete."
"I should say it was!" A light of triumph blazed in the detective's eyes as he scanned the writing. "Here's the motive! Lucy Hampden, I arrest you for the murder of your—"
"Wait!" Frayne interposed. He glanced from the detective to the woman weeping on the couch.
"Mrs. Hampden, will you tell the story of last night—or shall I?"
"That's not fair, Frayne." The detective's sense of fair play overcame his curiosity. "I have to warn you, Mrs. Hampden, that any statement you make may be used against you."
"Or in your favour." the journalist spoke significantly. "Perhaps I had better tell the tale. There may be points Mrs. Hampden may miss."
"What more do you want than this?" Grimes tapped the letter. Here's the motive complete—
"A two-edged weapon," interjected Frayne. "Listen, you will remember I commented on the big interval of time between Mrs. Hampden going to the study door and telephoning the police."
"I suggest Mrs. Hampden did not go to her room immediately after dinner. She followed her husband here, continuing the dispute that had arisen at the dinner table. Am I correct, Mrs. Hampden?"
The woman nodded.
"Dispute? Grimes interjected. Where so you get the dispute?
"I tell a tale as badly as you, Grimes. Let me commence again. Professor Hampden married a young and beautiful woman. Then, as many elderly bridegrooms do, returned to his work, leaving his bridge to amuse herself. By the way Mrs. Hampden you will correct me if I am in error."
The widow made a sign of assent.
"Among her friends Mrs. Hampden numbered a Mr Ralph Cummings. He is I believe a very young man—"
"He is only twenty—I am twenty-nine." Mrs. Hampden murmured.
"Quite so." The journalist's keen eyes lit with a flicker of amusement. "I shall not be wrong if I believe that Mr Cummings believed he had fallen deeply in love with Mrs. Hampden? Yes. And that he did not hesitate to express his feelings on paper."
"Here's the proof!" The detective again tapped the letter.
"How many of these letters were there, Mrs. Hampden?" queried Frayne.
"And the third impassioned screed fell by accident into Professor Hampden's hands—and he is a violently jealous man."
"I told him he must not write—that he was acting foolishly. Mrs. Hampden commenced to cry again.
"Let me continue." Frayne continued after a pause. "This letter arrived by the late afternoon post and became mixed with the professor's mail. He opened it unwittingly. Mrs. Hampden did not return home until just before dinner. During that meal the storm broke."
"He accused me of—of awful things. He said he would divorce me."
"The letter was indiscrete to a degree. The dispute continued through the meal, Mrs. Hampden trying to convince her husband of her innocence. Suddenly the professor jumped up from the table and went to his study. Mrs. Hampden made to follow, but he slammed the door in her face and locked it, removing the key and putting it on the corner of his desk."
"But how did the murderer get in?" exclaimed the detective.
"Am I right so far?"
Mrs. Hampden nodded assent. A Light of hope shone in her eyes.
"Then Mr Hampden went to her room and remained there for some time. At length she decided to again seek a reconciliation with her husband, and went to the study. He would not answer to her knock, or call.
"Mrs. Hampden returned to her room. She remembered that there was a second key to the study door. She found it and unlocked the door. The Professor was still jealously angry. For some time she tried to reason with him—and during that time she smoked at least four cigarettes—"
"Pure guessing!" Grimes interjected.
"The butts are in the fireplace. The actual number does not matter, except to indicate the length of time she stayed here. She lit her last cigarette with the last match in this box, then threw the box into the grate. It hit a corner of the fireplace and fell on the hearth-rug."
"So that's your match-box clue!" laughed Grimes.
"Sufficient to show me that Mrs. Hampden had been here smoking; for Professor Hampden did not indulge in that vice."
"I will now conclude my theory," continued the journalist. "Mrs. Hampden claimed her letter. Impatient and fearful, she snatched it from the desk where it lay and ran to the door. Hampden, after a struggle, succeeded in regaining possession of the letter, crunching it into a ball in his hand. In the struggle with Mrs. Hampden he tripped and fell heavily."
"But how was he murdered?" asked the detective. "There was no wound on him, when, I found him."
"There is how—the puncture on his left index finger."
"Mrs. Hampden watched her husband for some moments, then went to him. She found he was dead—that he had died from excitement and shock, reacting on a weak heart. In sudden fear she fled from the room, locking the door behind her.
"In her room, when more composed, she realised that she could not leave her husband in that condition. She rang up the police, determining to conceal the dispute, and its cause. I believe any reconstruction as correct, Mrs. Hampden."
"And that in the excitement you forgot retrieve the letter immediately?
"It was not until after you, Grimes and the doctors had left that Mrs. Hampden remembered the letter. She determined to regain it for, without explanation, it was exceedingly compromising. She returned to the study and searched. It was then she picked up the empty match-box and placed it on the mantel.
"Not finding the letter, she remembered the Professor had clutched it in his hand just prior to his fall—and death.
"Fearful and dreading, she went to the death-chamber to find that rigor mortis had set in—that she could not loosen his fingers. She searched for something to force the ball of paper out of his clasp. Finally, she returned to the study and fetched the Professor's pen. In her agitation she jabbed the nib into his left index finger. At last she retrieved the letter and thrust it into bosom of her dress.
"Unfortunately, Mrs. Hampden forgot that modern woman's clothes fit very loosely. The ball of paper slipped down to the floor and, accidentally she kicked it under the bed. I found it there when I dropped my magnifying glass!"
"Mere conjecture!" The detective snorted. "You say that wound on his finger was made after death. It might have been made during his life; the means whereby the poison was injected into his system."
"In that case the autopsy will show traces of poison." Frayne answered equably. "I'm staking my reputation against that. Again—"
"The wound did not bleed. A dead body will not bleed—and that puncture would have caused a live man to lose an appreciable quantity of blood. That was my first real clue. The second—"
"Go on, man!" The detective almost shouted. "The second—"
"The empty match-box. It showed Mrs. Hampden was in this room when she averred she was not. The rest I guessed—but you'll find I guessed right!"
DARG HARRIS was a watchman in the employ of the Andora Steamship Company. Quite a character in his way. A queer old man who came to his occupation—when one of the Company's ships was at berth—accompanied by two cats. A wharf hand, who had traced the old man to his home in Woolloomooloo had reported to his mates that Darg lived in a couple of rooms in an alley off Cathedral-street, and that the place was literally overrun with cats. What the man did not know was the house belonged to Darg.
Darg bred cats. The two who accompanied him to his work were always the same. One was a full-grown cat of large size, the other a kitten. It was noticed that Darg invariably paid much attention to the kitten. Just as invariably the cat strayed to the cook's quarters on board the vessel—and, peculiarly, that high autocrat of the ship never appeared to have any objection.
Sam Plummer, one of the Custom's Inspectors, was curious. For some years he had seen Darg and his cats about the wharves. Occasionally he had petted the animals; not that Plummer was fond of cats, but that for a considerable time illegal drugs had made very free entry into Sydney, and he was curious regarding the methods the smugglers were adopting. Cats might be a method of entry—he could not, however, see how. Still, it was worth investigating.
Tom and Dick were the two cats who invariably came down to the wharf with Darg. Tom was three parts Persian and rather a fine specimen of the feline tribe. He had many accomplishments. He could beg like a dog; fetch and carry; and had a really marvellous command over his companion. No matter where the kitten strayed, Tom would search him out and bring him back to his master, mostly, carrying him by the scruff of the neck.
"I don't like those cats," Sam Plummer told his mate, Jim Perrin one day as they stood at the wharf and watched Tom fetch the smaller cat down from the deck in his mouth. "Look at that animal he's carrying. Why, it might be dead—"
The official paused, an idea coming into his mind. He looked at his watch. It wanted but a few minutes to five, when the wharf gates would be closed for the night and Darg left in solitary charge.
A dead cat. His thoughts went further. A stuffed cat. Why not a cat stuffed with cocaine? Pussy would carry a valuable cargo!
Two cats, one of them large and the other small: so small that the larger cat could carry it in its mouth. Sam Plummer was certain he had struck on an idea worth while. For some time he had had his eyes on the Andora Steamship Company's boats. More, he had held a big suspicion regarding Fred Dowles, the cook of Freda. The man was cheeky and argumentative. Several times he had questioned the Custom's officer's directions and decisions.
Plummer fell that he would go to far lengths to get even with the man—and this question of the cats...
Sam rubbed his hands gleefully.
It is one thing to have a theory and another to prove it. Sam Plummer found his path strewed with difficulties. It was easy for a Customs inspector to get on friendly terms with the watchman. Darg felt honoured at the attentions bestowed on himself and his cats. Tom came to recognise a friend in the dour-faced inspector who now had something appropriate for the occasion saved from this lunch. Tom was willing to show off his accomplishments to his new friend—and would even allow him to relieve him of his burden when he carried the smaller mate from the ship to the foot of his master.
The seamen of the various ships came to notice the strange friendship between the Custom's inspector and the cats. They quick to take advantage of the fact. Tom had no objection to carrying a well-fatted cat in his mouth—in fact he evidenced a disposition to put the little animal down and perform its ablutions—but Sam Plummer strongly objected to having an oiled bundle of dirty fluff deposited in his hand, especially when the gift was accompanied; by chortles of laughter from the crew.
"How the blazes does he get the stuff ashore?" Plummer asked his mate angrily one afternoon. "The five days the Freda's been in port I've worked overtime every night, trying to get to the bottom of this mystery.
"Perhaps old Darg doesn't run the stuff, after all," observed Perrin. He rather liked the old man and his cats, and he had no vendetta with the cook, or any of the crew of the ship.
"Don't be an ass."
Plummer turned on his heel and went after Tom, who was strolling on board for an interview with the cook.
"What's the joke, Darg?" Perrin halted by the side of the old watchman as he sat on an upturned box, stolidly shredding tobacco from his pipe. "Sam Plummer swears you're playing some joke on him."
"How?" The old man looked up incuriously; yet there was keenness behind the half-opened eyes.
"What do you have those cats down here for?"
"Company," Darg answered shortly.
"Who taught Tom to carry the little one?"
Perrin scratched his chin. He was not satisfied with the old man's answers. Again, lately he had learned from unimpeachable sources that Darg was well-off; that he owned not only the house he lived in but its neighbour. Houses are not saved out of earnings of a wharf-watchman!
"Well, mind your steps. Sam Plummer is on the watch."
"If you don't know there's no harm done." Perrin answered ambiguously. "If you do..."
"I'll have the lor on 'im if he damages me character." Darg spoke loudly. "I'm an honest watchman, that's wot I am, and that Inspector's got no right to say things abart me. I'll—"
"Yes?" Jim Perrin paused, as he was moving away. "Got one, Darg?"
"A character?" the inspector grinned. "If so you'd better tack it up in the office. You may want it one day."
He laughed as he made his way down the wharf to where Plummer stood, casually watching the gangway from the deck of the Freda to the wharf.
"Stayin' on Sam?" he inquired casually.
"For a little while.' In spite of his careless attitude Sam Plummer never relaxed his watch on the ship.
"Tom come down with his baby yet?" Perrin inquired; he could not resist a grin.
"I'll get that damned cat and its damned master yet!" Plummer's temper broke. "If you'd set your wits to work, Jim, we might, solve the puzzle. I'll swear quite a lot of cocaine came off that vessel."
"That blithering cook."
"Oh, have a heart!" Perrin, shrugged. "You've got Darg and, his cats, and that cook, on the brain. It'd be different if you had something to go on, but for the life of me I can't see that you've got anything but...but..."
"But—what?" Plummer turned on his mate wrathfully.
"OK, If you want it—prejudice." Perrin shrugged and turned to the gates. "Well. I'm off duty.. Good-night, if you're not conning."
Sam Plummer did not answer.
Out on the streets the Inspector turned. Plummer was still leaning against the wharf-wall, watching the ship.
A slight noise made Perrin turn swiftly. Darg was rolling shut the big doors of the shed. He almost thought the old man winked at him, as the doors closed.
Events of the night put Plummer, Darg and the cats from Jim Perrin's mind. A new arrival was expected all the neat little house in the suburbs.
The inspector was not easy in his mind when he went to work the next day. Plummer wearied him with his everlasting talk of thee cats. Twice he went to the public telephone on the quay to telephone home, rather than use the instrument in the office.
As he came down to the wharf on the second occasion a large cat carrying a kitten in his mouth trotted past him.
"Eh, Tom!' Perrin snapped his fingers, 'Where are you going? Old Darg's in the sheds."
The cat took no notice, of him. Jim Perrin frowned. It was not like old Tom to leave the sheds almost as soon as he arrived. He had never known the cat to do that before.
With a queer smile of uneasiness he turned and watched the animal. It held steadily on its course, carrying his little companion easily. Perrin watched it out of sight. He shrugged, and retraced his steps to the wharf. Plummer was hovering about the wharf close to the 'Freda'.
"You've lost Tom to-night.' Perrin laughed as he came up.
"He's on board with that damned cook!' The senior inspector growled.
"He's given you the slip.' Perrin laughed. I saw him up the road, making a beeline for home, and carrying the youngster in his mouth. Funny habit, that."
"What do you mean?" Plummer swung around angrily. "I saw him go on board that ship and I'll swear he never came off. I'll—"
But Perrin had ceased to take notice of his mate. A cat had appeared on the bulwark, carrying in its mouth a kitten. Sedately it jumped down on to the grating and made a leisurely way to the wharf. Then it went directly to Darg and deposited its burden at the old man's feet.
"There! What did I tell you?" The older man strode across to where the kitten lay and lifted it, stroking it gently. He dropped it after a moment and returned to his mate's side.
"No luck," he reported.
Perrin was perplexed. He could have sworn that he had seen Tom walking up the road towards Circular Quay—yet here was the cat lying at its master's feet assiduously washing itself. Close by the kitten was composing itself for a nap.
For some time the Inspector paced the roadway outside the sheds trying to fathom the problem. He could only put it aside with the theory that the cat he had seen did not belong to Darg, but that would suppose a coincidence that he could not believe.
Instinctively, he started up the road is the direction the cat hid taken. At the corner he ran late Bob Marshall, one of the water police.
"Looking for Darg's cat?" The man grinned. "Well, you wont have to go far."
"Why?" Perrin regarded his friend curiously.
"I saw you watching him as be crossed the road just now." Again the water-policeman smiled. "You just missed him. As you turned old Tom got in the way of a taxi."
"Sure thing! Killed both Tom and the young one he was carrying. Funny thing, Tom's jaws locked so fast that they couldn't them apart."
"What did do with them?" Perrin asked the question idly. He was now certain that he had been on the wrong track.
"You know that rubbish bin under the slope? Well, that 'John' off point chucked them there."
The Inspector went up the road and looked in the bin. The cat was there and so was the kitten. He could have sworn that the cat was Darg's cat—if he had not seen that cat but a few minutes before on the wharf. He lifted the kitten gingerly—and his body stiffened.
Carrying the dead cat by the tail, and the kitten in his pocket Perrin went back to the wharf. Old Darg was rolling into place the big doors when he arrived.
"Got bad news for you. Darg," Perrin called, bringing the dead cat from behind his back, "Got in the way of a taxi and—"
He dropped the limp body on the floor of the shed.
"Old Tom!" Darg bent over the animal. "That ain't old Tom." He straightened and looked around the shed then pointed. "There's old Tom over there by my box."
"And this wasn't the kitten he was carrying?"
Perrin fished in his pocket. He placed the kitten the ground and slit it with his penknife. Out of the stuffed skin came a number of small packets containing cocaine.
Not old Tom and not my kitten! Darg did not bat an eyelash
"Where'd 'you get 'em? "Somebody's been trying to smuggle, but not me."
And, from that statement the inspectors could not budge him. They knew—but they had no proof—that Darg and the Freda's cook were the smugglers. The knew, and Darg knew that they knew; but with old Tom sitting in darkened shed, calmly washing an erected leg, they had no evidence.
Yet, they had some consolation. They had the cocaine.
"MISTER H'alebut Cay! Mr. H'alebut Cay!" The page droned the cry down the crowded lounge of the Hotel Splendide and halted before a young man, sprawling on one of the red-leather lounges. "Mister Cay, you're wanted!"
Aldebert Cay managed to struggle to his feet, holding tight to the page's shoulder. Tall, fair and well-built, with the reminder of the country sun's tan on his face, he showed signs of a long spell of drink and dissipation.
"Who wan's me? You..." He paused and peered vacantly into the boy's freckled face. "You...you're 'Bob,' ain't you? Though' so. Say Bob, you go an' tell 'em to..."
"Box 4, sir." The page caught the man by the waist of his jacket and propelled him towards the telephone cabinets. "Come on, sir. That's right! Take that in yer 'and an' yell."
"Think I don't know?" Cay leaned heavily against the ledge under the instrument, waving the receiver in his hand. "Say, Bob. Take this an' get me a bran'y an' soda. Keep th' change, an' get out. How th' devil you think I'm going ter entertain th' lady when you're there, grinnin' all over yer face?"
The page closed the door of the cabinet and went across to the pages' bench against the Inquiry Desk, making no attempt to carry out the order. Drink was not served in the hall lounge of the hotel.
The minutes passed. At the end of a quarter of an hour the boy went across to the cabinet. Cay was not there. Puzzled, for he had not lost sight of the cabinet since the young man entered it, he went to the desk and explained to the clerk. Busy, and indifferent, she decided Cay had managed to leave the cabinet while the page's attention was diverted—and placed the note to the young squatter's credit.
Matters came to a head next morning when the floor-maid reported that Mr. Aldebert Cay had not slept in his bed the previous night. He had disappeared completely from the hotel.
DETECTIVE-SERGEANT Robert Greyson closed his note-book and snapped the elastic band around it. He sat silent, staring expressionlessly at Superintendent Brandon on the other side of the big desk.
"He went into the telephone box." Greyson permitted a light smile to part his lips. "From there—nothing."
"In a crowded hotel lounge! Talk sense, Sergeant! There's only one solution. He came out of the box while the page was not looking and wandered onto the streets."
"He hadn't a hat." The detective spoke stolidly. "His hats, gloves, stick, and overcoats were in his room."
"He was drunk!" The Superintendent spoke impatiently. "What of the telephone call?"
"The switch-board attendant at the hotel informs me a call from Roytown came for Mr. Aldebert Cay about 2.30 that afternoon. That seems to be the call he went into the cabinet to answer."
"Who made the call?"
"The Roytown operator states she had no call for Sydney that day between the hours of 1.10 and 4.21. I've traced both those calls. One to a man in Sussex Street; the other to a lady in North Sydney."
"I had a call from the Hon. Samuel Cay, M.L.C., this morning." Greyson spoke woodenly. "He states no one from his house telephoned the Hotel Splendide that day. He added that if you don't have his son located pronto, he'll make a little rebuilding necessary at Police Headquarters."
"Humph!" Brandon made a wry face. "Well, Greyson, it's up to you. Am I to tell the Hon. Samuel Cay, M.L.C., that..."
"You may tell Squatter Cay to go where his collective sheep will raise a savoury smell to the heavens!" Greyson levered himself from his chair and sauntered to the door. "Thought I'd let you know how matters stood, in case the Woolly King took it into his head to pay you a visit."
THE detective closed the door and walked up the long passage to the main entrance. Greyson was guessing that the puzzle before him would end in a kidnapping case. The Cays were wealthy. Someone had noticed the inebriety and fondness for thrills of the young squatter. It had been easy to tempt him from the hotel—where? He turned on his heels and went down to the Hotel Splendide.
Bob Dunn, the pageboy, was not on the bench on the lounge, but sooner or later he would return. For a quarter of an hour Greyson sat patiently watching the people in the lounge and the telephone cabinets.
At length, the boy returned, greeting the detective with a shy nod.
"Been a run, son?" The officer opened the conversation carelessly yet sympathetically.
"Bloke wanted some theatre tickets." The boy grumbled. "Wasn't content to telephone an' pick 'em up at th' theatre."
"Still thinkin' of that chap as disappeared?" The boy laughed. "Gee! He could drink! Wish I 'adn't given that note to th' girl. I could do wi' it—an' 'e told me to keep th' change!"
"Tell me how he managed to get out of that cabinet without you seeing him and I'll find a pound note for you, perhaps two," Greyson suggested quickly.
"Couldn't." The page boy spoke disgustedly. "I was watchin' all th' time. Never took me eyes orf it once."
Greyson walked over to the lift and went up to Cay's vacant room. From one of the suitcases he took a number of letters and sat on the edge of the bed to digest them. Three he placed on one side. In the lounge he went to the Desk and asked to be put through to Roytown—to Mr. Sam Cay's station.
He went across to his old seat on the pages' bench while waiting for the connection. A few minutes, and Bob Dunn joined him again. "By the way, Bob," said Greyson, "where was Cay going the night he disappeared?"
"Prince of Wales," the boy answered promptly. "Takin' Miss Florrie Montgomery ter supper at th' 'Wanderers.'"
The girl at the Desk signed to the detective and he went quickly to her. "Number 3 cabinet, Sergeant," she said, in a whisper. "Did I do right?"
"Good girl!" He entered the telephone cabinet and lifted the receiver. A female voice answered his inquiry for the squatter. "Mrs. Cay speaking. Mr. Cay only returned home from a long journey half an hour ago and has gone to bed. Can I take a message?"
"Please inform him that Superintendent Brandon, of the C.I.B., would like him to come to Sydney, at once."
"Oh!" Mrs. Cay's voice tensed with anxiety. "Has...has anything happened to Aldebert?"
The Sergeant laughed slightly. "Let me see, there's a train arriving at Sydney about three o'clock tomorrow. Please ask Mr. Cay to be on that train."
"Y-e-s." There was doubt in her voice. "You...you are certain Aldebert is all right."
"I promise you he shall return to Roytown with Mr. Cay." For a moment the detective hesitated. "That is, provided Mr. Cay comes to Sydney as I suggest."
NEXT day, Greyson went into the city and ate a leisurely lunch. Shortly before three o'clock he arrived at Central Station and watched the passengers disembark from the western train. As he expected, Samuel Cay was one of the first to pass the barrier. Sam Cay was detained some minutes before Superintendent Brandon was free to receive him. When he entered the room, he looked inquiringly at the bulky detective seated in the chair before the window.
"Well, found my boy?" The squatter, scowling viciously, seated himself in the chair placed before the desk.
"Let me introduce Detective-Sergeant Greyson." Brandon spoke quietly.
"Where's my boy?" The squatter swung round towards the officer.
"Better start at the beginning of the trail." Greyson ignored the squatter and spoke direct to his superior. "I was detailed to go to the Hotel Splendide and investigate the peculiar disappearance of Mr. Aldebert Cay. There I was informed a telephone message had come through from Roytown about 3.20 p.m. of the previous day.
