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Title: The Shadow Crook (Fingerprints of Fate) Author: Aidan de Brune * A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook * eBook No.: 1700861h.html Language: English Date first posted: Sep 2017 Most recent update: Sep 2017 This eBook was produced by Colin Choat 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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AIDAN DE BRUNE has been described as the Edgar Wallace of Australia. His latest novel, "The Shadow Crook," certainly justifies the claim. It is an amazing story of a master criminal who terrorised Sydney, taunted the police, and baffled the finger-print experts. The author walked round Australia in two years, and so he is able to give a thoroughly Australian setting and sentiment to this yarn full of thrills. "The Shadow Crook" raided the detective offices In Sydney, bound and gagged the fingerprint expert, and ransacked his records. Who was he? Why did he take the tremendous risk of breaking into police headquarters? What connection had he with the death of Stacey Carr, and the disappearance of valuable jewels? These problems are raised in the opening chapters of the book, which is to be published in serial form in the "Queensland Times." Lovers of a clever detective yarn will need to be certain of the delivery of their papers. The first instalment will appear on Saturday.
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.
"Night, Mason!" Detective-Sergeant Grime, walking through the main hall at Police Headquarters, Hunter-street, Sydney, halted beside Inspector Robert Mason. "Working back?"
"Waiting for Anderson," Mason answered, pacing towards the main doors with the sergeant. "What a night! You'll have trouble in getting to North Sydney through this fog. Better telephone home and stay over here. I can put you up."
"Thanks, no. The missus is always nervous nights like these, alone in the house. I'll have a shot for the ferry. If I can't get across I'll come back and knock you up."
"Do." Mason peered out on the dark streets up which the fog was rolling in long, white billows. "About the worst fog Sydney's ever had."
"Bur-r-r!" Grime turned up the big collar of his overcoat and snuggled his hands into the pockets. "Glad I'm not on duty. Just the night for the Shadow Crook!"
"The Shadow Crook?" Mason laughed. "Is there such a person?"
"You wouldn't ask that question if you were up in Darlinghurst." Grime shrugged his shoulders. "They're convinced the Shadow Crook's real believe me. Well. I'll get along. See you to-morrow, if nothing happens."
The sergeant ran down the half-dozen steps to the pavement and went to cross to The Hunter-Phillip streets corner. He had barely stepped from the pavement when a thick billow of fog rolled up Phillip-street, and blotted him from the Inspector's sight.
Mason stood on the steps for some seconds, peering out on the ill-lit streets. With an involuntary shudder he turned to re-enter the building. Then he noticed a man leaning against one of the stone pillars of the entrance. At the moment, the man looked up and their eyes met. The man turned away, immediately, and his sparse, ill-covered frame was shaken with violent spasms of coughing.
"Better get under cover, my friend, with that cough." Mason spoke kindly. "This is not the sort of night for you to be out in. Here, wait a minute."
He strode: in to the hall, and to the Inquiry Desk. In a few seconds he returned to the street, carrying a glass of water. The man had disappeared. For a time the Inspector stood on the pavement searching the street so far as he could see in the fog. Then, with an impatient exclamation, he poured the water in the gutter and returned the glass to the desk.
"Wonder where Sergeant Anderson's got to?" he remarked to the constable on duty. "I've been waiting for him a full quarter of an hour."
"Came down the stairs a few minutes ago, Inspector, and went toward his room," the man replied. "Seemed in a bit of a hurry."
"Did he?" Mason turned toward the corridor on the right of the hall. "I'll hurry him for those records he promised to let me have to-night."
At the third door on the left-hand side of the corridor Mason stopped and tried the handle. The door was locked. He listened but could hear no movement within the room. As he stepped hack he noticed under the door a thin line of light. Anderson must have left a light burning in his office. That meant he would return in a very short time. Thrusting his pockets, Mason strolled towards the main hall.
"Not there!" The Inspector leaned against the counter. "Anderson seems to be doing a lot of travelling to-night. Wish he'd hurry up. This isn't a night to be standing about waiting—"
The lights in the hall suddenly failed. The Inspector felt in his pocket for a match. By the faint light he saw the constable in a corner fumbling at the switches. He stepped cautiously through the hall. Not a light was to be seen anywhere. He went to the foot of the stairs and looked up. The upper floor was in darkness and from the distance came sounds as of bees disturbed in their hive. With a slight laugh he turned back to the Inquiry Desk, guided by the matches the constable was striking.
"Total eclipse, Clarke," he said lightly. "Thick darkness all over the building. Looks to me as if the main fuse's blown out."
By the light of matches he made his way to the swing doors leading to offices. As he came to them, a man from the Criminal Investigation Branch pushed through, colliding sharply with him. Mason caught him by the shoulder.
"Constable Swartz, sir." The man flashed the light of a torch on the Inspector. "There's not a light in the place. Did you see a man come through here?"
"A man come through here?" Mason repeated the question, reflectively. "Now, who the devil did you expect me to see in this darkness?"
"No one came through the hall." The desk constable spoke quickly. "I've had my eyes on the outer door ever since the lights went out and not a soul's passed. Anything wrong Swartz?"
"Can't say," Swartz scratched his head. "I was in the Long Room when the lights went out and just before that Andrews called out that there was someone in the passage. Collins says he saw a man in a worn brown overcoat and dark grey hat pulled down low over his eyes, peering in at the side window, but he may have been mistaken, The lights went out just as he called out."
"A man in a worn overcoat and hat pulled down over his eyes," repeated the inspector. His thoughts flew to the man he had seen leaning against one of the stone pillars of the door. The description was accurate. "How did he get in?"
"Must have come up the steps from the yard." Constable Clarke made the suggestion. "He never came through the main doors. I've seen everyone who's come through the hall, to-night and there's been no one as answered to that description. Any way, I wouldn't let anyone go down to D.B. offices at this time of the night unless I knew their business."
"Humph!" The Inspector took the torch from Swartz's hand and swept the light round the hall. "Swartz, go to the door. Let anyone in who wants to enter but let no one out until I've had a word with them. Clarke, keep all callers at the desk. Get a torch, or better still a candle quick."
Sweeping the light around him Mason pushed through the swing door and walked down the passage to the Long Room. At the corner of a short branch passage on his left leading to the Superintendent's room and a door to the C.I.B. general offices he hesitated, then turned up it, testing the doors. They were both locked. He retraced his steps and entered the Long Room. Here he found four men illuminating their surroundings with a couple of electric torches.
"Who's looking to the fuses?" he asked, as he entered the room.
"Smith, sir." One of the men advanced from the group.
"You, Andrews. What's this about someone being in the passage just before the lights, blacked out?"
"I was seated over there, Inspector." Andrew's face, illuminated by the Inspector's torch looked worried and perplexed. "I happened to glance towards the side-window and thought I saw someone peering in at the corner. I was getting up from my chair to go across to the window when he raised his hand and the lights went out."
"He raised his hand and the lights went out?" Mason repeated the statement, incredulously. "Didn't happen to be dozing, Andrews? No. You saw something, Collins?"
"Just what Andrews saw, Inspector," Collins answered promptly. "I saw the man plainly. He was dressed in an old brown overcoat with the collar turned well up. His hat, a shabby dark grey one, was pulled down over his eyes. Hardly any of his face was to be seen. He stood at the side-window for a full half-minute and I had a good look at him. Then he raised his arm in the air, about shoulder high and the lights went out."
"Where did he go?"
"The lights went out, inspector."
"I went to the yard at once, Inspector," a third constable spoke. "There was, no one there. I searched the motor shed and all."
"He didn't come down the passage and into the main hall!" Mason spoke emphatically. "He wasn't in the passage when I came down it just now. You say he wasn't in the Yard. Where did he go to? How many minutes were you getting from this room to the yard after the lights failed, Brown?"
"Not more than ten seconds, Inspector. Immediately Andrews called out there was a man at the slide and the lights went out, I jumped for the door. If he went through the yard I must have seen him."
The lights in the Long Room sprang to life, turning the glow from the torches to ghost-rings of light. The Inspector snapped the trigger of his torch and laid it on the table. He glanced at the men before him. Their faces reflected the perplexity he knew showed on his.
Had someone been in the passage, outside the Long Room? The men on duty, all experienced officers, swore they had seen someone peering in at the side-window. Mason could not doubt their truth or sincerity. They were puzzled and confused by the strange happenings, yet their stories tallied to the smallest detail.
Who could have come into the passage from the yard? It was possibly some stranger, having business at Police Headquarters, who had mistakenly tried to enter the offices from the yard. But, if that had happened, on seeing the constables in the Long Room, he would have asked for directions.
Constable Brown was certain he had arrived in the yard within ten seconds of Andrews' exclamation. Had the stronger been in the passage he must have collided with him. But Brown had stated he had seen no one. It would be impossible for any one to run down the steps from the passage to the yard, along the line of buildings to the driveway and to Philip-street, without the constable noticing him, even if Brown had taken twice the time he had stated.
If this man, seen by three of the constables in the Long Room had not escaped through the yard, where was he? The Inspector had come down the passage from the hall. Swartz had come up the passage immediately following Brown's dash for the yard. There had been no one in the yard. Neither, he, nor Swartz had seen anyone in the passage.
There was a queer air of improbability over the whole story. Yet Mason was certain some stranger had been in Police Headquarters within the last quarter of an hour. The man had acted strangely and had disappeared mysteriously, when challenged.
Who was the man and what was his business? Again the Inspector's thoughts turned to the man he had spoken to at the main-door. That man had been dressed in the manner described by Collins. He remembered the worn brown overcoat, the collar turned up high to conceal the features. The man had huddled it around him in the paroxysm of coughing.
The man had disappeared when he had gone to the desk for the water. Mentally, Mason measured the time. The man would have been able to sprint from the entrance doors to the drive-way in the interval. But, what did he want within Police Headquarters? He was of the type more likely to avoid the police than to invade their stronghold.
Sergeant Grime's parting words came to Mason suddenly. "Just the night for the Shadow Crook." The Shadow Crook. If there existed such a person, and Mason was beginning to believe there did, this adventure would be in his line. But, what would the Shadow Crook want at Police Headquarters?
A man ran up the steps from the yard and entered the Long Room. Seeing Inspector Mason seated on the edge of the table he went across to him.
"All right now, Inspector. Main fuse blew out."
"Accident. I suppose." Mason slipped to his feet and went to the door. "Looks as if you fellows got a shock when the lights failed and thought you saw things. Strange enough, you should mention a man in a worn brown overcoat and dark-grey hat. Just a few minutes before Swartz came to the hall I was speaking to a fellow dressed like that on the front steps. He had a beastly cough and I—"
He hesitated at the head of the steps leading from the passage to the yard. A globe hung low from the ceiling, but was not alight. He turned to the men who had accompanied him from the Long Room.
"Bring a chair here, Smith." He spoke abruptly. "This globe's broken. Better get another or someone'll break their neck in the dark."
The man fetched a chair and unscrewed the globe from its socket. As it came free in his hand something fell with a slight tinkle to the floor. Mason drew a match from his pocket and searched the bare boards. A moment and he straightened himself. Between his fingers was a small piece of metal. Slipping it into his palm he closed his fingers over it.
"All right, you fellows. Show's all over. Fix that light, Smith and if any of you see a man in a worn brown overcoat and dark grey hat, bring him to me. Good-night."
As the men turned to re-enter the Long Room Mason touched Collins on the arm and led the way up the passage to the swing doors. As he went he tested the doors on either side of the passage. They were all locked. Just before he came to the swing doors he halted abruptly and turned to the constable.
"What's this, Collins?" The Inspector opened his hand under the man's eyes.
"Three-penny piece, Inspector."
"What's, the effect of a threepenny bit played across the contacts of a globe and the switch snapped on?"
"Burn out the fuse, sir."
"Thought so. You're certain you saw the man at the slide-window, just before the lights failed?"
"Absolutely certain, Inspector."
"The man raised his arm as the lights failed?"
For a moment the Inspector was silent, turning the little coin on his palm. Suddenly he looked up at the constable.
"Know anything of the Shadow Crook, Collins?"
"Only the tales that come down from Darlinghurst." The man hesitated. "I think there's someone operating in that district who's got them on the raw. He seems to be able to cover his tracks jolly well."
"The Shadow Crook!" Mason spoke almost under his breath. "If it was him who came here to-night, he's got a nerve. What do you think, Collins?"
"Sounds something like the tales they tell of him, Inspector," the constable spoke dubiously.
"Well, I don't know what he was after," Mason laughed. "But, I do know this. If that was the Shadow Crook, Collins, then he's out, and the Police Department's in, the sum of threepence. Not much, I grant, but it's the first penalty in the shape of a fine against him."
Inspector Mason pushed through the swing doors into the main hall, closely followed by Collins and looked around him. Immediately he noticed there was a stranger in the hall. Lounging against the Inquiry Desk was a tall, lanky young man; keen faced, his most noticeable feature being a crop of unruly black hair, worn somewhat long. At the Inspector's entrance he looked up and moved forward, briskly, to meet him.
"Raid on Police Headquarters, Mason." He spoke in a deep voice, carrying a hint of laughter. "Clarke tells me headquarters have been shrouded in a mysterious darkness for the last quarter of an hour. Anything wrong?"
"Darkness, certainly," Mason spoke thoughtfully. "But so far I have failed to discover anything but a fuse blown out. Alec Branston of the Morning Mirror staff, if I'm not mistaken."
"On night rounds," Branston nodded affirmatively. "You've got a good memory, Inspector. By the way, there's congratulations due on a well-earned step, I believe."
"Thanks. Anything interesting happened to-night?"
"I should ask you that, but I suppose you're too big a swell in the police department now. I gathered at Darlinghurst that one of their men claimed to have disturbed the Shadow Crook at work, to-night."
"The Shadow Crook." Mason spoke quickly. "Where and at what time?"
"Early in the evening, just after dusk." The reporter looked inquisitively at the Inspector. "I believe at one of the flats in Walcott-road."
For a full minute the Inspector remained silent. If the Shadow Crook had been operating at Darlinghurst early in the evening it was improbable he would be hanging about police headquarters a couple of hours later. Yet there had been plenty of time for him to cover the intervening distance.
"Who is the Shadow Crook?" The detective turned to the newspaper-man. "Remember, Branston, I've been in the country for the past two years. Down here you seem full of him. Grime mentioned him to-night. The Superintendent had a word to say about him yesterday. What's the strength of it all? Seems to be a hobby to place everything otherwise unexplainable, on the shoulders of the Shadow Crook. What's your theory?"
"Answer your own questions correctly and I'll have a fine front-page story in the Mirror to-morrow morning," Branston laughed. "All that's known is that the Shadow Crook appears to have a marvellous ability to get out of tight corners. He appears at unexpected places and just when it seems he's corner he melts into thin air. There's a dozen mysterious burglaries placed to his credit and everyone has unique features. There's half a hundred or so ordinary affairs, so far unexplained, accredited to him, I believe, without the slightest evidence. I'm prepared to accept the dozen. The others well, any of them could have been committed by well-known Sydney hooks."
"Been seen? Of course. You mentioned the Darlinghurst man saw him to-night. Has he booked a description?"
"Over medium height. Thin, hollow-chested. Wears a brown overcoat, collar turned up, grey hat, much stained, pulled well down over his eyes." Branston was reading from a pad he had taken from his pocket. "Moves absolutely silent—like a shadow. Probably wore rubber heels and soles."
"Humph!" The Inspector swung round to face Collins, standing just behind him. "How's that?"
"Fits him to a 't'," exclaimed the constable.
"He's been here?" The journalist produced a pencil. "What's happened?"
"That's what I'd like to know. By the way, Branston, anyone beside the Darlinghurst man seen him?"
"Two or three people who have been robbed are said to have seen him." Branston was writing rapidly. "But they weren't, able to provide a description. All they could say was that a shadow slipped past them. No sound, no substance, according to their account—nothing tangible. That's how he got the name of the Shadow Crook."
"Then it wasn't the sudden darkness acting on fevered imaginations." Mason, was musing to himself. "But I didn't think there was a crook in Sydney with the cheek to walk into police headquarters and fuse the electric light."
"Fuse the electric light!" The newspaper-man's pencil flew over the paper.
"Here, hold hard!" Mason made a grab at the wad of paper the journalist held. "That's' not for publication, you know."
"Stalled!" Branston grinned cheer fully, evading the clutching hand. "What's the good of being mean, over the-best story I'm likely to get to-night. Got into police headquarters did he, and fused the lights. Well, what happened? Gold plate safe?"
"We must erect a wing at Long Bay for inquisitive journalists!" Mason laughed. "Yes, the gold plate's quite safe. Use the tale, if you like, Branston, but don't quote it as official. What the Shadow Crook was after I can't understand. Why, it wouldn't pay even a newspaper-man to try and rob headquarters at this time, of the night. Say, Clarke, have you seen Anderson, through all this commotion?"
"I'll have another look in his office. If he's not there this time, I'm off. You needn't wait, Swartz. Fun's all over for the night. Good-night, Branston. Hope to be able to give you a better story one day."
He turned down the corridor in the direction of the Fingerprints Department. Anderson's door was shut and locked, and under the edge of the door still showed the thin line of light. It seemed strange that so careful a man as Sergeant Anderson should be away from his room for any considerable length of time and leave the lights burning. Mason placed his ear against the panel of the door and listened intently. For some moments he could hear nothing. Then he thought he heard the sounds of muffled scrapings within the room: He knocked sharply, but no answer came, only the dulled shuffling—now more plainly. He swung, round and went to the Inquiry Desk.
"Where are the keys of the doors, Clarke?"
"On the board, in the main office, Inspector. Anything wrong?"
"Don't know. Anderson's room is locked, but the light is still burning. I think I can hear someone inside but when I knocked I got no answer."
The constable took a key from his desk and disappeared into the main office. In a few seconds he returned, dangling a bunch of keys on his fingers, and walked down to Sergeant Anderson's office, followed by the Inspector, Branston and Const. Collins.
All the lights were on in the rather large office. The four men stood just within the door, searching the room with their eyes. It appeared empty—as if the Sergeant had left it to obtain something he required from another part of the building. On the table stood one of the file drawers. Other drawers were pulled out half-way from the steep cabinets. By the file on the table was a blotting-pad and on it lay a few record cards, across which lay a gold-mounted fountain pen.
Constable Clarke walked slowly into the room, around the large table, and halted with an exclamation of dismay. The others crowded after him, to look down on a man, bound and gagged, lying half under the table. It was Sergeant Anderson. Mason dropped to his knees and sawed at the bonds with his pocket knife. Branston stood watching for some moments, then wandered carelessly around the room, searching the files with eager eyes. At length, he stopped and bent over a half-opened drawer.
"Someone's been at this cabinet, Mason," he called.
"What's that?" The Inspector left the two constables to complete the releasing of Anderson from his bonds and came to the journalist's side. For a moment he carefully examined the records Branston indicated. "These seem complete. What makes you think they have been tampered with?"
"Anderson's been working on a line of drawers on the other side of the room, and there's no connection between them and these records. Ask him." The newspaper-man spoke curtly.
Mason looked round. The sergeant was struggling to his feet dazed and groggy. One of the constables was drawing towards him a swivel-chair. The Inspector waited until the man was seated before he spoke.
"Been working over here, Anderson?" The men swung the chair round so that the sergeant faced the isle of cabinets against which Mason stood.
"No." Anderson struggled to his feet and, supported by the two constables, staggered across to where the officer and Branston stood. "I've been working BX3, W11, and ZE2—the particulars you asked me to get out for you to-night. These filers are PUR4. I haven't touched them to-day."
"Sit down, man." The Inspector dragged a chair forward. "Now. What happened? I've been to and from your room half a dozen times during the past hour and never caught sight of you've not been lying under the table all that time?"
"So far as I know I've only been here a few minutes." The man answered in a weak voice. "Your particulars wanted some searching out and I've had to run about the building collecting details."
"How long since you entered this room for the last time—when you got that smack on the head?" Mason looked at his watch. "It's ten-five now."
"Then I've lain there about a quarter of an hour." Anderson, a slight, grey-haired man with a thin clever face, spoke painfully. "I was in the Commissioner's office, when the quarter-to-ten chimed. I came down here and found I wanted some record cards and went to the store down stairs for them. As I went to re-enter this room, something struck me on the head, and I went out."
"Sandbag." The Inspector was exploring the sergeant's head with gentle fingers. "You've a whale of a bruise here. We'll get the surgeon in a minute and have you doctored up. First, tell me what happened after you were knocked down."
"Don't know. I was knocked out." Anderson spoke after a considerable pause. "I have a hazy notion there was someone in the room, moving about, but there wasn't a sound. It was just like a dream-shadow fitting between my closed eyelids and the lights, every now and then."
"The Shadow Crook!" came from Branston. The newspaper-man spoke the word under his breath but Mason heard and turned a frowning face towards him.
"Then I heard someone at the door and tried to cry. out." Anderson continued: "I tried to cry out but I was gagged. I shuffled my bound feet on the floor and tried to drum with my heels, but I was tied too tight for that. Whoever was at the door went away, and I thought I was to lie here all night, unless Clarke discovered my lights burning and opened the door to switch them off. I tell you I was relieved when I heard the key in the lock."
The inspector looked from the sergeant to the disordered files-drawer. For some minutes he was silent, frowning thoughtfully.
"Let's get this straight," he spoke suddenly. "Do you remember the lights going out? Where were you then?"
"Here!" Anderson answered promptly. "I had a candle in the room and found it. I had just commenced to work by its light when I found I wanted the cards and went downstairs for them.
"Leaving your door unlocked?"
"Yes. I knew I would only be away a couple of minutes."
"You came back before the lights were on again and someone slouched you on the head." Mason spoke care fully. "Was he inside or outside the room?"
"Inside the room. I would have seen him if he had been in the corridor, for I took the lighted candle with me. So far as I understand, he must have stood behind the door. When he hit me I pitched forward into the room."
"Then he was waiting for you." The Inspector paused for some seconds before continuing his examination. "Seems he managed to get about very easily and quietly."
"Who?" asked the newspaper-man, with a slight smile.
"The Shadow Crook," Mason spoke gruffly. "We know, already, he paid us a surprise visit to-night, but we couldn't understand his reasons."
"The files?" Branston pointed to the filing-drawer he and the Inspector had examined.
"Yet they seem complete, so far as I can tell." Mason showed he was puzzled. He turned to the sergeant. "Anderson, can you manage to run through the files in this drawer and make a rough check of them? You should he able to tell if anything is missing. By the way, Clarke, who is at the Inquiry Desk?"
The constable sprang to the door with a short exclamation. He tugged at the handle, but it was locked. In a moment the Inspector joined him.
"Who has the key, Clarke? What did you do with it when you opened the door?"
"Left it in the lock, Inspector."
For a brief second, the Inspector looked at the man, incredulously. Then, he turned and walked to the table, perching himself on the edge.
"Caged!" Branston dropped into a chair, shouting with laughter. "Say, Mason, what's happened to the Police Department?"
For a moment it looked as if Mason would lose his temper. He glared savagely at his companions, then the humour of the situation appealed to him and he joined in the laughter.
"Police Department captured by the Shadow Crook!" Branston had his pad of copy-paper on his knee, writing rapidly. "Strewth! What a story. Say, Mason, who's in the Long Room?"
"Andrews, Swartz, Smith and possibly Brown." Collins answered the question.
The reporter tucked his notes in his pocket and went to the telephone. He had just obtained the department switch-operator when Mason took the receiver from his hand.
"Wait a moment, Branston." The Inspector turned to Anderson. "Where's your key, Sergeant?"
"Gone!" The officer was feeling through his pockets.
"Of course. How else could he have locked you in your room? Well, I suppose we'll have to call one of the men. We'll be the laughing stock of the department."
"What if he's taken Clarke's key out of the lock?" asked the news paper man, suddenly.
"Oh hell," Mason hesitated, with the receiver half-way to his ear.
"All right, Inspector." Collins was probing the lock with his penknife. "The key's still there."
"Good!" Mason turned to the telephone and briefly ordered one of the men in the Long Room to come and unlock the door. "What a hell of a mess!"
"But what's the big idea?" Branston asked the question. "Why did he want to get us all in here and turn the key on us?"
"That part's easy." Mason had returned to his seat on the edge of the table. "So far as I can reconstruct the Shadow Crook's movements they run something like this."
The Inspector paused for a moment and then continued:
"I saw a man—it may have been the Shadow Crook—standing near the front entrance, an hour or more ago. I spoke to him, but he did not answer. He had a bad attack of coughing, perhaps that was to prevent me hearing his voice. I went to the desk and got a glass of water. When I returned he had disappeared. Now, I take it that he was standing there to check out our fellows. When I spoke to him only the night staff and myself were in the building and he was about ready to act. As I said, he disappeared while I was getting the glass of water. I believe, now, he bolted up Phillip-street into the drive-way to the yard. He crept up the steps beside the Long Room and fixed the glove at the head of the steps so that by touching the switch he could fuse the lights in the building. Collins, Andrews and Smith saw him just as he had set his trick. When the building was in darkness he ran up the passage to the swing doors. When Swartz came up the passage he must have Been in hiding and followed him through the doors, turning down to Anderson's room. He found the room empty and waited. When Anderson returned he wanged him over the head."
"What for?" Branston asked the question.
"Don't know." Again Mason frowned.
"What happened after he had locked Anderson in here?" The newspaper-man was curious.
"There I have to guess wildly." Mason smiled grimly. "I should say he went down, the stairs and waited. In some way he knew I was on the watch for Anderson—possibly, I said something to Grime in his hearing that indicated that. He knew that sooner or later I would notice the lights in the room and have the door opened. That would mean the hall would be unattended for some minutes and so give him an opportunity, to walk out of the front door as if he had been on legitimate business in the building."
"But why lock us in this room?" objected the journalist.
"Dare-devil work." Mason spoke shortly for he felt this part of his hypothesis was weak. He was relieved from further questioning by the sounds of footsteps in the corridor. The key in the lock was turned, noisily, and the door thrust open. In the doorway stood the men from the Long Room, grinning broadly.
"Oh, what a story!" Branston laughed, gleefully. "Detective-Inspector Mason and his merry men, including the Mirror's special representative, imprisoned by the Shadow Crook! By the life of—"
"A story that will never be written, young man." The Inspector turned suddenly on the journalist. "Understand, not a word of this gets into print."
"Hell!" The newspaper-man glanced quickly at the detective, to meet, the officer's determined eyes. With a shrug of his shoulders he gave way, gracefully.
"All right, Mason. I suppose if I keep the high-lights out of the Shadow Crook's visit to head quarters that can be used? Of course, you'll be responsible for your men. You know, if a word of this story gets into another paper I'm due for a brew of trouble."
"That goes." Mason held out his hand. "You can use what you wish of the Shadow Crook's visit to headquarters and make it as sensational as you like—so long as you don't print the truth." With a grim smile he turned to where Anderson stood at the files. "Found out if anything's missing, Sergeant?"
"Nothing missing, so far as I can tell, at present." The sergeant walked slowly over and joined the group at the table. "Only one of the records appears to have been tampered with and I can't tell how. There's nothing taken from the record."
"Which one are you referring to?" asked Mason.
"The Stacey Carr records. The cards and the papers are all out of order, most of them scattered about on the top of the other files."
"Old Man Carr's fingerprints!" Branston sprang to his feet his face blazing with excitement, "What do you mean, man? Haven't you heard? Old Man Carr died in Bathurst Gaol Infirmary this afternoon."
Inspector Mason tossed restlessly on his bed through the long night hours. The strange visit of the Shadow Crook to Police Headquarters and the rapid series of mysterious events following the extinction of the lights, puzzled and perplexed him. What had been the object of the Shadow Crook's visit? What interest had the man in the finger-print records of the convict, Stacey Carr, better known to the gaol authorities as "Old Man Carr?" Further, why had he, when in possession of the information he had risked so much to gain, deliberately abandoned it? The Inspector could have understood the problem better if the crook, had taken the record cards with him. Then there would have been something tangible to work on—a definite clue providing a starting point for his investigations.
At the time of the trial of Stacey Carr the Inspector had been stationed at one of the inland town's with only the newspaper reports for information; He remembered the man had not belonged to the criminal class, nor had he been an associate of criminals. His theft, a jewel robbery—had been a lone-hand crime and a first offence. He had bungled the business, providing clear evidence against himself although pleading "not guilty."
Stacey Carr had entered the prison gates sentenced to ten years' hard labour. Only within the past few months had the Shadow Crook come on the scene. There was a big interval of time between the histories of the two men. Where was the connection?
The Shadow Crook had had no part in Stacey Carr's crime. If, as Mason believed, the mysterious criminal was a young man, he could have been little more than a youth when Stacey Carr fell into the hands of the police. Yet the evidence was plain that the Shadow Crook's visit to Police Headquarters the previous night was connected with the Stacey Carr records.
Stacey Carr was dead; he had died in prison the afternoon of the Shadow Crook's raid. Had the Shadow Crook known this when he planned his sensational adventure? It was inconceivable that the master criminal should have risked his liberty in ignorance of that vital fact.
Stacey Carr was dead; and the Shadow Crook had known it before he planned and executed his raid. Mason was certain that the raid was the outcome of the death of the convict. But he could not conceive a reason, however fantastic, for the desire to see, yet not possess, the finger prints and records of the dead man.
Soon after daylight Mason, rose and dressed. For a time he wandered about the house then, taking his hat, went down to the city. It was too early to get into the library at Police Headquarters. For a time he wandered around the fast-filling streets, then sought breakfast at a Pitt-street restaurant.
Again at Headquarters, he had to wait until the officer-in-charge of the library arrived. Very eagerly he seized the big cutting-book and turned the leaves until he came to the records of the Stacey Carr trial.
An hour later he left the library, very dissatisfied, and went to his office. Soon after half-past ten he was informed the Commissioner had arrived at Headquarters and immediately sought an interview.
In the waiting-room Mason found Sergeant Anderson and the constables who had been on duty the previous night. A few minutes and they were admitted to the presence of Sir Witlow Graham.
It was not a long inquiry. Sir Witlow at first expressed disbelief that even so daring a criminal as the Shadow Crook would invade Police Headquarters, but Mason and his companions told so plain a tale that disbelief was turned to anger. At the conclusion of the interview Inspector Mason was detailed to arrest and bring in the Shadow Crook, at all costs, immediately.
Leaving Police Headquarters, Mason walked down Phillip-street towards King-street. One of the facts he had noted in the records of the Stacey Carr trial was the name of the defending barrister, Cranford Hughes. The Inspector had decided to hear the barrister's account of the trial and his opinions of the convict. He believed that by following up the Stacey Carr clue he would get on the track of the Shadow Crook.
Ascending the steps of Risdon Court, one of the building-warrens housing Sydney's legal talent, Mason came in sharp contact with a tall, good-looking, fair man of about thirty years of age. A sudden wave of memory caused the detective to turn and follow him out on the pavement.
"Mr. Cranford Hughes, I believe?"
"Yes. That is my name." The barrister swung round suddenly. "I don't think I know you."
"Inspector Mason, from Headquarters, Mr. Hughes. Are you engaged at the moment? If so, I will call later."
For a moment the eyes of the two men met and held. The level grey eyes of the barrister were trustworthy and Mason determined on the sudden attack.
"Police Headquarters were raided last night, Mr. Hughes."
"Raided?" The barrister was startled. "What do you mean, Inspector?"
"Just whether you are able to spare me half-an-hour now, or later."
"Come now." Cranford turned on his heels and went back into the building. At the end of the long ground-floor corridor he opened a door and led through the clerks' office to his own room. He motioned the police officer to a chair and seated himself at his desk. For some moments he leaned forward, his elbows on the table, gazing intently at the Inspector.
"Well?" Then, with sudden change of voice. "Smoke, Inspector?"
"Thanks." Mason helped himself from the box the barrister shoved across the desk and lit the cigar. He lay back in the deep chair drawing in the fragrant smoke in silence for a couple of minutes; then, without preface, commenced the story of the Shadow Crook's raid on Police Headquarters.
"Marvellous!" Cranford had sat forward, eagerly following every detail of the detective's story. "That man's got brains! Now, where do I come in?"
"You defended Stacey Carr at his trial?"
"The sins of my youth again confront me!" Cranford laughed slightly. "I was a young man, then, Inspector. Let me see, it must be over four years ago."
"I am hoping that among your records of the trial of Stacey Carr there may be some clue that will lead me to the Shadow Crook."
"So!" The barrister struck a table bell sharply. To the clerk who answered the summons he said: "Bring me the Stacey Carr brief, convicted about four years ago of the theft of certain jewellery."
A long interval, during which the two men sat in silence, smoking. Then, the clerk returned and deposited a dusty-stained file on the desk before the barrister. Cranford untied the red tape and spread the paper on the desk.
"What particular point do you seek, Inspector?"
"I hardly know." Mason hesitated. "Would it be too much to ask you to tell me the history of the trial as you saw it—that is, from the defence point of view. Of course, I can get the prosecution brief from the Crown Law Office."
"Rather a big order." The fair face of the barrister broke into a smile. "Yes, I think I can give you a very fair resume of the trial, if you don't object to many pauses, to consult documents. For details, well, here is the file for the defence. You are at liberty to call on my clerk at any time and examine the documents at your leisure."
"That will suit me." The Inspector leaned forward. "I hope you will deal with as many points as possible, in your recital."
For some minutes the barrister sat, turning over the documents in the file, reading a note here and there, at times perusing the whole of a document. At length, he commenced to speak in a low tone and with a hesitation that disappeared as he warmed to his subject.
"I am going to admit at once that if I conducted the defence of Stacey Carr to-day I would take a very different line from the one I took nearly five years ago. First, I will say that I never believed the man was guilty. He was a victim of circumstances and for some reason the trial was hurried on in an indecent manner. Again, the verdict was harsh and the sentence almost vindictive. The man should not have been sentenced to more than five years' imprisonment, if sentenced at all.
"Stacey Carr was a jeweller in a small way of business in—let me see—yes, Carew Lane, a turning off George-street, City. He had a small shop with a fairly large work-room behind. The shop trade was of little account, although I believe he kept some very fair stones in stock. His principal occupation was the restoration and curing of jewels."
The barrister paused and turned over some papers.
"I don't know if you are aware of it, Inspector, but gems and especially pearls suffer from what is commonly termed 'diseases.' Stacey Carr did supply me with the technical terms, but I have forgotten them. I think you know, however, that pearls, especially, are subject to loss of brilliancy and discolouring, if kept unworn for any length of time. Other jewels have, at times, to be 'doctored' by experts to restore them to their original quality.
"Stacey Carr was one of those 'jewel-doctors.' I was informed by several jewellers that he had gone far beyond his associates in this branch of the work. In fact, he boasted to me that he could restore any jewel to its original worth, no matter, in what condition it was brought to him.
"Stacey Carr was charged with the theft of certain sapphires, the property of Mrs. Kynaston, of Melbourne, Victoria. It was claimed for the prosecution that Mrs. Kynaston's jewels had for some time been 'sick.' She had inquired among the Melbourne jewellers and they had advised her to consult Stacey Carr. At first, she had disliked the idea of sending her pets so far from her charge, but later decided to bring them to Sydney and remain here while Stacey Carr attended to them. She gave evidence that she wrote to Stacey Carr and that he replied asking her to bring the stones to him. He guaranteed to restore them to their original value.
"About the same time as Mrs. Kynaston arrived in Sydney with her sapphires, a man named Abel Mintos came to the city from Broome, Western Australia, in search of Stacey Carr. He had been a pearl-buyer in that far-off pearly town and brought with him to Sydney three pearls, known as the White Trinity. They were of considerable value and absolutely unique. Each pearl was about sixteen grams in weight and the three were joined by a very thin thread of pearl-like substance. The pearls had 'sickened,' and Mintos had come across the continent to consult Stacey Carr, admittedly the only man capable of dealing with them.
"From evidence brought out at the trial Stacey Carr did not appear impressed by his clients. He seemed not a wit concerned that Mrs. Kynaston was one of the leading society women of the Commonwealth. He rated her severely on her methods of keeping, cleaning and wearing her sapphires. To Abel Mintos, he pointed out that pearls were particularly subject to 'sickness.' He spent some time over the White Trinity and finally told the owner that, although he could restore the pearls, they would continually require an expert's care—that the White Trinity was practically valueless, in that the pearls contained an inherent weakness that would cause them to be almost continually 'invalid.' While he did not appear impressed by his clients, Stacey Carr certainly made an impression on them. They left his small, dingy shop, confident that he could restore their jewels.
"The pearls and sapphires disappeared three days after they were handed over to Stacey Carr." Cranford spoke warmly. "Certain happenings caused the two clients to call upon Stacey Carr for the return of the jewels and he professed to know nothing about them. Yet he had given detailed receipts for the jewels. Mrs. Kynaston went to the police and Abel Mintos followed suit."
"The jewels were never found?" asked the Inspector, curiously.
"The jewels were never found," agreed the barrister. "Stacey Carr's shop is only a small one and the police ransacked it from roof to foundations, but without success. They searched the rooms he occupied in Crown-street, Darlinghurst, but with no result. From the days Mrs. Kynaston and Abel Mintos handed the jewels, to Stacey Carr they disappeared, completely."
"What explanation did Stacey Carr give?" asked the detective.
"He gave none—he was not in a condition to give any explanation. Two days before he was arrested he was found insensible on the floor of his shop by a patrolling constable."
"Ah!" The exclamation came from the Inspector's lips, almost as a sigh.
"You think Carr was assaulted and the jewels stolen from his shop?" asked Cranford quickly.
"It is a possibility."
"One, I am afraid, I did not stress sufficiently at the trial." The barrister smiled wryly. "As I have said, I was young then and my sins now rise against me."
"You think he was innocent?"
"What was known of his associates?"
"They were very few. Most of the jewellers in the city in good standing came forward to testify to his known worth and character at his trial."
"He had no connections of a shady character?" Mason asked, thoughtfully. "Those small jewellers often gather around them men of indifferent character. A man, such as you describe Stacey Carr to be, would almost certainly attract men on the look-out for a big haul. The sapphires and pearls would be a wonderful lure."
"Outside of his business associates, Carr had very few acquaintances and practically no friends."
"You traced up everyone who knew him?" asked the detective.
"The police did that and were good enough to give me all the information they gathered. There was one man—"
"Yes?" The Inspector leaned forward as the barrister hesitated.
"It seemed absurd to doubt him." Cranford spoke hesitatingly. "Yet, somehow, I had a feeling that he could have helped me more if he had chosen. He came forward as a witness at the trial. He gave his evidence well and at its close made an impassioned appeal to the jury, on Stacey Carr's behalf."
"And, his name?"
"A queer name." The barrister shuffled his papers for a few seconds. "Ah, here it is! Samuel Keene, Address, the Sydney Hotel. A native of Victoria. Independent means. Interested in jewels and brought into court a really wonderful collection of coloured stones. Admitted he had a great liking for sapphires. Told the Judge he had a passion for pearls, but that they were hopeless for a single man; that a man who made a hobby of pearls, should be married, so that his wife could keep them healthy by wearing them."
"Rather an unique witness."
"He was." Cranford leaned back and laughed slightly. "He gave the court a pleasant interlude in a some what sordid trial."
"What was his connection with Stacey Carr?"
"Stacey Carr could not remember the man, although by permission of the judge. Mr. Keene made several attempts to awaken memory in the accused man's fogged mind. Therefore we had to be content with Mr. Keene's account of the intimacy between them."
"Mr. Keene stated that he first met Carr through the introduction of a jeweller he had consulted about certain of his stones. He went to Carr at the Carew Lane shop. At first Carr was shy, but gradually thawed under Keene's blandishments." Again the barrister paused. "Keene made no secret of his attempts to get into Carr's good graces. From his evidence he appears to have been successful, and Carr allowed him to hang around the hop, as he wished."
"Ah!" Mason leaned eagerly forward. "How old was this man, Samuel Keene?"
"About twenty-four or twenty-five." Cranford looked slightly surprised: "Peculiarly, I did not ask that question' at the beginning of my examination."
"And this trial took place—?"
"A few days over four years and eight months ago."
"Then Samuel Keene must now be about thirty years of age." Again Mason spoke to himself.
"About that." The barrister agreed. "What's the connection, Inspector?"
"Connection? I never said there was one." Mason appeared to come out of a reverie. "I was wondering about Samuel Keene's devotion to jewels—and an old jeweller."
"Interested to know where Mr. Samuel Keene, gentleman of independent means, of Victoria, is now."
"I don't understand." Cranford Hughes looked across at the Inspector, a puzzled frown on his face. "Do you think this man, Samuel Keene, had anything to do with the theft of the Kynaston sapphires and the White Trinity?"
"There is more than a possibility." The detective was, carefully examining the tips of his fingers. "You state Samuel Keene was not tested in any manner, yet he acknowledged to have hung about Stacey Carr's shop for many days. On your own showing, Mr. Hughes, he had excellent opportunities to learn where Stacey Carr kept his valuables."
The barrister nodded. On the few occasions be had reviewed the Stacey Carr trial he had seen this loophole in his defence. Now this police Inspector had placed his finger on the point. Quickly, he reviewed the persons connected with the old trial. Samuel Keene alone stood out as the one who could have wrest from the old jeweller the secret of the hidden safe.
"How is all this going to help you, Inspector?" he asked suddenly. "Do you propose to re-open the Stacey Carr case? In that event—"
"Stacey Carr is dead, Mr. Hughes," the detective interrupted.
"And you are mainly interested in the raid on Headquarters by this mysterious person, the Shadow Crook." The barrister leaned forward and took a fresh cigar from the box on the table. "I don't see how you are going to connect Stacey Carr with the Shadow Crook."
"The jewels have never been found, Mr. Hughes?"
"No, so far as I am aware." Cranford looked up with some surprise in his eyes. "Of course—No. The jewels were never found. There was a reference to them in a magazine a month or so ago. It spoke of them among famous lost jewels—the Kynaston sapphires and the White Trinity."
"Then, where are they?" Mason rose from his chair and walked up and down the room. "They cannot have vanished into thin air. Carr was in prison and could not get them. From what you have told me, it does not seem probable he disposed of them before his arrest. Remember, the White Trinity would be a most difficult jewel to sell."
"The pearls might have been separated and sold singly," said the barrister.
"Yet you stated the pearls were diseased when Stacey Carr took charge of them. You stated that Stacey Carr was arrested but a couple of days after the jewels were handed to him. He would not have had time to cure the pearls and dispose Of them. Further, you have just stated that only within the past two months a reference has been made to them in an article referring to 'mysteriously lost' jewels. No, Mr. Hughes, I believe the jewels are still hidden. Stacey Carr placed them in some secret safe and the blow on the head affected his memory of their hiding-place."
"In that case you will have to start your search at 5 Carew Lane," laughed the barrister. "I am afraid you will have a hopeless task. The police almost pulled the house to pieces in their search for the jewels before the trial. Another peculiar thing, and it bears out somewhat your theory of the lost jewels; at no time has Stacey Carr's safe been discovered. No one could even state positively he had one."
"And since the date of the police search the house has been let to half a dozen different tenants?" suggested the detective, ruefully. "I suppose now it is a ham and beef shop and the jeweller's fittings dispersed to the four winds of heaven."
"There's one point in your favour." Cranford rose to his feet and sought his hat. "You'll have to excuse me for an Interview with a firm of solicitors regarding another poor devil in the clutches of the law. If you go to Carew Lane you will, find Stacey Carr's shop practically as he left it. It is still a jeweller's shop and I believe most of the old fittings are in place."
"What do you mean?"
"I can tell you no more than that." Cranford halted on the entrance steps and held out his hand. "Only a few days ago I learned Stacey Carr's shop was still in existence. More, that it is practically in the condition it was when the old man was carried out of it. I was curious and wandered down there to verify my information."
Mason walked into Phillip-street, very perplexed. It seemed incredible that after five years Stacey Carr's old shop should still be in existence. More, that it was practically in the same condition as on the day the old man left it for gaol.
For some time he stood on the pavement before Risdon Court trying to co-ordinate the information he had received from the barrister, into a coherent story. There was something behind these facts. He could swear to that, but for his life he could not piece the story together without big improbabilities creeping in.
Stacey Carr had taken the Kynaston sapphires and the While Trinity pearls into his charge. A few days later he had been found on the floor of his shop, by a patrolling constable, insensible. He had been carried to the hospital, to awaken to a darkened memory; He could not remember where he had placed the sapphires and the pearls—he could not even remember the jewels. A careful search by the police had failed to discover the hiding place. He had been arrested and charged with their theft. Finally, he had stood in the dock at Darlinghurst, a broken, disgraced old man.
From the dock he had passed to the grim portals of the prison, sentenced to be set apart from his fellows for a term of ten years. Nearly five of those years had passed and, assuming ordinary good conduct, the old man might expect to regain his freedom within the next three years or so. Then, death had intervened.
Immediately following the death of Stacey Carr had come the strange raid on Police Headquarters by the Shadow Crook. So far as the detective could read the riddle, that raid had been for the sole purpose of examining some clue to the jewels in the records of the dead man.
In the story of Stacey Carr, convict, as recounted by his barrister, had lurked one sinister figure—the man, Samuel Keene. Stacey Carr had been convicted of the theft of the Kynaston sapphires and the White Trinity. Samuel Keene had, in the witness box, acknowledged to a mania for gems and pearls. He had acknowledged hanging around the old jeweller's shop. Had he done so to obtain the secret of the hidden safe? That was probable. Yet he had not discovered it, for the jewels were generally acknowledged to be still missing.
Where had Samuel Keene come from? The only clues were that ho professed to be a gentleman of independent means, permanently resident in Victoria. Where had he gone to?
A sudden gust of anger shook the detective. What fools had ruled in the Police Department five years ago. Taking into consideration the attack on Stacey Carr, affecting his memory, there was only one improbability in his story and the police had passed it by as of little account. They had concentrated on the dazed old jeweller and had let the man who might have solved their problem pass from under their hands, unquestioned.
Mason recognised that the theory he was building bristled with improbabilities. He had not one iota of proof to connect this Samuel Keene with the theft of the jewels. He could not show that the man had any knowledge of where Stacey Carr had hidden the jewels. All he had was a suspicion, growing stronger with every fresh fact he uncovered.
"Pondering over the Shadow Crook's raid on Police Headquarters, Mason?" A cheerful voice at his elbow caused him to turn, to face Alec Branston.
"You're out early this morning." Mason glanced from his watch to the journalist's face. "If I am correctly informed night-roundsmen get to bed somewhere between four, and five o'clock in the morning—and it is barely noon, now. Why this restlessness?"
"Couldn't' sleep." Branston laughed, slightly. "Got the Shadow Crook, on my brain and tossed and turned in bed, until in desperation I rolled out. Time off to-night, so I can make up for my lost sleep.
"What do you know of Stacey Carr and the Kynaston sapphires?" the detective asked abruptly.
"Lor'! You're not on that?" The journalist stopped in his tracks, looking at the detective in amazement. "Why, it's five years old, if it's a day."
"That doesn't answer my question," replied Mason.
"That's so." The reporter fell into step again. "If you care to come up to the Mirror library, I'll drag out the files of the case and you can read them at your leisure. I had a go at it some weeks back. There's columns and columns of it."
"You read it up!" The Inspector glanced sharply at his companion. "Any special idea? How old were you when it happened?"
"Twenty-seven now." The newspaper-man laughed at the slightly astonished look on the detective's face. "I'm older than I look. Suppose it's this unruly black mop of mine, but everyone takes me for twenty-one, or twenty-two. Fact, I was twenty-two when old man Carr went to trial."
"Thank the Lord, no!" Branston took off his hat with a comical gesture. "That madness occurred afterwards."
"Then all you know of the Stacey Carr trial is what you've read?"
"That's so." There was a fair pause before the journalist continued. "What do you want to know, particularly?"
"There was a man mixed up in the Stacey Carr trial, name Samuel Keene. What do you know of him?"
"Samuel Keene!" Branston halted abruptly. "Samuel Keene! Now where have I come across that name?
"Yes, I remember. The name stuck in my mind. He made quite a speech for the defence, didn't he?"
"Heard so." Something in the newspaper-man's tones caused Mason to retreat into his shell. "Remember, all I've heard of the case is hearsay. When I have a few minutes to spare I'll avail myself of your offer and read up the account of the trial in the Mirror's files."
"Welcome." Branston paused at the glass doors of the newspaper offices. "If I'm not about, and I don't usually come on until eight o'clock in the evening, go up to the second floor and follow the corridor round to the library. Tell Olson what you want and he'll get it for you."
"Thanks." The Inspector paused and watched the newspaper-man push through the doors into the vestibule. Then he turned and walked up to Police Headquarters. A summons was awaiting him in his room to attend the Detective Superintendent.
"What the devil did he want in the Fingerprints Department?" exclaimed Superintendent Tomlin when Mason had again detailed the happenings of the previous night.
"On the face of it, to have a look at the fingerprints of Stacey Carr." Mason spoke with a grin on his face. "The fingerprints of a dead man!"
Superintendent Tomlin, a stout, red-faced, thick-set man, snorted with disgust. "Can't you think of some thing more original than that, Mason?"
"Can you?" The Inspector laughed outright. "There's one theory in my mind, and that doesn't take account of fingerprints."
Superintendent Tomlin looked the question his lips did not frame, and Detective-Inspector Mason replied:
"Stacey Carr died yesterday afternoon, in gaol. He would have been due for release in about three years, on ticket of leave. Now, neither the Kynaston sapphires nor the White Trinity have been discovered. Carr, before and since his imprisonment, has professed entire ignorance of the hiding-place of the jewels. I believe there is a connection between those jewels, Stacey Carr's death, and the Shadow Crook's raid on our finger-print records, last night."
"What on earth are you talking about?" Tomlin became purple in the face as he stared hard across his desk at the detective. "How's Stacey Carr's fingerprints going to lead any confederate—the Shadow Crook or anyone else—to the hiding place of the jewels? That is, if they are still hidden."
