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Title: The Little Grey Woman Author: Aidan de Brune * A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook * eBook No.: 1701051h.html Language: English Date first posted: Oct 2017 Most recent update: Oct 2017 This eBook was produced by Terry Walker, 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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The Artists' Ball was a real, and occasionally scandalous, costume ball held in Sydney for many years. The cover is based on an image of a souvenir program printed for the 1924 ball.
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.
"HERDIN' the little devils tonight, Houston?" Inspector Robert Knox came up behind Detective-Sergeant Houston, standing under the portico of the Alamanza Rooms, watching the guests gather for the annual Artists' Ball. A couple of hilarious young men had just passed, dressed in strange costumes.
"Seem to get a kick out of it, don't they?" Houston, a middle-aged, stolid officer, grinned as he turned to welcome his young chief. "Can't say I see the fun of it, m'self; staying out of a nice warm bed till all hours of the morning. But—well, the Chief asked me to give an eye here for a few hours. A queer gang get in at these affairs, y'know."
"Just the impression I formed," Knox took out his cigarette-case and held it towards his companion. "Thought I'd saunter down for an hour or so and see if any of our particular friends are in a festive or working mood, this evening. Got the glad rags on, I see."
"May have to go inside." Houston grinned, self-consciously, wriggling his shoulders under the stiff linen. "You're in full regalia, too."
"'Course!" The Inspector drew away from the edge of the pavement as a well-appointed car drew to the curb. "Hello! Thought fancy was compulsory at these affairs. This couple—"
He watched curiously as a tall, military-looking man, about forty years of age, backed from the car and went forward to speak to the driver. He wore a light overcoat, open, over his immaculate evening clothes. A moment, and he turned to the car and assisted a woman to alight. She, also, was in evening dress, a light, gauzy wrap streaming back from her bare shoulders. Neither of them carried costumes, the woman swinging from her fingers a small vanity bag.
The couple slowly ascended the steps, the man talking earnestly to his companion. Knox, turning to speak to his brother-officer, saw him move quickly forward and bend to pick up a small object from the steps, almost under the man's feet.
"Excuse me, sir." Houston held, his open hand out towards the man. "You; dropped this."
"What?" The man halted, speaking slowly. "Dropped what? That?" His face flushed and unconsciously he drew himself more erect. "No, that's not mine."
Brusquely, he caught his companion by her elbow, urging her up the steps. As they disappeared into the vestibule, Houston turned to his brother-officer, a quizzical look on his face.
"Seems upset." He opened his hand again. "And, all I did was to offer him this fountain-pen he dropped. Why, what's the matter; Inspector?"
Knox had moved forward, and was bending down, keenly examining something on one of the steps. He beckoned the sergeant to come to his side.
"What's that, Houston?" He pointed to a few grains of white, glistening powder, lying, on the step. "You picked up that pen from about there, didn't you?"
"That? Looks like powder."
"Marvellous!" Knox laughed, sarcastically. "But the lady didn't drop her vanity bag. It was the man who dropped his fountain-pen."
"He says it wasn't his."
"Perhaps he was right." The Inspector took a scrap of paper from, his pocket and, gathering up the grains on the tips of his fingers, transferred them, to the paper. "When he turned to speak to you his coat flew open and I noticed that he had a pen, very, similar to that one, clipped to his breast-pocket. A busy man doesn't carry two pens, even when in evening dress."
"But—damn it—I saw it fall!" Houston pushed his hat to the back of his head, rubbing his forehead perplexedly. "There's nothing in a man carrying two fountain-pens."
"Not ordinarily." Knox had collected all the grains of powder he could find and stood examining them. "But the average man carries ink in his pen, not—"
"Snow!" The Sergeant barely breathed the word. He bent eagerly over the paper Knox held, "Do you think—"
"Mustn't think!" The Inspector folded the paper carefully and, taking an envelope from his pocket, enclosed it. "Come on, Sergeant. That fellow is worth watching. Usual costumes in the dressing-room, I suppose?"
"'Course!" Houston passed his superior-officer, into the vestibule. A quick glance round showed him that the couple had disappeared. He led into the men's dressing-rooms. Only the two young men they had seen entering the rooms were there. As the police officers entered they completed their toilets and moved to the door.
"That fountain-pen, man!" Knox turned abruptly to his companion. He almost snatched it from Houston's hand.
It was a cheap-looking, full-barrelled pen, made of common vulcanite and bare of ornamentation. It had not even a safety-clip attached; it was the kind of a pen sold in low class shops for a few shillings. Knox examined it for cracks. There were none. He tried the nib. There was no ink in the barrel. He let the pen fall, carelessly, on the table. No powder came from it.
"Queer sort of fountain-pen for that class of a man to carry!" Houston observed. "You're certain you saw him drop it?"
"Not the slightest doubt." The sergeant answered, promptly. "I saw it fall. 'Fact, I almost reached it before it touched the step."
Houston was certain and Knox could not doubt him. The sergeant was not a brilliant officer, but sound in his work. If he was certain that the pen had dropped from the man's pocket, it had—in spite of his denials. Yet, why had a man, evidently well off carried a cheap pen? Why was he carrying two pens—for Knox was certain he had noticed a pen in the man's breast-pocket. If he had possessed two pens, why had he denied this pen belonged to him?
The man intrigued Knox. From the moment he had descended from the limousine, his carriage and figure had caught the Inspector's attention. Knox prided himself that he knew the Sydney crooks, and a fair number of other States' crooks, by sight. In the department he was spoken of as the man with the "camera eye." His comrades boasted that he had only to glance at a suspect and place him, definitely. If the man had passed through the hands of the police, he could recount his aliases, his sentences, and frequently describe his fingerprints and body-markings.
The Inspector shook himself, angrily. If the man had, at any time, passed through the hands of the police he should be a memory. He made a mental note of that, when he returned to Headquarters, he would satisfy himself about him.
Then there was the woman. In some ways she fitted well with the man. About twenty-five to thirty years of age; slender and finely-formed, dark hair and grey eyes, she complemented his tall, spare, yet square figure. Knox knew that her portrait was not in his mental registry. If she had ever come under suspicion he would have remembered. But, because she had not before come under his notice, that did not say she was an honest member of society. He knew that, extensive as was his knowledge of criminals, there were men and women, then free, who should be under restraint. Impatiently, he rose from his seat and paced the room.
His thoughts went back to the few grains of white powder he had picked up from the steps of the Alamanza Rooms. In them he had a clue. If, as he suspected, the powder was cocaine, then he had chanced on a couple of the many new criminals in the city, who had blossomed with its recent growth. They belonged to one or other of the dope-gangs that were poisoning young and old on the continent. They were operators in this era of tense superficial excitement; these times of weird, semi-barbaric music; of wild, grotesque dances; of frenzied gaieties, demanding dangerous drugs to feed and keep alive a nervous tension which, if allowed to relax, would bring to the sufferers almost the tortures of the damned.
The dope-ring! Knox was again on familiar ground. Although not attached to the Dope Squad he knew much of their work; of the growing trade in cocaine, hasheesh, opium—a few only of the numerous drugs that fed tangled nerves. The trade had grown enormously, of recent years. Its operations were nationwide. Its operators penetrated all stages of Australian society. Almost daily memoranda and reminders came from the Headquarters' offices relating to the evil—to rank and file of the Police Department, as well as to the special members of the Dope Squad. So alarmingly had the trade grown that a large special branch of the service had been formed to deal with it. He turned abruptly to the table.
"Where's that pen, Houston?" The Inspector's voice had grown hard.
He almost snatched it from the man's hands and placed it on a sheet of newspaper. Again he examined it, using a powerful magnifying glass. The vulcanite was not cracked. Again he tried the nib. The pen would not write. He held the nib under the glass. No ink had passed over it. Then—
Then with a wrench of his powerful fingers he unscrewed the nib-holder from the barrel and drew out the ink-container. He smiled slightly as a little bag came into view. He had not been wrong in his surmises. Instead of the usual, ink-bag of soft, thin rubber, there was a larger bag of fine, closely-woven silk—and that bag was full of some soft substance.
Again the powerful glass was brought into use. Where the bag of silk joined the nib-bolder a minute rubber-band held the connection, Again Knox smiled. He was beginning to understand. If he was right then the man had obtained, with the pen, another bag—not of silk—but of rubber. The silk bag withdrawn and the rubber bag substituted, the pen would be, once more, a cheap fountain pen, such as children buy in small stationer's shops.
Tearing from the news sheet a square of paper, Knox drew off the silk bag and emptied it. The bag held quite an amount of fine, crystallised powder. He took from his pocket the fold of paper in which he had enclosed the few grains he had found on the Alamanza steps. Under the glass they matched, exactly.
The powder in the bag was cocaine. Then, the powder he had gathered from the steps was also cocaine. Again Knox brought the magnifying grass into use, scanning nib and holder. Down the vent through which ink should flow were traces of powder. The pen had, by some mischance, been carried nib downwards. The finer grains of powder had sifted through to the nib. He picked up the cap. It fitted loosely on the barrel—so loosely that it was strange it had not been lost.
"End off, when you picked up the pen, Houston?" Knox inquired abruptly.
"Very loose, sir. I jammed it back before I handed the pen to the man."
"And—you jammed it back! Yes! So! That's how the powder escaped. Well, we'll have a look for our friend, now. Get the costumes, man. We'll have to make ourselves pretty, to join in with this gay throng."
"Dope runners, sir?"
"As you say, Sergeant. Dope runners. Just the place for them to operate. The Artists' Ball. A night of revelry and excitement! 'Course! Wonder why the wise-heads at Headquarters never thought to detail some of the Dope Squad to it. Humph! Crowds of flappers, brimming with excitement. Pocket flasks empty—and rawed, jagged nerves. Giddy whirl and fascinating strange partner—'Have a sniff at this, honey. Put you straight for the night'—can't you imagine it, man! The dammed curs! Come on! I want some glad rags to hide in. I want that man and woman. Curse it, Houston, hurry up! You've got boys and girls of your own, you tell me. Think of them, man! Think of them in some such place as this—and those fiends teasing and luring them on! Oh, damn—damn!"
TWO clown costumes were hanging on a peg in the corner of the room. They were police. Houston had brought them down to the Alamanza early in the evening. They had hung on a peg in the corner waiting—waiting in case it became necessary for the police to invade the dancing floor, inconspicuously, and bring out some wanted person. The Sergeant fetched them and handed one to Knox. The detective threw, it over a chair-back, busying himself restoring the cocaine to the pen and fitting it together.
"Here, Sergeant." He turned with the screw of paper containing the pen in his hand. "Take this. There's no knowing where tonight's work is going to take me. Put it in your pocket and, when we get out of here, go straight to Headquarters and find Inspector Martin of the Dope Squad. Hand this to him and tell him how we came by it. Tell him the whole story and say I'm on the trail and will get word to him somehow. Now, come on!"
He led out of the dressing room across the inner vestibule, to the screen that shielded the dancing floor from the doors. Just as he turned the screen he ran into a tall, melancholy-looking individual, dressed in a weird travesty of Faust. The Inspector was passing without looking at him when the man caught him by the shoulder.
"By little devils! Bob Knox, and at the Artists' Ball." The man spoke in deep, solemn tones. "Had I'd known we were to be favoured I would of had out the Town Band."
"Just as well you didn't—and don't go shouting my name over the heads of this conglomeration of humanity, Bill Loames." Knox shook hands warmly. He glanced around the dancing floor.
"What's here? Been making a collection of all the crooks in the State?"
"A libel!" Loames, one of the leading cartoonists in Sydney, drew back a step. "Will you stand if I fetch block and pencil, Knox? I'm sure there are business friends who would gladly pay large sums for autographed portraits of their favourite—shall I say arrestor—in his true character, a clown."
"Faust—for I suppose your array of rags is intended to represent that personage—and a clown. Gounod never thought of that, did he? Yet, I've often thought that if the tempter of the opera had tucked his tail into trousers—baggy ones, decorated with large crimson spot, he would have been more true to character. But stop rotting, Bill. There's work on hand. You know everyone here?"
"And you stated this gathering as composed of the crooks of the state." There was pained reproach in the artist's voice. "Is anyone exempt from the vile insinuations of the Police Department? Still—"
"Just so. The friends I'm looking for are first, a tall, military looking man, in evening dress. Rather—"
"Evening dress." Loames interrupted. "Then he won't be on the dancing floor. Tried the gallery?"
"Hear that, Houston?" Knox turned to the Sergeant who was standing a pace behind him. "Have a look in the gallery. You'll find me down here on your return, I won't mask."
"Arrest him?" Houston asked the question from behind his hand.
"Arrest your grandmother!" Knox whispered angrily. "It's your word against his about that pen. No, keep a watch on him. We've got his supply of the drug he'll want more. If there's a runner in the hall we may make a find. Anyway, I think he's only one of the small fry in the game. Find out where he is and what he is doing. Get word to me. I'll wait for you here."
The Inspector took Loames's arm and strolled up the room, leaving the Sergeant to make his way to the gallery. The artist lifted his eye-brows at Knox's impatient words, but allowed himself to be dragged away.
"What's the trouble Knox? Want to dance? I'm committee—and what about that little flapper over there? Just your style, I should say."
Knox did not answer. He had paused and was furtively watching a slender, fair-haired woman, well under the medium height, sitting close to where he had stopped. Something in her face attracted his attention. He turned to his companion.
"Who's the girl there—next to the pillar—wearing a shepherdess dress?" he questioned.
"Who? Oh!" The artist caught the eyes of the woman and bowed. "Don't know Mrs Margaret Venne, eh? Come along, I'll introduce you. Pretty and plenty of the needful. What luck to be a policeman. It's the uniform that catches them. Why, they can spot it even under a clown's rig-out.
"Steady, man." Knox moved on quickly. "I'm here on business not for the dance. Who's the woman she's talking to? But they're different."
"Different, I should say so." Loames looked down quizzically at the detective. "Different as chalk and cheese; Margaret Venne's fair and flighty while Isobel Kilgour's staid and dark. Margaret hasn't been out here long. Comes from 'Pommyland' I believe. The only resemblance is that they are both short and slender. What's the trouble man?"
"Dope," the Inspector answered under his breath. "Man came in just before Houston and me. Dropped a fountain pen filled with cocaine. Tall man, military bearing, strange slow way of talking, clean-shaven, florid complexion, rather handsome in a bold, dashing way. Had a woman with him between twenty-five and thirty. Rather over medium height, dark, Spanish-looking, good eyes and teeth, and not frightened of showing them off. Seen either of them about?"
"And there are nearly two thousand people on the floor," the artist grinned. "Think I'm a medium and can walk into that throng and pick out your quarry? So that's why you sent Houston to hunt in the gallery. What costumes did they wear?"
"Had none, so far as I could see." They had reached the head of the hall and halted before the grills hiding the band-stand. "The man certainly had none with him and the woman only carried a small vanity bag. 'Course, they might of had costumes in the hall. But he wasn't in the dressing rooms. Houston and I followed in almost immediately and there were only two men there—costumed as devils."
"Then Houston's found them in the gallery," Loames spoke decidedly.
"Perhaps." Knox was doubtful. "Houston put him wise to some extent, silly fool. If he'd only seen that snow from where he picked up the pen and held his tongue, we'd have them both on toast. As it is—What's through that door? Sitting out lounge?"