"I first investigated the telephone call. I found that it did not originate at Roytown; therefore it was logical to presume the call originated in Sydney. I examined the cabinet—in fact, the row of four cabinets in the hotel entrance lounge. I found they were in two pairs, the doors opening opposite each other, in each pair.
"It wasn't until I went through the young man's correspondence the second time, I began to understand what had happened. I found he was on very intimate terms with a certain Miss Montgomery."
"He wanted to marry her, the damned fool!" interjected the squatter.
"And, you objected. I've got your and her letters." The detective turned swiftly on the squatter. "Do you remember an expression you used in one of your letters to your son? You wrote: 'If you don't obey me, I'll put you where you can't do any more harm.' Mr. Samuel Cay, in what inebriate home have you imprisoned your son?"
"What!" Superintendent Brandon almost jumped from his chair.
One look at the bowed head of the old squatter told the truth of the accusation.
"A mystery that, wasn't one!" Greyson laughed drily. "Aldebert Cay never disappeared. Mr. Cay came to Sydney determined to prevent his son's marriage to Miss Montgomery; perhaps to find a cure for his intemperate habits. When he alighted from the train, he telephoned his son and ordered him to come to him immediately.
"Young Cay was drunk, but the arrival of his father sobered him somewhat. He promised obedience and started to leave the cabinet. The door was partly open, as also was the door of the next cabinet. Thus, the doors prevented the page from seeing him as he hesitated one step out of the cabinet, and stood in the small angle.
"He had remembered his appointment with Miss Montgomery; he went to re-enter the cabinet to telephone her postponing: the appointment, but, half-dazed with the liquor, stepped into cabinet No. 3 by mistake. Just at that time the page comes to cabinet No. 4, and finds it empty. He never thought to look in cabinet No. 3 where young Cay actually was then. Perhaps it was while Bob Dunn was telling his tale to the girl at the desk, Aldebert Cay wandered out of cabinet No. 3, and onto the street to go to his father, forgetting first to go to his room for hat, gloves and stick."
"I..." The old squatter stood up quickly, a half-denial on his lips.
"Why did you telephone me, Mr. Cay?" Greyson spoke quickly. "Had you not been in Sydney—in fact had you not been to the Hotel Splendide, you would not have known I was on the case. Yet you telephoned the Department asking for me by name."
IT was minutes after Samuel Cay had taken his departure from Superintendent Brandon's office, much chastened in spirit, that the senior officer asked the final question:
"Didn't have much to go on, Greyson. How did you manage it?"
"Mostly bluff." The detective grinned. "There were three points that stood out. First, the doors of the cabinets. Second, old Cay's letters, to his son. Third, his telephone call to me, and..."
"What of the Roytown telephone call?"
"Wasn't one. Just a bit of fog on the lines. Old Cay asked at his hotel for the switch operator there to get his son at the Hotel Splendide. He gave his name as 'Cay from Roytown'. That was understood by the switch operator at the Hotel Splendide as 'Cay of Roytown.' The delay on the lines made as if the call was a trunk one. That's all I had to go on, except as I said before..."
"What!" Brandon was smiling now.
"Just—bluff. And it came off."
INSPECTOR Walter Paull of the Criminal Investigation Branch, Sydney stood in the doorway between the two offices, gazing before him reflectively. Behind him stood a white-faced girl, trying to peer fearfully past the Inspector's large bulk into the inner office.
The room was barely furnished. By the window stood a large plain sloping desk, in which rested a big drawings board and a large assortment of rulers, paints, inks, etc. Against the wall opposite the door was an ordinary desk, the swivel chair drawn close to the knee's aperture. In the chair sat a man leaning back, his head lolling to one side and turned so that a considerable portion of his face could be seen from the door. A small book-case and three plain chairs completed the furnishing of the room.
There could be no doubt but that the man at the desk was dead. Yet, Paull hesitated to advance into the room. For some moments he stood scratching his clean-shaven chin carefully; then, carefully keeping his large bulk between the desk he turned.
"Haven't been in there, Miss—er—You didn't say what your name was—"
"Anstey, Maude Anstey!"
The girl spoke in low hesitating tones. "No, I haven't been in there. I couldn't! I—"
"There there!" Taking the girl by the arm, the inspector led her to a chair in the outer office.
"Just a bit of an accident, I should say. Nothing for you to be frightened about. Now, sit there, m'dear. Have a drink of water? No? Well, well. Now, Miss—yes—Miss Anstey. You rang Police Headquarters? Quite right. Let me see—Yes, twenty minutes ago; Just after you got here this morning, eh? Sharp to time, yes? Ten minutes to ten now; that makes your time to arrive at half-past nine, eh? Thought so—"
The inspector rambled on, waiting for the girl to recover, in some measure, her composure. For a awhile she sat, shaken, and with little choking sobs rising irregularly in her throat. At length she quieted.
"Get here at nine-thirty; don't you?" repeated the inspector.
"Nine o'clock, sir." She spoke weakly.
"Never mind the 'sir.'" The little cupid-bow mouth twisted to an expression of distaste. "Call me inspector, or Mr Paull; I answer to both—Except when I'm at home and the missus is wild. Then to anything she thinks of."
"That's right!" The soft podgy hand of the detective patted the girl's reassuringly. "Feel better, eh? Well, well! You get here at nine, eh? What time does Mr. Delaney get here?"
"About half-past, as a rule; sometimes later."
"Irregular, eh? Well, you came in here. Got a key to the offices, eh? Thought so. Opened the door and walked in. Now—was that door open when, you arrived? Think carefully. Plenty of time! I'm in no hurry, and he—" Paull shrugged nonchalantly.
"The door was shut, Mr Paull."
"Didn't go in there at once?"
"Not for some time. I didn't think that Mr. Delaney had arrived—and there was nothing for me to do there." The girl hesitated. "I had a drawing to finish for him by the time he came and—and I was a bit behind with it—"
"So you settled down to work? Finish the drawing?"
"Yes. You're an artist, eh, like Mr. Delaney? Commercial artist. Heard of him. Good man, they say. Plenty of work here?"
"Quite a lot." The girl smiled faintly
"Well, well! You went on with the drawing and finished it. Then—well, then—"
"I thought I would tidy up Mr Delaney's room. He's—rather untidy, you know, like all men."
"Leaves things about and—" Paull grimaced. "Poor devils, men!" A slow chuckle came from the thick throat. "Ever thought what an untidy world this would be, if it weren't for the women, Miss Anstey? No? Well, take my word for it. So you went in there." He pointed to the inner office.
"I opened the door."
"Didn't go in?"
"Ah well, perhaps as well."
He paused a moment. "Where's the 'phone? Ah, here on your desk."
"There's two—one in Mr Delaney's room. There's a switch here. I take, calls and put them through to him." The girl illustrated as she spoke.
"Quite neat," Paull nodded. "So you didn't go in, there? Rang us up from here? Good! Now about yourself, m'dear. Feel all right, now? Able to stay here for a time? Good! May want to ask you some questions, later. I'll have a little look around, first. He raised himself from the low chair on which he was seated and strolled to the inner room, the girl watching him fearfully. At the door he turned.
"By-the-bye, Miss Anstey. Been long here?"
"Just over six months."
"Apprentice artist." The girl spoke quickly. "I'm here to gain experience in commercial work."
"Ah! Hm!" Paull nodded; "Well, if anyone calls, or telephones, just say that Mr. Delaney's engaged, and will be for some time. That's true—as true as ever will be. Get their names and make a list of them. Get me?"
The girl nodded. Paull turned to the inner room. Just within the door he hesitated, glancing about him inquisitively, yet not allowing, his eyes to rest on the dead man. Nothing in the room appeared to be out of place. There were no signs of a struggle. He took a few steps forward and peered over the dead man's body at the desk. On the blotting pad lay a large sketch, covered by a sheet of paper.
Again Paull scratched his chin. There was an atmosphere in the room he could not understand. The man had been murdered. From where he stood the detective could plainly view the swollen distorted face, the big powerful frame. It seemed impossible that a man of that build could be done to deaths without putting up a fight. Yet—
Nothing in the room had been disturbed. He bent to the ground close to: the desk, examining the linoleum under the deed man's feet: A few marks showed, but nothing out of the common. Then Delaney had died swiftly; almost unknowingly, as he sat alone before his desk.
The sounds of someone in the outer office brought the detective to his feet. He went to the door. Miss Anstey was at the counter, talking to a tall, thin man; carrying a bag.
"Ah, doctor! Thought you wouldn't be long after me." Paull ambled to the counter and lifted up the flap.
"Come in. I want your opinion on things before anything—or—well, you know—is moved."
He preceded the doctor into the inner office and stood on one side while the medical man made his examination. In a few minutes the doctor turned, shrugging.
"How long, Dr. Carter?"
"About twelve to fourteen hours!"
"Hm! Eight to ten o'clock last night!" Paull mused a moment; then turned in the doorway. "Miss Anstey, what time did you leave work last night?"
"Five o'clock, Inspector."
"And Mr. Delaney was still here?"
"Said he was going to work late?"
"He usually, did, Mr. Paull." The girl hesitated. "He never did much work in the daytime—drawing, I mean. Used to be in and out; rarely at his desk. Late in the afternoon he would commence work. I nearly always left him here. He would go out to dinner about six and then come back and work on."
"Till about ten o'clock—sometimes later."
Paull nodded. He turned again to face the doctor. "Cause of death?" he asked casually.
"Want me to tell you?" The medical man pointed to the thin cord embedded in the flesh of the neck. "That's plain—strangulation—and by someone who knew what they were doing."
Paull stepped to the side of the dead man and bent to examine the cord.
"Nothing out of the ordinary here; doctor. Stuff you can buy in any shop, almost. Still—"
"Want that cord, Inspector?" Dr. Carter placed his bag on the desk and opened it.
"Hmmm—Yes." Paull frowned. "The cord's not worth much; but the knot now, that's interesting. Can you—"
"Course!" A few deft movements and the cord came away from the flesh. The doctor handed it to the detective, who placed it on the desk. "That all you want from me?"
"For the time—and here," the detective nodded. "Thanks. I'll want you to see our friend later, of course. But now—well, the ambulance men are here and before I examine things we'll send him on a journey."
Paull accompanied the doctor to the door and out into the corridor. There; as he expected, he found the ambulance men, waiting. A few minutes and the body was carried out of the office. Paull shut' the door with a sigh of relief and walked over to where Miss Anstey sat at her desk.
"Mr. Delaney married, miss?"
"No." The girl hesitated. "There was a young lady who used to call sometimes."
The girl nodded.
"A brother, Ernest. Delaney. He's a printer—manager for Ferroll and Royce."
"A printer, eh?" The detective took a toothpick from his pocket and chewed it meditatively. "Commercial artist and a printer. Ah! Hm! Well; give the gentleman a ring and tell him that his brother—say, what's his name?"
"David, Mr. Paull."
"Say that brother David has met with an accident. Get me? Accident! Say he'd better come round here, at once. That's all, 'cept—Any 'phones while I was in there?"
"A Mr. Matthews rang up."
"A friend of Mr. Delaney's Mr. Paull."
"What's his line?"
"I don't know."
"Hm! Anyone else?"
"Mr. Persus rang up. He wanted to see Mr. Delaney as soon as possible."
"Mr. Persus! Who is he?"
"Mr. Delaney used to buy copper plates off him, Mr. Paull."
"Mr. Delaney used to make wonderful etchings." The girl pointed to some' frames on the wall. Paull strolled around examining the etchings. They were certainly beautiful examples of the art—even to the detective's inexpert eyes. "No one else?"
Paull nodded and returned to the inner office, closing the door after him. Again he made a rapid survey of the room. Its order and exactness exasperated him. A murder should not be committed in such surroundings. The criminal should leave some signs of his presence! An overturned chair—something smashed! But, here was nothing—nothing but the empty chair where the dead man sat. And, before the chair a large square of cardboard, covered with a sheet of paper.
Sometime between eight and ten o'clock on the previous evening David Delaney had sat at that desk, at work. Someone had stealthily entered the room creeping up behind him. The sudden cast of a thin strong cord—a strangled cry! The sudden tension of the cord; a gasp—and the deed was accomplished. David, Delaney had ceased to exist!
But, what had the murdered man been doing at the time of his death? He had not been working. The covered drawing showed that. Yet if he had finished work and covered the drawing for the night, how had his attention been engrossed so that the murderer could steal up to him? If there was one thing certain, it was that Delaney had considered that he was alone in the offices.
Paull frowned perplexedly. There was a mystery here—one he could not fathom. With a sudden gesture of impatience he drew out the chair and sat down before the desk. He leaned forward, drawing imaginary lines on the paper before him. Yes, in the quietness of the evening it would have been possible for a man to steal up behind him—to attack him unawares. But Delaney had finished work. He had covered his drawing. That meant that he had finished for the night. It was reasonable to suppose that he was on the point of rising from his chair to leave the offices. Then—
A quick examination of the surface of the paper and Paull lifted it from the drawing—to sit back, with an exclamation of astonishment. On the cardboard was a complete drawing of a man seated in a chair, bending forward over a desk, at work. Behind him was a crouching figure, holding over the seated man's head a slender cord! A revulsion of feeling, shook, the portly frame of the detective, as with ague. Delaney had been strangled while he sat at his desk before his work—at work on the sketch of a man being strangled at work!
The idea was fantastic—almost unbelievable. For long minutes Paull sat, staring at the sketch. Then, something on the upper edge of the cardboard attracted his attention. They were three little dark, round objects. He picked up one, to drop it in disgust. Three small dead snails! How had, they come to be on the drawing the dead man had been engaged upon a few seconds before he met his death?
"THREE snails!" Paull murmured the words, a grim smile playing around his lips. "The three snails! Now, what the devil are they doing here—in a common-place commercial office. A market garden—and a fellow would understand! Even an ordinary garden would help—or a window box, but—" He pursed his lips in a low whistle—then laughed, noiselessly.
Picking up a pencil he flicked the little round objects until they rolled down the cardboard to the edge of the desk. He took a powerful magnifying glass from his pocket and carefully scrutinised the shells. So far as he could see they were innocent of any foreign marks.
"No fingerprints! No marks!" He shook, his head sadly. "Now, what's a fat policeman going to do if crooks forget to leave their 'cards' about? T'isn't fair! All this scientific stuff is hampering the police. What's it all going to come to? Why, they'll want the police to attend University lectures soon—same as they do journalists—and then—Lord! We'll not only, do our detecting work but we'll be writing our own account of the crimes for the newspapers. Oh hell!"
Emptying out a match-box he swept the three snails into it and stowed the box: in his pocket. Again he let his attention revert to the sketch. A careful scanning of the drawing, and he half-turned in the swivel chair.
"Miss Anstey!" He waited until the girl came to the dividing door. "Oh, come on in, there's nothing here to bite you—or I wouldn't be here, myself. Have a look at this. Mr. Delaney's work? 'Course! Jolly good eh? Seen it before?"
"Yes, Mr. Paull," the girl replied promptly. "It's for a story. I—"
She bent to the desk and from a drawer pulled out a bundle of printers' proofs.
"Here it is. Mr. Delaney asked me to read the story and mark the places where I thought it would illustrate."
"So!" Paull was surprised. "In a story, eh? Well, Well! So Mr. Delaney illustrates a story and—and dies the same way, sitting looking at his work. That's a newie. Hm! There's something in this. Now, let's see—?"
He sat back in his chair, pondering deeply, the girl standing beside him, curiosity in her eyes. The Inspector was acknowledging himself frankly puzzled. During his service he had solved many problems—some of them bringing to him great credit and promotion—mainly by an inability to acknowledge defeat. But here, in this office he had a case where none of the ordinary methods of detection would serve.
David Delaney had been murdered while illustrating a story of a murder! The murder had been committed in a manner exactly similar to that depicted by the artist. Then the murderer had been acquainted not only with the story but with the actual lines that the artist had decided to illustrate—or there had been a coincidence far out of the common. Again, the murderer had known that David; Delaney had been commissioned to illustrate the story. Paull shook his head. Here was a situation bizarre to an absurdity! With a shrug Paull pulled the proofs of the story before him and scanned the heading:
THE ATELIER MURDER!
By Austin Farnborough.
With nervous fingers, he turned the long slips of paper, watching for the heavy double pencil marks on the margin that indicated the words the artist was to illustrate. In a few minutes he found the lines:
The door opened slowly. Into the darkened room crept a shadow. For some seconds it hovered behind the chair on which the artist sat; then moved swiftly. A strangled cry; a throaty gurgle, and the man fell back in his chair—dead.
"Humph!" Paull leaned back in the seat scowling. "Couldn't have described it better: myself." He pushed back the chair and turned his attention to the drawers of the desk. There was nothing of consequence in them. He turned to the desk-top. Under a pile of papers he found a thin copper plate—blank. "Interesting!" The detective turned to where the girl had stood, but she had disappeared.
A little chuckle came from his lips, immediately suppressed. He struggled to his feet and wandered to the door, expecting to find the artist-apprentice 'in the outer office, but she was not there.
"Feelings overcame her, eh?" Again he chuckled, wandering over to the high table on which the girl worked. There was nothing on it that interested him; only the usual paraphernalia of the studio. "Ah, well!"
He heard the click of the door-lock but did not turn.
"I beg your pardon!" The strange voice caught his attention. In spite of his bulk he whirled round, quickly.
"Sorry!" He surveyed the pretty girl on the other side of the counter, quizzically. "I'm not used to keeping office, y'know, and—"
"Mr. Delaney in?" Without waiting for a reply the girl lifted the counter-flap and passed into the outer office, making for the inner room. Paull quietly interposed between her and the door.
"Again?" A bright smile flashed on the girl's face. "Is being sorry a habit of yours?"
"Always—when I have to disappoint a charm—"
"Thanks!" A moue pursed the girl's lips. "Then Mr. Delaney is not in?"
"I'm afraid—he's out—right out!" Paull spoke slowly, looking restlessly towards the outer door for the girl artist. "I'm afraid he'll be out for quite a time."
"Dear me!" The girl paused, undecided, for a moment: "Perhaps if I wait?"
"You may; have to wait a long time, Miss—er—"
"And you are busy, Mr.—er—" The girl mimicked, laughingly.
"Paull, Walter Paull," The Inspector interposed hurriedly. "Of course, I shall be delighted if—"
"Mr. Delaney's partner, Mr.—er—Walter Paull?"
"Well—hardly that. I'm—er—sort of interested in him at the moment. Not attached here—nor anywhere else. Just drop in when anything happens, y'know."
Where the devil had the girl got to?
"Miss Anstey's out for the moment—"
He tried to remember if the girl-artist had told him the name of Delaney's fiancée. No, he hadn't asked that question. What the—
"Have you an appointment?"
"No, Mr. Paull. Do you suggest that I should have rung up Mr. Delaney and asked for an interview? It's not very usual between—" she hesitated and swung round at the opening of the office door. "Why—Bill! Fancy you coming here! Have you come to see David? Mr.—er—Paull says he's out—and he's so rude—he won't let me into David's private room."
"Sorry, miss." A couple of strides brought the detective to the door of the inner room. He flung it open with a flourish. "If I'd thought—"
"Thank you!" The girl gave a little mocking curtsy as she passed into the inner room. The young man was about to follow her when Paull tapped him on the shoulder significantly.
"Just a moment. Mr.—er—"
"Sinclair! Bill Sinclair!" The young man looked puzzled. "I don't recognise you here. Has anything happened to David?"
"A bit." Paull nodded suggestively towards the other room. "There's been an acci—"
"Come here! I want you."
"If you don't mind a moment, miss, it's a matter of business."
"Oh!" The girl rose and came to where Paull stood.
"Now I thought—I may have been mistaken—but I really thought that I—"
"Bill!" They both laughed. Paull looked from one to the other somewhat amazedly. The girl glimpsed his face, and laughed anew. "The joke's on me!"
The detective made a gesture of resignation. "Mr. Sinclair, if you'll explain."
"Impossible!" The girl mocked. "No one has succeeded in that, so; far—even mother couldn't, David tried; then Bill?"
The Inspector threw up his hands. "I'm beat! Mr. Sinclair, will you please introduce me to this young lady. I suggested to her some little while ago that I would like to know her name, but—"
"Miss—er—" the girl laughed.
"Delaney." The young man concluded.
"Miss Delaney?" The detective was staggered. "And I thought you were—"
"Miss Anstey!" Sinclair turned towards the outer door as the apprentice artist entered the studio. "Will Mr. Delaney be long? This gentleman says he's out. I come to—"
"Meet me, Bill." Dora Delaney dimpled wickedly. "Now boy, don't deny it. You know I 'phoned you just before I left home and said I was coming here." She turned to the detective. "I'm rather worried about my brother, Mr. Paull. He never came home last night. Brothers—modern brothers—are really awful! So trying to real sisters. They go out and no one can guess when they will come home again—"
The detective nodded, a worried frown on his brows.
"And the modern girl, Dora—" commenced Sinclair.
"Is no lower than an angel," Dora concluded. "But that doesn't answer my question. David didn't come home last night—so I came here for an explanation—and I'm going to have a good one!" She paused, then continued: "There are but two of us, Mr. Paull—David and me. He's a great boy, my brother, but of course, I have to look after him, carefully."
"Women always do." Paull remarked, ponderously. "It's a habit they acquired from an ancestress—looking after men—"
"They look after their brothers—until they think they want a change, then they take on the job of looking after some other girl's brother. If they want a change after that there's a special court of law to oblige them—but then—the public knows they didn't do their job properly! Looking after the other girl's, brother—I mean."
"Well, Mr. Delaney's out." The detective assumed command of the situation. "There's been a bit of trouble here. I'm going to ask you to go into, the inner room, Miss Delaney, with Miss Anstey, and let her explain."
Paull carefully avoided catching the girl-artist's eyes. "While she's talking to you I'll have a word with Mr. Sinclair here."
There was something in the Inspector's voice that sobered the mocking retort on Dora's lips. Without a word she went into the private room. As he closed the door behind the girls, Sinclair looked significantly at the detective, raising his eyebrows.
"Trouble? Bad?" The young man queried.
"Worse than that. I'm Inspector Walter Paull. That his sister?"
"Well—not quite his—his brother-in-law."
"So!" For the moment the detective hesitated. "Perhaps I'd better tell you quick, before Miss Anstey blurts, it out to her. Delaney's dead!"
"Good God! Strangled while working at his desk." The Inspector spoke in almost a whisper. "Strange, but he had just finished a drawing of a man sitting at his desk, with a strangler creeping on him from behind and—"
"What do you mean?" Sinclair clutched the detective's arm. "Strangled!"