"You remember the Stacey Carr trial, Superintendent?"
"Very well." Tomlin threw himself hack in his chair. "My opinion is that Carr got rid of them before, he was found insensible in his shop. He shipped them off to some confederate and was arrested before he could lay his hands on the proceeds of the robbery. Pity he died. I was going to have him watched when he came out. We might have struck on some clue to where the jewels went to."
"Who was, or is, Samuel Keene, Superintendent?"
"Samuel Keene? Oh, I remember!" Tomlin frowned thoughtfully. "Gave evidence for Carr. Said he was of independent means; came from Victoria; interested in jewels."
"Interested in jewels." Mason repeated the phrase, significantly. "Did you put the acid on him?"
"Don't think so." The Superintendent hesitated. "No, the defence brought him forward at the last moment. Seems he was interested in Stacey Carr's work of curing jewels. Used to hang about the old man's shop. Nothing against him."
"N-o." Mason drawled the word. "Now, I've got quite a hunch that if the police had been interested in Samuel Keene they would have come a damned sight closer to the missing jewels."
"You think ho was a confederate?"
"I think Stacey Carr was a victim of circumstances, and a well-delivered blow to his memory."
"Whew!" Tomlin leaned forward. "So, that's it. Where have you been hunting?"
"First, with Cranford Hughes, the barrister who defended Stacey Carr. Second with Alec Branston, the night roundsman of the Mirror."
There was a long pause. Mason was tracing diagrams with his finger on the desk-top. Superintendent Tomlin sat well forward in his chair, staring at his fellow-officer.
"What do you want, Mason?"
"Just the history of Samuel Keene, from the day he was born to the present date. You know the Commissioner instructed me to round up the Shadow Crook, pronto?"
"Samuel Keene's history! Well, it will want a bit of doing, but I'll put it up to the Commissioner. Think he will decide it's worth while. Second step good, if you can get what you're after. But the Shadow Crook will want some finding. Got any ideas?"
"Plenty, but no clues. There's just one thing in my favour. If what I'm told is correct I'm one of the few persons who have seen and spoken to the Shadow Crook. That's an advantage. I'm game to bet I'll pick him out of fifty men first shot, even if I have to wait ten years for the chance. Anything more, Superintendent? No, then—"
Mason's hand was on the door-knob when Tomlin called him back to the desk.
"Say, Mason. You've put a puzzler to me. You've made statements that don't seem to connect together. You talk as if Stacey Carr was an innocent man, and the judge was so convinced of his guilt that he gave him all there was in the bag. You ask me to hunt up people who've disappeared for the past five years. What'll it all lead to?"
"Just one thing." The Inspector leaned his hands on the desk, laughing slightly. "I'm trading on one hunch—that the Shadow Crook who held a surprise party at Police Headquarters last night and Samuel Keene, the friend and champion of Stacey Carr five years ago, are one and the same person."
The theory that Samuel Keene and the Shadow Crook were one and the same person rather fascinated Inspector Mason, even though the idea of connecting the raid on Police Headquarters with the trial of the jewel doctor, seemed absurd. There was an interval of five years to bridge, since the theft and the trail.
The one clue he had to work on was that the Shadow Crook had dared to penetrate Police Headquarters to hold in his hands for a few brief moments the filing envelope containing the records of Stacey Carr. He had taken nothing from the file; Sergeant Anderson was prepared to swear to that.
If Stacey Carr had not stolen the jewels then it was more than probable they still lay where the old jeweller had placed them. That theory would explain the Kynaston sapphires and the White Trinity dropping completely out of sight.
The Shadow Crook, or Samuel Keene, had watched the old jeweller, hoping to discover the old man's hidden safe. He had failed to discover it, up to the date of the jeweller's arrest. He had watched, secretly, the old man through his prison career. His death had upset the Shadow Crook's plans. In a desperate endeavor to locate some clue to the missing jewels, the master criminal had conducted the daring raid on Police Headquarters. But, what possible clue to the hiding place of the jewels could be hidden in the official record of the convict?
So far the theory was plausible, but to prove it, Mason had to show that the official records of Stacey Carr held some clue to the hiding place of the jewels. That appeared impossible.
Another flaw in his reasoning presented itself. He was presuming a connection between the Shadow Crook and the Victorian, Samuel Keene. He had nothing to support that connection. If Samuel Keene was the Shadow-Crook, then what had been his movements between his disappearance, as Samuel Keene, and his re-appearance as the Shadow Crook?
Mason came out of his reverie to find himself at the corner of Hunter and George-streets. He remembered that down George-street, towards Circular Quay, lay Carew Lane. Quickening his pace he strode on. A hundred yards past Hunter-street corner ho halted abruptly at the entrance to a narrow street, almost an alley-way.
From where he stood on the edge of the pavement he could glimpse the single window of the jeweller's shop that had once belonged to Stacey Carr—the "jewel doctor." For a moment he hesitated, then turned down the lane, walking slowly. Just before he came opposite the shop he looked up. Over the façade, in dirty, gold letters, was the name: "Stacey Carr, Jeweller."
Five years ago the old jeweller had been carried out of that shop to the ambulance to travel first to the hospital and later to prison. Yet the name still existed. More, the shop was still in the occupation of a jeweller. From the look of the place, the dingy fly-marked windows, the dilapidated, tarnished stock, the place might have stood, during the years, as Stacey Carr left it. Why? What influence had operated to slop the hands of time over that one place in Sydney?
The detective crossed the road and peered in at the dusty windows. The shop was small, with a counter running length-ways from the centre. Behind the counter had been built shelves, now full of jewellers' litter. There was a number of watches in various stages of decrepitude on the shelves and hanging on hooks in the shop and window. A few bangles of the commoner sort hung on a long bar from a corner of the window. The main portion of the space was occupied by a litter of tarnished silver and clock parts.
At the rear of the shop, Mason could see the open door of the work-room. At the far side of the work-room was a long bench and at it stood an old man working at some article held in a small vice. The detective looked down at his watch with quizzical affection. It was a good watch, but he had to sacrifice it to the inordinate curiosity this place was engendering in him. He pushed open the creaking door and entered.
"Something's gone wrong with my match—it won't keep time," he explained when the old man came leisurely from the bench to behind the counter.
The jeweller fumbled a glass into his eye and opened the back of the watch. For a few seconds he poked at the works with a finely-pointed tool.
"Dirty. Wants cleaning." The watch was placed gently on a pad of soiled velvet and the glass dropped carelessly from the old man's eye to his hand. "Cost you ten bob."
The price was spoken in a different tone, as if the man was prepared to bargain. Mason nodded, with a sigh in his heart for his faithful watch.
"All right. Mr. Stacey Carr, isn't it?"
"My name's Warton." The old man looked up, suspiciously. "Syd. Warton. I'm in charge of the shop. Stacey Carr's—"
"Yes?" The detective suggested as the man paused.
"Stacey Carr's dead." Warton chuckled, almost gleefully, as he spoke. "Yes, Stacey Carr died yesterday."
"Then I suppose the shop will be given up and you'll lose your job." Mason spoke easily. "Hard lines!"
"Why should I?" Warton lifted the watch again and screwed the glass into his eye. "I came here when he was took away affore."
"When he was taken ill. Long ago."
"Nigh five years." The old man made a long pause. "I can get this done for you to-morrow, about this time."
"Suit me. Hard lines to have to go after all that time; Mr. Warton."
"Who says I'm going?" The jeweller looked up quickly. "They ain't got rid of me in five years, so why should they now?"
"What's that to do with you?" The bleary eyes looked at the detective with sudden suspicion. "Who're you, and what are you askin' questions for? You came here to get your watch mended, didn't you?"
"Only sympathising with you, Mr. Warton. They, whoever 'they' are, will certainly not keep the shop on when there's no chance of Stacey Carr coming back to it."
"Perhaps they will an' perhaps they won't. Perhaps I'll buy out the place for m'self, though there ain't anythin' in it if they don't pay the wages. But, what's that got to do with you? You want your watch mended, an' I'm' busy."
The old man turned abruptly and walked into the workroom. Mason stood a moment longer in the shop, looking about him, then went to the door.
The shop was still in the possession of Stacey Carr, or his relatives. So far as Mason could judge the place was in the same condition as when Stacey Carr had left it. On the pavement in George-street the detective stretched himself with a jerk. What stupendous luck!
Who had sufficient interest in Stacey Carr to retain his shop and work-room after the old man had been carried to prison? The Inspector's thoughts went to the mysterious Samuel Keene of five years before. Had this man, after failing to discover where Stacey Carr had hidden the jewels, planned to keep the place in the condition in which the old man had left it in the hope that when he was released he would come to it in search of the jewels?
That theory had to be discarded. Samuel Keene would have come against insurmountable difficulties in such a task. The most reasonable surmise was that Stacey Carr had left relatives and that they were interested in the discovery of the missing jewels. The supposition would show they believed in the innocence of the old jeweller.
Warton, in his almost senile temper, had spoken of wages. That was evidence tending to prove that Stacey Carr's relatives still held the tenancy of the shop. Mason tried to remember if, in the mass of information he had acquired that day, he had come across any mention of such relatives. So far as he had progressed he had not discovered any relatives of the old jeweller.
It was now late in the afternoon and Mason walked briskly up to Police Headquarters! There wag no call for him there and he wandered down into Pitt-street, in search of dinner. He was not dissatisfied with his day's work. Luck had favoured him. He was not tired, and determined to devote his evening to probing further into the problem.
It was too late to go further on the trail of Stacey Carr, but he had another string to follow. He had sworn to get the Shadow Crook. The evening hours and night were the prowling times of the master criminal. If he could get on the trail of that elusive person he might find some clue leading back to Stacey Carr.
For some time after the meal he lingered in the vicinity of Police Headquarters, carefully watching for a man in a worn, brown overcoat and dark grey hat. He did not expect the man to repeat his raid on police headquarters, but curiosity might lead him to the neighbourhood to discover what additional safeguards the authorities had established. At length the Inspector turned up to wards Macquarie-street and through the Outer Domain, to Woolloomooloo.
In that maze of small grim streets, lying in the deep saucer-like depression between Darlinghurst, Oxford-street and the slopes of the Domain, lived the lower strata of Sydney's underworld. Here brazened the razor and gun gangs after nightfall, going about their fell business, almost openly. In the narrow streets and alleys furtively slunk those the police were anxious to interview, diving from door to door, their ears keenly alert to the shrill signals that betokened the presence of the police. In the broader streets the inhabitants moved more freely. Many of the doors were open and on the balconies and even on the pavements, sat the "lost" sisters of Sydney, crying their wares.
Passing along the front of Woolloomooloo wharves, Mason felt for his automatic, finally shifting it into one of the side-pockets of his jacket. Under his coat, and loosely fastened to his belt, hung a small black-jack, once the valued possession of a noted Newcastle crook. Armed and alert, the Inspector still felt he was taking a risk in venturing alone into this unsavoury quarter of the city, after night-fall.
Steadily and methodically he quartered the district, watching on all sides for some signs that might lead him to the Shadow Crook. Riley, Crown and Palmer-streets, with the multitudinous cross streets and alley-ways, drew blank. In some manner the news of his presence had spread and the numerous shelfs, dips and top-offs had slunk far into the shrouding darkness.
Arriving again on the broad street fronting the line of wharves, Mason strode quickly towards the rocks of Pott's Point. Dodging around, irregularly, he came to the ill-lit, ill-smelling alley, named Amersham-street. He had hardly turned the corner when he drew back into the shadows. Half-way down the street, leaning against a lamp-post, stood a man he knew.
It was not the Shadow Crook, and for the moment the Inspector could not name the man. His back was to him, and directly under the light, the shadows blended confusingly. Very cautiously he stole forward. A few yards from the man he altered his step, walking heavily.
"What are you doing here, Branston?" As he spoke he dropped a heavy hand on the newspaper-man's shoulder.
"Good Lor'!" The words came in a startled whisper. "You, Mason! Jove, you did give me a start! Sh-h-h! I'm on the track of the Shadow Crook."
"And giving newspaper work a rest, I suppose?"
"Off duty from the Mirror, to night." Mason grinned round at the burly officer.
"So you thought you would do a bit of detective work? What's this about being on the track of the Shadow Crook?"
"I've been hunting round here, since dark." The journalist seemed reluctant to explain. "Walking down Crown-street, towards the wharves, I saw him come out of a house. I followed until ho went in here."
The newspaper-man pointed to a low door on the opposite side of the street, almost at right angles to the lamp-post under which they were standing. Mason peered over. The interior of the house, a brick, two-storey affair, was in darkness. The windows were uncurtained and the place looked uninhabited.
"So you took up a position where he could have a good look at you when he came out, again?"
"What does that matter?" Branston indicated his clothing as he spoke. "He would take me for one of his own kidney, in this rig-out. Perhaps he might even offer me a job as assistant in a burglary."
The journalist chuckled at the suggestion that the Shadow Crook, well-known as a lone worker, would pick up a partner, casually, on the streets. Mason did not laugh; the newspaper-man was running his head into serious danger.
"Look here, Branston." he said. "This isn't all fun. Do you know you're in one of the worst quarters of Sydney, at the worst time of night? Why, any of these cattle, if they knew who you were, would tear you from limb to limb. I'm not joking."
"And what about Inspector Mason?" Branston looked at the detective with a broad grin. "I take it that we newspaper men run as many risks as you police officers. Why, this isn't the first time I've been down here, and later than this. Orders of the 'tin-gods' who sit round a table at head office and spoil good copy. There's such a thing in my work, Mason, as bringing home the goods."
"I've heard that." The Inspector was silent for some seconds. "But, what's your game? You can't remain here all night, under this lamp-post. For all you know that's the den of the Shadow Crook and he's retired for the night. Taking what you re porters call, time off."
"In that case I propose to watch until I'm certain he will not come out again. Then, me for home and bed. Now, clear off, Mason, there's a good fellow. If he comes out while we are together the game's finished."
"I'm not leaving you here." The detective spoke emphatically. He looked around him. A few paces up the street a narrow alley opened between two houses, barely more than a couple of feet wide. He nodded to wards it. "I'll he there. We'll wait a quarter of an hour and then move on. To-morrow—"
"Watch that door." Branston nodded agreement to the plan. "I believe he is alone in the house. There's not been a sign since he entered a quarter of an hour ago."
Mason nodded and stepped silently to his hiding place. The short street was deserted, although along the two streets bounding it, passed a steady stream of people. Two minutes passed slowly. Once a scraggy youth, hollow-chested and big-eyed, passed down the alley, to turn into the door of a house, close to where Mason was hidden.
A low whistle brought the detective alert. There was a shadow emerging from the shadows of the door across the street. It wavered as if undecided. Then, out of the darkness, into the comparative light of the street, stepped the figure of a lithe and graceful woman. For a brief moment she stood before the door, pulling on her gloves, then turned in the direction of Darlinghurst, walking rapidly. With a few quick steps Branston came to the Inspector's side.
"Did you see her? What does it mean? I'll swear the Shadow Crook went in there—and a girl comes out!"
The two men stood against the line of buildings, watching the girl walk swiftly away. In a few moments she turned the corner into Millington-street and was lost to sight.
"Perhaps the Shadow Crook is still in the house," suggested Mason slowly; turning to face the door the girl had come out of.
"But there was no one else in there." Branston spoke excitedly. "I have been on the watch ever since he entered and there has not been a soul about the place."
For a second the detective hesitated. He wanted to follow the girl, yet if the newspaper-man spoke correctly, it was more important to continue the watch on the house. The Shadow Crook was a menace who had to be caught as soon as possible.
"Will you follow the girl?" The journalist broke on the detective's meditations. "I'll wait here, or rather, I'll try and get into the house and find if he's still there."
"Too dangerous." Mason decided. "Come along. Here, take this." He pulled the blackjack from his belt and passed it to the newspaper-man. "Don't use it unless you are attacked and then hit for all you're worth."
He led the way across the road into the darkness of the doorway. There he hesitated a moment and pulled out his electric torch. The beam of light showed the outlines of a small room, sparsely furnished. On the left-hand side facing the door, were the stairs to the upper storey. Beside the stairway in the lower room, was a door, evidently opening into the kitchen.
There was no one in the room. A quick glance around and Mason ran quickly, and silently, up the stairs to the small landing. A door was immediately opposite the top of the stairs. From the landing a narrow passage ran round the stairs to the front rooms. The police officer was making for the door immediately opposite him when Branston caught his arm.
"Not there, Mason." The journalist whispered eagerly. "He'll be in the room where he can overlook the street."
Mason saw the force of the argument and turned immediately to the front rooms. One of the doors stood ajar. For a minute he listened for the breathing of a sleeper, then hearing nothing, pushed open the door and entered. There was no one there. He turned quickly to the other room, to find it also empty, In a few strides he came to the door of the room opening directly opposite the top of the stairs. Here, again, he found no one; the bed bad not been disturbed.
What did it mean? The house appeared deserted. Yet Branston had stated he had seen the Shadow Crook enter it. With a grunt of disgust, Mason slipped down the stairs to the ground-floor and made a thorough search. A few minutes and he was convinced the house was empty.
The Shadow Crook had entered the house and a woman had come out of it! With a call to the journalist, who had again ascended the stairs, Mason sped into the street, in hot pursuit of the woman. He must catch up to her. It was evident that with her lay the solution of the mystery.
Turning into Millington-street he had to reduce his run to a fast walk. The street was well-filled with people, and even at his slower pace lowering faces turned towards him, suspiciously. If he had continued to run the word would have quickly passed he was a "dick" on the trail of some crook and every obstacle would have been put in his path, even to mob violence.
He came to the foot of the steps leading up from Woolloomooloo to Victoria-road, Darlinghurst. A quick glance up them and he continued in the direction of King's Cross. As he turned the corner into William-street he saw a slight, girlish figure, dressed in complete black, step from the pavement and commence to cross the square.
Mason slackened his pace, to keep the girl in sight. He believed this was the girl he had seen coming out of the house in Amersham-street. He would see where she was going. She might lead him to the lair of the Shadow Crook.
The girl arrived at the opposite pavement and turned to the right, a few paces, to Walcott-road. A couple of hundred yards down the road she crossed and entered a short, blind lane at the end of which stood a big pile of flats. She entered the wide, main doors and went immediately to one of the lifts.
The detective watched the lift disappear upwards, then stepped back on to the pavement and looked up at the façade of the building. Over the door, in big gilt letters, were the words "Innesfail Mansions." A contemptuous smile came on the officer's lips as he read the title. Massive, well-lit and finely appointed, Innesfail Mansions bore an unenviable reputation among the members of the N.S. Wales Police Department. Nearly all the flats were let to the demi-mondaines of Sydney, yet so strict was the management that not once had occasion been given for the officially longed-for raid.
Who was this woman who had come out of the house in Amersham-street to Innesfail Mansions? Mason stood before the building puzzling his problem. When he had sped up Woolloomooloo in pursuit of the girl a vague idea had been in his mind that he was chasing a man disguised in woman's clothes. The few yards he had walked behind the girl had dispelled that theory. She was certainly all girl, and he had only the assumed belief of the newspaper-man that the Shadow Crook had entered the Amersham house. That theory was not sufficient for him to call up forces from the nearest police station and raid the place. All he could do was to watch. If she did not come out within a reasonable time he must assume she lived there; and that Branston had, in some way, been deceived.
On the fifth floor of the building the girl had left the lift and walked down a long corridor to the door of a flat, bearing the number "37." For a moment she stood, leaning against the door, watching back along the corridor with wide, frightened eyes. She knew she had been followed from Amersham-street and feared her pursuer. For some minutes she remained on watch, then turned and pressed her finger on the electric push-button.
The lights in the flat, seen through the glass panels of the door, were suddenly extinguished. The girl tapped sharply on the glass and the door swung open.
"What's the matter, Norma?" The question was asked in an old man's quavering voice. "What made you ring the bell like that? You frightened me."
"I—I thought I was followed." The girl pressed into the small hall and shut the door, firmly, holding her hand against it for some seconds.
"Followed? You don't think—"
"I mustn't think." The girl touched the light-switch on the wall. "If I stop to think I shall go mad."
Her eyes travelled, almost wildly, around the room until they rested on the form of the old man, leaning against the wall. Her eyes softened and she moved to his side, linking her arm in his.
"What is it, dad? Are you not happy here?"
"Happy!" The old man turned his weak grey eyes on the girl's dark beauty with a perplexed look. "Oh, I'm happy enough, Norma, except—It's all so strange—for the present."
"Hush! Don't talk like that!" A sharp note crept into the girl's voice. "You're not to think of—of that."
"Can I help it?" The old man suffered himself to be led into the dining-room, to the table spread with supper for two persons. "I want to think—to think where—"
"That will come." The girl walked to the table and filled two wine-glasses. "Drink this, dad. It is—is one way to forgetfulness and, Heaven knows, both of us can do with that."
"You're a good girl, Norma." The old man sank into one of the big leather lounge chairs. "It was you made it possible. I had thought and thought, but I could not get beyond—"
"It was you found Mayne—Frederick Mayne," the girl, interposed. "Without him—"
"It was you who taught me what to say to Mayne." The old man mumbled over his glass.
"What did I do?" There was self-scorn in the girl's voice. "All I did was to take his daughter, and give her some of the idleness and luxury I despise and loathe."
"He would not have done it for less."
"No!" The girl paused for a long time. "I am not repenting. Isla is a sweet child. I am quite fond of her."
"But, if anyone discovers? If they knew. If they guess, her father is a convict—"
"Was!" The girl broke into his sentence. "You forget, dad, Frederick Mayne, the convict, is dead."
"No, no!" The old man sprang to his feet. "Don't say that! Frederick Mayne was released from gaol just a week ago. It was Stacey Carr who died in the infirmary, at Bathurst."
"Does it matter?" The girl made a weary gesture. "Frederick Mayne received his price and died happy. He told me he knew I would keep my promise—that his daughter would be given a home of luxury and shielded from the world as the daughter of a convict. He died, caring little that the headstone in the prison grave yard would bear the name of Stacey Carr."
"Hush! Oh, hush!"
"Why hush? We are alone here. Our only neighbours in these buildings are the women who have yet come to walking the street for their living. Dad! Dad! You are free-free! That is all I care for. That and—"
"And your husband, Norma?"
"My husband A jealous unfaithful, middle-aged watchdog!" the girl laughed scornfully. "Don't talk of him, dad. Tell me, what are you going to do?"
"What of my jewellery shop, Norma?"
"It is as you left it. The old man, Sydney Warton is in charge.
"You must get rid of him, Norma."
The girl sat forward, clasping her hands on the whiteness of the table cloth. A little puckered frown came between her brows.
"That will be difficult." She paused, and then continued: "I made a mistake when I put Sydney Warton in the shop, dad. Already he considers the place his own. If I discharge him and put another man there, he—"
"He may go to the police." The girl finished her sentence in a low voice. "Dad, can't you remember anything about the jewels? Oh, think, think!"
"How can I think here?" Stacey Carr swept his hand around him, vaguely. "I want to be in the old place where—where things happened. Perhaps, then—"
"That man must go," Carr continued, with the obstinacy of old age.
"I will try, dad, but you must have patience. Perhaps there is a way."
"There must be one." The old man was gesticulating wildly. "Norma! Norma! How am I to find the Kynaston sapphires unless I get back to my old shop?"
"Hush, dad! Hush!"
"Why 'hush'?" Stacey Carr strode up and down the room, excitedly. "Don't you know there was a time when I had forgotten them—when I groped about in dread darkness with but one spot of light to guide me. Oh, yes. I know what happened. I remember lying in the hospital, my head bandaged in a big ball of white linen. I remember you coming to me, asking where I had hidden the sapphires and—"
"And, the White Trinity."
"Yes. And the White Trinity. And I laughed, for I did not know what you meant. Then they took the bandages from my head and rough men led me away—and they were always asking where the sapphires and the White Trinity were, and—and I laughed at them—for—for I thought—I thought—"
"Dad, be quiet! You are exciting yourself."
"They took me away—to prison. Day after day they came to me and asked me to tell them what I had done with the sapphires and the pearls, until I almost came to believe I had the jewels. Day after day, night after night, I brooded over those jewels others knew of, but I had forgotten. Again I was ill and they took me to the infirmary. They said it was the blow on my head but I knew different. It was because I had thought and thought, until—"
"Dad! What is the good of going over all that again?"
"Good?" The old man crossed the room and stood beside the girl. "Good, child? Ye-s, good, because now I can remember."
"You remember where you put the jewels? You can go and find them?"
"No." Carr shook his head slowly. "Not yet has that knowledge come to me. But Norma, I know of the jewels. When I shut my eyes I can see them plainly. They are real, real; just as if I had them in my hands."
"The pearls were sick, dad."
"Yes." The old man groped forward with his hands, as if blind. "Yes, I can sea them, the three pearls strung together with the wisp of iridescent pearl-substance. I took them from the box in which he had carried them across the continent. They hung from my fingers—and he asked me what was the matter with them. I told him. I told him they would never be well, for long. They were the product of chance—a freak of nature and, like all freaks, born to suffering. He, the Jew, asked me to cure them so that he might sell them to someone who knew not their frailty."
"What become of them, dad?" The girl was sitting forward, whispering the words in the intensity of her emotions.
"What became of them?" Carr passed his hand before his eyes, perplexedly. "I—I cannot remember. If I but could—"
"Peace, child." Carr drew himself up to his full height. "Was it not to discover the hiding place of the jewels I plotted and planned to get away from the gaol? Was it not for the jewels entrusted to me that I bribed Frederick Mayne with a life of luxury, at your hands, for his child? I offered him all I had to offer and you—you my child, made good my words. It was not the work of a day or a week, but we accomplished even that. He was dying, just as the end of his servitude approached. For the sake of our plan he kept his mortal illness from the prison doctors. At last the day came when we had to act. We exchanged cells and with the cells our identities. He went to the infirmary the next day and I answered to his name. A few days and they put me from the gates. Frederick Mayne had served the sentence of imprisonment on him. Stacey Carr lay in the prison infirmary, awaiting the last dread call."
"But the jewels, dad; the jewels?"
In the agony of her expectation the woman wrung her hands.
"The jewels!" Stacey Carr turned to face his daughter, a quiet smile on his lips. "Have patience, Norma, have patience. But a few more days and I will find them. Clear that man from the shop so that I may be once more amid the old, beloved things and I shall remember; yes, I shall remember."
For a minute there was silence, broken by the discordant "brr" of the electric bell. Norma was on her feet in a moment, her body tensed, the nails of her hands biting deep into her palms.
"Who's there? Father, you must go to your room. You must not be seen."
Until the old man had disappeared through the door Norma stood in the centre of the room facing towards the small hall. Who had rung the bell? Who could have come to the flat? There was no one who knew that she had rented this hiding-place amid the loose women of the city.
Yet, someone had rung the bell! Who had guessed her secret? What new danger threatened? Blindly, she remembered the feeling of someone following which she had felt when she entered the doors of the building. She had waited and watched, but had discovered nothing. Now, the old feeling of dread returned, reducing the fine courage that had upheld her during the past weeks to a trembling fear.
A glance around the room and she picked up the wine-glass her father had used and threw it into the waste-paper basket. Then, almost unable to control her trembling limbs, she went into the hall.
"My dear Norma, a dealer sells to the best advantage he can obtain."
"A dealer? A. blackmailer!" Every muscle of the girl's body was shaken with emotion. "You promised your silence if I would compensate you for the loss of your pearls—at your extravagant valuation. I promised I would and I have kept my part of the bargain. In a month or so I will pay you the balance of the sum still owing. Then I hope never to see your evil face again."
"A hope, I flatter myself, your loving husband will not share." The fixed smile on the lips of Abel Mintos broadened. "I had hoped the famous and beautiful Norma Etheringham and I could have become good—er—friends."
"Friends? With you?" There was loathing in the girl's tones. "Tell me, Abel Mintos, what have you come here for?"
"Shall I say, curiosity?" Mintos rose from his chair and passed to where the girl sat. "No. Here it is possible to tell the truth. Norma, why did you take this flat? Who is the 'friend' you are waiting for here—at this time of the night?"
"What do you mean?" There was a horrified understanding in the girl's eyes.
"What I say. Do you take me an innocent in this world? Bah! I find you in this building—in this flat—and you tell me you are waiting for a friend. Do you think I don't understand that every word you say!—everything around me—does not shriek the truth? You are here to meet a lover! Can you deny it?"
"Lie, do I?" The man laughed sardonically. "Lie, when every fibre of my body has ached for you from the moment I first saw you. Yes, Norma, I traced you down after your father went behind prison bars. I wanted my pearls, or their price. I guessed there was money about and that his schoolgirl daughter would have the control of it. I found you, the wife of a rich man. I—"
"I wanted my own—or you—and that road led to one, or both." Mintos bent over the girl, cowering in the deep chair. "When I found you I knew it was you I wanted. I have watched and waited—waited while that fool, Etheringham, talked and groused. Watched—until I traced you here, and knew I had won. Norma, you have come here to meet some lover, but you will send him away. Yes, I have come here, and you shall send him away, and we—"
"Never!" Norma sprang to her feet, fending away the man's clutching hands. "You don't know—you don't understand. I—"
"What would Stanley think if he came here? Look around you, Norma. This house, with its reputation, not only in this neighbourhood, but throughout Sydney. This room, with the table set for a supper for lovers. Would he believe you—jealous beast, as you know him to he? You know you dare not challenge me."
"You beast! You coward!" Norma, her hands clasped over her slender breasts, faced the man defiantly.
"Oh, if I only could—"
"But you cannot!" The man's squat hand shot out and closed over her arm. "Damn the pearls! They're yours. I'll find them and you shall wear them on your beautiful white neck. Damn the sapphires! You—"
"The sapphires are not yours to dispose of! Thank Heaven, for that. If they were, I suppose you would be blackmailing me for them, as well as the pearls."
"Are they not?" The Jew's lips were but few inches from the girl's face. "Are they not? But a few weeks ago my agents in Melbourne offered Mrs. Kynaston a sum of money for the reversion of the sapphires, if ever found. She jumped at the chance to get something for her jewels. To-day the sapphires belong to me."
With a sudden wrench Norma freed herself and darted to the other side of the table. Mintos made a futile grab at her, then straightened himself and laughed.
"The pearls and the sapphires! Norma, do you know those sapphires are valued at five thousand pounds? Am I to add that to what you owe me for the White Trinity? Be reasonable, girl! I'll wipe out that debt. I'll find the jewels and give them to you. See, I'll give you a cheque now for what you have paid me for the pearls. Take it, Norma, and give me in exchange—the key of the flat."
"You —— thing!" White with rage the girl moved around the table until she stood facing the leering man. "But you shall know, and then—" With a quick movement she thrust the man to one side and flung open the door.
"Dad! Come here! Abel Mintos, of Broome, is here and would like to see you."
She retreated a few steps and stood waiting. Mintos had turned and was pulling at his little moustache with frowning impatience. There was a long wait and then from the room walked the old man, looking from Norma to the Jew in puzzled astonishment.
"Good God!" Mintos retreated almost to the wall. "Stacey Carr, and alive!"
"Dad!" The girl spoke hysterically. "Look at him, this man! Years ago he sought me out and threatened unless I compensated him for his loss of the White Trinity he would expose me to my husband, as your daughter. Now, he comes here, spying on me and offering to relinquish his so-called claims—the claims I have almost liquidated, and more—to give me the Kynaston sapphires, if—if—Oh, I can't say it. It's too horrible!"
"Stacey Carr!" The Jew was looking at the man before him, triumph growing in his small glittering eyes. "By Jove, the game's in my hands! Stacey Carr, the crook, who died in gaol—free and in the company of his daughter!"
For minutes there followed a deathly silence, broken by peals of hysterical laughter from the girl. Slowly the eyes of the Jew turned to her, a shade of perplexity dimming the glow of triumph. Again, he turned to stare at the ex-convict.
"Stacey Carr, by all that's wonderful." Mintos' voice rose high in a paean of triumph. "Now I have you, Norma Etheringham. Now you lie in the hollow of my hand. Stacey Carr, the—"
"Excuse me. Not Stacey Carr, but Frederick Mayne, late chief accountant of the Western States Assurance Company, convicted three years ago of fraud and embezzlement."
Norma turned, in wide-eyed wonderment. Just within the door of the room stood a man dressed in a worn, brown overcoat, a dark grey hat pulled low over his eyes. The collar of the overcoat was fastened well across the lower part of his face so that little but the eyes were visible.
"Who are you?" The Jew took a step towards the man, to halt suddenly at the imperative motion of the newcomer's hand, holding a small automatic.
"Does that concern you?" The Shadow Crook's voice was low and easy. "A moment ago you were concerned with our friend on the other side of the room. You named him Stacey Carr, but Stacey Carr died in prison, yesterday."
"It's a lie!" Mintos stepped forward again, in spite of the threatening gun. "I'll swear he is Stacey Carr and so will the police when I fetch them."
"Will you fetch them?" A hint of laughter ran through the master-crook's voice. "Prove it. The police will tell you he is Frederick Mayne. They will prove him so. Then they will turn their attention to you, Abel Mintos. They will want to know your interest in this matter. They will want to know the secret history of the White Trinity. They will ask you where they can find Sani Kai, the pearl diver, who brought the White Trinity from the bottom of the ocean. They may want to know why Abel Mintos recently purchased the Kynaston sapphires from their former own er while they are still missing, after nearly five years."
As the crook spoke his fingers stole towards the light switch near where he was standing. With the last words he plunged the room into sudden darkness. Mintos—with a howl of rage sprang forward and threw on the lights. The room was empty and the door shut. He flung it open and sped into the hall. The door to the corridor stood ajar.
Norma Etheringham walked nearly down the wide stairs of her home, Avonlea. Outside the library door she paused and listened. From within the room she could hear the deep, booming voice of her husband and, at intervals, the staccato, metallic tones of Abel Mintos. For the moment she hesitated. Should she go in to them, to learn what they were talking about? A shuddering repugnance swept over her. She turned abruptly and went out on the wide verandahs overlooking Rose Bay.
Some hours before, her maid had come with the message that Mintos had called to see her. She had replied she was engaged and would he for some time, hoping that the man would depart. Instead he had gone into the library—to her husband.
Why had Mintos called at her house after the scene in the flat at Innesfail Mansions the previous night? What did he now want? She was not afraid he would speak to her husband of the flat sheltering Stacey Carr. The unexpected appearance of the Shadow Crook and his lightly veiled accusations had cowed the man. True, he had blustered and blundered, but she had seen that behind the Crook's words lay some secret Mintos dared not let be revealed.
For the time, her father was safe from the man. Mintos might threaten her; he might renew his insulting advances, but he dared not proceed to put his threats into execution. For some reason she could not fathom how the Shadow Crook stood between Abel Mintos and her father.
If only she could guess Mintos' secret. For wild moments she considered finding the Shadow Crook and, by bribes or threats, inducing him to disclose the hold he evidently had over Mintos. But what could she do? Throughout the State the police were feverishly seeking the Shadow Crook. Could she track this man to his hiding place when the trained seekers of the police department were at fault?
Yet, within the past twenty-four hours, she had been in touch with this mysterious man. Yesterday morning among her correspondence, had been a letter, unsigned, she guessed came from him. He had bidden her go to the house in Amersham-street, Woolloomooloo, and take from a table in the first upper room a letter addressed to her.
Fearfully, she had followed the instructions in the unsigned letter. The sordid streets had frightened her. She had shrunk from the stealthy, almost inhuman creatures of the night she had found surrounding her. Flitting from shadow to shadow she had reached the house and found the letter. Clasping in to her bosom she had fled to her father's flat—under the espionage of Abel Mintos.
In the privacy of her rooms, during the early hours of that morning, she had read the letter. In bold language the Shadow Crook had claimed the missing jewels. He had written that Abel Mintos had obtained the White Trinity by fraud, if not a worse crime. He had written of Mintos' acquisition of Mrs. Kynaston's rights in the sapphires. He had mentioned the escape of her father from the prison and promised his protection. In return he asked that when Stacey Carr had discovered the hiding-place of the missing jewels she would see they were handed to him.
For hours she had pondered over the words of that letter. But for the fact that her father's honour rested on the discovery of the missing jewels and handing of them over to the authorities, she could have found it in her heart to comply with the demands. Mintos and the Shadow Crook were both criminals. If she could fight out the ownership—until one, or both of them, fell into the hands of the law.
But, not that way could she clear her father's name. Stacey Carr had broken prison in the hope that free, and again in association with the scene of the disappearance of the jewels, he might be able to remember where ho had placed them. If he could recover the jewels he planned to surrender them and himself to the police, confident that he would honourably be released.
Before Stacey Carr could go to the shop in Carew-lane she had to dismiss her present manager, Sydney Warton. Before Stacey Carr had secured his escape that step had not seemed difficult. But now Norma recognised the obstacles. The man was old and obstinate. He had been in the shop for many years and had come to believe it his own. He might cause a disturbance when he found another man in his place. He might go to the police and they might get suspicious. They would know that Frederick Mayne had no knowledge of the jewellery trade. They would make inquiries and discover that the man released from prison was Stacey Carr and not Frederick Mayne.
What did Sydney Warton know? What had he discovered during the five years he had been in the shop? Norma believed that her father had hidden the jewels in the shop. Had Warton found them? Would that explain the man's insistence that he remained in charge of the place; would it explain his recent offer through her solicitors, that he be allowed to purchase the shop and trade.
The purchase of the shop and business would not give Warton any claim to the missing jewels, if they still lay there! But, it was impossible to follow the workings of the man's mind. Norma recognised that she had made a mistake in allowing the man so long an association with the place. She could have dismissed him years ago; perhaps over the years of her father's imprisonment she could have had a succession of managers. Yes, there would have been her safety.
Now, Stacey Carr insisted that she dismiss the man, at once, to give him free access to the shop. With a shrug of her shoulders, Norma picked up a pen and writing pad lying on the small table by her side. She scrawled the necessary instructions to her solicitors and signed them. Time and fate must decide if she had acted rightly. Already in her complicated skein of life she had taken risks, and would certainly have to take them again.
From the direction of the tennis courts a small knot of young people, strolled in the direction of the house, talking, merrily. Norma recognised Isla and, walking beside her, a tall, lithe man, slightly greying at the temples. She watched him curiously. Cranford Hughes had been a constant visitor at the house, of late. Was he attracted to Isla? A tightening of her heartstrings warned the girl she was taking more than ordinary interest in the young barrister.
When the group arrived at the foot of the steps to the verandah Norma rose and went to meet them. For some moments she stood, listening to their gay badinage, then turned and walked through the cool, wide hall to the library door. Abel Mintos and her husband were still there. She could hear Mintos talking in low, insistent tones. For some seconds she waited, then turned the handle and entered.
"Mrs. Etheringham!" The stout Jew advanced with outstretched hands. "I have been telling your husband—"
"The latest adventure of the Shadow Crook?" Norma spoke with splendid insolence, noting the quick flush that rose to the olive cheeks.
"Of the wonderful set of sapphires I hope to have the pleasure of showing you and him within the next few days." Mintos countered easily. "I believe they would well adorn the beautiful white neck of Mrs. Etheringham."
"That is a matter for my husband to decide, Mr. Mintos." The girl felt naked and ashamed under the glowering eyes of the man. "I am not very fond of sapphires. Pearls, especially in some unique form.
"Like the White Trinity." Mintos bowed as he spoke quietly. "It is my misfortune that those jewels disappeared before I had the honour of meeting Mrs. Etheringham. If I possessed them now—Ah, I do not think my friend, Stanley, could resist them. They were white—as white as milk and against the beautiful skin of—"
"I have always understood the pearls in the White Trinity were diseased, Mr. Mintos." Norma drew back from the man's bold gaze, as if he had touched her. "I have always heard they were very—very—unhealthy—to the finder. You did not have good luck with them, I believe, Mr. Mintos. And after that very long journey from Broome—right across the continent—in the hope of finding some expert who could cure them."
"The pearls unhealthy?" Stanley Etheringham, a stout, tall man with the winds of the open spaces of the inlands on his large florid face, spoke questioningly. "You speak like an expert, my dear Norma."
"You forget, Stanley." Her contempt for Mintos made her daring. "I am the daughter of a jeweller—an expert in pearls. I grew up with the jargon of the trade around me."
"Your father a jeweller?" Etheringham was curious. Never before had his wife spoken so openly of her family. "Do you know Norma, this is the first time I have heard you mention your father. I thought—"
"My father died before I came to your mother at Koparinga Station, Stanley." The girl was watching Mintos with keen eyes. "I—I could not speak then, for—And afterwards you did not ask. He was dead—dead, and I tried to forget."
"Poor old girl." Etheringham passed his arm over his wife's shoulders. "It's best to forget where it's impossible to recall. Don't you think so, Mintos?"
"Yet always the dead, past rises before us." There was a vindictive tone in the Jew's voice—"I have some occasions—"
"When tea waits while men discuss abstract theories." Norma slipped from under her husband's arm and walked towards the door. "The tennis players are on the verandah, thirsty and tired, I believe."
She led the way to the verandah, furious with herself that she had stooped to bandy words with Mintos. He was impossible! His words were insults; his eyes conveyed messages that made her burn with shuddering revolt. In some way she must break the connection between her husband and this man—but that would be difficult. The Jew, acquiescent and deferential where he had anything to gain, had made himself almost a necessity to the bluff, self-centred countryman.
As she passed to the verandah her eyes involuntarily sought Cranford Hughes. He was standing beside the chair she had recently occupied, his hand resting on the table beside the writing pad. Isla was in the chair, looking up at the man with happy eyes, With a start of surprise Norma noticed that the writing pad in which still remained her letter to her solicitors had blown open. For the moment she hesitated, then walked towards the table. A sudden gust of wind rustled the leaves of the pad, finally leaving her letter exposed. Cranford glanced down at the rustling sound. Immediately he closed the book and handed it to her.
Had he seen? Norma glanced sharply at the man, but could read nothing in his calm, inscrutable face. Yet there was a question in his eyes as they met hers; the keen glance of stirring memory. With a murmured word of thanks she took the book and placed it on her knees, as she sank in to the chair he drew forward for her.
The appearance of a maid wheeling the table with the tea-equipage broke the slight tension. Busy over the cups, Norma watched for the chance word of gesture that would show that still another person had guessed her secret.
Cranford had defended her father at his trial for the theft of the jewels. Norma well remembered him when he again came into her life as a guest at Avonlea and Koparinga Station, although she had only come in contact with him twice during the preparation for the defence of her father. Had she remembered the shabby, distressed girl, little more than an immature school-girl, of those days?
Etheringham, loud-voiced and dominating, turned the conversation to yachting. He was an enthusiastic sailor and had recently purchased a new yacht of large tonnage. It lay in Rose Bay but a few yards from where the grounds of Avonlea ran down to the waters.
Abel Mintos professed a desire to see the new boat at close quarters. Eventually most of the party decided to walk down to the water's edge, if not to accept the squatter's invitation to go on board the vessel. Norma made an excuse to remain on the verandah. She wanted to be alone, to think, for the problems confronting her were becoming complex.
Leaning, back, lazily, in her chair she watched the party stroll across the lawns. About a hundred yards from the house Cranford stopped and made some excuse. While the rest of the party went on, he turned back towards the verandah. Norma watched him with a sinking heart. He had read the letter in the writing pad. He was coming back to question her. What did he know? What had he guessed? Only a determined effort of will prevented her rising and seeking safety in her rooms.
"Too hot to wander down to the shores of the bay to view an anchored boat," he laughed. "May I stop with you, Mrs. Etheringham?"
"Mr. Etheringham may decide on a sail." Norma strove to speak lightly. "He is very enthusiastic over his new purchase."
"I understand a sail is improbable." Cranford seated himself on the edge of the verandah, allowing Norma but a half-view of his face. "I am told he has not yet engaged a crew."
"Was that your only reason for returning. Mr. Hughes?" Norma made up her mind for a frontal attack. It was impossible to remain in a state of uncertainty.
"There is another reason." The barrister spoke slowly and thoughtfully. "You are very direct, Mrs. Etheringham."
"Is that not best?" The girl moved uneasily. "They will not be gone long if they are only going to the water's edge."
Cranford did not answer. For a space there was silence! Norma watching curiously the averted face of the man seated on the floor of the verandah. He was looking down the sloping garden's. Almost, the girl spoke again, then checked herself. He had acknowledged that he had turned back to speak to her. It remained for him to open the conversation. Until she knew what was in his mind her best defence was silence.
"Mrs. Etheringham," The barrister spoke as if picking his words carefully. "I was so unfortunate as to see a letter not intended for my eyes. My excuse is that it was so short—but a few lines and a signature—that I read it before I realised what I was doing. I am sorry, very sorry. I ask you to believe me when I promise that not one word of what I read shall ever pass my lips. But—and now I must acknowledge to some little curiosity. Those lines, not intended for my eyes took me hack over the past five years, to—to an episode that, peculiarly, was resurrected only the other day."
"Yes?" Norma wetted her lips with her tongue. Her throat and mouth suddenly became parched and burning.
"May I tell you, Mrs. Etheringham? Yes." He paused, then continued speaking more quickly. "Five years ago I defended a man accused of stealing some valuable jewellery. May I add that I was young then; young in years and young in law."
"Did you believe him guilty?"
"Then? I must admit I cannot remember." A slight smile came on the finely cut lips. "Certain events of late have brought the case back to my mind very forcibly. Reviewing the facts now, I admit I have very grave doubts. I have come to believe there was a miscarriage of justice. Unfortunately it is too late to seek a remedy. The man is dead."
Norma stifled a gasp of surprise. She clenched her hands until the nails bit deep into her flesh. She wanted to call out and tell this man that Stacey Carr was not dead. That, by a surprising turn of Fate's will, he had escaped from prison and was even then in Sydney, seeking for the missing jewels to prove his innocence.
"Stacey Carr had a daughter." Cranford continued without glancing towards the girl. "I think I met her twice, but I did not notice her greatly. She was little more than a school-girl, immature and badly dressed. I did not think I would ever recognise her again—unless circumstances recalled her by some play of evidence. Of course, during these years she must have grown—matured out of all recognition. But, there was one thing about her I should always remember."
"Miss Carr wrote a very distinctive handwriting." The barrister paused and turned to face the girl. "Mrs. Etheringham I saw that writing in the pad, on your knees, but a few minutes ago. I am not going to question you, for the certainty is in my mind. The Mrs. Etheringham of to-day is the Miss Norma Carr of five years ago."
The girl could not answer. Mutely she bowed her head. What would he say? What could she do?
"Stacey Carr is dead." Cranford continued in the same level, impersonal tones. "If he were alive I would have been tempted to seek him in his prison cell and offer my help to repair the omissions of my youthful inexperience. But he is dead and beyond human aid or judgment. I have discovered his daughter lives. I find she is beyond aid, yet if she needed it, most willingly would I place it at her service. Perhaps, later—"
"Yes?" the girl hardly breathed the word.
"Yesterday, a high officer of the police department came to me for information regarding the Stacey Carr trial. I gave him what little information I could recall at the moment, reinforced by a quick scanning of my brief. He came to see me again this morning; this time to confirm information I had given him."
"Yes." Norma felt she could not articulate more than that insensate word.
"I had told him; that Stacey Carr's old shop was in nearly the same condition when he was taken to the hospital. Inspector Mason told me he had been to the shop and, so far as he could judge, no alterations had been made in the place during the past five-years. He said he had interviewed the man there, who claimed to be the manager of the shop, working on wages and the profits of the place. This afternoon. Mrs. Etheringham, I read in your writing pad a letter discharging that man from his employment. Norma Carr—Norma Etheringham, to what work have you put your hands?"
With a queer, jerky motion, as of relief of an unpalatable task accomplished, Cranford rose to his feet and sauntered down the path towards the water, to meet the returning party. He had not glanced at the girl when concluding his speech; he had not indicated, by a sign, that he wished or expected an answer from her.
Norma sat silent, glowering with relief. She watched the barrister walk down to the returning party and turn with them towards the house. Then, feeling she must have some moments to herself before rejoining her guests, she went into the house and up the stairs to her rooms.
What should she do? Cranford had spoken plainly. He held her secret and had promised not to betray her. More, he had promised his help, not asking any reward for his labours but blaming himself, chivalrously, for some unstated mistake in his conduct, of Stacey Carr's defence. He had told her that Stacey Carr was dead. He had said that if her father still lived he would have gone to him and offered his help to rectify the mistake of justice, five years, before. What could she do? Could she go to him and tell him Stacey Carr had escaped? That to-day he was living in Innesfail Mansions under the name of Frederick Mayne? Dimly some resemblance came to the girl's mind that barristers were sworn officers of the law. Would that mean, in the event of her revealing to Cranford that her father was alive and free, that he must deliver him up to the justice that had mistakenly condemned him to a living grave?
She could not go to Cranford with a mutilated tale. She would have to tell him of the scene in the Innesfail flat, the previous night. She would have to reveal to him the awful suggestions of the debased Jew; that he had again raised his price for silence, demanding not only the money he claimed, but her very person.
She would have to tell of the strange letter she had received from the Shadow Crook; of her journey to the slums of Woolloomooloo and the demand contained in the letter she had taken from the table in the house in Amersham-street. She would have to confess that, in despair at her father's loss of memory, she was almost prepared to comply with the master criminal's demands and accept his help in the discovery of the missing jewels, to hand them over to him when discovered in return for evidence that would clear her father's name.
Three people held her secret—Cranford Hughes, Abel Mintos and the Shadow Crook. Two of them were demanding a price for their silence and help in recovering the lost jewels. Two of them she could not trust. Against them and their self-aggrandisement she' must fight alone—unless she could go to Cranford and make a full confession.
"Why not tell him, Mrs. Etheringham?" A quiet voice came from the shadows near the window.