The artist turned to the grille swing door Knox pointed at. "The band's behind this open-work grille. We ran it across the width of the hall, making two lounges for tired dancers, one on either side of the band platform. Want to look in there?"
"N-o," the Inspector hesitated. "No, we'll stay out here so that Houston can find us directly he gets down from the gallery. Then, perhaps, we'll have a look through your flirting-shops."
A sudden blare of saxophones, accompanied by what seemed to be a kitchen-full of utensils flung down stairs, startled the detective. He stepped a pace to one side and leaned against the grille, almost beside the swing doors. Loames lit a cigarette and leaned beside him, watching him secretly.
The Inspector had always been a secret delight to Bill Loames; so much so, that whenever he required a police officer in a sketch, his pencil invariably traced the features and characteristics of Robert Knox. The Inspector took the caricatures in good humour and had, in his home, many of the original drawings. Their's was a queer friendship. Knox argued his friend frequently on the necessity of taking life more seriously. Loames, while he admired the energy and dynamic force of the detective, retorted with pleas for more repose and artistic thoughtfulness.
The artist had long wanted to watch Knox on the trail of a criminal. Now he had the opportunity. He watched covertly, his hand stealing towards his pockets, for pencil and paper. With a shrug of regret he found them missing; only from the button of his costume depended a dance programme, with its futile pencil. He twisted the cigarette to a corner of his mouth and on the margin on the card commenced to sketch. Gradually the work enthralled him, as he noted down in black and white the many new characteristics of his friend.
Knox began to grow uneasy. The minutes were passing and Houston had not returned. What was keeping the man? He had had plenty of time to search the gallery. There did not appear to be many watchers. Houston could have passed them in review in a very few minutes and then returned to the dancing floor. He turned restlessly. Should he remain by the grille, or go in search of the man?
The dance ended. Knox stepped a few paces from the grille. Loames returned the programme to his button and glanced at his friend, expectantly. He had come prepared to dance, but he had found a better pursuit. Until the Inspector had run down his quarry, or abandoned the chase, he determined to stick by him. His artistic work was not a task, but a pleasure. He was seeing a new side of the detective, he was gathering material he could use successfully.
The sudden ending of the uproar behind the grille made the following silence more intense. Even the frou-frou of dresses the slithering of feet on the polished floor, sounded loud. Knox again moved a step forward, as if to return to the doors of the rooms then stopped, listening, his head reaching forward, every sense on the alert. Someone was taking, loudly, in the space behind the grille. Knox listened. At first he thought that it was two of the bandsmen, arguing, but soon he realised that the sounds came from the lounge behind him. Two persons were quarrelling. Their voices were rising higher and higher.
He listened, curiously. What were they quarrelling about? He could recognise tones of anger, but he could not distinguish words. One of the voices sounded familiar. Somewhere he had heard those strange, slow, level tones, the inflection marked more by the irregularity of pace than of pitch. He remained listening, straining to find in the storehouse of his memory the voice.
Suddenly he remembered. He turned and ran to the door of the grille. At the door he collided with a woman coming out of the lounge. So heavy was the impact that Knox had to catch her in his arms to save her from a severe fall. As it was, his impetus carried them right on to the swing doors. With a breathless word of apology the detective stepped back.
The woman had not cried out. She had lain, almost passive, in his arms during those brief seconds. Now she stood, leaning against the lintel of the door, breathing heavily. While he had made his apologies, Knox watched her. He saw a slight, small woman, heavily masked and covered with a domino; the hood turned up to conceal her hair, the hem reaching to within a few inches of her ankles. The domino and mask were of a medium grey colour.
A little grey woman! Almost the words escaped his lips as he stared at her. His thoughts must have shown in his eyes for the woman gathered her domino closer around her and moved into the room, acknowledging his apologies with a gentle motion of her head. The Little Grey Woman!
A door opened in Knox's brain. At some period he had recorded the memory of a little grey woman. He shook himself roughly. What had happened to him that night? Where was the memory he was so proud of? A Woman in Grey! Why? He swung round quickly; his eyes searching the swirling throng. He wanted a woman in grey—wanted her badly—and she had escape him; disappearing on that floor of idle, laughing dancers.
FOR the moment the impulse came to Knox to go in search of the little grey woman. Then, came the memory of the voice he had heard in the lounge—the strange, slow voice of the man who had dropped the fountain pen on the steps of the Alamanza Rooms.
He swung round and charged through the still swinging doors. The lounge was empty. His eyes swept over the litter of potted plants, chairs and tables. There was no one there; yet he knew he had heard voices in the lounge, raised high in anger. Where had been the speakers? Had one of them been the little grey woman. If so who was the other? He-could not possibly have mistaken that voice. But, where had the man gone to? There was no door to the lounge other than the swing doors at which He had stood; and those doors he had never taken his eyes from, even while recovering from the collision with the woman.
"What's the matter, Bob?" The detective swung round to see the artist watching him.
"Matter! Hell!" Again Knox searched the space with his eyes. "I heard that man arguing with someone in here. When I come in I find the place empty. Did that woman collide with me on purpose? If so, then she's an accomplice. 'Course, I got her now. She's wanted in London and elsewhere. Have her records at Headquarters—a little grey woman—wears a grey silk mask while at work and usually a grey cloak—said to be one of the most dangerous members of the international drug circle.
"Phew!" For the moment Loames dropped his air of indolence. "So that's the big idea! The man and the woman! But you sent Houston to the gallery for the man?"
"And he was down here all the time," Knox laughed, gratingly. "I'm the mug to-night, that's all. I had him under my hands and let him go. Oh, yes. Smile, damn you, smile! I'd smile, too, but I might hurt my lips."
Loames was not smiling, he was carefully scanning the lounge. It was not a big place, but so crowded with palms and shrubs to create sitting out nooks, that it was difficult to examine without much moving about. He looked up. Above his head, about ten feet from the ground, was the rake of the gallery. Could the man have left the lounge that way? It was possible if the man was a good athlete. But if he had left by the gallery for what reason?
Knox had been very silent while standing beside the swing doors. He had hardly uttered a word. Had the man known he was there. When he had seen the detective at the entrance he had been in evening dress. Now the detective was disguised as a clown. Even had the man peeped through the grille he could not have recognised him.
The artist moved slowly forward, peering into each alcove. Suddenly he uttered a short exclamation. In the far corner of the lounge, where the balcony curved back to the corner of the room, a number of plants were disturbed, some of them lying across seats and tables. The artist passed quickly to them, stifling the cry that rose to his lips. In a second the detective was by his side. Amid a welter of destruction lay the body of a man.
Pushing the artist aside Knox bent and lifted the still form amid the overturned pots and greenery. The man was curiously limp. Carrying him to the centre of the lounge the detective lowered him to the floor and fumbled amid his clown's attire. He found his torch and flashed the light on the insensible man's face. With a grunt he straightened himself.
"God!" Loames pressed forward, falling to his knees beside the body. With trembling fingers he tore away the clown costume and opened the man's shirt. A few seconds and he turned to the detective.
"All right, Bob, he's breathing—Get some cushions and make him comfortable, I'll find a doctor."
In tense silence, Knox obeyed the artist's commands He gathered from the chairs and lounges a number of cushions and, on the floor beside the insensible police officer, made a soft resting place. With gentle hands he lifted Houston on to the cushions, then bent his ear to the man's breast. He could hear his heart beating slowly but regularly. He searched for some wound to find only a growing bruise on the head, just above the left ear.
A bruise above the left ear, what did that indicate? Had Houston found the man he sought in the balcony? But, that was impossible! The man had been in the lounge while Houston was on the search. Yet, if the police officer had found the man in the balcony, how had the bruise come above his left ear? Had the men been facing each other when the blow was struck?
That would appear to be the only explanation of the bruise, for, if the blow had been struck from behind it would have been on the right-hand side of the head, unless—of course, unless the assailant had been left-handed. The creaking of the swing doors aroused Knox from his speculations. He looked up. Loames was coming across the lounge accompanied by a stocky, elderly man, in Elizabethan costume. Instinctively the detective moved to one side.
"Dr. Harry Pate." The artist muttered the introduction, glancing down at the man on the floor.
"Lucky to find him so quickly, in this pack. He's a good fellow Bob, and can hold his tongue. Doctor, this is Inspector Knox."
The doctor acknowledged the introduction with a short grunt, devoting his attention to the insensible police-officer. A moment, and he looked up with a little smile.
"Stunned!" The delicate fingers rested a moment on the colouring bruise. "Get water and something to bandage this with, Bill. He'll be all right in half an hour but, of course, he'll have to go home. Only his thick head saved him from concussion."
Loames left the lounge again. For a moment Knox stood watching the detective, at work, then strolled to the overturned greenery and table at which Houston had fallen.
Houston had gone to the gallery to find the man who had dropped the fountain pen. He had found him, or one of his confederates—the bruise on his head showed that. For the moment Knox thought the police officer might have turned aside on some other quest, but dismissed the idea with a shake of the head. Houston was a stolid unimaginative officer. He was working under the immediate supervision of a superior officer. He would not be led from the trail, no matter what the temptation. Yet, Houston had not found his man, for he had not been in the balcony. The man had been in the lounge beneath. It was certain the man who had dropped the fountain pen had an accomplice in the Alamanza Rooms. If so, that would fit into the theory the detective was forming.
Houston had searched the balcony and had not found his quarry. He had gone to the edge of the balcony thinking he might have a chance of spotting his man in the swirling throng below. He had been watched and some confederate of the wanted man had seized the opportunity to stun him and throw his body over into the lounge.
For what reason? If Houston had been knocked insensible, why had not his assailant disposed of the body in some manner less likely to attract attention? It would have been safer to leave the body in the shadows of the darkened balcony. There must be some other reason for the officer being thrown into the lounge.
Knox found the explanation in a flash of inspiration. The wanted man had been in the lounge below. The accomplice watched in the gallery. The assailant had seen him on guard at the doors of the lounge and had thought he had tracked the man there. The tipping of the unconscious police officer over amid the plants and furniture of the lounge, had been to warn the man in the lounge that he was in danger.
Unconsciously the police officer's eyes lifted to the edge of the balcony, a few feet above his head. He heard footsteps stealthy and close to the railing. He stepped back a few paces, craning his head to try and get a view of the man he believed was watching him from above. He waited, listening intently, Someone was talking just above his head. He could not distinguish the words for the tone was too low but he thought he recognised the voice—the slow unequal speech. Knox shook his head. Was he imagining that every man who spoke in that hall used the same inflections? He thrust his hand into the wide pockets of his clown costume and walked back to where Houston lay. Loames had returned and was kneeling by the cushions, holding the basin for the doctor.
"All right, Bob." The artist spoke in a low voice. "He's coming out of it. Just a bruised head."
"Who did it, Arthur?" The detective dropped to his knees beside his brother officer, bending forward to peer into the strangely white face. "Tell me who did it. I'll get them."
The man's head rolled uneasily on the cushions; he strove to speak. Dr. Pate held up a warning hand.
"Not now, Mr. Knox," he whispered. "I've sent for some of the attendants who will move him to the manager's room. Give him half an hour and you can ask what questions you like."
"Half an hour! Hell!" The detective bent forward, scrutinising the bruise. Slowly his eyes travelled down the man's form, taking in every detail of his costume. There was nothing visible that would explain the attack. He had only the theory he had created to go on, unless—
There was the fountain pen. But he and Houston had been alone in the dressing-room when he had given it to the Sergeant for safe keeping. No, there had been another person there. Just as Houston had taken the pen, screwed up in the piece of newspaper, one of the attendants had entered the room. They had not considered him, hardly noticed him. Had that attendant been an accomplice of the snow-runner?
Brushing aside the doctor's detaining hand, Knox searched the Sergeant's semi-conscious form. He remembered that Houston had thrust the pen into one of his interior pockets. He tore open the costume and searched. The pen was not there!
The Inspector rose to his feet with a grunt of disgust. The snow-runner was well served. Every instinct and training, urged him to leave the place and take up the trail. He had a desire to rush into the hall, amid the dancers, and compel every man who bore the slightest resemblance to the snow-runner to unmask.
The affair had passed out of the ordinary phase of police protection of the public. It had become a personal affair between the assailant and his friends and the officers of the Department. One of their men had been assaulted, nearly killed. Knox swore he would get that man, if he had to tear Sydney apart in the search. Again he looked up at the edge of the balcony. If Houston could be made to speak but a couple of words he would be free from this inaction. He could leave his mate in charge of the doctor and Loames, confident he would receive every attention. He could go to that balcony—into the main hall—and search. Perhaps there—
A loud cry came from above
With a jerk Knox drew one of the small tables under the edge of the balcony and mounted it. He could just reach the bottom of the balcony. Tip toeing up, he caught at part of the woodwork. With a light spring he obtained a hold with both hands. He was off his feet, swinging easily. A moment and he would obtain a better grip, then—
The short, sharp crack of an automatic sounded above his head. In sudden surprise the detective released his hold and fell to the floor bringing the table down on top of him. In a moment he was on his feet again, jerking the table upright. As he was about to climb on it again his arms were grasped from behind.
"Let go, you fool!" His voice was hoarse and angry. "What the—?"
"Hurt, Bob?" The artist spoke in a strained whisper.
"Hurt be damned! Let go my arms or you'll be hurt."
"But there was a shot?"
"Not at me. Let go, I say!" The detective stepped back. "That shot was fired in the balcony. If you want to help, Bill, get round to the stairs and guard them. Take someone with you. Hurry, man, and let me go!"
With a single spring he reached the top of the table and swung himself up the front of the balcony. A moment, and he obtained knee-hold and fell over the barrier. As he regained his feet he looked towards the back of the balcony. Close to the head of the stairs he saw a man, fantastically attired—and at his feet a sinister-looking bundle.
THE balcony was only lit by the reflection from the coloured, shaded lights hung low over the dancing floor. The place was fairly level and set out with small tables and chairs. For a moment Knox remained by the rail, tearing through his clown costume for the automatic in his hip-pocket. At the far side of the balcony he could see the man standing, as if graven in stone.
Gun in hand, Knox advanced quietly until he was directly beside the man, who had taken not the slightest notice of him. Eagerly Knox peered forward. He had not been mistaken. The bundle on the floor was a man, crumpled up.
"What's this?" Knox placed a heavy hand on the standing man's shoulder, swinging him, round. "What's the trouble here?"
Something fell from the man's hands. He staggered under the pressure of the detective's hand; he would have fallen but for the grip Knox had on his clothing. Without relaxing his grip, the detective slipped his gun in his pocket and reached own for the automatic the man had dropped. He held it to his nose scenting the sharp tang of the exploded cartridge.
"Murder!" A tinge of awe came in the detective's voice. "Say, who are you? What's happened here?"
Again the man staggered under the momentum of the detective's hand. Knox bent forward, trying to see his face. He was masked; a piece of blue silk was drawn tight across the upper portion of his face. The costume he wore was most bizarre. For some moments Knox puzzled over it. At length, he made it out. The man was dressed as a mountain devil. The costume, extending from the devilish-shaped head and horns above the man's head to the lizard-like tail sweeping the floor, was of soft leather covered with strange knobs and lumps.