"Just as it was described in the story," Paull nodded. "A story by a writer named Austin Farnborough—"
"Yes. Oh, I understand—but I write under the name of Austin Farnborough. That story was for the Critic and I persuaded Manning to get Delaney to illustrate it. You say—?"
"It was just as you wrote it in the story." Suspicion deepened in the detective's eyes. "The man who killed Delaney must have read that story—or—"
"Written it!" Sinclair 'completed the detective's accusation. "But, I didn't strangle David. I—"
"If you didn't, who did?" Paull shot the question at the young man. "There he sat, just as he had pictured! the man in the story sat, with, the assassin creeping up behind him. There's not an iota, of difference between the two scenes. Why Delaney had even drawn in his office setting. He drew the story—the scene—then someone acted it. Who could: have done that but the man who, wrote the story?"
A look of dumb despair grew on the young man's face. He glanced about him; as if seeking some means of escape. Paull's eyes hardened. He took a step forward, his hand outstretched towards Bill Sinclair' shoulder.
"William Sinclair, I arrest you—"
"No!" The door of the inner room, was flung open and Dora rushed in. "No, no!" He never did it! "Bill! Bill! Why don't you speak. Tell him—tell him—"
"Tell me what the three snails, arranged along the top edge of the drawing mean?" Paull spoke in hard, level tones.
"The three snails?"
With a moan of despair Sinclair turned and threw himself into a chair. "The three snails."
With a quick motion Paull produced the match-box and tilted the three round black objects into the palm of his hand, holding them under the young man's eyes. "Look! I say, look! What do those three dead snails mean?"
FOR many seconds there was silence in the room. Bill Sinclair sat with his head in his hands; Dora standing beside him, flashing indignant glances at the Inspector. Paull stood stolid and efficient before the pair, his hand outstretched and, on the palm three small black dead snails.
"There's a story here." The detective spoke, at length. "And I'm going to have it. Make up your mind to that, Mr. Sinclair. I want a satisfactory explanation of these three snails—and what they stand for. Afterwards, well, I'll hear how you spent last night between the hours of six and twelve."
"You are going to arrest him for the murder of my brother?" The girl gasped, slightly.
"That depends." Paull nodded slowly. "I'll hear what Mr. Sinclair has to say, first. I may be a policeman and I may be fat, but I'm not unjust or arbitrary, although there's more than one who say I fling my weight about more than a bit. Just as if—"
"Bill." Dora turned to the young, man. "Tell me! Bill! I want to know. I must know. You know nothing about—about David's—death?"
"Not very much." Bill Sinclair had recovered from the first shock, He now sat upright, raising his head. A slight shudder shook him as his eyes fell on the three snails in the detective's hand.
"And these—things?" Paull spoke sternly.
"I don't know."
"You don't know?" The detective spoke with expressive unbelief. "Funny that! You take one long look at the things and then almost chuck a faint. Start moaning about the 'three snails' and look as if the end of the world has come—well, if not that, then prohibition. And then you say, you don't know. Can't you think up something better?"
"I don't really know!" Bill stood up and shook himself. The colour returned to his cheeks and he squared his shoulders. Turning to the girl he slipped his arm around her.
"You believe me, Dora?"
"Of course." The girl flashed defiance at the detective.
"You don't know—but you can guess—something."
"That's just it." Bill turned to the detective. "Let's get in the inner room and—and—well, in your words—I'll come clean. That's what you want?"
Paull nodded. For a moment he paused, and then led the way to the inner room. He stood aside for the girl and young man to pass in; then, as Miss Anstey made to follow he half-barred her passage. She looked up at him in surprise, and he shrugged.
"No, I won't disappoint you." He laughed slightly. "I was going to tell you to take care of the outer office—but you know too much. If I keep you out you'll speculate—and that leads to gossip in a woman. Come in; we'll hear if anyone comes into the office; but keep what you hear under you hat—sabe?"
The girl nodded and passed into the room. Paull waited until the others were seated, and then sat down in the dead man's chair, before the desk. He swung the chair half-round and looked at Sinclair, expectantly.
"You found the three snails on the desk, you say?" The young man asked the question.
"On the cardboard—just above the drawing, yes."
"On the drawing?" Sinclair came across to the desk and bent down, peering at the illustration. He shuddered slightly and turned quickly to his chair, beside the girl.
"I'll tell you what I know," he commenced hesitatingly. "If you can make head and tail of it well, you're cleverer than I. I've puzzled over it, again and again, trying to understand—and the more I've thought of the affair the more perplexing it appears." He paused a moment, then continued.
"The first time the snails appeared I came in here with David. We had been out to lunch together and for some reason I can't now remember I came back here with him, instead of going home to work. You know. I'm an author—Austin Farnborough."
Dora looked up, flashing a bright smile at the young man.
"We came in here—David and I—arguing over something." Sinclair continued. "David led the way and as he came through the door he blocked out sight of the desk from me—you know he's more than a size larger than I am?"
Again Paull nodded. He had mentally noted that the dead man had stood well up towards six feet and broad in proportion. Sinclair, on the other hand, was not more than five-feet, eight inches, and slight in build. "First I knew was when David, staggered back, stamping on my toes, and nearly knocking me down. I managed to prise him up and push him into the room. Then I saw the snail."
"The snail?" Paull exclaimed, astonished.
"One snail." A slight smile came on Sinclair's lips. "One solitary snail—By the bye, Inspector, will you be so kind as to place the three snails where you found them?"
Paull turned to the desk and placed the three snails along the top, edge of the cardboard, about an inch apart, and half an inch from the edge. He then covered the drawing and snails with the sheet of paper.
"That's right, except for the covering paper." The author nodded. "I remember well, for after the second appearance of the snails I took full note of how and where they, were placed."
He turned to the girl.
"You see, Dora, the whole thing was bizarre—and I thought that I could later be able to use the incident in a story."
"But you said there was only one snail?" interjected Paull.
"The first time, yes. I told you that David stumbled back on me, nearly knocking me down. I pushed him into the room and into a chair. Then I closed the door and turned to him. He was staring at the drawing on his desk. Right in the centre of the top edge was one small black snail."
"Mr. Delaney seemed alarmed at the sight of it?" suggested? Paull.
"I should say he was." Sinclair smiled. "For a moment he was little more than a gibbering idiot. I got him a glass of water—had to go to the outer office for it. When I, got back the snail had disappeared but there was a bit of a mess on the linoleum just before the desk."
"That was about, a fortnight, ago." Maude Anstey interrupted. "I remember you coming put for the water. Then you insisted that. Mr. Delaney went home. I came in here later and saw the—the squashed snail on the floor."
"I thought he had done that." The author smiled. "It was the only way I could explain the disappearance of the snail. I knew he wouldn't put it in his pocket. The strange thing is that, exactly a week later, a similar incident happened—"
"A week exactly." Miss Anstey spoke excitedly. "No, a week ago, yesterday."
"Then the snails appeared at weekly intervals?" the detective mused.
"So it appears." Sinclair hesitated. "I happened to come in late that afternoon. David had just entered, the office. In fact I was in the corridor, talking to a friend and waiting for him to come up. I saw him leave the elevator and come in here. I left my friend and followed him in. Miss Anstey was not in the office at the moment and I went direct to the inner room. David was seated in that chair before his desk, his head in his hands, rocking, himself, and moaning audibly."
"Well?" The Inspector queried as the author paused. "I asked him what was the matter, and at first he wouldn't answer. I pressed him, thinking that something might have happened that I could help him with." He hesitated and smiled at the girl. "I'm not a rich man—no author can be in Australia—but I had a pound or two to spare—to help Dora's brother." Dora looked up quickly and pressed the young man's hand. Paull waited a moment before he spoke.
"'The jig's up,'" he said. "I asked him what he meant. He replied, 'You can't help Bill. I've got myself in a devil of a hole and I must find my own way out.' It was then I noticed the two snails perched at the head of his drawing—and remembered the incident of the snail the previous week. I pointed to the snails and asked: 'Anything to do with them, David?' He did not answer directly. For some seconds he sat silent, then muttered: 'When you see three snails there, Bill—look after Dora! I won't be able to.'"
"What did he mean?" asked Paull, much perplexed.
"That I cannot say." The author replied, promptly. "His manner didn't encourage me to ask questions. I let the matter drop intending to reopen it later. Hadn't a chance, though. The next day I got a commission to write six stories for the Critic. That was too good to miss, although it meant sticking tightly to my desk for a few weeks. I got Manning, the Editor, to commission David to make illustrations. That's why I came round here today. I wanted to see what David was doing with them."
"Umph!" Paull glanced from the man to the girl. "I understood that you came here to see Miss Dora?"
"Well, what if he did?" The girl spoke sharply. "Early Victorian or Edwardian, Mr. Paull?"
"Now that's where you and my missus would have words," Paull drawled, stroking his triple chins complacently. "She says that when there's girls about I'm a modern of the very latest Georgian era."
Dora laughed, gently. She turned to her lover. "That all, Bill?" Then in a very low voice: "Poor David!"
"So that's all you know, Mr. Sinclair?" Paull asked the question.
"There is one other thing I think I should mention." Yet the young man hesitated. "Just before I left David on the last occasion—when the two snails appeared—I asked him, bluntly, if there was anything I could do—money, y'know. He shook his head and pulled out a drawer, taking from it a bundle of notes! There were two or three fives, a couple of tens, and at least three twenties."
"About how many notes in the roll?" asked the detective quickly.
"About a dozen—but they weren't in a roll." The author frowned. "They were new notes, quite clean and uncreased."
"A dozen notes—fives, tens and twenties!" Paull meditated. "Three twenties—that's sixty pounds; a couple of tens, brings the total to eighty; four fives would make the clean hundred. Agree to that, Mr. Sinclair?"
"I should say you have given a fair estimate of the notes."
"Then he wasn't in want of money." Paull nodded. "What did he do with the money? Put it in his pocket?"
"No. He took one of the twenties from the packet and placed it on the desk. The others he replaced in the drawer."
"What did you do then?"
"I told him that he was foolish to keep all that money in an office desk. He grunted, and answered so shortly that I got out, as quick as possible. As I have said, I did not see him afterwards."
For some moments the detective sat, staring at the drawing on the desk. At length his podgy hand moved lightly over the papers on the desk. He found what he wanted and turned to the young man, his hand extended. "Know that, Mr. Sinclair?"
"Yes." For a moment the young man hesitated. "David used a lot of them. He was an exceedingly fine etcher. That's an etching plate."
"Hm! Small though." Paull's hand went to his waistcoat pocket and reappeared with a ten shilling note between his fingers. He spread it carefully on the plate. It fitted well, leaving a fair printing margin all round.
"What do you mean?" Dora sprang to her feet, her face aflame with indignation. "Are you inferring—"
"Testing all possibilities, Miss Delaney," Paull answered imperturbably. "Now, this plate—"
He stopped, as three slow knocks sounded from the outer office. In a single second he was at the door, wrenching it open. He sprang into the outer office and looked around. The place was empty. With an angry exclamation he ran to the flap in the counter—to jump back with a shout of astonishment. On the centre of the flap, at intervals of about an inch, were arranged three small black snails.
INSPECTOR PAULL was seated in the small dining-room of his house at Bourden Road, Ashfield. On the mahogany-topped table before him lay a strange collection of articles, all of them associated with the murder of David Delaney. Outside, it was raining. The wind, driving the rain in thick gusts before it, rattled on the windows like a charge of buck-shot. Paull shivered. Although it was only early autumn the rain had brought a distinct coldness in the air. The detective was engrossed in the problem before him, yet once he looked up as a particularly violent, gust rattled-doors and windows and swayed the walls of the house, to return immediately to a concentrated contemplation of the articles on the table.
They were few. A large sketch of a man seated at a desk, drawing; and behind him a menacing figure creeping up, intent on murder. On right side of the drawing was placed six small, black snails, and on the left a thin plate of metal and a length of cord with a knot in it.
There was little there to trace man guilty of the sin of murder, yet Paull did not despair. The three snails! Twice on the one day he had seen the three snails and then within a hate couple of hours. He had found the first three on the desk at which the dead, man sat. The second three had come on the office counter while he had been investigating the inner room.
The thought brought a smile to his pursed lips.
Many years' police work had taught him that the most dangerous criminal is the one who commits his crime and then leaves matters to follow their normal course. The criminal who tries to control or assist fate, plays directly, into the hands of the police.
Men who represented themselves by the sign of the 'Three Snails' had murdered David Delaney. They had done their foul work well, yet had hot been content to leave it. They had feared enquiries; they had tried to threaten him, and in doing so were playing directly into his hands. Now he awaited their next move, confident that it would offer him one more link in the chain of evidence he was trying to build.
Yet as he turned to the table, he sighed. The few articles before him represented almost a minimum of clues. They were all he could find in the dead man's offices bearing on the murder. They—and the story the young man—Sinclair—had told. He had searched the offices thoroughly, yet one thing he lacked. He wanted the packet of bank-notes Sinclair had mentioned in his story. He wanted to find a meaning behind the bank-notes; he wanted the connection between the banknotes and the Three Snails. He could guess—and he did; but there was little of the substance of evidence in the theory he had constructed, covering the few facts he had in hand.
In some way, David Delaney had come in contact with men from Sydney's underworld. In some manner they had obtained a hold over him. They had demanded from him certain work. What work? David Delaney was an artist. Then, it was possible to believe that the work was connected with Delaney's general occupation—or his hobby. And that hobby was etching. Paull remembered asking Dora Delaney if her brother had made money from his etching, and the girl had shaken her head.
Again Paull spread a bank-note on the metal plate. It fitted, but the margin around the note was irregular. For some moments he sat back, pondering then levered himself to his feet, scrambled to the door.
"Mary!" he called, gently.
Heavy footsteps sounded on the upper floor of the house.
"Mary, got a fiver about?"
"Me?" A stout, pleasant-featured woman came to the head of the stairs.
"Me and a fiver! Why—"
"Just the fiver, Mary dear." Paull rubbed the lowest of his triple chins, thoughtfully. "For the time I'll spare you—the fiver will be sufficient—yes, for the time!"
Mary chuckled delightedly. "Just like all you men!" She commenced to descend the stairs, slowly. "Leave your lawful wives at home to do the cleanin' and cookin' and go ambling off to Paris House, or the Ambassadors with some bit of frock. Oh, you men! And of all men—why did I ever marry a policeman?"
"'Cos you wanted taking care of, darling." Paull matched her laughter with, a subdued rumbling that shook his large frame. "Sure, if you hadn't married me you'd have been in Long Bay today—an' you know it, so don't deny it. Now, as to that fiver?"
"Me and a fiver!" The stout woman tapped the detective on his broad chest. "And what might Walter Paull be wanting with a fiver on a night when all decent men choose to stay at home?"
"Lor'." The Inspector groaned, "she, calls a detective a decent man. Don't you know the company they keep, honey? Rogues, thieves and vagabonds! Why, if it weren't for the uniform—"
"Fine one you'd look in uniform—if you could find or build one to fit you." Mary Paull passed her husband and went into the dining-room, looking inquisitively at the articles on the table.
"Ugh! Taking to collecting snails! Well, I could find you better Ones than those on my dahlias, boy—prettier ones, too; but I hate the beastly things. I can't bring myself to handle them. I have to knock them off into a tin of salt and water—"
"Salting them down for a rainy day?" Paull chuckled loudly at his small joke.
"Getting away from the fiver question." The stout woman laughed, gently. "Who's the girl, Walter? Don't mind me knowing, do you?"
"Not a bit, old girl." Paull's arm slid rounds his wife's ample waist. "Name's Mary. Good-looker, though she runs slightly to weight of late years. Shows her good taste—copying her fancy boy?"
"Go on, you!" The hand that tapped the Inspector's cheek was not light, although affectionate. She disengaged herself from Paull's arm and went to the corner of the room. From under the corner of the carpet she took a five-pound note and brought it to him.
"Now, don't waste it, dear."
"Lor'! An' she's been married to a detective for more'n twenty years!" Paull groaned. "Keeps her loose change in a vase and her solid cash under the edge of a carpet. Well, well!"
"What if I do?" Mrs. Paull bridled. "There's some people I know of as can't keep cash at all, at all. Thank the lord, I've got a husband who brings a cheque home, not cash. Good thing, too, if he had cash, he'd lend it, like—"
Mary became silent. For some moments Paull looked at his wife, a grin on his face. He slipped an arm around her, drawing her to a chair he set close beside the one he had occupied at the table.
"Thinking of Mrs. Milestone, Mary!"
"Aye." The woman turned and drew out his pocket handkerchief to wipe her eyes. "Poor woman; got a journalist for a husband—and never a bean in the house. He gets big money and gets away with it big, lends money to other journalists and then has to try to borrow it back. Them journalists never have money—although they earn plenty. They—"
"Alice Maplestone been here today?"
"What if she has?" Mary shifted; uneasily on her chair. "She came to—to—"
"To borrow a quid—and you let her have it." Paull shook a finger at his wife. "Thought I was the one at fault, lending money?"
"The poor woman hadn't a cent in the house," Mary defied.
"And today only Saturday. Maplestone gets paid Friday," Paull commented.
"Well, I can't see her starve—and now you're wanting fivers, Walter. If you're going out on wet nights to the Ambassadors we shan't have many of them left—"
"We'll have to take up the carpets, eh, what?" Paull chuckled. "Ah, well, old dear, we won't starve, even if you do lend quids to writer-chaps wives."
"And as for that fiver you're making all that fuss about—just look here. What's this metal plate for?"
He smoothed out the note and placed it carefully on the plate. It fitted exactly, with an inch margin all round. Paull looked up, to catch his wife's eyes. She nodded. "Came from that poor fellow's office?" she asked.
"The David Delaney case." Paull nodded. "You caught it in one, old girl. Yes, that plate's for bank note engraving."
"Bit thick, isn't it?" Mrs. Paull was turning it over, on her hand. "Why, Walter, it looks like two plates—a thick and a thin one stuck together."
"Hmph!" Paull bestowed but a cursory glance on the plate held out to him by his wife. He was arranging six dead snails in a row along the edge of the table. "Now, Mary, you're clever. Explain these?"
"Ugh! The nasty things!" Very gingerly she touched one of the shells with the tip of a finger. "Dead and dry—and six of them?"
"Three on his desk when we found him and three more on the counter in the outer office when someone thought I was getting too hot on the trail."
"Three snails." Mary Paull tucked her husband's handkerchief in his pocket, arranging it methodically.
"Three dead snails—looks to me like a sign, Walter.
"And is, on—What's that?" From the direction of the window came the sounds! of cutting wet glass with a diamond—a long, slow grating sound. With finger to his lips, Paull rose to his feet and moved in; the direction of the sound. At the window, he released the spring blind with a jerk. Immediately the sound ceased. He peered through the window out on the rain-swept street. A standard lamp was immediately opposite his front gate and he could see the dim outlines of his little front garden as well as the street beyond. There was no one in sight.
"Getting old—getting nervy!" Paull complained. He mounted a chair and pulled down the blind.
"Somebody was there." Mary Paull asserted positively.
"Then they jumped up on to the roof to escape." The detective laughed. "They couldn't have even got to the road before I was at the window, m'dear."
"No." The woman spoke doubtfully. "I heard them cutting the glass when you had your hand on the blind."
"Nerves!" Paull shook his head slowly. "Effects of a misplaced youth—That's right misplaced—Lost it so long ago that I've forgotten just where. Say, Mary old girl, we've had our time, eh? Hasn't been bad, has it? You've stood by me like a real brick and I've stuck tight to you—"
"Stuck tight! Should think so." Mary shook, with suppressed laughter. "Let me tell you, Walter there aren't many husbands in Ashfield as would stay in, wet night or fine, if their wives handed them five pounds notes when they asked for them. Stuck ti—"
Paull sat down heavily on his chair, which answered with creaks and groans under the sudden weight. As Mary was speaking the lights in the room had failed, leaving them in total darkness. Again at the window sounded—the grating cutting of the glass.
Paull climbed to his feet with an agility surprising in a man of his bulk, and moved around the table, followed by Mrs. Paull. At length he came to, the door and pulled it open. The passage was in darkness. He found the light switch and worked it up and down with no effect. He glanced towards the kitchen, at the rear of the house. The light there had been burning when he had been in the hall before. Now it was out. For some moments he stood listening. The strange sound was still coming from the direction of the window.
Whispering a caution to his wife, for silence, Paull stole to the front door. Half-a-minute's wait and he wrenched the door open and ran out into the rain. There was no one in the front garden—yet the sound of glass cutting still came from the window. Paull went down the path to the gate and peered up and down the road. It was deserted, glistening with the still driving rain. There was not a soul in sight. Picking his way gingerly over the wet grass—for he had only carpet slippers on, he went to the window. So far as he could see in the semi-darkness there was nothing against it—yet the sounds of cutting continued.
"Damn!" Paull scratched his head, thoughtfully "What the—" He went to the front door. Mary was standing there, a pocket torch in her hand, gazing up at the electric light-meter. One glance showed the detective one of the main wires had been cut. An ugly frown came on the detective's good-humoured face. Taking the torch from his wife's fingers he beckoned her to, follow him to the window.
Waiting a moment to listen to the strange sound, he pressed the trigger of the torch, and threw the light on the grass. "My! Look there, Walter!" Mary pointed to a corner of the window panel. On the glass was a small, black ball. As the detective watched, it moved upwards—and from it came the grating, cutting sound.
"Jove! A snail!" Paull burst into a roar of laughter. He picked the thing from the window and tossed it over the hedge into the road. "Gave me quite a start, it did!"
"Me too." Mrs. Paull picked her way from the grass to the doorstep. "And my feet are all wet, too."
"Go up and change your socks, old girl," Paull ordered.
"But the light, Walter?"
"I'll fix that." He pushed her inside the door and followed to the dining room. Taking a chair to the porch a few minutes work sufficed to give light to the house for the evening. As he entered the dining room again, carrying the chair, he stopped suddenly.
Someone had been in the room. The sketch still remained where he had placed it, but along the edge of the table were only three of the snails he had placed there. On the table lay the metal plate, bent and twisted.
"Well, they made a 'fiver' out of their work." Paull laughed ruefully. "No, I'm damned if they did." He bent to the floor and picked up the note, screwed up in a ball.
"Now what sort of crooks have we here—refusing easy money, throwing it about as if of no account?" Then he noticed a white envelope on the seat of the chair on which he had sat. For some moments he stood, surveying it, his lips pursed to a soundless whistle.