With an exclamation of surprise Norma sprang to her feet, peering at the shadowy form half-concealed by the curtains. It was strangely familiar. She took a step towards it then halted, suddenly.
"Rather an unconventional call," The Shadow Crook laughed lightly. He crossed the room and pressed the light-switch.
"The Shadow Crook!" The words came involuntarily from Norma's lips. "How did you get here? What are you doing in my room?"
"Three questions!" The man lounged easily against the door-post. "Shall I take them in order? First, the Shadow Crook, at your service, Mrs. Etheringham, nee Miss Norma Carr. I need not add, your friend, for I believe I walked up the stairs. I believe I have proved my friendship within the past few hours. Secondly I believe I walked up the stairs of your house a few minutes after you parted with Mr. Cranford Hughes after, an interesting conversation on the verandah. Quite a pity he saw the note you wrote to your solicitors, regarding old Warton. But, I believe he will keep counsel."
"I heard." The Shadow Crook walked over to the desk and placed the writing pad on it. "Rather risky to leave that lying on the table on the verandah again, Mrs. Etheringham. Others, for instance our friend, Abel Mintos, might not be so considerate as Mr. Hughes. Again, I ask, why not tell him all?"
"I don't know." Norma spoke, weakly, then gathered her strength to face, the man. "What do you want?"
"May I observe that your writing pad does not contain an answer to the letter I was forced to ask you to collect from the Amersham-street house. But, possibly, you have not yet come to a decision?"
"You ask my assistance to recover the lost jewels and then to hand them over to you?"
"That, and another little matter, I quite forgot to include in the letter. I want a key to the flat in Innesfail Mansions."
"A key to the flat where my father lives?"
"Just that." The Shadow Crook's voice became sympathetic. "Mrs. Etheringham, while you are absent, who looks after your father?"
"He is alone."
"Alone, yes." The man spoke impressively. "Do you consider he should be alone? He is an old man, Mrs. Etheringham; and pardon me for saying it, not quite responsible. He should be watched and helped. What does he do when you are absent from the flat? Where does he go when he wanders out on the streets?"
"I thought—I thought he stayed in the flat." Norma sank back in her chair, greatly distressed. "You say he wanders out on the streets. Where does he go? No—not to Carew-lane?"
"Your father was in George-street this morning." The Shadow Crook switched out the lights and crossed to the windows. "It was fortunate I placed a watch on your flat. He was followed and diverted from his evident intention of going to the Carew-lane shop."
Norma covered her eyes with her hands. On every side she was facing trouble.
"What am I to do?"
"First, the key." The man held out his hand. "I will he responsible after this that he does not leave the flat to go to Carew-lane."
"I have only the one. The other key is in my father's possession."
"Give me yours." When the girl hesitated the Shadow Crook added, "I will provide you with a key to-morrow."
Unwillingly, Norma went, to her desk. From behind one of the small drawers she took a key and handed it to the master criminal.
"Please don't leave the desk." The Shadow Crook spoke quickly. "You have envelopes. Address one to your solicitors. Enclose in it your instructions for the dismissal of Sydney Warton. Thanks, I will see that it is posted."
The Shadow Crook came to where Norma was sitting and took the letter. He placed it in his pocket and returned to his former post by the window.
"There still remains my request in the letter you obtained in the Amersham-street house, Mrs. Etheringham," The man spoke half-laughingly. "I require the White Trinity and the Kynaston sapphires."
"I cannot give them to you." Norma half-whispered the words.
"You do not know where they are hidden?"
"And if you had that knowledge you would still refuse to hand them over to me?"
"The jewels are mine."
"They belong to—"
"Can you name the owner?" The Shadow Crook spoke quietly. "Mrs. Kynaston parted with her interest in the sapphires she believes to be completely lost for the sum of one thousand pounds—"
"Is that true? Did Mr. Mintos—"
"I give you my word—the word of the Shadow Crook—for the truth of my statement." The man's voice held sincerity. "Abel Mintos did not deny my words last night. Mrs. Kynaston has now no interest in the famous sapphires. The money Mintos paid to her was obtained by fraud—fraud as deep and nasty as the trick by which he obtained the White Trinity. The jewels have no legitimate owner. They belong to him who can discover and obtain them."
"My father! I must think of my father! Without the jewels he cannot prove his innocence."
"To prove his innocence you will hand over the jewels?"
"I do not know where he hid them." Norma looked at the man, beseechingly. "You must believe that! Neither he nor I know where they are. He—"
"Stacey Carr might find them." The Shadow Crook spoke meditatively. "Yes, I believe he can find them if he has the run of his old shop. I will see to that and keep Sydney Warton silent. Your father shall go back to his old shop and—"
For some minutes there was silence in the room. The long shadows grew darker, almost blotting out the figure of the man standing half-concealed amid the curtains of the window. Norma leaned forward, eagerly.
"The jewels—and Stacey Carr's innocence!" The man spoke again slowly. "Yes, it can he done. Mrs. Etheringham, I claim the jewels and your help to find them. They shall be found and my promise fulfilled. I claimed the jewels. You know there are only two claimants, now—Abel Mintos and myself—both of us crooks, rogues and thieves. Let the better crook win!"
Suddenly he held up his hand in silent warning. A heavy step sounded in the corridor. With a shudder of horror Norma realised that her husband was coming to her room. If he entered and found the Shadow Crook there! Almost as the thought crossed her mind Stanley Etheringham's knock came at the door.
"Answer. Bid him enter." The words came out of the deep shadows. Norma could no longer see the form of the master criminal.
"In the dark Norma?" Etheringham paused just within the door and threw on the lights.
"I have a headache." The girl's eyes feverishly sought for the Shadow Crook. He had disappeared. Yet he had not stepped out of the window. Where was he?
"Sorry!" Etheringham turned and snapped off the lights. "I came to tell you that Mintos and Hughes will stay for dinner."
"Mr. Mintos!" There was rebellion in Norma's voice. "Stanley, why do you have to do with that man? He is false, utterly unreliable."
"He is a clever business man, Norma."
"A clever business man." The girl laughed bitterly. "A clever crook! Stanley, you can see it in his face, in his walk, his manner. He is utterly untrue. If you persist in associating with him he will cause you trouble."
"Trouble? Norma, do you think I can't, manage my own affairs?" The squatter spoke indignantly. "I have—"
"You are an honest man, Stanley." Norma rose to her feet and paced the room, agitatedly. "You know your business and work at it honestly and intelligently. What business has this man? Can you deny he lives on his wits—and they are crooked?"
"Of course, Mintos is a speculator." Etheringham spoke reluctantly. "But you have no reason, to say he is dishonest. Why, since I have known him I have done remarkably well. He put me on to—"
"He seeks your confidence in him." Norma's eyes were eagerly searching the room for some sign of the Shadow Crook. Where had the man gone to? She was certain he was still there, for her husband was standing just within the half-opened door, preventing escape that way. "Presently he will use you and then—Oh, Stanley, Stanley!"
She sank back, in her chair and covered her face with her hands. Etheringham strode across the room and seated himself on the arm of her chair. Awkwardly, he passed his arm across her shaking shoulders and drew her to him.
"Come, come, old girl!" He drew her hands from her face. "What's the trouble?"
"I hate that man." Norma was sobbing passionately. "I loathe the sight of him; every time I touch his hand I shudder and feel sick. Stanley, don't have him to the house. To please me, dear! Oh, I know I haven't been a good wife to you. I have been selfish and cold. I've not thought enough of what you have done for me. But I'll try and be better. Send him away and—and—"
"I can't." The squatter spoke with some difficulty. "Not at the present time, dear. It's a matter of business—"
"You mean you're speculating—and with that man?"
"Well—we've a few deals in hand, together." Etheringham laughed, somewhat loudly. "So far we've made money—quite a bit of it. There's more to come and then—What's that?"
The lights suddenly came to life. With a scream of dismay Norma gazed at the sinister figure in the doorway. Automatic in hand the Shadow Crook, dressed in the worn brown overcoat and low-pulled dark grey hat, stood leaning against the door-post.
"Sorry! Didn't think there was anyone up here." The master criminal spoke with a little lilt of laughter in his voice. "Seems that even the Shadow Crook makes mistakes sometimes. Mr. and Mrs. Etheringham, isn't it? Yes. My apologies. May I request a few minutes absolute silence, please, Mrs. Etheringham. There is one little adventure I must undertake before I leave your hospitable roof."
He backed into the corridor, the automatic covering the squatter, unwaveringly. Norma clung to her husband, half-fearful of what should happen.
"Mintos! Mintos! Up here! Quick!" Without turning his head the Shadow Crook sent his voice ringing through the house. From below came the answering notes of the Jew, followed by quick running feet.
"Caught!" With a laugh of satisfaction the Shadow Crook reached forward and drew shut the door. For a few seconds the sounds of Mintos' advance reached the two persons in the room. Then came the ringing laugh of the master criminal, followed by a scream and the fall of a heavy body. With a shout of rage, Etheringham wrenched himself free from his wife's detaining, hands and sprang to the door, pulling it open.
He could see no one in the corridor. His hand sought the light-switch and snapped it on. As he turned towards the stairs he started back with a cry of horror. At the edge of the landing lay the big bulk of the Jew, bleeding from a wound in the head. Nowhere could he distinguish the ominous figure of the Shadow Crook.
"Norma, keep back! Go to your room! Keep back, I say," The squatter was kneeling by Mintos. "Get to the telephone and call the doctor and the police. Keep back, dear! Please!"
"Is he—dead?" The girl asked the question, fearfully.
"Dead? No." The squatter spoke impatiently and without belief. "I—think he has only fainted!"
"Anything wrong?" Cranford came running up the stairs. "I thought I heard a shout and—Mintos! What's the matter, Etheringham? Where is Norma—Mrs. Etheringham?"
"In her room, telephoning the doctor and the police." The squatter spoke abruptly. "Help me to lift him, Hughes. The man's an awful weight!"
"What happened?" The barrister helped Etheringham to carry the Jew into one of the bedrooms.
"I was talking with my wife in her boudoir when the Shadow Crook opened the door and switched on the lights. He bailed us up and then called for Mintos. Then he shut the door and I heard a scream and something heavy falling. I ran out and found Mintos, unconscious."
"Where is the man?"
"Gone." The squatter spoke vaguely. "He wasn't about when I got in the corridor and switched on the lights. Is he dead?"
"No." Cranford straightened himself from bending over the unconscious man on the bed. "No, knocked out, cold. From the look of it I should imagine the Shadow Crook owed him one—and paid it with interest."
"Not shot?" Etheringham laughed, slightly hysterically.
"Shot?" Cranford glanced keenly at the squatter. "Did you hear a shot?"
"No, only a scream and a fall. No, I don't think I heard a shot. Where's Norma?"
Some impulse caused the barrister to turn and run into the corridor. Etheringham passed him at the door of Norma's room, and entered. The girl was lying beside the desk, the telephone clasped In her hand, insensible. With quickly beating heart the barrister bent over her. Had the Shadow Crook returned to the girl's room? If so, for what object?
Norma opened her eyes to find herself on her bed, Isla Mayne and her maid bending over her. Across the room, by the opened windows, stood her husband and Cranford. She shut her eyes again, trying to recall what had happened before she drifted into dark unconsciousness.
The Shadow Crook had come to her room, seeking to make a bargain with her over the missing jewels. Almost she had acceded to the man's demands when her husband had arrived. Then followed a swift succession of events. The Shadow Crook had reappeared. He had called for Abel Mintos. She had followed her husband into the corridor, to find the Jew insensible, at the head of the stairs. Through the curtain of her eyelids she could, see again the slowly forming pool of blood beside the man's head.
"Stanley!" She raised herself on her arm, pushing back her maid who strove to keep her recumbent. "Stanley!"
"Dear, how are you? What happened?" Etheringham came swiftly to the side of the bed.
"I fainted, did I not?"
"We found you insensible, beside the desk in your room," The squatter spoke quietly in spite of the angry frown on his brows! "Did that man come in your room again?"
"What man? Oh, you mean the Shadow Crook. No, I was speaking to Dr. Knight when I felt faint and—and I don't remember anything more."
"That's all right, then." Etheringham straightened himself with relief. "The doctor will be here any minute now. Keep quite and—"
"Mr. Mintos?" The girl spoke in a whisper. "He—"
"Mintos is all right!" Cranford came forward to the side of the squatter. "There is nothing to worry about, Mrs. Etheringham. Abel Mintos got a nasty blow on the head and went out for a time. He's sensible now, and in bed. Couple of days will see him well again."
Mintos was alive and would recover! Norma closed her eyes again. She did not want to talk, only think. Almost she was sorry the Shadow Crook had not struck harder. He would have solved one of her difficulties. But, that would be murder! What had she come to when she could wish the death of any man, however greatly he had troubled her? She wanted to he alone. From under her long lashes she watched the group at the window, hoping, praying, they would soon leave her. The doctor would arrive soon. She would have to answer his questions and submit to his examination. There was nothing the matter with her. She had only fainted. The stress of the past few days had been too great.
An hour later she found herself in bed—and alone. Dr. Knight had supported her desire to seek recuperation in sleep. He had turned everyone from the door, promising to send her a sedative. She was to remain in bed—and rest.
Rest? And beyond the walls of the now silent house were her father, and the Shadow crook holding the key to the flat! She was to rest, in ignorance of the fast passing, events of the outer world. How could she do that? If only she had some one she could confide in, and trust.
A stir at the door, and the maid entered, carrying the promised sleeping draught. Mechanically, Norma accepted the glass and swallowed the drug. She smiled faintly. The mild drug would have no effect with her brain in a turmoil. She lay back on her pillows and watched the girl fussing about the room.
At length, the maid finished her work. Norma dismissed her with injunctions that she was not to be disturbed until morning. For some time she lay silent, gathered her strength for the work before her. She turned and looked at the little clock on the table beside the bed. It was after eight o'clock. They would have finished dinner.
For nearly an hour she lay quiet, then threw back the clothes and slipped from the bed. For the time she sat on the edge of the bed, gathering strength then, waveringly, and clutching at the furniture, she struggled to the door, and locked it.
Another short rest and she found the strength to go into the boudoir. There she found the decanter of brandy Etheringham had brought to her room to revive her from the faint. She poured out a generous measure of the spirits and drank it at a gulp. The unaccustomed draught acted as a tonic.
Already Norma had a definite plan in her mind. She must get from the house to the flat. She must be by her father. The Shadow Crook had said he was in the habit of wandering about the streets. Somehow she must obtain from him a promise to stay away from the city.
Again in her bedroom she dressed herself in the inconspicuous black clothes she had become accustomed to wear oh her journeys to the flat. Instinctively she looked for the key, to remember with a shudder that she had handed it to the Shadow Crook.
Outside the big gates she sped up towards the tramlines. Half-way there she was overtaken by a taxi returning to the city. Entering it she ordered the man to drive to King's Cross. There she alighted and made her way on foot to Innesfail Mansions.
On the fifth floor she walked down to the flat and listened, her ear pressed against the glass of the door. There was not a sound inside the flat. Her fingers sought and pressed the electric bell-button: There was no answer.
The Shadow Crook had spoken truly. Stacey Carr was out on the streets. Where had he gone to? Instinctively, her thoughts turned to the jeweller's shop, in Carew-lane. Hastily she turned from the door of the flat; She must go to Carew-lane and find her father. Cranford had told her that night that this new Inspector of Police—Inspector Mason—he had named him—was watching the shop. If he found her father loitering in the vicinity he would become suspicious. He might make inquiries—investigations that might lead to the exposure of the substitution that had taken place in Bathurst Gaol.
In fearful terror, she ran down the steps of the mansions and out on to the streets. At the Cross she found a taxi on the rank and ordered the driver to take her to the General Post Office. From there she must proceed warily. If Stacey Carr had gone to Carew-lane she must not allow him to see her until she knew it was safe. For the police to see her in his company might place them on the track of the fraud she and he had practised on the authorities.
Ten o'clock was striking as she alighted from the taxi. She ascended the steps and hid in one of the dark entrances until she saw the man drive away. Then she ran down the steps and across Martin Place to the corner of George-street.
From there to the corner of Carew-lane was a bare hundred yards. Walking Slowly, she came to the corner of the lane and stopped. The lane looked deserted, but it contained a good many little alleys and passages. For some minutes she lingered, searching the little road with careful eyes.
Satisfied, at length, that she was unobserved, Norma sauntered across the lane and down to the window of the jeweller's shop. Pretending to be interested in the little which she could see of the goods in the window, she again examined her surroundings.
The shop was in darkness. That meant that Sydney Warton had gone home for the night, if he had been working in the shop after dinner. Again she examined her neighbourhood. Where was her father? Some instinct told her he was near. With sudden resolution she opened the small bag she carried and took out the key of the front door. A quick glance to see that she was not observed and she opened the door and entered the shop, closing the door behind her.
It was very dark, within the small shop. Norma leaned against the wall, her hands clasped over her fast-beating breast. Why had she come there? What was she going to do?
Stacey Carr might yet come down to the shop. He might have left the flat but a few minutes before she arrived there. He would come down to the city on the tram, and she would have passed him in the fleeter taxi.
Slowly the minutes passed. Suddenly Norma rose from the hard chair on which she had been seated and went to the workroom. She must have light; it was impossible to sit there in the dark, a prey to her haunting fears.
The workroom, was in darkness; the little light that filtered into the shop from the lane not extending into there. She knew that on the wall behind the workbench were the light switches. Norma stood at the door, faced with some dreadful fear. With an effort she shook it from her and stole forward, hands outstretched towards the bench.
Something caught at her ankles, almost throwing her to the ground. Bending, she groped forward to touch a soft substance lying in the middle of the room. Fearfully, she explored until her hands touched a cold human face.
She clasped her hands over her mouth to stifle the scream that rose to her trembling lips. A man's body lay on the floor at her feet. Who was he? Had her father already been to the shop? Had he entered to find Sydney Warton in possession? Had the two men quarrelled? Which of the men lay on the ground at her feet?
The man was dead. The cold, lifeless flesh of the face where her hand had rested told her that. She had pressed hard on the still features, and the man had not moved.
For some minutes she stood before the corpse, unable to move her limbs, frozen with terror. Then, with a little gasping cry of horror she turned and ran to the door. She must get away from—that. She must get back to her room and, alone during the still hours of the coming night, fight from her the horror of the last few seconds.
With the key in the lock she hesitated. Before she left the place she must make certain who the man was. It would be impossible to plan with certainty until she knew who lay on the workroom floor. In a few hours the police would discover "him." They might find out who was the owner of the shop and come and question her. She must have her story ready—and to do that she must know who lay there.
Very reluctantly she withdrew the key from the lock and stole back to the door of the workroom. She must get back to the switches and throw on the light, if only for a few moments. But to reach the switches she must pass "that" which lay on the floor. Again a violent fit of shuddering shook her frame. She could not go forward; she must find her way around the room, feeling along the walls.
At length she came to the work-bench and felt along it until she was opposite the door. The switches were now before her. She leaned forward, eager fingers searching for the little knobs that meant light and knowledge. At last she found them and pressed the first. A light sprang to life in the shop. She extinguished it and threw on another switch. This time she lit the window. Again she tried; the third switch illuminated the room in which she stood.
She knew she was now in fearful danger. The sudden lighting and blacking out of the shop lights might have attracted the attention of some passer-by in George-street. Throwing off the workroom lights, she stood in the darkness, watching and waiting.
The lights had not been seen. Again she pressed the switch. Slowly, fearfully, she turned and forced herself to look to where the body lay on the ground. Again a second scream rose to her lips, to be pressed back by her trembling hands.
On the bare boards of the room lay the body of her father, Stacey Carr, cold and lifeless. With a low moan, she flung herself on her knees, beside him. Had all her work and plotting resulted only in this?
There was no cause to search for the cause of his death. Directly over his heart was a short wooden handle, attacked to a thin rod of blackened steel. Beside the body had formed a pool of thickening blood, meandering slowly towards the door opening into the shop.
For some minutes Norma knelt sobbing bitterly beside the dead body. Slowly memory returned. She must not be found there, beside the corpse. Stacey Carr had died in prison. To the police and the public this poor dead body belonged to Frederick Mayne. She must still support the imposition so that the work her father had commenced might continue until his name had been cleared from the slur of theft.
The rough-handled dagger attracted her attention. She bent closer, examining the weapon. Then, rising to her feet, she turned to the work-bench. A moment's search and she held in her hand a duplicate or the weapon. Her father had been killed with one of the slender, long-pointed files used in his trade. Several of them lay scattered about the bench.
With shuddering repugnance she dropped the file, to pick it up again. It was covered with blood. She dropped it again and looked at her hands. They were covered with still-moist blood. She must have got it on her hands when she stumbled over the body in the dark.
With dilated eyes she looked around the room. On the wall close to the light-switches hung a broken mirror. She stood on tip-toes to look into it, then dropped duck horror-stricken. Her race was streaked with ghastly red—her father's blood.
What could she do? She dared not go into the street covered with the blood of the murdered man. She dared not stay in the shop. At any moment someone might come down the lane and, attracted by the lights, in the rear room, peer in at the window. The body lay-in full view when the lights were on.
Yet she must have light, if she was to escape. Despairingly, she looked around her. In a corner stood a small basin on a stand and beside it a pitcher of water. In frantic haste she poured the water into the basin and scrubbed the blood from her face and hands. The stains clung closely, but at last she was clean and dried herself on the wisp of handkerchief she took from her hand-bag.
Switching out the lights, Norma felt her way round the room until she came to the door opening into the shop. There, it was lighter and she was able to go direct to the shop-door. She had taken the key from her bag and inserted it in the lock when she heard steps in the lane. Pulling out the key she stooped down below the glass of the door and listened. The steps came down from George-street. They halted before the shop-door. Peeping up, Norma saw two men peering in at the door, one of them in police uniform.
For some minutes they tried the door and then passed to the big shop window. The man in plain clothes produced an electric torch and strove to cast the light into the shop through the dirty window. It barely penetrated beyond the show case to the counter. Slowly the man moved from side to side; at last to snap off the light and return to the door.
"You are certain you saw lights in here, Dennis?" Norma could hear the man's voice plainly.
"Sure," the man in uniform answered. "I was going to come down and have a look, when I remembered old Warton often works back, Then the lights went out and I thought I'd better ring up the office. Y' know, Inspector Mason's interested in this shop."
"Good man!" The plain-clothes man was silent for some seconds. "Best thing is to telephone D.O. and get someone down here with a master-key or two. Just an ordinary common lock, from what I can see. Say, Dennis," as the constable was moving off, "have a call put through to Mason. If he's curious about this place he'd better be on the spot. I'll watch."
Norma heard the steps of the constable retreating up towards George-street. She peeped out again. The plain clothes man had crossed to the other side of the lane and was leaning against one of the door-posts of the shop opposite. She remained hidden by the woodwork of the door, watching him.
She was caught in a trap! For the moment she almost lost her splendid nerve. How was she to get away? Soon the police would return and open the door. They would find her and the corpse of her father, murdered by some unknown hand. They would question her, and she could not answer. They might—they would—accuse her of the murder, of her own father.
The long minutes passed all too quickly, for the nerve-racked girl, crouching against the door. Across the harrow lane the plain-clothes man leaned against a door-post, whistling, a mournful air.
What could she do? Frantically she glanced back through the darkness to where her father lay, praying for some power to guide her. If she could only think! She clasped her hands over her eyes, striving to control; her brain. All she could think of was the dead body of her father, stricken down by some unknown hand.
Who had killed him? Instinctively the name of the Shadow Crook rose to her lips. He had watched her and her father. He had come to her and forced her to give him the key of the flat in which her father lived. Yet, he had protected her from Abel Mintos. He had let her see he held some hold over the malicious Jew. Finally, in her home he had called Mintos to him and struck him down senseless. For what reason?
Had the Shadow Crook, on obtaining the key from her, gone to the flat and forced her father to go with him to the Carew-lane shop, to find the missing jewels? If so, had Stacey Carr found the jewels? Had a quarrel arisen between them? Had the Shadow Crook killed the old man and escaped with the long-hidden treasure?
It was all possible. The various parts fitted to make a whole. Norma tried to put these vagrant thoughts from her. She had to escape, unperceived by the waiting police. Again at home she could reason out her theories. Then, if convinced of the treachery of the Shadow Crook, she would devote her life to hounding him down and obtaining revenge.
First, she must escape! And, opposite the one door to freedom stood the bulky form of a police officer, watching and waiting for the return of his mate and the man from headquarters with the keys.
There could be no escape. Almost, Norma gave way to despair. Then, as by magic, her brain cleared and she could think—could reason logically. She must escape! There must be a way! Lifting her wrist to the level of the bottom of the glass, she peered at her watch. More than ten minutes had passed since the two men had come to the door of the shop. Half the time had passed she could rely on to plan some means of escape! She must act, and immediately.
Bonding low, she stole to the door of the workroom. She remembered that on the bench was a box of matches. She must get them for the plan gradually forming in her mind might require some glimmer of light to work.
She felt around the walls of the back room until she reached the work-bench. Her fingers swept lightly along its rough surface, seeking the match-box that might mean so much to her in the game of wits she was entering upon. They were close to where she had handled the pointed file, brother of the one that rested in her father's heart.
The file! She must find it! She had handled that file, her hands stained with her father's blood. Possibly it bore marks that might identify her with her father's death. She must take it from the shop.
A ray of light, filtering through the window of the shop, glowing faintly the box of matches. Waiting until the light passed Norma reached forward and picked up the box. She groped on and found the blood-stained file. With a shudder of horror she concealed it in her dress.
Waiting until the men moved from the window, Norma stole across the open doorway to the other side of the shop and struck a match, guarding the flame between her palms. From there it was improbable the men at the door would see the faint light. Cautiously she cast the light around her.
She was standing against the door of a tall cupboard, built on the partition dividing the shop from the work-room. With a faint smile she remembered the cupboard. She had laughed when her father had built it, naming it "The cupboard with two doors." A door opened from the cupboard into the shop; another door in to the workroom; It had been used to hold articles of small value left for repairing and was designed to allow the jeweller to obtain the repaired articles when called for, without journeying into the work-room.
Both doors were closed, held shut by springs. Norma opened the workroom door and looked into the cupboard. There was a space under the bottom shelf about four feet high, sufficient for her to crouch in. But once within the cupboard she found she could not open the opposite door. It was held shut by a turn-button.
Leaving the cupboard, the girl stole cautiously through the shop to the cupboard and released the fastening under the shelter of the counter she crouched and listened. The detectives would certainly search the cupboard. If they searched the shop first, they would open the door. If they went to the back-room, they would open that door of the cupboard first. Would she have time to move through the cupboard—if she was certain from which side they would commence their search. Could she arrange something to guide them to the back room.
The grating of a key In the lock caused her to crouch lower. She had failed. The man from Headquarters had arrived with the keys. In a few. moments they would find her and drag her to prison. Again terror seized her, shaking her from head to foot.
"Walt a moment, Dennis." An authoritative voice spoke. "This shop has a queer reputation. Throw your light around here before we move in."
A small beam of light swept slowly around the shop. Norma's eyes followed it, fascinated. It passed along the wall, over the counter to the partition, and along to the doorway. Almost immediately that it passed from her sight there were sudden exclamations from the four men.
"Inspector Mason! There's a dead man in the back room!"
Followed the sounds of tramping feet. From within the work-room came muttered words, interspersed with sharp authoritative orders.
Crouching low, Norma moved down the line of counter. Could she manage to reach the door while the men were in the work-room? The counter ran almost to the sides of the window bay, but there was sufficient room for her to pass. If she could reach there unobserved and make a dash for the door.
"Thorne, get to the door. Dennis, you'd better go back to your beat. When you see the sergeant, tell him what's up here." Mason's voice came sharply from the back room. "I don't suppose the murderer's still in here, but we don't want anyone barging in on us for the time."
Again she was cornered! Almost. Norma rose to her feet and walked out into the open. It was hopeless! Might it not be better to surrender now, and offer her explanations, than to crouch in hiding until discovered? Yet to surrender to the police would mean the loss of his liberty. For the time she was free; perhaps some mistake on the part of these men might give her a chance to escape.
There was still the cupboard! She had a definite plan for escape through it. That plan might be possible; at any rate it was worth risking. Moving silently, she crept back to the door of the cupboard, under shelter of the counter.
Two of the police were in the workroom with the dead man, the third stood on guard at the shop-door. It was probable that the men in the workroom would search there first and come in the shop later. If they did that, she had a chance to pass through the cupboard. Much depended on the man at the door.
A quick glance over the top of the counter showed that that the constable at the door was staring out into the street She stooped down, listening intently with her ear to the cupboard door. She must wait until they had searched the cupboard from the work-room before passing into it.
At length the opposite door of the cupboard was opened, and she could hear a man's heavy breathing in the confined space. A long interval, then the door closed with a slight "clap." Again Norma looked towards the man at the door. He had not changed his position. Very slowly she pulled open the door and passed into the space under the shelves. The officers tramped heavily from the work-room into the shop. Norma waited a moment, then pushed the work-room door open a few inches. There was no one there. She pushed the door further open, and slipped in to the room where her father still lay. Silently she closed the door and waited.
Would the men again search the cupboard, this time from the shop side? It was almost certain. The girl moved a little further into the room and waited. She had won one round in the desperate game she was playing. If they searched the cupboard again and found it empty, they might not consider it further.
The cupboard door in the shop was roughly pulled open. Again came the heavy breathing in the space. Norma heard the man reach up to the high er shelves.
"Nothing here, Inspector. Same cupboard as I searched from the other room. Queer idea, a cupboard with doors into two rooms, eh?"
"Brainy!" Mason joined the man at the cupboard. "I see the idea. Made so that he could put his repaired articles in from the work-room side and take them out here when called for. Saved old Carr a lot of walking. He had brains, I'll say that. Wonder where he hid those jewels?"
"You don't expect the jewels to be here after all this time, Inspector?"
"I do." Mason spoke with conviction. "They're unique, yet nothing's been heard of them since old man Carr was tried. I believe he put them somewhere and forgot where—through that blow on the head."
"He was tried and convicted for the theft." The man's voice held a note of incredulity.
"Yet I believe him innocent." Mason spoke impatiently. "Well, with this affair we've got possession of the shop again, Quint, and I'm not letting go until I get to the bottom of this murder and the mystery of the missing jewels."
"Well, good luck, Inspector!" Quint laughed harshly. "I'm betting against you, though."
He leaned through the cupboard and pushed the opposite door open. Norma hastily retreated a step and waited.
"Nothing in there." Quint allowed the shop door of the cupboard to close. "Suppose we'd better get the ambulance and send him away. Poor devil, I wonder who he is?"
"More than likely the man who took the shop over when Stacey Carr went to prison. Let me see, what's his name? He told me the other day. Oh, yes, Sydney Warton. Yes. But it doesn't look much like him—as I remember him."
There was silence in the shop for some minutes, broken only by the footsteps of the searching men. At length Mason spoke again:
"Go and telephone the ambulance, Thorne. We'll watch the door. Come into the back room, Quint. There's a lot of tools and stuff in there that we can examine while we're waiting. But beware finger prints. I'm going over this place to-morrow with a fine tooth-comb."
Norma gasped. Had the door to freedom opened before her? She could almost see the success of her hastily-schemed plan drawing near. Silently she slipped into the cupboard and closed the door. A few seconds, and she pressed the door, leading into the shop, slightly open and peered out. The constable at the door had disappeared, and the shop was empty.
She was acting swiftly, brain and body co-ordinating in a manner she had never suspected to be possible. Her soft thin shoes made no sound as she sped to the end of the counter, crouching down before taking the final step.
A sudden thought made her glance down at her clothing. She was dressed in black, plain and undistinguished. She remembered that under her dress she was clothed entirely in black.
If she ran out of the shop door, the men in the back room might hear some movement and come after her. Even if they glimpsed her going out of the door, they would know that they had to find a girl in a black dress. But without the dress they might mistake her for a boy. Again outside, and in some hiding-place—
Swiftly and in the shelter of the counter, she slipped off her dress and rolled it tightly round her bag. Then, at the end of the counter, a few paces from the door, she stood up a slender immature boy.
"Hey, there!" The challenge came from the plain-clothes man. "Stop, I say, you young devil!"
Norma dashed out through the door into the lane. A quick glance behind her showed the plain-clothes man running for the door. She turned down the lane in the direction of Pitt-street. A few yards of swift running and, in the ill-lit thoroughfare, she knew she was out of sight of the officer who was standing in the door, his torch-light playing round him.
A few yards further a narrow passage-way opened in the high walls. Norma turned in and ran up it for some yards. Trembling with excitement, she shook out her dress and slipped it over her head, smoothing out the creases. She picked up her hand-bag and walked swiftly to the end of the passage. There was no way out there. Reluctantly she turned and went back to the Carew-lane end. She looked out. The plain clothes man was standing at the corner of Carew-lane and Hamilton-street looking around him in bewilderment. For a moment she paused, undecided, then stepped out and walked quickly up the lane towards George-street.
She was free. Before her lay only one more danger. Inspector Mason was standing in the doorway of the jeweller's shop. She had to pass him. Swinging her bag carelessly she came quickly up to him.
"Excuse me." Mason stepped forward to bar her passage. "Have you seen a boy down the lane?"
"No." Norma held her voice in check as she answered. "There was a boy running into Pitt-street as I turned into the lane."
"Did you see a man running down there?" Mason persisted.
"There's a man standing at the corner of the lane now." Norma pointed back. "He passed me when I was stooping in a doorway, retying my shoe-lace. Did you want him?"
"No. He's looking for a running boy." Mason spoke grimly. "Say, miss. What are you doing in this lane at this hour?"
"Why?" Norma spoke with assumed indignation. "Isn't this street to be used after dark? If you want to know, I've been across the harbour, visiting friends. When I came back to the Quay I got on a Pitt-street tram instead of a George-street. I got off as soon as I found out my mistake and walked up here to get into George-street. Now, I'd like to ask who you are, asking me questions? This your shop?"
"I'm a police officer." Mason smiled at the assured poise of the girl whom he took to be one of Sydney's workers. "There's something—never mind that. Take a tip from me, miss, and keep out of side streets after dark. Good-night."
He turned back into the shop. One hasty glance after him and Norma hurried up the lane into George-street.
She had escaped when escape seemed impossible. Now she had to take up the work that lay to her hands. She had to find the missing jewels and hand them to the police, so that her father's name should be cleared. She had to find the unknown hand that had struck him down. Was the murderer the Shadow Crook? Almost she believed so, but she had to be certain. If she could prove the deed against him, then she would show him the same mercy he had extended to the poor old man who he had lured to the shop in Carew-lane.
That night she had learned one lesson. The police had seen a boy escaping from the shop of death; they might see that boy again. Certainly the Shadow Crook should see and speak to him. A boy could go where a girl could not venture—to a boy the doors of vengeance were wide open.
She turned into George-street. A few yards from the corner, towards the Town Hall, a taxi was drawn close to the curb. Norma approached it. As she came to the door, a man stepped from the shadow of the buildings and held it open for her. Hardly glancing at him, she gave the driver her home address, and then felt in her purse for a coin for the man. As their fingers met, Norma looked up—into the quizzical eyes of the Shadow Crook.
Inspector Mason stood in the jeweller's shop in Carew-lane and looked around him. Except that the body of the murdered man had been removed to the Morgue, the shop remained as he had left it the previous night.
Twice this shop had been the scene of brutal assaults. Five years before, Stacey Carr had been carried out of it insensible, to awake to a dimmed memory, which did not include the secret repository of the jewels committed to his charge. His assailant had never been discovered.
Now, just as mysteriously, another old man had been stricken in that ill-fated shop. This time murder had been committed and, except for the momentary vision of the boy escaping through the door there were no clues to the murderer.
Mason had come to the shop shortly after eight o'clock that morning. A little later Sydney Warton had arrived. He had been suspicious and uncommunicative at first, but the detective had known how to make him talk. The jeweller had told a strange story. Briefly it was this:
A few days after the arrest of Stacey Carr—in hospital for the theft of the Kynaston sapphires and the White Trinity, he had read an advertisement in the morning newspaper for a jeweller. He had applied at the offices of the solicitors who inserted the advertisement, and had received the appointment. He was in sole control of the business, receiving all profits from the work and, in addition, a salary of two pounds a week. There were certain restrictions which he had to observe. He was not allowed to make any alterations in the fittings of the shop, nor to move them to other positions. He was to make no effort to communicate with his employers except through the solicitors engaging him.
The story had appeared incredible, and Mason had thought of holding the man on suspicion. Warton had admitted that he was in the habit of coming back to the shop during the evening hours and continuing his work. He denied, however, that he had been there on the previous evening. There had been no work of importance in hand, and he had spent the evening and night in his room at home.
Mason had not been satisfied with Warton's explanation; he thought the man was not speaking freely. Finally he allowed him to return home, instructing a plain-clothes constable to investigate his story and keep a close watch on his movements.
He had two lines of inquiry to pursue—first to discover who the murdered man was and, next, who murdered him. The first was the more important for the present. He had searched the body the previous night, but had found little of interest. There were no letters in the pockets, and but for a small sum of money in one of the waistcoat pockets he had found a small Yale key, possibly of the house where he lodged. On his wrist was strapped a gold watch of good make.
But beyond the problem of the murdered man and the murderer lay another, to which Mason's thoughts insistently turned. From this shop had disappeared the jewels entrusted to Stacey Carr by Mrs. Kynaston and Abel Mintos. In some way they blended with the problem of the murder. He had tried to give the missing jewels a subordinate place in his thoughts, but could not. Subconsciously his brain asserted that he must accept the mystery as a whole, and not as two separate problems.
First, the dead man. It was probable that he had come to the shop in search of the missing jewels. Had he come alone, or with a companion? Here the visit of the Shadow Crook to Headquarters intruded. If the murdered man had come to the shop alone, then he had been found here —or had been followed—by a second person, the murderer.
Had the missing jewels been discovered? It was possible. If the murdered man had found the secret safe in which Stacey Carr had hidden the jewels, then the problem was simple. There had been a quarrel over the disposal of the loot, and the murderer had in sudden passion picked up the file and struck the blow.
Who was the murdered man? Stacey Carr had died in prison only a few days before. Had it not been for that fact, Mason believed he could have immediately named the victim. Who could come to this shop and walk direct to the hidden safe? The only answer could be that it was the man to whom the dead jeweller had entrusted the secret of the missing safe.
Stacey Carr had died in the prison infirmary. Had he, with the shadow of death hovering over him, regained his lost memory? Had he managed to reveal the lost secret to some confederate in the gaol? That theory alone could have explained the murdered man's knowledge of the hiding place.
This supposition was supported by the fact that Warton had consistently worked back of an evening. There had been no opportunity for a stranger to make a prolonged search; the man must have been able to go straight to the missing safe.
Who had struck the fatal blow? Mason's first thoughts had been directed to the Shadow Crook. That man had, under great peril, searched the official records of the dead man for some clue—possibly for the hiding-place of the missing Jewels. But there was another person who should come under strong suspicion. Warton had had ample opportunities to search for the missing jewels; he knew that the shop had belonged to Stacey Carr; he had been appointed manager in circumstances which pointed to the belief that the jewels were still concealed there.
Warton had incautiously shown that he realised the significance of the restrictions imposed on him. Mason believed the man to be honest within limits; but there could be no doubt that he had sought for the jewels. Had he found the clue to be such that he might want assistance to uncover the hidden safe and open it?
Here seemed the more reasonable explanation of the mystery. Warton had discovered the safe and found it locked. He had tried to pick the lock, or to discovered the combination, if it worked by some secret code. He had been forced to bring in some expert to release the wards, and the man, having accomplished his work, and being blinded by greed, had demanded a share of the treasure. A quarrel had ensued, in which Warton had killed his confederate. The latter hypothesis did not take account of the boy whom he and Juint had seen escaping from the shop. If the dead man had proved to be Stacey Carr, then a simple theory would have proved acceptable. The boy had murdered the old jeweller and escaped with the loot.
Conning his various theories, Mason paced the shop. Impatiently he recognised the many flaws in his reasoning but, until, he had the problem narrowed down to a few persons, he believed the murder to be the act of one of three persons—the Shadow Crook, Sydney Warton, or the boy.
A sound at the door caused him to swing abruptly round. Sergeant Anderson was standing there, blinking at the change from the glare of the streets to the half-shadows. A constable was behind him, carrying a couple of well-filled suit-cases.
"You, Anderson?" Mason strode forward and shook hands warmly. "I didn't expect you could leave your office, but I'm mighty glad you've come."
"Chief asked me to attend to your matter myself." The Sergeant motioned to the constable to lay the cases on the floor by the door. "You've got the wind up on them at Headquarters, Mason. First the Shadow Crook after Stacey Carr's fingerprints, and now this murder in Carr's old shop. What's the strength of it all? Are you intending to reopen the old case again?"
"And find the missing jewels?" Mason laughed. "I hope so. Believe me, Anderson, I'm carrying a weird hunch on the matter. I'm convinced Stacey Carr went to prison an innocent man."
"Any proof?" Anderson carefully examined the corner of the counter before lifting one of the suit-cases on to it. "Phew! This place is covered in dust!"
"All the better for you, I'd say. Did you hear that we found a boy in the place last night?"
"No. Where is he?"
"Escaped." The Inspector smiled ruefully. "Seems he was hiding somewhere in the shop while we were searching the place; and ran out when I took Thorpe off the door to ring up the ambulance. Quint gave chase, but didn't get him."
"Humph!" The expert commenced work, searching along the line of counter. "There are prints here. Look, Mason, they're light, but plain to the naked eye."
From that time little was said except in reference to the work in hand. Anderson searched the shop and the back room thoroughly, Mason waiting on him with the apparatus which he indicated from time to time. At the end of a couple of hours the expert declared himself satisfied. He had obtained over a score of definite and clear fingerprints.
"Notice anything strange, Mason?" Anderson played the question carelessly, as he packed his kit and handed it to the waiting constable. The inspector shook his head; "Well, there have been at least four persons in this place besides yourself and Quint—two men, a youth or young woman; the third impressions are from gloved fingers."
"Gloves!" Mason was startled. "We didn't find gloves in the shop."
"Nevertheless, one, if not more, of the men, wore gloves." Anderson spoke with assurance. "If you had found the gloves, I should still have been doubtful if they had been worn by any of the men whose fingerprints I have. There are strange differences in the impressions, and I want to study them before I give an opinion. In any case the gloves were not worn by the boy. They're miles too big."
"Four persons!" Mason spoke slowly. "The dead man, the boy that Quint and I saw escaping from the shop, the—no, I'll say for the present, two unknowns. That complicates matters. I've been wondering about the boy. It's not a job a boy or a woman would have the nerve to tackle."
"We shall find out more at the Morgue." Anderson moved towards the door. "Coming with me?"
"May as well. There's nothing more for me to do here at present!" The Inspector glanced round the shop. "Ugh! What a place! And I'm going to spend quite a lot of my time here."
"Searching for the missing jewels?" Anderson looked curiously at his companion. "What makes you think they are here?"
"You might find the answer with that man they carried out of here feet-foremost last night," replied the detective. "I take it that if it's good enough for the Shadow Crook and his friends to search here for the jewels, it's good enough for me."
He led the way out of the shop and stood aside while Anderson and his helper carried out the cases. In George-street they found a taxi; and ten minutes later alighted at the door of the Morgue. In the cold chamber of death the attendant drew down the sheet covering the remains of the unknown man whom Mason had found in the Carew-lane shop on the previous night. The detective took one long keen look at the corpse, and then stood aside for the finger-print expert to carry out his duties. A few minutes and Anderson replaced the sheet over the calm features and signified that he had finished.
The journey back to Police Headquarters was accomplished in almost complete silence. Anderson was thinking deeply, and Mason was engrossed with the clues that he had discovered, At the office Anderson went straight to his dark-room, asking the detective to await him in his room. But Mason could not remain still. He wandered about the corridors and hall, anxious to get to active work. Nearly an hour passed before the expert came up from the basement carrying a photographic tray. He beckoned to the detective to follow him to his room.
"Know much about finger-prints, Mason?" he asked, shutting the door behind them.
"About the average." The Inspector grinned. "Can take them, and have enough knowledge to make fair photographs of them to send to you beastly experts to grumble at."
"Well, do the expert work for a change, and read these." The expert appeared: well pleased with himself. He drew a viewing frame towards him and arranged on it a dozen negatives, carefully examining each negative and giving it a definite place on the frame. "You notice that I place them in three groups—the men's, the youth's, and the gloved fingers."
"Well!" Mason bent over the frame with interest.
"Have a good look at the photographs of the gloved fingers. Compare their size with those of the youth's prints. Not much chance of them being from the same hand, eh? Unless, of course, the gloves were padded. Now have a look at the fingerprints of the two men." Anderson was becoming more and more excited as the examination proceeded. "Get the lines well into your head, especially the many peculiarities."
He left the detective at the frame studying the negatives, went to one of the record drawers, returning to the table carrying an official fingerprints form. Without speaking, he placed it on the frame beside one of the rows of men's prints.
"Jove!" Mason glanced at the grinning face of his fellow officer. "That's what you're so jolly about!" He glanced at the name at the top of the card. "Frederick Mayne! He's the man who was released from Bathurst gaol the other day."
"From the same gaol in which Stacey Carr was confined, yes." Anderson was examining the prints through a powerful glass. "Doesn't that tell you anything, Mason?"
"You suggest that, possibly, Stacey Carr and Mayne became friends in gaol, and that the old jeweller, finding he was suffering from an incurable disease likely to result in his death, confided the secret of the hiding-place of the missing jewels to his new friend?"
"Just that. Stacey Carr died in prison. He knew he was ailing for some time before he was taken to the infirmary. Now go back to beginnings and examine Carr's history."
The expert paused, and re-arranged the negatives on the frame. He seemed to be seeking the right words to continue.
"Stacey Carr had a big reputation with jewels. Certain valuable stones and pearls were entrusted to him. Shortly after they disappeared, Carr was discovered on the floor of his shop with a broken head. When he recovered, it was found that his memory of the hiding-place had completely disappeared—or possibly, he pretended so!"
"I believe he was assaulted and the blow affected his brain." Mason spoke with conviction. "I'm working on that belief and all that has happened so far, makes me confident I'm on the right track."
"Well, well!" The expert laughed slightly. "Anyway, Carr went to the hospital. While he was there, Abel Mintos made a demand on him for the return of the pearls. Carr was unable to tell his friends where to look for the jewels. As soon as that became known, Mrs. Kynaston came forward with a demand for her sapphires. A great search was made by Carr's friends and the police. The matter resolved itself into complaints from the owners of the lost jewellery against Carr. He was eventually tried and sentenced."
"You seem to' have the details pat," observed the "detective curiously.
"Haven't forgotten the Shadow Crook's visit to me the other night?"
"If I've forgotten, you haven't." Mason laughed. "You got a whale of a blow on the head."
"Carr got a Whale of a blow on the head." Anderson spoke seriously. "I asked the surgeon about the blow. He told me I'd been sand-bagged. He said that if it had been an inch lower on the back of the head, and if my assailant had used a lead-pipe instead of a sand-bag, I should have forgotten that such a thing as finger-prints ever existed—if I opened my eyes on this world again."
"You think—" The Inspector was striding up and down the room. "You think there's a connection between the attack on you and the five-year-old attack on Stacey Carr?"
"Yes!" Mason answered, after a considerable pause. "I'm going to tell you something I'd determined to keep to myself for the time, Anderson. I went to see Cranford Hughes, the barrister who defended Stacey Carr. He told me that a young man named Samuel Keene was a witness at the trial and appeared to have a great partiality for Stacey Carr. He was always hanging about the old man and his workshop. Since Carr's imprisonment that man has disappeared. Further, he was never tested out by the police at the trial."
"Humph!". Anderson turned again to the frame of negatives. "You're inferring that Samuel Keene and the Shadow Crook are the same person."
"I'm completing your theory of the attack on you by naming the assailant." Mason grinned.
"In that case I'll offer you an additional bit of evidence, if you can fit it in." The expert pointed to the frame of negatives. "The gloved fingers there are the records of your friend Samuel Keene, alias the Shadow Crook."
"Then the Shadow Crook murdered Frederick Mayne." Mason mused for a few seconds. "Poor devil, Carr tells Mayne the secret of the safe containing the jewels. Mayne goes to retrieve them, possibly to carry out some purpose Carr swore him to in prison. Samuel Keene, or the Shadow Crook, patiently watching through the years for the jewels to come to light, sees Mayne in the shop, follows him and knocks him out."
"One more fact, and you establish your theory." Anderson turned to face the detective: "Did Frederick Mayne find the hidden jewels before the Shadow Crook came on him? If so, your story's complete. If not—"
"Your theory's but a house of cards. Knock it down and start all over again. The Shadow Crook's no fool. He wouldn't strike unless he had an object. We've got to establish the identity of the hand inside that glove. There's another point I can put you wise to. Compare the prints of that man and the boy. Be careful!"
For some minutes there was silence in the room. Mason was bending over the frame of negatives, comparing the prints through a powerful magnifying glass which Anderson had handed to him. The expert watched him with a smile of expectation. "Can't understand it, Anderson." Mason straightened himself and looked at the expert in bewilderment.
"Nor can I." Again Anderson bent to the frame. "Any book on finger prints will inform you that no two sets of finger-prints, taken from separate persons, are alike. Yet on that frame are finger-prints of a man and a boy, absolutely identical."
"Identical?" Mason gazed at his companion incredulously. "Why, that's impossible!"
"So the general public are led to believe." Anderson smiled gravely. "Men who are handling finger-prints day after day are coming to believe that sooner or later they will come across two persons with identical finger-prints."
"And you assert that these two sets of prints—from the dead man we found in the Carew-lane shop and the boy that Quint and I saw running out of the door—are identical?"