"Haven't a voice, eh?" Knox shook the man, who would have fallen but for his grip. "Well, we'll soon see about that! Wonder where the devil the light switches are?"
Still retaining his grip on the man's shoulder, Knox swung round to face the top of the stairs. Loames and any of the attendants he could find, should be near the stairs by this time.
Suddenly, in the dim light the form of a woman materialised against the background of light shining up the stairs. The long cloak she wore swept nearly to her ankles. Her head was covered with something that looked like a wimple. He thought he could almost see the mask of grey silk covering her face.
"Switch on the lights, please." Knox spoke abruptly. He swung his prisoner around before him and waited.
"Why?" The voice was low and sweet—almost a murmur.
"Why?" The detective's voice rose in sudden anger. "Why? Because there's been a murder done here, and I want to see who this man is."
"And you have caught the murderer?" The woman did not raise her voice. "Are you sure you have the right man, Inspector Knox?"
"The right man?" Knox stuttered with rage. He took a step towards the woman, pushing his prisoner before him. "Say, who are you? I told you to switch on those lights. You know who I am. Then do what you are told."
"The bungling official!" There was gay contempt in the light voice. The words were followed by a trill of silvery laughter. But now the detective was not paying attention to the woman. He could hear footsteps on the stairs, running swiftly upwards.
"Loames! Whoever's there—Stop that woman! Lights! Lights!" Again came the light, trilling laugh. Before it died on the air the woman stepped aside into the dark shadows and disappeared. With a bound Knox rushed to the head of the stairs, his automatic raised threateningly; his keen eyes searching around him.
"Lights! Lights!" The thunder of his voice rose above the din from bandstand and dancing-floor. As he called a form appeared in the light-patch at the head of the stairs and the lights were switched on.
"What's the matter, Bob?" Loames was standing under the switch-board, his arm still raised to the levers.
"Stop that woman! Find her, Loames! I want her! She's a crook; wanted in England and America! Get her, boys! She can't escape! I've had the exits under my gun ever since I saw her."
A group of attendants had followed Loames up the stairs. At the detective's words they spread over the empty balcony, searching eagerly. Knox watched them from his position at the head of the stairs, his left hand firmly grasping the man's shoulder. The woman was not in the balcony.
One of the attendants, moving along the back wall came across the body of a man and uttered a loud cry. Knox, who had, in the excitement of the chase of the little Grey Woman, forgotten the victim of the shooting, caught at a passing attendant.
"You, get a doctor. Get Dr. Harry Pate. He was in the left hand lounge fronting the bandstand a few minutes ago. Have a look in the manager's office as you go down. He may be in there with Sergeant Houston."
The man sped down the stairs and Knox turned his attention to his prisoner. Thrusting the automatic in his pocket, he whipped the mask off the man's face. The eyes were partially closed; a queer, grey pallor lay over his face. As the detective moved the man rocked on his heels, as if only held on his feet by the detective's grip. With a rough gesture Knox thrust the man up against the wall, freeing him. Unless he was really too ill to stand alone, he was a marvellous actor. The detective turned and caught two of the attendants passing at the moment.
"You, go to the doors and bring in a couple of my men." The man ran down the stairs, half-frightened.
"You, get some rope and barricade this part of the balcony. No one is to come inside that barrier on any pretext. There's murder been done, here!"
He stepped on one side to allow Dr. Pate and a group of attendants to enter the balcony. He barred the way of a man in evening dress seeking to follow them.
"What's the big idea? No one allowed up here." The detective spoke with his eyes still on his prisoner.
"I am Dr. Normand." The man spoke quietly. "Can I assist you? I understand a man has been shot."
"Dr. Normand! Thanks." Knox shot a keen glance at the man. "I know you, Dr. Normand. Dr. Pate's over there, with the man. Have a look at this fellow, please. He appears dopey. Suppose there's an uproar on the floor by this time?"
"I think Mr. Paul Tenzer, the manager, has the dancers in hand," Dr. Normand smiled quietly. "When I left the hall he was standing on a chair earnestly assuring everyone who would listen to him that there was nothing really wrong. What has happened? I was up here in the balcony, a short while ago—until we were turned out—"
"Turned out?" For a moment forgetting his prisoner, Knox swung on the doctor. "Who turned you out?"
"One of the attendants." Normand spoke in a quiet, grave voice. "This man has been drugged."
"He'll keep!" The detective cast a quick glance at the man leaning against the wall. "Let me get this straight. You were turned out of the balcony by one of the attendants?"
"That, is so. I came up here with a lady. We occupied one of the tables close to the front rail. An attendant came to us and asked us to leave. The balcony was to be closed for half an hour."
"Considerate!" Knox snorted.
"Did you see anyone in clown's costume come up here—in search of a friend?"
"He was in the balcony when we left." The doctor answered promptly. "The attendant went and spoke to him. When I came to the head of the stairs I looked back and saw he had gone to the far corner of the balcony. The attendant was standing just behind him."
"Standing just behind him! A left-handed attendant, no doubt! But, he's gone by this time. The show's over, so far as he is concerned." The officer muttered to himself. "Yes, he'll be out of the place by now. Curse it! I wonder what it's all about? Houston assaulted and thrown over the rail into the lounge below. This fellow up here with the other man. A shot and a dead man—"
"Not dead." Dr Pate had come to the detective's side, unobserved. "A bullet wound in the head. To use a hunter's term, he was 'creased.' We shall bring him round in an hour or so. What is it all about Inspector?"
"Blessed if I know!" Knox scratched his head perplexedly. "But we'll find out. Able to move your man?"
"Then get him down to the manager's office. Where's Sergeant Houston?"
"In the manager's office."
"Good!" The detective turned to one of the constables, ascending the stairs. "Take this man. He's wanted for attempted murder. Take him to the manager's office and keep him safe. I'll be there in a moment."
He ran down the stairs, halting at foot to watch the prisoner descend. On the facts he had a fair case. He had heard the shot as he went to climb to the balcony. For the moment he had been delayed through tumbling back into the lounge. When he had climbed to the balcony he had seen the prisoner standing over the wounded man, the automatic still in his hand. Yes, it was an open and shut case—except for the motive—except for the numerous strange incidents surrounding it. Why had the little Grey Woman come to the balcony after the shot? Why had she spoken to him? Why had she refused to obey his order, to switch on the lights? Why had she suggested he had not arrested the right man? What did the woman know?
He had climbed to the balcony and had seen the man with the gun in his hand—his victim at his feet. What mistake could he have made in those circumstances? Knox shrugged his shoulders. Why was he taking notice of the words of a masked woman he believed to be a crook—wanted by the police of two nations? Had she been in the balcony when the shot was fired? He believed not. He was almost certain she had come up the stairs white he climbed to the balcony. For what reason? Had the sound of the shot brought her to the balcony? That was possible.
On the other hand, if she had been in the balcony before the shot was fired, had she fired the shot, and thrust the gun into the nerveless hand of the drugged man? That also was possible! The prisoner had, undoubtedly, been drugged. Knox believed Dr. Normand. He knew the man was of too high standing to make a mistake in that matter. The Inspector had a feeling he agreed with the doctor.
From the moment he had seen the man in the imperfect, reflected light in the balcony, he had recognised that he looked ill—almost unconscious. He could hardly stand. He had not made the slightest effort to escape. He had not moved except when someone pushed him. But, if the man had been drugged, who had drugged him? The Little Grey Woman? No, that was absurd. He could not fasten the murder, and the drugging on her. She would not have had the time. There had not been an interval of more than a minute between the firing the shot and his arrival in the balcony.
Knox backed into the hall as the little party surrounding the prisoner came to the foot of the stairs. A man stepped from the throng in the hall to his side, touching him on the arm.
"Hullo, Andrews." A wave of relief swept over Knox. Inspector Andrews was his particular crony in the Department.
"Attempted murder. Unknown man, upstairs, badly creased. Sergeant Houston sandbagged and thrown by unknown assailant from the balcony to the lounge beneath."
"So? Want any help?"
"What are you doing here?"
"Looked in for a moment with the Commissioner. He's gone now. A volunteer help?"
"Got matters well in hand. But take over, if you like. You're senior y'know."
"I'm too wise to count years with you, Bob. Carry on. I'll be about if you want help."
Andrews clapped an affectionate hand on his fellow-officer's shoulder.
"Jove, is this your prisoner? Good God!"
"What's up?" Knox swung round, his eyes alight. "That's Denys Fahney." Andrews spoke in a whisper that only reached the detective's ears. "You've heard of him? Coming man at the Bar. Wonderful reputation. Remember the Barrington Will case? Won it in a canter when the betting was anything you like to mention against him. Quite a bit of a detective, on the side. Knows the Sydney underworld and most of its inhabitants like he knows Pitt Street and his own chambers. And, you've got him for murder!"
FOR some minutes Inspector Knox sat at the desk in the manager's room, furtively searching the faces of the men he had gathered there. Sergeant Houston was seated beside the big desk, holding his aching head in his hands. Opposite the Sergeant sat Denys Fahney, his head bowed on his chest. At times he rocked in his seat as if about to fall; to be restrained by the heavy hand of the constable standing behind him.
In the corner of the room, on a wide couch, lay the wounded man, the two doctors working over his still unconscious form. A knock sounded at the door, answered immediately by the constable on guard. He opened the door and admitted Bill Loames, carrying a glass of spirits. The artist, with a short nod to the detective, crossed to the barrister and forced the glass into his hands.
"Drink this, Denys." He spoke in an undertone. "For God's sake, old man, pull yourself together. You're in a devil of a fix."
Knox watched the little scene sombrely. Suddenly he tapped sharply on the pressed leather surface of the desk with his fingers.
"I may be going a bit outside my duty to what I'm about to do," he commenced, abruptly. "But, I'm not satisfied. There's more behind the things that have happened in this place to-night than shows. For that reason, and if possible, to get at the truth of the matter, I have assembled here the principal actors in the affair—or at least, as many as I can find—I propose to hold a formal enquiry, here and now, instead of taking the usual line of duly and—"
"And?" Loames turned abruptly from the window where he stood, antagonism in his voice.
"That duty is to send Mr. Denys Fahney to the police station on a charge of unlawful wounding. I'm giving Mr. Fahney a chance to tell his story, first. He is a barrister and—"
"Denys is not in a condition where he should be subjected to an examination." The antagonism in the artist's voice became more pronounced. "I object to him answering any questions. Dr. Normand has informed you he is still suffering from the effects of some drug. Mr. Fahney is not going to be cross-examined."
Knox looked up, gleam of anger in his eyes. "Are you suggesting, Mr. Loames that I am proposing to do anything unfair, or unlawful?"
"I object to any form of examination until a doctor is prepared to certify that Denys is in normal health." Loames paused a moment then continued. "I don't suppose you'll take any notice of my objections but if you are going to take notes of any statement you may force from Mr Fahney, I shall ask you to record my objections on those notes. For the moment I am Denys' only friend in the room and I propose to act as his adviser."
Knox nodded, shortly. From the moment the artist had recognised Denys Fahney the detective had known he was determined to stifle any investigation that night. He knew that Loames and Fahney were firm friends, but did not suspect the artist of any secret knowledge regarding the strange incidents marking the opening hours of the Artists' Ball. Yet, at the back of his mind there was a conviction that if he was to get to the truth of the incidents he must act quickly. He must not give the parities time to think—to reconstruct their actions during the past hour to fit the story they would tell. He must have Houston's story of what happened in the balcony, at once. He must get from the barrister the reason for his presence in the balcony with the automatic in his hand before his trained brain resumed sway and showed, his true position. He must leave that room with the threads of the story firmly in his grasp; to resume his chase of the man who had dropped the cocaine-filled fountain-pen on the steps of the Alamanza.
"Well, Houston?" The Inspector turned briskly to the Sergeant. "S'pose your head's a bit sore, but it's not aching enough to prevent you telling me what happened in the balcony?"
"I don't really know." The officer raised his head from his hands and looked at Knox. "You told me to go the balcony and see if the man who dropped the fountain-pen on the steps was there. When I climbed the stairs I found only a dozen or so people, some of them in fancy dress. I wandered around, trying to appear careless and yet get a good look at everyone. Just before I completed the circle of the balcony an attendant came up to me and asked me to leave. I told him who I was and he said the balcony was to be cleared for half-an-hour, to prepare for some stunt business."
"Some stunt?" Knox glanced sharply to where the artist stood. "What do you know of that, Mr. Loames? You're on the Ball Committee. What stunt had the Committee in mind that required the clearing of the balcony?"
"None." The artist answered shortly.
The detective turned again to the police officer. "Recognise that attendant, Houston?"
"I don't think so, Inspector. It was dark up there and I hardly looked at him. Of course I thought the request was genuine. When he told me the reason for clearing out I simply nodded. I walked to the stair head and then I thought I might have a chance to spot my man on the dancing floor, from the edge of the balcony. I walked down to the corner of the lounge and leaned over."
"Where did you leave the attendant?"
"I thought he was waiting for my return at the head of the stairs."
"You didn't hear him follow you down the balcony?"
"Well? Go on."
"There's little more." The sergeant gently pressed the bruise under the bandage. "I was leaning over the rail when something hit me on the head. I toppled over and found myself falling."
"You fell over the rail—or were you thrown?"
"I don't know. I might have fallen, for the rail is low. Somehow, I've the impression I was caught round the legs and heaved over."
"We'll take it at that." Knox spoke briskly. "Or sandbagged only, doesn't matter for the moment. It might if the fall had resulted in breaking your neck—but you fell soft—and lucky. Now, Mr Fahney. Can you give me some account of your actions during this evening—so far as it has gone?"
"You have noted my objection, Inspector?" Loames spoke coldly.
"I have." A flush of anger stained the detective's face.
"Yet you have not warned Mr Fahney that his statement may be used against him. That is the usual procedure, Inspector."
"Mr Fahney is not under arrest."
"He is under technical arrest." The artist retorted, quickly. "I have not the slightest doubt he will go from this room to the police station."
"Maybe, But this is not a detective novel, or a play, Mr Loames. If you ask him, Mr Fahney will inform you that only in books and plays are persons suspected of crimes formally warned to silence. Judges of Supreme Courts have ruled that a police officer may obtain statements from any person—even persons under suspicion—and that it is not necessary to preface questions with a warning. Satisfied, Mr Loames?"
The artist shrugged his shoulders and, turning to the window, drummed angrily on the pane with his fingers.
"I have not the slightest objection to making a statement, Inspector." Denys spoke in a low, weak voice.
"Good—" Knox turned to the barrister with a friendly air. "I'm not going to press, you, Mr Fahney. I want your tale in your own words. Before you say anything, I'll show my hand. Sergeant Houston and I were standing outside this building when we noticed a man enter. Suspecting him of snow-running, we followed. Somewhere in the vestibules, or dressing-rooms we missed him. We hunted the hall without success.
"I sent Sergeant Houston to search the balcony. He gets assaulted and thrown from the balcony to the lounge below. While I am trying to revive Houston I hear a shot in the balcony. I climb up and find you standing there with a gun in your hand and a wounded man at your feet. You're a barrister. Now you know what you have to face. Will you tell your tale?"