PAULL made no motion to pick up the envelope. For a long time he stood staring at the envelope, his little mouth pursed, but silent. In his eyes were a strange gleam, as of damning understanding. He had forgotten his home, his wife, the snail on the window. Every nerve was merged in the white envelope on his chair. Someone had known that he had brought to his home the few clues he had found to the murderers of David Delaney. He had been watched while he sat at the table, studying them. By whom?
He did not have to think to answer the question. The only person or persons who had any interest in the matter were the men who were responsible for the artist's death.
Yet, for the time, he had not a glimmer of an idea who these men could be. The advent of the three snails on the counter in the artist's office had shown they had been carefully watching him from the time of the murder. They had followed to his home—still watching. They had decided that he was getting too close to their trail.
He bent down to study the envelope more closely. It was addressed to Detective-Inspector Paull, in awkward capital letters. He went to where his outdoor coat hung in the hall and took from the breast-pocket a powerful magnifying glass. Again by the chair he scanned the letter, still refraining from touching it. Again he went to his coat, returning with a small black box from which he took a sufflator. Dusting the letter and the chair with yellow powder he carefully blew away the residue and scanned the letter and chair for fingerprints. So far as he could see there were none.
He looked around the room. On the mantel-piece lay a pair of scissors. He brought them to the chair and caught the edge, of the letter, gently, between the blades, lifting it on to the table and turning it over. Then he commenced to dust the chair with his handkerchief.
"Well, of all the—"
The handkerchief was snatched from his hand, smartly. "If you want to dust chairs and tables, m'boy, there's plenty of work here for you." Mrs. Paull had come silently into the room.
"But—don't use your handkerchiefs. I've trouble enough getting them white as it is, the way you use them at that office of yours. Why, what's this?"
"A letter," Paull answered with suspicious meekness.
"Any fool can see that." The good lady went to the hall and returned with a duster. "Put that thing away." She pointed to the sufflator. "Littering up my rooms with your nasty dirty powders!"
"Just wanted to see if there were finger-prints about."
"Plenty, I should say." Mrs. Paull's voice was tart. "You've been in here ever since you came home, sitting at that table and drumming on it with your fingers."
She looked up quickly. "Finger-prints? Don't you know the modern crook doesn't leave them about. And—Where did that letter come from?"
"There is an echo, also asking where." Paull spoke pensively. "The strict truth is that it was not here when we went out to interview a—a snail. It was here—"
"Then those aren't your footprints?" Mrs. Paull pointed to some wet marks on the carpet. "And I thought they were. What's the world coming to? I'll be apologising to my own husband next."
"What for? Marrying him?" The detective chuckled. "No. That was a saving grace for the poor mutt."
The good lady bridled. "Aren't you going to open your letter, Walter?"
"May as well!" Taking a penknife from his pocket Paull slit the envelope down one side. From it he drew out a scrap of paper.
"Well, of all the—
"Look at this metal plate!" Mrs. Paull interrupted. "Did you do that, Walter?"
The Inspector shook his head. He dropped the paper he had drawn from, the envelope and went to take up the metal plate, but Mrs. Paull anticipated him. She turned it over on her hands for some minutes, then began to study the edges.
"Anything there, Mary?"
"I don't know. What's in your letter?"
"Just a message." The fat voice rolled in merriment. "Listen, girlie. 'Keep out of this, Paull or you'll get yours.' And it is signed by 'The Three Snails.'"
"Not much of the snail about those folk, if they can get in and out of a house while one of the heads of the detective department is standing at his front door."
Mary Paull gave an excellent imitation of her husband's snort when displeased. "Oh, my!"
Paull was at her side in a moment. With the aid of the scissors Mary Paull had succeeded in separating the edges of the two pieces of metal that formed the plate. Exercising his martial prerogative, Paull took the plate from her and examined it under his magnifying glass.
"Well?" The lady asked impatiently.
"Careful does it!" Paull went to the sideboard. From, a drawer he took a pair of pliers. Catching the thin metal sheet in the jaw of the pliers he rolled back the copper an inch. A sudden gravity came on his face and he whistled lowly. Placing the plate on the table he rolled off the thinner, topmost sheet of metal. It came away fairly easy.
"Well, I never!" Mrs. Paull gasped. "We were right."
The detective nodded. "There's the answer to our conundrums. David Delaney was a forger." He dropped the pliers on the table and took the thicker sheet of metal in his hands. A few minutes straightening it, and he placed on the table before his wife an excellent engraving of a twenty-pound banknote. "So that's what the money was in the drawer for," he mused.
"But why didn't they take the plate just now?" asked Mrs. Paull bewilderingly.
"Why did David Delaney conceal his engraving under a false top of metal?" retorted the detective.
The questions were unanswerable. All they could understand was that David Delaney had made an etching of a twenty-pound bank note; that the crooks who called themselves the Three Snails had come to the detective's home' to leave a warning, yet had neglected to take away with them the etching for which they had killed Delaney. They must have seen the plate on the table. They had, or one of them had picked it up, and, furious that it was not the etching he expected to find, had twisted the plate out of shape.
Paull wondered at the daring of the men. They had entered the house under cover of darkness caused by the cutting of the electric light main wire, after attracting the detective and his wife into the front garden through the snail crawling up the wet window-pane. They had had to use a torch in the dark dining room; yet Paull had hardly been out of sight of the room all the time.
How had they entered and left the house? If by the front door they must have passed out under the detective's observation. No. They had been wiser than that. They had entered by the back door, after arranging to draw Paull out into the front garden. In the dining room they had waited their opportunity for the few seconds while the detective was out of sight of the room. Then, leaving the letter and the twisted plate they had escaped by the back way. Ruefully, Paull remembered that a long narrow lane lay behind the lower wall of his garden.
Paull sat down heavily in his chair. He wanted to think; to co-ordinate his thoughts to the new facts. Somewhere in the events of the past few minutes lay the clue he had sought through the long evening. Somewhere in that twisted plate of metal, or the letter, was the slender thread that would lead him to the murderers. For now he knew that three men, not one, were responsible for the death of the artist. He wanted three men who specialised in forging banknotes.
His keen brain ran over the list of crooks with whom his department had come in contact during the past few years. Of forgers; of slush-workers; he could name more than a score. But, of three men who worked, regularly together his mind was a blank.
He turned to the slip of paper bearing the warning left by the crooks. Like the name on the envelope the message was printed in ungainly capital letters. Drawing his sufflator to him he dusted yellow powder over the paper. Again he was disappointed. The crooks had been too wary to leave their cards behind them.
Paull turned with a broad grin, to face his wife, seated beside him.
He shook his head. "They're too leery for me, old girl."
"Giving it up, Walter?" There was scorn in the lady's voice.
"There isn't much to go on." Paull spoke doubtfully. "Perhaps I'm getting old, old girl. Perhaps I ain't got the scientific knowledge that's wanted in these da—"
"Bosh!" Mrs. Paull spoke emphatically. "What were those names you mentioned at dinner?"
"Pass him." The lady waved the author aside, "'Sides, he's engaged to a pretty girl and she'd have too much sense to cotton to a forger."
"That all? Well, what about Ernest Delaney? He's a printer."
"No good. The man who was going to print notes from this plate isn't advertising his trade."
"N—o!" Paull thought a moment. "There's a Mr. Matthews—a friend of Delaney's."
"Friend?" Mary Paull sniffed. "David Delaney wasn't friends with the men he made that engraving for."
"Think hot? Well, there's the last of the list. A man named Persus. Delaney used to purchase metal plates from him."
Yet Mrs. Paull hesitated before speaking. "That all you know of his associates?"
"Delaney was only—strangled—last night, old girl."
"And you've had the whole day to work on the case! Now, if they only had women detectives—"
"What world this would be! Bright and handsome—"
"Sure!" Paull chuckled. "Women detectives would arrest all the plain and ugly men and let the handsome ones go free."
"In that' case there'd be quite a dearth of husbands." The retort came swift and telling.
"Score one, old girl." Paull lifted his hands above his head. "Now-"
The tring of the telephone bell broke on the detective's words. With a sigh he struggled to his feet and waddled into the hall where the instrument hung. For some minutes he remained at the 'phone, giving vent at intervals to weird grunts and exclamations. Mrs. Paull, wriggled, excitedly, on her chair, but refused to give way to her curiosity and go into the hall.
"Rolling up!" Paull spoke cheerfully, as he re-entered the dining room. "I quite agree with you, Mary."
"The Three Snails don't run true to form—or rather, I should say—name." Paull stood before his wife, rocking from, heels to toes and smiling happily. "They're quick workers, I'll say that for them."
"Sakes alive!" The lady bounced up from her chair. "Walter, do you want me to box your ears?"
"Wouldn't be the first time you've been kissed for assaulting your lawful spouse," The detective grinned. "Well, I suppose I must tell you, or you'll poison my porridge to-morrow morning. The Three Snails have taken a fancy to Dora Delaney's company."
"What on earth—"
"Abduction, m'dear." Paull chuckled. "And that game is like erecting a sign-post at country crossroads."
A WILD night of wind and rain. Paull strode moodily up and down Ashfield railway station, waiting for the electric train to take him to the city. Suddenly he paused, to glare malignantly at a poster advertising a new mystery novel by "England's Leading Mystery Writer."
"Pah! Detective stuff! The poor mutts!" He snorted indignantly. "Lot they know about detecting crime. Never had to turn out at umpteen hours in the middle of the night, in search of a girl who's fool enough to get herself abducted by a crowd calling themselves 'The Three Snails'. Pah! Poof!"
The advent of the train saved the poster from annihilation at the hands of the detective. He mounted to a first-class carriage to swear under his breath because he had to walk the length of the compartment to the smoking section. Paull was in a real bad temper. For the 'Three Snails' to set him a problem to solve—a problem relating to their identity—was but in the day's work. The detective revelled in intricate problems—in spite of his penchant to growl often and loudly. The fewer the clues revealed, the quicker his brain became, the more involved the problem, the sleepier and fatter he appeared. Yet, behind his apparent gross smoothness lay the keenness and directness of that greatest of all hunters, the man-chaser.
The train was a slow one. Paull lay back in a corner seat, steadily chewing on a half-lit cigar. He watched the deserted platforms as the train drew in to, them, and halted a bare minute and then slid out on the short journey to the terminus. The rattle and speed lulled his irritableness and gradually his brain turned to the problem before him.
Of knowledge of the quest before him he had little. The telephone message had come from Police Headquarters. He would have to go there for further details. For the present all he knew was that Dora Delaney had been abducted from her home, in North Sydney—and in her place had been left three small, black, snails.
"The Three Snails." Paull closed his eyes and before his mental vision danced three snails, their shells in the form of heads—eyes and mouths jeering at him and his lack of knowledge of their meaning. Mentally, he jeered back, scoffingly. For the time they had the laugh of him. They knew him and he had not even a suspicion as to their identity. But time would alter that. Always he had had the dread of a criminal who knew well when to let alone—the crook who planned carefully in advance and then, when his work had been accomplished, was content to sit back, content, and await the judgment of time; to watch and wait events—to calmly accept arrests and conviction if he had failed to outguess the police and safeguard himself on all points before he acted.
In his career Paull had met with few reverses. He had seemed to possess a marvellous ability to out-think and out-manoeuvre his opponents. To himself, he confessed that his success was almost invariably due to his ability to watch and wait—to watch for the mistakes of the criminal trying to improve on his original and perfected plan; to wait, until his opponent blundered into the trap he would prepare from an intensive study of after-crime errors.
The train drew into Central Station and Paull alighted and walked down the stairs into the long, narrow vaulted compartment that made the assembling platform of the electric railway section. He turned to the left and mounted a flight of stairs that lead to the main station. Opposite the covered tramway stopping place he hesitated, and then went on to the taxi-ramp. The night was wild and stormy; he had little time to waste. Surely a taxi was in order—in spite of recent emphatic memoranda circulating the department on the need of strict economy.
Ten minutes later he alighted at the dull red-bricked building at the corner of Phillip and Hunter Streets. He sauntered up the steps and through the swing-doors, into the detective branch. Twenty yards down the corridor he hesitated, glancing to the left, towards the Superintendent's office. A light showed under the edge of the door. He turned and went up the short passage and knocked. A loud, masterful voice bade him enter.
"Got here, then, Paull." Superintendent Manners locked up with a smile as the stout Inspector entered the cosy office. "Have a good journey from the suburbs in?"
"Sure." Paull strolled across to the big lounge chair in the corner and lowered his bulk carefully into its welcoming embraces. "May I inquire if this is overtime?"
"Overtime?" The bushy brows of the superintendent lifted quickly. "Now, I really was complimenting you on the speed with which you answered the telephone call off duty."
"And I imagined I lived in Australia—the home of the happy working man." Paull addressed a fly that happened to be emulating Bruce's spider up the wall beside his chair. "At one time there was a demand for an eight hours' day. Eight hours work, eight hours play, and eight hours sleep. But, now—"
"Done your eight hour's play, Paull?"
"I entered the portals of this House of Crime at the early hour of nine, ack emma, yesterday morning." The Inspector looked significantly at the clock on the big desk.
"I left for home at five-thirty, exactly. I know that, for I caught a train at St. James' station that I am informed by the Railway Commissioners through divers broadsheets and pamphlets leaves punctually at five forty-five. There had been adduced no evidence that it was late or early, yesterday."
"Eight and a half-hours." The superintendent spoke with the air of a man who prided himself on his mental arithmetic. "I presume that during the time you slept in the 'House of Crime' you awakened for meals—say, lunch at one o'clock? Ah yes. You fill that chair too comfortably to have missed a meal."
"I said—work." Paull protested, feebly.
"That's before you m'boy." The Superintendent's manner became excessively genial. "When you return to the bosom of your family you may convey to Mrs. Paull my regrets—or congratulations—that I have been forced to deprive her of a musical accompaniment to her dreams, tonight. Now, as I said, to work—"
"Three Snails." Paull spoke dreamily, ignoring the Superintendent's covert remarks. "Even a fat policeman can stand them—so long as they are without 'manners.'"
"Now I know he has woken up." The Superintendent drew a sheet of paper before him; "Listen, Paull. Shortly after eleven o'clock to-night the Department had a telephone call from—"
"A Mr. William Sinclair." Paull interjected mournfully. "I know him better as Bill. Go on, Mr. Manners, I attend your pleasure."
"Good! Mr. Sinclair informed Sergeant Palmer, who answered his, call, that he had visited at Miss Delaney's home up to nine-thirty, this evening. He—"
"—is either too good for this wicked world—or hopelessly Victorian." Paull spoke sadly.
"Eh?" Superintendent Manners looked up, startled,
"To me, the lady appeared to be decidedly modern Georgian—and rather an unique and interesting specimen." The detective appeared to be Speaking to himself. "Then—why this nine-thirty? In the days of my youth—days when I and my Mary were—"
"Oh, go to blazes!" Manners could not help laughing. "If you're going to reveal the licentious secrets of your courting days, Paull, I'll send for the night patrol."
"Then—it is possible to shock a Superintendent of Detectives?" Paull's little eyes opened wide in feigned astonishment. "But, pray proceed, Mr. Manners. My lips are sealed."
"Mr. Sinclair left Miss Delaney's residence, at Dale Park, North Sydney, at nine-thirty. Miss Delaney complained of a headache and stated that she would retire early. She also stated that she first required a breath of fresh air and for that purpose accompanied Mr. Sinclair some hundred yards down the road, to the tram-stop. Before leaving home she informed Mrs. Weston, her aunt, who is at present visiting her, that she should not be absent more than ten minutes, or at most, a quarter of an hour."
"And did not return, at all," Paull added. He mused for a few moments. "Now, tell me. How did Mr. Sinclair come to ring up the police and not Mrs.—Mrs. Weston?"
"Sinclair rang up Mrs. Weston," explained the Superintendent, carefully. "I understood that, before leaving Dale Park Mr. Sinclair was requested by Mrs. Weston, to telephone to her, that night, the time a certain train left Central Station, the next day. He did so, after consulting one of those pamphlets issued by the Railway Commissioner you mentioned a little while ago, Mrs. Weston thanked him for his information, and then asked at what time her niece would return-"
"She had apparently not returned then?"
"Nor has since—I believe trying to make that plain to you, Inspector." Manners frowned. "Otherwise I should not have requested your presence in this humble office, a this hour of the night, after your very arduous day's toil. To continue. Mr. Sinclair was surprised—"
"As I thought—intensely Victorian!" Paull murmured.
"Eh? Oh! Well, Mr. Sinclair informed Mrs. Weston that her niece, Miss Delaney had left him at the corner of the road, with the defined object of returning to her home. In his opinion she should have rejoined her aunt at least half-an-hour before that time. Mrs. Weston became alarmed. She telephoned to all Miss Delaney's friends in the neighbourhood she had knowledge of, to be informed that they had not seen the young lady that night. Then Mrs. Weston rang up Mr. Sinclair, to report her non-success in tracing her niece. Mr. Sinclair caught the alarm and rang up North Sydney Police Station. Inspector Fawcett, knowing I had placed the case in the very capable hands of Detective-Inspector Paull, immediately telephoned this office. He was anticipated a few minutes by Mr. Sinclair."
"Friend Fawcett will rise to the very top of the detective-tree, if he is not very careful," commented Paull meditatively.
"Your perspicacity is excellent," Manners murmured, gently. "I have now only to add that Mr. Sinclair is on his way here, in his car, to take Inspector Paull to the seat of the crime, and I can tap 'Bundy' gently on the nose and retire to the bosom of my family knowing that Miss Delaney's fate is in very excellent hands."
"Bundy! Don't!" A look of almost pain passed over the stout Inspector's countenance. "Bundy and I are not friends—he lets one down. I—I long to hit him, hard—"
"You shall—one day." Manners rose from his seat and reached for hat and mackintosh. "Pray don't disturb yourself, Mr. Paull. I will leave you to meditate, in solitude, not even remembering to put out the light when you leave—others will attend to that. Anon, Mr. William Sinclair—whom you know as 'Bill'—will arrive. He will bear you to North Sydney—to an investigation I am certain you will bring to a successful conclusion. Tomorrow—"
"Is there to be a tomorrow?" Paull opened his little eyes very wide.
"I believe so. Tomorrow I will resume my labours here and trust that among the numerous reports I shall regretfully read will be one announcing another success on the scroll of Fame—headed 'Paull, Inspector—"
"There are times—" Regretfully Paull ceased to speak, for the door had closed sharply on the Superintendent's bulky form. For some moments the Inspector continued to sit in the comfortable chair, then rose to his feet and wandered down the corridor to the main hall. Almost as he passed through the swing doors, Bill Sinclair sprang up the steps into Police! Headquarters.
"So you're here!" The young author sprang forward to greet the stout Inspector. "Mr. Paull, for God's sake do something! Dora's disappeared—"
"Well?" The short, snapped word caught the young man's taunted nerves, as a blow. He stopped short and glanced keenly at the detective.
"Sorry!" He paused a moment. "I've got my car here. Can you come at once?"
"Might as well." Paull shrugged his broad shoulders with apparent indifference; yet the keen, quick look he bestowed on the young man was kindly. He pulled out his watch. "Take it coolly, young fellow! We've twenty minutes before the next punt starts to cross; the Harbour." He followed the young man out onto the street, very leisurely, pulling up the collar of his mackintosh against the storm. His quiet acceptance of the situation acted as a tonic on Sinclair's frayed nerves. The young man slid into the driver's seat and set the car in motion, turning up to Macquarie Street and in the direction of Bennelong Point.
"Been to Dale Park, Mr. Sinclair?" The inspector spoke carelessly.
"Yes. I drove there after telephoning North Sydney and Headquarters and getting instructions to-come here for you."
The young author's tones matched the detective's casual words. "In fact, I was nearly a quarter of an hour there."
"Nothing." Sinclair laughed bitterly. "Just nothing! Mrs. Weston took me to Dora's room. It's just as she left it—just as if she was going to enter it again within, a few minutes. I—"
"Didn't touch anything?" Paull questioned sharply.
"No. I remembered that."
The car slid down the hill and turned to the right, joining the long line of cars waiting for the punt.
"There's nothing to show—nothing!"
"Miss Delaney went to the corner of the street with you?" Paull hesitated. "You let her return home alone?"
"It was her wish." Sinclair flushed slightly. "I didn't want to—I wanted to walk back with her but—but I've got to get up very early tomorrow morning. There's been a bit of trouble—the Critic stories, you know. I'm behind hand on my contract and I have to pick up time. Now that's important. Davy's gone and—and—Well, you know."
"Miss Delaney's alone?" Paull nodded, understanding.
"No, she has her aunt with her."
"Mrs. Weston only came up for the day, this morning, when we telegraphed her news of Davy's death. She has to go back to Moss Vale tomorrow. Dora will be alone then—all alone until—"
"Until you can get married—that it?"
The young man nodded.
"Well, well! Best thing for the pair of you. Authors are happy-go-lucky people at their best. Marriage may steady one of them down. Who knows? You'll have, something to work for then, eh? Well, well!"
For the remainder of the journey across the Harbour, Paull chatted inconsequently, recounting to the author the events of the evening at Ashfield.
Bill Sinclair was interested, asking many questions and declaring that Paull's home adventures deserved enshrining in a story. The detective laughed. He had a very small opinion of the mystery novel detective.
The car rolled slowly off the punt at North Shore. Sinclair stood heavily on the accelerator and swiftly up the hill, towards North Sydney. Some hundred yards along the main road he turned to the right and, skirting the head of Neutral Bay, came to the suburb of Dale Park. In a quiet, tree-shrouded road he brought the car to a halt before a small cottage, set back in a large, garden. Paull alighted and watched the author lock his machine. As they turned to the garden gate the detective laid his hand quickly on the young man's arm.
"You came in by this gate when you visited Mrs. Weston, just before you came to Sydney to-night?" he queried.
"Notice anything about it? Anything strange?"
"Have another look." The detective drew the young man close to the gate, yet held him back from touching it. "See anything strange about that gate?"
The young author looked up quickly at the detective. "I'll swear they weren't there when I left the house. I must have seen them when I came out, if they had been there."
"Just so." Paull nodded wisely. "Now I really admire those fellows. A boon and a blessing to a fat policeman, like myself. No guessing—all made plain for one. They come and go—and then I come. I take one single look at where they have been and state, wisely: 'The Three Snails.' Can't miss! They put them there for me to see!"
A SHORT, slight, grey-haired woman came to the door of the cottage as inspector Paull and Bill Sinclair walked up the gravel path. The detective looked at her with interest. Somehow, he had a feeling that he must watch and doubt everyone and everything he came across in this; house. For a few minutes he stood chatting with Mrs. Weston; then, stepping back on the gravel path, carefully surveyed the front of the house.
