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Title: Sleeping Partner Author: Fred M. White * A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook * eBook No.: 1600161h.html Language: English Date first posted: Feb 2016 Most recent update: Feb 2016 This eBook was produced by Maurie Mulcahy and Roy Glashan. Project Gutenberg of Australia eBooks are created from printed editions which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular paper edition. Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this file. This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg of Australia License which may be viewed online at http://gutenberg.net.au/licence.html To contact Project Gutenberg of Australia go to http://gutenberg.net.au
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PETER RAND was an artist in his profession. He knew every detail of his business, he had nerve and courage and practically nothing in the way of scruples. He trusted nobody, and had an utter contempt for good faith in others. With these valuable assets he should have made money. But, unfortunately, his one abiding weakness lay in Peter's delusion that there was money to be made by the backing of horses. And, as a natural consequence, there were times when Peter was very hard up indeed.
It was at one of these crises that Peter abandoned his usual cautious methods and took an unnecessary risk in connection with a safe and a solitary house at Hampstead. A day or two later it became painfully evident that Peter would have to retire for a time—that is, a period of seclusion was essential, if anything in the nature of a logical alibi was to be proved. Peter would have to disappear from his usual haunts for at least six months.
He would have found it difficult to explain how it was that the idea of a trip to the Klondike first occurred to him. It mattered nothing that he was a child as far as mining was concerned, because Peter had not the slightest intention of winning a fortune from the frozen ground by the sweat of his brow. On the contrary, the plan of campaign was to collect the dust from the tents and huts of confiding prospectors. But the confiding miners in question proved to be few and far between, and Peter's one attempt in the direction of unearned increment met with disastrous failure. Within an hour or two he found himself bruised and battered outside one of the camps, and with a very hazy knowledge in the matter of local geography. To put it plainly and bluntly, Peter Rand would have died in the snow of starvation, had it not been for the friendly assistance of a tourist who was returning from that bleak and inhospitable country.
There was nothing in common apparently between rescued and rescuer. The latter was a slender little man, with dark, restless eyes, and much vivacity of manner. He appeared to be possessed of ample means, he had a servant or two, and his travelling appointments were quite luxurious. So far as Rand could gather the other man who gave his name as Eli Magnus, was travelling entirely for pleasure. He had every appearance of being a rich man, so that, before long, Peter began to entertain hopes that the acquaintanceship might bring something lucrative his way. For, to tell the truth, Peter was in sore case. He was a derelict in a strange land, he did not possess a single coin, and he was anxious to get back to London as soon as possible. He dismissed the idea of doing a little fancy work in New York with a sigh. He had no tools, and no knowledge of where to obtain them. Perhaps, when the city was reached, chance might throw in his way an opportunity of robbing his benefactor. But, as it turned out, there was no necessity for doing anything of the kind.
They came to a depot at length, and for the first time in his life Peter found himself travelling first-class. It was a long journey to New York, and Magnus must have paid good money for his companion's ticket, to say nothing of the food and drink consumed on the journey. Peter began to grow a little uneasy and suspicious. This sort of generosity disturbed him.
"This is costing you some money," he muttered.
"Bread on the waters," Magnus smiled. "Now, look here, partner. I suppose you'll think I'm a moneyed guy just out for pleasure. Well, I guess you're barking up the wrong tree if you do. I went to the Klondike with a light heart and a deck of marked cards, and—well, I calculate I've come back with neither. Now, say old man, what did you go to the Klondike for?"
"To get gold, like the rest of them," Peter growled.
"Yes, I know. But you didn't mean to get it with a pick, sonny. When you made that mistake and got into the wrong hut, and they fired you out into the trackless prairie, you left a little black bag behind you. Your line is not exactly mine, but I can appreciate a really fine set of tools when I see them."
"They cost me over a hundred quid," Peter groaned; "I feel quite lost without them. Only let me have that little lot back, and I'll not grumble at New York for a bit."
"Oh, no, you don't, Peter," Magnus said, with his most charming smile. "You mean exactly what you say. Because, you see, I know something of London. I once had a little argument myself at the Old Bailey, and at the same time they were giving you a deal of unnecessary worry. I recognised you the first day you came into the camp, and, as to those tools of yours, you needn't give yourself any further anxiety, because they happen to be at the bottom of one of my packing-cases. It occurred to me that we might do a little business together. Now, did you ever happen to hear of Cyrus J. Brott, the multi-millionaire?"
Peter nodded. Brott was one of those plutocrats of New York, and his name was equally familiar to both hemispheres. He was a bachelor who occupied a mansion in Fifth avenue, and although he was given to hospitality on a lavish scale, his own habits were believed to be exceedingly simple.