"Yes. I came to the hall early, after dressing at my chambers." Denys spoke slowly and with some effort. "Some business detained me from going home. I telephoned friends that I would join them here. Then—some hitch occurred in the work and I was able to get free at once. I came to the hall and wandered around. As I expected, my friends had not arrived. I waited in the vestibule for some time and then an attendant came to me and asked my name. When I told him, he said my—my friends had telephoned that they would go straight to the balcony, where we had a table reserved. They asked me to meet them there to avoid searching the crowded dancing floor.
"You were in the balcony when the attendant went round, asking everyone to leave?"
"It is difficult to remember clearly." The barrister pressed his palms against his forehead. "Yes, I remember; just after I sat down at my table a man came to me and asked me to leave the balcony; stating the place was to be cleared for some stunt."
"Would you recognise him? Would you recognise the attendant who came to you in the hall? Were they the same man?"
"They were alike in build." Denys was speaking with some difficulty. "I don't think I would remember them again. I hardly noticed them."
"Did you see Sergeant Houston in the balcony?"
For the first time Denys raised his head and looked at the police officer on the opposite side of the desk. A slight smile came on his lips.
"The Sergeant was standing by my table when the attendant spoke to me. He included the Sergeant in the request to leave the balcony."
For a brief second the eyes of barrister and sergeant met. Houston nodded, slowly.
"I remember, now," he said. "I was taking in your costume—rather an unusual one. Yes, you were sitting close to the rail, at one of the tables. There was a ticket on the table bearing your name. I remember now." He turned to the detective. "Sorry, Inspector, that blow has got me fogged."
"Well, Mr. Fahney?"
"I sat a few minutes longer, finishing the drink I had ordered," Denys continued. "Then—"
"One moment!" The Inspector raised his hand. "Did you see Houston go to the end of the balcony?"
"I was seated with my back to that part of the place. So far as I remember, he passed me going in that direction. But the head of the stairs was partially behind me and I could not have known, without looking round, if he went to the stairs or to the corner of the balcony."
"Which way did the attendant go?"
"He went in the same direction. I cannot say whether he followed the Sergeant or went to the head of the stairs. I should have thought the latter, considering he had to guard the stairs against people coming up."
"So you saw nothing of either man, after they passed your table?" Knox nodded. "What happened then?"
"I finished my drink and rose to go to the stairs. Oh, I remember!" Denys interrupted himself, suddenly. "There was another man in the balcony. He wore a mask and domino and I believe he was seated a few tables from me. I did not notice him until he stood up, as I turned from my table. He caught up to me just before I reached the head of the stairs and asked if I had a match offering his cigarette case at the same time. I refused the cigarette and searched my pockets for my match-box. As I handed, it to him he accidentally knocked it from my hand. We both bent to pick it up, he apologising profusely. As I straightened myself I saw his hand come up immediately under my face. He flicked his fingers, as if breaking something between them. Immediately there was a queer smell—an overpowering odour—that made me feel ill and faint. I believe I partially lost consciousness, but I felt the man grasp me and thrust me towards the stairs. I remember nothing more till I saw you and Dr. Normand standing before me."
Knox sat pondering the statement for some seconds. At length, he pulled a cigarette case from his pocket and took out a cigarette.
"Got a match, Mr. Fahney?" The barrister's hand went, instinctively to his pocket. He held out a small, gold match-box towards the Inspector.
"That belong to you?"
"Yes." Denys examined it, curiously.
"If you handed that box to the man who requested a light, how does it come to be in your pocket now?
"That's cross-examination, Inspector!" Loames turned sharply from the window.
"Hold your tongue!" The red blood flooded Knox's face. "Sorry Mr. Loames, I lost my temper. Perhaps I was going too far."
"I don't mind answering." Denys still spoke with difficulty. "This is my matchbox. I can't imagine how it got in my pocket again. The man picked it up. He must have replaced it in my pocket while I was dazed with the drug."
Knox laughed; a short, incredulous laugh.
"Go on. The man asked for a light. He knocked the match-box out of your hand and picked it up. While you were bending down he drugged you. What next?"
"I heard the sound of a shot. I tried to look back, but the man's hand was heavy on my shoulder and I had not the strength to resist. Then I was suddenly released, and I nearly fell. Someone caught me from behind. I felt something hard thrust into my hand and my fingers closed over it. The next I remember was you and Dr. Normand standing before me."
"Who was the man who was shot? The man who asked you for a light?"
"I believe so. The shot came from behind me—but I am not certain. The drug had thoroughly dazed me."
"You realise what you are telling me, Mr. Fahney? You say there were two men in the balcony. One of them assaulted Sergeant Houston and threw him over the railing. The other came and asked you for a light. While you were obliging him the first man came up behind you and shot him, thrust the automatic in your hand and disappeared. A queer tale; don't you think so?"
"Strange, certainly." Denys rubbed his eyes, dazedly. "But I have told you only the truth."
"Own a gun, Mr. Fahney?"
"Got a licence?"
"This gun yours?"
The barrister turned to the automatic on the desk. He drew it towards him and closely examined it. He looked up with a slight smile in his eyes.
A sharp knock came at the door. Knox turned impatiently and motioned to the constable on guard to open the door. Paul Tenzer, the manager of the Alamanza Rooms, bustled in, his face shining with anxiety and importance.
"WELL?" The detective Snapped the question as Tenzer almost ran into the room.
"Et es well." The Alamanza manager, short, rotund and red-faced, gesticulated wildly. "I have to them explained. Et as a board that c-r-racked and made the sound of a gun. They t-r-ust me, Paul Tenzer—the dancers at the Alamanza Rooms. They take the wor-r-d of Paul Tenzer that et es so. They dance and enjoy themselves. Et es good. I, Paul Tenzer, make et so!"
"Good!" For a full minute Knox studied the man. "Now, Mr. Tenzer You've had a chance of reviewing the dancers. I want to get on the track of a couple of people I saw entering the hall. A man and a woman. Listen!"
In terse, graphic sentences the Inspector described the man and woman he, and Houston, had seen entering the doors of the Alamanza Rooms. From time to time he referred to the Sergeant for some detail or elaboration of his description. The resultant word picture was complete, but to the Inspector's disappointment the manager only shook his head.
"Ther-re ar-re people et would fet." With picturesque motions Tenzer indicated several people. "But they ar-re not en the dress of evening. They are en the costume of fun."
"Any of your attendants answer to the description of the man?" Knox asked, impatiently.
"Did you give orders to any attendant this evening to clear the balcony?"
"Have-" The detective hesitated, then changed his tone. "Mr. Tenzer, I shall by obliged if you will take Sergeant Houston with you and give him an opportunity to examine your staff and any of your guests he may think fit. I think you recognise the position. Murder has been attempted in this hall and we must find the culprit or culprits."
"With pleasure." Tenzer bowed stiffly from his hips and ran hold to hold the door for Houston.
As the constable on duty closed the door, Knox turned to Denys. "Well, Mr. Fahney. That your gun?"
"No." The smile still lingered on the barrister's lips. "I don't think you have examined this weapon very carefully, Inspector."
"What's wrong with it?" With an impatient gesture the detective snatched the automatic and examined it. A slight whistle escaped his lips.
"Whew! This belongs to the Department!"
"What?" Loames turned swiftly from the window. "A police gun?"
"Just so." Knox's finger rested under the private mark of the department. He turned again to the barrister. "And where is your automatic, Mr. Fahney?"
"You didn't bring it with you, tonight?"
"No. I might have if I had gone home to dress, before coming to the Ball—but I changed at my office."
"Might have?" Knox lifted his eyebrows in interrogation. "Is there any reason why you should bring a gun to the Artists' Ball?"
"That is a question I must decline to answer."
"You decline to give a reason for an intention to bring a gun to a dance?" The Inspector's eyes hardened. "That is rather a serious statement, Mr. Fahney."
"I must say I cannot see the seriousness," Loames interjected, abruptly. "Mr. Fahney did not bring a gun. Any reason he might have had for such an intention disappears when he did not."
The Inspector did not reply. He had lifted the automatic from the desk and was examining it carefully under a magnifying glass. Almost immediately he noticed that the barrel had been partially cleaned. He snapped open the magazine, to find the gun fully charged, except for one cartridge. The safety lock was on.
Who had started to clean the barrel of the automatic? Knox considered that the interval between the sound of the shot in the lounge and his arrival in the balcony was far too short for such an action to have taken place. Again, the demeanour of the barrister when he caught up to him in the balcony did not permit of the belief that he had fired the shot and then deliberately set to work to clean the gun. Dr. Normand, who had examined the barrister within a few minuses of the shot being fired had declared the man had been severely drugged. Had the barrister had the time to fire the shot, clean the barrel of the gun and drug himself? If he proposed to lay a change against Denys Fahney then Knox knew that he must be assured on that point.
He was dissatisfied with the direction of the inquiry he had started. Something made him think the young man was deliberately mocking him. The red blood flared angrily to his face. With a quick motion he rose to his feet and strode over to where the wounded man lay.
"How's your patient, doctor?"
"On the way to recovery, Inspector." Dr. Pate looked up, inquisitively, at the angry tones. "I should not like him to be questioned at present."
"There are a couple of questions I must ask—and at once." The detective spoke insistently. "Isn't it possible for you to arouse him for five minutes? I must have those questions answered."
Dr. Pate shrugged his shoulders. He bent over the man, keenly searching the still face. Knox watched him eagerly. If the man would only recover consciousness for a few minutes! Surely he must have seen the face of his assailant? If he could only answer a simple "yes" or "no!"
He turned from the couch and paced up and down the room. In the balcony the case had appeared quite simple. He had arrived to find Denys Fahney standing over the wounded man, a discharged automatic in his hand. There had been no doubt. Yet, with his first question the affair had assumed a complexity he could not fathom. First had come the Little Grey Woman, with her statement that he had not arrested the right man. But, there had been no other man, other than the wounded man, in the balcony. He had had no choice!
The stories told by Houston, Dr. Normand and Denys Fahney had further complicated the case. They had spoken of an attendant who requested them to leave the balcony: They had not been able to describe the man other than in general terms and the manager of the Alamanza had emphatically denied that he had given such orders. It was possible that Denys Fahney had overheard the attendant request Dr. Normand to leave and had included himself in that request.
But against that Knox had the direct statement of Sergeant Houston. He had been standing by the table where Fahney sat when the attendant spoke to the barrister. That precluded the possibility of any trickery. Lastly, there was the strange cleaning of the automatic. That appeared unexplainable. If Fahney had attempted to clean the weapon why had he done so while he was standing over the body of his victim?
Why had he not left that until he had secured his escape? Why had the barrister stated he had intended to bring a gun to the dance? Why had he refused to give an explanation of that strange statement? With a jerky motion of his shoulders Knox turned in his stride and went back to the couch. As he approached, the man opened his eyes and looked up, vacantly.
"Better?" Knox impatiently pushed away the doctor's warning hand.
The man nodded. He looked from the detective to the doctor, then back to the detective. "You know you were shot?" Again the man nodded.
"Do you know who shot you?"
The man's head rolled negatively.
"Can you describe him?"
For minutes there was silence. Twice the man attempted to speak, without success. At last:
"Strange costume!" Knox quickly straightened. "Mr. Fahney, will you come over here, please."
A slight smile on his lips, Denys rose to his feet and walked to the side of the couch. For a moment his eyes met those of the wounded man.
"Do you know this man?" asked Knox. A slight motion of the man's hand answered in the affirmative.
"Did he shoot you?" Again the man's hand made the gesture.
"I object." Loames spoke sharply.
"That man should not be questioned until he can answer fully."
The man lay back, as if exhausted, closing his eyes.
"Look at me." Loames bent over the wounded man imperatively. Dr. Pate pushed him back. "That is sufficient," he said firmly, "I am not going to have my patient questioned further. The wound is serious—any excitement may bring on complications. Will you have the ambulance summoned at once, Inspector, please."
The detective turned and strode to the desk. A little smile of triumph played around his mouth as he drew the telephone towards him. He looked up at the constable who had stood behind Denys' chair and let his eyes wander to Denys.
The man responded immediately. He went to the couch and brought the barrister back to the chair beside the desk. A knock sounded at the door. The detective continued speaking into the instrument. When he replaced the receiver he turned and nodded to the constable on duty at the door. The man turned the key. Immediately a tall man of military bearing walked into the room.
The Inspector sprang to his feet. "At last!"
The words were cut short by his tight-closed lips. A slight motion of the detective's hand and the door was closed and locked. For some time the Inspector stared at the newcomer, in silence. Here was the man who had dropped the cocaine-filled fountain-pen on the steps of the Alamanza—the man he had sought through the first part of the evening. The man with whose advent in the building the strange series of mysteries had commenced.
"Well?" Knox sank back in his chair, assuming an air of indifference. "Who are you and what do you want?"
"I hear a man has been wounded this evening."
"What of it?"
"From the description of the man I believe him to be a friend." The man spoke in the strange, slow tones that had intrigued the Inspector earlier in the evening.
"Who told you a man had been wounded?"
"One of the attendants."
"You can recognise that attendant again? You can point him out to me?"
"Yes." The man glanced around the room and saw the little group by the couch. He strode over to it. A glance and he turned to the detective. "I thought I was not mistaken. This is my friend."
"Let's get this straight." Knox swung around in his chair. "You say you can identify the attendant. Where is he?"
"Outside the door. I brought him with me. The constable would not let him in."
The Inspector nodded towards the constable, who opened the door and beckoned a man standing without, to enter. Knox glanced sharply at the man.
"Mr. Tenzer can identify you?"
"Well, we'll see. Sit down over there." Again the detective turned to the tall man. "You say this is your friend. What is his name?"
"Known him long?"
"A man of good repute?"
"He is in business with me—one of my employees. A most trustworthy man."
"And your name?"
"My name is James Burle. I am an importer of fancy goods with offices in York Street."
"Fancy goods!" Knox mused a moment. "Import fountain pens?"
"Yes." The man smiled quietly. He opened his coat and took from his breast-pocket a common-looking, fountain-pen. "Here is a sample, Inspector. Not much to look at, but a real good one to write with. May I offer it to you?"
Knox took the pen and examined it. So far as he could I tell it was brother to the one Houston had picked up off the steps of the Alamanza. He glanced up quickly at the man.
"Carry them around loose on you, Mr. Burle? Didn't have two when I you came here this evening?"
For a moment Burle looked at the Inspector, puzzled; then he laughed.
"Didn't recognise you for a minute, Inspector. You were with the man who picked up the pen on the outer steps and said it was mine. No, I had only one pen on me this evening. Why do you ask?"
"Only because Sergeant Houston was so certain you dropped the pen."
The Inspector laughed, carelessly.
"Do you know your friend—Mr. Carl Gerlach, isn't it—accuses Mr. Denys Fahney of shooting him? Know; Mr. Fahney?"
"No." Burle looked at the seated barrister, a faint smile in his eyes. "But this is serious. Are you certain, Inspector?"
"As certain as Dr. Pate will allow me to be. He will not allow me to question Mr. Gerlach fully, yet."
Burle strode over to the couch and looked down at the wounded man. Suddenly he spoke, a strange imperiousness in his tones.
"Carl! Are you certain, quite certain? You have accused Mr. Fahney of attempting to murder you. That's serious—tell me, are you certain you have named the right man?"