It was a low-pitched cottage, of one floor built of rough-cast walls and with a red-tiled roof. Around it was spread a wide veranda. The front door was at the right-hand corner of the house. Around the cottage lay a wide expanse of gardens, filled, as he could see in the very imperfect night-light, with a profusion of ornamental shrubs, and flowers. There was no lawn at the front of the house, facing the roadway. Gravel paths extended in all directions, broken, at intervals by trellised arches, over which straggled flowering creepers. It was a pretty place, a garden in which an artist would delight to rest and develop, at leisure. The place intrigued the detective and for some minutes he stood out in the rain, staring around him appreciatively. Then, he strolled back on to the veranda and to where Mrs. Weston and Sinclair stood watching and waiting for him.
"Nice place, Mrs. Weston." The old lazy tones crept into the Inspector's voice. To the woman he appeared to be a stout, rather amiable old police officer, of mediocre ability. "Just the sort of a place a fat policeman like myself dreams about, somewhere in the country—a place to end one's days, when retirement from active service becomes imperative."
"Yes." The elderly little woman flashed a questioning glance at the young author.
"I live at Moss Vale—"
"Pretty place." Paull nodded. "Went there once. Remember Sam Conway, Mr. Sinclair? Got rid of his wife—in a somewhat unorthodox fashion; something with arsenic in it, y'know. They found him at Moss Vale and I went there to bring him to Sydney. Queer sort of chap. Did not want to talk about anything but birds. Well, well! Don't suppose there's anything but crows where he's living now—or was it jackdaws; well, a kind of crow. Well, well."
Very quietly, almost imperceptibly, the detective edged Mrs. Weston into the house and followed. She led into a prettily furnished living room, overlooking the front gardens. For some time the detective sat, talking to her; Sinclair fidgeting, impatiently, about the room.
Mrs. Weston could give Paull little help in his quest. She had been in and out of the room where Dora and Sinclair had sat during the evening. About half-past nine Sinclair had got up, to go home—he had said that he wanted to be up by five o'clock the next morning to finish the story he would have to deliver that day. Dora had said she would walk to the end of the street with him. Mrs. Weston had protested. It was raining—but Dora had been self-willed. She had donned rain-coat and galoshes and had gone out with Bill Sinclair.
Mrs. Weston had expected her back in ten minutes, or a quarter of an hour at latest. Half-an-hour had passed and then Sinclair had telephoned to I give her the time of the train to Moss Vale, as he had promised. She had asked him if Dora had spoken of calling anywhere on her way home. She had told him the girl had not returned home.
Sinclair had been much disturbed at her news and had driven over at once. While she was waiting his arrival she had telephoned those friends of Dora, she knew of, asking if they had seen the girl that evening. By the time Sinclair arrived she had fully realised that the girl was lost.
"Lost?" Paull frowned. "You're still certain she is not with friends?"
"How can she be?" The lady gestured to the clock; the hands now approaching two o'clock. "Dora wouldn't stay out to this hour without telephoning, home. No, someone's taken her away. I—I—"
Mrs. Weston showed every sign of dissolving into tears.
"Humph!" Paull turned to the young author who had taken a seat close beside, him. "You left here at nine-thirty—to catch a tram home? Hadn't you your car with you?"
"No." There was a slight hesitation in Sinclair's manner. "I came here! direct from the city, with Dora. We had lunch in town and then took the ferry to Neutral Bay. The tram brought us to the end of this road. I spent the afternoon with Dora and Mrs. Weston—in fact I was here when Mrs. Weston arrived."
The lady nodded in confirmation of the statement. Bill Sinclair had been in the house with Dora when she had driven up, in a taxi. She and Dora had cooked and dished up the dinner. During the evening, they had sat in that room and talked—up to the moment that Sinclair had risen to go home.
Accompanied by the two, Paull made a cursory search of the house. In the girl's room he lingered for some time, walking around peering inquisitively at ornaments and articles of attire, but touching nothing. Sometimes, he chatted, freely; at other, times he fell into long silences, but always moving about some room, or from one room to another. Once he caught a glance, almost of resignation pass between the man and woman.
"Well, well!" Paull led back to the sitting-room. "There doesn't seem much for me to see around here." He stroked his triple chins reflectively. "Don't think you meed worry, Mrs. Weston. We'll have Miss Dora back, lively as a cricket, as they say, very soon."
"You know something?" Mrs. Weston spoke eagerly.
"Just a few things." Paull tried to make his laugh as fatuous as possible. "We do see things that others don't—we policemen." He laughed again. "I've seen quite a lot, tonight. Now Mr. Sinclair, how do we get back to the city?"
"But you stay here tonight." Mrs. Weston, spoke hospitably. She glanced at the clock. "You live—"
"At Ashfield, ma'am."
"But you'd never get home, at this time of night. No, no. You must stay here, I insist!"
"Very good of you, ma'am," Paull acquiesced meekly. "If you can put, me up, I'll be very glad. Sleep on the couch, here—perhaps as well. One can't see much on a rainy night and I'd like to have a look at that garden in the morning, early."
"Oh, the house isn't as small as that," Mrs. Weston laughed. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I'll see about a room for you. Bill, you know where Davy keeps his whisky. I'm sure Inspector Paull is just, dying for a long drink." She bustled out of the room and Sinclair turned to small cabinet, bringing from it bottles and glasses. Paull mixed a drink in appreciative silence. A long, satisfying draught and he lay back in the comfortable chair he had appropriated, satisfied with the world and all that was in it.
For some time the young author paced the room, restlessly. Paull had noticed 'that he had mixed his whisky with very little soda, and had drunk it at a gulp. Suddenly he turned to the detective.
"Mr. Paull—Inspector. What do you think? Where is Dora?"
"We-l-l."' Paull spoke slowly. The young, man had asked a question he did not want to reply to, directly, at the moment. Gradually an idea was building up in his mind; a theory so far-stretched and fantastic that he was almost afraid of it. "I can't say right off, y'know—but I don't think she is far from here—if you know what I mean."
"I don't," Sinclair said: impatiently. "And I don't think you are as great a fool as you would like us to think. I may not be a detective, but—"
"You write detective, stories, eh?" A slow rumble, answering for a laugh, came in Paull's throat. "Well, well. Read your Sherlock Holmes? Thought so. What do you think of Dr. Watson? Bit of a goat, eh?"
"Perhaps the seemingly fool question he asks, explains the detective's reasonings to the reader."
"Hmph!" Paull meditated. "Never thought of that. Well, well! I'm not a great reader of detective yarns, y'know. Always seem a bit far-fetched to me. Of course, the author knows what is going to happen and—"
"Eh?" Paull looked up, startled. "I thought it was the rule to work, from thee end to the beginning. Always envied that way of working. Suit me, just. Hang the murderer, then set out his trial in real life. There'd be questions asked in Parliament—and that's a thing the Police Department doesn't encourage."
"I like to make my mysteries; crowd, them one on the other on, a loosely strung thread of story, and then during the last two or three chapters work out the solution, tying up all the loose threads—and that."
"That so?" Paull looked inquisitive "Ever read those stories by a lady; Agatha Christie, I think. Created a French detective—no, a Belgian—who spent most of his time in England solving mysteries the English, police could not understand. They must have been grateful: Well! Well! She gave her detective a friend. Man that was always trying to get in one jump ahead of the real detective in the story—and always falling into bloomers—mistakes, I mean; not the things that Lady Habberton used to wear."
"That doesn't explain Dora's disappearance?" Sinclair exclaimed, irritatedly.
"Course not, yet it might!" Paull shook his head. "What I was trying to get at was that things don't happen in life like they do in stories. Now, if I was one of those detectives you write about I should look wise, walk three times around that table, pick up a hairpin—beg pardon, forgot girls don't wear them now; well, say a hair-slide—and tell you to look in the cellaret. No, thanks, Mr. Sinclair, no more, and that wasn't a hint. Ah, here comes Mrs. Weston. Now I'm going to prescribe for us all. One little drink, to the safe return of Dora, and then bed with clear consciences for a good sleep. Eh, what? as the English say!"
In spite of some reluctance on Sinclair's part, Paull had his way and shepherded his companions to their rooms. He found a cosy little room, at the rear of the house had been prepared for him, and stripped off coat and waistcoat, with a sigh of relief.
As he caught at the top of his collar stud a sudden thought struck him. Opening the door, he went to the room which he knew Sinclair occupied and knocked gently. The door opened almost immediately, showing the author fully dressed.
"Naughty." Paull shook a solemn forefinger. "And I thought we'd all agreed to go to bed. Just came along to tell you not to worry if you heard me at the telephone. Just going to talk to the wife. She'll worry at my not coming home, y'know." He drew the door closed, gently, but firmly and walked in his stockinged feet to the sitting-room.
Just within the door he halted abruptly and bent to listen. For some minutes he remained tensed and alert then, hearing no sounds from the passage, shut the door and went to the telephone. The number he dialled was not on the Ashfield exchange and had 'B' for an initial letter. When the call was answered he spoke in almost a whisper. His words were ambiguous, yet might have been addressed to Mrs Paull had she been at the other end of the wire. They did not refer to the case on which he was working nor entirely to home affairs—yet the Inspector seemed satisfied that they were understood.
He turned from the instrument and stole softly to the door. Again he listened for sounds without the room, but the house lay silent. Opening the door he crept back to the room allotted to him, and to bed, to fall asleep, immediately.
The sun had hardly topped the horizon when Paull was up and dressing. Taking care not to disturb the other members of the house-hold, he crept out on to the veranda and into the gardens. For some time he paced the various paths, stopping now and again to trace their direction and general relation to the house. The set of paths, to the right of the house, interested him greatly. He went over them again and again and at last stopped at the fence dividing the Delaney property from the next house.
Finding a large flower-pot in the garden, he carried it to the fence and mounted it, although the fence was very low. A short examination, of the next premises seemed to afford him considerable satisfaction. Carrying the flowerpot back to where he found it he returned to the paths and subjected them to a very careful scrutiny. Again his manner expressed satisfaction. He stood upright and looked at his watch. It was barely seven o'clock. For some minutes he stood meditating, then having formed some sudden resolve, or plan, strolled back to the house. At the top step, leading up to the veranda, he stopped and pulled off his shoes. In stockinged feet he crept into the house, into the living room where he had talked to Mrs. Weston and Sinclair the previous night. A glance around showed him a small desk, set close to the window. In it he found notepaper and envelopes. The composition of the letter gave him some trouble. Thrice he wrote it before he sat back, satisfied. Then he carefully folded the spoilt sheets and placed them in his pocket. He read the last letter he wrote with some satisfaction, enclosed it in an envelope and addressed it with a single line. Then he returned to the garden and on the bottom step leading up to the veranda, resumed his footwear.
Ten minutes later he boarded an early tram, en-route for Neutral Bay, whistling gaily. The tram arrived at the wharf just as the ferry pulled, alongside. Without a glance back, Paull went aboard, his whistling, causing some consternation among the steamer's crew.
Bill Sinclair, in spite of his worries, slept soundly. He awoke shortly after and, dressing quickly, went into the sitting room. A letter propped against the decanter caught his eyes. It was addressed to him.
He tore it open and swore under his breath as he read the few scrawled lines.
"Mr. Sinclair." Mrs. Weston spoke from the door. "I went to take Mr. Inspector Paull a cup of: morning tea and he didn't answer to my knock. I opened the door and he wasn't there. He's not in the gardens nor in the house. Has—has anything happened to him, I wonder."
"Only a sanity self-revelation." Bill Sinclair answered bitterly. "He's chucked the job; least, he doesn't say that but—but that's what the letter he wrote me means. He's gone back to the city. Now, who's going to find Dora?"
INSPECTOR PAULL was not whistling when he came off the boat at Circular. Quay. The bare twenty minutes journey had given him time for reflection—and wonderment. For the first time in longer than his memory would carry him back in the years, he had acted on impulse. There had been little in the garden at Dale Park to cause the detective to break away from his usual solid passivity.
Although he had gone to the cottage in a state of suspended suspicion, he had to confess that Mrs. Weston, for one, was free from all complicity in the crime he was investigating. At the time of David Delaney's murder she was not even in Sydney. She had arrived at the Delaney cottage some considerable time after Dora and Sinclair had returned from the city. Bill Sinclair was in a different position. Suspicion must, to some extent, rest on him until the real murderers were unmasked. He had written the story; the story the artist was illustrating at the time of his death. The artist had been killed in a similar manner to the man in the story. That could only indicate that the murderer had knowledge of what the story contained and who could that be saving only the author who wrote it, the editor who accepted it or the artist who illustrated it.
Against the facts accumulating to throw suspicion on Bill Sinclair were the three small black snails on the drawing. They had been in the artist's office while he sat before his desk, dead. Sinclair might have placed them there, but he could not have placed the three snails on the counter in the outer office, for he had been with the detective at the time they appeared. He could riot have journeyed to Ashfield to raid the detective's house, for he had been in the company of Dora Delaney and Mrs. Weston at the time of that occurrence.
He had to presume the organisation calling themselves the 'Three Snails' was composed of three men. He was certain of that. Sinclair might be one of the three; Paull had more than a suspicion that he was. Certainly he knew more of the incidents surrounding the death of David Delaney than he had told. The house next door to the Delaney cottage had interested the Inspector.
Although the rain through the previous night had washed out many of the signs on the gravel paths sufficient had remained to make the detective certain that the house next door was unoccupied, as it was intended to appear. Someone had passed from the Delaney's cottage, to the house and back again several times during the previous day. Someone had passed between the house and the cottage during the early hours of that morning, after the rain had ceased.
For a time during the journey between Neutral Bay and Circular Quay, Paull had doubted his wisdom in leaving Dale Park so precipitately. He wondered whether he should not have remained at the cottage, communicating with the North Sydney Police and having the house next door raided? He was certain that if he had carried out that plan he would have learned many strange things. But, would he had learned the whole truth; would he have learned more than that Dora Delaney was detained, in that house; if, indeed, she was not staying there of her own free will? A police raid would have settled the many questions that puzzled the detective's brains concerning the cottage and the house next door.
But he doubted if that raid would have gone any way towards solving the mystery surrounding the murder of David Delaney. More, he had a feeling that the raid would have shrouded the murder with a still deeper pall of mystery. He came to the conclusion that he had been right to follow impulse—although he was dissatisfied that he had, in his mature and sober age, allowed impulse to master him. He grinned as he thought of the disgust on the young author's face when he found and read the letter he had left in the sitting room. But, the boy wanted a lesson. He was of the mystery writer class—writers that the detective had a deep and abiding loathing for. He was of the men who created a murderer, laid the clues backwards, and then constructed a crime to fit what they had planned.
He laughed, silently—a laugh that shook his bulky frame—at the thought of Sinclair on the trail of the girl's abductors. That would be real detective work and the author, at the end of the trail, might have to considerably reconstruct his theories of crime and criminals.
Again in the city, Paull made his way to Random Buildings and ascended to the offices formerly occupied by David Delaney. The door was locked, but Paull carried a key. He looked round the two rooms carefully and then locked the door behind him.
In the offices, standing in the doorway between the two rooms he mentally reviewed the crime. The artist was seated at his desk, finishing the illustration to the crime story. The door from the corridor was stealthily opened and a silent, stealthy black shadow glided into the room. The slow minutes passed as the shadow crept towards the inner office. The sudden, sharp spring; the tightening of the cord around the victim's throat; the dragging of the dead body back in the chair; and, the departure of the murderer.
And the reason for the crime? The double metal plate told that. Delaney was an associate of a gang of forgers. They have provided him with the metal plate and the banknotes he was to imitate; but—Why had Delaney covered the etching with the thin plate of copper? Paull remembered that his wife had stated, in her emphatic manner that Delaney had not been on friendly terms with his criminal associates. Had he covered the etching with the copper plate so as to conceal it? If that supposition was correct then there was only one logical explanation.
David Delaney had been forced to carry out the work of forgery under some definite threat. But while he had been engaged in the work he had sensed, some means of escape from his thraldom. It had been good policy for him to continue the work in case his avenue of escape from the criminals' clutches proved unusable. But, when lie had completed, the etching he had covered it with the copper plate, so that it should remain concealed until he could escape from his obligation—or hand over the etching to his associates.
The theory was reasonable. In some manner the criminals had discovered that Delaney planned to escape from the hold they had established over him. They had; gone to his office late in the evening, knowing, his habit of working long after the-dinner hours. There had been a quarrel; possibly the forgers had demanded that the etching be handed over to them immediately? Delaney had refused to comply, with their demands and they had killed him.
Then had followed the quick search of the offices. The crooks had departed, disappointed, never thinking that the etching they sought had been under their eyes all the time, perhaps actually in their hands. They had taken the bank notes away with, them. Then they had set a watch on the offices. They had come to the conclusion that the detective had discovered what they had sought, in vain. They had raided his house only to discover what they thought to be the etched plate was of plain metal.
But Paull had to acknowledge that not one of the theories he constructed would lead to the discovery of the identity of the 'Three Snails.' Sinclair might, be one of the gang. If so, then Persus might be another member? Who was the third? Could the third man he was seeking be David Delaney's brother—Ernest—the printer?
Paull left the offices, careful to lock the door behind him. A few moments of hesitation and he commenced to canvas the offices on that floor. He found there were quite a number of them. He made his inquiries in a strange, haphazard fashion, seeming more interested in talking, to the girl-clerks—and about the girl-clerks in the building. Gradually a straight line settled around his little mouth, as again and again his casual questions failed to bring the information he sought.
Then—he had just come out of an office and was debating where next to call when the elevator came to the floor and a girl alighted. She walked quickly down to David Delaney's office. At the door she opened her bag and took out a key. A moment and the door opened and the girl entered. Paull strode swiftly down the corridor and, followed her into the offices.
For some minutes he stood watching her.
"Good morning, Miss Anstey." The detective spoke casually.
"Oh!" The girl straightened from the desk over which she was bending. "Mr.—Inspector Paull! Why—you gave me quite a shock. I didn't—"
"Didn't expect to see me here?", Paull finished her sentence as the girl paused. "Now, that shows bad psychology on your part, m'dear. You should have guessed that a detective, like a ghost, returns to haunt the scene of the crime."
"But—but I thought you had—had finished here?"
"Oh, because—" Maude Anstey looked distressed. "Well, because you had taken him away—and—"
"But had not discovered who put him there." Paull chuckled.
"No, m'dear. We don't consider a case finished in our Department until we've caught our man and handed him over to—to—well, you don't want to know that."
"Then you think—" Miss. Anstey broke off suddenly. "But, what can you do here?" She faced the detective boldly. "Are—you—are you watching—me?"
"Not before ten minutes ago." Again Paull laughed his strange silent laugh that shook his huge bulk. "Fact is, Miss Anstey, I've made a mistake. I clean forgot all about you—until an hour ago.
"I?" The girl caught her breath suddenly. "What—what do you mean?"
"As a factor in the—" For quite an appreciable time the detective hesitated "—in the murder mystery."
"But—but I didn't murder him. I—I wouldn't for I—" The girl sank sobbing into a chair, tearing futilely at her bag for her handkerchief. Paull crossed the room to her side, lumberingly.
"Now, now, m'girl!" He drew out his own handkerchief and pressed it into her hand.
"Cry into that, if you want to cry at all. You can't get over the fact that you discovered him and telephoned the police. You can't, any more than I can, get over the fact that I made a big mistake when I forgot all about you. Hmm! Wonder what my missus 'ud say? Once a girl called me a 'shriek' and Mary—that's my missus—said 'it wasn't a bad description, even though I hadn't got it quite right. Now, I when I tell her I quite overlooked a pretty girl in conning my problem—well, well—she'll call me better, than a shriek. Ah! I thought you'd soon smile if I went on talking. Mary says I'd make a great nurse to put babies to sleep with my lullabies."
Maude Anstey had recovered her composure. She was looking up at the detective with a little smile on her lips.
"I'm quite all right now, Mr. Paull and—and—please let Mrs. Paull know that she's quite right."
"About the 'shriek' business?"
"No, about the lullabies."
"So? I'm as good as that eh? Well, what about yourself, young lady? You're no dud at it, are you?"
"What do you mean, Mr. Paull?" A frightened look came in the girl's eyes.
"Crooning lullabies to—to something larger than a baby."
"That a certain young lady wasn't so frightened and alarmed, at coming to work one morning and finding a dead man in the offices as she—well, as she might have been."
"You can call me 'Walter' if you like—or 'dad.' Perhaps the last might be better, as then Mary would have nothing to complain of. Never could persuade her that modern girls judge men by looks, not weight. She still thinks I'm a runner in the Philanderers' Stakes. Now, what do you think?"
"I—I think you could be—be very nice." There was a twinkle of amusement in the girl's eyes; a vagrant dimple at the corner of her mouth.
"As nice as—as David De—"
"Mr. Paull! He's dead!"
"My mistake, m'dear, I'd forgotten. By the way, know Mr. Persus?"
"No." The word was most emphatic.
"Thought so! A little bird whispered to me that Robert Persus thought very well of himself, eh?"
"He's—he's a fool, a conceited fool!" The girl spoke hotly.
"So? Thinks too well of himself?"
The girl nodded, a slight blush creeping into her cheeks. "So that's it?" The girl's eyes met Paull's and she nodded; dimpling. "Just have to raise your finger and he'll come hoppin' eh?" Paull laughed softly.
Again the girl laughed and dimpled.
"Suppose I asked you to raise that little finger? Now, m'dear don't get excited. David Delaney wasn't a bad sort of chap, was he? You'd do a bit, to get—well, you know."
"I think—" The girl hesitated, then rose from her chair and came to where the detective was standing. "Mr. Paull, if you'll trust me—tell me plainly what you want me to do—I'll—I'll try—"
"Good girl!" Paull patted her shoulder, approvingly. "'Tisn't much I want. You know where Persus lunches? Thought so. Well—Say, got plenty of money." His hand went to his trousers pocket and came away with a note, screwed up. "Oh, take it, m'dear. You're a member of the Police Department, for the time. Now, get to that lunch room and have a bang-up lunch. See Persus and let him talk to you—But then, you're a modern girl and don't want instruction in that from an old 'has-been' like me. Just tip the gentleman off that you're taking care of these offices until the Delaney estate is settled up—and may be alone here to-morrow afternoon. That'll fetch him."
Maude Anstey laughed and nodded.
"Thought so." Paull joined in her laughter. "He'd be deaf, dumb, blind and plumb silly if he didn't—and you play your cards right. Now, remember. Three o'clock, to-morrow afternoon and—and if things go right—well, you can wear it again."
"Wear what?" The girl looked up startled, and the smile banished from her lips.
"The ring that you used to wear on the third finger of your left hand." Paull only breathed the words. "No need to be frightened, m'dear. Shall I guess more?"