"What about him?" Peter asked.
"Well, he might be pretty useful to us. Cyrus lives all alone in a great big house that cost a few million dollars to build. He is a collector of all sorts of things, and they say that his safe is crammed with a dozen fortunes, each of which one might stow away in a waistcoat pocket. Cyrus is frequently away from home, and, as a matter of fact, he's out west now on some mining business. I happen to know that he's not expected back to New York until the fall. The house is crammed with a small army of useless servants, and they are the people we have to deal with. You know how little occasion there is to worry about the servants. And, now, Peter, is it a deal or is it not?"
Peter drew a long breath of pure delight. It sounded like an ideal crib to crack, and the knowledge that his beloved tools were safe filled him with joy.
"Oh, you can count me in!" he muttered.
All that Peter would have to do for the present, Magnus informed him, was to live in New York on the fat of the land, and pass his evenings in music halls and the like. Peter was inclined to dream as to the time when he could turn his back upon his profession, and retire to a little farm in the country. Therefore he hailed with satisfaction Magnus's announcement to the effect that all was ready, and that the fateful night was at hand.
At a few minutes past 12, Peter strolled down Broadway, according to directions, and stopped in front of the house which had been previously pointed out to him. He stood there grinning pleasantly, and pictured to himself what Mr. Brott would look like when he heard of his loss.
He stood waiting for the signal, and he was surprised and somewhat uneasy to see lights flitting about the house. This was by no means an auspicious start, but, still, if trouble did come, then Peter had the consoling reflection that it would fall entirely on the shoulders of Magnus. The lights disappeared at length, and Peter could see that the hall door was being cautiously opened. He caught a glimpse of Magnus in immaculate evening dress.
"It's all right," he whispered. "Here's the lift. I can work it. The servants are all safely in bed, and we shall have a clean run for hours."
"What did all those lights mean?" Peter asked suspiciously.
"Oh, don't you trouble about them. If anybody turns up, I shall know exactly what to do. I'm not wearing these glad rags for nothing."
Peter raised no further objection. All the same, he was still feeling a little uneasy. After all, he knew little or nothing about Magnus. The latter had been particularly careful not to bring him in contact with any of his friends.
The lift was moving swiftly upwards in the intense darkness—a darkness so thick that Peter could not distinguish a single object about him. The lift stopped at length, and Peter stepped out on to the thickest carpet his adventurous feet had ever trodden upon. He was no foe of darkness, but then he did not know a yard of the house, and, if the unexpected happened, he would be taken like a rat in a trap. He had no arm of any kind—indeed, he despised revolvers.
They threaded their way down what appeared to be an incredible long corridor, and Magnus turned into a big room at the back of the house. He produced from his pocket a small but powerful electric torch, and flashed it upon a smooth steel door, which appeared to be the entrance to the strong-room. On the floor stood a little black bag, which Rand recognised with gleaming eyes. He took a little ivory measure from the bag and proceeded to go over the door with it. He gave a grunt of satisfaction presently.
"No great complications here," he said. "He hasn't got so much as an electric alarm. It's a Kastner safe with eight bolts, and it's carbide steel two-sixteenths thick. I guess this job will take me about a couple of hours."
"Well, go ahead," Magnus said cheerfully. "I'll sit here and watch you."
For the next hour or more Peter worked steadily at the safe, until the perspiration poured down his face. And presently the delicate mechanism of the lock lay exposed to view. Magnus bent eagerly over the bewildering tangle of little shining ratchets and tumblers.
"It looks all infernally complicated," he muttered.
Peter smiled grimly. All that delicate, shining, bewildering mechanism was as plain as a child's illustrated alphabet to him. He touched a bolt here and a lever there, and, behold, the whole fell together, as easy as the pieces of a puzzle in the hands of an expert. Peter appeared to press something with a tiny pointed instrument, and the great door of the strong-room fell back on its oiled hinges without a sound.
"What's the matter with that?" Peter grunted triumphantly.
He switched on the electric bulb hanging from the roof of the strong-room, and staggered back with a cry of admiration and astonishment.
The walls were absolutely lined with treasure, the rays of light gleamed on silver and gold gems. In his mind's eye, Peter could see the little farm expanding into an estate. Suddenly there was a click of a switch, and instantly the whole place was bathed in brilliant light. Seated in empire armchairs on either side of the fireplace were two men in evening dress. Peter would have described them without the least hesitation as "nobs." He saw a smile flash from one to the other; he saw a look of malicious mischief in the twinkling eyes of Magnus.
"What's the game?" he demanded.
"Oh, I'm afraid it's too bad of us," Magnus said. "But, perhaps, in the first place, I'd better tell you who I really am. Or you might ask one of my friends by the fireplace."