Gerlach opened his eyes and looked up steadily at his friend. For a moment there was tense silence; then the Wounded man spoke, slowly.
"I am—certain. He—fired the—shot."
Dr. Pate, seated by the side of the couch, looked from one man to the other. A slight frown gathered between his brows. Something in the tones of question and answer puzzled him. Knox straightened his shoulders with an effort. He rose to his feet, beckoning to the constable standing behind Denys's chair.
"I'm sorry, Mr. Fahney." The detective spoke officially. "Mr. Gerlach's statement is too assured for doubt. I charge you with the attempted murder of Carl Gerlach, in this building, to night. Constable Vincent, you will take Mr. Fahney to the Central Police Station. I will follow, later."
THERE was a long silence in the room, following Inspector Knox's decision. Denys rose from his chair with a slight shrug of his shoulders, flinching slightly as the constable's heavy hand fell on him. Loames took a step forward, to find the detective interposing between him and the prisoner.
"It's no good, Mr. Loames." Knox spoke in a low voice. "I can't help it. Mr. Gerlach's identification leaves me no option."
"Identification!" The artist turned angrily towards the couch on which the wounded man lay. "Identification by two crooks, one of whom—" The glare in Knox's eyes silenced the artist. Pushing the detective to one side, Loames held out his hand to his friend.
"Don't worry, Denys. We'll have you out of this, quick. That man doesn't know what he is talking about—or else he is lying. Wait! I'm coming with you!" He almost ran from the room, colliding with the ambulance men in the doorway.
Knox shrugged his shoulders and motioned to the constable to await Gerlach's removal.
Denys sat down again, heavily. His head still ached from the effects of the drug and he was beginning to understand the serious position in which he stood. For the moment, after the formal words of arrest, he had almost uttered a protest, but his legal training prevented him. He knew he must obtain full possession of his senses and calmly consider the evidence he had heard but dimly understood, before he spoke.
He knew he was innocent of the attack on Gerlach. He had studied the man while he stood beside the couch, awaiting the words that framed him for attempted murder. He, as well as Dr. Pate, had witnessed the quick interchange of glances between Burle and Gerlach, and had puzzled over them. He knew there was some understanding between the two men, both strangers to him. They had accused him of attempted murder, Burle by implication when he spoke to his friend; Gerlach in considered words.
A touch on his shoulder and he looked up. The wounded man was being carried from the room and the constable was motioning him to his feet, he stood up and followed Inspector Knox to the door. Someone caught him by the arm. He looked round and smiled as Loames linked his arm in his; his face tense with grave concern. Good man Loames; though not too logical. He felt keenly the kindly comradeship that prompted the action. He walked slowly towards the door. Knox stood to one side and he passed into the vestibule.
The place was crowded and he hesitated. Why were they here? Why did they stare at him? Why had silence descended on them when he appeared in the doorway? Did they believe he shot the man? Squaring his shoulders he pushed forward, intent on getting into the open air. Suddenly, out of the crowd, a girl darted towards him, throwing her arms around his neck in wild abandonment.
"Denys! Denys! What is it all about? What are they saying? You never shot that man! I know you didn't! You couldn't! You couldn't!"
"Hush, dearest." He bent his head over the weeping girl. "There's some mistake that time will put right. No, dear, I didn't shoot the man. I hadn't a gun with me. Yet he says I did—but he is ill; dazed, like I am. When he recovers he will understand and tell the police what really happened."
"But, these men?" The girl looked around wildly. "Why are they with you? What do they want? They haven't—Oh! They haven't arrested you, Denys. They couldn't be so stupid."
"Bill!" Denys' agonised eyes ought his friend. "Where are Doris' friends? She came, with Mrs. Matherson and her party. Can't you—?" His eyes fell on slender, middle aged woman with dark, kindly eyes, standing by.
"Mrs Kilgour, will you take charge of Miss Lyall? You know Mrs. Matherson? Will you find her and ask her to take Doris home? I—I have to go with Inspector Knox to the Police Station to—"
Again he bent over the girl.
"Doris, you must be brave. It is only for to-night. I will come to you to-morrow and show you it is all a mistake. Dear! Dear! You must let me go. We are keeping Inspector Knox waiting."
"Doris!" Isobel Kilgour caught the girl around the waist while Denys gently disengaged her clinging fingers. "You must be brave, dear. There's a mistake, a big mistake, and Mr Fahney is not in danger. It will all be cleared up to-morrow and Inspector Knox will come and tell us he has made a big mistake. That's right. Mr Fahney, isn't it?"
Denys nodded; he could not speak. As the girl turned in the woman's arms he stepped swiftly past, towards the entrance of the hall. Inspector Knox followed him. Again Loames linked arms with him, urging him forward The constable strode ahead. A moment and the crowd closed in between him and the girl.
"Go back and look after Doris." Denys halted before the taxi into which Inspector Knox had disappeared. "No, Bill, you can't do any good to-night. I want to rest and get my head clear from that drug. Come tomorrow, if you like, but first go and see Peter Causton. Tell him I want him to defend me. This is going to be a serious matter."
"Serious?" Loames flashed a glance of anger at the taxi. "The thing's ridiculous. That man, Gerlach, will recant all he said, tomorrow—when he gets back his senses."
"No." Denys lowered his voice to a whisper. "There's more behind this than you dream of, Bill. I've been framed for this shooting and they're not bunglers. Now, get off, old man, and, by the way, send me some clothes. I don't want to appear in this rig-out at the Central Police Court tomorrow morning."
He wrung his friend's hand and entered the taxi. The constable followed and the car drove off. Denys sat between his captors, striving to regain full command of his brain. Already he had outlined a plan of action. For the time he must listen and say nothing. Not until he knew he had full control of his faculties must he allow himself to even think. He had witnessed the strange glance that passed between the wounded man and his friend, James Burle. It had not been a glance of friendship; yet full of understanding. The men were antagonistic, yet acting in some common cause. They had an understanding—a full understanding—yet they hated each other. He leaned back in his seat, striving to put thought from him.
He must sleep before he thought. Sleep only would dispel the potent drug that had been held under his face when he bent to pick up his match-box in the Alamanza balcony.
The car rolled smoothly down George Street and turned into the narrow lane leading to the Central Police Station. A few yards and it swerved to the right and ran under an arch, into a courtyard. The door was opened and the constable backed out. At a command from the Inspector, Denys alighted and walked beside the constable, into the office.
The man led to a little barred enclosure at the side of the room. Unconsciously, Denys drew himself more erect as the bar fell into place, confining him. The usual questions relating to name, age, address and occupation followed. Then a droning voice read the charge. He was asked if he wished to make a statement, but shook his head. The bar was lifted and he was ordered to follow the warder.
They walked down a long concreted corridor and the man opened an iron-barred door: Denys entered the cell and the door clanged shut behind him. For some time after the receding footsteps died in the corridor, Denys sat on the narrow bed, his head in his hands.
Thoughts crowded to his brain, but he resolutely put them from him. Then Doris's tear-stained face rose before his eyes. He could not put that from him. He could still feel her arms holding him, as if defying the officers to take him from her. He visioned again his last sight of her, weeping in the arms of the kindly woman, Isobel Kilgour.
Long years of training came to his relief. He rolled over on the narrow bed and fell asleep, to be awakened by the entry of a warder with his suit-case. He looked up at the little barred window. It was barely daybreak.
"Sorry to awaken you." The man spoke civilly. "Mr Loames brought down a bag of things for you. Want breakfast brought in?"
Denys nodded. He found some coins and gave them to the man. Then he opened the suit-case and changed from the fancy dress. In his own clothes he found renewed spirits and strength. He could think clearly now. The effects of the drug had worn off while he slept. He went to the corner of the cell and found a bucket of water. Splashing it over, his head he dried himself on a towel he found packed in the suit-case; then sat down on the edge of the bed.
He had been framed for murder—or rather, attempted murder. Had the shooter of Gerlach intended to kill the man? He did not think so. Yet again to his memory rose the strange look that had passed between Gerlach and Burle. Had Burle been the man who had shot Gerlach? Something in the man's voice as he answered the Inspector had sounded familiar. He had the build, the action, of the man on the balcony who had asked him for a match—the man who had drugged him. But if Burle had shot Gerlach would he have come to the manager's room of the Alamanza and professed concern at the condition of his victim?
Denys knew well he had never seen Gerlach before. If Burle had shot the man, then Gerlach had been the attendant who had followed Sergeant Houston to the corner of the balcony and flung him into the lounge. He had come up softly behind him as he was talking to the man who had asked him for the match. He must have shot him over his shoulder. That theory would negative his remembrance of the affair. He had thought the shot had come from behind him. Had it? If Burle had fired the shot then it had come from before him. Or, had he been twisted round while partially insensible so that he became confused as to where the shot really came from? Lastly, had the shot been intended for him?
No. He must go farther back in memory to obtain an explanation of the shooting. He must find the reason why he should be framed for the wounding of Gerlach. Somewhere in the past, before the opening of the Artists Ball, lay the clue to the mystery.
A little door of memory clicked open in his brain. He reviewed the incidents of the day. Could he connect them with the strange happenings of the Alamanza balcony?
When he had arrived at his chambers the previous morning he had found a message from the Premier, Sir Roger Westerton, asking him to call as soon as possible. Fortunately, he had no engagements in Court that day. He had gone round to the Premier's office, full of anticipation. Had the chance he had long wished for, to enter Parliament, arrived?
He had been astounded at the conversation that followed his entry to the Ministerial room. Sir Roger had spoken of his work and of his strange gift of deduction. He had waited, wondering to where this conversation would tend. Then Sir Roger had opened out a new line.
The Government were amazed and bewildered at the rapid growth of the drug habit in the State. Months before, a Drug Squad, attached to the Police Department had been established to deal with the evil. The Drug Squad had accomplished marvellous work during the short time it had been established, but the Squad could only reach certain classes of the community. It could not penetrate into exclusive circles of society. There the noxious drugs were traded unchecked. Men and women of high standing had become slaves of the dangerous habit. The Cabinet had pondered many days over the problem; then Sir George had, himself, proposed a solution of their difficulty.
Here the Premier had halted in his monologue, to refer again to Denys' exceptional powers of deduction of his knowledge of the underworld of the great city. The barrister had waited, feeling that some task was to be offered him that would strain his utmost strength. Would he undertake to penetrate the secrets of the drug-ring, amid the exclusive circles of society in the State; obtain the evidence necessary to stamp out the evil and hand it over to the police? It was a blunt question, following an ambiguous and rambling statement of the Government's difficulties.
Denys had seen the doors of success flung wide open to him. He knew that if he undertook the task and succeeded his future would be assured. He would have stepped out on the high-road to success. There could be no limits to his ambition—to what he could attain! He had accepted the task, eagerly, scorning the warning that Sir Roger had gravely uttered—that he would have to work entirely unaided by the organised police of the State. He would have to gain the confidence of the drug circle. He would have to go down into the underworld and become a member of the obnoxious drug ring.
He had laughed at the warning that his life would be in danger. He had asked only one thing of the Premier—that, from that moment, his name be never mentioned in connection with any scheme for the suppression of the trade. Sir Roger had promised, with the reservation that he be allowed to report Denys' acceptance of the mission to his Cabinet.
Could he connect that conversation, behind the closed doors of the Minister's room, with the attack on him at the Artists' Ball? It appeared impossible. The conversation was but a day old. Sir Roger had not yet had time to convey to his Cabinet Denys' acceptance of the task. It was not possible for the drug ring to know of happenings in the inner and most secret Government circles.
Yet, the attempt to frame him for the murder of Carl Gerlach could only be fitted with that conversation. There was no other reason—there could be no other reason. In some manner the drug ring had obtained the knowledge that he had accepted the commission offered by Sir Roger. The frame-up had been their answer—their attempt to remove from their trail a menace they feared.
The opening of the cell door brought Denys from his reverie. He looked up. The warder entered with a breakfast tray. Behind him came Inspector Knox. Denys waited until the warder had left the cell.
"Inspector." His confident air impressed the detective favourably. "Will you tell me, in confidence, why you were at the Artist's Ball, last night? What were you after?"
"Why?" Knox smiled. He was studying his prisoner. Almost he began to believe he had made a mistake. This man was not a potential murderer.
"I came to ask if you knew Carl Gerlach or James Burle?"
"Never heard of them before last night." Denys answered promptly. "Now will you answer my question?
"Sure." The detective paused a moment. "I'd like to say, first, Mr Fahney, that I am beginning to believe that you were framed for that attempted murder. I've evidence pointing that way; but, I tell you plainly, I don't intend to bring it before the magistrate this morning. Still, that's by the way. Here's the answer to your question. I was after a snow-runner when I barged into that little affair in the balcony of the Alamanza. I'm beginning to believe it was staged for my especial benefit."
"A snow-runner!" Denys laughed. "I thought so."
"YOU thought so!" Knox stared, in astonishment. "My memory of you last night makes me inclined to think that, this morning, you can have but a hazy remembrance of what happened at the Artist's Ball."
"Many of the details are not too clear," the barrister agreed, with a slight laugh. "But, I believe I was not intended to remember anything. Fortunately for me the man who asked for the match bungled things. I did not get the full effect of the drug. Thus, I was dazed, but—"
"Are you trying to tell me you shot that man?" the detective asked bluntly.
"I am trying to impress on you that the affair was a frame-up." Denys rose and paced the cell. "The difficulty is—Oh, I'm going to have a lot of trouble to disprove the charge."
"A hell of a lot of trouble!" Knox assented, grimly. "On it's face the case is as clear as a pikestaff."
"Yet you say you have evidence pointing to the contrary." The barrister turned quickly.
"Evidence. I am not prepared to bring forward at present." A grim smile played around the detective's lips. "It's you for Long Bay and a complete rest, Mr Fahney. No, it's no good protesting. The evidence, as it stands is too and strong for me to shatter at once, and I don't want friend Burle and his mate to think I've run off the track they laid down for me. It's one thing for me to have doubts and suspicions, but quite another thing to turn them to evidence. I may have quite a way to go before I can tell the true story of what happened in the Alamanza balcony. Until then—" He shrugged his shoulders.
"Not very cheering for me." A wry smile flickered on the barrister's lips. "Can you give me a hint of what you are driving at?"
For a moment Denys hesitated. Should he tell the detective the story of what had happened during the morning preceding the Artists' Ball? No, that would be to negative the agreement he had made with Sir Roger Westerton. He must keep the secret—guarding it jealously, for if it became known to the newspapers his usefulness would be destroyed. And, with the end of his usefulness would come the downfall of his political hopes—possibly failure in his legal work would follow.
"What are you going to do?" Denys asked.
"This morning, ask for a remand on the facts as they stand. You'll have to go into retirement, Mr Fahney, while I work this problem out. Perhaps in a week or so I may discover enough to tip you to apply for bail; but I warn you I'm in for a long job. Sorry. Thought I'd run in before the show starts and let you know I have doubts. Good day!"
Before Denys could ask further questions the detective had walked out of the cell and closed the door. With a shrug of resignation the barrister turned to his bed and sat down.