"Know what? That David Delaney put that ring there? Yes."
"WHAT the hell do you want here?" The man seated at the other end of the room, facing Anstey, looked up angrily as Inspector Paull entered the offices and lifted the counter-flap. "Get out, can't you?"
"Mr. Persus—Robert Persus, isn't it?"
"Yes. Who are you?" The short, slight, foppishly dressed man stroked a small slightly-twisted moustache; of straw-coloured hairs.
"Inspector Paull. Investigating the Delaney murder." The detective spoke distinctly, watching the man closely. He wondered if he had noticed a slight start from the man when he mentioned his name.
"Paull." The man frowned. "Well, what do you want here? Don't think the murderer's going to hang about these offices, waiting for you to pick him up, do you? Pah! You detectives make me sick. But, who can wonder—" His coarse, bold eyes swept Paull's rotund figure with contempt. "No one but a fool would set a fat man to catch a murderer."
"Yet a tortoise once raced a hare." In spite of the humility with which Paull spoke he was enjoying himself. "Glad to meet you, Mr. Persus."
"Might be glad to meet you elsewhere, Inspector." The man winked lewdly, bringing a swift, blush to the girl's cheeks. She looked, at Paull helplessly. He dared not signal to her, for the man was watching him keenly. "Had any luck yet?"
"Not until today."
The fatuous look on Paull's good-humoured face deepened and he strolled forward with an air of eager confidence. "Fact is, I've had a most astonishing piece of luck.. All but got my hands on the party I want."
"That so?" Persus hardly bothered to conceal his contempt. "Well, why not go the whole hog. I'll entertain Miss Anstey while you're completing your job. Good-day Paull; see you; later." A slight wave of the over-manicured, bejewelled fingers was intended to sweep the detective from the visible map; but Paull stood his ground. A short nod and a wink, when the man turned towards the girl, reassured her.
"But that's—" Paull commenced.
"What?" Persus swung round, almost a menace in his manner. "I told you to get out. Now get."
"But—I've arranged to meet him here." The lazy, sleepy look had crept into the detective's face.
"Here?" The man glanced from the detective to the girl, sudden suspicion in his eyes. "You mean to say, you—"
"Just that." Much of the fatuity had gone from Paull's voice. "Like to meet him, Mr. Persus?"
"The man who murdered David Delaney."
The man paused, quickly.
"What?" The detective, questioned.
"I was going to say that the man who murdered Delaney would not be such a fool as to come here. Why—"
"Rather a remarkable theory." Paull drew up a chair, placing it so that he could interpose instantly between the girl and the man, if necessary. "You theorise that a murderer smells blood, and won't come near it, unless forced. Something, like the theory that prevailed in the middle-ages when suspects were forced into the presence of the murdered persons. Our forefathers had the idea that the victims would sprout blood when the real murderer came, near. Perhaps they had it wrong—and you are right! That the murderer on the scene of his crime can't help confessing."
Persus nodded. A puzzled look came in his eyes. "May be something in that," he acknowledged.
"What do you think, Miss Anstey?" For the first time the Inspector addressed the girl. "But, there! Not a very pleasant subject to argue before a lady, is it? Still, I'm interested. S'pose you committed a murder, Mr. Persus—"
"What!" The man was on his feet in an instant. Immediately he recovered his composure and resumed his chair. "You have queer ideas, Mr. Paull."
"So the missus says." The detective stroked his triple chins, thoughtfully. "Still, I try to reason them out while, so far as I can see women trust to what they call intuition and that's a form of guessing. Still, I'll say this for her; she often guesses right."
"When are you going to catch your murderer?" The man fidgeted, uneasily; his eyes flashing banefully at the detective. "You say he's coming here? Well, I'd like to meet him, but—" He looked at his watch. "Half-past three! I say, Miss Anstey, what about afternoon-tea and a dance."
"Oh, but I can't spare her." Paull spoke quickly. "You see, I engaged Miss Anstey as my assistant yesterday."
"Your assistant?" The keen, black, eyes flashed from the man to the girl. A dark flush mounted to the man's face. "May I know when?"
"Of course. Yesterday, midday, wasn't it, Miss Anstey. Of course I remember, just before lunch. She's a member of the New South Wales Police Department, now."
"Is she?" Persus swung round on the girl so quickly that she started back in her chair. "So that's why you were so pleasant all of a sudden. You little—"
Paull laughed throatily; yet he moved forward between the man and the girl. "Nice girl, Miss Anstey, isn't she?" The detective's face was inexpressive. "What's the matter, Mr. Persus? Going to leave us?"
"Damned little double-crosser!" The man turned on the detective, with a snarl. "Well, I'm going to congratulate you on your assistant. You might ask her what she knows of David Delaney's murder."
"S'pose I ask you." Again Paull's bulk interposed before the man, this time barring his way to the door. "At the same time you might explain how you come to know the facts you suggest? You weren't here when David Delaney—er—died?"
"Find out!" Persus snarled. "I'll tell you this; she was."
"I guessed that." The detective's quaint silent laughter shook his portly frame. "Thought that directly I came in here. A girl doesn't come to her office in the morning and find a dead man there without showing a lot more emotion than Miss Anstey let me see."
"So you're not as dumb as you look!" Persus laughed. "If you keep on like that you'll discover something more—with luck."
"I'll chance the luck," Paull grinned. "Going, Mr. Persus! Now, do you know I've got so fond of you that—"
"What?" the man asked, as the detective paused. "What's on your mind? Going to arrest me?"
"Now, what made you think that?" The inspector hooked a chair towards him, kicking it into a position that commanded the door. "Ever been in the United States, Mr. Persus?"
"Yes. What of it?"
"Then you know their police have an excellent facility. They get out a 'John Doe' warrant and detain anyone they think would make a material witness of the prosecution."
"You think I know something?"
"Sure of it." Paull nodded, in satisfaction. "You've just told me so."
"I told you?" The man sneered, openly.
"'Course! Didn't you tell me that Miss Anstey was here when—er—David Delaney died? What's that but a hint that you were here, yourself?"
For a full minute Persus looked at the Inspector, the colour fading from his face. Then, without warning; he struck at the police officer. Paull had expected something of the kind to happen and was on the alert. The man found himself caught in a grip of iron and forced back into a chair. For a moment he struggled against the detective, then became passive.
"That's right, little man," Paull smiled genially. "Now we'll get along." He glanced at his watch.
"Nearly four o'clock. The others will be here, soon."
"Mr. Paull!" Maude Anstey looked up at the detective with wide, frightened eyes. "You don't—don't believe what he said?"
"But I do, my dear girl." The Inspector's, smile was reassuring. "You puzzled me at first, but when I had time to reason things out I began to—Well, what shall I, say? I can't say, suspect—I don't want to say, doubt. No, neither of them will do. I'll just remark that if you'd come in this office without knowing what to expect, you'd have shown a lot more agitation. There's others in the same: boat. Perhaps we'll get at the root of the business this afternoon."
"Wait and see."
The detective turned at the opening of the door. "Ah, there you are, Mrs. Weston. And Mr. Sinclair, as well. Sorry to have had to leave you that note this morning, Mr. Sinclair—but if you people call in the police and then try to keep them in the dark—well—"
Bill Sinclair opened his mouth to speak, then thought better of it and coloured slightly. The Inspector placed a chair for Mrs. Weston.
"Sorry I had to cancel your journey home." He chatted easily to Mrs. Weston. "Oh, I should have introduced Miss Anstey. Miss Maude Anstey, a fellow artist of Mr. Delaney and—No, we'll leave that for a time—just till we see how things work out. Then there's Mr. Persus, traveller for a firm who makes metal plates used by etchers. Good plates, too. I've got one in my pocket and a real fine etching on it. Not going to leave us, Mr. Persus. I thought I had persuaded you to stay, and see the drama—er—comedy, I should say, worked out."
"Aw get on with it and less talk." The man turned his back on the detective.
"Why not?" Paull went to his seat. "There's three more people to come and I'd have liked to have waited for at least one of them. A Mr. Delaney—no, not David Delaney, but his brother, Ernest. He's a—Ah, here he is."
The detective broke off as the door opened. "Know Mrs. Weston, Mr. Delaney? Of course, she's your aunt. And, Mr. Sinclair—going to be your brother-in-law. Then there's Mr. Persus. Ah, I thought you knew him. If you hadn't—" His voice died away in a little rumble.
"What's this gathering for?" Sinclair swung sharply on the detective. "And where's Dora? You rang me up, midday, and told me she'd be here this afternoon."
"T'isn't over yet." Paull grinned and crossed his stout legs, comfortably. "The ladies object to a little smoking? Thanks. Now we'll get along."
For a considerable time he was silent, busy lighting one of the rank stogies he favoured. The cigar drawing freely, he looked: up, glancing around the little circle, inquisitively.
"Time we made a start." He glanced at his watch. "I'm going back to when Miss Anstey rang up the Police Department and reported that she had come here to find Mr. Delaney at his desk—dead." Again he paused, meditatively. "There was one thing I noticed and thought queer."
Paull resumed, after a satisfying puff or two at his cigar. "A girl who comes to her office in the morning to find a dead man there, is usually much disturbed. Miss Anstey appeared, to me, to take it as a matter of course." He paused and smiled at the girl. "All right, m'dear! It does sound tough that way, but I'm speaking of things as they struck me.
"I asked Miss Anstey what time she usually left the office and she told me, about five o'clock. At the same time I noticed that she had, for some considerable time, been wearing an engagement ring—and that that morning it was missing. By the way, Miss Anstey, got that ring here?"
Without replying, the girl opened her hand-bag and produced a half-hoop of diamonds. At the detective's nod she slipped it on her finger.
"That's better." Paull turned to the others. "Lad—no, lady and gentlemen. May I introduce Mr. David Delaney's fiancée?"
"But David Delaney is dead," exclaimed Sinclair.
"So he is." Paull bent a peculiar look at the young author. "Now, if you'll let me continue my report? Thanks. I found Mr.—er—Delaney seated at his office table in rather peculiar surroundings. I am not going to mention them for you are all well acquainted with the facts. I made just one mistake there. Perhaps it has caused some confusion. If so, I'm sorry. After all, I'm only a fat policeman and not supposed to possess brains.
"Before I left this office," continued Paull, after a pause, "I came to the conclusion that David Delaney was mixed up with a gang of forgers—that he was making the etching plates from which the notes were printed. That's right, Mr. Sinclair, isn't it?"
The young man nodded, miserably.
"And you, Miss Anstey?"
"He was tempted." The girl answered spiritedly. "But—he didn't."
"No," Paull interposed. "Here's the first and last plate David Delaney etched. A darned good one, I'll say that, but he hid it so effectively that the crooks had it in their hands and didn't know it. Now, why was David Delaney tempted to break the law?"
"May I?" Maude Anstey spoke slowly. At the detective's nod she faltered then continued bravely. "David and I have been engaged for some time. We wanted to get married, but—"
"Natural." Paull smiled cheerfully. He turned to the metal plate traveller. "Now, Mr. Persus, I'll have those notes."
"What notes?" The man gasped.
"Not bank-notes." There was real enjoyment in Paull's laugh. "Just those P.N.'s that David Delaney signed for money borrowed from you to pay his debts in the speculations you led him into."
"I'll see you damned!"
"Not a bit." The detective held out his hand and after a few seconds hesitation Persus took from his pocket a bundle of papers and handed them over.
"That's good." He tossed the papers to the girl. "You'd better take charge of them, Miss Anstey—at least for, the time. Now—"
"Mr. Persus came to David Delaney and pressed for payment of the notes." The girl continued rapidly. "David couldn't pay. He had not the money. Then, that man insisted that David worked the notes out David was willing to do that in legitimate work, but refused to make plates for bank-note printing." The girl hesitated. "I was away for a time and during my absence Mr. Persus induced David to try his hand on a plate—that one." She pointed to the plate Paull had placed on the desk.
"When I returned I was able to convince David that he was making a mistake. He wouldn't destroy the plate, but he covered it with a sheet of copper, concealing the etching."
"Good!" Paull interrupted. "Now, m'dear. Get on to the night of the murder.
"I left the office at five o'clock, I as I said." The girl spoke dully. "David came with me and we had dinner, together. I had to make a call and we arranged that he was to come back here and finish the illustration for Bill's story. I was to call for him soon after half-past seven and we intended to go to the pictures."
"You did come back here?" Paull questioned.
"Yes." Maude Anstey hesitated. "To find—"
"A man seated in the chair before David Delaney's desk—dead?"
The quick opening of the office door prevented the girl answering. Two men and a woman entered the office. Immediately the woman passed the counter she ran to Bill Sinclair.
"Where, have you been to?" the young author questioned, anxiously. Before she could answer Maude Anstey had run to one of the men passing the counter.
"Davy! Oh, Davy, I've been so frightened for you!"
The man glared round the office, over the girl's head. Paull stepped forward, a warning in his eyes.
"Glad to meet you, Mr. David Delaney." The smile on his lips broadened. "Should I say I'm glad to welcome you back to life?"
"QUITE a queer case." Inspector Paull was seated in Superintendent Manner's office, pulling steadily on one of the rank stogies he offended his fellow-mortals by smoking. "Rather enjoyed it, towards the end, though they had me beat, at first."
"Can't quite make head or tail of it, yet." Manners frowned perplexedly. "David Delaney's strangled, then turns up full of life to marry a pretty girl."
"And I'm to give away the bride," Paull grinned. "Don't know what my missus'll say. She's always declaring you give me the cases where I get mixed up with a lot of girls."
"Get that out of your head." The Superintendent spoke quickly. "I've a great respect for Mrs. Paull and I'm not going to quarrel with her just because she's got a lying, tricky, good-for-nothing, girl-chasing husband. No, sir! Get that, straight!
But Manners drowned Paull's defence.
"You came here to tell me the true story of the Delaney case. Now, get on with it."
Paull sighed, trying to pose as the much misunderstood man. He rolled the stogie between his lips, and a broad grin spread over his fat, good-humoured face.
"A real strange tale!" He laughed, in anticipation. "Now, if you'll let me do some of the talking, I'll make it plain to you."
He waited a few seconds, then continued.
"First thing I noticed when I got I down to Random Buildings was that Miss Anstey did not appear so greatly distressed at finding a dead man in her office when she arrived, yesterday morning. I wondered a bit, but not so much as when I found that she had been in the habit of wearing an engagement ring, and wasn't wearing it then. An hour or so later I came across another lady who seemed to think that the murder of a brother was a casual happening of life.
"The two things set me thinking. It wasn't long before the few brains I'm credited with put me on the right trail. Here it is!
"David Delaney managed to get in the toils of a man named Robert Persus. Persus is a scoundrel who doesn't care where the money comes from so long as there is plenty of it. He saw that Delaney's ability as an artist could be turned to fruitful account in the bank-note industry. But first, he had to get him in the right frame of mind."
Again Paull paused, to critically examine his stogie. "David Delaney was engaged to his assistant, Maude Anstey, and wanted to get married. That was Persus' opportunity. He induced Delaney to enter into a series of speculations, lending him the money for the purpose and acting as financial adviser. Naturally, the speculations failed. Now Persus had Delaney where he wanted him. He offered to hand back his Promissory Notes to Delaney if he would make a series of bank-note etchings. Delaney half-fell for the trick and Persus sent the plates to his office."
"I don't think Delaney is a very strong character—one of those inferiority complexes that seem to be all the rage now-a-days." Paull continued after a pause. "I'm guessing that he confided his predicament to his sweetheart and that she opposed the proposition bitterly. That enraged Persus and he brought into the game a printer from North Sydney, named Chalmers."
"The dead man!" exclaimed Manners, interestedly. "Now how did Delaney come to kill Chalmers?"
"He didn't, or he'd be in the Central Police Station cells now." Paull spoke imperturbably. "I'm going to draw your attention to the afternoon before the murder took place.
"Maude Anstey knew something of her lover's irresponsible, or should I say, artistic, character. She worked on him to break with Persus and tell him to do his worst regarding the P.N.'s. But, in the meantime Delaney had commenced to make one of the etchings. Maud Anstey found him at work on it and persuaded him to telephone Persus that he wouldn't go on with the scheme. Persus was furious and wanted to meet Delaney and argue the matter out. Backed by the girl, Delaney refused to meet the man."
"Yet he kept the plate he had made," suggested the Superintendent.
"That's so." Paull drew strongly on his cigar. A few seconds and he continued. "He kept the plate, but to hide it covered it with a thin plate of copper. That happened the afternoon before the murder."
"Well?" Manners questioned, as Paull hesitated. "About six o'clock Delaney and Miss Anstey went out to dinner. During the meal they came to a complete agreement—that Delaney was to cut Persus, absolutely. Then they parted for a time. Miss Anstey to call on some girl; Delaney to return to his offices and complete the illustrations he was making for Sinclair's story. He had only an hour or so of work before him. Then the girl was to call at the offices for him and they planned the pictures for the rest of the evening."
"What happened during Miss Anstey's absence I don't quite understand—perhaps we shall never know. Anyway, Delaney met a friend and yarned with him for some time. He only got back to his offices a few minutes before the girl arrived. She entered his room to find him standing beside the desk, staring down on a man seated in his chair, strangled."
"Persus confessed to the deed." Paull spoke slowly. "He says he had arranged to take Chalmers to Delaney's offices to arrange there the printing of the notes. When Chalmers heard that Delaney refused to go on with the scheme, he, also tried to draw out. I think," added Paull, "that Persus held him by similar means to those he tried to bind Delaney with."
"And Persus killed Chalmers in Delaney's offices? Why?"
"To incriminate Delaney." The detective answered quickly. "Printers are plentiful—there are dozens of little printers whom Persus could use. But etchers of Delaney's quality are few and rare."
"Well!" Again Manners showed impatience.
"There's little more." Paull laughed gently. "The plan to leave Chalmers in Delaney's offices and bring in the police, claiming that the murdered man was Delaney, can be credited to Miss Anstey. She evolved it to puzzle and frighten Persus. It did. The man couldn't understand That set him improving on his original plan—an always fatal thing for a crook wanted by the police to do. To straighten matters to his liking again, Persus tried out another scheme."
"He planned to get Dora Delaney in his power and through her bring Delaney under his thumb again. Strange, he planned to use the house next door to the Delaney cottage, where David Delaney was hiding. He was watching the cottage when Dora left to accompany Sinclair to the tram-stop. He caught the girl while she was returning home alone and carried her into the house, confining her in one of the rooms. Of course David Delaney was on the watch and when Persus left released his sister. They arranged to stay in the house, hiding, until I had got on the scoundrel's, track. They had plenty of provisions and could jump the fence to their home, next door, for clothing and things. Fact, Miss Delaney told me that if I hadn't tumbled to Persus's game so soon she would have come to Police Headquarters in search of me, and confessed the whole thing."
"But the raid on your house? How could Persus get away with that while he was abducting Dora Delaney at North Sydney?" objected the Superintendent.
"I worked that out." The Inspector showed interest. "It was a neatly planned game. Persus had a fast a car awaiting him at Dale Park. Immediately he had secured Miss Delaney, he jumped in the car and came to Ashfield. The times are close, but he was specially favoured with a wet night and little traffic on the road. Then he managed to run a punt across the harbour, without waiting. A real genius scheme!"
"Then Persus was 'The Three Snails?'" Manners laughed.
"He planned to make Delaney, Chalmers and himself 'The Three Snails.'" A broad smile illuminated the Inspector's cheerful countenance. "At the end he carried the triple load himself, and it broke his back—or shall we say, neck?"
"While the rest of the characters in the story live happy ever after." Manners turned to his desk.
"Including the investigating detective," suggested Paull meekly.
"Him?" The Superintendent swung round on his chair, in stimulated amazement. "Him? Why, when he wakes up from this latest pipe dream of his I'm going to give him a real mystery to investigate."
Aidan de Brune in this dramatic article has endeavoured to reconstruct the Marrickville Murders from details and theories gleaned by a week's study of the district and the habits and the friends of the murdered women. Time alone may tell if the story, as told here, is a faithful recital of the facts of that fateful night. In any case the theory that is the basis of the deductions is quite feasible.
"IT'S up to you, Tom." Jos. Petersen, confectionery manufacturer, stamped angrily up and down his small, boarded office. "I ain't sayin' it's your fault she hasn't paid. Perhaps you ain't pressed her enough—you're fair soft-hearted. But she's got th' money! Oodles of it!"
"What do you want me to do?" The young, tall, smart traveller glanced sullenly at his employer. "If the old girl won't pay when you want—"
"Oh, well, she hasn't said she won't, but—" The man shrugged his shoulders.
"Hard!" Petersen laughed. "Say, those two women are the softest marks in the district. They listen to all the tale- tellers. Money to burn, if all the tales that are told of their lendings is true. What I want to know is what are you going to do about it?"
"What do you want me to do?' The sullen expression swept again across the young man's face.
"What's the good of acting sulky, Tom?" The confectioner patted the youth on the shoulder. "You ain't got nothin' much to do this morning, Why not go over to the old girl an' 'ave a heart to heart talk with her. Tell 'er I want the cash. If you can't get it I'll go over myself."
The young man turned abruptly towards the door, shielding from the old man the look of alarm that had come to his eyes. If Petersen went to Marrickville?
"Don't act nasty, Tom." The confectioner mounted the high stool and turned the pages of a ledger. "Money's money, y'know. 'Sides the old girl's been running for quite a time. Year or so ago she paid spot cash. Can't make out what's changed her."
The door slammed heavily. In the yard the young traveller turned up the collar of his overcoat. Out of sight of the confectionery factory, Tom stopped and pulled a shabby pocket- book out of his breast-pocket and turned the leaves. One page was covered with a series of small amounts. He totalled them, breathing heavily. Miss Vaughan owed Petersen twenty-seven pounds odd. No. He owed Petersen that amount. He had taken it from the money he had collected on behalf of Petersen from the little elderly woman in Marrickville Road.
Stuffing the book back in his pocket he strode to his mean lodgings. He looked round the room vacantly. The torn wallpaper, the old, battered furniture he called home, were not pleasant to look at. Well, he wouldn't see them much longer. Monday morning he would have to go to Petersen and tell him he had taken the money. Petersen would call the police. He would be arrested; dragged through the streets to the police station.
Abruptly he started to his feet and strode over to the rickety chest of drawers. Yes, it was there! He pulled out something, held it in his closed hand. On his palm lay a small, snub-nosed revolver. He remembered the day he had bought it. He had just commenced work with Jos. Petersen. He had seen the gun in a second-hand dealer's window and had purchased it. He would want a gun to safeguard from thieves the large collections he would have to make for his employer. As the days passed he had ceased to carry the gun. The sums of money he carried to the factory were small, insignificantly small.