"Guess I thought that everyone knew Cyrus J. Brott," one of the audience drawled. Peter gasped.
The pseudo Magnus smiled. "Very sorry to take advantage of you, my dear man, but really I couldn't help it. That little fairy story I told you about the Old Bailey was only partially true. I went there once merely as a visitor, and you happened to be on trial at the time. I never forget a face. Now, a few months ago my secretary skipped, taking a good deal of liquid stuff with him, and, incidentally, the key of my strong-room. I had reason to keep the thing secret at the time, but, all the same, I was anxious to run my wandering Willie to earth, and, when I heard he was in Dawson City, I lit out in search of him. I didn't find Van Stein, but I hit upon you instead. When they fired you out, the idea came to me that I might get you to open the safe without having a lot of talk amongst people whom it did not concern. If I had told you the truth, you wouldn't have come. You would have suspected some trap, and probably given me the slip. That's why I posed as a sharp."
Peter grunted. "And, now, what do I got out of this little lot? You can't hand me over to the police, because, in a manner of speaking, I'm your servant. And I don't deny that it's a bitter disappointment. When I saw that fine lot of boodle in there, I felt for a moment like murdering you and collaring the lot."
The man called Magnus laughed pleasantly.
"You've had a pretty good time for the last few weeks," he said, "and, according to your own showing, the air of New York is still more healthy for you than that of London. Now, what do you say to five hundred dollars and your passage home to England?"
A dismal groan broke from the unhappy Peter. It was deplorable to stand there with all that priceless wealth dazzling his eyes, and to know that none of it was coming his way. And he was absolutely helpless. If he declined to take the proffered sum, he might be kicked ignominiously into the street, and, in addition, the New York police might be invited to take an interest in his future. His host, with a wave of the hand, indicated a table upon which a dainty and attractive supper had been laid out. The meal in question was flanked by an array of bottles. At the mere sight of them Peter's jaundiced philosophy took on a healthier tone.
"Well, it's dashed hard," he said. "Yes, sir, I will have some of that pie, Champagne? Why, certainly! And if you can make that five hundred dollars into a thousand, I'll take it kindly of you. Oh, I know when I'm done—no man better. And if I had had a chance, and asked a few questions——"
The host patted Peter on the back patronisingly.
"You'd have laid your own little scheme," he said. "It cuts me to the heart to say so, Peter, but I didn't trust you, my boy. That's why I asked my friends here to come round and take part in the performance. By the way, I must apologise for my omission in not introducing my friends. Like yourself, they are both artists. Mr. Patrick Whelan, the distinguished weaver of plots, and Captain Hood, of the American army."
The two individuals in question bowed pleasantly, and the supper proceeded amicably. Under the influence of the meal and its concomitant liquids, Peter was fast regaining his equanimity. After all, he had not done so badly. He had been rescued from almost certain death outside the Klondike, he had been conveyed in luxurious splendour across the American continent, and, at his host's expense, he had gained a useful insight into life as it is understood in New York. In addition to these blessings, he was returning to England with a free passage and something like a hundred pounds in the pocket. Half an hour later he took an affectionate farewell of the trio on the doorstep, and staggered home to his lodgings, at peace with all the world.
Some 15 hours later, with an aching head and a dim sense of the proportion of things, he crept into a barber's shop with the intention of having a shave. There were several customers in front of him and he picked up an evening paper.
And there he found something that made him forget that dull pain at the base of his brain.
"It was a daring piece of work altogether, and had evidently been prepared by an expert hand. Beyond all question, the thieves had been aware of the fact that Mr. Brott was away from home. The servants received a letter, giving them permission to hold a dinner party in the servant's hall, from their master. The forger had enclosed a draft for a hundred dollars for the necessary festivities, and the butler had been invited to help himself from the wine cellar. In the midst of the rejoicings, three masked men had appeared and whilst one of them held up the alarmed domestics, the other two proceeded to gag and bind them in a thoroughly workmanlike manner. They were all discovered late this morning by one of Mr. Brott's secretaries when he called at the house in the usual course of his duties. The telephone wires had been out, and the thieves had gone to work with the comfortable assurance that they had many hours before them.
"The door of the strong-room had been forced, and valuables to the amount of nearly a million dollars taken away. Mr. Brott's priceless collection of rubies was in the safe, and these have disappeared with the rest. And as the rubies are for the most part uncut stones, but faint hopes are entertained of their recovery. Further particulars of this audacious robbery will be found in our 6 o'clock edition."
Peter wiped the moisture from his forehead.
"A cruel swindle!" he groaned. "Here, I'd better be getting back home. This New York is no place for me!"
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