"So much alike that at the present moment there is only the size of the prints to distinguish them." Anderson spoke quietly. "Before I can make an official statement I must examine the prints, under great magnification. There may be differences, possibly there are, but at present they show so little that I can't distinguish them, except by the size."
"It sounds incredible." Mason took to pacing the room thoughtfully. "I have always been led to believe that it was impossible for any two persons to have identical finger-prints."
"Yet for many years the Courts have refused to accept finger-print evidence as conclusive in criminal trials unless supported by other direct evidence."
"What is going to happen?" Mason rubbed his forehead in perplexity. "If finger-print evidence is to go, we shall be in a nice mess!"
"You will accept the fact that two persons may be so alike that they are indistinguishable?"
"Of course. That has been shown again and again."
"Then why not accept the assumption that two individuals can possess the same marks on the finger-tips?"
For some minutes Mason did not reply. At length he laughed.
"Hitting at your job, Anderson. At the same time I can't accept your logic. I'll accept your statement that two fingers may he identical, but your alternative assumption in regard' to two individuals I cannot accept as proof. Finger-prints are but part of a person, while the question of likeness is of the whole of the person. Two persons may appear to be absolutely alike, yet differ entirely in small details—scars, body measurements, and, of course, finger-prints. There are plenty of tales of children born so alike that their mothers cannot distinguish between them, but I'm open to wager that, if they had been brought before experts soon after birth, various essential differences could have been pointed out that would have made for separate individuality. You'll acknowledge that?"
"I'll acknowledge that two sets of finger-prints and two infants can be exactly alike." Anderson was speaking warmly. "I'll say now that here I have the case of the closest resemblance between two sets of finger-prints that I have ever met in my career. I'm going to put these finger-prints under great enlargement. Perhaps then I can assure you that I have two sets of finger-prints exactly alike—except that one set came from the hands of a man and the other from a boy, or woman."
"Woman?" The detective looked puzzled. "Are you going to suggest that there was a woman in the shop last night?"
"I said a boy or a woman. You stated that you saw a boy."
"I'm not certain that he came into the shop," replied the Inspector. "Quint says he saw the boy on the doorstep. He may have just stepped in at the door, and, seeing us in the back room, turned to go out again. Quint's shout and pursuit panicked him, and he bolted."
"Yet a boy, or woman, was inside the shop for some time, I found the finger prints all over the place, even in the workroom."
"By jove, you did?"
"The dead man, another man, and a boy." Anderson sat down at his desk, musing. "They had been all over the shop. The man who wore gloves had also left quite a few finger-prints. What does that mean?"
"Were the man and the boy working together?" Mason asked the question after a long pause.
"Now you are asking a question that, finger-print science cannot answer." Anderson looked up with a smile. "All I can tell you is that the boy was in the shop sufficiently long to make quite a number of impressions in various parts of the room. In fact, I found impressions, in blood, made by him on the walls. Whether he entered with a man or not, is for you to discover."
"If he was with the man, he can identify the murderer," suggested Mason.
"The Shadow Crook, or—"
"The Shadow Crook, Samuel Keene, the boy himself, or Sydney Warton." Mason completed the sentence.
"Sydney Warton? You said he was at home all the evening?"
"That is the tale." The detective shrugged his shoulders. "I want proof of that. By the way, Anderson, you continually refer to 'boy or woman.' We thought we saw a boy, but it might have been a woman in boy's clothes."
"On that I may be able to give you further particulars when I have finished my examination of the finger-prints."
The Inspector walked to the door. Suddenly he turned, with his hand on the handle.
"Say, you talk of identical finger-prints and identical personalities. In the case of identical personalities, isn't it a fact that they occur only in families, and mostly between twins?"
"Again you are laying down hard and fast rules for Nature." Anderson drew the telephone towards him. "You can't do that with finger-prints or features. Nature has a way of taking scientists' statements and proving them wrong. However, we shall soon find out what relations Frederick Mayne had."
Ho put a call through to Bathurst Gaol, where Carr and Mayne had been detained through their later years. In a few minutes he obtained the connection. A short conversation, and he turned again to the detective.
"Another problem for you, Mason. Frederick Mayne and Stacey Carr were both widowers. Each of them possessed an only daughter as sole relation."
"Lor'! What a mess!" Mason frowned. "What of the girl—Mayne's daughter, I mean?"
"Quite a youngster, about fourteen or fifteen. The Governor states that he believes she was adopted by a wealthy woman. She came rarely to the gaol—Mayne disapproving of her visits. He says he will have her address sent on to us."
"Then it was Frederick Mayne's daughter with him last night, dressed as a boy?" The Inspector asked the question of himself. For some moments he stood meditating, and then opened the door. "I've got to find out."
He strode out into the street, feeling that he could not think straight within the confinement of walls. For some time he paced up and down before the Police buildings, then turned up Phillip-Street to Cranford Hughes's chambers. The barrister was engaged. Mason sent in his name with a request for an early appointment, and after a wait of a few minutes was shown in to the barrister's room. Hughes was alone.
"The Stacey Carr case?" asked the barrister, as soon as Mason was seated.
"Looks like an appendix to it, Mr. Hughes." Mason hardly knew how to frame the story. "You have read of the murder committed in the Carew-lane shop last night?"
"Yes. Old Carr? No, that would be impossible. You told me yesterday that he died in the prison infirmary."
"Looks to me as if the dead man will prove to be a gaol-chum of Stacey Carr. We took his-finger-prints this morning and they agree with the records of Frederick Mayne, just released from gaol."
"Frederick Mayne?" Cranford turned to a book on his desk, and glanced over a few pages. "I thought I knew the name. Funny your bringing his name to me. I defended him at his trial. There wasn't a hope of an acquittal. All I could do was to plead for a light sentence."
"Frederick Mayne was a widower with one daughter. Stacey Carr was also a widower with one child. Do you know anything of these daughters, Mr. Hughes?"
"Why not ask the solicitors for the respective men? You know, barristers rarely come in contact with their client's relations and witnesses, unless in exceptional circumstances. As far as possible we work entirely through the solicitor's offices. To encourage witnesses and relations about our chambers would result in confusion."
"You have not answered my question, Mr. Hughes."
"I don't know that I intend to, Inspector." Cranford smiled slightly. "Why not let the past bury its own dead? I will tell you this. Miss Mayne was adopted by a very wealthy woman. Both girls passed through the fires of suffering. Are you going to re-open their old wounds?"
"Miss Mayne should be advised of the death of her father."
"Should she?" The barrister pondered the question. "I suggest that if any communication be necessary, it should be made to Mayne's solicitors, and they should be left to decide whether it is necessary to advise their client's daughter officially. Why not bury the man without her knowledge? Will you gain anything by bringing the girl into it?"
"I have to find the murderer. The detective spoke stolidly.
"Can the girl help you to find him?"
"There was a boy, or a girl dressed as a boy, in the shop with the dead man last night."
"I thought the newspapers reported that a boy attempted to enter the shop, and ran away when challenged." Cranford looked surprised.
"Anderson, our finger-print expert states differently. According to his reading of the clues in the shop, the boy was in the place for some time."
"Then you think—"
"No." The detective interrupted quickly. "I don't think the boy, or girl, murdered the man. I don't think, he or she, would have had the nerve to use such a weapon. So far as I have discovered, the murder was committed—"
"By Samuel Keene, better known to-day as the Shadow Crook."
"You have reasons for that statement?"
"There are plenty of marks belonging to the dead man and the boy. Among them are a number marks from a gloved hand."
Cranford did not speak after his exclamation. Mason sat back, content to wait. He had come to the barrister with a definite line of reasoning. He could have gone to the solicitors who conducted the defence of the dead man and could have had his questions answered, possibly without delay. But in the back of his mind lay a belief that in the puzzle he was trying to solve he would find traces of Stacey Carr and the lost jewels. In that possibility he wanted the keen probing brain of the well-known barrister to assist him.
Stacey Carr was dead, but behind him he had left the legacy of the lost jewels. Had he, before he passed in to the Great Unknown, recovered, if only for a few brief minutes, some recollection of his last days in the Carew-lane shop? Had he, remembering once more the position of his hidden safe, confided that secret to some prison chum? If Carr had remembered the secret of the hidden safe, it was only reasonable to suppose that he had also remembered the name of his mysterious assailant.
Why should Carr, with the Shadow of death hovering over him, confide to a brother convict the secret of the missing jewels? Would he not rather have sent for the Prison Governor and told him? That attitude would have resulted in the clearing of his name from the slur of theft. Even though he could not have found the strength to walk out of prison as a man declared innocent, he would have lifted the stain of crime from his family.
If Carr had confided the secret of the missing safe to a fellow convict oh the point of being released at the expiration of his sentence, he must have determined that the jewels, or the proceeds of their theft, should go to his family. But in that case why confide the secret to a stranger or casual acquaintance? Why not have sent for the person he desired to benefit, and told that person where the missing jewels were hidden?
No! The detective came to his feet with a cry of triumph. No. Stacey Carr had not told the secret of the hiding-place. He had gone from this world with still clouded memory. Unless some alien hand had removed the White Trinity and the Kynaston sapphires, they still lay in the hidden safe.
Cranford looked up, startled. In a few words the Inspector outlined his reasoning. A slight smile appeared on the barrister's lips.
"I, too, have thought, Inspector." He rose from his chair. "Will you excuse me for a few minutes?"
He left the room, to return accompanied by a young lady of about twenty-two or twenty-three years of age. Very gravely Cranford handed her to a seat and resumed his chair behind his desk.
"You asked me to tell you of Stacey Carr's daughter, Inspector. Allow me to introduce you to Mrs. Etheringham, once Miss Norma Carr."
"Mrs. Etheringham!" Mason was surprised.
"I have assured Mrs. Etheringham that you will respect her secret," the barrister continued. "To connect Mrs. Etheringham of to-day' with the sordid history of five years ago would serve no good purpose."
"And Miss Mayne?" the Inspector anxiously asked.
"Isla Mayne is my ward." Norma spoke in a low voice. She turned to the detective. "Inspector Mason, Cran—Mr. Hughes—assures me you will respect my confidence. I married a year after my father was unjustly imprisoned. My husband does not know, and—and—"
"Please don't trouble to explain." Mason rose restlessly to his feet. "There is really only one question I want to ask. Where was Miss Mayne last night?"
"All the evening—all the night?"
Norma hesitated. She had to speak warily, for she dared not allow her absence from home to become known.
"There was trouble at my home last night." She spoke carefully. "I was in my boudoir just before dinner with my husband when a man entered. I am told that he is the notorious Shadow Crook. He held up my husband and me at the point of his revolver. Then he called down the stairs for Mr. Mintos. When he came up, he knocked him down and disappeared. I think—"
"Abel Mintos!" Mason turned sharply at the name. "The Shadow Crook and the owner of the White Trinity! Whew!"
"Mr. Mintos also owns the Kynaston sapphires," added Norma, quietly.
"He has been trying to persuade my husband to purchase them."
"But the Kynaston sapphires are with the White Trinity. They have been lost since—since—"
"Since the day my father was found insensible on the floor of his work-room. I understand, Mr. Mason. Mr. Mintos told me that he had purchased the reversion of the sapphires from Mrs. Kynaston."
"Purchased the reversion of the sapphires!" The detective, stuttered with surprise. "What on earth for? Is the man mad? What hope has he of recovering the jewels after all this time?"
"Yet you hope to recover them, Inspector," said Cranford, quietly. "You believe they are still hidden, in the Carew-lane shop."
"I do." Mason hesitated a moment. "Mrs. Etheringham, have you any knowledge of where the jewels are hidden?"
"No. Oh, if only I could find them!"
The detective stood facing the girl, biting the end of his finger. A thousand questions crowded his mind. But he must work warily. First he must win the girl's confidence, and until then—He turned again to Norma.
"Mrs. Etheringham. The body—Frederick Mayne—will have to be identified. Of course, we have the finger-prints, but that is not quite the same to a coroner as a personal identification."
"You want Mrs. Etheringham to identify, as Frederick Mayne, the man you found last, night?" Cranford spoke quickly. "But can she?"
"I saw him two or three times at the prison. I went with Isla to assure him that I would take her into my care."
Norma turned to the detective. "You understand, Inspector. My father and Mr. Mayne were friends in prison. Mr. Mayne was worried over his little daughter's future. To please my father I promised to take charge of her. Now I want for her own sake; she is very dear to me."
"I defended Frederick Mayne at his trial," Hughes interposed. "Would my identification be sufficient. You understand, Mason, that to drag Mrs. Etheringham or her adopted daughter to the Coroner's court to give evidence would be a violation of your pledge to respect her secret."
"Sergeant Anderson photographed the body this morning." Mason spoke after some thought. "Mrs. Etheringham—and you, Mr. Hughes—will you come down to Police Headquarters and identify the man by that photograph? That will be sufficient for me to work on, and I will get other evidence in time for the Coroner."
Norma hesitated. What could she do? If she went with this man, he would show her the photograph of her father. She would have to swear that the man lying in the morgue was Stacey Carr and not Frederick Mayne.
Hughes held the door for Norma to pass through. Inspector Mason had risen from his seat and was waiting for her to lead the way from the room. A sudden panic shook the girl. What could she do? In some way she must keep her father's secret; somehow she must avoid this identification and allow the police to continue to believe that they had found the body of Frederick Mayne.
Yet she could not refuse the detective's request to go to Headquarters without arousing his suspicions. He would ask questions which she could not answer. In the end the secret which she had suffered so much to conceal would be revealed to all the world.
Slowly she rose from her seat and walked to the door. She prayed passionately that something might happen to stay them—to help her in this ordeal. Must she go to this place of crime, gaze upon her dead father's face, and deny him? Out in the street she fumbled blindly, catching at Cranford's arm.
"Be brave, Norma," he whispered. "It won't be so bad. Just one look at the photograph; and then I'll see they don't worry you any more." She could not answer, and could only look up gratefully into his lean, clever face. If only she had a chance to tell him all!
That morning she had come to his office prepared to tell him the full story of her father's escape from prison and her adventures the previous night. The story had been difficult to begin, and she had hesitated, talking on indifferent subjects. She had almost succeeded in plucking up courage to commence her tale when Inspector Mason was announced.
Now she blamed her folly and indecision, If she had only spoken. If only she could have told her story before the police officer arrived.
Hughes thought she feared to look on a dead man's pictured face. He thought she was fearing one solitary minute's ordeal; a glance and the answer to one short question. He did not know that, while her reluctant steps bore her closer to the tall red-bricked building at the end of the street, she did not know whether to tell a lie or confess to a truth that would astound the city.
All too quickly they came to the corner of Hunter-street and turned to mount the steps into the big hall of Police Headquarters. Suddenly Mason stopped, and faced round on a uniformed constable following them up to the steps.
"What are you doing, here, Kemp? Who is on guard at the Carew-lane shop?"
"Why, sir—" The' man looked dumbfounded. "You've forgotten you sent for me to come here."
"Sent for you? I never sent for you. Who's on guard at the shop?"
"The man you sent down to relieve me, sir." He hesitated, conscious that some mistake had been made. "About a quarter of an hour ago a man came to the shop and said you wanted me at once at Headquarters. He told me that you had instructed him to remain on guard until I returned."
"You fool? Someone in plain clothes, I suppose. Get back, quick. If that man's still there, hold him until I come down. Wait, I'll come with you."
"He was in uniform, Inspector."
"Uniform?" The detective stood with his mouth open, staring at the constable. "You mean to say that a man in uniform came to the shop and sent you here?"
"Just that." The man turned back to the pavement, "I'll go down and get him at once. To make a goat of me."
He started to run down the street. Mason stood for a few moments in thought, then turned to Cranford.
"Will you take Mrs. Etheringham in to Sergeant Anderson, Mr. Hughes, and ask him to let you see the photograph he took: of Frederick Mayne? No." He hesitated again. "I want to talk with you and Mrs. Etheringham about it. Mrs. Etheringham, may I bring the photograph to your home? I don't want to ask many questions. Just the identification, and that. I promise to be discreet."
"I prefer to meet you at Mr. Hughes's chambers." Norma spoke quickly; "Mr. Mintos is at my home, and—and I believe he is watching me."
"That will suit me. I will advise Mr. Hughes of the time. Perhaps his chambers are best. I can then get his identification as well. Now I must go after that fellow. Please excuse me."
Norma nearly cried out in relief. For some minutes she could hardly move, watching the Inspector run down the road and jump into a cruising taxi. A strange dizziness came over her, and she clung heavily to the barrister's arm.
"Faint, Norma?" Ho looked down at her anxiously.
"No." She could hardly articulate. "Cranford! Cranford! Oh, the relief! I—"
"Let's get out of this," said the barrister. A quick glance at the girl's face had shown him that she was hysterical. He turned, and walked slowly in the direction of his chambers. "Bite it back, Norma. These windows belong to the police offices, and you don't know who may overhear what we say."
For some minutes they strolled on in silence. At length Cranford turned to his companion.
"What is it, Norma?"
"Cranford! The photograph!"
"Well, what of it?" The barrister spoke brusquely. He had to prevent the girl from, breaking, down in the streets. "It's only a photograph."
"It is the photograph of my father! Oh, don't you understand? The man they found in the shop last night was my father, and not Frederick Mayne!"
"Stacey Carr!" Cranford looked puzzled. "But Stacey Carr is dead. He died in the prison infirmary. Norma, you don't realise what you are saying."
"There was a plot." The girl's voice carried conviction. "Frederick Mayne was dying from some obscure disease. He and father changed identities. I don't quite know how they did it, but I helped, getting them the things they wanted. When Frederick Mayne went to the infirmary, he was Stacey Carr. My father was released as Frederick Mayne."
"What a tangle!" The barrister lifted his hat. "Norma, you were mad to take part in such a plot. Suppose it had been discovered—that they had found out you were assisting in that fraud."
"I had to get father out of that place." The girl spoke passively. "I had to help him find the lost jewels."
"Come into my room." Cranford stopped at the step's of Risdon Chambers. "I've got to know the full story. Why—But we've got to go where' we can't be overheard."
Inspector Mason was driving furiously in the direction of Carew-lane. He had picked up the running constable, some little way down the street, and was questioning him closely. The man stuck to his tale. A man dressed in police uniform had called at the shop, and instructed him to report immediately to the Inspector at Headquarters. Extremely puzzled, Mason stopped the taxi a few yards from the head of Carew-lane and walked down to the shop, followed by the constable.
"What has happened down here, I don't know." He spoke more to himself than to the constable. "I only hope that the man is still there."
There was no one on guard at the door of the shop, though it stood wide open. The Inspector strode in and looked about him. There was no constable on guard. Ordering Kemp to resume his post on guard, Mason walked into the shop and looked round.
Why had some man come to the shop and sent Kemp away on a false errand? Who was the constable in uniform? Instinctively Mason recognised that there was only one answer. Once more he was up against the work of the Shadow Crook.
The man must have had a watch on the shop, though Mason was prepared to swear that no one had been hanging about the vicinity. The Shadow Crook was well served, even if he worked alone in his major operations. He must have known of the work of the finger-print expert in the shop. He must have watched them from the shop to the Morgue. He must have realised that he had committed some oversight in the shop on the night when Frederick Mayne was murdered. To rectify his omission, he had taken effective steps to remove the police guard.
What had the Shadow Crook overlooked to cause him to run the tremendous risk of visiting the shop in broad daylight? It could only be finger-prints. But, if the Shadow Crook had had the shop watched, he must be aware that the prints had been photographed, and that the negatives were now at Headquarters.
Slowly the Inspector circled the shop, casting the rays from his torch into the dark corners. He could see nothing strange. The shop lay in all respects as he had left it when he went from there to the Morgue with Sergeant Anderson.
No, there was something different, there was something missing. Mason stood just inside the door, looking around the place. When he had left the shop with Anderson, little smudges of white powder were scattered about the shop. They had disappeared. Someone had carefully wiped out every sign of the finger-prints and the expert's work.
Mason smiled grimly. Here, for once, the Shadow Crook: had over-reached himself. His elaborate planning to get into the shop alone; his enormous risks he must have taken to obtain a police uniform; the further risk of going to the shop and dismissing the man on duty, had all been useless. The negatives of the finger-prints were at Headquarters. The white-powdered impressions in the shop were useless.
As he turned to leave the shop, an object lying close against the boards of the bay-window caught his eyes. He stooped and picked it up. For a moment he was puzzled. It looked like a rubber finger-stall slightly thickened over the ball of the finger.
It was the finger of a rubber glove. The thickening on the ball of the finger was to sustain a fine etching of a finger-print. Mason slipped the thing on to one of his own fingers and pressed it on the dirty window-glass. It left the clear impression of a small finger-print.
The Inspector chuckled. He had rightly read the action of the Shadow Crook. Now he could anticipate the man's movements. He had to return immediately to Headquarters and set his trap. With luck, in a few hours he would come face to face with the notorious criminal who had for so long defied the police, of the State. He would place him under lock and key and question him. In a few hours he would force from him the few remaining links in the story which he was investigating.
With strict injunctions to the constable to remain at the shop until his period of duty expired, Mason walked quickly down the lane in the direction of Hamilton-street. Turning up this street, he crossed into Bond-street and along it to Pitt-street. At the corner he bumped into a man hurrying in the opposite direction. It was a few seconds before the detective recognised him.
"Mason!" The sergeant looked surprised. "What are you doing here? I got your message to come down to the Carew-lane shop immediately. What's the trouble?"
"My message?" The Inspector's face grew dark with anger. "I never sent any message."
"Nonsense!" The Sergeant answered impatiently. "I spoke to you over the telephone myself. I recognised your voice—it was quite plain. You asked me to come down to the shop because you had found the finger-prints wiped out. You spoke of some further clue you had discovered."
Mason did not reply. His hand sought the pocket in which lay the torn glove-finger. Anderson spoke with assurance. He was certain that he had spoken to him over the telephone. What was the meaning of the message? Why had the man been removed from the shop? Why had Anderson been sent to Carew-lane. Why—
With a cry of understanding Mason dashed to the corner and hailed a cruising taxi. He bundled the astonished Sergeant into the car and bade the man drive in all haste Lo Police Headquarters. Now he understood the Shadow Crook's work. What new blow was to face him at the police offices?
He sprang out of the taxi before it came to rest at the curb. Disregarding the Sergeant, he hurried into the hall, to the Inquiry Desk.
"Anyone been asking for Sergeant Anderson?" he demanded from the constable on duty.
"Constable Kemp, Inspector," the man promptly answered.
"Constable Kemp!" Mason gazed at the man in utter astonishment. "He never entered the building. I met him on the steps, and we went to Carew-lane together."
"Constable Kemp was here a few minutes ago," the man answered stolidly. "He asked for Sergeant Anderson. Had a note from you, Inspector."
"A note from me! What did you do with it?" Mason bent impatiently across the desk.
"Took it to Sergeant Williams. He told me to get Kemp what you were asking for and take a receipt. The Sergeant kept the note, Inspector."
"What did he want?" Mason's voice was flat and grey. He guessed what the answer would he.
"He wanted the negatives lying on the table under the window in Sergeant Anderson's room. I went and got them for him. Why, Inspector, you must have passed him on your way up Hunter-street. He's not been gone more than five minutes."
The negatives lying on the table under the window! Mason could now. read the riddle. The Shadow Crook had sent the constable from the shop while he wiped out the finger-prints. Then, greatly daring, he had called Sergeant Anderson from his room so that he might come to Headquarters in disguise as Constable Kemp and take the finger-prints from the police.
Mason despondently followed Anderson into his room. One glance at the table under the window, and he knew that his guess was right. Again the Shadow Crook had outguessed and outwitted him.
"The finger-prints of the boy?" Mason asked the question in bewilderment. He delicately touched the torn glove-finger on Sergeant Anderson's desk. "You say—"
"In some manner the Shadow Crook got hold of Frederick Mayne's finger-prints and etched them on the finger of that glove, slightly reduced. He wore the gloves himself, and to confuse us, made not only the finger-prints which we took to be those of the boy, but also the gloved blanks."
"But there was a boy in the shop." The Inspector was finding difficulty in co-ordinating his thoughts. "Quint and I both saw him."
"You saw a boy turn and run out of the door," Anderson corrected. "You acknowledged that you never saw the boy in the shop. Quint states that he saw a boy entering the shop, and, when he called out, the boy turned and ran away. That seems to me what really happened. This"—he touched the glove-finger—"is conclusive."
"What's conclusive with the Shadow Crook? Nothing that I know of," Mason answered angrily. "Wonder where he got hold of that uniform?"
"Better ring up a few stations and find out." Anderson smiled as he pushed the telephone across the desk. "Interesting, if nothing more."
Mason thought a few seconds. The uniform could not have come from Headquarters nor from George-street North, or he would have been informed of the loss. For a start he dialled Redfern, as being the more likely area. He put through the inquiry and listened for a few minutes. At last he closed the instrument and turned to his companion.
"Redfern reports that early this morning, about two o'clock, one of their constables was called to a house in Winter-street on the pretext that a burglar was in the house. He was taken to the door of a room on the third floor and sandbagged as he entered. When he came to his senses, he found himself locked in the room, stripped to his under-clothing. About that time someone rang up the station, and informed the man at the desk that one of their constables was locked in an upper room in a house at Winter-street. He was asked to send round some clothes, as the constable's uniform was missing. The constable described his assailant as a tall lanky man, wearing a rubber raincoat, the collar turned high up on his face. Wore a dark hat pulled low over his eyes."
"The Shadow Crook—except for the description of the coat," Anderson chuckled.
"Not such a fool as to wear that brown overcoat again." Mason bit his lip in vexation. "The police have come to a pretty pass. Have we to go out into the streets and haul in all the people who wear their coat-collars turned up and dark-grey felt hats pulled over the eyes?"
"Quite a task on a windy, rainy day." Anderson laughed outright. "Say, Mason. Doesn't it strike you as remarkable that, although of late the Shadow Crook has been seen by quite a number of people, there's no proper description of him?"
"The man's muffled up like a mummy." The Inspector flung himself in his chair and pulled out his pipe. "We know how the uniform trick was worked—as we seem to know all the Shadow Crook's little stunts—after they are completed. Now, what about that finger-stall?"
"Nothing, yet." The expert pulled the glove-finger towards him. "This explains a lot of your puzzle. Three men were in the shop last night—"
"Three men," Anderson insisted with a slight smile. "This is conclusive against the boy being in the shop. Now, one of them murdered Frederick Mayne."
"Where does Sydney Warton fit in to your theory?"
"You have to prove that he was in the shop after six o'clock yesterday." The expert accepted the challenge. "I don't think he was there. The finger-prints of his which we found might well have been made before he knocked off work. No, you can't go beyond the three men, one of them the dead man, and one the gloved man. Find the gloved man, and you find—"
"The Shadow Crook." The Inspector blew rings towards the ceiling. "Now that you've solved the problem of the murder to your own satisfaction, perhaps you'll tell me where too look for the lost jewels?"
"'Fraid you're right out of my province there." Anderson grinned amiably. "You said something this morning about pulling the place apart, brick from brick. If the jewels are there—though I doubt it—that seems the quickest method."
"Thanks." Mason rose lazily from his' chair. "Perhaps I'll follow your suggestion, perhaps I won't."
He wandered out into the corridor and up to the main hall. He was passing through the swing doors on the way to his office when the constable at the desk called him.
"Inspector! Inspector Mason! A telegram for you. I thought you were out, or I would have sent it down to your room."
Mason accepted the flimsy and tore it open. The form contained only four words. The detective read it a second time, and then, re-folded, it carefully and placed it in his pocket-book. A slight smile of satisfaction flecked his lips.
"What about Abel Mintos?" The four words of the telegram were burned on his brain. What about Abel Mintos? From the moment Norma Etheringham had told the story of the financier's offer of the Kynaston sapphires to her husband, the detective had noted the man as worthy of investigation. The Jew must be very certain of his ability to discover the hiding-place of the jewels, if he offered them for sale. For the moment a thought rose to Mason's mind. Had Abel Mintos the White Trinity and the Kynaston sapphires?
Mintos had brought the White Trinity from Broome to Stacey Carr. He had arrived in Sydney a few days before Mrs. Kynaston came to the old jeweller. He had called on Carr and left the pearls with him. Had he been in the shop when Stacey Carr opened the secret safe to place the pearls there? If so, why had he left them in hiding for five long years? Had Abel Mintos known of the expected arrival of Mrs. Kynaston with her beautiful gems? Had he deposited the pearls with Stacey Carr so as to learn the secret of the hidden safe? Had he been the undiscovered assailant of the old man? Had he, and not Samuel Keene, struck the blow that sealed the secret of Stacey Carr's safe?
Yet, if Abel Mintos had struck down the old jeweller and obtained the jewels, why had the Shadow Crook taken so great an interest in the Carew-lane shop and Stacey Carr? It was possible to theorise—to substitute the name of Abel Mintos where the Shadow Crook's stood in the theory he was trying to construct from the small number of threads in his hands. But Abel Mintos had been an invalid in Norma Etheringham's house at the time of Frederick Mayne's murder in the Carew-lane shop.
The Shadow Crook! Mason smiled. At last the master criminal had left a clue to himself. The telegram with the four significant words had come from the Shadow Crook. To send it, he had to fill in a form. He would be required to place on the back of the form a name and address. In the writing, of that form he had made a slip which would place the detective hot on his track.
Mason left Police Headquarters and went to the General Post Office. Ten minutes later he was seated in the Telegraph Director's office, with the original form in his hand. It was written in block capitals, each letter carefully formed and void of individuality. He turned the form over. The name and address of the sender was boldly written across the back; "S. Keene, Ray Hill Court, Sydney."
S. Keene! Samuel Keene! The Inspector almost laughed aloud. At last he had a definite point from which to begin his investigation. Not that he believed the Shadow Crook lived at Ray Hill Court; the man would not make that slip; but there could be no doubt that the name and address were in some manner impressed on the master' criminal's mind.
Sternly repressing the wave of elation that swept over him at the sight Of the address, Mason again bent over the form. There might be yet another clue. For the moment he thought of finger-prints, only to surrender the idea with a smile and a shrug of his broad shoulders. The Shadow Crook did not make those mistakes. The telegram had been sent to further some definite object. It had been carefully planned, and the crook would certainly have worn gloves while writing the form. No, there was nothing more to be read from the small oblong of paper. Reluctantly the detective surrendered it to the waiting official, and left the building. He must go at once to Ray Hill Court. He knew the place. It stood in College-street, not far from the junction of Liverpool and Oxford streets—a superior class of flats bearing a good name.
Mason walked quickly up Pitt and King streets to St. James station. From there, across Hyde Park, he could see the top stories of Ray Hill Court. Walking along College-street, he studied the building intently.
About fifty people would inhabit that block of flats. Whom was he to ask for? He could not go from flat to flat, inquiring for the Shadow Crook, or Samuel Keene. He would have to follow the line laid down for him in the telegram. Did Abel Mintos live there?
It was an idea! Had the Shadow Crook written the address knowing that the Inspector would go to the General Post Office to see the original form? The Inspector lengthened his stride. It was possible. But first he must try to get on the track of the Shadow Crook, or the man whose name he had found on the back of the telegram form—S. Keene.
Mason ran up the few steps leading into the hall of Ray Hill Court. The caretaker was there, carelessly wielding a broom. On seeing the Inspector he came forward and inquired his business. For a moment Mason did not answer. He was looking round for the usual tablet containing the names of tenants.
"Mr. Keene. Mr. Samuel Keene! Does he live here?" The Inspector took a chance on the name.
"Nope!" The man shook his head indifferently and returned to the lazy waving of the broom. "Nothin' like that 'ere."
"You're the caretaker?"
"No list of tenants in the hall, I see?" Again the Inspector looked around him.
"'Awkers ain't allowed. What you sellin'?"
Mason drew his identification card from his pocket and handed it to the man. A look of stolid wonder came over the caretaker's face.
"Strewth! Who's this 'ere Sam Keene? An' what's 'e done?"
"Where's the list of tenants?"
"One in my office, mister." The caretaker leisurely shouldered his broom and turned to the stairs descending beside the lift-well. "Come down an' you'll see it. You ain't said what 'e's done."
At the foot of the stairs a baize-covered door led to the right. As the man pushed it open, a woman appeared from a small kitchen at the end of the passage and nodded to him, looking curiously at the detective. The man led into a small room just inside the passage and pointed to a typed list of tenants on the wall.
Mason crossed to it. The names were not alphabetical; they were arranged to the numbers of the flats. Mason's finger ran down the list. About half-way he stopped and turned to the watching caretaker. "Mr. Mintos live here. Is he at home?"
"Away visitin'," the man promptly answered. "Big private car, a beaut, came here yesterday evening wi' a note from 'im, askin' me ter pack a bag for 'im. I did. Any thin' ter oblige Mr. Mintos. 'E's a gent, 'e is."
"Where's he staying?"
"Out Rose Bay way." The man paused for a second. "Wrote 'e 'ad 'ad a accident. Wouldn't be 'ome for a week or so."
The caretaker's story agreed with Mrs. Etheringham's statement. For some minutes Mason meditated. Was Mintos the Shadow Crook? If so, why had he sent the telegram drawing attention to himself?
No, that was not possible. Mason knew that he had seen the Shadow Crook lounging against the entrance to Police Headquarters on the night of the raid. The man was tall and lanky. Abel Mintos, from the description he had obtained from Norma Etheringham, was short and stout. Mintos had been at Rose Bay on the night of the murder of Frederick Mayne in the Carew-lane shop. And yet the Shadow Crook had been there. Mintos was confined to his room at Avonlea, and Norma Etheringham was watching him. He had no opportunity to get to the city that morning, and the Shadow Crook had been at Carew-lane wiping out the tell-tale finger-prints.
"You knew who I am?" Mason swung suddenly on the caretaker. "Well, Mr. Mintos is away. I want to have a look at his rooms. Do I have to bring a search-warrant, or can you hold your tongue?"
"Hold me tongue, I suppose." The man shrugged his shoulders. "No good gettin' up-sides wi' you blokes. You makes it so damned unpleasant."
He led the way to the lift-well and brought down the cage. The detective entered, and they sped up to the fourth floor. There the caretaker turned to the left and opened a door.
Mason stepped into a small hall and looked, about him curiously. The flat was well appointed. On the right a small living room opened into the hall through a curtained arch. Further up the hall another door led into a large study, fitted with two windows. In the far corner stood a workmanlike desk, and beside it a bracket telephone. Under the window was a small table, and on it stood a dictaphone. Against the wall, opposite the desk, was a cabinet wireless set.
The Inspector crossed to the desk. The top was rolled back, and the writing table littered with papers. He looked at the caretaker lounging in the doorway. He would have liked to draw up a chair and devote some time to the examination of the papers, but the man might object, and Mason did not wish, at present, to trouble with a warrant. He glanced curiously at the letter on top of each group of papers. So far as he could see, they related to commercial and business matters.
Two envelopes lay on the blotting-pad, addressed and sealed. Mason turned them over curiously. The ink with which the addresses were written looked fresh. The detective could have sworn that they had been written within the past few hours. Reluctantly he laid them aside, and passed to the table on which stood the dictaphone.
"Writes his letters by hand." The Inspector spoke carelessly, bending over the dictaphone. "Yet he appears to use this place as an office."
"Sometimes." The caretaker spoke indifferently. "There's a girl comes 'ere when 'e's at 'ome nearly every mornin' an' night. Comes in th' mornin' an' gets th' things 'e's used in that thing. Brings 'em back at night wi' th' letters for 'im to sign. I've been 'ere an' seen 'er."
"Has his typing done out." Mason passed again to the desk. "By the way, who cleans out these flats?"
"Missus an' I, an' some woman we gets in. What's th' joke?"
"Curiosity, just that." The Inspector bent over the blotting-pad. It was almost a new sheet. He could see where the envelopes had been turned over to blot. Under the reversed addresses he saw a couple of lines of writing, but it was so badly fogged that he could not make it out. He swept the two letters on to the desk and lifted the blotting-pad, looking round the room for a mirror. There was none.
On his left a door stood open, showing a small bedroom. Mason entered it, carrying the blotting-pad and followed by the curious caretaker. He held the blotting-pad to the mirror. Now he could read the two addresses, but the writing was not distinguishable. Impatiently he tore the top sheet off the pad and stuffed it in his pocket, Anderson might be able to make the words visible. Returning to the study Mason replaced the blotting-pad on the desk and turned to the man.
"That all here?"
"There's th' other bedroom." The man answered with evident reluctance. Then he turned with sudden impulse to the Inspector. "Say them letters are queer. When I got Mr. Mintos' letter, I came up 'ere an' packed th' bag. Then I went to th' desk ter write 'im a bit of a note. Th' letters weren't there then, an' no one's been in 'ere 'cept th' woman as tidied up, an' she wouldn't leave the letters there if she did write 'em."
"You say the letters were not here when Mr. Mintos left the flat. Then who wrote them?"
"That's wot I'd like ter know." The man scratched his head. "They're damned queer."
The detective picked up the letters and crossed the room to the man, holding the envelopes so that the addresses showed.
"Who's handwriting's this?"
"But you said Mr. Mintos went out after lunch to Rose Bay, and the letters were not on the desk when you wrote the note to go to him with the clothes. You say he is confined at Rose Bay through an accident. So he couldn't have come back in the night to write them. Now what's the explanation?"
"I've told you all I know," the man answered sullenly. "That's 'is writin', but so far as I knows 'e didn't write 'em.'"
For the time Mason was puzzled. How could Mintos have written those letters when lying ill, miles away? The caretaker must be mistaken, although he appeared confident that Mintos had written them. If he had, then he had been in the flat within the past few hours. For some seconds the detective stood scanning the addresses. He would have liked to open them, but that would have been going far beyond his present powers. Reluctantly he again crossed to the desk and tossed the letters on to the blotting-pad.
"Now for the rest of the flat." Mason walked across the room and joined the caretaker at the door.
"Only one room, th' big bedroom." The caretaker turned into the hall and opened the door on the side opposite to the study. "All ready fer 'im ter come back an'—"
He suddenly ceased speaking, and stood in the doorway with his mouth wide open. Mason pushed him to one side and strode into the room. His eyes fell on the bed. It was in disorder, as if someone had recently been sleeping in it.
"You stay there, my friend!" The suddenly outstretched arm of the detective prevented the caretaker from approaching the bed. For some minutes Mason stood silent, carefully scanning the room.
There was nothing unusual except the disordered bed. So far as he could see, nothing else had been disturbed. He crossed to the door of the bathroom and examined the bottom of the bath. It was dry. He turned to the towel rack. The towels were dry; so, also, were the soap and brushes in their respective trays. With a perplexed shrug of his shoulders he returned to the bedroom.
"Let's get this straight." He swung round to face the caretaker, who was still where he had stopped him at the door. "First, what's your name?"
"Anstey. Charles Anstey." The man gave a little gasp. "I'll swear I had nothing to do with it!"
"With it?" Mason snapped back. "With what? With this bed? Come on, what's the story? Suppose you knew Mintos would not return last night, so allowed some friend to use the room, eh?"
"No one's been in here, to my knowledge." The man spoke quickly. "I told yer th' place was ready fer Mr. Mintos' return. If I'd lent th' bed d' yer think I'd 'ave left it like that all day?"
There was force in the statement. Mason wandered round, searching for a clue to the puzzle, but the room appeared absolutely innocent of any. Only the disturbed bed was suspicious.
"Who did this room—this morning, I mean?"
"Dunno. I'll ask th' wife. She tells th' woman wot ter do; I look after th' public parts of th' buildin'."
The Inspector nodded and the man left the room. Mason carried a couple of chairs to the doorway. He would not let anyone into the room, until he had solved this strange puzzle.
There was the telegram, from the Shadow Crook, bringing him to this flat—to this room with the disturbed bed. The telegram had come from the Shadow Crook, but it had been signed with the name of Samuel Keene. It referred to Abel Mintos—but he was laid up at Rose Bay with a broken head!
What was the connection between the three men and that room? In Mason's mind there was no doubt but that the telegram had been despatched with the one object of bringing him to the flat. For what purpose? To View a disordered bed? There must be some other reason.
Into the mystery surrounding the three men and the disordered bed intruded the two letters he had found on the desk in the study. Anstey had stated they had not been there the previous evening. Who had written them, and why had they not been posted?
Anstey had been in the flat the previous evening, and they had not been there. He bad stated that the rooms had been entered by one of the women employed in the building. How had she come to miss the bed? There appeared to be only one probable explanation. Mintos had not been seriously injured by the attack of the Shadow Crook. He had recovered during the night, stolen out of Etheringham's house, come to the flat, and written the letters. Then, possibly overcome by faintness, he had tumbled into the bed and slept. Waking early in the morning, he had gone back to Avonlea.
Such an explanation would fit the disordered bed and the letters, but it negatived any reason for the telegram. It was plain that the Shadow Crook had sent the telegrams with the intention of forcing the Inspector to go to Ray Hill Court. For what reason? To find two unposted letters and a disordered bed? To find Abel Mintos in his flat, when he was supposed to be an invalid at Avonlea? No, neither explanation would fit in which the known methods of the master criminal!
How could he reconcile the facts? Mason slumped into one of the chairs and drew out his pipe. Perhaps a whiff of tobacco would make for a solution of the problems. The door opened, and Anstey ushered in his wife. She was a buxom woman with a keen jolly face, now set in anxious lines. Immediately she entered the room she sat down heavily in the chair Mason placed for her.
"Mrs. Anstey?" The Inspector pocketed his pipe. "Yes? Good! Mr. Anstey tells me you have charge of the women cleaning out these flats. Yes? Who attended this flat this morning?"
"I did." The ample bosom of the caretaker's wife heaved tumultuously. "Charlie's a fool. I told him so this morning."
"Humph!" Mason eyed the pair, questioningly. There was something here he had not guessed at. "You came in to dust the place, I believe. Why? Mr. Mintos had written to inform your husband that he would not be home for a week?"
"Rule of th' 'ouse." Anstey gruffly interposed. "All flats 'ave to he attended to every day, whether occupied or not, 'less th' tenant undertakes to do 'is own cleanin'."
"So? That's the reason you came here, Mrs. Anstey. Did you enter every room?"
"I dusted th' place, and properly, Mister Inspector." The woman spoke shrilly. "I do things properly, I'll let you know."
"You entered every room?" Mason patiently repeated his question. "I dusted th' dinin'-room an' all, an' then went to th' study. I dusted that, an' then th'—"
"You noticed the unposted letters on the blotting-pad on the desk?"
"I did." Mrs. Anstey hesitated a moment. "I meant to take th' stamps from th' drawer and stick 'em on and get Charlie ter post 'em. Seems as 'ow Mr. Mintos 'ad for gotten 'em when 'e went out, yesterday."
"You saw them yesterday? After Mr. Mintos left the flat?"
"No." The answer was decisive. "I haven't been in th' flat for a few days, until this mornin'."
"You came into this bed-room?"
"Yes, and dusted it. Them women ain't too careful wi' th' duster. There was dust everywhere—shockin'. I'm just waiting ter tell Mrs. Moore what I think of 'er."
"The bed was made then?"
"Of course!" Mrs. Anstey swelled with indignation. "D' yer think I'd have left th' flat wi' th' bed unmade? We ain't like that, are we, Charlie?"
The Inspector took a turn up and down the room. The puzzle was becoming unsolvable. The bed made yet the letters lay on the desk! He could almost accept the woman's version of what had happened and blend it with the theory connecting Abel Mintos with the mystery. The Jew had come to the flat and written the letters. He had left the flat—and during that time Mrs. Anstey had come in with her duster. Later he had returned and lain down on the bed. But what lay behind those actions? The Jew was supposed to be confined to his bed at Avonlea. "What of that, Anstey? What of the letters?"
"Th' letters were not on th' desk last night," the man answered doggedly. "I told you I wrote a bit of a note ter Mr. Mintos at th' desk. I'd have noticed 'em if they'd been there, wouldn't I?"
"You didn't unthinkingly push the letters from the pad to the desk to make room to write? Mrs. Anstey, are you certain the letters were lying on the blotting-pad this morning?"
Both the caretaker and his wife nodded their heads. Again the detective looked round him perplexedly. The letters were not there the previous evening. They were there in the morning, and then the bed was undisturbed. But for Anstey's positive assurance, Mason would have been inclined to believe that Mintos had written the letters before he set out for Avonlea, and had forgotten to post them.
With a word of thanks he dismissed the woman and turned his attention to the room. Warning the caretaker not to stir from his seat, the detective circled the flat, again peering into the bathroom, and making certain the bottom of the bath was bone-dry. Thoroughly mystified he returned to the bedroom.
For some time he stood looking down at the disturbed bed. Had the occupant laid there through the night, or for a few hours that morning? The impression of the body seemed to speak of a long sleep.
Night or day? If the caretaker and his wife had told the truth then the letters had been written independent of the disordered bed. Someone--the handwriting on the envelopes suggested Mintos--had entered the room, written the letters and slept in the bed. Again the detective bent to the crumpled sheets. He traced the impression of the body. It was short and wide. Just the kind of impression Abel Mintos would have made.
"Come in, Anstey." Mason nodded to the waiting caretaker. "Have a careful look around the room and tell me if anything is missing."
He sat on the edge of the bed and watched the man circle the room. It was accomplished in a few minutes. Anstey returned to his chair by the door, shaking his head, negatively.
"Nothing more to do here, then." Mason rose to his feet. "The thing's a mystery! All I can gather is that one or more persons beside Abel Mintos possess keys to this flat."
"That's impossible." The man spoke positively. "There's four keys in all. Two ov 'em belong to th' 'ouse, and two Mr. Mintos 'as. That's all."
"Haven't lost a key at any time, have you?" The Inspector asked the question as he walked out of the flat towards the lift. "Tenants sometimes forget to return keys when they leave a building."
"Not with this flat." The man grinned. "Mr. Mintos came 'ere when th' place was being built, an' 'as been 'ere ever since. 'E's got 'is keys, all right, I knows. One's on 'is key-ring an' th' others locked up in 'is desk. I saw 'im puttin' it there."
"What of the other, tenants of the building?" The Inspector asked the question drawing back from the open door of the lift. He remembered he had stayed his finger when examining the list of tenants when he came to Mintos' name. There were four more floors in the building.
"The name is on th' doors." A glance of impatience crossed the stolid face of the caretaker. "Best thing ter go down an' 'ave a look at th' list, I don't fancy climbin' them stairs."
The lift dropped swiftly down the well and in a few minutes Mason again stood in the caretaker's office before the list of tenants. Almost at the foot of the list he came on a name he knew.
"So Alec Branston lives here?" He looked over his shoulder at the waiting man. "That's the man on the Mirror, isn't it? Out all night, and comes in with the milk in the morning?"
"That's 'im. Queer sort of chap. Allus laughin'. Laughs when 'e comes in dog-tired in th' mornin'. Laughs when 'e goes out to work when other people are gettin' ready ter enjoy themselves. Thumps a typewriter most ov th' afternoon an' eats when th' fit takes 'im. Know 'im?"
"Quite well!" The detective spoke untruthfully. He had only met the newspaper-man a few times in his life. Mostly what he remembered of the fellow was the unruly crop of jet-black hair crowning his head. "Suppose he's up by this time. Well, I'll go up and have a word with him."
He went up to the top floor. As he left the lift he could hear the "thump thump" of a typewriter, worked rapidly. It was unnecessary to search the tickets on the door. Mason crossed the landing and knocked. A few moments and footsteps crossed the small hall; the door swung open.
"Sight for sore eyes!" The newspaper man stepped back with a welcoming gesture. "Come in, Inspector. Can't keep the police out, although the place is in disorder. What's thrown suspicion on the select Ray Hill Court?"
"What makes you think Ray Hill Court is under suspicion by the police?" Mason laughed as he hung his hat on the hall-stand.
"Then, am I?" The journalist extended his hand as if for the hand-cuffs. "I happen to know you did not know where I lived the last time we met. You must have gone to the Mirror for my address."
"There ore others in this rabbit-warren." The detective smiled again. "F'r instance--"
"Abel Mintos!" The newspaper-man uttered an ejaculation of surprise. "I never thought of him. Still, he's been living here for quite a time. Put in when the place was built, I've been told, as one of the fixtures."
"Oh, I'm a sort of annexe." Again there was the light lilt of laughter in the reporter's voice. "Roam the streets at night and sleep under the tiles during the sweet, morning hours. Say, what's the trouble with friend Mintos? I tried to make up to him when I first came here. Heard he'd lived an adventurous life among the cannibals of the north and the wild pearl-divers. Directly I mentioned them, he froze. Cold as if he'd been in the refrigerator all night. And a man like him should have some good stories about him."
There was deep regret in the newspaper-man's voice. Mason laughed. It was hard lines for a writer to have a man of stories near him and extract only ice.
"Been out to-day?" The detective asked the question suddenly.
"Out?" The reporter glanced at the clock. "No, not yet! Have to go and feed in a minute. Got up at one-thirty to tea and toast and it is nearly six now."
"Is it, by jove?" The' Inspector looked at his watch. "So it is. Well, see you later."
He turned from the room and went to the lift. Branston stood at the door of his flat, watching the detective drop down to the ground floor. As he passed the fourth floor, Mason's finger suddenly sought the stop-button. He had glanced at the outer door of Mintos' flat and noticed it ajar. Had Mintos returned, or had the caretaker forgotten to pull the door shut? He pressed the fourth-floor button and ascended the few feet.
The door was ajar. For a moment the Inspector hesitated the pushed it open. If Mintos was at home, he could make it appear this was his first visit to the place. The caretaker would not tell of his previous examination of the flat.
He turned to the door and knocked loudly. Beyond the door the rooms lay cold and dark. Mintos had not returned. Mason walked quietly forward and peered into the dark Study. There was no one there. He turned back, and closed the hall door. It was well not to attract attention.