Thieves! Thieves! He was a thief! He had taken the money paid to him by the little woman living in Marrickville Road. Before his eyes rose a picture of the two women and their little shop. He lived again the day he had called there—bedraggled and soaked by the fierce, sudden downpour of rain—coughing heavily. They had exclaimed in horror and sympathy, dragging him behind the counter to the small table in the corner. A few minutes and he had been gulping down hot soup and tea; feeling the warm blood coursing again through his half-frozen veins.
"Tom! Tom!" On the landing stood Jerry, a fellow-lodger in the house. "What are you doing this afternoon, Tom?" The bright-faced youth on the landing laughed at the long face of his chum.
"Don't be a mug. I've got tickets for the races to-day. Come on!"
The races! Tickets for the races! Tom turned into his room, feeling in his pockets. He knew the confectioner trusted him. If he went to him on Monday with money in his hand? If he could not produce all that was owing—that would not matter. If he could win half—yes, not less than half! Say a tenner! Yes, that would, do. If he lost—Well, the same way out of trouble still lay open to him. He would not want money on that road.
"Aw! Come on, Tom, I'm flush today. We'll have a drink. That'll put yon straight."
Dazed and unquestioning, Tom followed his friend. The raw spirits taunted him. He drank another and yet another. Insistently he put the money question from him. He raced Jerry for the tram, laughing and talking noisily. He couldn't lose! His tide of luck, commencing with the first race, had at last turned. At first he had betted cautiously. A few races and he had thrown caution to the winds. Then luck changed. He began to lose steadily and consistently.
Some men standing behind him had spoken of a horse that couldn't lose the last race. He waited for it, his face white and fixed. Immediately the betting opened he drew his remaining money from his pocket and thrust it at the bookmaker. With his heart in his mouth he stood and watched the horses line up at the barrier. Jerry was talkative, but he held silent.
"Who won, Jerry?"
The youth's answer silenced him.
"I'm going." He turned and plunged through the crowd towards the exit gates. Once he felt Jerry's hand on his arm and shook it off roughly. "Get on home, Jerry."
He stopped some little distance from the crowd surging toward the line of tram-cars.
"Where are you going, Tom?" The youth spoke in a low voice. "Lord you. were a fool, Tom. Lost your bundle?"
"Every cent in the world!" He laughed hoarsely. "No, not that!—I've got a shilling or two, somewhere."
"I'm going to stick by you, Tom. You're not well?
"I am well."
He turned angrily oh the youth. "I tell you, you can't stick. I've got to see—see someone."
"I've got a quid or two—"
"I'm not borrowing from you, Jerry. You're like me, hard up at it. No, I'll borrow from someone who's got plenty."
He turned from the trams, walking fast, not knowing or caring in which direction he went. Once he stopped and looked around. Jerry was standing where he had left him, looking after him. He was going to borrow! No, he was going to give—to give the life he had fooled and degraded. Again his hand sought his pocket, feeling the cold steel with, savage satisfaction.
The by-road was rough. Yet he walked on swiftly. He did not know where he was going; he did not care. Any place would do for the last act of his life—his life of twenty-three years! He laughed aloud. Morley! He turned swiftly as two men passed him. What were they talking about? Money! Oodles of money! Oodles of money!
Petersen had said the old women had oodles of money! They had been kind to him. Petersen said they were easy on hard-luck tales! Should he go to them and ask them to lend him the money? Why not? They would listen to him, even if they refused. Would they refuse? Well, what if they did? There was still the "thing" in his pocket! He turned into the Marrickville Road and walked in the direction of Dulwich Hill. He asked the time of a passing man. It Was just a quarter past ten. Yes, Miss Vaughan's shop would he open. They stayed open late on a Saturday night. Little Miss Vaughan and her sister! Yes, he would, tell them everything. It would be easy, and perhaps good for him. They would give him the money and he would repay them—somehow!
Passing the Town Hall he kicked against something lying on the pavement. He looked down. It was a black thing—with a piece of broken elastic attached to it. He stooped and picked it up. Then laughed. There was a carnival dance in progress at the Town Hall. Someone had lost his mask. He turned it over curiously on his hand as he walked on. Once he lifted it to his face, peering in at a darkened shop-window. But he must get to Dulwich Hill quickly or the shop would be closed. Miss Vaughan would lend him the money. But if she would not? If she refused, repulsed his persuasions, would he have to tell Petersen, or—
In one of his pockets he found a piece of string. Mechanically he joined the broken elastic. He slipped the mended mask into his pocket. For a moment his hand rested on the revolver—so cold and silent, yet so potential.
If the woman would not lend him the money? He knew where they hid money in the shop. Only the previous week he had watched Miss Vaughan go down on her knees behind the counter and draw a tin of notes from beneath the window. She had paid him for some goods from that tin.
A thief? Well, wasn't he a thief? He had stolen from Petersen—or—had he stolen from Petersen or the women? He tried to think. He looked up. At the top of the hill he could see the line of darkened shops. Again his fingers sought the mask. With that on his face and the gun in his hand! Who could recognise him? They were only two old women and he must have the money.
No, he wouldn't take it for good, but he could have no refusal. He dared not ask for the loan. He dared not chance that the women refuse. He must have it; he must take it. Somehow—some way, he would get it back to them. True, they, would be frightened, but he would do them no harm.
A few yards from the door of the shop he stopped and drew the mask from his pocket. As he lifted it to his face he started. God! What was that? He turned swiftly. Only a tramcar, running to the terminus, some three to four hundred yards up the road.
Impatiently he drew the mask down, covering his face. He lugged the revolver from his pocket and strode to the door of the shop, swinging it open. He could see Esther Vaughan standing behind the counter, taking the money from the cash register. Far down the shop he noticed Sarah Falvey's head showing above the end counter. She was sitting at the table where he had sat—the day they had brought him back to life, feeding and mothering him.
"Hands up." At the hoarsely growled words the little elderly woman behind the counter turned swiftly. "Utter a sound and—"
"What do you want?" The old voice quavered. "Who are you?"
"Get down to that table. Hold your tongues and I won't harm either of you. Speak, and—" He waved the revolver.
For a moment he stood with his back to the closed door carefully examining the shop. Where was the money? For the moment he had forgotten. He looked round the little shop, speculatively; a feeling of cold resolution steadying the hand holding the revolver. Ah! He remembered.
At the shop window he bent down, feeling blindly into the dark space.
His hand encountered a tin.
He drew it out. Yes, that was the tin he sought; the tin from which the woman had taken the notes. Still covering the women with his revolver he knocked off the lid of the tin and looked down. Yes, he had found the money he sought; sufficient for his purpose.
The sound of rustling skirts caught his attention. He straightened himself, abruptly. Sarah Falvey had darted from behind the end counter and was running to the front door. With a bound he sprang over the counter to the centre of the shop, but the woman had passed him.
"Stop, or I fire!" The woman stopped suddenly and turned to face him, a dawning wonder in her eyes. She bent forward, peering closely at him. What had he done? What had he said? A sudden panic seized him. For a moment he stood, wondering. He had spoken in his natural voice; the voice that both women knew well.
Somehow he must stop that look of dawning recognition in Sarah Falvey's eyes. "Get back! Get back, or I fire!"
"Esther! Esther!" Sarah Falvey spoke in terrified wonder. "Esther! It's Tom!"
"Open that door! Open that door!" Again his voice slipped. He ran towards the woman, now standing with arms outstretched to bar his passage. "Esther! It's Tom—"
A short, sharp crack and the woman answered with a little sobbing cry. She swayed a moment on her feet, then staggered to a chair beside the door, sinking on it in a huddled heap. He looked from the woman to the gun in his hand, in silent wonder. What had happened?
"Sarah! Oh, Sarah! What has he done? Oh, you've shot her; you've shot her!"
He turned to face Esther Vaughan, running from behind the counter to her sister's aid. Almost as the woman's hands were on him he raised the gun again. What was she doing?
He felt her catch the barrel of the gun in her hands. He tried to pull it from her; to turn to the door and escape. The woman struggled to possess the weapon. With a savage growl he tugged at the butt. Suddenly the woman collapsed, falling to the ground. He stood, looking from the woman crouched in the chair by the door to the woman lying under the shadow of the counter. Had he shot them? No, no! He had never intended that!
With a cry of terror he thrust the gun in his pocket and snatched at the mask covering his face. He wrenched open the door and strode out into the street. A man stepped suddenly from his path, pushing before him a woman and some children. Through the darkness of the night he staggered on, circling the district; making for the one refuge he had, the room he called home. In his room he flung himself on the bed, panting and exhausted. Suddenly, he was aroused by a knock at the door.
"There, Tom?" It was Jerry's voice.
"Thought I heard you come in some time ago. I came and knocked but you didn't answer. I could hear you breathing, though. Breathing hard. Catch a cold at the races, to-day?"
"Bit of one. I'm all right, Jerry."
"Get that oof from your pal?"
"Money!" He checked himself hastily. Then laughed harshly. "Oh, yes, Jerry, I got the money. Oodles of it! Oodles of it!"
DR. ARNOLD COLVIN rose, sedately, from his knees and carefully dusted his immaculately-creased trousers. For some time he stood gazing at the open safe, his fingers plucking nervously at his full, red lips.
A few yards away stood Mark Frost, Detective-Inspector of New Scotland Yard. Still further back clustered in the doorway a group of polite officials, gazing curiously at the little man who, in a few years, had won an international reputation in the area of crime-detection.
Seated at a large desk in the centre of the room, his elbows on the blotting-pad, his large hands supporting his chin, was Sir Geofrey Farrington. Over all there hung a sense of tense expectation.
"What do you make of it, doctor?" asked Frost abruptly, breaking a long silence.
"I would like to know exactly where Siti Ram is." The little man spoke meditatively, almost to himself.
"Siti Ram!" The Inspector was startled. "Who is Siti Ram?"
The United States Secret Service operative did not reply immediately. He turned to face the big man at the desk.
"Perhaps Sir Geofrey can give us some information," he said.
Sir Geofrey moved restlessly, and nodded.
"Siti Ram is one of the most dangerous men in the world—and the greatest coward." The words were spoken almost reluctantly.
Colvin nodded. "It is because of his cowardice that he is most dangerous." For a moment he paused, then turned to the Inspector. "More than half the murderers, as you well know, my friend, are great cowards. They strike in a frenzy of fear, for the moment forgetting the greater fear that will possess them for days, perhaps months, because of that moment's fear."
The Inspector nodded briefly. "This Siti Ram," he questioned. "This is the first I have heard of him."
"Siti Ram is a baboo—from Delhi. A man of medium height, a mass of loose waddling fat, habited by a brain so keen and alert that he has always managed to keep himself in the background of the crime he plans." Colvin paused. Again he turned to the man at the desk. "When did you last hear of Siti Ram, Sir Geofrey?"
"How did you know I had heard of him?" The millionaire spoke quickly. A moment's hesitation and he turned to a drawer in the desk and pulled out a card, flicking It across the desk-top.
It was Mark Frost who pounced on the card. The gilt-edged, glazed surface bore only the designation, in ornate type; "Siti Ram, failed B.A."
"This is the first time I have heard of this man," Inspector Frost spoke angrily. "How did you come to forget this, Sir Geofrey?"
The big man looked up, calmly different.
"I found that card on my desk this morning," he answered. "I never before now connected it with the theft of the Pearl of Peri."
"OF course, he lied!" Inspector Frost spoke abruptly as the two men walked away from the house in Park Lane. "But just why, I cannot understand."
"No?" The little man, taking three steps to the Inspector's one, pursed his baby-shaped lips. "Yet there are many people In this world who choose to forget Siti Ram—when he leaves his card on them."
"A coward!" The detective sneered.
"What is a coward?" The thin, light voice of the American spoke coolly. "You forget, my friend. Many of the bravest deeds In history are the result of momentarily cowardice—even the performers admit that."
Inspector Frost passed the remark. After a moment he spoke, meditatively.
"Then we have to run down Siti Ram." he paused. "Well, from your description that should not be difficult. He cannot leave England."
"Perhaps." The wide innocent-looking eyes were staring directly ahead. "Who can tell. In London to-day; perhaps Paris next week. In a month in Bombay—or even Singapore. I do not think he will favour the States—
"But—" Frost stuttered. "The Pearl of Peri was only stolen last night."
"By Siti Ram."
The Inspector did not reply. There had been an inference in the American's tones that had conveyed a wealth of knowledge. Unconsciously he lengthened his stride. In his mind was the purpose to get back to the Yard and put out the call for Siti Ram.
With a few tremendous strides he suddenly remembered his companion and slackened his pace, looking down to his side with an apologetic grin. To his surprise Dr. Colvin was not there. He halted and looked back. The Secret Service operative was not in sight.
DR. ARNOLD COLVIN was glad to be alone. When Inspector Frost had telephoned him the news of the robbery of the Pearl of Peri, he had gone direct to Sir Geofrey Farrington's house. He knew that he was again on the trail he had lost many months before—the trail of the twelve most remarkable jewels in the world.
In that cool, quiet library in Park Lane he had read an open book. From the moment he had passed into the house he had realised that there lay much that he must learn. He had listened in silence to the brief, workmanlike reports of the detectives. Never for one moment had his eyes left the huge form of the millionaire.
Gradually had grown in his mind a thought he would not at first credit. As time progressed he knew that his first thought had been correct. Sir Geofrey Farrington had lied; he knew far more regarding the loss of the jewel than he had already told. Then, on the door of the safe, he had seen a strange mark. A duplicate of that mark had appeared on the baboo's card, flung carelessly on the desk by the house's master.
Siti Ram was in London, or had been. A queer, strained smile came into the American's eyes as he visualised his opponent—the fat man he had only glimpsed once, many years before. Yet he knew; Siti Ram had been in London the previous day—perhaps he was still in the metropolis, but Colvin did not think that likely. Where was the man now. The whole wide world lay open to his search—and Siti Ram was a genius—and a coward.
The momentary distraction of the Scotland Yard official had opened a way of escape. Later, perhaps, he would find use for the detective who had long been his friend. At the moment he longed to be alone.
A narrow alley, between two rows of high houses, had offered opportunity. The alley led into a broad road and, luck of lucks, a cruising taxi was crawling down the road in the direction Colvin wished to proceed. The American smiled secretly as he was swept towards the heart of the city. He had a call to make—a visit that might perhaps put him on the trail he sought.
Before a tall, narrow house in Moorgate-street the taxi came to a halt. Colvin alighted and paid off the man. Entering the house, Dr. Colvin tolled up the steep stairs to the top floor. There he opened a stout oak door by means of a tiny key attached to his watch-chain.
Had Inspector Frost, who continually boasted of the complete and intricate system of crime detection possessed by Scotland Yard, been in that small room, he would have marvelled. For more than an hour Dr. Colvin sat at the desk, the telephone before him, putting through call after call. At length, he pushed the instrument from him. His feet came up to the desk top; the chair tilted hack to a comfortable angle. From a pocket came a tobacco bag and papers. Dusting a line of tobacco on a paper, the little man's agile fingers of one hand rolled a cigarette. A lighter flicked to a flame. From the delicate, womanish nostrils floated a stream of sweet-smelling smoke.
For more than an hour the little American sat smoking, almost without motion, except for the agile fingers that rolled cigarette after cigarette, or lit the lighter. Then the telephone rang compellingly. In a moment the Secret Service operative was alert.
In silence he listened to the voice at the other end of the line. Then, with one finger he depressed the hook for a moment. Allowing the hook to come free, the American dialled a number.
"Please connect me immediately with Mr. Sadeli," he said, when the call was answered. Again he waited; then:
"Siti Ram, I want you."
BRIXTON ROAD is very cosmopolitan in many characteristics. In its long range of houses; in the houses bordering the narrow streets opening from it, live many nationalities. Mainly the foreigners living in these houses call themselves students—students at innumerable schools which profess to diffuse divers cults, sciences and "ologies." There are art- schools, with their attendant quaintly-garbed and -groomed enthusiasts; there are "students" of lores carefully kept from the knowledge of those in authority. Within the inner recesses of the warren of houses around Brixton Road live those who only emerge at long intervals to contribute to the gaiety of newspaper readers—to retire again into a self-seeking oblivion.
Fedora Street boasts of its quiet respectability. The only vehicles that travel it are tradesmen's carts. The great majority of houses are let in rooms; and mainly to students of foreign appearance. One peculiarity it possessed. In comparison with the surrounding streets it possessed a greater quota of telephones. It is possible that many of its inhabitants would have sought fresh fields, but for this. Telephones are necessary where quick, unobtrusive movement is indispensable.
Thirty-five minutes in a somewhat dilapidated taxi brought Dr. Colvin to the corner of Brixton Road and Fedora Street. He dismissed the vehicle and stood for some time as if lost in thought. Yet his eyes did not miss the keen, secretive glances of the man who strolled out of the by-street into the main road. He smiled secretly. Siti Ram was well served.
Waiting until the man passed reluctantly out of sight, Arnold Colvin walked slowly down until he came to a house bearing the number "7." He had idled on the way, for he wanted the watcher to reach a telephone and make his report to Siti Ram before he knocked at the door. Years past, he had learned the value of his unaggressive personality.
For a brief second he waited at the Iron gate that guarded the "front garden," as the patch of waste-land before the house was suggestively called. He glanced up at the building. It was of only three storeys, the first and second storeys having sheltered balconies before the windows. Colvin almost thought he could detect the bright eyes of a watcher surveying him from one of the first-floor windows. That would be Siti Ram. He walked up to the front door and smiled at the ornate brass plate close to the brass bell-push offering on behalf of Professor Serge Martivitch instruction in any of half a dozen various musical instruments, at very moderate fees.
"Mr. Sadeli?" Colvin removed his soft hat at the appearance of a frowsy woman with a coarse apron twisted about her waist.
"I dunno if he's in." The woman stepped back and sent her shrill voice echoing up the stairs. "Mister Sa-del-e-i!"
As the woman turned, Dr. Colvin passed her in the doorway and started to mount the stairs. The woman went to follow him, then hesitating, shrugged, and waddled to the basement stairs. Her attitude showed that she considered that if there was any possibility of trouble the less she knew about it the better.
The Secret Service operative mounted the stairs leisurely and made for the door of the large double room extending across the front of the house. As his knuckles drummed on a panel his tight hand stole to the door-knob, turning it silently. The door gave. Like a passing, swift shadow, Colvin entered the room, closing the door behind him.
The room was empty; yet Dr. Colvin was certain that, as he had arrived before the door in the passage, someone had passed from it to the balcony. For a moment he stood, his eyes searching every nook and corner of the room. Seemingly satisfied with his survey he walked across the room to the balcony windows. One of them was open, and he avoided it, going to the closed window. As his fingers touched the fastener he whirled round, dropping to his knees. His keen ears had caught the swish of silk drawn rapidly through the air.
"The cult of the handkerchief, Siti Ram?" Colvin laughed gently, drawing himself upright before the gross fat man who had entered silently from the balcony through the open window. From the nervous fingers he caught gently a piece of fine Indian silk.
"Sahib, I was fearful."
"The fear of a coward." Colvin carefully dusted the knees of his trousers, "is that the fear that drove you to kill me?"
"Oh, no, Sahib. Positivelee not."
For a moment the Secret Service operative gazed in the eyes of the fat, dark-skinned man.
"I think I shall call the police and give you in charge, Siti Ram," he said.
"Sahib, grief chokes me."
"Because you failed." The American smiled. "Sit down, Siti Ram. You've got to talk now. What are you doing in this country; you're no credit anywhere, you know."
"Sahib, in pursuit unavailing of chance emolument—"
"The Pearl of Peri, in fact."
"My God, Sahib, I am innocent of all complicitee in this or any other eventuality, I am married man, having family responsibilities and of other handicaps—"
"What were you doing in Park Lane last night?"
"As peaceful citizen in pursuit of daily bread and other perquisites—"
"Including the Pearl of Peri?" Colvin laughed.
"I do not understand, Sahib."
"No?" The Secret Service man rose and pulled down his closely buttoned jacket. "Let me tell you, Siti Ram. Last night someone broke into sir Geofrey Farrington's house in Park Lane and stole the Pearl or Peri. Fortunately they missed—"
He paused, his bright blue eyes searching the baboo's face. The man was seated on the narrow bed in a dark corner of the room, yet, for the instant, Colvin could see the question in the half-veiled eyes.
"You are not asking questions?" The little man laughed. "Perhaps you'd like to explain how you came to be in Park Lane so late last night?"
"Oh, that." The Indian's soft voice spoke from the gloom. "That is very simple told. There is nothing outward in that connection. I walk."
"Walked into the house and took the Pearl of Peri. Well, you missed. As I've said. Sir Geofrey is not so innocent. When he acquired that pearl he had the sense to have a duplicate made. It was the duplicate you stole. The pearl's safe—quite safe."
As be spoke the American rose from the chair on which he had been seated and turned to the door. As he pushed the table in the centre of the room his hand hovered over it for a moment, leaving there—something. On the threshold of the room he looked back. The baboo was still seated in the dusky corner of the room; his hands folded in his lap; his eyes cast down.
"WAIT!" Dr. Colvin spoke in an undertone. With Inspector Frost and Sir Geofrey Farrington he stood in the latter's library. "I'm guessing, Frost, that something will happen shortly—but just what I'm afraid I can't prophesy. I saw Siti Ram and gave him something to think over. But—"
"You tracked that baboo?" The detective spoke incredulously.
"That wasn't difficult." The American laughed quietly. "Y'see, Siti Ram wanted me to find him."
He would explain nothing further. Autocratically he demanded implicit obedience in return for his help, only promising that at some time during that night their problem should be solved.
Slowly the hours sifted on, broken only, in that dark room, by the infrequent street-noises that drifted in through the open window. Then slowly, before the door, grew a denser shadow. Frost tensed, to feel Colvin's hand on his arm, restraining him.
The shadow moved, gliding stealthily through the room, halting again and again, as if listening; as if searching the darkness with eyes that could see. Slowly it advanced until it stood before the big safe let into the far wall from the windows. Then, suddenly it disappeared.
"The Pearl of Peri is not in that safe, Siti Ram." The American spoke softly. As he uttered the words his fingers depressed the light switch, flooding the room with the dazzling brilliance of many globes.
Before the half-opened safe stood the baboo, fear glistening in his small black eyes. Like a cornered rat he glanced from one to the other of the three men who faced him.
"Siti Ram," the American crossed the room until be stood before the baboo. "What did Sir Geofrey Farrington pay you for the Pearl of Peri?"
"Rupees three lakhs, Sahib."
"Where did you got the pearl from?"
Siti Ram did not answer. Colvin turned to the millionaire.