From the cell, Inspector Knox went to the police station office and telephoned the hospital. He was surprised to learn that Carl Gerlach was sufficiently recovered to attend the Police Court that morning. Leaving a message that the man was to be at the Court at a quarter to ten, he passed through the corridors to the Court Buildings fronting Liverpool Street.
A few minutes in the offices, and in the magistrate's room, and he had arranged that the charge against Denys Fahney should be taken before the usual Court opened.
The proceedings were brief. Denys, having pondered over the few hints the Inspector had dropped, declined to ask questions and did not press for bail. Five minutes after he had entered the dock he was walking through the corridors, back to his cell, to await conveyance to Long Bay Gaol.
Knox passed from the Court-house to Liverpool Street and hailed a taxi. He had much to do and wanted quick results. If, as he suspected, he was being made the tool of clever scoundrels, he must not allow them time to think further. He must work and act swiftly; gathering his information before they could cover their traces.
At the Alamanza he left the taxi and walked up the steps, to meet the small army of plain-clothes men awaiting him. He led into the hall, rapidly distributing orders. The building was to be minutely searched.
The previous evening he had placed guards inside and outside the building, over essential points. He knew that nothing had been disturbed after the dance ended. He knew that from the time he had brought Denys Fahney from the balcony the place had been occupied by his men. He wanted the bullet that had creased Carl Gerlach. That should not be difficult to find. It had possibly been deflected upward from the man's head and was lodged in some cornice, between wall and ceiling. He wanted the cartridge case that had been ejected from the Automatic, and the rag with which the attempt to clean the barrel of the gun had been made.
The first article that came to light in the search of the balcony was the fountain pen holding the cocaine. It was lying on the floor of the balcony, close to the balustrade, and within a few feet of where Sergeant Houston had been flung over into the lounge. Knox examined it carefully, comparing it with the pen James Burle had given him the previous evening. The two pens were identical.
With a grim smile, Knox marked them for identification and stowed them in his pocket. Then the assault on Sergeant Houston had not been to regain the pen containing the cocaine! He had been attacked because; he had been in the balcony—in the way of some scheme the scoundrels were working. Was that scheme the frame-up on Denys Fahney? That was probable, but for the moment the detective could not see further—he could not understand the motive.
If Denys Fahney had been framed for the attempted murder of Carl Gerlach, then the barrister must be a danger to the snow-runners. But, Burle and Gerlach were not, at the time of operating the frame-up, under suspicion of drug-carrying. Again, that morning Knox had deliberately asked Denys if he was acquainted with Burle or Gerlach. The barrister had answered promptly, and in the negative. The detective believed the lawyer.
Then, what reason could the two men have for depriving the barrister of his liberty—even if only during the inevitable remands?
"The bullet, Inspector."
Knox swung round to face one of the plain-clothes men engaged in the search of the hall.
"It was high up in the cornice. Had to get a ladder to reach it."
"Thanks. And the rag?"
"Not a sign of it, sir."
"But a rag of some sort was drawn through the barrel of the automatic within a few minutes of it being fired," the defective insisted. "You're certain there's no scrap of rag in the hall with powder stains on it?"
"We've cleared everything from the balcony except the furniture," the man answered emphatically. "Now we're clearing the hall. There's a hell of a mess down there, and if the rag's about we'll find it."
Knox nodded and turned towards the entrance, leaving the man to rejoin his comrades in the hall. A taxi-driver hailed him as he descended to the pavement, but he shook his head. He was going to Headquarters and preferred to walk. He wanted time to think, and coordinate his facts before the coming interview with the Detective-Superintendent.
"Well?" Inspector Bartholomew, the head of the Detective Branch, looked up as Knox entered his room, "Denys Fahney remanded for seven days, for the attempted murder of Carl Gerlach, aged 33, traveller for James Burle, importer, of 155b, York Street, city."
The Inspector dropped into a chair, prepared for a long consultation. "Didn't expect anything else. I've read your report." The Superintendent, a slim tall, boyish-looking, clean-shaven man, laughed slightly. "Gerlach there?"
"To my surprise, yes." The detective grinned. "Last night, before I arrested Fahney, he looked as if every moment would be his last. This morning, chippy, but not too handsome, in a wonderful turban of bandages. Swore he did not know Fahney; that he was about to leave the gallery when he was shot, identified Fahney in the most complete manner."
"Where's that attendant?"
"Gone to smoke!" The detective gestured, helplessly. "We've had every attendant in the building before a committee of persons asked, last night, to leave the balcony. They're not prepared to swear to any one man."
"Then it was a frame-up?"
"Not much doubt." Knox hesitated. "What I can't understand is, if some crook mind framed this affair on Denys Fahney, why he made this slip. For the present it's the one flaw in a really beautiful plan."
"A few pointers, only. First, I want to indicate a few words in Gerlach's evidence. There's something like a pointer there."
"Gerlach swore he was one of the persons asked by the bogus attendant to leave the balcony. He says he stopped to finish his drink. Then he went towards the head of the stairs. He states that he saw Denys Fahney and another man there, talking. As he approached, Denys Fahney turned and deliberately shot at him."
"And the other man?"
"Gerlach professes to be unable to describe or identify him."
"Yet he immediately identifies Fahney. Did he give anything like a description of the other man?"
"One that would fit half the tall men at the Ball. In evening dress, tall, carries himself well, clean-shaven, hair brushed back. Couldn't see complexion or possible markings; professes the light was too poor to see anything definitely."
"Yet he identifies Fahney, definitely. What was his attitude towards the prisoner?"
"Most complete indifference. Did not show any ill-will or animosity. Questioned he said he believes Fahney mistook him for someone else."
"James Burle in Court?"
"Yes." Knox paused significantly. "There is one of my best pointers. Burle stated Gerlach is in his employ as a traveller. Yet the two men are antagonistic to a degree—something of the cat and dog business. Some of the looks they exchanged were almost as hard as bullets."
"Humph!" For some time Superintendent Bartholomew sat staring at a spot of ink on his blotting-pad. "Find anything in the hall?"
"Cartridge case and bullet."
"Got them here?"
"Yes, and the gun I took from Fahney last night."
"Came to report to you, first. I am going to the gallery to try out the gun."
Bartholomew held out his hand. Knox took the cartridge case and bullet from his pocket, wrapped in a piece of paper. The automatic he had in his jacket pocket. For some minutes the Superintendent examined the articles, closely. He stood up and reached for his hat.
"This is a departmental gun."
"Mr Fahney pointed that out last night."
"Not yet. I have inquiries in hand. May hear something this morning. Got a clue, Superintendent?"
"I'm interested. Come along!"
"What's the big idea?" The detective looked at his superior officer with some surprise.
"Just this." The Superintendent paused on his way to the door. "I know Denys Fahney, He's not a fool. If he wished to shoot a man he would not go about it in this manner. No, he's got brains—brains enough to shoot half a dozen men under your very eyes—and mine, too—and get away with it. Yet, your story runs that he shot a man while in a spot where it would be difficult to stage an escape; partly cleans the gun; drugs himself; and waits for you to come and arrest him. That man, Gerlach, is lying and someone put him up to it."
"Maybe. But first we'll have a look at this bullet and gun. Come along."
Bartholomew led the way to the basement of the building, where a miniature shooting-gallery was established. There he again examined the automatic, unloading the magazine and studying each cartridge separately. He loaded the gun and fired a couple of shots at a piece of soft wood, standing before the target. A few minutes' work with pen-knives and the bullet was retrieved.
"Now for the test."
The Superintendent crossed to a side table on which stood an instrument in many ways resembling an over-grown microscope. He placed one of the bullets on a carrier and swung it under the instrument. A few minutes and he replaced the bullet with the one found in the Alamanza wall. Almost immediately he had it in focus he straightened and turned to the detective, smiling slightly.
"Thought so, Knox." He withdrew the carrier from the instrument and pointed to the bullet. "This bullet was never fired from the automatic you took from Denys Fahney's hand."
"WHAT do you mean?"
"I'm telling you." A boyish grin spread over the face of the Superintendent. "You know that every gun places a series of marks on a bullet fired through its barrel. These marks are peculiar to that gun, something in the way that fingerprints are individual to the person. It's been proved that no two guns inscribe the same marks on bullets. Now I find the markings on the bullet you took from the Alamanza wall and the bullet I fired from this gun differ considerably."
"Perhaps the boys found the wrong bullet."
The Inspector looked doubtful. "Thought it'd be funny if there were more than one bullet in the Alamanza walls. Sanderson tells me that, allowing for the deflection on striking Gerlach's head, the bullet was in the place where he expected to find it."
"We'll soon test that." Bartholomew turned again to the microscope, arranging the cartridges in the holder. A few minutes' examination and comparison and he turned to the Inspector.
"Same error, Knox." He took the cartridge cases from the instrument and enclosed them in envelopes. "The markings on the cartridge cases do not agree. For one thing, there's quite an appreciable difference in the pin marks. No, either you've got a bullet and cartridge that were used in an entirely different gun, or you've not yet found the gun with which Gerlach was shot. There's another problem for you."
"But I took the gun from Fahney's hand," the detective protested. "He was searched when he arrived at the Central Police Station and he had no other gun on him."
"What of Fahney's gun? You say he had one."
"Houston's gone out to his chambers this morning. But—" Knox shook his head, perplexedly, as he followed the Superintendent back to his office.
If Denys Fahney had not fired the shot at Carl Gerlach, who had? The Inspector reviewed the statements made to him in the manager's room at the Alamanza, the previous evening. Was the solution of the problem contained in them? Fahney had stated that, just prior to the shot being fired, he had been swung round. Swung round? Was the error in his reasoning there?
The barrister had been seated at a table almost at right angles to the stair head, yet close up to the front of the balcony. He had been asked by the bogus attendant to leave the balcony, but stayed a few minutes to finish the drink he had ordered. Another man had stayed in the balcony, excluding the attendant and Sergeant Houston. That man had also remained until the other guests had left the balcony. Houston had been tossed from the balcony into the lounge below. That left the bogus attendant, Denys Fahney and the unknown man in the balcony.
Fahney had risen from his table at approximately the same time as the unknown man. They had converged, walking towards the stair-head. Fahney had noticed the man coming to him. Therefore, the arrangement of the parties: Denys Fahney in the centre, walking towards the back of the balcony; the unknown man coming towards him and the head of the stairs, at an angle from the left; the bogus attendant somewhere in the balcony on Fahney's right.
Supposing that the attendant had also converged on the stair-head at the same time as the other man, then Fahney stood between the two men when one of them stopped him and asked him for a light. But he had definitely stated he had not seen the attendant after the man had passed behind him, following Sergeant Houston.
Fahney had stated he was drugged and swung half-round. In that case, and supposing the men who drugged him had swung him round, then the changed positions would be: Denys Fahney, the unknown man, and the attendant. Then—
Leaving the Superintendent on the stairs, Knox raced down to the main offices. Seizing the telephone he rang up the Alamanza Rooms, asking for Collins, the plain-clothes man who had found the bullet in the wall.
"Collins! Where did you find that bullet? Yes, yes. I know you found it in the cornice. But, on which side of the gallery? You remember the table Denys Fahney sat at? Supposing you were standing before that table, facing the stair-head, on which side did you find the bullet? On the left? You're sure? Quite sure? Think man! Don't make a mistake in this. Oh your left-hand side with your back to the table? Thanks! I've got it now!"
Almost running, the Inspector burst into Superintendent Bartholomew's room.
"More trouble, Knox." Bartholomew looked up, quickly. "I've asked for photographs of the bullets and cartridge-cases to be made and sent to me as soon as possible. I think we have an important point there—"
"And I've another point!" Knox's eyes blazed with excitement. "The man who came to Denys Fahney in the balcony, asking for a light—the man who drugged him—was Carl Gerlach. It was the fake attendant who fired the shot!"
"You're certain?" Bartholomew half rose from his chair, his face alight with eagerness. "Jove, that's strange!"
"Certain? Man, it's a clinch!" In rapid, graphic language the detective outlined the position in the gallery the previous evening. "Collins confirms my theory. He states, definitely that the bullet lodged in the cornice on the left-hand side of the balcony; supposing him to be standing with his back to Fahney's table facing the head of the stairs. Jove, what a fool I've been! I've had the man under my hand and let him go! If I'd searched Gerlach that evening I'd have found the source of the drug that made Fahney insensible. But, who would have thought of that? Damn them! They're slick!"
"Not likely." The Superintendent shook his head. "They're too clever to pass that up. No, Knox. Before that fake attendant went down the stairs he took care to remove all traces of a frame-up from the bodies of his victims. As it was—"
"Of course, I wouldn't have expected him, even if I'd found him on the stairs," Knox ejaculated, obsessed with the line of thought fitting his theory. "The fake attendant fired the shot after his pal had drugged Fahney. Then he took from the floor the broken capsule the drug had been contained in and strolled down the stairs. If anyone had seen him, he was only one of the many attendants. More than likely he returned to the balcony with the first batch of attendants Bill Loames brought up. Perhaps that's when he removed the rag that had been drawn through the barrel of the gun I found in Fahney's hand."
"Wrong reasoning again," Bartholomew laughed. "That rag never came within a mile of the Alamanza balcony. No, Knox. That automatic came to the hall already prepared and the bullet fired from it. Someone made a mistake and started to clean the barrel. The man who placed it in Fahney's hand didn't know of that, or he'd have taken precautions. It's just one of those little slips that get us ahead of crooks. There's one point you've overlooked. Why did Carl Gerlach allow his pal to fire at his head? A damned dangerous frame-up to work. Now, if the plan had been to wound the man in the arm or leg—or even the shoulder—I could understand it. But, the head—You've got to explain that, Knox."
The Inspector sat silent for some moments, pondering the problem. He was certain Gerlach was the man who had asked Fahney for the match. But why had he allowed himself to be wounded in the head? Gerlach had been framed, as well as Fahney. There could be no doubt of that. Knox remembered the strange glance that had passed between the wounded man and his supposed friend, James Burle. He remembered again the hard looks he had intercepted in the Court that morning. The men were antagonistic. Why?
James Burle had been the man who had passed as the attendant. With James Burle in the attendant's white jacket, he had overlooked him when he had searched the hall for the man who had dropped the cocaine laden fountain pen. Burle had wounded Gerlach after the latter had drugged Fahney. There was a reason for the antagonism between the men. The facts would fit in with the theory he was constructing.
But, if Burle had wounded Gerlach, why had not the latter denounced him? Was there a reasonable explanation? He knew the Sydney crooks refused to bring the police into their disagreements. They stood without the law. They accepted what fate brought them, awaiting opportunities to conduct their own vendettas. Even that theory did not explain the shooting of Gerlach. It was impossible to suppose that the man would have stood up and allowed a fellow crook to deliberately fire a gun at him.
Had not the plan been for Fahney to be shot in some fake dispute in the balcony? No, that would not fit the facts. The modern gunman uses his weapon only after the severest provocation. He knows the risks he runs and prefers the butt, to the barrel. Fahney was to be the victim. He was to be posed not as the person shot but as the shooter. Gerlach, under some great pressure, or fear, had consented to be shot at. He had stopped Fahney in the balcony, expecting that his confederate would, from behind the barrister, fire at his arm or leg. That would be sufficient to involve the lawyer. Burle, for some reason of his own, had fired at the man's head. Gerlach had fallen insensible; but before losing consciousness he had realised that his accomplice had betrayed him.