A few strides, and he came to the study. Immediately he walked across the room to the desk and picked up the two letters. He placed them in his pocket alongside the folded sheet of blotting-paper. Then he turned to a careful examination of the flat.
Suddenly he turned with a start. He was not alone in the dark flat! Some instinct froze him where he stood; every nerve in his body tensed to listen for the recurrence of the faint sound which his subconscious mind had registered. For some minutes he stood listening. He could hear nothing. Yet he was certain there was someone about. He had just persuaded his strung nerves that he had been mistaken when the slight grating noise came again. There was someone in the flat with him. Mason son drew his lips back in an ugly snarl. He would teach this person not to dog his steps. He snapped off the light of his torch and stole back into the hall.
There was no one there. A careful searching glance around, by the ray of his torch, and he turned to the dining-room. That also was empty. He crossed the hall and looked into Mintos' bedroom. The bed was still disordered, and there Was no one in the room. He returned into the hall and walked across to the door of the study. Something drew his attention to the door. He believed he had shut it when he came out of the room. Now it stood half-open. Was anyone in the room?
Again came the queer slithering sound. The Inspector recognised that it came from the study. Pausing a moment he pushed the door open, cautiously. A short wait and he sprang into the room with a shouted command to the intruder to "stand."
Something heavy hit him over the head and he sank down to dreamless oblivion.
"How do, you feel now, old man?"
'Mason opened his eyes to see Alec Branston bending over him. "Keep down, you idiot. You don't think you can waltz about the place after a crack over the head?"
"Crack?" The Inspector rolled his head, uneasily, to see he was lying on the floor of Mintos' study, a pillow under his head and the floor for yards around sopping wet.
"What happened? Did something fall on me, or was I—"
"Sandbagged? Yes." Branston grinned down, on the man. "A real live sandbag and a policeman's head! First time I've heard of the connection—thought the sandbag wouldn't act, or the opposing head, would prove too solid. Oh! well, if you must! Here, put your arm over my shoulder and hang on."
With some difficulty the newspaper man dragged the officer to his feet and assisted him across the room to one of the deep lounge-chairs. When he had made him comfortable he crossed the room and picked up the sodden pillow, surveying it ruefully.
"Don't know what Mintos will say." Branston held the pillow up, the water dripping from it. "Looks to me, Mason, as if you've got two of the attributes of a good cop—a thick skull and full immunity to water. Never be drowned, that's a fact, or I'd have sent you to the 'ever-ever' before you opened your eyes again."
"Dam the pillow!" Mason spoke feebly. "What happened? How did you come here?"
"Tell your story to the good little reporter and I will do the 'continued in our next' stunt."
Branston's grin was infectious. "All I know is that you left me at the door of my flat to go—where all good policemen go—if they ever dine. I went back to brush my hair and wash a little typing off my fingers. Then I came down in the lift. On the way past this floor I noticed Mintos' door was wide open and felt curious. I stopped the lift and did a reverse. Came in here. Took a header over your prostrate body. Switched on the lights and tried to find out how much water poured over a 'John's' head made for sure and certain death. That's the end of 'Chapter Two' of our new and exciting' serial. 'Chapter One' will next be published."
"'Chapter One' is almost word for word 'Chapter Two.'" Mason spoke wearily against a throbbing head. "I came down in the lift and saw Mintos' door open. Came in and thought I heard someone moving round. Tried to catch him and was caught instead."
"Someone, moving about the rooms!" The journalist echoed the phrase meditatively. "That explains a perfectly useful automatic, lying under your hand. Say, Mason, that's unusual, isn't it?"
"Hunting thieves with an automatic. I thought the police only used firearms as a last resource."
"There'll be a first and last resource when I come up with the chap who wielded that sandbag." The Inspector spoke vindictively. "If ever I catch him."
"Use a sandbag, old man." The grave tones of the journalist's voice were belied by the twinkle in his eyes. "If you caught up to him and used the butt of this automatic—I see the safety's off—there might be a vacancy in the force for a perfectly good Inspector."
"Well, there ain't—or isn't,—if you prefer that." The detective painfully levered himself from the chair. "Lucky I had my hat on. Broke the force of the blow and—"
"Increased trade for the sellers of 'hard-hitters,' guaranteed to fit the heads of members of the New South Wales Police Department." The newspaper-man crossed the floor and lifted a very battered hat from the floor. "You can't wear that, old man. You'll have the street alarmed. Wait a mo' and I'll see if I have one that'll fit you. Yes, you're about my size, and I wear soft hats."
He left the room, warning the police Officer to rest a while. In a few minutes he returned carrying a dark-coloured hat. By a leather thong dangled from his finger a blackjack. "Should have brought this back to D.O. but kept on forgetting it." He placed the jack on the table beside the automatic and handed the detective the hat. "Dark grey—the Shadow Crook's favourite colour. Mind you, keep, your identification card handy. One never knows, y' know."
A short rest and the Inspector managed to get out of the flat into the street. There Branston turned to him inquiringly.
"What's the next move, old man? I'll wait until Mintos comes home and explains the water and the pillow. Perhaps he'll send, you a box of cigars. Reward for defending his property, y' know. All the same, he'll raise Cain over the door being left open."
"Mintos is at Rose Bay." Mason smiled grimly. He had a suspicion the unknown who had attacked him was short and stout. He is said to be suffering, from a broken crown. Seems popular among friends of the Shadowy Crook. Which way are you going, Branston? City-words? Well, I'll catch a tram at the corner and go home. Thanks for the rescue."
The Inspector turned, and walked to the junction of Oxford and Liverpool-streets. Half-way along he paused and turned to watch the tall figure of the journalist striding across Hyde Park. When Branston disappeared over the rise of the ground, Mason turned back to Ray Hill Court. He was not satisfied. Someone had known he was searching Mintos' flat. The "unknown" had not gone there to rob the flat, but to get him.
Who could have known? He had not mentioned his intention of going to Ray Hill Court when he sat in the General Post Office, conning the strange telegram. He had spoken to no one on the walk across. Only Anstey and Branston knew of his presence in the building.
The telegram had been a lure to entice him to the flat. For what reason? Had the telegram been sent by Mintos? If so, then the man had not been seriously hurt by the Shadow Crook's attack. But how had he managed to leave Avonlea secretly. Mrs. Etheringham had undertaken to keep the Jew at her home or, in the event of his leaving the house, to telephone a warning to Police Headquarters.
But, he had not been in his office for some tune. It was possible that a message lay there from Avonlea. There had been ample time for the man to leave Rose Bay and get to the flat. Was there? To have started the telegraphic lure he would have had to leave Avonlea before Mrs. Etheringham arrived home. Yet she would have had time to telephone, to his office, before he started on this adventure.
He put the problem from him with a shrug of his shoulders. For the time he must devote his attention to the work in hand. In the flat lay the clue of the attack and also to the mystery of the Shadow Crook. He must work fast. In the morning the caretaker would discover the mess and turn his cleaners into the place. They would destroy all evidence of the unknown's visit.
The hall of the building was empty and the lift at one of the upper floors. Mason did not bring it down. He did not want anyone to see him about the place. Tired, and with a throbbing head, he turned to the stairs and climbed wearily to the fourth floor. At the top step he sat down and rested. He was all in.
A minute's rest and he turned to the door of the flat. It was locked. Now he remembered that when Branston helped him from the flat he had returned to fasten the door. Mason bent and examined the lock. It was a Yale. He felt in his pockets, fruitlessly. He had nothing on him that would open the door.
The door was composed of small panels of frosted glass. On the other side of the door there would be a knob to release the lock. For the moment Mason considered smashing, one of the small panels of glass, but that would cause noise and possibly bring some neighbour to investigate. He did not want to attract attention.
He could go to the basement and bring the caretaker to unlock the door, but that meant explanations and possible obstruction to his plans. He wanted to be alone in the flat—to be able to search as he willed. Anstey thought well of Mintos. He might raise objections, and Mason might have to obtain a warrant for the search. No, he must get into the flat unknown to anyone in the house.
His wandering eyes fell on his left hand, supporting him against the frame of the doorway. On the little finger was a single-stone diamond ring. A sudden idea came to the Inspector. He would burgle the flat in professional style. Surely a high official of the police could equal the work of the best "buster" in the Commonwealth.
He drew off the ring and mentally outlined the work he had to accomplish. But, first he must be certain he could control the glass circle he proposed to cut from the door. A piece of chewing-gum would accomplish that, but a search of his pockets failed to reveal any.
For some seconds he stood considering the problem. At length he drew a small circle on the glass close to one of the corners. A sharp tap and the little piece of glass fell, with hardly a sound, into the hall. Again Mason attacked the glass, this time drawing a circle with the diamond large enough to pass his hand through. He felt in his pockets and produced a pencil. Passing this through the small hole he pressed firmly. Some minutes' careful work and the glass came forward in his hand. Another moment, the door opened and he stopped into the hall. He must repair the glass before he went further with his plans. He remembered that on Mintos' desk he had seen a small box of throat lozenges, simple gums. A short search and lie found them. Five minutes' work and the circle of glass was again in place. When the gums dried the glass would stand quite a hard knock be fore giving away. Only the small hole he had first cut in the glass remained and that was hardly noticeable in the gloom of the passage.
Mason closed the hall door and went to the study. It was as he and Branston had left it. On the carpet a big, dark stain marked where the newspaper-man had poured the water over him. He wriggled inside his limp collar with uncomfortable remembrance. Damn the man! He seemed to think a police officer was a fish, and could stand any amount of water.
First he had to discover who his unknown assailant had been. Very carefully Mason passed from room to room, searching for some sign. There was none. Again he came to the study and looked around him.
The big desk in the corner fascinated him. He crossed the room and looked down on the mass of papers scattered over it. Why should he not examine them? He had the whole night before him. Something told him that here he would find matters of interest, even if they did not help him to solve his immediate problems.
A few minutes' work and Mason became interested. The man, Mintos, was an utter scoundrel. On the desk lay papers that would place him in the dock, faced with a sentence of many years' hard labour. He was purely criminal—a fraudulent company promoter—a dealer in crooked stocks and shares.
Methodically Mason searched through the various piles of documents. Suddenly he paused and reread a letter in his hand. A slight whistle escaped his lips. There were others in the fraud; big men of the city and the State. The detective continued his examination, taking from the various stacks of correspondence and documents evidence for the case he proposed to institute against the Jew. For over an hour he worked steadily, the pile of evidence growing in proportion. At length, he sat back. Before him lay documents that would expose one of the greatest commercial frauds ever perpetrated in the Commonwealth. He had sufficient evidence to go to to the Crown Law Department and obtain action against the Jew and his associates. He could go to the magistrate the next morning and ask for a search warrant. He could take away the balance of the papers and submit them to experts. But, would that help him in the work he had more immediately at hand—the tracking down of the Shadow Crook and the recovery of the missing jewels?
The immediate arrest of Abel Mintos would hamper him in the chase of the master criminal. The Shadow Crook had sent the telegram which had brought him to that flat. Now Mason believed he knew the reason behind that telegram. The Shadow Crook had sacrificed the Jew to turn the Inspector from his trail. He had believed Mason would accept the easier path; that he would immediately take up the case against Abel Mintos and, for the present, allow the Shadow Crook to remain unmolested.
But, Abel Mintos was intimately connected with the missing jewels and the Shadow Crook. The Jew must have some established knowledge of the secret safe in the Carew-lane shop, or he would never have confidently suggested to Stanley Etheringham the purchase of the jewels. He would never have wasted good money in purchasing from Mrs. Kynaston the reversion of the sapphires, lost for nearly five long years.
Who was Abel Mintos? What was his connection with the missing jewels? What was his title to the White Trinity? True, he had prosecuted the case against Stacey Carr for the theft of the pearls, but what was his previous connection with them? He had come out of the almost unknown north with the pearls for sale. He had stated he was a pearl-dealer and had purchased the White Trinity while at Broome. With the mass of evidence of a long career of crime before him on the table, Mason believed that the history of Abel Mintos and the White Trinity would bear investigation back to the days when the strange jewel had been lifted from the enclosing oyster, from a sand-bank of the Indian Ocean.
Again he turned to the desk, now searching the pigeon-holes and drawers of the upper structure. Almost immediately he came on a paper which interested him. It was the receipt for the payment of one thousand pounds for the Kynaston sapphires, dated only a month back.
At last be completed the search of the desk and, pulling out one of the slides, placed on it the documents he intended to take with him when he left the flat. Yet something chained him to hi seat before the desk. He was not satisfied. There was some thing more to find. But he had searched the desk! Again he turned to the shallow drawers in the upper structure of the desk, pulling each one completely out of its place. One of them caught his attention. It was considerably shorter than its fellows. He tried to force his hand into the aperture, but could not. He flashed the light of the desk-lamp into the space.
There was a small white package at the back of the aperture. Again Mason tried to reach it with his fingers, but could not. He found a paper-knife on the desk and pried out the packet. It was small, about three inches long and two inches wide by a little more than an inch deep; wrapped in white, paper and fastened with thin string. He snapped the string and unrolled the paper. He held in his hand a small jeweller's case. With high-beating heart he pressed the catch and the lid flew, back. From a bed of purple velvet flashed up to his eyes the white iridescence of the White Trinity.
The White Trinity! Mason sat back in his chair and stared at the jewel, glowing warmly under the strong light of the table-lamp. He had found the White Trinity! He had found it in the possession of Mintos.
He closed the case and pushed it to one side, searching eagerly for the sapphires. If Abel Mintos held the White Trinity then it was more than probable he held the other jewels. Where had he hidden them?
Ten minutes later the Inspector sat back, baffled and angry. The desk contained neither the sapphires nor clue to their hiding-place. Angrily he commenced to restore the desk to order. The task accomplished, he again drew the jeweller's case to wards him, and opened it. Not content, he lifted the pearls from their velvet bed and held them close to the light. Something about their pure white sheen puzzled him.
Norma Etheringham had spoken of the pearls that morning. She had stated that the White Trinity was almost valueless. The pearls were diseased; her father had claimed they were incurable. Again the detective held the pearls to the light. These jewels were not diseased. Pure and limpid, they reflected back pure rays of light. There were no signs of disease on them. Then—
Mason laughed softly to himself. Mintos had had a replica of the famous jewel made. This replica he had found in the desk. It was a beautiful piece of work, but it was imitation.
A slight sound from the hall caused the detective to swing round to face the half-open door. A few seconds he sat listening intently. Some one had entered the flat. Was it his unknown assailant—or, better still, the Shadow Crook?
Moving with caution, Mason crept towards the door of the little bedroom and paused. Again he listened. He had not been mistaken. He could hear the creak of soft footsteps on the polished boards. He went into the bedroom, closing the door until only a small crack remained for him to peer through. This time he would come upon the unknown, unawares.
A long wait, then into the circle of light thrown by the desk lamp moved the figure of a man, clad in complete black. For one brief second the detective caught a glimpse of a black mask shrouding the face. Was this man the Shadow Crook? Almost Mason believed he was, although there were differences compared to the man he had seen out side Police Headquarters. His hand stole to his hip-pocket—to come away empty. His automatic was not there. Then he remembered. Branston had placed his gun on the table beside the dictaphone after he assisted him to a chair. He peered into the gloom of the room, and thought he could distinguish the gun lying beside the black-jack.
The masked man had caught sight of the White Trinity, lying in its case beneath the light of the lamp. With a gasp of surprise he stooped and lifted the jewel to the light. Mason thought his opportunity had come. With a bound he stood in the study—to face a levelled automatic and a growled order to raise his hands.
For some seconds detective and crook faced each other. Mason dared not move. The gun in the hand of the masked man was pointing unwaveringly at him. He could only wait on the chance that the man might make some move that would give him the advantage.
The man man the Black Mask stepped back until he stood by the desk. His fingers wandered over the blotting-pad until they found the jeweller's case containing the White Trinity. With a grunt of satisfaction he closed the case and slipped it into his pocket. Again his hand went out, this time to the lamp, pressing, down the flexible stem until the only light in the room was reflected from the desk-top.
"Turn round!" A slight tenseness of the hand holding the automatic emphasised the command. "Keep your hands up and count ten, slowly and aloud." Furiously angry, Mason could not but obey the command. He turned to face the door of the little bedroom and commenced to count. As he uttered the "ten" he whirled round sharply, to find the masked man still beside the desk.
"Thought you'd try some funny business." The man laughed gruffly. "Turn round, and this time march straight forward into that room. Remember, I shall be behind you and it's unhealthy to turn too quickly. That's right! Across to the bed! Now turn to the left. Quick march to that door. Correct! Open it!"
Unable to speak, because of the fury raging in his breast and choking his throat, Mason obeyed. He crossed from the door leading to the little room into Mintos' bedroom. The door was locked. He tugged at it, angrily, then turned to face the masked man, standing just within the study-door.
"This door's locked." Instinctively he crouched on bent knees, waiting for the mistake that would give him an even break in the coming struggle. "You'd better put down that gun. You can't get away with it."
Almost as he spoke, the crook sprang back, slamming the door shut. Mason charged across the room, to hear the key turn in the lock and the derisive laugh of the Masked Man in the study. He flung himself at the door but the woodwork was sound and he made no impression, on it. He turned and went to the other door, twisting the handle angrily. He thought it might be open. He had not been careful to turn the handle right round when ordered to do so by the crook. But the door was locked.
He was a prisoner! On the other side of the study door the Man in the Black Mask was probably continuing the search for the Kynaston sapphires, through desk and room. The gasp of satisfaction he had given when he saw the replica of the White Trinity showed Mason the crook believed he had the true jewel. The man would not quickly leave the rooms. He would continue the search in the hope of finding the sapphires. He might be there for hours. If he could only get from that room he had a hope of capturing him.
He pressed his ear against the panel of the study door and believed he could hear the man moving about the room. For some full minute he stood, thinking deeply, then crossed to the window and flung it up. Looking down on the street he found he was at least five storeys up, for Ray Hill Court was built on the side of a hill It was impossible to climb down from the window to the road.
Mason pulled in his head and looked round the room. There was the bed He might make some sort of a rope from the sheets and blankets and try and slide down to the road. But, it was early in the evening and a number of people were walking along College-street. He would be seen, a crowd would gather; the noise and inquisitiveness of the people would alarm the Man in the Black Mask and he would escape.
He would have to get through one of the two doors. Mason closed the window, went across to the bed, and sat down. Again he tried the doors, to find them both fastened. He listened but could hear no sounds from either room. Had the crook gone? The Inspector paced the floor, moodily. What a fool he had been! Twice that night he had been outguessed and beaten.
He could not rest. Impatiently he searched his pockets. There was nothing in them that would serve to force a way to freedom. He had only his pocket knife. He searched the room. If he could find a piece of wire he might have a chance to pick, the lock. He had never tried to pick a lock before but be believed it was not too difficult. Why did not the authorities give the police courses in housebreaking? A police officer, locked in a room, was as helpless as the general public he was appointed to protect.
Again he worked on the study door, using his penknife in a futile attempt to force the lock. It was an impossible task. Placing the tool in his pocket, he commenced to pace the floor. He came to the door leading to Mintos bedroom and tugged at the handle, in a frenzy of temper. The door gave, almost throwing him across the room. He recovered and went to examine the lock. The bolt was shot back. He closed the door and opened it again, easily.
Again the Shadow Crook had foiled him. While he had been raging up and down the room, examining means of escape through the window, trying to force the study door, the Shadow Crook had completed his task and silently unlocked the door. Mason was ungrateful for this unsolicited freedom. He walked into the study, muttering oaths of vengeance.
The desk-lamp was still burning, but the replica of the White Trinity and the documents he had placed on one side, to take to the Crown Law department, had vanished. The documents did not greatly matter. He could replace them with others from the piles of papers on the desk—papers equally condemning. The White Trinity was but a fake!
What use could the Man in the Black Mask make of the papers? With a grim smile Mason remembered crooks held no code of honour. The Masked Man would use the papers to blackmail the Jew. Perhaps in the subsequent imbroglio he would find a chance to recover the papers and cage the man who had so skilfully held him up.
He glanced around the study. There was now no reason for remaining in the flat. Retrieving his automatic and blackjack, Mason picked up his hat and strode to the hall door. As he expected, the glass he had cut from, the door panel had been removed. It now lay on the hall-stand. For some seconds Mason considered. He could not leave the door in that condition. For that night his search of the flat must be concealed. Next morning a burglary would be discovered, but the adventure would be credited to one of Sydney's numerous army of "busters." For some time he worked on the gelatines, fastening the glass in place. He closed the door gently and went to the lift-well. The cage was on the ground-floor. He brought it up and entered. Fastened to the side of the interior by a pin was a small piece of paper. He bent to it, curiously; then swore vehemently. It bore only the word: "Thanks."
In College-street the Inspector walked towards St. Mary's Cathedral. At the corner of William-street he paused and considered. His head was aching and his body weary, but he knew he could not sleep. He was shaking with rage at the tricks played on him that night. He must do something. A tram-ride into the far suburbs might clear his head and give him time to regain his poise. Why not go out to Rose Bay and have a look at the Etheringhams' house? He had meant to do that for some time, but had been too busy. He wanted to know the lay of the land. If Abel Mintos intended to remain out there it might be necessary to set a watch on him.
The tram crawled slowly through the streets of Darlinghurst, then out amid the quieter roads of the far suburbs. At the Rose Bay tram-shelter Mason alighted and walked to wards Avonlea. For some time he skirted the grounds of the big house, then returned to the entrance gates and pushed them open. Some hundred yards from the gates he came in sight of the mansion and halted. There were many lights shining through the windows. He wondered in which room Abel Mintos lay. The night was fine and the surroundings lonely. Mason stepped from the gravel drive on to the grass and found a place where he could lie and watch the front of the house. He had much to think over and classify. The days and nights had been full of happenings.
Some movement on the face of the building attracted the detective's attention. While he had been meditating, the lights had been extinguished, one by one, until only a few illuminated the windows of the upper storey. Against the background of a lighted window he glimpsed a bulky form. He leaned forward, watching intently. Presently, he turned on his hands and knees and crawled into the shelter of a clump of bushes, beside the drive.
A man had come out of the windows on to the balcony. The light in the room had been extinguished, but in the bright moonlight Mason could well distinguish him. He had climbed over the railings of the balcony and slid down one of the posts to the top of the verandah. From there he was climbing down to the ground. There he disappeared from the Inspector's view.
From the shelter of the bushes Mason watched intently. At length, the man reappeared, coming down the grass beside the drive, keeping in the shelter of the shrubs and many ornamental trees. He passed the Inspector and made for the big gates. Mason gave him sufficient law and then followed. The man went out on the road and walked sharply to the tram-shelter.
He was certain the figure before him was Abel Mintos. He had never met the man but could not fail to recognise him by the description he had received. What was the Jew doing on the streets at that hour of the night? He was supposed to be an invalid, confined to his room through a brutal attack by the Shadow Crook.
The man walked to the shelter-shed and entered. Mason hung back. He dared not go too close to the Jew. He turned and walked in the direction of the city. With a little luck he should be able to get to the next tram-stop before the vehicle arrived.
He had barely reached his objective when the tram hove in sight. Mason hailed it, and mounted to one of the rear compartments. He could sec this Jew close to the front of the car. He watched him, cautiously. Where was the man going?
At College-street, Mintos alighted. Instead of turning towards Ray Hill Court, he continued down Park-street and up to the steps on to the Park. Here he cut across to Market-street and down to George-street. There, he crossed the road and waited for a tram, going in the direction of Circular Quay.
Mason watched the tram bearing Mintos move slowly down the street. Where was the man going? If his objective was the Carew-lane shop then he was due for a surprise. The shop was in the hands of the police and Mason had given strict orders that a man remained on duty night and day. The Inspector allowed the tram to get well towards the General Post Office, then hailed a taxi and ordered the driver to make all speed to Carew-lane.
He had time on arriving at Carew-lane to warn the constable on duty of the expected visitor. Mason did not remain in the shop but moved down the street to the entrance to a narrow passage from where he could watch the entrance of the lane. He was beginning to believe he had been mistaken and that Mintos did not in tend to visit Stacey Carr's shop, when the short, stout figure of the Jew loomed round the corner from George-street. The man kept on the opposite side of the lane from the shop, walking slowly towards Hamilton-street. Opposite the jeweller's shop he paused and leaned against the wall.
Two tall figures came sharply into view at the George-street corner. They paused and exchanged a few words, in an undertone. One of the men drew back, the other walked sharply down the lane. Mason recognised, with surprise, that the advancing man was a uniformed constable. He came out of his shelter and walked slowly up to where the Jew leaned against the wall. The two were arguing loudly when the Inspector came within earshot.
"What's the matter?" Mason' asked in sharp official tones. "What's this man done?"
"Loitering with intent, I think." The constable spoke after a quick glance of recognition at the Inspector. "There's a gentleman at the corner who says he's been watching him for some time and that he's been acting suspicious-like."
"That so?" Mason turned to the Jew. "What's your game? What do you want down here at this time of the night?"
"My name is Mintos—Abel Mintos." The Jew spoke excitedly. "I was restless and could not sleep, so I came out for a walk, I—"
"Where do you live?" The constable asked the question.
"At Ray Hill Court." Mintos spoke with more assurance. "If you will ring up the caretaker he will answer for me."
"So you came out of Ray Hill Court to walk down here?" The patrolman continued the inquisition as the Inspector drew back a pace. "Funny thing to do. Not much fresh air down here. What made you come down this lane?"
"I saw the name—Carew-lane—at the corner and remembered the murder. I thought I should like to have a look at the shop."
"So you came down from Ray Hill Court, at this time of the night, to have a look at a shop where a murder took place?" The constable laughed. "Rather thin that, isn't it?"
"Ever been here before?" The Inspector interposed suddenly.
"No. Why should I?"
"You say your name's Mintos?" Mason was thinking rapidly. He had long harboured suspicions of the Jew, and his actions that night were decidedly suspicious. "There was a Mintos who had dealings with the man, Stacey Carr, who occupied this shop years ago."
"This is the shop?" Mintos spoke with assumed astonishment. "Then, yes. I have been here before. I had forgotten the place—and the association."
"Had you?" The man's story was too thin and Mason had made up his mind. "Strange you should have remembered the murder and forgotten the shop. Especially when the newspapers featured the place as being the scene of the Stacey Carr jewel robbery. There was the matter of a few thousand pounds worth of pearls you lost in that, wasn't there? What do you think of his story, constable?"
"Mighty suspicious!" The patrolman laid a heavy hand on the Jew's shoulder. "You'd better come with me, until I get your story verified."
Mintos tried to wriggle from under the man's clasp but the constable held firmly. In a few seconds he was being frog-marched up the lane to George-street.
"Where are you taking him, constable?" Mason asked. He was not too well acquainted with the beats at this end of the town.
"George-street North's my place." The constable had now linked his arm in Mintos'. "Ah, here's the gentleman who put me on to our friend." Mason looked round to meet the quizzical eyes of Alec Branston. He had his finger to his lips—a warning to silence.
"Saw you watching the Jew." The newspaper-man spoke in a low voice as they lagged behind the constable and his captive. Jumped your tram at King's Cross and saw you watching him. Thought I'd give you a hand. Besides, I'll be giving the little woman at Rose Bay a hand at the same time. The brute's always pestering her. Wonder what Stan Etheringham will say when his great pal, Abel Mintos, is "placed in the dock under the 'Vag' Act?"
"Here!" The Inspector turned suddenly to face the journalist. "How the' devil do you know all this?"
"Easy." Branston grinned. "Stan. Etheringham and his wife are by way of being friends of mine. I met Mrs. Etheringham in town to-day and she told me that Mintos had placed himself, as an interesting invalid, in her house. You can guess what I thought when I saw him strolling through the city a few paces ahead of you. 'Sides, Mason, I'm still on the track of the Shadow Crook. Five to one, in notes, I have first talk with him—between you and me. Taken, eh?"
Abel Mintos appeared the next morning in the dock at the Central Police Court to answer a charge of loitering with felonious intent. To his surprise, and against the earnest appeal of his solicitor for bail, the magistrate granted the police application for a remand for seven days, in custody.
An air of tension hung over the Court during the brief proceedings. A number of uniformed men lounged into the body of the Court when the case was called, and lined the walls. The magistrate looked graver than usual, and keenly watched the defending solicitor nervously turning over the pages of law-books, on the solicitor's table.
"What the hell's up?" Etheringham, who had come down to the court on hearing of the charge against Mintos, asked the question of his solicitor when, outside the court, they halted on the top of the long flight of steps leading down to Liverpool, street.
"There's something behind this." Montague Mostyn, a short slight man with a large bulbous nose, blinked at his client from behind powerful spectacles. "If you will wait for a a few moments, my dear sir, I will have a word with Mr. George Cohen and see what I can learn."
He trotted off, leaving the squatter standing amid a crowd of loungers and defendants. Etheringham looked around him with distrust. He had heard, and read, of the crowd that assembled at the Central Police Court, daily—prostitutes, petty-thieves, breakers of the innumerable by-laws accumulated by generations of law-makers and city aldermen. He walked down a few steps, to purer air.
That morning he had been awakened by the news that the Jew was missing from his room. Immediately he had organised a search of the house and grounds. The thought had come to his mind that the Shadow Crook had returned to the house during the night to complete the murder he had commenced on the stairs two days before. He had found no traces of the Jew. Almost he had decided to organise a party to drag the harbour, before the Avonlea grounds; The Shadow Crook had almost become an obsession with him. He had believed the man capable of anything. Then had come the telephone message, that Mintos was in the hands of the police and would be brought before the court that morning.
"What's that? The 'Vag' Act?" Etheringham turned impatiently on the little man. "But Abel Mintos is one of the best-known business men in Sydney. The thing's impossible! Are the police mad?"
"Mr. Etheringham?" Inspector Mason, passing down the steps from the court-house, stopped and turned. "You have come here regarding the Abel Mintos affair? 'Fraid it's going to be serious."
"Inspector Mason!" Mostyn stood on tip-toe to whisper the name in the squatter's ear.
"You know the case, Inspector?" Etheringham faced the officer, angrily. "Can you tell me what the police are about? Mintos is a friend of mine."
"I'm sorry for that, Mr. Etheringham," Mason spoke, quietly. "I was on duty last night and happened to be round Rose Bay way. I saw someone climb out of a window of your house and recognised Mr. Mintos, or rather recognised him by a description I held. I followed him and saw a constable arrest him in Carew-lane. I'm sorry to say Mr. Mintos deliberately lied in his answers to the constable's questions."
"Lied?" For a moment passion choked the squatter. "Lied—"
"More than that." A ghost of a smile played around the firm lips of the police officer. "I have reason to believe the Crown Law department will intervene before the next hearing of the charge. Mr. Mintos' flat is now in the possession of the police and Crown Law officers are examining his papers. There is grave suspicions of fraudulent business dealings. At present Mintos is held for 'loitering.' That means he will be confined without bail until we can state definitely the more serious charges against him."
The Inspector bowed slightly and ran down the steps. Mostyn caught at his client's arm to lead him down to where the Etheringham car waited, but the squatter resisted. He was furiously angry, and annoyed. Angry with the police for the action they had taken against a man he had honoured with friendship; annoyed at Mintos' queer actions which had landed him in the grip of the law. Again, he was worried by the telephone message he had received that morning, telling him that Abel Mintos was to be charged at the Central Police Court. He had thought the message had come from Mintos, through the police. On arriving at the court, he had instructed Mostyn to make inquiries, to be informed that neither Mintos nor the police had originated the message.
Etheringham had offered bail to any amount. Mostyn had made the offer to the prosecuting sergeant, confident the police would be willing to accept any way out of the mistake they must by this time realise they had made. To his astonishment he had been curtly informed that bail was out of the question. He was permitted a sight of the charge sheet. A few whispered words warned him that much graver charges lay behind the present seemingly inconsequent proceedings.
Slowly the belief that Mintos had deceived him penetrated the egotism in which the squatter had long enveloped himself. In spite of his self-esteem he had a great regard for the law, especially regarding the minor points of life. His belief in the infallibility of the police was absolute. Once the first edge of his temper was dulled, he recognised that the police would not hold a man in custody on a minor charge without just cause. He had been intimate with Abel Mintos for many months, in spite of his wife's open dislike of the man. He had had business dealings with him, some of them rather risky, and had made money. Rapidly he reviewed his later dealings with the Jew, and his face blanched. Had Mintos led him into a position where there was a likelihood of his being implicated in the frauds more than hinted at by the Inspector? Again, there was the—
He came to action suddenly and clutched the arm of the little solicitor, almost dragging him down the steps to the waiting car.
"Mostyn," he muttered. "We've got to get to your offices and talk this out. I don't quite know where I stand. I've been friendly with Mintos. I've been in business deals with him. There's' a company—"
"Mintos? Business?" The little solicitor shifted round on the seat and looked at his client in amazement. "Lord Etheringham. Haven't you enough money without playing with fire with scats like that damned Jew?"
"There's one company—" The squatter had his head down in his hands, speaking in a muffled whisper, "Northern Territory mining. Mintos floated it and put me in as a director. I've had a big block of shares in it. I've sold shares to my friends. They took it on my word—I—"
"Took up shares in the company?" Mostyn asked the question abruptly. "Well, that's not so bad. We'll see—"
"No. They bought the shares from me, at a premium. I've taken up thousands of shares, as I wanted them, and sold them. Mintos gave me the market quotations, from time to time, and I sold on that."
"You mean to say Mintos reserved a big block of shares for you to take up, as you could dispose of them? You sold them at a premium and pocketed the differences? You sold your friends, the men and women who trusted you? Suppose you paid Mintos for the shares? Yes? Thought so. What's the company?"
"The Northern Territory Development Gold-Mining Co." the squatter answered, dully.
"Isn't such a company on the Stock Exchange," Mostyn spoke tersely. "So that's how the brute lived and made a splash? And you did the dirty work for him. Oh, you fool! You damned fool!"
"Norma never did like nor trusted him." The squatter continued, dully. "She wanted me to cut him. She was furious when he got that knock from the Shadow Crook and I asked him to stay on in the house. She—"
"Norma Etheringham's a wise woman." The solicitor grunted, and blew his nose, vigorously. "You've made a mess of things, Etheringham, but I'll have to get you out of it, somehow. Best thing is to have counsel's opinion, at once. I'll get you out by hook or crook—more likely crook, from what I can see of it. Everything depends on what that blighter says when charged. He'll try and blame it on you, that's certain."
Mostyn laughed, bitterly, as he stepped out of the car before his offices, in Hunter-street. Etheringham left him for a moment to give; instructions to his chauffeur. At that moment Mostyn saw Inspector Mason walking up the street, towards Police Headquarters. Immediately he went to meet the police officer.
"Look here, Mason, I want a word with you, on the quiet." The little solicitor glanced up to catch the quizzical smile on the Inspector's face. "Good Lor'! You know?"
"Can guess." Mason laughed. "You're frightened your squatter client will be drawn into this Abel Mintos affair? Well, don't guess, be sure."
"That so? Mintos has committed him, I suppose?"
"As bad as can be." The Inspector bent, until his lips were but a few. inches from the little solicitor's ear. "Don't look astonished and I'll admit to a series of adventures in Mintos' flat yesterday evening, and the early part of the night. I'll admit I went through his papers with a fine-tooth comb and that it's at my instance the police and Crown Law Department are now in occupation of Mintos' flat. There's another matter I'm working on, but keep that strictly under your hat."
He glanced around him, then bent lower and whispered half a dozen words. Mostyn jumped back as if the Inspector had bit him.
"By the Recording Angel!" The solicitor's eyes were popping out of his head. "You don't mean that? Abel Mintos, the Shad—"
"Tell the street!" The Inspector's foot came heavily on the little man's toes. "All this is between you and me, Mr. Mostyn. Use it, but don't let your fool-client get a line on it, or the fat will be in the fire with a vengeance."
Mason nodded, and swung up the street towards Police Headquarters hardly glancing at Etheringham, standing on the steps of the building. He was not too well pleased with himself. He had said more than he intended to the little solicitor.
While watching Abel Mintos in the Central Police Court, the thought had again recurred to him that the Jew might be the Shadow Crook. It was difficult to imagine the stout, squat figure of the company promoter, concealing the lanky, tall figure of the Shadow Crook. Yet careful disguise might cover a lot.
It seemed absurd to imagine the Jew carrying a superabundance of padding about with him, day after day, to cover his secret night activities as the Shadow Crook. But that would be a question answered within the next few hours. At Long Bay Mintos would soon shed any disguise he had assumed. The gaol authorities held his request for a thorough examination of the Jew.
On the steps of Headquarters Mason hesitated. Etheringham would be engaged for some time with his solicitor. He had a splendid opportunity to get to Rose Bay and have a quiet talk with Norma Etheringham. There were many points on which he wished to question her.
He turned up to Macquarie-street and walked to Queen Square. Cutting down beside St. Mary's Cathedral, be came into William-street and boarded a tram. Half an hour later he walked up the drive to Avonlea. Norma, Isla, and Cranford were seated on the verandah, watching his approach.
"Abel Mintos is remanded in custody for seven days." The detective knew he was not carrying bad news. "It is probable that the charge against him will be altered within a few days to one more serious. I'll take care there is no bail."
"Abel Mintos in prison! The fat, ugly beast!" Isla clapped her hands. "I hate that man, Norma. He's—"
"Isla!" Norma could not help smiling; She turned to the Inspector. "My husband?"
Mason hesitated. Had he to tell this girl that her husband stood an excellent chance of standing in the dock beside the Jew? She had suffered a hell on earth during the days of her father's trial. What answer could he make? He commenced to speak but Cranford, who had been watching him keenly, interposed.
"I guess Mr. Etheringham has to consult with his solicitors, Norma." The barrister spoke easily. "He has been speculating freely under Mintos' advice. Now he has to make a clean breast of the business to some one who can help him."
"That's just it." Mason was relieved. "I saw Mr. Etheringham at the Court and later in Hunter-street, with Mr. Montague Mostyn. You see, Mrs. Etheringham, I gave Mr. Mostyn a hint of what was likely to come to Mintos, so that he'll be able to advise Mr. Etheringham. I'm afraid it will be a long matter. Mr. Etheringham's not likely to be home before nightfall."
"Then you name to see me." Norma's voice faltered slightly. "Will you sit down, Inspector. I'm sure you haven't anything very serious to question me on, but Mr. Hughes is here to advise me."
"Don't worry, Norma." Again Cranford interposed. "When I get back to the city I'll ring up Richardson and Western, and arrange for them to brief me as your counsel. Don't worry, I'll—"
"I should like to see the room Mr. Mintos has been occupying." Mason spoke officially. He did not want to question Norma when she was in the company of this keen-eyed barrister. "In fact, I should like to take the things he has here. He'll want a change or two at Long Bay. Suppose you'll have no objection to that, Mr. Hughes? Of course I can get the usual warrant—"
"No objections, Inspector." Cranford smiled slightly. He turned to the girl. "Better keep the servants out of this, Norma. Will you take Inspector Mason and myself to the room Mintos occupied?"
Norma led the way up the stairs, to Mintos' room. She opened the door and stood on one side for the men to enter. For a couple of seconds Mason stood just within the door surveying his surroundings with keen eyes. He wanted to be alone in that room for a few minutes, but could not see his way to asking that favour. Norma might agree, but Cranford Hughes, with his great knowledge of legal matters, would certainly object.
His eyes alighted on a suit-case standing close to the window. He went across to it and lifted it to a chair. There were papers in it, mixed with the clothing. He ran through them quickly, then replaced them in the case. He could examine them at leisure; in his office. He looked round the room. There were a few toilet articles and clothing about. As he gathered them together and packed them in the case, he furtively watched his surroundings. Nowhere could he see any trace of the missing jewels. He finished packing the case and let the lid fall. The case was of highly polished leather, very new. The day had been dull and misty, and a slight film of dampness lay over the polished surface. He noticed some fine marks along the edge of the case, and bent to examine them. Clearly they were finger-prints and remarkably like those Sergeant Anderson had named as made by a boy or woman in the Carew-lane shop.
What did those prints mean? Had the Shadow Crook again been able to enter the Etheringham's house? Had the master criminal come to this room on hearing that Abel Mintos had been arrested? What had he found?
For some moments the Inspector stood, looking down on the tell-tale marks on the polished leather. There could be no doubt. The Shadow Crook had been in that room!
He must get to Headquarters as quickly as possible and show those marks to Sergeant Anderson. With but a brief word of farewell to Norma and the barrister he closed the case, carefully, and ran down the stairs to the drive.
Now he understood why the case did not contain the papers and jewels he had expected to find there. Again the Shadow Crook had anticipated him.
Inspector Mason made all speed back to the city. He wanted to catch Sergeant Anderson before ho left his office for the night. Chance had again given them some of the prints that they had lost from the Carew-lane shop.
What those finger-prints would tell, the Inspector could not guess. Had they been made by the remaining fingers of the glove he had found in the shop? How had they come on this suitcase, resting in the guest room at Avonlea? The only answer to his questions was that the Shadow Crook had again visited the Etheringham's house. But for what reason? Why had he left those obviously false finger-prints behind him? Surely this master crook, usually so well informed regarding police movements, must know they had learned to distinguish between the prints made by the dead man and those left by the rubber gloves.
At the door of Police Headquarters he was lucky enough to run against Sergeant Anderson, leaving the budding for the night. A few words of explanation and the expert returned to his room and arranged the camera. Ten minutes later the negative stood on the frame and the two men bent over it, scanning each line and whorl with high-powered glasses. They were exactly similar to those shown on the record card of Frederick Mayne, though slightly reduced.
"We've got the prints back again." Sergeant Anderson looked round at his brother officer. "What now? Where's this going, to lead?"
"You have the finger of the glove?" asked Mason. "Although this print is not from that finger, you should be able to tell if it came from the same hand?"
"I may be able to tell more than that." The expert was thinking deeply. He picked up the suit-case and led to the door. "Come down to the laboratory. I may be some time over this."
He led the way down the stairs to the basement. In the lower corridor he came to a locked door. Opening this, he ushered Mason into a well-fitted laboratory. He placed the suit-case on the centre table, and for some minutes busied himself with a number of chemicals. At length, he returned to the suit-case and arranged it under a powerful microscope. Then, watching through the instrument, he treated the impressions with the solution. Mason looked on, interestedly. He wanted to ask questions, but the expert was too deeply engrossed in his work to be disturbed.
After a time Anderson left the microscope, and went to a cupboard on the other side of the room. He returned to the table carrying the torn glove-finger. Fitting this on his finger, he pressed it firmly to his forehead for some minutes, then against the edge of a highly-glazed china plate. Again and again he performed this operation, until he had, on the outer edge of the plate, a series of impressions. These he treated with the solution, watching the reaction through the microscope. Presently he straightened himself, a satisfied expression on his good-humoured face.
"Thought so. Have a look here, Mason. Notice any difference between the impressions on the suit-case and those on the plate?"
The detective took his stand before the microscope while Anderson handled the exhibits. For some considerable time he studied the two sets of impressions. They looked, to him, exactly the same. He shook his head negatively.
"No?" Anderson laughed, slightly. "Perhaps not. Took me some time before I could gather the signs together, and I knew what I was looking for. Still, they're plain enough."
"What's the joke?" Mason questioned seriously.
"No joke, man. Damned hard facts, and perhaps the solution of part of your problem. If you look at the impressions on the edge of the plate you will see very minute rubber crystals, reflecting points of light. Now, from the marks on the suit-case, no rubber crystals reflect. Do you understand now?"
"I mean just what I said. I suppose you know that the finger-prints from the human hand are made plain by an acid, given off by the skin. That acid is ejected by the skin more freely in warm weather, or when the owner of the fingers is under stress of emotions. Now, you know the human skin doe's not give off rubber crystals. Therefore, when I discover rubber crystals over the finger-prints, I must look for a cause. An etching of the lines and whorls of the human finger on a rubber glove will provide just what I want. I have the rubber glove, with the etching on it, here. I have a suit-case with exactly the same impressions, but they do hot show rubber crystals. Therefore, the impressions are only due to human flesh—the stearic acid excluded by the skin providing the 'ink' necessary to make the impressions."
"Devoid of your expert talk, you mean to say that the marks on the plate are made by a rubber stamp, while those on the suit-case come from a living hand," suggested the detective. "But you said—"
"You mean the relativeness of various imprints." Anderson interrupted. "I stated that, in spite of the assertions of the experts who established the finger-print science, that no two persons have identical finger-prints, such a possibility was not without the bounds of probability. Here in this room, we have the so-called impossible proven possible. Yesterday I made a careful comparison of the fingerprints of Frederick Mayne and those of the rubber-glove finger. I found them identical. Now you have brought me a suit-case with fingerprints identical with the rubber glove-finger. The inference is obvious. There are, or have been, in New South Wales, two persons with identical finger-prints—one of them the dead man in the Morgue."
"Two persons with identical finger-prints." Mason mused for a moment. "Say, Anderson, if this goes to Court, you will have to be darned sure of your ground. Your statement just now would raise a laugh against you."
"Go to hell!" The expert laughed, confidently. "Just because I've chanced on something the European and American scientists have missed, so far. Well, it's not the first time they've had to learn from good old Aussie."
"You're absolutely certain?" Mason asked the question earnestly. "To you, yes. To the world at large, not quite. There's more work to be accomplished before I can prove my statement. To-morrow I enlarge this new finger-print photograph, and, through a lantern, superimpose, the three negatives—Frederick Mayne's, the glove-finger, and the finger-print from the suit-case—one over the other. That is the final test. If they agree line for line, then the theory that no two finger-prints are alike goes to the wall."
The Inspector watched Anderson lock up the suit-case and the negatives in a big safe in the corner of the laboratory. In silence he accompanied the Sergeant up to the ground floor and to the door of the building. Again he had come on a fact that would not fit into the theories he had striven to weave around the dead man and the missing jewels.
Somewhere in Sydney was a boy who wore the finger-prints of Frederick Mayne. That boy had been in the Carew-lane shop the night Mayne was stabbed. That boy had recently visited Avonlea and the room Mintos had occupied, after the assault on him by the Shadow Crook. Where was he to seek that boy? He had hardly glimpsed him as he ran out the shop-door on the night they had found the dead man.
Mason shook himself impatiently. He was continually arguing wrongly. Every new problem that occurred he had come to place to the credit of the Shadow Crook. Now he knew he had to consider other factors in his problems.
That morning he had stated to Etheringham's solicitor that he held the belief that Abel Mintos was the Shadow Crook. Yesterday evening, he had believed the man in the Black Mask, who had imprisoned him in Abel Mintos' flat, to be the Shadow Crook, in a new disguise. That afternoon he had found the finger-prints on Abel Mintos' suit-case and had immediately concluded they had been made by the Shadow Crook. All three hypotheses were wrong. He had to look for another identity to fit these facts on to.
With a groan, almost of despair, Mason turned at the door and walked towards his office. At the swing doors he bumped into Wilbrahams, the plain-clothes constable detained to shadow Sydney Warton.
"How's the old jeweller?" Mason faced his junior officer, abruptly.
"Grumpy!" Wilbrahams laughed. "Curses me every time I go near him. Curses the unknown owner of the shop, and his solicitors. Asks me every day when he can go back there and get to work again, and that in spite of the letter, he received a few days ago, sacking him with three months' salary."
"Warton got the sack!" Mason whistled. "Now what does that mean? Does the owner intend to give up the shop?"
"Looks like it." Wilbrahams spoke, thoughtfully. "Do you know, Inspector, more than once I've thought the shop was only kept on with the idea that one day Stacey Carr would come back to it."
"Seems feasible." The Inspector hesitated. "Been to see the solicitors for the owner?"
"They're dumb as oysters." The officer shrugged his shoulders. "Say they will communicate any questions I ask, to the owner—and let it go at that. One thing, they're definite about. That is, old Warton is not to go back to work at the shop. He can go there for anything he considers to belong to him, under my supervision or, if he likes to make out a list of things belonging to him, they will be collected together and delivered to him. But, he is not to go to the shop alone."
"Looks queer. What does Warton say?"
"Heaps, mostly in bad language." The constable grinned; "I should say that he's not out of the woods, by any means. He says he was at home on the night of the murder of Frederick Mayne, but his alibi is not too good. There's quite an hour and a half I can't account for, out of a total of four hours. He says, he was in his room during that time, reading."
"What's he got there?"
"Clothes, tools, a lot of junk—letters and old newspapers—a Bible, with all the denunciatory passages in the old Testament heavily underlined, and a dilapidated copy of Shakespeare's works."
"That all? Books much read?"
"Bible well thumbed. Shakespeare not so much, but it was not his originally. Should say he purchased it second-hand. There's notes in it, not in his handwriting."
Mason thought, quickly. It was late, and he had intended to go home, but there he would only sit and think of the many sides of the problems facing him. Far better to stay in town and get something on this new angle of the case. Peculiarly, for some time he had neglected the Sydney Warton side of the case. "Come along, Wilbrahams. We'll have a few words with Mr. Sydney Warton. S'pose he's at home?"
"Was, half an hour ago." The officer fell into step beside his Inspector. "He's got a grouch as long as your arm."
A quarter of an hour later the two officers entered the narrow hall of Kay Chambers, a middle-class residential house, squeezed in between two shops, close to Central Square. Once past the narrow passage and up the few stairs to the offices, Mason was surprised at the extent of the place. Stairways, and corridors radiated in all directions. The house, he estimated, must contain over two hundred rooms.
Wilbrahams led the way, pausing at the office window to inquire if Warton was still within the building. Receiving an answer in the affirmative, he led up a long flight of stairs and down a corridor to a room almost at the end. He knocked at the door. For a few seconds, there was silence, then from within the room came the shuffle of soft slippers and the door opened, revealing the gaunt figure of the old watchmaker.
"Oh, you! What do you want now." The man's lips drew back in a snarl at the sight of the officer. "Ain't I told you often I don't know nothing about Stacey Carr, nor the man you found dead in my shop? Can't you leave me alone?"