"Will you answer that question, Sir Geofrey?"
"What do you mean? The Pearl is my property." The big man spoke roughly.
As if in answer, the American's closed hand opened. On his palm rested a wonderful pearl, gleaming under the powerful lights.
"The Pearl of Peri was never yours." A slight smile came on the full lips. "Years ago, in Ashanti, it formed one of the twelve jewels of the Collar of Damballa Ouedda—the twelve jewels which symbolised the twelve nations over which the god was destined to rule. It was stolen, and reappeared in Haiti, there decorating the statue indicating the reincarnation of the god. The Collar was again stolen, this time by three known men. One went to London; one went to New York. The third fled to Australia—to Sydney. But with these three men went only three of the twelve jewels."
"What became of the others—the remaining nine jewels?" asked the detective inquisitively.
Dr. Colvin shrugged. "What has been the history of many famous jewels. They disappear—to reappear—only again to disappear." He turned suddenly to the millionaire. "Do you still claim the Pearl of Peri, Sir Geofrey?"
Almost mechanically the millionaire held out his hand. Colvin hesitated a moment, then advanced to wards the millionaire. Suddenly his hands moved like a flash of light. They closed over Sir Geofrey's wrists; then the American sprang back to the English detective's side. Sir Geofrey stood in the centre of the room, his wrists encircled by shining handcuffs.
"I say, Colvin!" The Inspector sprang forward expostuatingly. "Sir Geofrey—"
"Forgive me." The Secret Service agent lapsed into his usual placid nonchalance. "Frost, I fear there has been a big mistake."
"You mean—" The dazed Inspector glanced from the millionaire to the American. "Sir Geofrey Farringdon—."
"Shall I name him Royce Mayne, once of New York—once of Haiti?" The full red lips pursed in a delighted smile. "To-night I lied; but the lie was justifiable. I said that one of the three men went to New York. He did not. He went to Chicago. There he came in touch with Geofrey Farringdon, Sir Joyce Farringdon's scallywag son. Just at that time, Sir Joyce died and s search was made for his son, owing to the fact that the millionaire had neglected to make a will disinheriting his son. Mayne got to know of this fact—and Geofrey Farringdon disappeared. It was not difficult for Mayne to substitute for the heir, for the two men had many similar points, and Mayne was informed of his victim's history. A Sir Geofrey came to London to claim his inheritance—Hold him, Frost!"
When the small commotion caused by Sir Geofrey's sudden attempt to escape had subsided, Frost looked about him quickly.
"Say Colvin, where's Siti Ram?"
"Who can hold that baboo." Colvin smiled secretly. "As usual, the coward disappears when there is trouble about. But—" He went to the desk and lifted from the blotting-pad a small bag made of skin. "But he left this."
"What on earth's that?" asked the detective, puzzled.
"A Voodoo hate-onango." The American smiled, "You see, Frost, Sir Geofrey, or I should say Mayne, saw it before I made the arrest. Perhaps that's why he gave so little trouble. To those who know the meaning of this bag of rubbish even prison and the shadow of the rope is preferable to the mercy of the hideous culte des mortes."
Much later that evening, after the preliminaries consigning Royce Mayne to the cell which he was only to leave permanently for the scaffold, Frost asked a question that had puzzled him all day.
"Say, Colvin! Siti Ram's an Indian, a baboo. That hate-onango comes from Haiti—its African. The two facts don't agree. How in Hades did Siti Ram become possessed of the thing?"
"I left it for him yesterday afternoon, when I visited him, my friend." The American spoke quietly. "Believe me, I had more than a thought that the superstitious article would prove very useful to us—in the hands of a coward."
THIS sketch is set in Albany, West Australia, and was published in The Albany Advertiser while de Brune was on his walk. According to his diary, he spent a week in Albany at this time.
THE day was cold and cheerless. Out on the streets the rain pattered incessantly, running brooklets down the gutters to the Bay. Swift-flying clouds arose over the Western hills, darkening the sky and adding their quota to a miserable, wet afternoon. Indoors the fire was attractive and the latest magazines had just arrived. Picking up the English July Story Teller, I found a comfortable chair, and idly turned the leaves. "The Salving of the Berwick," by Albert Richard Wetjen. The title looked good. Romances of the sea attract me. Disregarding the preceding tales, I wandered away into the realms of adventure.
The road outside was dun-coloured and dusty, baking hot under the fierce noonday sun. But the interior of the little marine store was hotter and dustier yet, though the sun's rays were strangers to the gloom.
A good beginning. I knew I would enjoy this story. The author knew his subject and was a master of local colour.
Now, on his last trip Mulvaney did some pearl- poaching in a place that need not be named, and he made a big haul...I don't know where he coaled for the run, but he managed to reach Port Darwin in safety. He got a legitimate cargo aboard for Adelaide and sailed South.
Funny that I had just come from Darwin and I didn't know they exported anything from there nowadays, except cattle to Asia and Island ports. Still, a little licence must be allowed authors.
Captain Cush Larson walked down the road, and surveyed the little water front, with a frown still on his brow. Behind him lay the little town of Albany, on the shores of Oyster Harbour, on the South-West coast of Australia. Beyond the harbour the waters of King George's Sound shimmered in the sunlight and crisped under the trade wind. There were two ships in sight, swinging at anchor in the harbour itself. One was a two-masted, somewhat grimy looking schooner...Her name the Kaufua, painted in big white letters...could be plainly seen from the shore. The other was a steamer, a rusty looking craft, with a raking funnel and two rakish masts...She was now ingloriously engaged on the South Australian coasting run, carrying anything that offered a fragment in the way of profit. She plied between Adelaide and Fremantle.
After a few minutes' reflection of the harbour Captain Larson dropped down the few steps into his whaleboat, tied to the wharf, and muttered a few words to the two Kanakas who formed the crew.
I rubbed my eyes, for the light appeared somewhat dim. Then I picked up the magazine again. The story was decidedly interesting.
The captain shook him again savagely. He knew the man as one of the many beach-combers who looked for a living around the Albany saloons and waterfront, glad to pick up a few shillings...
A rattling good romance! I was enjoying every word of it. What was to come?
The swish of rolling seas over the stinking decks of the wrecked Berwick; the short snap of automatics; the lust of treasure. I wandered on through scene after scene until again the gallant captain returned safely to Albany.
The book slipped from my grasp and I leaned back, staring into the fire.
A SHOT cracked outside. Quickly I went to the door, but there was nothing to see. Seizing my hat, I walked quickly down the street towards the waterfront. There lay the vast basin of Princess Royal Harbour, hill-ringed, and calm, the wonder-haven of Western Australia. Over on the island guarding the mouth of the Sound were perched the red-roofed houses of the Quarantine Station. Far down towards the sea I could catch occasional glimpses of the long jetty, stretching out into the deep blue of the harbour waters. I walked along Stirling Terrace, seeking the marine store of Red Isaac, the Jew. Into shop after shop I peered for—
The Jew, in his dilapidated costume, consisting of faded, red dressing gown, and a pair of light straw slippers.
There were only smart white-shirted young assistants to be seen. And the stores! Who could say they were dusty and untidy?
I turned my back on the shops and looked down over Queen's Gardens to well-built warehouses, set alongside the busy railway station that connects this busy port with the capital, 300 miles away.
A White Star liner was making her stately way towards the jetty, ending her long, though swift, passage from Capetown. Where was the rusty, misshapen Kanfua, with her crew of semi-pirates?
I looked around for the Albany saloons, and my eyes fell on the magnificent Freemasons' Hotel, a hostel worthy of a place in any of the capital cities of Australia. Where were the beachcombers and the sweating Kanakas? They would certainly shiver in the very mild atmosphere.
A voice at my elbow. I turned, and shook hands with his Worship the Mayor. Instinctively I glanced down to his hip for the swinging weapons. My eyes rested on immaculate morning dress- -the trousers beautifully creased. I began to think there was a mistake somewhere.
"By the way, Mr. Mayor, when did you remove Albany from beside the waters of Oyster Harbour?"
The Mayor looked distressed, and backed away a few steps.
"Is the wharf still there, or did you bring it away with the town?" I continued. "And are there any Kanakas and beachcombers still there?" A police sergeant approached slowly. The Mayor laid his hand gently on my arm.
"It is hot to-day, Mr. de Brune," he said soothingly. "You forget Albany was established on the shores of Princess Royal Harbour by Major Lockyer in the year 1827."
He paused and turned to beckon the officer.
"Oyster Harbour is the other side of Middleton Beach," he continued, "some five miles down the coast and Kanakas and beachcombers only frequent the Northern shores. Will you let the sergeant see you back to your quarters? You will be better after a short rest."
I thought so, too. A too imaginative author is as bad as a night out with the boys.
THE slinking figure of a short, thin man, dressed in shiny, thread-bare clothes, slid from shadow to shadow in Riley Street, Woolloomooloo. At times he hesitated, waiting until some chance pedestrian had passed some point on his route.
Continually he thrust his hand far down in the wide side-pocket of the ancient, loose fitting overcoat sprawling from his shoulders, fingering some article. His restless eyes moved continually, searching each house and alley-way—everything that moved.
"'Lo, Ed." A man lounging in a doorway spoke contemptuously as the man passed. "Goin' yer rounds?"
Ed Barlow nodded, and shuffled on. He came to Bourke Street and up to the corner of William Street. There he waited, in the deeper shadows, scanning the main street with furtive eyes. A constable strolled carelessly across the head of the road. Ed drew farther into the shadows, almost flattening himself against the wall.
Minutes passed, and the runner remained practically motionless; only the quick movement of his head in a queer, cocking movement, the restless darting of his eyes around, showed he waited in some set purpose. A clock chimed the hour. Ed counted the strokes in a subdued murmur. At the seventh bell he nodded, satisfied.
He slouched forward into William Street, turning up towards Darlinghurst. His manner had become less furtive, almost aggressive; yet he kept, as if from force of habit, close to the shop windows. He passed Loftus Street and loitered before the church on the east side of the street.
"Slip it, Ed." A man spoke from the deeper shadows in which he lounged. "The usual, eh?"
Ed nodded. His hand came from his overcoat pocket, moving quickly behind him. Something that rustled passed from the runner to the man. Ed waited, his hand still behind him—staring up the street, indifferently.
"Right-o!" A piece of paper was slipped in Ed's hand. Without looking round, he shuffled on, the paper still gripped between his grimy fingers. Again at the Cross, he paused for a moment, then shuffled down towards Rushcutters' Bay.
Opposite the Stadium, he lounged for some minutes against the railings bounding the reserve, watching the crowd awaiting entrance to the night's fight. A thin smile formed on his lips as a man came across the road to him.
"Goin' to th' fight, Ed?"
"Waitin' for anyone?"
"Yes. A white man!"
The piece of paper the runner had held in his hand fluttered to the ground. The man stooped and picked it up, glancing at it as he did so. He returned it to Ed without comment.
"Not goin' to th' fight. Well, well!" The man laughed. "S'pose you've got yer own game t' play."
He hesitated before turning and crossing the road, muttering a few words in an undertone.
"Well, s'long, mate. See you later." He stepped into the road and dodged between the stream of cars to the opposite pavement.
Ed Barlow turned eastwards, moving almost rapidly in his sly, slinking tread. He came up to Edgecliff, and looked around him, as if seeking some place. A moment and he crossed and entered a small general shop.
"Quarter o' tea, mate." Ed dropped a few coins on the counter. As he did so the paper he had been carrying again escaped his grasp, and fluttered down to the counter.
The man swept the coins and paper into his hand, then turned to a shelf and took down a small packet of tea. Without wrapping it, he handed it to the runner.
"Goin' strong?" Casually the shop-keeper tore the paper into shreds. "Didn't expect you t'-night."
"Didn't expect t' see you." Ed grinned unamiably. "You've 'ad a long spin."
"Three weeks." The man spoke indifferently. "It passes on to-morrow."
"You'll be told. Mick will be outside th' Cathedral next week; usual times."
The runner nodded and shuffled out of the shop. In the road he boarded a tram, alighting at King's Cross. Avoiding William Street, he dived into the narrow streets abounding in Woolloomooloo. Now he carried a dirty pocket-handkerchief in his hand.
"'Ow's Ed?" A woman, standing in a doorway, spoke jeeringly as the runner passed. "Got anything, old son?"
As she spoke her fingers moved up to pinch her nostrils. Her eyes gleamed dully. Through her ill-clad, spare frame ran a little shiver of excitement.
"Got th' price?"
The woman glanced around quickly, furtively; then extended her palm, on which lay a half-note. Ed snatched it quickly. His left hand came from his pocket and covered hers. When she withdrew her hand a little square packet was clutched between her fingers.
"When again?" she asked greedily.
"Too dangerous." Ed went to shuffle on. "Double tricks to-night. Wickham's gettin' 'ot."
Ed laughed. He turned into Cathedral Street and crossed down to the wharves. Continually he halted at some challenge by man or woman. Again and again notes and packages changed hands. He came up Riley Street to William Street, and slunk up towards the Cross again. At the Post Office corner a young girl waited.
"Got anything, Ed?"
"Yer ain't paid for th' last."
"Oh, don't be a nark, Ed—I ain't got it. True. My luck's dead, absolutely."
"Rot. Yer don't hit 'em 'ard enough."
"How can I without it? Ed, give me it. I swear I'll pay you next
"I ain't no charity bloke." The runner grumbled. "Get th' oof, an' I'll get yer the stuff. I can't say better."
"You've got it on you." The girl's dull eyes gleamed. "I only want a pinch, Ed: just a little pinch." She rubbed her nose with the back of her hand. "Just one sniff. Ed."
The runner shook his head. Yet he waited, his bleak, fishy eyes searching the girl's face.
"There's a bloke lookin' at yer," Ed muttered. "Cotton 'im?"
"Oh. him." The girl glanced at the man indicated disdainfully. "Not my sort, Ed."
"Yet 'e's good for a note." The runner's voice was insinuating. "I'll wait. 'E's good for a note, and that'll get you what you want. Come on."
He waited a moment, then continued:—
"He's waitin'. Don't be a fool, May. Look 'ere; get onter him and meet me 'ere in a 'our. I'll go an' see Madge."
Without waiting for a reply he trailed, across the road and down a narrow lane, entering a block of flats. On the first floor he rang a bell. A girl, haggard and worn, her nostrils shiny and worn with the continued friction of her hands, opened the door.
"Oh, you, Ed. Got it?"
"Two. Price's gone up."
"'Course. What's it now?"
"Gawd!" The girl laughed harshly. "You make it hot, Ed."
"I 'as ter pay it."
"And pass it on—with interest. Oh, well, he's here, and has the bird. Come in."
She stood aside, motioning the runner to enter the small sitting-room. Ed looked about him curiously as he entered. The room was empty.
"Where is 'e?" The runner turned suspiciously on the girl. "You said 'e was 'ere."
"So was Mick." Madge crossed the room to the couch. "You've got two on you, Ed?"
"And want a note each. What do you make on them, Ed?"
"Damned little. You said 'e was 'ere."
"So he is." The girl lolled back, showing a length of limb. "He's here, and wants to see you, Ed."
"What do you mean?"
"Got those two packets, Ed?"
"Got the price?"
"For the right stuff, Ed." The girl wrenched open a drawer in a cabinet close to her hand. "Seen these before, Ed?"
"Wot?" The man made no motion to advance.
"These packets, Ed." Madge spoke softly. "You should recognise them. You brought them here."
"Wot do y' mean?" The man's little eyes gleamed wickedly.
"Snow—or what you call snow—Ed. The stuff you've sold us girls over past months. Recognise them, Ed?"
"Rot!" The runner's courage had returned. "You kept 'em, eh? Tellin' th' tale, ain't you? See you doin' that!"
"Keeping them, Ed?" The girl's voice was soft as silk. "Still it's true. I've kept 'em, Ed. Seen Mick to-night?"
The man nodded. Suspicion burned in his eyes. The palms of his hands were moist and sticky.
"Yes, you saw Ed—in William Street. Corner of Loftus Street, wasn't it? Didn't you see me there, Ed?"
The man did not reply. Some inkling of what the girl meant was penetrating his fogged brain.
"Yet I was there." Little dimples played around Madge's mouth. "I was there—because Mick asked me to watch. I trailed you to 'Moocher' Brown, and saw you get the stuff. Why? Because Mick asked me to."
The man blanched, and half turned to the door, halting at the girl's imperative call.
"Wait a bit, Ed. You wasn't always in such a hurry to leave me. Remember...No, to-night it's sufficient to remember you sold me—these."
With a rapid movement she scooped from the drawer a number of packets and flung them on the ground at the runner's feet.
"Snow, Ed, snow! Your snow." Sudden fury blazed in Madge's eyes. "The snow you think good enough for us girls. What do you do with the other snow—the snow you get—to sell to us?"
With a sudden dart the girl stood between Ed and the door; her eyes blazing, her figure tensed with anger.
"You sold us the real stuff once, Ed. The snow that stole our senses, made us your slaves. Then greed possessed you. You sold us fakes—snow that was not snow. Do you know what you did...then."
Half crouching, her hands working, she advanced a step towards the runner.
"You gave me back—myself." Her voice cleared. "I found I could do without the—snow—you brought me. But I continued to buy when you brought your fake to me. Do you want to know why?"
Mechanically the man nodded, as If against his will.
"You thought I was your slave—the toy of the drug you brought me, and...and I fooled you. I watched you. I saw you meet Mick...and I found means to know him! I took him the stuff you sold me—and he laughed. He told me to watch you. He showed me how I could punish you."
"Madge! I'll..." The man cringed before the girl.
"You'll what?" Madge laughed harshly. "Mick told me to watch you. I did to-night. I saw you go to Moocher Brown. He gave you the real stuff, Ed. I saw you go round your dupes, distributing—what?"
"You've sold your dupes; you've sold the gang—now you'll be sold. Yes, sold, Ed. Got two packets left, Ed?"
The man nodded, dumbly.
"Give them to me."
Almost without hesitation the man handed over the two packets of cocaine.
"That all you've got?"
Again he nodded.
"Then get out!" Madge stepped from before the door. As he stumbled blindly across the threshold the girl called him. "Ed!"
He turned, glowering at her with puzzled eyes.
"Wickham's downstairs, Ed." She laughed at his sudden start. "But that can't worry you, Ed. You haven't any cocaine on you."
"Wickham's there? God!" The man dropped on his knees. "Madge, let me stay here...until he goes. Wickham! If he gets me!"
"You've got rid of the snow, Ed." The girl laughed mirthlessly. "Without it...Oh, get out!" The man did not move. "Say, Mick!"
An inner door opened, and the man Ed had met before the church in William Street, early in the evening, entered. For a moment he stood surveying the runner with amusement.
"'Lo, Ed! Got rid of your load? Good man! Quite a salesman, ain't you?"
"Tell him to go, Mick," the girl exclaimed, passionately. "He...he makes me sick!"
"Hear what the lady says?" Behind the drug distributor's amused air lurked a relentless ferocity. "Understand, get...out."
He advanced a step, and Ed backed into the short passage. A moment, and he bolted through the door, down the stone steps, on to the street.
"'Night, Ed." A cool, easy voice followed a heavy hand clasped on the runner's shoulder. "Haven't seen you for quite a time. How's trade?"
Ed looked up. On either side of him were tall, burly men.
"Nothing to say, Ed?" The police-sergeant grinned cheerfully. "Got any snow, Ed?"
Without waiting for a reply, quiet, skilful fingers explored the man's pockets. From one of them the police officer brought out the packet the runner had received from "Moocher" Brown.
"Tea, Ed? Go in for tea, eh. Umph, don't feel like leaves here. Mind if I have a look?"
The coloured wrapping was quickly torn away. Where should have been tea was a number of little flat white paper packets. Sergeant Wickham opened one, and sniffed delicately at the contents.
"Cocaine, Ed. And I thought that girl was pitching me a tale. Well, well. Now, we'll take a little walk, Ed. Best night I've had for quite a while."
Under the heavy urge of the officer's hand the runner turned down the street. Hardly had he moved a pace before, from a window above, fell a number of similar white paper packets to those Wickham held in his hand. Ed looked up, at the sound of mocking laughter, at Madge.
"By-by, boy," the girl mocked. "While you're resting, think where you can sell the real stuff—not the fake—when you get it."
"HE left the house and..."
These words are often the prelude to one of those mysteries the police departments of the States are coming to dread.
Where has he gone to? What were the reasons behind his action? All efforts to probe his past—to discover some clue that will place the trackers on his trail—fail.
How did he do it? In these days of the greatest freedom for the individual it is remarkably easy to disappear.
"John Smith" kissed his wife and family and walked out of his home. They watched him disappear round the corner and returned to the house, prepared to welcome him at night.
But "John Smith" did not return. He did not take his usual train, or tram, into the city. Instead, he walked to some line of communications where he was unknown. Once in some strange city he went to a big store where he was an unregarded purchasing unit. There he purchased clothes varying considerably from his usual tastes. With the change of clothing he changed his identity. He became "Tom Brown."
IN new clothes, bearing a new name, he assumed a new manner. "John Smith" may have been studious, and retiring; "Tom Brown" sought the high spots of the night life of his new city. His first object was to establish a new history; perhaps also a new means of livelihood.
Amid the unobservant masses of the city he was fairly safe, even if he could not completely discard the many little mannerisms he gathered in his former life, though these are danger-points likely to betray him to a keen watcher who knew him in his "John Smith" days.
Only occasionally man or woman seeks disguise as a member of the opposite sex. The differences in outlines are so marked that betrayal is almost certain. Briefly, a man is distinguished from a woman because the many contour lines in the male are vertical, or horizontal, while the corresponding lines in the female are oblique. Thus, a man's neck back-line is straight and vertical while a woman's shows a sweeping oblique curve. A man's lower jaw is practically a right angle, while a woman's shows an open angle with oblique lines from ear to chin.
In major outline a woman's body is built in the form of two triangles, the bases resting on the hip-line. In the man the body is enclosed in one elongated triangle the base line resting on the shoulders. In movement, a woman swings her arms through a large arc, especially in a backwards direction, the hand held palm facing outwards. A man's arms swing little, except in fast walking, and the palm inclines inwards.
WHY do men and women disappear? There can be no doubt that a majority of the disappearances are voluntary. A review of scores of cases shows that a large proportion are persons regarded by their acquaintances as unimaginative plodders. Can it be assumed that the daily grind, the unadventurous, placid existence, suddenly palled? Did a psychological reaction drive the victim out in search of a dimly-visioned adventure? Was there some sudden awakening of a long dormant subconsciousness inducing an unreasoned fear that the long-worn groove was leading to mental stagnation—at the end, the madhouse?
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