He had awakened in the manager's room with that knowledge, yet he had continued to carry on the plan to which he was a party. He had named Fahney as the man who had shot him, reserving to himself the right to settle with Burle the personal side of the affair. That explanation would fit.
A knock at the door. Knox rose from his seat and opened it, admitting a uniformed Sergeant.
"Excuse me, sir. A message from Central Police Station. Important."
"What is it, Sergeant Adams?"
"Inspector Walters told me to report to you as quickly as possible."
"Well, well, man? Speak up!" Bartholomew questioned, impatiently.
"The Inspector didn't like to telephone, sir. Thought it best to keep the matter as quiet as possible."
The Sergeant shuffled his feet, nervously.
"Jumping tin hares!" The Superintendent swung round to stare at the man. "What are you making excuses for? Can't you tell me what's happened to cause all this stuttering and evasions?"
"Mr Denys Fahney's escaped, sir." The red colour rose to the man's cheeks.
"Escaped!" Knox sprang to his feet. "What the devil do you mean, Adams? Denys Fahney was sent to Long Bay, on remand, this morning. Escaped from Long Bay Gaol! Why he's hardly had time to get there, yet!"
"Escaped from Central Police Station, sir." The man spoke stolidly. "After the remand in Court he was brought through the corridor to the Police Station and put in one of the cells. He seemed quite happy and easy, sir; joking and laughing with the warder and the men in the office. I happened to walk down the corridor outside the cells and saw him, locked in. Warder Simpson says that when the van came into the courtyard, he let the prisoners out and that Mr Fahney went to the courtyard with the others."
"Many of them, Adams?" asked the Superintendent, quickly.
"Quite a few, sir. That's the last anyone seems to know of Mr Fahney. He went out of the corridor into the yard. Next we knew was when we got a message from Long Bay to say our numbers were incomplete—that the missing man was Denys Fahney. We searched the Station, but—"
The telephone bell rang shrilly. Bartholomew lifted the receiver and spoke his name; listening a few moments in silence. With a word of understanding he shoved the instrument further on the desk and turned to the Inspector.
"Here's another side of your problem Inspector. The commissioner instructs you to immediately prepare a special report on the shooting at the Alamanza Rooms and the arrest of Mr Fahney. From the manner in which the Chief spoke I infer the report is called for from higher up."
"Higher up?" Knox blinked dazedly. "What the little fishes do you mean?"
"What I say!" A slight smile curved the Superintendent's lips "Prepare that report at once, then get on the trail of Denys Fahney."
The Inspector turned to the door with a helpless gesture. As his hand touched the handle the Superintendent spoke again.
"One other thing, Knox." His voice was lowered to a whisper. "Get on Denys Fahney's trail and stick there. Just sit on it. Understand?"
"Damned if I do." The Inspector scratched his head, perplexedly. "What do you mean? Not arrest him?"
"No, watch him." The Superintendent's words drawled heavily. "Just watch him. I've an idea that Mr Denys Fahney going to introduce us to something interesting."
DENYS FAHNEY stepped from the dock at Central Police Court feeling rather downcast. He had obeyed the Inspector's injunction not to press for bail; and that in spite of the objections of Peter Causton, who had come hot-footed to the Court to defend him. In the waiting-room, at the conclusion of the proceedings, he had been allowed an interview with his solicitor. With few words he recounted the story of the previous night's happenings, then he had returned to his cell at the police station to await the arrival of the van to take him, and others, to Long Bay Gaol.
It was nearly mid-day when the warder warned him that the van had arrived. Denys packed his belongings, and waited. A short interval and the barred door was opened and he was bidden to go down the corridor to the entrance gate. There he found a number of men waiting. He looked at them, curiously; they represented the flotsam of Sydney's night-life.
Presently he noticed that one of the men was beckoning furtively to him. He moved closer to the man's side. Almost immediately the man pressed towards the grated door; but not before Denys caught the muttered words: "George Street. You promised you would see her to-day."
What did the man mean? Denys took an impulsive step forward, then hesitated. He knew that it would be useless to question the man, even if the police officers, hovering about, allowed him to. He had promised to see someone that day. Yes. In the vestibule of the Alamanza Rooms he had promised Doris that he would come to her that day, a free man. Bet he had spoken on impulse, in an attempt to comfort the girl. Almost as he had uttered the words he had realised he would not be able to fulfil the promise, that the case against him was too strong and that he would have to remain in custody, possibly until the trial. Now he was bidden to remember that promise. And to the remembrance had been attached the words "George Street."
What did they mean? Had someone planned to rescue him? That was absurd. Surrounded by police officers, in the heart of the main police station of the metropolis, what could the would-be rescuers do? Yet, hope sprang to life in his heart. He looked around him questioningly.
At that moment the gate swung open and the prisoners, trooped out into the court-yard. In the yard Denys looked about him. To his left lay the walls of the Central Police Court. To his right was the great archway under which stood the prison van. Opposite him were the police officers; before the doors standing a row of reporters, officials and visitors. He could see no hope of escape. Every avenue appeared to be blocked.
Slowly the prisoners drifted across to the doors of the van. There they gathered in a little knot, almost touching the group of onlookers. The doors of the van swung open and the prisoners commenced to enter. Denys held back, shifting across until he stood between the two groups of prisoners and visitors.
Suddenly the knot of visitors was in motion. Someone was pushing forward. Denys felt the suitcase firmly taken from his hand. He was pushed on, changing places with a couple of men. A few steps and he was surrounded by the visitors. He stood watching while the doors of the van were closed and the vehicle rolled out of the yard.
Denys found himself being urged forward, walking under the big arch into Central Lane. On either side of him were men he did not know. They did not speak nor even glance at him. He looked back and one of the men swore under his breath. They turned to the left, walking down the narrow lane to George Street, and gradually quickening their pace. In the main road, the men swung to the right—toward the Town Hall. A few yards and one of the men stopped and whistled.
Immediately the door of a closed car, a few yards up the road, swung open. The remaining man pushed him into the car and closed the door, quickly. As if in answer to some signal the car shot forward, gathering speed as it ran up the road. Denys sank back on the soft cushions with a sigh of relief. The rescue had been so simple—so complete.
But a few minutes before he had stood in the police yard, awaiting the command to enter the prison van. Now he was free, speeding through the city in a closed car. The car turned into Park Street and just managed to cross Elizabeth Street before the traffic was held up.
"Well, Mr Denys Fahney!" A soft voice at his elbow spoke, "So you are free again. Have you nothing to say?"
Denys looked round, amazedly. Sub-consciously he had known there was someone in the car with him; but he had not thought that person was a woman. He looked at her in great bewilderment.
A little grey woman! Wrapped in a long, grey cloak, the hood pulled over her head, well forward, almost meeting the grey mask, covering the major portion of her face.
"Have you nothing to say, Denys Fahney?" The voice was softly imperious. "I have taken you from the hands of the police. Is that not worth a few words of thanks? Remember, but for my intervention, by this time you would be on your way to Long Bay Gaol—to spend he next seven days in irksome solitude."
"Why have you rescued me?" Denys blurted out the question, clumsily "No, I don't mean that! Of course, I owe you my thanks; but I am still so surprised, so bewildered, I don't know what to say."
"Is that all?" The masked woman laughed, softly. "Do you not owe me thanks for giving you the opportunity of keeping your promise?"
"My promise?" Denys stared at her in astonishment.
"Your promise to Miss Lyall; that you would call today and explain the happenings of last night. Do you know, you quite spoilt the poor child's enjoyment. Mrs Matheson had to take her home and—"
"You are not Doris." The barrister blurted the words, amazedly.
"No, I am not Doris." There was a sober tone in the light voice "I'm afraid my Doris days are over—for ever. Yet there are compensations."
"But I must not go near her," exclaimed Denys. "The police will be on my tracks in a few minutes. They will go to Doris' home to search. Really—"
"Are you repenting, already, of the freedom I have given you?" Again the little grey woman laughed. "No, you have yet an hour—or more—before the hue and cry will be after you. In that hour you must see Doris. You promised and I promised—and I never break my—"
"You promised? When?"
"After Inspector Knox took you from the dance last night." The woman leaned forward, peering out of the window of the fast moving car. "I promised Doris that you should come to her; then—"
"Then—" Denys echoed the word as the woman paused. "You must go about the work you promised Sir Roger Westerton to—"
"You know that?" The barrister spoke quickly. "Who are you? Sir Roger promised me that nothing should be said on the matter outside the Cabinet-room—"
"Who put the suggestion to employ Denys Fahney on the quest of he drug ring, into Sir Roger's head?" The eyes of the woman sparkled brightly through the eye holes in the grey mask. "Denys—Denys Fahney, you have much to learn of women and women's ways. You men flatter them, defer to them, yet attempt to keep them outside the charmed circles of government. Yet women rule today through their influence over men. One day they will rule openly."
"Then we will have to seriously revise our police force." Denys laughed. "Or we will have all our prisoners abducted by women."
"Perhaps then there will be no need for prisoners, or prisons." The woman spoke earnestly. "Now you must leave me. Denys Fahney, here you must alight and make your way to Doris' home, alone. I can take you no further."
She leaned forward and touched a button fixed on the back of the front seat. Immediately the car swung in to the curb and stopped. Denys alighted and closed the door. The Little Grey Woman leaned forward, extending her hand, clad in a long, grey glove.
"Good-bye, Denys Fahney." Her voice was low and sweet. "Go to Doris. She is expecting you. Stay but a brief time. As you said, the police will come to her in search of you. Then, to your task and—" She paused a moment. "Remember to watch the flight of the Falcon."
The car moved suddenly forward leaving Denys, hat in hand, staring after it. What did the woman mean? Why had she rescued him? Why had she told him to watch the flight of the Falcon? He looked around him, recognising the neighbourhood. He was in one of the most lonely roads in the Rose Bay district. He knew that but a couple of hundred yards from where he stood ran the main road. There he could find a car or a tram that would take him to Doris.
"Watch the flight of the Falcon!" What did the woman mean? What connection could those words have with his rescue and the work he had to hand. She had known of the secret agreement between Sir Roger Westerton and himself. But, the crooks who had framed him for the attempted murder of Carl Gerlach had known of that interview. Inspector Knox had told him that morning that he had gone to the Artists' Ball in search of a couple of suspected snow-runners. Then—
Carl Gerlach and James Burle were snow-runners. Through their spies they had learned of his acceptance of Sir Roger's commission to track down and disperse the drug ring. The Little Grey Woman had also become acquainted with that agreement. She had told him he was to watch the flight of the Falcon. Then "The Falcon" had some connection with the illegal supply of drugs to addicts in high society circles in the State.
Denys found a taxi, cruising along the main road, and boarded it. Ten minutes later, he alighted at the gates of Doris' home, in Vaucluse. He walked up to the door, his head whirling in excitement.
"Doris!" His finger had hardly touched the bell-push when the door was thrown open and the girl was in his arms. "Doris! Dearest!"
"Denys!" The girl was leaning back on his arm, to stare up, lovingly, into his face. "Denys, you are free!"
"For the moment. An escaped prisoner!" The young man's lips twisted in a wry smile. "Really, dear, I am still bewildered. I thought I was due for remand to Long Bay Gaol, and I find myself at Vaucluse—in your dear arms. How it has come about I cannot yet realise."
"But I knew you would come." The girl caught at his hand, drawing him into the house. "She told me so."
"Who told you?"
"I don't know." Doris laughed delightedly. "Oh, Denys, I was awfully afraid last night. Isobel Kilgour is a dear. She helped me, wonderfully. Then, Mr. Matheson insisted that she brought me home at once. They were very angry over you. They said it was absurd for that silly policeman to arrest you—that you never shot that man. Just as we were leaving the hall—"
"Who were with you, Doris?" Denys interrupted. "Only Mrs Matheson and Isobel Kilgour, dear." The girl looked up wonderingly. "We were standing amid a lot of people in the vestibule awaiting my car, when someone thrust a note into my hand."
"Yes. Such a funny note. Just a scrap of paper saying you would be with me this morning, to lunch and that I mustn't keep you after. It was signed, 'The Little Grey Woman.' Denys, who is she? Isobel laughed when I showed her the note. I heard her whisper to Mrs Matheson that someone wanted to cheer me up. But I don't believe that. Somehow I believe that note. I wonder who the Little Grey Woman is? I want to find her and thank her for her kindness to me."
"Doris! There was a little grey woman in the car which brought me here." Denys spoke soberly. "She told me that she had promised you I should be free and come to you this morning. She wouldn't give me her name, but—"
The telephone bell rang shrilly. Doris went to the instrument. She listened a moment, then turned to her lover, her face alight with perplexity.
"Denys." The girl's voice dropped to a whisper. "She was speaking to me then. She told me that the prison van had arrived at Long Bay Gaol and that your escape had been discovered. We are to lunch at once and you are to leave me immediately afterwards."
"Where?" The barrister muttered the word under his breath. For the moment he had no plans. The escape from the police station had happened too rapidly for him to think of the future coherently. The drive in the car with the Little Grey Woman had fixed Doris in his mind to the exclusion of all other thoughts. He felt he was being swept along on some mighty tide of fate, against his own volition. Now, for the first time since he walked down the steps from the Alamanza balcony, virtually a prisoner, he had to make a decision.
Where was he to go from this house? He could not go to his rooms or to his chambers. He could not go to the bank to replenish his funds. At the police station they had taken everything from him but a few small coins, overlooked in one of his pockets.
He shrugged his shoulders. First he would have lunch with Doris. That had been promised him. Then he would go from her house, for he could not bring trouble on her. The police would hear of his engagement to Doris Lyall and come to question her. She would have to say he had been there, but had left. To go where? No, she must not know, he must leave her and go into hiding. Then—
James Burle and Carl Gerlach! The two men had attempted to frame him for murder. Now he was able to definitely couple them with the drug-ring he had sworn to hunt down and exterminate. When he had talked over the matter with Sir Roger Westerton, he had laughingly said he would have to go into the underworld to obtain the necessary evidence—to get on the track of the drug-smugglers. Now, he was of the hunted underworld—and the two men had deliberately placed themselves across his path.
"Lunch, Doris!" He turned to the girl watching him and caught her in his arms. "Lunch, dearest, and then I must leave you. But I've got to see you again, and soon. I can't go without that, even though I am a fugitive from justice. We must find a way."
With a little nervous laugh, the girl slipped her hand under his arm, urging him towards the door. Almost as they reached it, a maid entered.
"Mr William Loames, Miss. I told him I would enquire if you could see him."
"Bill!" Denys strode past the girl to where the artist waited in the hall. "Jove, man, I wanted you badly."
"And I came to find you." The artist caught at Denys' hand.
"Came to find me—here?" Denys looked his surprise. "Didn't you go to the Police Court?"
"No." There was a queer mote of excitement in the artist's voice. "I was about to leave my rooms for the police station, to see you before the case came on in the Police Court, when I received a telephone message, insisting that if I wished to serve you I would remain in my rooms until I received further instructions. Later, another telephone message instructed me to visit certain places and then come on here, to meet you."
"To come here to meet me?" Denys was puzzled. "Who told you that?"