"Good evening, Mr. Warton." Mason stepped from the shadow, into the light that streamed through the door. "I've been wanting a word with you for some time, but have been too busy to get round before."
"Who're you?" Warton peered forward at the detective. "Oh, you're the chap as asked all them damn-fool questions down at the shop. You're this man's boss?"
"Take it that way if you wish." Mason's foot pressed the door open. "May we come in? I want a word with, you."
"What'll it lead to?" The old jeweller gave ground. "You'll have to stand for a minute while I get another chair. I've only one."
The Inspector remained outside the door, watching the old man shuffle down the corridor and enter a room. In a few seconds, he came back, carrying a chair. He pushed past the men, and placed it in the centre of the room, seating himself on the edge of his bed.
"Sit down, if you must talk." He looked suspiciously at Mason, who was standing by a small table under the window on which rested a Bible and a Shakespeare, stacked on top of a few old journals. "What're you staring about for?"
"What do you do of an evening, Warton?" The Inspector turned suddenly towards the man. "You've been lying down this evening, that's plain to be seen."
"There's the only two books worth readin'." The old man pointed to the table. "They're readin' enough for me."
"Yet you' haven't opened them for a couple of days." Mason leaned sideways and drew his finger across the top of the pile of books. "Look at the dust."
"I've been worried." Warton spoke sullenly. "This 'ere chap of yours 'as 'worried me, always pokin' an' pryin' about. He's' up here, on and off, all the time. Peeping in to see if I'm in my room, wantin' to come in and talk. Take 'im away. I've got no time for 'im."
"No friends?" The inspector was sympathetic. "What do you do With yourself? Lie on the bed and dream?"
"I work." The man refused to meet the Inspector's eyes. "That is, when I'm allowed to."
"So?" Mason rose from his seat and wandered round the little room. "You can't work now. The police are in possession of the shop."
"When'll they go?"
"When they go the owner will surrender the lease, sell the fittings, and close the shop."
"Then what'll I do?" For the first time the old man looked direct at the Inspector.
"Get a job. You know, well enough, that you've had notice of dismissal from your employment."
"By them lawyers. Who're they?"
"They engaged you. Now they sack you." Mason was trying to anger the man. He was too calm and collected, in spite of his gruff ways, to question.
"Damn 'em! What have they have to do with it? They don't own the place."
"They act for the owner." Mason laughed slightly. "'Fraid you're hitting your head against a brick wall, old fellow."
"I'll go to the owner."
"Who is the owner?" The detective spoke, unbelievingly.
"Oh, I know." The old ma leaned back, laughing in a high cracked voice. "They think I don't know, but I do, and—"
"And?" Mason feared this man knew too much. If he went to Norma Etheringham, if he started to make a fuss over his dismissal, he might seriously hamper police investigations.
"And, she won't like it. Oh, I know; known for quite a while, too, but it didn't pay me to say anything. So long as she paid me what the lawyers said she would, an' let me keep the money I made in the shop, I said nuffin'. But that's not to say I can't say a lot."
"Who is the owner of the Carew-lane shop?" Mason turned with a gesture of disgust towards Wilbrahams. "Bah! He doesn't know. The solicitors are too wide awake to let him get a line on that."
"Don't I know?" Old Warton was on his feet, gesticulating wildly. "Say I don't know old Carr's daughter, although she's a fine madam now wi' a house full of servants and furs round 'er neck? Say I don't know—.
"What I want to know is where you were the night Frederick Mayne was murdered." The Inspector broke in roughly on the old man's shrill denunciations. "Come now, no nonsense! Where were you?"
"Here, in this room." The man clumped back on the bed, his eyes half-closed and cunning. "Just here, and you can't prove otherwise."
"Can't I?" The detective stood over old Warton, threateningly. "Come on, old man. Tell the truth. You were not in this room between eight, and nine o'clock on that night."
"I was. You, can't—"
"I can show you that a telephone message came for you, a little before nine, o'clock, and that, when the girl in the office came up here to fetch you, the door was shut and the lights off. I can show that she knocked at the door and called and you did not answer. Now, where were you?"
"Perhaps I was asleep." The jeweller faltered and looked round him furtively. "Sometimes I do fall asleep on the bed. But you can't prove that I wasn't in this room."
"Can't I?" The keen eyes of the detective were holding the old man "Can't I? Don't they have pass-keys in this house? Do you think that girl doesn't know you fall asleep in the evening, sometimes? Do you think that when she couldn't make you hear she didn't believe you had fallen asleep, and used her pass key to enter, to awaken you? Do you think she didn't discover you were not in your room? Say, Warton, who was the man you passed in the hall last night, when you came in, some time after nine o'clock—the man who said 'good-night' to you? Who was he, and why didn't you answer him?"
"Tell the truth, Warton." Mason bent ever the cowering man. "You were not in this room that night."
"I—I may have gone for a stroll, but—"
"You usually go for a stroll during the evening, don't you? Come, tell me where did you go that night?"
"I went for a stroll."
"I don't remember."
"You did go for a stroll. Where did you go?"
"I didn't go to Carew-lane. I didn't go to the shop. I'll swear to that."
"Yet the constables who patrol the beat tell me you are night after night in the shop. They say you are there nearly every night. They sometimes stood at the window watching you at work."
"Ever heard of finger-prints, Warton?" Mason rose to his full height. "There were a number of finger-prints in that shop. Yours, the murdered man's, and others. One of yours was over an impression made by the murdered man."
The Inspector stood for some time looking down on the huddled figure seated in the edge of the bed. He turned and nodded to the plain-clothes. Wilbrahams rose from his seat and tapped the old jeweller on the shoulder.
"Sydney Warton. I arrest you for the murder of Frederick Mayne, in the Carew-lane shop. I have to warn you that any statement you may make may he used in evidence against you."
Sydney Warton looked up at the plain-clothes man with lustreless eyes. He hardly seemed to understand what the man had said. Obedient to further commands he stood up and gathered together the few things he would require while under arrest.
"He won't make trouble." Mason spoke to Wilbrahams as he passed out of the door with his prisoner. "You needn't say anything at the office here, as you go down the stairs. I'll attended to that. Take him straight to Headquarters. I'll have another talk with him there."
He followed into the corridor, and watched the men pass down the stairs, out of sight. With a shrug of his shoulders he turned again into the room and closed the door.
"Poor devil!" Masons keen eyes were eagerly scanning the room. "I really wondered if he did it? Somehow I can't believe he did. He was out of this house, certainly. He went down to Carew-lane, and was there while Mayne was in the shop, or soon after he was murdered. The fingerprints are there, all right. Well, there's enough to hold him on, and in his present temper he's best in the cells than worrying people I want to keep quiet. I'll swear he can give me a good line on the real murderer, when he's had time to cool off and wants to talk."
For some time lie stood in the centre of the room, looking round him with keen, inquisitive eyes. The window was opposite the door and under it was a small folding table, on which lay the Bible and the Shakespeare. Against the wall, to the left, stood the narrow bed on which Warton had been lying. Opposite it stood a combined wash-stand-dressing-table. The floor was covered with linoleum and over it lay a worn rug. Over the bed had been erected two shelves, running, the length of the room. The top one was piled high with paper-covered parcels. Most of the lower shelf was vacant. A part had been partitioned off for a few cooking utensils, some plates, cups and tins of food. At the foot of the bed stood an up-ended packing-case, on which stood a medium-sized oil stove. Under the bed were a suit-case and a small tin trunk. Mason tackled those first. They were partly filled with clothes. The suit-case held a bundle of private letters, of small importance.
The bundles on the top shelf attracted his attention. He pulled one down and opened it. It contained about two years' issues of the Jewellers' Gazette, dated 1920-1. He threw them on the bed. He would go for another bundle. One after the other he searched them, until only three remained on the shelf. He was beginning to believe his work useless. Warton was too cunning to retain bundles. To his surprise he discovered a collection of back issues of the Mirror. He opened one of the newspapers, and the first thing his eyes fell on was a double-column heading of the "Stacey Carr Trial."
So Sydney Warton had been so interested in the old jeweller's trial that he kept the issues of the newspapers in which it had been reported. Mason bundled the papers together and threw them on the bed. He would take them home; perhaps in their columns he might find some clue that would advance his investigations.
The last bundle on the shelf disgorged a number of old letters and bills. Mason turned them over carelessly, to start back in surprise. These letters and bills had been sent to Stacey Carr. Here was a find! Why had Warton brought this old correspondence from the shop? There was only one answer. The newspapers reporting the trial and the old correspondence could only point to an investigation of the circumstances surrounding Stacey Carr at the time immediately prior to his arrest. An attempt to discover the hiding-place of the missing jewels.
Mason had long suspected Sydney Warton had an interest in Stacey Carr's old shop far beyond his legitimate work. He had been engaged as manager of the shop very soon after the old jeweller had been committed for trial. He was well aware of the facts surrounding the arrest, trial and sentence on the old convict. Was it not natural for the man to believe, as others had, that Stacey Carr was a victim of circumstances; that the missing jewels still lay hidden in the shop? Sydney Warton had for five years conducted a search for the hidden safe. Had he found it? His keen anxiety to get back to work indicated that, so far, he had not been successful.
The Inspector swept the books from the small table on to the bed, replacing them by the bundle of old letters and bills. He drew up a chair and settled himself to a work that might take many hours, perhaps the whole night. Letter after letter he read and discarded. He searched each invoice and bill to discover any possible clue to the hiding-place of the jewels.
Right in the midst of the big bunch of letters and bills he came on an envelope addressed in wavering hand writing to "Miss Norma Carr." The address was lacking. He opened the envelope and drew out a sheet of letter-paper. Before reading it he again returned to the envelope.
It had been sealed and the address commenced, but hot completed. For what reason? Again, the envelope had been roughly torn open; yet the letter was still within it, although showing signs of having been opened and re-creased more than once.
That letter had fallen into Sydney Warton's hands with the rest of the correspondence. The old man had possibly torn the envelope open and read the letter, certainly more than once. Had he thought to have found a clue in it?
Why had Stacey Carr written a letter to his daughter and not posted it? Why had he, after deciding, not to send the letter, retained it among his papers? There was a possible explanation. Had he intended to post the letter? Had he placed it sealed amid his papers in the hope that, if anything happened to him, his daughter might find it and—
The letter alone could answer those questions. Mason turned to the sheet of note-paper, placing the envelope carefully on the table. The script, like the address on the envelope, was written in scrawly, shaky, handwriting:
"My dear child:
I am certain you will find your holiday will give you restored health. The clue to happiness is in health and also in taking care the body is protected against cold. This is right-hand advice but I support it by long experience.
The first of the month of the second week from to-day I hope to be off the shelf again. One of the most important alterations in hand is the cupboard I have built so that repaired articles can be got from the shop.
Your loving father,
The Inspector read and re-read the letter. It was childish in tone, the writing distinctly irregular. Some of the words were cramped together; in other places they were spread far apart.
The tone of the letter appeared to indicate that it had been written to Norma Carr while she was on holidays from school. Yet what was the meaning of the three strange numbers that replaced the date-line? Mason shrugged his shoulders. Everything connected with this old shop in Carew-lane appeared strange and incomprehensible.
Did this strange letter contain some clue to the hiding-place of the jewels? The irregular spacing, the strange wording, all seemed designed to convey a hidden meaning. He numbered off the words and tried to arrange them in new sequences. For more than an hour he persevered in his task but, at length, was forced to place the letter aside undeciphered.
Stacey Carr had, in the shop, some secret safe in which he was accustomed to place valuables entrusted to him. For some reason he had feared something might happen to him. That he might not take with him into the unknown his secret, he had written this letter to his daughter and placed it among his papers—confident that after his death it would convey to her the hidden clue to the safe.
Stacey Carr had feared sudden death. Why? Tracing back over what he knew of the old jeweller's history, Mason came to the conclusion that the letter had been written shortly before his death. If that was correct, then he must connect this letter with Samuel Keene's great interest in the old jeweller and his shop. Had he feared that while he was holding the White Trinity and the Kynaston sapphires an attempt to steal them might be made? Had he feared that the attempted theft might result in his death by violence?
Baffled in every attempt to read the message concealed in the letter, Mason repacked the bundle of letters and bills, and the two series of newspapers. He would take them to Police Headquarters and, later, search them again to discover any secret message. If he then failed he must take them to Norma Etheringham and ask her if she could decipher the strange letter.
On his way down to the street he stopped at the office and told the girl in charge that Sydney Warton would be absent for a few days, possibly longer. The room was to be considered empty, and at the disposal of the management. He paid the few shillings Warton then owed, and arranged to have the old man's personal belongings taken away. To the girl's inquisitive questions he returned ambiguous answers.
As Mason entered the hall of Police Headquarters, he looked at his watch. It was a little past nine o'clock. He had eaten nothing since mid-day. Should he go and get a meal, or first complete his business for the night? He decided on the latter course. He went to go through the swing-doors to his office, but was halted by a hand on his arm. He turned to face Alec Branston.
"What's the news, Mason? Learned a while ago that you've arrested Sydney Warton for the murder of Frederick Mayne. I came over to get the rest of it."
"Well?" Mason spoke curtly. He did not want to be questioned at the moment.
"Oh, chuck it!" The newspaper man grinned, infectiously. "You're not making an arrest now. Come off your high-horse! I want to know the ins and outs of the business.
"You know all we've got to give out for the present. No more story until I've had a further talk with Warton."
"I know the headlines of the story. You've got to tell me just that little bit of reading matter beneath them that makes for a front-page star story." The journalist looked keenly in the detective's face. "Say, what you want is feeding. When did you last eat a steady meal? Mid-day! Lord! Come along! What have you been doing since you started Wilbrahams for Headquarters with his prisoner?"
"Hunting evidence, if you must know." Mason smiled in spite of himself. "Let me put these parcels in my room and we'll get some sort of a meal. May as well feed while I satisfy your inordinate appetite for news."
"Good." The newspaper-man accompanied Mason to his office. As they went to the street through the hall, he turned and waved to the constable at the Desk. "See you later, Collins. Have a good story ready for me, or there'll be at least four sorts of trouble in hand for you!"
"You say Warton was out on the streets between eight and nine o'clock that night?" The journalist had his elbows on the tablecloth, intent on the detective's narrative delivered between mouthfuls. "He told me he was at home all the evening."
"All the worse for him." Mason grinned. "He told me that yarn when I first questioned him—and stuck to it. I tried a bluff on him, and it came off. He acknowledged he went down to Carew-lane that night. Of course he won't admit to the murder, and I don't know yet that I can pin it to him. Still, I'm holding him, at all events until I get a better prisoner."
"You really think Sydney Warton murdered Frederick Mayne?"
"No, I don't." Mason spoke emphatically. "I don't think he's got the nerve. I don't think Warton murdered Mayne—but at the same time I'll admit I haven't got anyone else in mind. I do think that Warton knows a lot more than he's told up to the present. Perhaps a few days in the cooler will loosen his tongue. He can tell me quite a lot I don't know."
Mason finished his meal and rose from the table. On the way back to Headquarters he stopped suddenly and caught the newspaper-man by the elbow.
"Look here, Branston," he said earnestly. "I've told you the full tale for a purpose. I want you to publish every word I've said, but no doubts about Warton's guilt or innocence, nor my reasons for keeping him 'jugged,' See?"
"Because I want the real murderer to read of this arrest and the evidence I have given you against Warton." The Inspector spoke earnestly. "I want to shake him—to make him careless. I'm in hopes that when he knows I'm holding Warton for the deed he'll make some bad break. Then I can exchange a doubtful prisoner for a perfectly good one. See?"
"Whew!" The reporter was silent until they again stood in the hall at Police Headquarters. "All right, Mason, I'll back your play. Read the Mirror to-morrow for one of the most sensational and exclusive stories ever given to the Sydney public. S' long! Tell Collins I'll be over for that story he promised me, later."
Mason walked through the swing doors and down to his office. There he hesitated a moment, then went on to the Superintendent's room. He knew Tomlin was working late that night. It might be advisable to see him at once and explain his plans. He was playing a risky game, and wanted all the official backing he could get.
There was a light under the door of the Superintendent's room. Mason knocked and an impatient voice bade him enter. He opened the door and raised his eyebrows, in astonishment. Wilbrahams was standing before the Superintendent's desk, looking worried and distressed.
"Oh, it's you, Mason. Come in." Tomlin was leaning back in his chair, an unlit cigar in his mouth, his face flushed and angry. "Here's a nice old mix-up."
"Sydney Warton's arrest, Superintendent?" Mason thought he was in for a fight. "I decided—"
"Sydney Warton's arrest, be damned!" Tomlin spat out the words vehemently. "Sydney Warton's escape is what I'm talking about. Here's more of your damned Shadow Crook's work. Takes a prisoner out of the hands of the police, and this fool comes back alive to tell me of it."
Mason sank into a chair, dumbfounded and speechless. The Shadow Crook again! When would the man make that one mistake that would land him first in a cell at Police Headquarters—the commencement of the long journey that would end on the platform of the gallows?
"What's the tale, Wilbrahams?" At length Mason could articulate. "You had no trouble with Warton, surely?"
"Not a bit." The plain clothes man spoke bitterly. "We went down to the street, and I bundled him into a taxi standing opposite the door. On the drive Warton became chatty. I was attending to him and not paying attention to the route the car took. Suddenly I discovered we were in a side street. A bunch of crooks rushed the taxi as it came to a stand-still and bundled me out. They tied me up and drove off with the prisoner. By the time someone came along and released me, they were out of sight."
Stanley Etheringham obtained little consolation in his long interview with his solicitor, Montague Mostyn. Once the lawyer was in full possession of the Mintos-Etheringham speculative activities—and he had to drag the details out of his client—piecemeal—he made no secret of his opinion. Mintos was a scoundrel and Etheringham a fool.
Mostyn rounded off a long and unsympathetic lecture by pointing out to the squatter that he had more than sufficient money coming to him through his stations, and without dubious speculations. He earnestly advised him, if he wanted work to occupy his spare time, to give up his town house and devote himself to the management of his various properties.
For some reason, known only to himself, Etheringham expected to receive sympathy and consolation. Even before he had arrived at his solicitor's office from the Police Court, he had persuaded himself that he was an ill-used and misunderstood man—that he was not to blame for trusting the Jew. Further, he had almost come to believe that Mintos was the victim of one of those conspiracies he had read about between business men, to smash a competitor.
On his way home Etheringham felt that the whole world was in league to place him and, Mintos in gaol, because of their superior business abilities. He was certain the Northern Territory Company was a perfectly genuine concern. The reports he had read from the mining engineers, sent to the property by Mintos, convinced him of that. True, no gold had yet been won from the mine but the gold might be there—and in large quantities, as the Jew claimed. Had he not, as an individual, a perfect right to take advantage of his superior knowledge and anticipate the rise in price of the stocks?
With the air of a much persecuted, righteous man, he walked up the steps of Avonlea. Norma was seated on the verandah and the squatter immediately commenced the recital of his wrongs to her, coupled with a strong appeal for sympathy and understanding. To his disgust, in the midst of his eloquent opening sentences, his wife rose abruptly from her chair, and went into the house.
Etheringham was surprised and annoyed. He was beginning to believe the right sympathy between husband and-wife did not exist between him and Norma. Throwing himself in the chair Norma had vacated he bitterly reviewed the last months of his married life.
Norma had been frequently absent from home, on expeditions she had refused to discuss with him. She had claimed complete freedom of action, denying his undoubted rights to control and censor her movements. She had largely overdrawn her allowance, yet dressed no better than the wives of many men with smaller incomes than him.
She did not gamble; she was not extravagant in dress. What did she do with her money? The strong, sex-impulse of the man came uppermost as he mentally strictured his wife. She must have a lover; a lover in poor circumstances on whom she lavished his money. His insane jealousy, against which Norma had long battled—overcame him. He strode through the house to his room, to fume and fret the long night through.
He would make an end of this! He would face this woman who bore his name and reduce her to a proper understanding of her position. He would have a full explanation, and that before the new day waned. Sleep came on this determination. He rose late and dressed leisurely. He felt perfectly calm and rehearsed the stinging opening sentences of his address. In silence he ate his late breakfast, then sought Norma. He found her in the sun-room, overlooking the harbour. As he entered the room she looked up, then immediately lowered her eyes to her book.
"Put that book down and listen to me." He strode across the room and stood over her. "Do you hear what I say?"
"Another row, Stanley?" Very deliberately the girl placed the book on her lap. "What is it now?"
"What is it now?" The man spluttered with rage. "Don't you know I am beset with business worries. I come home, from a long and intricate consultation with my solicitors and when I try to talk matters over with you—you leave me and go to your room and lock the door."
"Your troubles?" There was mockery in the girl's tones. "Are not your troubles entirely of your own making? You have always taken your own course; chosen your own friends."
"And when one of my friends is arrested on a perfectly preposterous charge you sit there and ask, 'What is the matter?'"
"Of whom are you speaking?"
"I'm speaking of Abel Mintos." The squatter almost shouted the name. "Abel Mintos, the only friend I have in the world. Arrested and imprisoned at the instance of jealous business men in this damned city. Abel Mintos, the man—"
"The man I have warned you against more than once." Norma sat forward, her hands clasped in her lap. "Only the day he was assaulted in this house—"
"By the Shadow Crook." Etheringham shook his fists in a frenzy of passion. "I suppose the Shadow Crook is one of your lovers? Yes, madame. I know the life you are leading, sneaking out of this house at all hours of the night. Who do you go to meet? Tell me! I demand to know!"
"I think you are mad." The clear eyes of the girl surveyed the man with open scorn. "You know what you say is untrue. I have been a faithful wife to you. I would have been a true companion, if you had let me; if you had not placed me on one side, for a man who proves to be a scoundrel and a cheat."
"Proves?" The squatter sneered. "What proof is there? The man is charged with loitering in the city."
"After climbing down from one of the upstairs rooms of this house, where he pretended to you that he was too ill to move, too ill to leave a house where his presence was a continued insult to me."
"An insult to you?"
"Yes." Norma rose to her feet facing the infuriated man, defiantly. "Yes. You talk of lovers. I tell you, the only man who has dared to speak words of love to me, besides yourself, is your bosom friend, the honest, upright, company prompter, Abel Mintos."
"A lie!" Etheringham moved forward, as if to strike the girl. "He told me—"
"What has he ever told you but lies?" The scorn in the girl's voice rooted the man to where he stood. "He told you just what your baser instincts wanted to hear. He pandered to you, guiding you blindly on the road he wanted you to travel. Now his arrest has set you on the edge of the truth. You are discovering you are entangled in the hideous web be spun to trap you, and me. Stanley Etheringham, have you come to tell me you will have to take your place in the dock beside that man?"
"The dock?" A shudder ran through Etheringham's bulky frame. For a moment he was silent, almost calm; then the fury that had smouldered in his breast all the night, flamed again. "You—you—"
"Well?" Norma spoke calmly. "Have you finished? Now, I will speak. This is the end of things between you and me, Stanley Etheringham. I have borne your rages, your suspicions, your unwarrantable accusations, in silence, far too long. I have striven to do my duty by you, but you have made that impossible. I shall leave your house; immediately."
"Where will you go?" The man laughed, hoarsely. "To one of your lovers, I suppose. To the Shadow Crook, who dares to enter your room, even in my presence. To Cranford Hughes—"
"Ah, I have touched you there, my lady. The good virtuous barrister! The man who comes here, posing as my friend! The man—"
The girl turned away with a gesture of disgust. Etheringham strode forward and gripped her by the arm, swinging her round to face him. "Yes. Dear Cranford Hughes, the man who defended Stacey Carr, who stole the White Trinity from Abel Mintos. Your father, who stole the Kynaston sapphires. Did you think I didn't know?"
"Abel Mintos told you, I suppose?" Norma laughed scornfully. "Would you care to know he used the threat of telling you to force me to become his mistress?"
"A lie!" The squatter caught her by the shoulders, shaking her violently. "A damned lie! You would try and part me from my only friend, with your damned lies. You—"
That is enough. The girl had tuned deathly white. "Yes, I am the daughter of Stanley Carr, the man who served five unjust years behind prison walls for the theft of jewels that were never found. Yes, Stanley, I am Stacey Carr's daughter. I'm proud of my father and despise my husband. No, no. I'm no wife of yours. To-day ends that!"
"Do you want the police to know? Do you want the police to discover that, with your connivance, Stacey Carr broke prison under the name of Frederick Mayne? That you, my wife, and he, had a flat amid the harlots of the city. That—"
"That Stacey Carr was foully murdered by some unknown monster in his old shop in Carew-lane." Norma spoke defiantly. "Yes, tell them, or I will." She hesitated a a moment and a slow smile came on her blanched lips. "Wait here a moment."
She turned and walked out of the room. For some minutes the squatter paced the sun-parlour, striving to nurse his anger to a flame again. He looked up to see Norma standing within the door, a long envelope in her hand. "You have accused me of unfaithfulness, when I have striven with all my powers to do my duty by you. You have accused me of being a confederate of the worst criminals in the city." Norma spoke passionlessly. "But, what of you, Stanley Etheringham? Here, in this envelope, I hold the proofs of your crimes. See, here are the letters from you to Mintos plainly stating you knew the schemes you had entered into with him, were criminal. Again, here are letters from you to Mintos referring to some secret place in this city where you keep women—Oh, I can't go on. It's too beastly! And, you come and accuse me! You! You!"
"What do you mean? I—"
"What are the good of denials?" The girl laughed bitterly. "Here are the proofs of what I state, in your handwriting—over your own signature. Look for yourself!"
She opened the envelope and one by one, held the documents before his eyes. As the damning exposure of his malpractices became more and more patent, the man wilted. He stepped back and threw himself in a chair, covering his face with his hands.
"Where did you get them from?" Etheringham roused himself. "Tell me! Ah, you got them from Mintos. You have confessed he made love to you. You bought him—bought him with your body, to betray me."
"Bought him?" Norma laughed ironically. "Yes, for years I have paid Abel Mintos, but not with myself. You accused me of 'cozening' money out of you. You stated Mintos owns the White Trinity. You are wrong. I own the White Trinity. I have paid for it, thrice its value, with the money you allowed me to 'cozen' from you. Now, what have you to say, Stanley Etheringham?"
"Where did you get them?" The shaking hand of the squatter pointed to the documents.
"What does that matter?" The girl swept her hand across her eyes. "You cannot deny these papers—in your own handwriting."
"Give them to me."
"No. They are—Oh, God, that I have to say it—they are my safety against you—my husband." Again she laughed bitterly.
"Give them to me." The man crouched in the chair, his bloodshot eyes staring at his wife. "I say, give them to me!"
The girl shook her hand. She crossed to a chair and sank wearily into it. For a moment the man waited then sprang towards her and snatched at the papers. Passion blinded him and he succeeded in obtaining only the envelope.
"Posted to you!" For a moment he stood scanning the endorsement on the envelope. "Posted, by whom?"
"Some friend who knew my sore need." Norma was on her feet. "Stanley, if you touch me—"
"Touch you!" For a moment fear dominated anger. Then, utterly mad, the squatter sprang forward and seized her by the throat. "Give me those papers, or—"
"One moment, Mr. Etheringham!" A cool, quiet voice, spoke from one of the windows. With a hoarse cry the man's hands dropped and he swung round. Norma gave a slight cry. Loaning against the window frame stood a man dressed in a worn brown overcoat, a dark grey hat pulled low over his eyes. In his hand he held a small automatic, pointed at the squatter.
"The Shadow Crook." Etheringham retreated a pace.
"The Shadow Crook, at your service." The voice had resumed the old mocking tones. For an instant the eyes of the crook passed the squatter and rested on the girl. The automatic moved slightly, motioning towards the door. Norma moved, obedient to the silent order. As she passed out of the room the crook spoke again.
"Stanley Etheringham." There was contempt in the lilting of the voice. "Will it interest you to learn that even in my eyes you are a blackguard and a coward. Turn round! Quick! I don't waste a second order on curs like you."
Under the compulsion of the gun the squatter turned his back on the Shadow Crook. He started, to find his wife had left the room. He swung round again, to discover that the master criminal had disappeared. With a shout of anger ho sprang through the window into the gardens. The mystery man was not in sight.
Norma had sped through the hall, clasping the bundle of documents to her breast. As she turned to mount the stairs she met a maid coming in search of her.
"Inspector Mason wishes to speak with you, madam." The girl looked astonished at her mistress's agitation.
"Inspector Mason!" Norma gasped. Instinctively she placed the documents behind her. "Oh, Mary, please bring Inspector Mason to my boudoir."
She turned into the library and waited, listening to the footsteps ascending the stairs. She must hide the documents, not only from the police, but from her husband. She looked around her, desperately. There was no safe place in this room where her husband spent most of his days.
In the desk she found a packet of long envelopes, similar to the one in which the documents had come to her. Feverishly, she seized one and enclosed the letters in it. Now, where should she hide it? A sudden thought brought a smile to her lips. She opened the door and ascended the stairs to her boudoir. She had found a place where the papers would be safe.
"Inspector Mason." She paused within the door of her room, her breath coming quickly. "Will you do me a favour? It—it isn't much! I—I have quarrelled with my husband. He demands the papers in this envelope. They—they are my liberty, my safety from him. Will you take them for me?"
"Sorry, Mrs. Etheringham." The police officer turned from the window. "Sorry for your trouble, I mean. Of course, I'll take the envelope and you can get it from me whenever you may want it. By the bye, isn't Mr. Cranford Hughes acting for you? What about me giving the envelope to him? That's best. You can get it from him any time, y' know."
"If you will." Norma could hardly articulate, the relief was so great. With the documents in Cranford's hands she would feel safe. He would advise her what to do. Of one thing she was certain—she would not remain in that house with her husband.
"Funny thing, you handing me an envelope of papers." Mason turned to a parcel he had placed on the table. "I came here, to-day, to bring you some papers. Sorry, but they may distress you a bit. They belong to you and I thought it best to bring them as soon as possible. Y' see, from information I received, I decided to arrest Sydney Warton—"
"Sydney Warton arrested.
"For the murder of Frederick Mayne." The Inspector sat down at the girl's gesture. "Looking through the things in his room, I came across a parcel of your father's correspondence. Nothing much in it, except one letter. I thought you might like to have the papers."
"And—and the letter? You think it is important?"
"Maybe my imagination." The police officer laughed slightly. "It's addressed to you. Seems to have been written years ago, when you were a school-girl. You used to take your holidays alone, or with school-chums?"
"Yes." Norma hesitated. "I never could persuade father to leave the shop. I always went for holidays alone, or with school-friends."
Mason took an envelope from his pocket, and drew out the paper containing the few lines of writing signed by Stacey Carr.
"Just what I though when I read the letter. I didn't open the envelope. Have an idea Sydney Warton did that. There's only your name on the envelope and as there was not an address. I guessed you were on holidays and your father had not your address by him when he wrote it. Must have placed the letter on one side and got it mixed up with other papers."
"May I see it, please." Norma held out her hand, eagerly.
"Sure." Mason handed her the letter. "Queerly written and worded. Looks as if Mr. Carr was—"
He trailed off Into silence. Norma read the few lines, thickness growing in her throat. The letter was queerly written and worded. What had her father meant? The sentences were disconnected and inconsequent. "Looks as if Mr. Carr was failing in health at the time he wrote that." The detective spoke again. "Or—"
"Or—" Norma looked lip quickly.
"Mrs. Etheringham." The Inspector spoke earnestly. "Is there a message hidden behind those words? I've got a hunch that letter means a lot. I'll confess, I spent a lot of time over it last night, and without success. Now, I'm putting it up to you. Can you read any hidden meaning in those few lines?"
For some minutes Norma bent over the struggling writing, wonder growing in her heart. What did those words mean? She could not make sense of them. They spoke of her holiday and, in a queer, manner, of her health. Then followed a reference to the double-doored cupboard in the shop.
"Dad—dad must have been ill when he wrote this." She spoke hesitatingly. "I can't understand this. He built that cupboard years before—before—"
"Before the trouble came." Mason completed her sentence. "Yes, I have learned that. Do you remember when the cupboard was built, Mrs. Etheringham?"
"Over ten years ago!" Norma spoke almost to herself. "Yes, it must be ten years or more ago, Inspector, I believe I was not more than twelve or thirteen years of age when the cupboard was built."
"Then that letter has lain among those papers for the past ten years." The Inspector was puzzled. He crossed the room and opened the bundle of letters and invoices he had brought to the house. "Not one of these letters is ten years old. How comes a letter ten years old manages to be included in a bundle of letters and invoices, collected some four or five years later? Again, the writing on that letter looks much too fresh to be that age."
"Yes." The girl was bending over the strange letter. "I don't think it was written so far back as that. But, what did dad mean by it?"
"You can find ho hidden message in the words?"
"No, I'm afraid not." She held the letter out, reluctantly, towards the inspector, "if you would let me keep it for a while. Perhaps, later, when I have had time to think, I may be able to remember something that will be of use to you."
For the moment Mason hesitated. He did not want to part with the letter. In some manner he connected it with, the final solution of his problems. Yet, if he took the letter with him, he could do nothing with it. He had tried all means in his knowledge to discover any secret it held. Far better, to leave it with Stacey Carr's daughter and trust that some sentence or word might revive a dormant memory.
"Keep it, please, Mrs. Etheringham—at least for the time." He rose from his seat and picked up his hat. On the way to the door he stopped suddenly. "By the way, I fear for the safety of that letter, Mrs. Etheringham. There are strange happenings in this business. Perhaps it will be well for me to take a copy. I might be able to read something in it that would provide a sufficient clue for you to work on."
Norma pointed to her desk and the Inspector crossed the room and scribbled a copy of Stacey Carr's letter on a sheet of note-paper. He folded it and stored it in his pocket book.
In the tram-car on the way to the city, Mason again had doubts for the safety of the letter. Sydney Warton was at liberty, rescued from custody by the Shadow Crook. No doubt he had told the master criminal of the strange letter he had found among old-man Carr's papers. If he remembered the wording it was possible the Shadow Crook's curiosity might be aroused. He might try and gain possession of the letter. The Inspector had no doubt, but that the marvellous ability of the master rogue would lead to a quick deciphering of the hidden message.
But, was there a hidden message in those inconsequent lines? Mason had to acknowledge that he was not at all certain the letter carried a cipher. The strange, disjointed sentences had intrigued him. He had taken it to Norma Etheringham on a chance—a chance that in some way the words relating to the double-doored cupboard might recall to the girl something that might lead to the discovery of the secret safe and the missing jewels.
Almost he rose from his seat to return to Avonlea and regain possession of the letter. He looked at his watch and sat back. It was nearly eleven o'clock and he was due at the Coroners Court for the inquest on the death of Frederick Mayne. He had had some trouble that morning, before leaving the city for Rose Bay, in having the inquiry postponed for an hour. He could not telephone for a further adjournment. He must take a chance and leave the letter with the girl. No doubt she would take the precautions to keep it safe.
"Immediately he entered the Court the detective sensed trouble. The Acting-Coroner, a stranger, was leaning forward over his desk, speaking excitedly. Mason waited a moment then slipped into a seat beside the sergeant in charge of the proceedings.
"What's the trouble?" he whispered.
"Got a 'rat' this morning, I think." Miller, the sergeant in charge, answered angrily. "Question of identification. Says he's not satisfied with the evidence I've submitted. May want you in the box in a few minutes."
"I hope you are attending to what I'm saying, Sergeant Miner." The Coroner spoke sharply.
"Certainly, sir. I understand you wish further evidence regarding the identity of the deceased, Frederick Mayne."
"I said nothing of the sort." The Coroner, a short, slight man with a drooping moustache concealing his mouth, spoke sharply. "I said there was too much police evidence in the matter. I want to hear someone who knew the deceased before he was so unfortunate as to fall into the hands of the law. Is it not possible for some friend or relative—I believe he held a very responsible position in a large insurance company—to come forward and swear to him?"
Miller went to where Warder Simpson, from Bathurst Gaol, sat beside a number of witnesses and whispered to him for a few minutes. The Coroner leaned forward, drumming on his desk, with the handle of his pen.
Mason could see he was becoming more and more exasperated.
"Warder Simpson assures me, sir, that the man altered greatly during his last days in the gaol. He is doubtful if anyone who knew him before his incarceration would now recognise him."
"Have you tried anyone? Have you had any of his former friends and relatives in to see him while he lay in the morgue?"
"Why not?" The little eyes of the coroner flashed angrily. "I really must say the police are neglecting their plain duties. There seems to be no doubt about—"
"We relied on the evidence of the finger-print examination, sir." Miller was beginning to match the coroner in irritableness. "I believe you will remember Sergeant Anderson, from the finger-print department, gave evidence this morning, establishing the identity of the deceased. Sergeant Anderson is acknowledged to be one of the leading experts in finger—"
"Sergeant Anderson stated in answer to my questions that he was not prepared to admit fingerprint evidence as infallible, unless supported by other direct evidence."
"Damn Anderson." Mason muttered angrily. "The silly fool talks too much. Now we're in a devil of a mess—just when I wanted things to go smooth."
"Have a go at him yourself." Miller looked hopefully at the detective.
A short answering nod and he rose to his feet. "If you please, sir. I should like to place Detective Inspector Mason in the witness-box."
"I don't want to hear Inspector Mason." The thin voice cracked across the sergeant's concluding words "Now—well, I suppose I'll have to take charge of the case myself. What relations has the dead man? It's no use you whispering to the Inspector, Sergeant Miller. Why don't you put him in the witness box where I can talk to him?"
"Get to it, Mason." The sergeant gave a weary gesture of impotence. "It's up to you, now. Thank the Lord, he's not one of our regular coroners. Lent to us, during holidays. You know, go a-borrowing, and return a-sorrowing. I'll do more than 'a-sorrowing' if Mr. O'Sullivan doesn't return from his holidays, soon."
Mason smiled at the sergeant's worried face: He mounted to the witness box and accepted the Book from the sergeant.
"Swear the witness, please."
Coroner Jones bounced on his seat. "Really, sergeant, I must protest against the waste of this court's time. Very fatiguing, having to do all the work myself. Now, Inspector, I understand you have the reputation of being a smart officer. Let me see if you can't give the people of this court a lesson in placing a case before the Bench. H'm. H'm. Yes. You were with plain-clothes constable Quint when he found the body of the deceased at 5 Carew-lane, City. Yes. Go on. How did you come to identify him?"
"I was with Sergeant Anderson, sir, when—"
"Really, I can't have this hearsay evidence. I'm surprised at you, Inspector, I thought—"
"I am speaking from my own knowledge, sir," interposed the detective.
"Then why quote Sergeant Anderson? Please don't waste the time of the Court."
"I assisted Sergeant Anderson to take the impressions from the deceased man's fingers."
"Those records never left your possession until you completed the identification?"
"They were with Sergeant Anderson and myself in the taxi." Mason answered cautiously.
"Well? What then?"
"We returned to headquarters and there identified the impressions of the dead man with the fingerprints of the ex-convict, Frederick Mayne."
"How? Really, Inspector, you are very loose in your evidence."
"By comparing the impressions with the records at headquarters. They tallied in every respect."
"So Sergeant Anderson swore." The coroner was referring; to his notes. "Why, on earth, we have to go over this again and again, I can't understand. I only allowed you to go into the witness box thinking you could provide the court with fresh facts. But, I suppose I must dig them up myself. Not the slightest use relying on the police to do the investigation work. Tell me, has the deceased any relatives?"
"A daughter, sir."
"Ah. That's something, at last. Sergeant. Miller, is the young person in court?"
"I'm afraid not, sir."
"May I ask what you have been doing, then? It is most shameful that you come into court without your case properly prepared, most shameful. I shall certainly report this to the department."
"You will remember, sir, I asked for an adjournment." Sergeant Miller protested, resentfully.
"And I did not think it necessary to allow one." Coroner Jones looked dignified. "May I ask if you, or I, are conducting the proceedings of this court? You will please obtain the immediate attendance of this person."
"Will you allow me to explain, sir?" Mason interposed.
"I'm talking to Sergeant Miller, Inspector." The coroner turned sharply. "Well, why don't you speak? I'm listening to you."
"In regard to Miss Mayne, sir, we decided—"
"We? Who is 'we,' Inspector?"
"The Detective Department, sir."
"Do you mean to tell me a junta of the Detective Department thinks to overrule this Court, Inspector? No, I'll be no party to concealment of facts."
"Miss Mayne is now in a position where to give evidence in this case might prove very painful to her, beside possibly affecting the brilliant future before her." Mason continued stolidly, disregarding the coroner's attempts to interrupt. "She was adopted a few years ago by a very wealthy and highly connected lady. In these circumstances and in deference to the expressed wish of Miss Mayne's guardian, we decided to rely on the official records for identification."
"May I ask why I was not informed of this before?" The coroner turned angrily to the sergeant. "Now you see, Sergeant Miller, if I had not insisted on Inspector Mason being heard at once, the time of the Court would have been most disgracefully wasted. Go on, Inspector. You state Miss Mayne is now the ward of one of the leading society ladies of the State. Certainly, the official evidence is sufficient. Now will you please let me have that evidence. There can be no doubt but that it will prove entirely satisfactory."
He leaned hack in his chair, glaring at the sergeant. Then he glanced towards the Inspector.
"Go on, Inspector."
"I have here the fingerprints Sergeant Anderson and I took from the deceased at the morgue, and the records of the fingerprints held by the department, at Police Headquarters, in Sydney. They compare exactly."
"Yes, yes." Coroner Jones leaned, forward again. "Have you evidence to support these records?"
"Warder Simpson is here from Bathurst gaol. He brings with him the records of the gaol, referring to Frederick Mayne. I suggest that if the fingerprints in the gaol records agree with the impressions we took from the deceased and the records at Headquarters, a definite identification has been established."
"Of course. Quite so." The coroner beamed at the Inspector. "Of course, Miss Mayne's evidence would have supported the records, but we must fully consider a rich young lady's future. You did not mention the name of Miss Mayne's guardian, Inspector."
"I did not think it wise, sir." Mason stared stolidly before him. "Of course, I am willing to provide you with it, privately."
"Certainly, Inspector. Will you please write it down and pass it to me."
The note was made and duly handed to the Bench. Coroner Jones read it and beamed again. "Now, proceed with your evidence, Inspector. You mentioned Warder—er—"
"Warder Simpson, from Bathurst Gaol. He has the records here, sir."
"Warder Simpson." The coroner spoke. "You have the gaol records? Yes. I suggest you hand them to Inspector Mason. You have your own records, Inspector? Yes. Now, if you will compare the three sets and swear that the fingerprints on all sets of the records are identical we shall be able to quickly conclude this inquiry."
Mason took the set of cards Sergeant Miller handed him and spread them on the ledge of the witness box. For some time he bent over them. He compared the impressions from the dead man's fingers with the headquarters records and, as he expected, found them identical. He turned to the Bathurst records, to utter a cry of amazement.
"Well, Inspector?" The coroner leaned forward, expectantly.
"There; is a mistake here, sir."
"A mistake? What do you mean?"
The Inspector did not answer. He turned and beckoned Warder Simpson to the witness box. Together, the two men compared the records. There was no possible doubt the Bathurst records did not agree with the other records. They showed the fingerprints of an entirely different per-son.
"You haven't answered my question, Inspector!" The coroner spoke sharply.
"There is some mistake here." Mason turned a troubled face towards the Bench. "I find the Bathurst records do not coincide with the headquarters' records, nor with the prints Sergeant Anderson and I took from the fingers of the deceased man. I ask you to adjourn the inquest, sir, for a week, to give the Department time to solve what looks like a very perplexing mystery."
"Ridiculous." Coroner Jones, was on his feet. "It appears to me that the police cannot read their own records now. Hand them to me."
For some minutes the Court waited while the coroner fumbled with the records cards. A frown grew on his brow and finally he bundled the records in a pile, and almost threw them: at Sergeant Miller.
"Most disgraceful!" He shouted in his high, squeaky voice. "I have never heard of such a thing before. This inquiry has been conducted in the most slovenly manner. Take your adjournment for seven days, Sergeant Miller. I shall report the matter to the Attorney-General. No doubt he will know how to deal with the police, effectively."
With an angry gesture he walked out of the court, now seething with excitement. Mason left the witness box and went to the entrance, beckoning Warder Simpson to follow him.
"Better come to Headquarters with me, Simpson," he said, shortly. "We must get to the root of of this business as soon as possible. It's up to Anderson, so far as I can see."
He walked quickly to Circular Quay, the Bathurst warder by his side. In almost silence the two men jumped on an Elizabeth-street tram, alighting at the doors of Police Headquarters. Without pausing, Mason led the way down to the fingerprints department and pushed open the door of Sergeant Anderson's office. The sergeant looked up as they entered.
"Well, Mason," he asked, curious at their serious faces. "What's the verdict? Any trouble?"
"Only this." Mason laid the sets of impressions on the desk before the expert. "Court's adjourned for a week, and when it reassembles there's a devil of an explanation to be made. Have a good look at these."
He drew a chair to the desk, motioning to the warder to seat him self. In silence the two men watched the expert examine the three sets of impressions. At last Anderson looked up, thoroughly amazed. "Two different men, registered under the same name!" he whistled "Hell! There'll be the deuce to pay for this."
"And a damned fool perched in the coroner's chair." Mason pulled out his pipe and stuck it, unlit, in the corner of his mouth. "What on earth does it mean, Anderson?"
The expert did not reply. He had returned to an examination of the impressions. Presently he rose from his chair and went to a cabinet. With a record card in his hand he came back to his desk and compared it with the cards on his desk. He looked up a slight smile playing on his lips.
"Problem's solved." he announced. "I'm beginning to see daylight through quite a number of puzzles."
"Wish I could." Mason drew the blotter on which Anderson had arranged the cards, towards him. "What's the explanation man? It's no good to look so mysterious. We've got to know so as to satisfy that squib of a coroner."
"Remember, the raid on Police Headquarters by the Shadow Crook?" The expert leaned forward. "I got a whale of a knock on the head to remember him by. Well, there's your explanation."
"Examine those cards." Anderson continued. "Not the impressions, just the cards. Those of the top two rows are the headquarters' records of Frederick Mayne and others. Now look at the third row, the Bathurst Gaol records. They compare with the cards I have taken from another file of about the same date, exactly. But they don't compare with the headquarters cards on which are the records of Frederick Mayne."
Mason nodded. He was beginning to understand.
"What's the joke?" Warder Simpson was examining the cards, interestedly.
"A Shadow Crook joke." Anderson laughed. "Some days ago we had the pleasure of a visit from the Shadow Crook—a gentleman we hope will one day enjoy our far-famed hospitality at Bathurst. He managed to get in this building, through fusing the electric lights. In the subsequent confusion he got into this room, after handing me a whack over the head with, a sandbag. We wondered what he was after. Now—"
"Still I don't understand." Simpson looked perplexed. "Can't you be a little more definite?"
"Oh, I'll be definite." The sergeant went to a filing drawer and brought out another file record. "I think you will find these records match those of Frederick Mayne, from Bathurst. Yes, just so. Now, Simpson, here's the tale. The Shadow Crook came in here for one purpose—to change the Headquarters' records for the fingerprints of Frederick Mayne and Stacey Carr to others he had specially made."
"Then—" Simpson sprang to his feet in excitement. "That's why the Shadow Crook meddled with the fingerprints?"
"Just so." Anderson leaned back and picked a cigarette from a box on the table. "He shifted the identity of the two men. There's the reason Mason was so completely floored in the Court this morning. You see, the Bathurst records of Stacey Carr fit the Headquarters' records of Frederick Mayne. The Frederick Mayne records you brought from Bathurst are exactly like those we have for Stacey Carr."
"Then, we have to come to the conclusion that the inquest we have just left sat on Stacey Carr and not Frederick Mayne," added Mason drily. "We'll find Frederick Mayne in Stacey Carr's grave, in the Bathurst Gaol cemetery!"
"But, those fingerprints—?" commenced Simpson.
"Another of the Shadow Crook's experiments in etchings." Anderson led to the door. "Mason and I made some experiments in rubber-made fingerprints, yesterday. It may be wise to repeat them on these cards. Best be certain, eh, Mason?"
He went down the steps to the laboratory, the two men following closely. A few minutes with the chemicals and he placed the treated cards under the microscope. The rubber crystals showed on the cards, plainly. A few explanations and Warder Simpson caught the reflections of the minute rubber-crystals.
Mason left the two men in the laboratory in eager conversation and ascended to the office door. He was perplexed and wanted to be alone to straighten out his theories. For some days he had believed that the Shadow Crook had committed the murder in the Carew-lane shop. He had believed that the master criminal had placed a watch on the shop; that he had seen the man the Inspector now knew to be Stacey Carr enter the shop and had followed. Carr had discovered the hiding place of the jewels and in an attempt to take them from the old jeweller the Shadow Crook had struck the man down.
It had been a good theory, but now Mason was forced to abandon it. The substitution of the cards showed that the master criminal had assisted in the exchange of identities that had taken place in the gaol. It was unreasonable to believe that the Shadow Crook would murder the man he had assisted and protected.
The murder might have been the outcome of some sudden quarrel between the men. Stacey Carr might have discovered the jewels and refused to hand them over to the Shadow Crook. The fatal blow might have been struck in passion. But, against that theory stood the known methods of the Shadow Crook. He was not a murderer. In all cases, except the assault on Abel Mintos, he had avoided violence.
What should he do? For some time Mason paced the hall of the building, trying to plan some coup that would place him in a position to solve his many problems. He believed he now held information in advance of the strange people who had gathered round Stacey Carr and the lost jewels. He did not believe the Shadow Crook would take the risk of attending the inquest. He would wait to read the verdict of murder against some person or persons unknown, in the newspapers. But, what use could he make of this information?
Gradually a scheme was born in the detective's mind. It was risky, but it offered a chance of a quick solution of his difficulties. He turned in his stride and went to his office. There he telephoned the Evening Star newspaper, with a request that the reporter who had attended the Coroner's Court should call on him. The man was in the general room and promised to be with the Inspector in a very few minutes.
Mason had hardly framed the story he proposed to tell the reporter when the man was ushered into his office. For half an hour Mason went over the history of Stacey Carr and the missing jewels. He told of the Shadow Crook's raid on Police Headquarters and the objective the master crook had had in mind. He told of the old jeweller's escape in the guise of Frederick Mayne. Lastly, he explained the substitution of the record cards prepared by the Shadow Crook for the official cards, and definitely identified the Samuel Keene of the Stacey Carr trial with the mysterious criminal who had set the police department of New South Wales at defiance.
It was a good story and to make it complete Mason included his search of Abel Mintos' flat at Ray Hill Court and his discoveries the there. The reporter's eyes gleamed as he rapidly jotted down the heads of one of the biggest scoops he had ever made. Before he left, Mason extracted from him a definite promise that the whole story should be in the last edition of the newspaper and in return under took not to give it to any other newspaper.
He was now ready for the next step in his scheme. He had to interview Superintendent Tomlin and bring him to an agreement with his plans. It was for the reason he anticipated difficulties in this direction he had first sent for the Evening Star reporter. With the news in the paper it would be easy to bring pressure on the high police officials, even if their assent was coupled with a reprimand. He knocked at the door and with high-beating heart answered the command to enter.
"How's the Shadow Crook?" Tomlin looked up with a smile as he recognised his visitor. "Any news?"
"Only that the dead man we found in the Carew-lane shop proves to be Stacey Carr and not Frederick Mayne, as we supposed."
"Whew!" Tomlin sat back, startled. "That's news!"
"Because it explains the raid by the Shadow Crook on Police Headquarters the other night?" Mason questioned. "Yes, we have got to the bottom of that. The Shadow Crook came to exchange the police records of Stacey Carr and Frederick Mayne fingerprints for others he had prepared."
"Transposing the identity of the two men! And now?"
"The Shadow Crook assisted in the substitution of Stacey Carr for Frederick Mayne to procure the former's freedom. He intended to watch Carr until he found the missing jewels, then collar them and make his final get-away."
"Final getaway!" Tomlin repeated the last words. "You suggest we shall hear no more of the Shadow Crook? But he has been at work since the murder in the shop. He took Warton from Wilbrahams, y' know."
"Seems so. Perhaps his getaway plans are not yet finalised."
"Then you've got to collar him before he gets out of the country." Tomlin leaned forward, watching the detective's face. "What do you want me to do?"
"Secure the release of Abel Mintos on bail."
"I want Abel Mintos released on bail this afternoon, if possible." Mason looked at his watch. "It is not quite one o'clock. He can be brought in for the afternoon court and remanded on bail."
"Yet you were the one who opposed bail! You argued with all of us over it. You almost fought the Crown Law department to have the man retained in custody."
"Yes?" Mason took out his pipe and studied the much-crusted bowl, affectionately.
"Good God, man, talk!" The Superintendent became purple in the face. "What's the good of sitting there and contradicting yourself. First, you want us to keep Mintos in a glass case, as if he were something precious. Now we have to turn him out on the streets, without guide or councillor."
"I'll be both, or rather, I'll see he has them." Mason placed his pipe in his pocket. "Do. I get it?"
"Not without better reasons." Tomlin took a cigar from his waistcoat pocket and bit on it, savagely. "Do you want me to confess myself unable to run this damned department—to go to the magistrate and tell him I don't know my own mind? It'll look fine, I don't think. Send orders to the Central that they're to word the magistrate that we've got something in the way of a gold-mine, then confess it's but a gilded brick! Nor even to apologise! Bah!"
"Oh, all right. If you feel like that." Mason rose from his chair and turned to the door. "By the way, I've had a reporter from the Evening Star here. He was at the Corner's Court and got a good line on the change of identities. Thought it best to give him the straight tale—the whole of it!"
"The whole of it!" Tomlin swung round violently and stared at the Inspector with unbelieving eyes. "You gave that damned reporter the whole tale of the Shadow Crook and Stacey Carr? Say, Mason, you're quite well, aren't you? Not got a pain anywhere—in your head, or anything like that?"
"No." The detective spoke cheerfully. "In fact, I never felt better in my life."
"Then, you deserve a pain where—where the monkey grows his tail!"
Tomlin was spluttering with anger. "I'll—I'll boot you out of the department if you try playing those games with me. Giving the newspapers the guts of the story! Wonder you didn't bring one in here, to take notes of this interview! Hell!"
"Rattling good story, too, it made." Mason leaned easily against the door post, a broad grin on his face. "Say, Superintendent do I get that bail?"
Tomlin looked up angrily. The eyes of the two men met and for the moment clashed. A hint of understanding grew on the Superintendent's face and he burst in hearty laughter, throwing the broken cigar at his colleague's head.
"Damn you, Mason. Get out! What the hell can I do now but back your story to the press and to-morrow the whole of Sydney will run with it. Got shares in the Evening Star?
"No." Mason caught the cigar deftly, and laid it on the blotting-pad before the Superintendent. "You shouldn't be so extravagant, Tomlin. That's a perfectly good cigar still—the way you use them. More chew than smoke, so far as I've noticed. I wonder you trouble to light them. You will burn your lips one day—and then you'll have trouble in calling us down."
"Got shares in Abel Mintos?" The Superintendent mused. "Well, there's something in that."
"You think Mintos will lead you to the Shadow Crook." The Superintendent smiled. "By the way, I suppose you told that reporter about your raid on Mintos' flat and the way the tables were turned on you twice in a few hours? I see that bruise on the top of your head still shows. Now you've given the story away Mintos will want to make it a pair—and you offer him the opportunity to do so."
"You should really go in for detective work!" Mason feigned admiration. "Yes, it's all there, including the story I found in Abel's papers. The story of the letter and the unmade bed. Say, Tomlin, one should have seen that chappie's eyes sparkle when he jotted it down. Best story he's had, so far, I'll bet. Well, well! I won't detain you, as you're so reasonable. Give someone else a chance to get something from you. Not many opportunities, y' know. I'll be down at the court to welcome Abel from Long Bay and hear his adventures. S' long!"
The door closed quickly. Mason wandered down to his office whistling gaily.
It was all very simple. Abel Mintos would come from the silence of Long Bay to the newspaper account of the Shadow Crook's new activities at his flat, following the Inspector's searches. He would be nervous and plan to safeguard himself. His plan would involve getting in touch with the Shadow Crook. The police would be watching and Mintos would be recaptured, together with the master criminal.
And now, where to make his search for the missing jewels?
The jewels! Mason's thoughts turned to the girl at Rose Bay. Had Norma Etheringham discovered the secret message in that strange letter? He looked at his watch. Had he time to get out to Avonlea? No. There were still threads he had to twist into the skein of his plan. He picked up the telephone and called the big house. Mrs. Etheringham was not at home. He left a message for her to communicate with him directly she returned, together with a warning that Mintos was to be released from custody that afternoon.
One step further remained in his plan—until Abel Mintos walked from the Court-house a free, but carefully watched man, he had to allocate to Alec Branston his part in the play. But he must not communicate with the newspaper-man direct. Branston would ask questions the Inspector was not prepared to answer. He would insist on hearing the whole story, and Mason wanted him to obtain it from the Evening Star. If he had judged correctly, Branston would he annoyed. His professional pride would be touched and he would strain every nerve to "scoop" the rival news-sheet. He picked up the telephone again and called Ray Hill Court, giving to the caretaker a carefully worded message regarding the imminent release of Mintos that afternoon.
His last task was to ring up George Cohen, the solicitor who had appeared for Abel Mintos at the previous hearing and warn him to obtain bail for his client. Cohen immediately mentioned Etheringham's name. That did not suit the detective, although he had expected it. He hinted that the police might have some objections to the squatter, that Etheringham might be involved in certain charges likely to be laid against Mintos when he again came before the Court. Cohen was quick at understanding and offered other names. Mason carelessly accepted them. Any neutral person would serve for Mintos would not be free from police espionage until he again stood in the dock.
The trap was set. Mason walked out of Police Headquarters well satisfied with his work. Mintos would act on the lines he anticipated. The elaborate account of the mysteries in the Evening Star would alarm and harry the Shadow Crook. Alec Branston would do his part in guiding Mintos on the right road and then—finis to one of the most mysterious cases he had ever to handle.
A leisurely lunch, and Mason strolled down to the Central Police Court, to watch the swift line of petty cases. He was early for he had requested the Court officials to bring Mintos into the Court exactly at 4 o'clock. That would give time for his plans to set solidly into place.
At length the procession of sordid cases came to an end and the prosecuting sergeant turned and nodded to Mason. Two minutes later, Abel Mintos passed through the side door, into the dock. A brief application from George Cohen for bail for his client, answered by a nod and a few words from the magistrate and Mintos was free. Mason turned and left the Court. As he expected, Branston was watching him and followed him out.
"Nice thing to do." The newspaper-man turned a soured face to the Inspector. "I was relying on that story for myself." He opened a copy of the Evening Star and pointed to a triple column spread: "Nice sort of pal, you!"
"Go to blazes!" The Inspector grinned, "You should have had it but the 'heads' decided that Mintos had to be allowed bail. Couldn't wait until morning. Anyway, it's a day matter and your 'rag's' a morning sheet."
"Fact!" Mason laid his hand on the reporter's arm. "Look here, Branston. There's a better story behind all that and I'll see you have that exclusive."
"What's that?" Branston asked, suspiciously.
"The re-arrest of Mintos when he's served my purpose by causing the downfall of the Shadow Crook." Mason whispered the words with a backward glance at Mintos and his lawyer, who had just emerged from the doors of the building.
"Then you doped that!" Branston turned accusingly towards the detective. "Now—"
"Shut up." The Inspector gripped the man's elbow. "Here they are. Now, this is what you've got to do to get the story."
For nearly a minute he whispered rapidly in the journalist's ear. Branston's face, gradually lost its suspicious look. When the inspector ended he grinned broadly. A quick grip of the hands and Mason ran down the long flight of steps to the street.
On the opposite side of the road he turned and watched Branston stop Mintos and Cohen, the open paper in his hands, tapping the page on which was the account of the raid on Mintos' flat. Almost the detective could hear the excited talk rising from the three men.
From across the street, leaning against the dividing post, between two shop-windows, Mason watched the scene on the steps of the Central Police Court. Branston and Mintos were talking fast, the solicitor had taken the newspaper and was eagerly scanning the article.
Presently, Cohen turned to the Jew and he, in turn, bent over the open page. Branston stepped back and made a slight sign towards the street. Mason nodded, well satisfied. Mintos had swallowed the bait, hook and all. Now the inspector must wait for developments. He turned and walked down George-street and caught a tram going to Circular Quay. At the Central Post Office he alighted and, entering a telephone booth, rang up his office. The call was immediately answered—the man he had placed on duty there was alert and waiting.
There was still a chance as to which way Mintos would first act. He might go straight to his flat. There he would find his papers had been searched—that many of them were missing. He would find that the replica of the White Trinity was also missing and would believe the police or the Shadow Crook thought it to be the real jewel. He would be confounded by the caretaker's tale of the two letters and the disturbed bed.
"Or, he might go direct to Rose Bay. When Mason had taken Mintos' belongings from Avonlea he had sent the clothing to Long Bay Goal in a parcel, holding, the suitcase and the papers he had found in it. He had asked the prison authorities to inform the Jew that he had cleared everything belonging to him from the house. Now, if Mintos went to Avonlea he would go to recover possession of the missing jewels Mason now firmly believed to be hidden there."
A quiet cup of coffee and Mason again went to the telephone. This time he was informed that Branston had telephoned through that Mintos had gone from the court to the flat, accompanied by his solicitor.
A concluding sentence in the message from the newspaper-man made Mason smile. Branston wanted to get in touch with him at once. He wanted the promised story. Well, that could wait. First, the trail must be followed from Ray Hill Court to Rose Bay—and possibly to Carew-lane.
The detective left the telephone booth and wandered up to King-street. From there he passed into Hyde Park and spent some time on a seat, watching the loungers. He went on to William-street and again telephoned the office. Mintos and his solicitor were still at the flat. He frowned, thoughtfully. Mintos was not acting quite to his expectations.
Again he turned eastwards, walking up to King's Cross. Here, again, he telephoned. The man on duty told him that a message had come through from the reporter stating that Mintos had left the flat, but that his solicitor had remained behind.
The message was puzzling. Why had the solicitor remained in the flat? He had taken particular care nothing should remain in the rooms that could possibly help the man's defence. More, in his pocket he carried a warrant for the man's arrest on a very serious charge.
His hand went to his breast pocket. There was something bulky there. He unbuttoned his jacket and searched. His hand came out of his pocket holding the packet of papers he had taken from Norma Etheringham to convey to Cranford Hughes. In the swift-moving events of the morning he had forgotten them. Now he could not go back. He must go on to Rose Bay carrying the papers with him.
What did the packet contain? Again the detective's hand went to his breast pocket, to which he had restored the envelope. Stanley Etheringham wanted them. Then—Did those papers commit the squatter? How had the girl obtained them? A sudden thought came to his mind. Were they the papers the man in the black mask had taken from him? If so, then how had they come in the possession of the girl?
At Rushcutters Bay he turned into a garage and borrowed the telephone. This time the report come from one of his men he had stationed outside Ray Hill Court. Mintos had left the building and had walked down to William-street. There he had boarded a tram going in the direction of Rose Bay. Mason left the office with a jump. A car belonging to the garage was standing against the curb, a man wiping it down.
"Car for hire?" The detective was wrenching open the door as he spoke. The man nodded; "Never mind your coat. Get me to the Rose Bay tram stop as quickly as possible!" His energy quickened the man. He slid to the driver's seat, and in a few yards, had the car travelling at top speed. In less minutes than the detective thought possible the car slowed and came to a stop within a few yards of the waiting shed. Mason alighted and paid off the man, warning, him to get back to the garage as quickly as possible.
He walked down the side street and to the great gates of the big house. Mintos was coming by tram and he had no time to spare. He turned westward and traced the line of iron fence until it ran down to meet the waters of the harbour. He turned and, passing the gates, examined the line of fence to the east. It ended in a low boundary wall dividing Avonlea from the grounds of the next house. Mason climbed over the low wall and strolled through the Avonlea grounds to the direction of the drive-way, keeping carefully out of sight from the house and watching for working gardeners.
At length, he came to the drive-way and crossed it. He followed the road until it came within sight of the house, and then dodged among the many flowering shrubs and bushes until he found a position but a few yards from where the drive curved before the house. From there he could hear and see everything that went on at the front door.
For some time Mason lay in the bushes and dozed. At length he was aroused by the sounds of crushed gravel. He rolled over and waited. Mintos had acted according to his expectations. He had left the city by tram, changing later to a taxi—when he was certain he had thrown any trailers off his track. There he had outguessed the Jew. No one had trailed him. The watcher was waiting for him.
The car drove up to the steps fronting the hall door. Mason could see, through the windows, the Jew alight and stand talking to the driver. He had changed his position, slightly, until he could get a fair view. To his surprise he found Mintos paying off the man. That was strange. He had expected Mintos to keep the car for his return journey. Did the Jew expect he would be allowed to remain at the house? It seemed the only solution to his actions. Then, had Mintos been in communication with the squatter since his release? That was a possibility Mason had overlooked. The driver climbed to his seat and drove around the sweep that led back to the gates. Mintos remained on the lower step, watching the car depart. What would the man do?
From the darkness of the house, loomed the figure of the squatter. He came striding out on to the verandah, his heavy footsteps betokening anger.
"Who's that?" The man's voice was charged with suspicion. "Good Lord, Mintos! You?"
"My dear friend!" The Jew turned quickly, holding out his hand. "My dear fellow, I am delighted to see you again."
"You dare to come here, after being in—" Etheringham shook his fist at the Jew. "You dare to come to this house direct from goal?"
"Gaol, yes." The Jew spoke suavely, slightly emphasising the words. "I was so unfortunate as to be arrested, while you—"
"Are you suggesting that I am implicated in your frauds, you—you—" The squatter could not continue, rage overpowering him.
"Implicated?" Mintos laughed softly. "Really, my dear fellow, you amuse me. Implicated! Who sold the shares?"
"You told me they were at a premium. You gave me the price. You told me the company—"
"The company?" Again Mintos laughed, a cruel little laugh. "I happen to be the company—all of it. So far as I know there isn't even a hole in the ground in—"
"You're telling me there's no company, no gold?"
"No company? Certainly there is, at least on paper." The man advanced up a step. "Unfortunately—"
"There are no mines—no gold!" The squatter staggered. "And I—"
"You were so good as to sell the shares for me, dear fellow. Nearly ten thousand pounds, so far. More than I expected, really. I let you have them at par and took the money. You took the profits. Quite a nice little arrangement for me—and you. Let me see. You sold quite a lot at 30/- and over, didn't you?"
"You damned scoundrel!"
"Words, words!" The broad shoulders rose slightly. "Come, let me go inside. If you really want to discuss unpleasant things we'd best do that where we can not be overheard."
"You'll not enter this house." Etheringham stood squarely before the man. "As you have sent your taxi away I suggest you can get a tram at the shed—but you'll have to walk there. Good-day."
For the moment the Jew seemed nonplussed. Then he burst into a loud laughter.
"So I'm kicked out, and without paying my respects to the fair Mrs. Etheringham. Tut, tut!" He ascended a couple of steps until he stood almost to breast with the squatter.
"I'm sure the good Mrs. Etheringham will not be so inhospitable—when I've explained certain matters."
"My wife is not at home." Etheringham spoke expressionlessly. "If she were here she would tell me to—"
"So the good Stanley takes orders from the fair Norma?"
"Keep my wife's name out of this."
The squatter's fists closed, ominously.
"So! A reconciliation has been effected between the happy married couple." Again the grating laugh of the promoter rang out. "I suppose the fair dame has explained the flat in Innesfail Mansions and the love—"
"You lie!" The colour flooded Etheringham's face. "My wife in that place! Damn you, what do you mean?"
"Mean?" The Jew stimulated surprise. "What does a man usually mean when he suggests his pal's wife wants watching? You—you fool, Etheringham! I've tried to hint it to you, but you're so dense that I've got to drive it into your head with a mallet. Your wife's modern—damned modern. She's got a flat at Innesfail Mansions and likes her little bit of fun as well as any man, modern or old-fashioned. You know what that means? She has her parties there and entertains her friends—some times one friend at a time. Does that tell you nothing?"
"Get inside you fool and I'll make the tale plain. You blind ass! Why, there's not a man of your crowd who doesn't know of it. She—she—"
"How do you know this?" The colour fled from the squatter's face leaving a deathly white. "Tell me!"
"Know it?" The Jew laughed quietly. "Oh, I've known it for some time and kept the frail lady's secret. Paid me to hold my tongue, y' know. She didn't like me, at first. Tried to persuade you to kick me out and all that; so I waited and watched. I found out her little secret—"
"What more do you want?" The Jew's temper was mounting. "I can prove what I say."
"Oh, if you want it. I've been there 'with her. Well; you asked for it—"
Etheringham struck out, blindly. The blow caught Mintos on the chest and he toppled backwards on to the gravel drive. The squatter jumped from the verandah, standing over the prostrate man. For a few seconds the Jew lay still, then, painfully, he struggled to his feet, dazed and looking foolish. Again Etheringham struck, driving the man with short-arm, ineffective blows across the drive on to the grass.
At first, Mintos attempted a half hearted defence, but his hands were beaten down by the mad whirlwind attack. At length, a blow caught him under the heart and he dropped—beaten. For some moments Etheringham stood over him, then with a contemptuous shrug of his shoulder retreated to the head of the verandah steps. There he turned and watched Mintos.
For some minutes the Jew lay motionless, queerly twisted, a huge black bulk against the green grass. He stirred and sat up, feeling himself all over. Presently his brain cleared and he struggled to his feet. For some time he stood brushing the signs of the conflict from his clothes. With a final tug of his collar and tie, he strode to the foot of the steps again.
"So that's you game, Stanley Etheringham!" The man's suave manner had disappeared and he spoke with savage intentness. "You seem to have forgotten the cards I hold.
"All the police haven't taken from you." Etheringham spoke quietly, smiling grimly. "Haven't you heard of the raid on your flat? Well, get the papers and read it up. It's interesting. They've got the papers and—"
"Then they've got you." There was a snarl in the man's voice. "They've got you and when they get me I'll see you bear your full share."
"There'll be nothing to support your word." The squatter laughed, confidently. "How she managed it, I don't know, but—"
"Norma, my wife." The squatter seemed to be enjoying himself. "How she managed to get them I don't understand, but this morning she showed me a batch of letters—all you've got on me. You're the loser, Mintos. Not I."
"What have you gained by that?" The Jew laughed spitefully. "If I know anything, she'll use them against you, you big dumb stiff!"
"Yes, she'll hold them against me." For a moment the joy of the battle passed out of Etheringham's face. "She says I've got to agree to her terms. She's going to leave me and—. Damn you why are you stand there, smirking like that? I want her! I love her!"
"In spite of the flat?" Mintos laughed. "Well, that's finished it! I've done with you. Let me pass and get the things out of my room. Then you and that—that Norma Carr—can go to the devil your own ways, and I'll lend you a kick to speed you on. Get out of my road, can't you?"
He moved slowly up the steps until he again stood breast to breast with the squatter. Etheringham did not give way. He appeared to be waiting the opportunity to attack the man again. Something of this must have occurred to Mintos for his hand stole slowly towards his hip pocket.
"I wouldn't, Mintos. I really wouldn't." The squatter spoke softly. "I know you carry a gun but before you could get it round I'd blow you to hell. I'm carrying mine in my jacket pocket and my finger's on the trigger."
In a sudden access of fury he seized the promoter with his left hand, by the throat, and shook him violently. With an effort he lifted him from his feet and threw him on the gravel path. Immediately he turned and walked into the house, closing the door with a resounding bang.
Mintos struggled to his feet and shook his fist at the closed door. For some seconds he stood, hesitant. Mason thought he would ascend the steps and try to force his way into the house. In that case he would have to interfere. The squatter would certainly shoot. Yet he waited. He did not want to come out into the open until his plans were fully matured. Mintos had yet to lead him to the Shadow Crook and the jewels.
Suddenly the Jew turned and strode down the drive, walking shakily at first, but gathering strength as he proceeded. Within a few yards of the gates he stepped on to the grass on the harbour side of the drive and went in the direction of the water. Mason followed warily. Where was the man leading him? Some little distance from the drive, at the bottom of a sharp slope, lay a little patch of bush, close to the boundary railings. Mintos made direct to this patch of bush and entered it. For some moments Mason could hear his footsteps crashing on the twigs and dried leaves. Then came silence.
What was Mintos' object in seeking shelter in that belt of trees and bush? The detective found a clump of shrubs from whore he could watch the two sides of the bush. Had Mintos determined to get into the house by hook or by crook? Was he hiding until darkness fell, resolving then to force some entry into the house and to the room where he had been laid, after the attack on him by the Shadow Crook?
What had the man in mind? Mason lay under his shelter trying to fit some theory to the man's actions. When he had followed Mintos from the doors of Avonlea he had expected the man to lead him to the Shadow Crook.
For more than an hour Mason lay in the shelter of the shrubs watching the belt of trees into which Mintos had disappeared. Again and again he racked his brains to guess some meaning to the Jew's actions.
As time progressed the detective became restless. He rose to his feet and stretched himself. Better to flush his game than to lie on the grass staring vacantly at a patch of bush showing no life. He left the shelter of the shrubs and walked along the line of bush in the direction of the water. Presently he came to a small cliff overlooking the patch of sand bordering the water's edge. He lowered himself down and searched the sands. There were no footprints. He skirted the water until he came to the overhanging boatshed, then returned to the trees and back to the starting-point.
Nowhere had he seen signs of the Jew. The man had completely disappeared. For a few minutes the detective stood and scanned the lawns then, watching the ground carefully, went back to where he had lain hidden. Suddenly he bent to the ground; Just outside the bush he could distinguish a heavy footmark. A stride on and he came to another. They were both fresh, the blades of grass just rising again to the upright. Mintos had come out of the bush that way.
Then—the man had known he was being followed soon after he left the steps of Avonlea. Yet he had not shown his knowledge. He had turned, casually, from the drive to the grass and sought shelter in the bush. There he had waited until the detective had become impatient then left his shelter and walked out of the big gates. To where?
Pondering deeply, Inspector Mason left the Avonlea grounds. Halfway to the tram shelter a motor car passed, driving rapidly in the direction of Avonlea.
Mason looked up. In the car was Norma Etheringham, alone. For an instant he hesitated. Should he go back and interview the girl? She might have news for him. She might have discovered the message he believed hidden in the strange letter written by Stacey Carr. But that could wait. First he had to pick up the trail of Abel Mintos.
Norma had driven into town earlier in the day, to consult Cranford. She had been alarmed to discover he had not yet received the papers she had entrusted to Inspector Mason to deliver to him. Cranford had not seemed disturbed. He had told her the detective had been very busy. Possibly he would call later with the envelope. She had told him of her determination to leave her husband, immediately and, to her surprise he had urged her to return home, until he had had an opportunity to peruse the documents and consider her position.
Throughout dinner Etheringham was talkative. He spoke of the Jew's visit to the home at some length, detailing the thrashing he had administered to him. Norma answered shortly. The days when the dismissal of Mintos from her home would have aroused her interest had passed. Her husband could have whom he would to the house in future. She would not be there; she would be on the road to complete freedom.
As soon as possible Norma went to her room and locked the door. She took from her desk her father's letter and read it again. Now she, was sure that within those lines lay some message he had wanted to convey to her, but dared not plainly write.
She read the letter, carefully conning each sentence. It spoke of the erection of the cupboard. What did that mean? Thinking back over the years she was convinced she had been at home on holidays from school when her father was having the cupboard built. She went to one of the drawers of her desk and pulled out a bundle of old letters. With the strange letter before her, she turned over the many letters she had received from her father.
The writing of the strange letter was shaky and irregular. She sought through the pile of letters carefully scanning each one and comparing it with the strange letter calligraphy, ink and paper. At last she sat back, wondering deeply.
A sudden thought came to her. During her latter days at school a craze for hidden messages had possessed the girls. They delighted in writing notes to each other, containing some hidden cipher. She, herself, had written many of them. During one of her holidays she had taught her father the trick. Had he used this schoolgirl trick to leave some message for her eyes alone. Again she read the letter. The supposition of a secret message would explain the irregular spacing of the words. He had written the hidden message first and then surrounded it with sentences to conceal the real meaning. But, what was the clue to the cipher? The girls had used so many methods. Which one had her father chosen?
She would have to experiment until she obtained the right cipher. Again she read the letter. The three numbers at the head attracted her attention. What did they mean? With a little gasp of satisfaction she rose from her seat and went to her desk. She believed she had discovered the clue.
It was the old Maltese Cross cipher; many of the girls had been practical to it but it was difficult to execute. The three numbers at the top held the key to the cipher. With trembling hands, she took a sheet of notepaper and cut it to the exact size of her father's letter. Now she had to draw the cross.
The first numeral, 2, would mean the distance from the edge of the paper. The following number, 3, was the out-edge size of the cross-arms. The third number, 1, indicated the size of the little square in the centre, supporting, the arms of the Cross.
On the sheet of plain paper she ruled a line three inches long and two inches from the upper edge of the paper. She completed the square and within it drew the smaller square, one inch each way. She drew the diagonal lines and with a small pair of scissors cut the arms of the cross. Trembling with excitement she placed the key over her father's letter.
Now she could read the message. With hands, that shook so that she could hardly hold the pencil, she wrote the concealed message at the bottom of the paper on which she had framed the cross.
You will find the clue in the right-hand support
of the second shell of the cupboard in the shop.
In the cupboard with the double doors between the shop and the work room! But a few nights before she had crouched in that cupboard in deadly terror of the police—and the jewels she had sought had been a few inches above her head.
She must go to the shop and recover the jewels. Feverishly she sought for the keys of the shop and placed them on the deciphered letter. She ran into her bed-room, stripping from her shoulders the dinner dress she was wearing.
In the bedroom she stopped and looked at herself in the glass. She must calm herself. If she went on the streets as she was then, trembling and fearful, she would fail. In that shop lay many dangers, possibly some she did not dream of. The police might be watching her. They would see her enter, and follow. Perhaps they might arrest her for—
A fit of shivering came over her. There was a way—a way to get the jewels in safety and place them in the hands of the police. Half-dressed she ran back into the boudoir and seized the telephone, ringing up Inspector Mason, at Police Headquarters. She had promised to tell him if she discovered the message concealed in the letter. She would tell him she had found the secret; she would ask him to wait in his office for her; she would drive down to Phillip-street and take him with her to Carew-Lane.
A strange voice answered the call. She asked for Inspector Mason, in a voice that shook with excitement, to be told that he had left Headquarters at mid-day and was not expected to return that night.
Wildly she flung the receiver back on the hook. What was she to do? She could not leave the jewels hidden longer. Already the Shadow Crook and Abel Mintos were on their track. Fearfully she looked around the room, searching the shadows for the strange muffled figure of the master criminal. If he came to her she would not be able to keep the letter from him. He would discover the cipher and go to the shop and obtain the jewels.
In mad haste she fled to her bedroom. She must go to the shop alone and recover the jewels. Then, with them in her hands she could go to the police and vindicate her father's lost honour.
Clothed completely in black, she stepped on the balcony before her window, and looked down on the drive. Her car was still there. She had only to escape from the house to it, and drive away.
First, to prevent her absence from home from being discovered. Somewhere in the house was her husband. He might come to her rooms and find she was not there. He might search the house. In some way, she must prevent anyone coming into her room until she returned.
Again in her bedroom she flung a wrap around her and returned to the boudoir. She touched the bell, summoning her maid. Sitting back in her chair and huddling the wrap around her she waited for the girl.
"Mary, bring me a glass of strong whisky-soda, please." At the girl's look of surprise, for Norma rarely touched spirits, she added, "I am nervous to-night and want something to make me sleep."
She waited, in an agony of impatience for the girl's return. Hardly could she conceal the trembling of her hand as she took the glass from the tray. As the girl made to enter the bedroom she stopped her.
"Leave the rooms for to-night, Mary." It was an effort to keep her voice normal. "I'm—nervous and don't want anyone about me. I shall, lock my doors so that I shall not be disturbed."
She watched the girl pass out of the room, then raised the glass to her lips. The strong spirits steadied her. A few seconds and she rose from the chair and locked the door. From her bedroom, she stole out into the corridor, looking, the door behind her. If she could only get from the house, unperceived! She looked over the bannisters on to the hall. It was deserted. On silent feet she ran down the stairs and out on the verandah. A moment later she stepped into her car.
Inspector Mason was disappointed and irritable when he left Rose Bay. He had gone to Avonlea with high hopes, believing that if Mintos came to the house, he would lead him to the missing jewels, if not to the Shadow Crook. He had thought his plans fool-proof, yet the Jew had walked out of his net with ridiculous ease.
Mason had not been careless in shadowing Mintos. He had taken every precaution, yet without showing any sign of surprise, the man had known he was being followed and had taken successful steps to throw off the follower. When had he become suspicious? The detective reviewed the conversation between Etheringham and the Jew on the steps of the house. Mintos had spoken without reserve; he had assured Etheringham of participating in, and profiting through the frauds he had engineered; he had deliberately poisoned the squatter's mind against his wife, suggesting impossible things against her honour; but at no time had he uttered one word incriminating himself, beyond the Inspector's present knowledge.
Only after the Jew had left the house had he known he was being followed, possibly only a few seconds before he turned off the drive to go to the trees. With a shrug of his shoulders Mason put the problem from him. He had made some slip that had, for the time, disorganised his plans. Mintos was free; he would have to be found again. But, where?
It was possible that he would return to Avonlea. The conversation on the step, between the Jew and the squatter, showed that in the house was concealed that which the promoter valued. He had pressed hard to be allowed to enter the house. Refused admission, he would no doubt try to enter secretly. When would the attempt be made?
Mason had a belief that Mintos would return to Avonlea that night. He had no evidence to back his assumption, but he determined to keep a careful watch, on the place. At King's Cross he dropped from the tram and went to Darlinghurst police station.
Half an hour later he left the building, under, the shadow of the old gaol, and sought a tram to carry him to the city. Avonlea would be properly guarded. If Mintos returned there he would be watched and the Inspector notified. His flat was under close espionage, and solicitor Cohen surrounded by a body of silent watchers. One point only in the mystery remained open. That was the old shop in Carew Lane. Mason had reserved that watch for himself. Some instinct told him that there would take place the next scene in the complex mystery.
Again in the city, Mason snatched a hasty meal and went down to Carew-lane. The shop was in darkness and apparently empty. For minutes Mason stood in the shadows carefully scanning his surroundings. So far as he could see the place was not being watched, from the outside. He crossed the narrow lane and knocked softly on the glass of the door. A few seconds later it swung open. A quick word of identification and he entered and the door was closed.
"Anything to report, Swartz?"
"Nothing, sir. Fairly as quiet as the grave. Fairly gives one the creeps."
"So," Mason laughed. "Well, I'm going to have them bad. I'm taking up the watch here, for a couple of hours. You go to headquarters and sit in my room. Take any' messages that may come for me, and use your own judgment on them. Don't send, or come down here, unless, it's something of vital importance. Mintos has got away, somehow. I'm expecting him here, but there's fellows waiting for him, at all his known points. If any message comes through regarding him, send someone down here and stand by to close the net on him. I'll manage to communicate with you, understand? Now, get away as quietly as possible. There's a big chance for you in this, if you use your brains."
The Inspector took the key of the shop-door which Swartz handed him and locked the door, directly the constable turned, and flashed the light of his torch around the shop. He was to be here for some hours, possibly until after midnight. It would be wise to make himself as comfortable as possible.
A corner of the workroom would best suit his purpose. Taking care not to allow the light from his torch to play on the shop-window, he made his way into the back room and arranged a comfortable seat on the bench in the corner far front the double-doored cupboard. He snapped off his light and leaned back, prepared for a long solitary wait.
Time lengthened, the minutes accumulating to hours and Mason sat patiently in his corner. The stillness of the shop was breeding a strange lethargy in his brain. Every now and again he started from a doze to intense, almost painful wakefulness, and glanced at the illuminated dial of his watch. His limbs were cramped; he badly wanted to smoke. With a grim smile he remembered the solace Tomlin appeared to derive from biting at an unlit cigar. If only he had acquired the habit. He dared not light up his pipe, for anyone coming into the shop would immediately recognise the smell of fresh-burning tobacco. He took his pipe from his pocket and fondled it gently between his palms. He stuck it between his teeth, and drew on the empty bowl. The faint burr of the charred bowl but intensified his longing for the fragrant weed.
At times, some night-walker passed down the ill-lit lane. Mason could hear the "click-clack" of their footsteps. Once he heard two voices in argument as men passed from one thoroughfare to the other. Once, a pale beam of light struck through the windows and wandered over the workbench of the wall behind. It was the patrolman making his rounds. Later, he could hear something breathing. He slid from the bench and stole to the door in the partition. There was no one in the shop. Almost he had persuaded himself that he had suffered from some hallucination when, through the dirty shop-window, he saw a face pressed to the glass. The man, some ghoul of the night, remained there some time, trying to penetrate the darkness of the shop, then passed on. Mason smiled and went back to his seat on the bench.
Now, he was wide awake. He had not guessed wrong. The Carew-lane shop was to be the next scene in the mystery.
A slight draught stirred the still air of the shop. It was followed by the dull thud of the closing door and the grating of the key turned in the lock. Whoever had entered the place, had locked themselves in. With a silent chuckle, Mason anticipated the surprise of the intruder when he realised that the locking of the door had made certain his capture.
Who had entered the shop? For some reason Mason did not believe the newcomer to be Abel Mintos. More likely it would prove to be the Shadow Crook or—
Mason, in his many plannings, had quite overlooked Sydney Warton. Now he remembered and moved uneasily on his seat. The usual police warning of the escape from custody of the old jeweller had been circulated, but the Inspector had been too busy to press on the pursuit of a recapture.
The intruder, might be Sydney Warton. He might have come down to Carew-lane and, seeing the shop in darkness, had thought it empty. In that case he would have to get rid of the old man as quickly as possible. He did not want him about with his futile searching for the lost jewels. The old man had had five years for his search and had been unsuccessful It was impossible to believe that he would be of any use now, in the search for the missing safe.
Someone was moving about the shop. Mason rose from his seat and went to the door. Some minutes' watching and he saw a faint, slight shadow flit along the back of the counter. The detective passed silently to the door of the cupboard and opened it, preventing it closing with the blade of his penknife. He turned back and went to his corner. He would let the intruder search. There was a possibility that he might chance on the hiding-place of the safe. With the shop closed there would be ample time to arrest him before he could get away.
A faint glow of light illuminated the interior of the cupboard. It stayed there, so far as Mason could see, concentrating on the side nearest the wall. A faint slither of wood on wood came on the air. Mason slipped across the room until he could see through the door he had opened. The intruder was in the cupboard but the place was in such darkness that he could not see his outline. He could only see the light, playing on the wall.
Again came the slither of wood on wood. What was he doing? The light had crawled higher on the wall. With surprise, Mason realised that the man was removing from the cupboard the loose shelving. For what reason? The night was piling mystery on mystery. Presently, the sound ceased. Mason crept nearer. The light was now playing on the side of the cupboard, passing over the cleats of wood that had held the shelving. It centred on the second cleat from the floor and for some time remained there. Slowly, it moved from end to, end of the piece of wood, then disappeared.
From within the cupboard came sounds of strenuous efforts, culminating in a loud click. The light came on again, resting on the same wall of the cupboard. Mason bent forward. The section of wood between the second and third cleats has disappeared, revealing the brickwork of the wall of the house. In the centre of the space was the round door of a small safe.
Something dark intruded between the light and the door of the safe. Mason recognised that the man was trying to listen to the fall of the tumblers in the lock. He stole still further forward until he stood within an arm's length of the door, and watched. If this man could succeed in opening the safe, well and good. He would save a lot of official work and provide a proper retribution for himself. Mason decided to allow him to go on until he laid his hands on the jewels. Then he would step forward and collar the swag and the man.
There was the door of the cupboard into the shop to guard. Mason suddenly remembered that there was a barrier he must watch. He moved silently. The crook had yet much work to do before he could open the safe. It would be well to turn the button on the door. Then the thief could only get from the cupboard through the workroom door.
The door barred, Mason returned to the workroom and his watch on the crook. The man was becoming impatient. He had abandoned the task of listening for the fall of the tumblers and was twirling the knob, impatiently. Suddenly the hand dropped from the knob and the light disappeared. A small thin cry came from the darkness, followed by the sounds of a body flung against the fastened door.
"Hands up!" Mason pressed the trigger of his torch, illuminating the interior of the cupboard. "Hands up, I say! I'll shoot if you make a move to escape."
The light of the torch threw into relief the medium height, slender figure of a man, clothed entirely in tight-fitting black. The head was turned towards the Inspector and he could see a black mask covering the features, through which stared two bright eyes, in frightened amazement. The man in the cupboard was not the Shadow Crook, as he had expected, but the man in the black mask he had faced in Abel Mintos' flat.
"Got you!" The Inspector spoke with intense satisfaction. "So you got a line on the missing jewels. Now I wonder where? Can't open the safe, can you? Not much of a crook, you! Have another go at it laddie, I want those jewels!"
The man turned suddenly and flung himself against the door opening into the shop. It held firm, although Mason feared for the frail button. He laughed triumphantly.
"No hope, sonny! I turned the button of that door while you were finding the safe. There's only one way out for you and that's past me—and that's damned unsafe. I've got you covered. Now, open that safe."
With a gesture of despair, the man turned to the steel door and spun the dial, tugging viciously at the knob, but without result. Mason backed slowly to the bench and along it until he could reach the light switches. He flung on all the lights and leaned against the edge of the bench, watching the crook, vigilantly.
"Take it easy." The Inspector hooked a chair forward and seated himself. "We have the whole night before us. I'll watch you 'work.'"
"Hold your tongue." Mason spoke roughly. "You're not talking, just working. I want that safe opened and I want it opened quick. See?"
"Perhaps I can help you, Inspector." The voice came from the door of the room. Mason sprang to his feet and swung round. In the doorway lounged a tall figure dressed in an old brown overcoat and dark grey hat, pulled low over his face. It was the Shadow Crook.
"You?" Mason Spoke viciously. "So I've got you, too. Put up your—"
His hand came up, to drop to his side. A slight motion by the master-criminal had drawn attention to the small automatic he held in his hand, pressed to his side and covering the Inspector.
"I wouldn't, Inspector. I really would be more careful, if I were you. Impulsive actions are most dangerous. Seems I have a rival in the field."
The man moved into the room and glanced to where the man in the black mask stood, within the cupboard. A contemptuous smile came on his lips as his eyes flashed back to watch the Inspector.
"So he can't open that safe? Well, well!" The crook laughed again. "Not much good in cur trade, is he, Inspector? Why, that sort's dead easy!"
"Can you?" Mason asked, recovering his voice. If he could get this man under his gun and drive him into the cupboard with the man in the black mask! If he could force him to open the safe! "You've got a good line of talk, but what about a little action."
"Can you open that safe?"
"Under your gun, Inspector?" The Shadow Crook, appeared to enjoy the joke. "No thanks. I've too much respect for your undoubted abilities. There are other ways, y' know."
"Drop that, gun!"
Mason shrugged his shoulders. He would go out with his gun in his hand, if he must; not a blinded sheep, a captive of this crook. His brain was working at top speed. If only he could distract the man's attention from him for a single second. He turned a high shoulder to the master criminal, glancing towards the cupboard. With an exclamation he stepped forward, peering into the now shadowed interior. The man in the black mask had disappeared.
Mason's sudden exclamation started the Shadow Crook. For a moment his eyes went to the interior of the cupboard. For a fraction of a second his automatic wavered from the direct line to the Inspector's heart. Immediately Mason sprang to one side, followed by a wild, shot from the crook's gun. He turned, with an ugly snarl, to look into the vicious black circle of the Inspector's automatic.
"I score at last, Mr. Shadow Crook!" Mason's voice was full of triumph. "Drop that gun quick, I say."
For some minutes the two men stood gazing into each other's eyes. Mason's breast was swelling with triumph. He had the Shadow Crook under his gun and no power on earth could release! He had the secret of the safe. Soon he would have that safe opened and the missing jewels in his hands.
With the Shadow Crook in custody he could finalise the remaining points in the complex mystery. He would force the man to tell all he knew. He had ways and methods that would break down the walls of silence the master criminal might erect. The solitude, the ring of trained officials, the repeated well-thought-out questions, would sooner or later wring from him something in the form of a confession.
The jewels and the Shadow Crook! All he wanted now to complete the tally was Abel Mintos and the murderer of Stacey Carr. The Jew could not evade re-capture. With him in custody and facing a long term of imprisonment for the frauds he had practised over many years he held much to make the man communicative. Mintos would talk. The Shadow Crook should be compelled to talk. Between the two men the truth could no longer be concealed.
But, during the last few days a new character had crept into the problem—the Man in the Black Mask. Who was he, and what did he want. He had discovered the hidden safe, but had been unable to open it. Had the safe baffled him or had he known he was being watched. Mason watched his new captive with wary eyes. The Shadow Crook was full of guile. Unless he acted quickly, giving the man but little time for thought, he might be up against some trick difficult to counter. He should lake steps to obtain assistance. His first thought should be to disarm the crook and place him in a cell, but—
He wanted those jewels! He wanted to walk up to the Police Headquarters with the Shadow Crook and the jewels. He wanted to show them in authority that lone-handed, he was a match for the master criminal who had for so long defied them. He wanted to show the men of five years ago that it was not wise to take things at face value. They had sent an innocent man to gaol because they had not possessed the vision to look at a problem from all angles. They had laughed at his theories—his belief in the innocence of Stacey Carr. Now they should understand and believe.
First, the jewels. His hand, holding the Shadow Crook under the automatic, steadied and stiffened.
"There's 'the safe, friend." Mason motioned with his hand. "Show me that you can open it. Now then, get to it."
For a moment, the Shadow Crook hesitated. His eyes wandered from the Inspector's face to the door of the little safe. A slight smile came into his eyes and he stepped to the door of the cupboard.
"Right in, please!" The Inspector barked the words. He had not thought to overawe the man so easily.
Obediently the Shadow Crook stepped into the cupboard and bent to the door of the safe. For some minutes, the long fingers, clad in skin-coloured rubber gloves, touched the dial delicately, swinging it backward and forwards. The head of the crook was bent to the safe, the whole figure merged in the two senses of hearing and touch.
"Well?" Mason spoke impatiently as the Shadow Crook straightened himself.
"If I open this?" The crook's voice held no note of defeat. "What then?"
"Nothing. Not a damned thing!" the Inspector's, voice rasped loudly. "You're going to have the pleasure of one legitimate job of safe-opening before you go to gaol. I want to see if you're as clever at your damned work as they tell me. Get that!'
"And if I refuse?"
"Then I'll take you at once to Headquarters, your curiosity regarding that safe and the jewels in it, unsatisfied." The detective laughed. Somehow he rather liked this man who faced him, undaunted, at the end of a successful career of crime. "That'll hurt, I guess."
"I'll hear there." The Shadow Crook shrugged his shoulders and moved to the door of the room. "Coming, Inspector?"
Mason sprang forward, fury in his eyes, a menace in his hoarse voice. "Go back." The steady gun halted the man. "Get into that cupboard and open that safe."
"And if I don't, will you shoot?" For a moment the crook hesitated, then turned to the cupboard and entered. "Oh, hell, what's the good of butting you phiz-gigs. Suppose I'd better open it."
Again he bent to the little dial, listening intently. Mason moved slightly and the crook swung round angrily.
"How the hell's a man going to work with you making all that noise. If you want this opened, keep quiet. Oh. I'd better shut the door."
With a sudden movement he kicked the Inspector's pen-knife from the floor and sprang back into the cupboard, pulling the door closed behind him. Mason sprang forward with a cry of rage. He flung himself sideways as a bullet bored through, the door past his head. Instinctively his finger tightened and his gun answered the challenge.
"Stop that, Mason!" The Shadow Crook spoke from within the cupboard. "You didn't know I carried a second gun."
"You fool!" Mason sprang to the door between the room and the shop, watching the two doors of the cupboard. "You can't escape. The door into the shop's fastened."
"Good enough." The light laughter of the master crook rang through the shop. "Then, for the time, it's a stalemate. Now, we'll both think about it. Any ideas, old man?"
It was a stalemate, as the Shadow Crook had said. Mason dared not go to the door of the cupboard, he dared not leave his position between the shop and the workroom. He could only watch and wait.
Yet the Shadow Crook was safely imprisoned. There was no possible hope of him getting from the cupboard to the door of the 'shop. Mason silently vowed that at the first sign of an attempt to escape, he would shoot. He dared not allow the man to get away.
Time was on his side. He glanced down at his wrist-watch. It was not much after 10 o'clock. A little more than an hour and a half and Swartz would come down to the shop to relieve him, if the lights in the shop did not attract the attention of a patrolman, first. He would send for help. With a number of men thronging the place, the crook's position would be hopeless.
The time passed slowly. Mason stood leaning against the lintel of the door, watching the doors of the cupboard. He longed for the patrolman to come down the lane. The inaction was becoming wearisome.
A slight sound at the shop-door drew his attention. He looked round to see Norma Etheringham standing on the door-step. She knocked on the glass, then, as the Inspector did not move, she turned the handle and pushed open the door.
"Mrs. Etheringham!" Mason spoke sharply. "For God's sake be careful. The Shadow Crook's here."
"Where?" Norma looked round the room, fearfully.
"In the double-doored cupboard." The-Inspector gave a quick glance to wards the doors. "Come over here, to me. Quick! He can't shoot to wards here and I'll get him if he comes out of the cupboard. So! That's right. What did you come here for?"
"I tried to get in touch with you this evening, Inspector." The girl spoke hesitatingly. "You were not at Headquarters when I telephoned and—and I was afraid to wait longer."
"To wait longer?" A second and the Inspector's face cleared. "Oh, I understand. You have discovered the clue to the hidden safe."
"Yes." The girl lowered her voice, glancing fearfully towards the cupboard. "Can he hear us?"
"What if he does?" Mason laughed quietly. "He's bottled up in the cupboard and the safe's there. I drove him in there to open it."
"You found the safe and set the Shadow Crook to open it?" She gasped in surprise. "Why did you do that?"
"Thought I had him safe." Mason's laugh held a note of ruefulness. "There's been happenings here, to night. I came down to watch, and another crook entered the shop and discovered the safe. While I was attending to him the Shadow Crook held me up and the first man escaped. Then I managed to get the upper-hand of the Shadow Crook and drove him into the cupboard, to open the safe. I was too damned—beg pardon, clever. But he can't get away, if I can't get at him. Now, Mrs. Etheringham, what did you come here for."
"I found the clue to the safe in dad's letter and tried to get to you over the telephone, but you were away from your office. I became fearful for the safety of the jewels and determined to come here and get them."
"Then you know of the sliding panel, concealing the safe?"
"Yes. It lies in the second shelf from the bottom of the cupboard."
"Now, how did the man in the black mask know that?" The detective frowned, thoughtfully. "By jove, I've' got it—The man in the black mask was Sydney Warton."
"Sydney Warton? But—but—"
"That's it. The inspector, spoke excitedly. Sydney Wharton found the hidden safe but could not discover the combination to release the lock. Looks as if he's not known the safe for long. Anyway, when he escaped from Wilbrahams, he waited an opportunity to have another go at the thing. Yes, that's right."
"And the Shadow Crook?"
"Looks as if he's had a watch on the lot of us." Mason smiled grimly. "Funny how he manages to always turn up at the opportune moment.
"He has saved me from trouble more than once." Norma spoke gravely. "But for him—"
"So?" The Inspector looked at her keenly. "Saved you from bother, has he? Well, I can understand that. You were one of the clues he relied on to find the jewels. He's watched the lot of us and led us like a lot of sheep in the way he wanted us to go. Now he thinks he's going to collar the swag and leave us holding the bag."
He held up a warning hand for silence and crept into the workroom, to the door of the cupboard. There he listened for some moments. When he returned to Norma there was a thoughtful frown on his brow.
"Can't understand it," he muttered. "This isn't like the Shadow Crook—to remain in a hole until we drive him out. Wonder what he's up to?"
For a moment he thought to go to the door of the cupboard and wrench it open, chancing the blind bullets of the master criminal. But then there would be shooting in the shop and the life of the girl would be in danger. He must have help and get rid of her before the fight commenced.
"Say, Mrs. Etheringham." The Inspector spoke after a long pause. "Do you mind walking up to George-street and finding a constable. If there's not one in sight go to a telephone and put through a call to the George-street north police station. Tell them to send a couple of men here as quickly as possible. I'll remain here, on guard."
The girl nodded and went to the door. A few moments and Mason heard the pulsing of a motor engine passing the door. It ran up towards George-street and died in the distance.
"Got her car here," Mason muttered as he pulled his pipe from his pocket and stuffed tobacco into the bowl. "Good sort of a girl that. No shrieking and fainting. Lor' what some women wouldn't have put up, if they'd been told there was a dangerous criminal in the cupboard of the room in which they had wandered."
Ten minutes, or a quarter of an hour would see her back, and with her, the constables. Then he would call on the Shadow Crook to surrender. If he refused he would go to the cupboard. The first shot, according to regulations, belonged to the crook, after that—Again he looked at his watch. Almost, as he noted the time the sounds of a motor car racing down the lane came to him. It pulled up with the grating of brakes, and a couple of uniformed men ran in at the door. Norma followed them, walking, over to where the Inspector stood.
"Better keep out of the shop, Mrs. Etheringham." He noted her flushed face, her eyes glittering with excitement. "That chap'll come out, shootin'."
Norma shook her head but slipped into the corner by the partition. Mason shrugged his shoulders and turned to his men.
"The Shadow Crook's in that cupboard, boys." he said, briefly. "He's armed and likely to shoot, but we've got to get him out. Now, you get the other side of the partition and see he doesn't get a break on us there. You get over to the shop-door and don't let anyone pass you on any pretext. See?"
He watched his men go to their stations. For a moment he stood summoning up all his courage, then slid along the partition to the cupboard door. Again he waited, his fingers feeling for the button-fastener. With dismay he found it turned down. The door was only held by the spring. Who had unfastened the door?
It was too late to speculate on that. Ho sprang forward and flung the door open. There was no answering shot. He glanced back at the constable at the door. He was on the alert. He looked into the cupboard. There was no one there!
Where was the Shadow Crook? Dragging his torch from his pocket he cast the light around the confined space. There was no one in the cupboard, but on the ground lay a small pile of clothing. Instinctively he recognised them. They were the old brown overcoat and dark grey hat, constituting the disguise of the Shadow Crook.
Where was the man? The Inspector bent and picked up the overcoat. The hat rolled into the corner of the cupboard. As it moved a piece of white paper showed. Mason stooped, and picked up the hat. The piece of paper was pinned to the hat-band. There was writing on it. He focussed the light of the torch on the paper and spelt out the faint pencil letters.
"Sorry. The safe is empty. Many apologies for all the trouble."
The Inspector glanced quickly at the wall. The door of the safe stood ajar He wrenched it open and threw the light of his torch into the aperture. There was nothing in the safe!
For some moments Mason stood staring into the empty interior of the cupboard. He turned, to meet the broad grins on the faces of the constables, standing behind him. A deep frown gathered on his face, to be immediately replaced by a rather painful grin. He could not but admire the audacity and resourcefulness of the Shadow Crook, although the man's success meant his defeat.
"That's all, boys." He turned to the constables. "The Shadow Crook has been kind enough to open the safe and reports he found it empty. He didn't wait to be thanked for his trouble."
"You believe him?" Norma asked. "Perhaps he found the jewels and took them away with him."
"Perhaps he did." Mason smiled. "I may be some' sort of a fool, but I happen to believe him. He's not the sort of crook who gets away with things in silence. If he'd found the jewels, instead of this apology for their absence he'd have left some sort of boasting message. No, someone's anticipated the lot of us. That's all. Good-night, you follows."
The men grinned, saluted and walked to the door. Mason waited until they were out of earshot, then turned to the girl.
"I suppose you think I am always holding the thin end of the stick, Mrs. Etheringham. Well, so far I am, but the police haven't the same freedom of action as the Shadow Crook. I'm not out of the running yet, though. I can wait and stick on his trail. Sooner or later I must catch up to him. Then we'll see."
Norma had gone to the safe in the cupboard and was examining it. Mason made a perfunctory search of the shop, for clues of the Shadow Crook's movements he did not expect to find, then returned to the cupboard. At the door he turned again. Hasty steps were coming down the lane. The shop door flung abruptly open and a police sergeant stood in the doorway.
"Where is he, Inspector?"
"Who? Oh, the Shadow Crook!" Mason smiled grimly. "You can hand it to me, McIntosh. He got away again."
"But—but this lady told me you had him locked up in the cupboard," The sergeant stuttered in surprise. "How the—:
"Just so!" Mason interrupted. "The way he did it was to unbutton the door into the shop before he was so obliging as to open the safe! He left a note to say the cupboard was bare—not even the proverbial bone, in the shape of a jewel-box, remaining."
"Phew!" The man crossed to the cupboard and entered, peering into the safe curiously. "Why, it all sounded so sweet that I nearly entered it up in the night-book."
"Thank the little stars you didn't." The detective laughed. "Well, that's the end of the night's amusement. Say, Mrs. Etheringham, you'll have a late drive home."
Norma nodded. The Inspector's hint was obvious. She had no desire to linger in the shop. The jewels were not in the safe. Had the Shadow Crook taken them? The supposition seemed reasonable, but the girl was inclined to agree with the Inspector. It was not in the nature of the Shadow Crook to conceal his successes.
Her car was standing outside the door, where she had left it when she followed the constables in their wild rush into the shop to capture the Shadow Crook. She entered the car and drove slowly down to Pitt-street turning in the direction of Martin Place. Her thoughts had turned to home. What was happening? some instinct bade her to expect further trouble that night. Stanley had spoken of Abel Mintos' visit to the house, that afternoon. He had said that the man threatened to return. Had he: done so? If he had, what had happened in any quarrel between the two men?
At the general post office she parked her car and sought a telephone booth. She must get in touch with Cranford and tell him all that happened that night. Perhaps his cool, calm voice would soothe her ragged nerves.
If Mintos had gone to the house! She looked down at her wrist-watch as she paused at the door of the booth. It was after 11 o'clock. How the night had flown! As she lifted the receiver to her ear she knew she could not go through the hours until dawn, alone.
Cranford must come to Avonlea. It was absurd to ask that of him at midnight, but she could not be alone. She would wait on the verandah until he came. Then she would go into the house—to face the horrors her jagged imaginations pictured. If she had been mistaken, if Mintos had not been to the house and quarrelled with her husband, he could go home and no one would know of his late visit. The next day—
The coming day must end everything. No longer would she live among the gloom and terrors that crowded' on her. She would sweep them from her and step out into a new life—a life in which she dimly visualised a happiness she had not known since her childhood days.
Back in the Carew Lane shop Mason and the sergeant had settled down to a careful examination of the place. It seemed impossible that someone had been there and opened the safe without, leaving some trace of their presence.
Three problems confronted the detective. First, when, had the safe been opened and the jewels abstracted. Secondly, had the Shadow Crook, on his visit that night, left any clues that might lead to his capture? Thirdly, who was the man in the black mask who had come so confidently to the panel hiding the secret safe, and how had he discovered that secret?
The safe was empty; yet again, Mason went to it. First, he examined the door, looking partly for finger-prints but mainly for some sign in the dust that would tell him when it had been disturbed, after the long interval of years. He found there was very little dust lying on the small edges and curves of the door. For some minutes he stared stolidly at the steel. Whoever had been at the safe had carefully wiped all signs of finger-prints and dust from its surface. He dusted the white powder over the surface and blew it away. The only marks that remained were of gloved fingers and those of recent make. He peered into the small interior. It was vacant. There was nothing within the safe to show that jewel-boxes had recently stood there.
Was the old police theory, that Stacey Carr had disposed of the jewels before he was arrested, correct? That theory would account for the empty safe. But it would not account for the absence of all marks from the dial and knob—leaving, only the impressions of the two crooks, made that night. Those signs showed that the dust had not been wiped from the safe by the Shadow Crook.
There was nothing about the safe and cupboard to serve him for a guide on the trail of the jewel thief. Mason stepped from the cupboard to meet the sergeant coming to the end of his long search of the premises. The man shook his head, disappointedly. He had found no clue.
"Nothing in there." Mason laughed uneasily. "We'd best shut up the place and get home, McIntosh. That round goes to the Shadow Crook, but we don't, abandon hope. Perhaps we'll have better luck next time."
"You're certain the Shadow Crook didn't take the jewels when you had him locked up there?"
"If he did, why did he leave that note?" countered Mason. "No, McIntosh, if he'd taken the jewels he'd have left some damned note crowing over us. Still, we've got one point to our credit."
"We know that the Shadow Crook hasn't got the jewels and hasn't a ghost of an idea where they are. If he'd taken the jewels before to-night then there was no reason for leaving the note, at all. No, the riddle's plain to read. The Shadow Crook's not got the jewels, and like us, is still on the trail. If we keep on we may have the luck to get there before him. Perhaps, then—"
"Looks to me as if Stacey Carr did take the jewels before he was arrested—like they said at the trial," muttered the sergeant.
"Stacey Carr!" Mason turned quickly on his way to the door. "No Mac. There's nothing in that. If he took the jewels before his arrest, why was he messing about here the night he was Murdered?"
"It's a big 'so.'" The detective fitted the key in the lock. "Come on, Mac. I'm off."
"This time of the night?"
"That's where the clouds are gathering." Mason halted at the corner of George-street and looked at the Carew-lane shop.
"There's no need to watch it further. The jewels are not there. Now, I'm going to camp on Abel Mintos' track. The jewels and the murder lie between him and the Shadow Crook—and I thinly he has the jewels."
With a word of farewell he turned up George-street to the general post office and sought a telephone. In communication with his office he received the telephone message Norma had left for him and smiled grimly. If he had received it within a few minutes of his arrival at the shop the happenings of the night might have been materially different.
From the telephone he walked up to Castlereagh-street and through King-street to Hyde park. He was turning towards William-street to catch a Rose Bay tram when he suddenly halted. Where was Mintos? He might be at the flat? If so, then he would save himself the journey to Rose Bay. There was a plain-clothes man watching Ray Hill Court. He would have a word with him and take means to tighten the watch on the Jew, if he was inside the building.
Norma Etheringham left the telephone box after her brief conversation with Cranford, as Mason turned the key in the Carew Lane shop-door. She ran down the steps to her car and drove off, greatly relieved. Cranford had promised to come to Avonlea as quickly as possible. She had told him of the happenings of that night and the discovery of the secret cipher in her father's letter. He had been astounded at the news that the safe was empty and had been disposed to believe that the Shadow Crook had escaped with the jewels. She had repeated Mason's arguments against the theory, openly stating her belief that Abel Mintos had, in some manner, discovered the safe and made away with the jewels.
The girl drove recklessly through the almost-silent streets. She wanted to get home. Cranford would be there and with him by her side she would lose her fear of the house and the mysteries gathering within its walls. With him near her she would search the place from roof to cellar. She believed that within those walls she would find the missing jewels and the secret of her father's murder.
The gates guarding the grounds were closed. Norma jumped from the car and pushed them open. She drove the car through and up to the garage, backing it into place. She left the gates open. Cranford would come in his car and park it in some quiet spot in the grounds.
Safe in her room she sat down to rest. So far as she had observed her household was asleep. She had listened at the door of the library, but had heard no sounds within; the room was in darkness. Outside her husband's room she had again stopped to listen. She had thought she could hear his deep regular breathing.
Suddenly, she sprang to her feet and went to the balcony, looking down on the moon-drenched lawns and drive. There were ho signs of Cranford. She wandered to the door and looked out on the silent corridor. There was not a sound in the house. Yet, that vague feeling of unrest—of some impending happening—held over her. The silence of the night jarred heavily on her already shaken nerves. She sensed it was the dead calmness forerunning some terrible storm. If Cranford would only come!
Half-way down the stairs to the hall she hesitated. Why should she wait. Cranford would not fail her. He would come to the house and wait on the dark verandah. He knew of her intention to search the house and would not be uneasy at her absence. He would know she was searching and would watch. She had only to cry out and he would come to her.
She turned and went to the door of the room Mintos had occupied, a supposed invalid. There she stopped again, the knob of the door in her hand. A sudden thought came to her. Running silently back to her room, she slipped from her dress and picked up the black mask from the dressing-table. She looked at herself in the long glass again, she was a slim, black-clad youth—the Man in the Black Mask.
Back at the door of Mintos' room she bent and listened. There was no sound within. She turned the handle and opened the door. The room was lit only by the long moon-shadows. A slight pressure of her fingers and the electric globes came to light. She slipped on the mask and closed the door. For a long moment she stood with her back to the door, surveying the room. Where should she commence her search?
Many times, since Mintos had climbed through the window of that room to fall into the hands of Inspector Mason, she had searched there, in vain. She had found nothing, only a few pieces of paper she had placed in the suit-case the detective had taken from the house. She was almost certain nothing remained belonging to the Jew, yet something drew her back to a further search. She felt that somewhere in that room lay the secret of the missing jewels—the secret that would load to the unmasking of the murderer of her father.
Again she circled the room, pulling open drawers and lifting the rugs. She crawled over the floor looking for loose boards. There Were none. She rose to her feet, dismayed and disappointed. Where had the man hidden the jewels? More and more she was certain he had them.
A slight sound from the window made her start and draw back towards the door. With a swift movement she threw off the lights, and waited. Sounds of the scraping of heavy feet came from without the windows. Suddenly the moonlight was blotted out by the bulk of a big man. Norma crouched in the corner, hardly daring to breathe. Had Mintos returned?
A hand caught her by the wrist, drawing her violently forward. She caught at the foot of the bed to prevent herself falling, and turned to face the door. A moment and room was flooded with light. She crouched, her hands clasped against her breast. Abel Mintos was standing with his finger on the light-switch, looking across at her.
"Caught! The Man in the Black Mask, eh?" Mintos laughed roughly. "Didn't know I'd been standing outside the window for some minutes, watching, did you? Well, that's luck to me. The newspapers mention a man in a black mask who raided my flat and took some papers. I've been wanting to have a talk with him. Didn't think I'd come across him here. Now, where are those papers?"
He opened the door and took the key from the lock. Closing the door, he locked it and placed the key in his pocket. For some minutes he stood with his back to the door, his sombre eye searching the room, carefully. He strode over to the dressing table and pulled one of the drawers completely out, turning it upside down. A folded document showed on the underside fastened to the wood with adhesive tape.
"Never thought to look here, did you?" He snapped the paper from the fastenings and thrust it in his pocket. "No, you're not so clever as that. Well now, I'll have those papers you took from my flat. Where are they?"
Norma could riot speak. Faced with this beast-like' man, her fine courage fled.
"Haven't a tongue, eh?" The Jew strode across the room and seized the girl by her wrists. "Funny sort of a man you. Slender wrists, slender figure, slender—"
His hand shot forward and rested for a moment on her breast. With a terrified scream she wrestled herself from his grasp and fled to the door. With a triumphant laugh he strode after her and gathered her in his arms.
"Slender sort of a man, eh?" There was triumphant jeering in his hard voice; "Slender sort of a woman. Now, who the devil are you?"
For a few seconds she fought him off, hiding her face against his straining arms. With an oath he thrust her back and snatched at the mask.
"Norma! By the Gods!" There, was more than triumph in his voice. "Norma, and in my room!"
From her flushed, fear-distorted face his eyes wandered across the room to the bed. Again the hoarse, beast-like cry of triumph came from his parted sensual lips. His arms tightened around her, dragging her across the room. A shrill cry of terror came from the girl's parched throat. Frantically, she clawed at the brute holding her in hot, suffocating embrace. She clutched at the furniture as he dragged her forward.
"You damned little spit-fire!" One of her hands had caught his face, drawing, blood on a long red scratch. "Well, you're, going to pay for that, m'dear. There's just you and I here. Keep Still, you fool. There's not a hope of escape for you. I've got you at last!"
With a supreme effort she broke from him and dashed to the window. She was half-way through before he caught her again and drew her back, chuckling loudly.
"Coy, dear, and in that dress?" Again his low laugh of triumph rang through the room. "Come on, dearie, you're trapped this time. Better be kind and gentle. I'm not a bad sort of a lover if you treat me right, y' know."
Suddenly Norma's strength forsook her. She reeled back in the man's hateful embrace. For a moment, he stood looking down into her flushed, strained face, then drew her closer to him and bent his lips to hers. She shrieked in terror as his coarse face came closer. Would no one come to her help? She knew that in another moment she would be lying passive in that hateful grasp, pliant to the man's foul will. "Norma! Norma!" A voice cried in the corridor. Again she cried out, evading the hand Mintos sought to clasp over her lips.
"Norma! Are you there?" A loud knock came at the door of the room. The handle of the door turned and the woodwork strained under the weight flung against it. "Norma! Norma!"
"Here, Stanley! Here." For a moment she managed to wriggle her face from under the Jew's hand. "Help! Help!"
Again the woodwork creaked under the squatter's weight. With a muttered oath Mintos lifted the girl and threw her on the bed. He turned to face Etheringham as the door gave way and he stumbled into the room.
"Mintos! Norma!" The squatter stopped short, surveying the scene with bloodshot eyes. He turned savagely on the Jew. "What are you doing here?"
"Yes, Abel Mintos and Norma Etheringham!" The man faced the squatter defiantly. "What's that to you, Stanley Etheringham?"
"My wife?" The squatter stared stupidly at the man.
"Your wife, but my mistress." Mintos laughed harshly. "Does that surprise you? I told you she had lovers. Well, what are you going to do about it?"
"You damned scoundrel!" Blinded with rage, Etheringham sprang at the Jew.
Mintos stepped, away from the squatter's charge, drawing from his hip-pocket a small automatic.
"Keep away, you fool!" There was stark murder in the man's voice. "Keep off, or I'll shoot, you, like the damned cur you are."
Etheringham saved himself from a severe fall by clutching, at the foot-rail of the bed. He turned to face the Jew, crouching low against the broken door, his gun pointed for ward. For some minutes the two men stared at each other, hate swelling in their hearts. At length, Etheringham moved. Slowly his legs bent in a crouch that, changed to a spring, that would launch him at the Jew's throat. Mintos watched him, a slight smile curving his sensual lips.
"Be careful, Etheringham." The words came in a low hiss. "I'll not stand for your nonsense. Make one move and—"
The shrill, clatter of the hall-bell broke on the man's words. With a start, he looked round. Etheringham seized the opportunity and sprang. He brought up against the broken door, flung shut in his face. From the corridor come a crowing laugh of triumph, followed by the sounds of swift-running feet.
For some minutes Norma lay on the bed, dully conscious of the shouts and tumult in the house. Again the bell sounded. She stirred and rolled from the bed to the floor. For seconds: she lay, too bruised and shaken to move; then, struggling against the inertia that bound her limbs, she dragged herself to her feet, clinging to the post of the bed. She swayed dizzily, trying to co-ordinate her chaotic thoughts, to recall what had happened during those terrible, minutes she had passed in that room, alone with the licentious Jew.
Again the bell rang. Immediately, the girl's head cleared. Cranford was at the front door awaiting her, puzzling why she had not kept her promise to meet him on the verandah. No doubt he had heard the struggling—the crashing of the door of the room under Etheringham's weight—and had wondered. Where had he been when Mintos and the squatter charged through the house? Had they gone into the grounds or—?
She turned from the bed and ran to the door. There was no one in the corridor and she went to her room. She slipped on her dress and drew a comb through her disordered hair. At the head of the stairs she paused and listened, then stole down to the front door.
"Hush!" With her finger on her lips she slipped through the doorway into the man's arms. "Cranford, it—it has been terrible! Mintos found me in his room and and—"
"The brute!" The barrister carried the girl to a seat. "Where is he? I'll smash him for this!"
"Stanley came and rescued me from him." Norma was crying. "He told him a lie. He said I—I—I was his—Oh, I can't repeat it. It wasn't true, Cranford. It isn't true! I hate him!"
"Of course, it isn't true." Cranford seated himself on the arm of her chair, gently patting the hand she had laid on his arm. "There, there, child. Leave me to deal with him. Where is he?"
"Cranford!" Norma clutched at the man, hysterically. "You must take me away. I—I can't bear this longer. Oh, take me away from it all. Take me away!"
"Just what you say, dear." The barrister spoke soothingly. "Now, lean back and rest. I'm going to leave you for a moment, but I won't be long."
He went softly to the hall door and listened. The house was silent. Walking with caution he went to the dining-room and switched on the lights. On the sideboard was a cellaret, unlocked. He poured out a stiff peg of brandy-soda and returned to the verandah.
"Drink this, Norma." He pressed the glass into her hands. "We can't' do anything until you have re-gained your nerve. Now, where is Mintos?"
"I don't know." The strong spirits put new life into the girl. "Stanley broke down the door and they fought. When you rang the bell Mintos ran out of the room and Stanley followed him. I don't remember anything more. Presently I was able to get to my room and—and—Cranford, I was dressed—Oh, how can I tell you? I am the man in the black mask the papers are writing about."
"The Man in the Black Mask!" Cranford laughed boyishly. "Jove, old girl. It was you who held up Inspector Mason and took the papers from him! You're splendid!"
"Yes." The girl averted her face. "I took them from the desk and when I got down to the street I went in to a shop and obtained an envelope. I posted them to myself. Cranford," she clutched his arm anxiously. "You have them? They are safe?"
"The papers? No." The barrister laughed lightly. "Don't worry, Norma. I believe Mason's forgotten all about them. No doubt—"
"Then he still has them? Oh, dear Lord!"
"Now, Norma." The barrister shook her slightly. "You're not to worry over them. Mason's straight, I'll swear to that. You know he's had a busy day. I'm certain they're in his pocket and he's just about found them now. He'll bring them to me to-morrow."
"Has he opened them?" The girl spoke in a whisper.
"No." Cranford spoke positively. "He's not that sort. If he suspects anything he'll bring them to me and ask me to open the envelope and give the papers to him. We'll not bother any more about them to-night. We've got to catch up to Stanley and Mintos, or there'll be murder done. I wonder where they've gone to?"
"I don't know." The girl spoke miserably.
"They didn't come out of the house!" Cranford mused. "I'd have seen them if they had. No, they're in the house, somewhere."
"Perhaps in the library." Norma jumped to her feet. "Cranford we must go to them."
She ran lightly into the hall and to the library' door. It stood slightly ajar. As her hand found the handle, she hesitated, and held' up her finger in warning. From within the room came the sounds of voices, low and in heated debate. With her hand on Cranford's arm the girl stood listening.
"No good arguing, Stanley." The Jew's voice was supremely arrogant. "You're in the net as much as I am. If you stick to me, we'll pull through. If not—"
"You damned cur." The squatter's voice was full of anger. "You led me into your beastly tricks—"
"Lot of leading required, old man." The promoter chuckled lowly. "There wasn't much leading needed the night you came down to Carew-lane, was there?"
"What do you mean, damn you?"
"Oh, what's the good of talking like that?" The Jew spoke impatiently. "Forgotten what happened that night? Damned convenient memory you've got. Forgotten you came on me with the jewels in my hand and claimed a share of the spoils?"
"It was my money you used to purchase the jewels from Mrs. Kynaston," interposed Etheringham.
"Well, you've got plenty." The promoter laughed harshly. "I hadn't the money to spare—you had. That's all there is in that. You wanted the jewels and you have to pay for them."
"What about your half of the money?" There was menace in the squatter's voice.
"What about—you know what I mean. You're in that up to your eyes. Besides, I gave you half of the purchase price, as we arranged."
"In shares of that damned Northern Territory Gold Company. A company without a mine; a mine without gold."
"You sold your shares, didn't you? If you didn't get the cash out of me you got it out of someone else."
"Cut that out." Mintos spoke sharply. "I'm wondering where I'd be now if Stacey Carr hadn't walked into the shop. Possibly—"
"Stacey Carr! Dad!" Norma slipped from the restraining hand of the barrister and, flinging the door open, walked into the room. "Abel Mintos, did you kill my father?"
"Norma!" The voice of the squatter rose almost to a shriek. "Norma! Cranford! What are you doing here? What have you heard?"
"Enough to realise that that man murdered my father!" The girl pointed at the Jew, lounging easily in one of the chairs.
"Mrs. Etheringham flatters me!" The grating laugh of the promoter rang through the room. "She accuses me of murdering her dear old dad, when—"
"I heard you confess it." Norma, exclaimed, breathlessly. "You said you were in the shop the night my father went down there. You acknowledge he found you with the jewels in your hands. You—"
"Stabbed your father with one of his own files!" Mintos rose to his feet and bowed gravely, "Afraid you're jumping to conclusions, my dear Norma. If you wish for the real facts—"
"Are more lies necessary? Mrs. Etheringham has ample grounds for her accusation, Abel Mintos." Inspector Mason pushed open the verandah windows and walked into the room. "I've been out there quite a while and learned a lot. You're coming back to gaol, Mintos, and with what you've now given me I hope to be able to pin the murder of Stacey Carr right on to you. Now, let's get this fully cleared up. Where are the jewels? You admit you took them from the safe."
"The jewels!" There was a curious insolence in the man's voice. He. turned to face the squatter. "Say, Stanley. Here's that Inspector wants the White Trinity and the Kynaston sapphires. He accuses us of stealing them."
"Stealing, them?" Etheringham's face was working strangely. "The jewels—"
"Quite slow of speech, my partner." Mintos laughed. "I quite understand. He can't imagine why you should be so concerned with property that belongs to us."
"Your property?" Mason spoke uncertainly.
"Our property, certainly." Mintos laughed. "You've been through my papers and found. Mrs. Kynaston's receipt. There's no doubt but that I own the White Trinity, which was proved in court five years ago. I'll admit I sold them to Etheringham and that I also sold the sapphires—when they were recovered. Well, we found them. Now you're damned fool enough to come here and accuse us of stealing our own property."
"You sold the White Trinity to Stanley?" Norma advanced a step towards the Jew. "You sold the White Trinity to us, Abel Mintos. I've already paid you more than the jewel's worth, and—"
"My dear Mrs. Etheringham! You paid me to conceal from my friend Etheringham, the secret that your father was a gaol-bird." The man spoke hastily. "You paid me for the loss I sustained through your father's fault."
"That's a matter I'll attend to Mintos." Cranford interposed hastily. "Mrs. Etheringham claims she bought the White Trinity from you, delivery to be made when the jewels were recovered. You never admitted parting with the jewels to another person, for a consideration." He turned towards the Inspector. "I'll lay that charge now, Mason. The other matter can wait until you have completed your investigations.
"I've got plenty to hold him on, sir." The detective smiled grimly. "But I am going to take those jewels to Headquarters, to-night. I've sworn I'll find and handle them. Now then, Mintos, where are they?"
"Ask Etheringham!" The Jew shrugged his shoulders, carelessly.
"Ask me, you foul beast!" The squatter sprang forward, his eyes blazing, with anger. "You took them out of the safe—my safe. Where have you hidden them?"
"Then you've lost them?" Mintos laughed, lightly. "Well, well, you're in for it now. You've admitted you had them in your safe. You'll have to stand for that."
"Well, Mrs. Etheringham?" For a moment the detective's eyes rested on the squatter; then he turned to the girl. "Sorry, Mrs. Etheringham. I'd give quite a bit to hit at your husband, but he's mixed himself up badly in this."
"The papers?" Norma spoke under her breath.
"The papers?" Mason looked puzzled, then his face cleared. His hand went to his breast pocket. "You mean the envelope you gave me to take to Mr. Hughes? Sorry, I was so busy clean forgot it until after he had left his chambers for the day. Here it is."
He pulled the long envelope from his pocket and laid it on the table. Norma took an impulsive step for ward, but the detective retained his hand on it.
"You know?" There was mute pleading in the girl's eyes. "I guessed when you handed it to me, Mrs. Etheringham." Mason spoke sympathetically. "I assure you I don't want to implicate Mr. Etheringham if I can help it, but he's got himself into an awkward fix. Maybe I'll have a word with him later about those people who purchased shares from him and—"
"That's a small matter, Inspector." Cranford interposed quickly. "I will undertake Mr. Etheringham reimburses all the people who bought the shares."
"You—" The squatter took an impulsive step forward.
"Good!" Mason took no notice of Etheringham. "Now there remains the jewels. You say Mintos took them from your safe, Mr. Etheringham? Any idea where he hid them?"
"They're in the house, somewhere." The squatter spoke slowly, his face flushing a dull red. "He came here this afternoon, immediately he was released from prison and wanted to come in the house. I refused him and he came her to-night and assaulted my wife. He—"
"Damn you! Hold your tongue!" The Jew turned furiously on the squatter. "What do you want to talk for? If they want the jewels, let them find them. They're mine and if they find, I claim them."
"I bought them from you." Etheringham's voice was mildly protesting. Cranford looked at him in surprise.
"And I've worked for them for years." Mintos' voice rose to a shout. "I'll—"
"What of the claim Sani Kai, the driver who found the White Trinity?" Mason spoke in low, even tones.
"Sani Kai!" For a moment the Jew's nerve was broken. He quickly recovered. "Sani Kai! Why, he stole the pearls from his employers!"
"And you stole them from him." Mason laughed. "There's more' than that in it, Mintos. The night Sani Kai lost the White Trinity he was picked up in a lane in Broome, dead."
"Who told you?" The Jew's face blanched.
"There's a queer story in that." Mason laughed again. "The information came to me unsigned, in a plain White envelope, without fingerprints, posted within a few yards of Police Headquarters. I thought it worth following up and communicated with the Broome police. They telegraphed me to-day the complete history of Sani Kai and the White Trinity. It seems Sani Kai was a driver in the employ of Whitmarsh and Seale, the big firm of pearlers, at Broome. He found the White Trinity and happened to conceal it. Ashore he showed it to a few of his friends and a couple of I.P.B.'s. They refused to buy and as time went on Sam Kai developed some sort of superstition about the pearls. He wouldn't sell."
"Mintos never owned the White Trinity?" Etheringham asked him the question.
"Unless stealing is owning, no." Mason answered. "My information shows there was a man about Broome who was suspected of being an I.P.B. He was known to have had dealings with Sani Kai on several occasions. Now, all this happened when the boats returned from the Christmas holidays. There always is trouble in Broome about that time. As usual, some of the Japanese and Koopangers got at loggerheads. One night there was a bit of a scrap outside the Picture Palace. The police rode the rioters down and dispersed the crowd. Sani Kai was known to have been in the crowd. Later, after midnight, one of the mounted patrol men found Sani Kai in an alley behind the Star Hotel, a wicked looking knife between his shoulder blades. The White Trinity had disappeared."
"But the White Trinity was known throughout Australia at the time of the Stacey Carr trial," objected Cranford. "Surely the Broome police connected the White Trinity of the trial with the pearls known to have been in Sani Kai's possession?"
"One would think so, Mr. Hughes, but while a trial may he a sensation in one State, it is quite a small matter on the other side of Australia. Broome's quite a distance from here. Besides, Mintos had taken precautions. All that was known in Broome at the time of Sani Kai's death was that he possessed some fine pearls. Mintos got some Japanese pearler he was in with to take the White Trinity for a sea trip and bring it ashore. He then pretended to purchase it and got away from the town, at once. That was public knowledge and there was a bit of a stir as Mintos was not a licensed pearl buyer. Anyway, he got away and the public didn't connect him, then, with Sam Kai's death. I don't suppose they were particularly anxious to follow Mintos up. So long as he got away from the pearling town they were glad to see the last of him."
"How did they connect the White Trinity with Mintos?" asked the barrister.
"That came about through my inquiries." The detective answered promptly. "When I telegraphed to Broome regarding the White Trinity, Mintos, and Sani Kai, the police rounded up some cobbers to whom Sani Kai had shown the White Trinity. That settled it. They're holding those men and are urgently requesting us to return Mintos to Broome. Fact, they seem quite fond of him and anxious to see him again."
"Very interesting, but rather old history to me." The voice came from behind Mason. He swung round to stare into the muzzle of an automatic held in the hand of a tall, masked man. "Good even—No. I should say good-morning, Inspector. Will you, and the other gentlemen in the room be so good as to raise your hands. Clasp them behind your heads, please. The strain will be less. Thanks!"
"The Shadow Crook!" Mintos muttered the name, a great fear shaking his voice.
"The Shadow Crook, at your service." The man spoke gravely, the bright eyes peering through the slits in the mask. "I have been very interested in Inspector Mason's little history. Congratulations, Inspector. You've done excellently with the little tip I passed to you."
"You heard?" Norma whispered the words, but the master-criminal's eyes turned quickly towards her.
"I heard." There was a little lilt of laughter in the man's voice. "As histories appear to be in the vogue, perhaps I may be allowed to continue where Inspector Mason left off."
He paused and looked round the little audience.
"Abel Mintos, after killing Sani Kai, came to Melbourne and offered the White Trinity to certain jewellers. They declined to purchase, urging that the pearls were diseased. Perhaps they did not like Mintos, or did not consider his account of how he came in possession of the jewel accurate. For some time Mintos hawked the pearls around; then someone advised him to come to Sydney and see Stacey Carr. Mintos came to Sydney. He had not only with him the White Trinity, but information he though was of value. In Melbourne he had heard of Mrs. Kynaston's sapphires and that the lady was coming to Sydney, to consult Stacey Carr. I am told that Mintos saw the sapphires at one of the jewellers he visited, and took quite a fancy to them."
Again the Shadow Crook looked round his audience. They were interested and a little smile formed on the lips half-hidden beneath the mask's fringe.
"Sorry to detain you gentlemen in that awkward position, but my story is quite short and may possibly help the Inspector. I have said that Mintos took quite a fancy to the sapphires. He appears to have thought of them continuously—especially between Melbourne and Sydney. Thought of them so thoroughly that by the time he reached this city he was obsessed with a desire to possess them."
"You mean to say—" Commenced Mason.
"I'll do the talking, please, Inspector." The automatic swung to cover the detective. "I said Mintos greatly desired to possess the sapphires. Did you; Mr. Detective, ever think to discover what interval of time expired between Mintos' arrival in Sydney and his visit to Stacey Carr?"
"Abel Mintos came to Sydney and went direct to Stacey Carr's shop. That was sworn to in court."
"So sworn by Abel Mintos, but I would not believe him on any oath. No, Samuel Keene came to Sydney and hung round Stacey Carr's shop for days before Mintos arrived."
"Yes. We have proof of that," said Cranford.
"Let me get on with my story," The Shadow Crook showed impatience. "Abel Mintos went to Stacey Carr's shop and showed him the White Trinity. Carr told him the jewel was a freak; that it was probably incurable. He said he might be able to put it right for a short tune. Mintos told him to do the best he could—to put the jewel in a condition in which he could immediately realise on it. That was Mintos' first, and last, appearance in Stacey Carr's shop—in the character of Abel Mintos, pearl buyer, of Broome."
"He was at the trial," suggested Cranford.
"So was Samuel Keene," The Shadow Crook smiled quietly. "But Abel Mintos and Samuel Keene were never in court at the same time. They never appeared in Stacey Carr's shop at the same time."
"You infer that Abel Mintos and Samuel Keene are the same person?" Cranford questioned.
"Just that!" The answer came without hesitation. "Stacey Carr dealt with Abel Mintos, Samuel Keene came forward at the trial and spoke of his interest in Stacey Carr and his work. But, peculiarly, in spite of his avowed interest that was the only day he was in court. It was the only day Abel Mintos found business so pressing that he could not attend the trial."
"Then Abel Mintos is the mysterious Samuel Keene?" There was much satisfaction in the detective's tone. "If I could only prove that!"
"Get from Melbourne the day Samuel Keene left for Sydney. Find out the day he arrived here. Try and find any trace of Samuel Keene in Melbourne—in Victoria. You will not. Then find out the day Abel Mintos disappeared from Melbourne and compare it with the date of his arrival in Sydney. You will find a big interval of time. Go back and discover where Samuel Keene is now. I say, he is here, in this room—Abel Mintos."
The muzzle of the gun swung through an arc until it pointed at the Jew's breast. Over the levelled barrel gleamed the bright eyes, shining through the black mask.
"So that's why you sent me to Abel Mintos's flat." The Inspector spoke meditatively "I had an idea that telegram came from you, as well as the letter."
"And you muffed it good and strong." For a moment the Shadow Crook glanced at the detective. "I gave you every encouragement for a search into the real facts."
"Including an unmade bed and two letters with blank sheets of notepaper in them." Mason laughed. "I've puzzled about them for days. Now I am going to put my hands down and get out my cuffs I had the forethought to bring with me to-night, Mr. Shadow Crook. I've had you once and you got away. This time—"
"Nothing, doing!" The light laughter of the master criminal rang through the room. "Lower your hands and I'll put a bullet through them and if your body's behind them, that's your fault. I hope you take a prisoner to Darlinghurst Station to-night, but you'll find it awkward With bandaged hands."
"Meaning Abel Mintos?"
"Just that. Now, before you get fresh, I want those jewels. Where are they Mintos?"
"Where you won't get them." With an angry snarl the Jew suddenly sprang to his feet and dodged behind Norma. Before anyone could anticipate his actions he thrust the girl forward on to the gun-arm of the Shadow Crook and dived for the window. Almost as the man reached freedom Cranford ran forward, tackling low, and brought him to the ground.
The jaunted arm of the Shadow Crook fended Norma away as she fell against him, and she caught at the edge of a small table close by, bringing it to the ground. The master criminal sprang back to before the window, automatic raised, threateningly.
"Good work, Hughes." The crook spoke easily. He kicked the Jew to his feet. "Get over there, you cur. Stand alongside that police officer. Any more breaks from you and I'll stop you, good and strong. Understand?"
Mason had walked across the room to where the little table lay on its side, disregarding the levelled automatic. He picked it up and set it on its legs. Something on the polished surface attracted his attention and he bent to examine it. Unsatisfied, he took a magnifying glass from his pocket and focussed it on the marks. For some minutes he remained staring through the glass. Then, disregarding the crook, he turned to Norma.
"Mrs. Etheringham, will you come here, please?"
Shaken and bewildered the girl crossed to the detective's side. He turned the table a quarter circle.
"Please place your finger-tips on this table and press hard. Wait." He look a handkerchief from his pocket and polished the surface, "Now, please."
Wonderingly, Norma obeyed. Mason focussed the glass on her finger-prints, showing plainly in hair-like lines of stearic acid.
"Wonderful," he ejaculated. "Mrs. Etheringham, you must come down to Police Headquarters and let Sergeant Anderson see this."
"See what?" Cranford had crossed to Norma's side and was bending over the table-top.
"Mrs. Etheringham's finger-prints are identical with those of her father, Stacey Carr." Mason spoke as if the master crook, was not in the room, although Cranford noticed he continually glanced back to where the Shadow Crook was watching. "Ah, now I understand the suit-case and the counter!"
"What of them?" The barrister asked, abruptly.
"Mrs. Etheringham." Mason turned to face the girl! "You searched Abel Mintos's suit-case while he was in prison?"
"Yes." Norma spoke almost inaudibly.
"And you were the boy Quint that I saw in the Carew Lane shop?" So engrossed was the detective in his discovery that he did not notice the involuntary flinching of the girl. "Your finger-prints made the impressions on the counter."
"The marks I effaced!" The Shadow Crook spoke with a light laugh. "Ah, would you, Inspector!"
He sprang forward suddenly and struck the automatic from the detective's hand. Cranford ducked and tried to close with the man, to miss his aim and fall, sprawling on the floor.
"Quick action!" The master crook's laughter rang through the room. "Mason, you stand over there, beside Mintos. I don't mind you hand-cuffing him, if you wish. No? Just as you please. Keep your hands up. I don't want to shoot you but you're tempting when you starting playing jokes."
For a time there was dead silence in the room. Norma had remained by the little table, Cranford at her side. Close to her feet lay the Inspector's automatic.
"Now for the jewels." The criminal glanced round the little circle. "Abel Mintos, where are the jewels?"
"I don't know."
"'Don't know' doesn't suit me." The Shadow Crook turned threateningly towards the man. "I shall count five, and unless you remember by the last count—Heaven help you!"
The Shadow Crock paused, staring steadily at the Jew. Mintos drew himself up and glared at the man, defiance in his eyes. Beside the promoter Mason braced himself. Criminal though the Jew might be, he could not see him deliberately tortured and killed.
"I haven't got them. They've been stolen from me." Mintos had suddenly wilted.
"So you've decided to talk." The Shadow Crook smiled slightly. "Well where are they?"
"I don't know, I said. Stanley took them from where I had hidden them, upstairs."
"How's that, Etheringham?" The gun' pointed on the squatter.
"It's a lie!" Etheringham sprang to his feet, passion suffusing his florid face. "A damned, dirty lie!"
"Is it?" For the first time the Shadow Crook hesitated. Then he turned to the Jew again. "You've got to give me proof. None? No? Well—four!"
"Damn you!" Mintos turned savagely on the squatter. "You're mad on those sapphires. You'd see me murdered, so that you could keep them. Curse you!"
He sprang across the room, his hands and face working in insane fear. For the moment Etheringham shrank back. Then, stepping forward, struck the man on the face. Mintos staggered back, sweeping the blood from his eyes with his left hand, his right hand groping vaguely behind him. For some moments he swayed dizzily then, recovering him self with an effort, he drew himself up. His right hand moved with lightening speed. The sharp crack of a shot rang through the room.
"God!" The exclamation from the wounded man was drowned by Norma's shriek as she rushed to her husband. For a time Etheringham stood, holding on to the edge of the desk, then swayed and crumpled, a shapeless mass on the floor.
"Silence!" The voice of the master crook rang clearly. "Hughes, go to Etheringham. Mason, take that man. If you'd hand cuffed him as I advised this wouldn't have happened."
"Damn you!" The Inspector turned viciously on the crook. "I'll handcuff him, and you, before I've finished. You're only safe until I get the drop on you, then—"
"That is—never." The Shadow Crook laughed, harshly. He turned on Mintos, who was standing with the automatic in his hand. "Drop that gun. Two murders to answer for, Abel. Now, perhaps you'll tell us who murdered Stacey Carr?"
"He did." The Jew pointed to where Etheringham lay. "He came into Carew-lane shop just as I had opened the safe. We were quarrelling over the jewels when Stacey Carr entered. When he saw the jewels he made a grab at them. Etheringham fended him off and Carr made a rush to the door shouting 'thieves' and 'murder.' Etheringham dragged him back to the workroom and tried to quieten him but Carr attacked him, tooth and nails. He lost his temper and suddenly picked up a file and hit him with it. The next thing I knew, Stacey Carr was lying on the ground with the file in his breast. I got out of the place as quick as I could, taking Etheringham with me. I don't think he quite realised what he had done until we got to my flat, and I told him."
"Stanley, killed my father!" Norma sprang to her feet, stricken. "Oh, God, have mercy! Have mercy!"
"Yes, I killed Stacey Carr." Etheringham spoke feebly. "I killed Carr, but I didn't know at the time. He struck me—and I struck him. I didn't know I held the file in my hand, Norma! Wife! Forgive me!"
"Telephone, Hughes!" Mason had crossed to the side of the dying man. He turned savagely on the Shadow Crook. "Damn you! Are you going to let this man bleed to death? Get out of the window if you wish. Do what you like, but we're going to have a doctor here, if you shoot the lot of us. Get out, I say, or stand aside!"
"No good, Inspector." Etheringham held up a feeble hand. "I'm' done for. It's no good the lot of you getting shot up because of me. I'm done—but I've got to tell you—about the—jewels—first—"
"The jewels! Where are the jewels, Stanley?" Mintos, his eyes lit with inordinate greed, strained under the hands of the Inspector. "I didn't mean to shoot you, Stanley, I—Where are the jewels?"
"Hold your tongue!" Mason clasped a heavy hand over the man's lips.
"Hold your tongue, you brute!"
"The jewels." The squatter turned his glazing eyes towards the girl. "Shelf—second—from the top—behind desk. Jewels be—behind—books."
His head dropped back on the cushions and a thin trickle of blood welled from his parted lips. A shudder ran through the big frame and the limbs slowly relaxed. Cranford covered the greying face with his handkerchief and drew the weeping girl to her feet. He turned to lead her to the door.
"The second shelf!" Mintos turned suddenly on Mason, striking him in the face with the handcuffs and throwing him violently against the wall. A single bound brought him to the shelf, clawing at the books with manacled hands. "The jewels! They are mine! Mine!"
Dazed and bleeding from the wound in the face, Mason leaned against the wall. He saw the Shadow Crook rush to where the Jew stood. For a moment the two forms locked, hazily, in a struggling blur. A sharp, terrible cry and Mintos sank to the ground.
The Inspector sprang forward, to meet the Shadow Crook running towards the open windows. Dimly he saw the automatic pointing at him. He ducked, instinctively, and closed, striking the jewel boxes from the crook's hand. The black masked face with the gleaming laughing eyes was close to him. He freed one hand and clawed at the mask, to be thrown to the ground, clutching the wisp of black silk. He rolled over and felt a hard lump against his chest. He felt for it and looked down. Again he had his automatic in his hand. Someone sprang over him to close with the Shadow Crook just as he reached the window. Mason sat up and dashed the blood from his eyes. The unmasked face of the master criminal looked down on him. With a shout of amazement Mason struggled to his knees.
A supreme effort and the Shadow Crook freed himself from the barrister. He stood, leaning against the lintel of the window, a whimsical, chagrined smile on his face.
"Alec Branston, at your service, Inspector." The light, laughing voice held no hint of defeat. "No, drop that gun. You couldn't hit a haystack, just now. Drop it, I say!"
"Alec Branston!" Wonderingly, Norma took a step forward. "You! Why—"
"You have not forgotten Thelma?" The crook's voice was now cold.
"But Thelma's brother—the Shadow Crook? Alec, where is Thelma?"
"Ask him." The Shadow Crook pointed across the room to where Mintos lay, insensible, beside the desk. "No, thank God, that is unnecessary. Thelma is dead, she is beyond his reach now. Norma, she died in my arms, ruined and broken by that man. Oh, my God!"
"But you? Oh, Alec!"
"He took her, a young girl, leaving her school-days, and made her his toy. I was away from the State and did not know until too late. I came back to learn she had disappeared. When I found her—"
He paused abruptly and took a step forward, raising his gun with deadly intent against the Jew. With a slight cry Norma flung herself on the levelled weapon.
"Alec! Alec! No, not that!"
"He had thrown her aside—and I found her walking the streets of this city." The passion had gone from the hard voice. "I tried to get at him, but he had become, a big man and my word would not have held against his. Besides, there's no law to punish what he had done—yet."
"I went down into the underworld and I became the Shadow Crook." Branston had paused, continuing in a lighter tone. "There he and I were on level terms. Slowly I traced him, exposing his greeds and wickedness. Norma, I'm sorry. I should have saved your father, but I was too late. I thought I had Mintos safe—until I could place the police on his track. But, I did not hit hard enough. I did not suspect he held the secret of the safe. That's all, dear—goodbye."
"Wait!" The girl went swiftly to where the fateful jewels lay on the floor. She scooped up the glittering mass and held them out to the man. "Take them, Alec. I never want to see them again."
"Nor I." Mechanically the Shadow Crook accepted the jewels. For a few seconds he stood, tossing them in his hands, then separated the White Trinity from the mass and dropped it on the floor, grinding it to dust under his feet. He flung the sapphires on the carpet.
"There's the sapphires, Mason." The light lilt had returned to Branston's voice. "Mintos bought them with Etheringham's money. They belong to Norma now. Destroy them—I know that's her will. They've done enough mischief in the world." He turned to Cranford. "Look after her, man. She's had a rough spin. Give her the best in the future.
He stepped back, warily watching the Inspector and passed through the window, into the night. As he disappeared the dazed police officer, rose to his feet and took a step forward. Norma quickly interposed, laying a restraining hand on his arm. "Please. Oh, you can't take him, now. He's suffered so much!"
"But—" Mason's perplexed eyes wandered from Norma's face, to the barrister.
"You couldn't catch him, Mason." Cranford spoke gravely, an epigrammatic smile curving his lips. "In fact, I wouldn't be justified in allowing you to leave the house with that cut on your face, undressed."
"But—Oh, damn it!" The Inspector stood, undecided.
"He is leaving the State." Norma spoke pleadingly. "I don't think you will ever see him again."
The Inspector slowly shook his head. With sudden decision he went to the desk and picked up the telephone. While he waited for an answer to his call he turned to the barrister.
"Mr. Hughes! Will you please take Mrs. Etheringham to her room and see that no one enters here. I've got work to do and you're delaying me. Two o'clock! By jove, that's late! I've a pile to do before morning. Perhaps then, we can start afresh with a clean slate, all round. Good-night!"
Although the voice of the exchange operator answered his call, Mason remained silent, watching the girl and man pass from the room. He glanced towards the open windows and shrugged his shoulders. Again came the operator's voice over the wire and he turned to the instrument, speaking sharply.
"B6941. Police Headquarters—and make it slick!"
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