"I don't know. It was a woman who spoke, but she would not give her name."
"I know." Doris turned suddenly to her lover. "I know, Denys. It a was the Little Grey Woman."
"COME!" Loames rose from his seat at the luncheon table. "Doris, is there a room Denys and I can have for a quarter of an hour?"
"Why?" The barrister looked his surprise.
"A quarter of an hour, Bill? Doris was warned to get rid of me within an hour—and that time has nearly expired. I'm afraid Inspector Knox will—"
"Never mind Inspector Knox." The artist spoke abruptly. "I've got the things outside, in a bag. If Inspector Knox comes he will not find Denys Fahney here."
"The things? What things?" Doris asked.
"That's one of the puzzles, Doris." Loames turned to the girl. "When I was told to come here and find Denys, the same person informed me a car would be waiting for me at a certain spot—that in the car I would find certain things. Half-reluctantly, I followed instructions. The car met me and in it were three bags. I had a look at them as I came along."
"And you found?" The girl barely breathed the question.
"A full disguise for Denys. More—"
"Oh, don't delay." The girl sprang to her feet, impatiently. "Come with me."
She almost ran from the room. At the head of the stairs she opened a door.
"Go into my room, Denys, dear." She caught at her lover's sleeve. "Lock the door. There is a door opening into the bath-room. I think you will find all you require there."
Loames had followed the man and girl up the stairs, carrying a heavy bag. As he passed her, Doris gasped in surprise.
"Why, Bill, that bag has my initials—yet it is not mine."
Denys looked around, quickly. On the side of the suit-case had been painted "D. L." in small, neat letters. The case was not a new one, yet not too old to attract attention.
"Whoever the Little Grey Woman is, she does things well," Loames smiled grimly. "I noticed the initials when I examined the bag in the car. Now, run downstairs, Doris. If anyone comes, keep them engaged. We won't be more than a quarter of an hour."
Loames closed and locked the door behind the girl. He turned to face the barrister, a broad grin on is face. "There's the bath-room, old man. Don't suppose they provided luxuries at Central Police Station. If you want a dip, get to it. I've some arrangements to make before I'm ready for you. By the way, here's a complete change. Take note of the linen; it's marked with your new name."
"My new name?" Denys glanced t the clothing the artist took from the suit-case and slung over his arm. "Jove, old man! It looks as if the Little Grey Woman is very thorough."
"More than a bit. I'll take off my hat to her, Little Grey Woman or anyone else. You'll know how thoroughly this has been prepared before you get through. Now, get to it old man. We haven't time to waste."
He pushed Denys towards the bathroom and busied himself with a number of pots and boxes he took from the bottom of the unpacked suit-case. For some time he fiddled with the blinds and curtains, arranging them to his liking. Then he packed the clothes Denys had discarded and thrown through the bathroom door.
For some moments he paced the bed-room, listening to the sounds coming from the bath-room. A queer smile twisted his thin lips. A few seconds more and he went to the door, and knocked.
Immediately the door opened and the barrister came out of the bathroom. Without another word the artist took him by the arm and led him to a seat before the dressing table. Denys surveyed the array of pots and boxes with some amusement.
"Disguise? But any old policeman can see disguise, Bill?"
"Can they?" The artist laughed. "Not the way I do it. Now, hold still; I won't be long."
Loames worked swiftly and with great skill. First, he shaved the hair at temples and forehead to his liking. A wash from a small bottle tinted the barrister's skin to a dark hue. A few deft touches with razor and brushes, and the eyes appeared to change character, narrowing and lightening. A few moments spent over nostrils and cheeks with queer unguents, produced from little pots, and Denys saw himself disappear under a new personality—yet not one of the usual stage make ups had been used. He stood up and gazed at himself in the glass. He was a different man, yet, as he carefully scanned his face, he thought that the real Denys Fahney peered out from under a strange veil. Would the disguise be sufficient?
He turned to face the artist. Loames stood at one side, the outer garments of the disguise in his hands. As Denys assumed them the artist carefully explained how they were to be worn. Presently Loames swung his subject to face the mirror. Denys gasped his astonishment. With the completion of the work, all signs of Denys Fahney bad disappeared. The disguise was a success. He was another man—a man he had never seen before. Yet, feature for feature, he was Denys Fahney, the many little peculiarities slightly altered. He turned to face the smiling artist.
"Jove, old man, that's a work of art! And not a line of paint. Why, you're a marvel!"
"The artistic touch!" Loames laughed. "How often have you sat beside my drawing board and watched me change a sketch of a man you knew to another personality with a few touches of the pencil? Well, if I can do it on paper, why not in real life? Now for the rest of your bag of tricks. By the way, where are your pocket belongings—your cigarette case and other things?"
"At the police station. They searched me after the proceedings in the Court house."
"Good," Loames chuckled. "We'll let them retain them for the present. Here's the recompense."
He opened another of the suitcases. On top of a neatly packed outfit were several small articles. Loames lifted them out, one by one, and handed them to the barrister.
"Cigar case, instead of cigarette case, filled with a mild brand of cigars. You'll have to get used to them, Denys. You're one of those chaps who prefer a particular and individual brand of cigarettes. You must avoid them and confine yourself to cigars for a time. Cigar holder. Here's your watch. A wrist watch; you've always used that style, so we can't change. You're certain to look for the time at your wrist and if anyone notices—umph! Here's your pocket-book. Get your new name: 'Gilbert Quartly.' Rather fancy, isn't it? Doris will have to get in the way of calling you 'Gilbert.' The Denys passes for a time. Remember, you're 'Gilbert Quartly,' and Doris's cousin from Melbourne—a medical student in your last year. Get that? Good. Now listen."
Again he turned to the suit-case and brought out some articles.
"Here's a key-chain with your private keys on it. Oh, by the way, the unknown lady who has taken you under her wing tells me you're stopping at the Hotel Majestic. You're up from Melbourne on a holiday. In your pocket-book you will find proofs of your identity in the form of letters and your passport. You went to New Guinea last year on some scientific investigation. There's quite a number of papers on the matter in the suit-case. You'll have to mug them up in the privacy of your hotel room."
"But the passport photograph!" Denys gasped at the multiplicity of instructions bombarded at him.
"Have a look." Loames grinned. "I was studying it all the way here. Think I've made a good job. Eh, what?"
Denys opened the case. From the passport stared up at him his new face. He turned and compared the photograph with the reflection in the glass. "How did you do it?" He turned towards his chum. "Why, this must have taken months to prepare."
"I?" Loames laughed. "Question the Little Grey Woman. All I've done is the make up. She prepared all the rest. 'Course I don't know if Doris has a cousin—Gilbert. I don't think so. Never heard of him. If you want my guess at the solution—"
"Well?" The barrister turned, seriously, as the artist paused.
"I'm guessing that Gilbert Quartly is a real person and that he has some communication with the Little Grey Woman. That's not difficult in this country, where there are plenty of persons with the loosest of identities. No, this matter wasn't prepared in a night—or a day and a night; either. There's a real Gilbert Quartly behind the scenes, but what his relations with the Little Grey Woman are I can't even guess at. Got any other idea?"
"No." Denys hesitated. "Bill, who is the Little Grey Woman? What is she interested in this for? She told Doris last night not to worry over my arrest, promising that I should lunch with her today. Then, this morning she picks me out of the hands of the police—like picking an apple from a tree in an orchard. Why, she must have had quite a crowd of helpers, to get me from the line of prisoners into that motor car in George Street. And, while she was doing that she was working with you, preparing this disguise for me. Who is she, and what it she doing all this for?"
"Ask me another." Loames grinned, broadly. "All I know is that I'm double-crossing Bob Knox, one of the whitest and squarest men in Sydney. Yet I'm not sorry—he was rather a beast last night. I've often wanted to set him at work—character study, y'know. I've seen him, and I'm not fascinated. Too much of the human bloodhound about him. Total disregard for other people's feelings. On the trail—the scent, if you like to name it that—and nothing else matters. Ugh!"
A knock came at the door. The artist crossed the room and opened it. Doris came swiftly into the room, closing the door behind her. As she caught sight of Denys she exclaimed.
"Oh, I thought—"
"Miss Lyall!" Loames bowed mock-seriously. "May I present your cousin in from Melbourne, Mr Gilbert Quartly. I hope you will not forget the name. That might be awkward. Remember, you haven't seen him for quite a time. Yes, you may kiss him if you wane to—I believe it is quite correct for cousins to kiss—and the stuff won't come off."
The girl, with a little exclamation, ran to her lover. Over her head Denys looked at his chum. "That's the point, Bill. How long is this stuff guaranteed to last? I don't want to find myself piebald one morning. Then, there's another thing. I may be old fashioned, but I do like a wash occasionally."
"That's all right, old man." The artist laughed. "I'll look after all that. When we get to your hotel I'll give you some lessons on the make-up. You'll pick it up, easily—and I shan't be far from you at any time."
"Denys." The girl was leaning back on her lover's arm, keenly studying the make-up. "Isobel Kilgour is down stairs. She called shortly after you and Bill came up here. How are you going to get out of the house without her seeing you? I don't think she will carry tales—last night she was awfully nice about you—but—"
"Go down stairs, Doris, and keep her talking." The artist took command of the situation. "Denys and I are coming to see you, as ordinary visitors. Remember, there's nothing unnatural about your cousin from Melbourne coming to call on you. Don't forget his name—Gilbert Quartly."
"But, Bill." The girl turned swiftly. "The risk?"
"Less risk than bolting immediately after lunch. By the way, old dear, what about those maids of yours? One of them saw Denys at lunch. Can you trust her to hold her tongue?"
"Marie! Yes, Marie won't say anything if I tell her not to. Besides, she admires Denys." The girl laughed. "She was awfully indignant over his arrest, this morning."
"No necessity to tell her anything." The artist was thinking, quickly. "You'll have to get rid of that suit-case with Denys' things in it—the one with your initials on. The others we'll get out of the house later. Now, go down to the hall, see it is vacant. Denys will go with you. Keep the maid out of the way and trust me."
He went quickly and silently from the room. Doris and Denys slowly descended to the hall. As they reached the foot of the stairs the door bell rang. Doris went forward to open the door. The artist entered.
"Hullo, cousin Doris." He spoke in an assumed voice. "Haven't seen you for quite a while. Just up from Melbourne." He beckoned Denys to come to where he stood, then stepped softly to the foot of the stairs. He turned and strolled to the hall door.
"Hullo, Gilbert, old man!" Loames spoke in his natural tones. He lowered his voice to a whisper. "Denys, can you get something like the tones I spoke in, just now? Try. Doris, the maid!" The girl turned quickly.
"All right, Marie." She spoke to the girl who had just come through the baize door. "I let Mr Fahney out. Gilbert," she turned to her supposed cousin. "Are you staying with me? If so, I will tell Marie to have a room prepared."
"Staying at the Majestic, old dear." Denys imitated the tones Loames had used. "Don't want to disturb you, Doris. Why, Bill, I haven't seen you for quite a time. You promised to take a run down to Melbourne, but you never came."
"Too busy, old man." Loames turned to the girl. "I'll just run up and finish mending that lock for you, Doris. I came down to meet Gilbert. Recognised him from the window as he walked up the drive; though he's altered quite a bit since I last saw him."
"New Guinea suns!" Denys laughed, playing his part remarkably well. "We'll have a yarn together, if you're not engaged tonight, Bill?"
The artist sped up the stairs to Doris's room. There he spent some time carefully restoring the room to order. He finished packing the suitcases. Two of them he carried secretly to the hall. The other he locked and thrust under the bed. The keys of the case he slipped into his pocket. Just as well Doris should not he able to open it, if it was discovered and anyone was curious. She could say she had lost the key. But he hoped that within a short time she would be able to secrete it.
He strolled carelessly down the stairs, pausing in the hall for a moment. The mad rush of the past few hours had told on his nerves For some time he strode feverishly up and down the wide space, then turned to the door of the lounge.
As his hand found the handle of the door, a ring came at the bell. A maid passed him on her way to the door. He waited, listening to the voice of a woman asking for Doris. A moment and she was within his vision. He smiled and stepped forward to meet her.
"Margaret!" He held the woman's hand, looking down into her eyes.
"Didn't think to see you today. Come to pay Doris a call? I've been mending a lock in he room. Come on, I'll escort you to the young heiress's presence." He linked his arm in the woman's, talking quickly as they strolled to the door of the lounge. He flung open the door with a theatrical air.
"Doris! Here is Margaret Venne. I found her on the door-step. Gilbert! Mrs Venne, I don't think you have met Gilbert Quartly, Doris's cousin from Melbourne. May I present him? An old chum of mine." Again he looked down into the woman's eyes. A queer look of intimate understanding passed between them.
JIM BURLE was well satisfied when he ran down the steps from Central Police Court to Liverpool Street. He had seen Denys Fahney leave the Court under arrest, remanded for seven days. Unless something he had not foreseen happened, when next the barrister appeared in Court he would be committed for trial. Yet, in the drug-master's mind there was a growing uneasiness.
Carl Gerlach was acting in a strange manner. Burle had gone that morning to the hospital to escort the gangster to the Police Court. Gerlach had been silent and morose. Only during the few minutes he had been in the witness box had he shown any animation. When he concluded his evidence he had refrained from returning to his former seat beside Burle. During the remainder of the proceedings he had glowered angrily across the Court.
A twinge of conscience caused Burle to shrug his shoulders, angrily What did the man know? The scheme had worked without a hitch. Gerlach had played his part correctly; it was only during the final seconds before the shot was fired that he, Burle, had departed from the set plan.
Gerlach was to accost Deny Fahney in the balcony of the Alamanza and keep him in talk. Burle was to come up softly behind the two men and, at his signal, Gerlach was to drug the barrister. Then Burle was to shoot Gerlach through the fleshy part of the arm, inflicting a slight but serious-looking wound He was to thrust the automatic into Fahney's hand and get down the stairs—to return with the first rush of attendants.
The slightness of the wound was to be explained by Gerlach; that he had attempted to thrust the weapon to one side before Fahney fired. The plan had been simple and effective. Burle had intended to act honestly by his confederate. He rather liked the man, believing in his loyalty to the organisation. Then, but a few moments before he left his flat to attend the Artists' Ball, he had received evidence of Gerlach's treachery. One of the minor members of the organisation had brought him a letter Gerlach had carelessly dropped. That letter contained direct references to the sale of gang secrets. And the letter was signed by the Little Grey Woman.
Burle had gone to the dance with the letter in his pocket, determined to face the man with his treachery. The plan against Denys Fahney would have to be abandoned until he could find another, more trustworthy confederate. Gerlach would have to be denounced as a traitor to the members of the drug circle. He would have to be punished.
As he turned from Detective-Sergeant Houston on the steps of the Alamanza, after denying ownership of the cocaine-filled fountain pen, a new thought had flashed through Burle's mind. Why should he not take the punishment of the gangster into his own hands? Why should he not strike and destroy both his enemies with one blow? It was big idea; it entailed only one alteration to his original plan. Gerlach should meet Fahney, but the bullet should pierce his brain, not his a shoulder. Full of his new scheme he had wandered about the Alamanza Rooms until the moment for action arrived. Then had come the intervention by the detective. He had met that. A blow from a blackjack had silenced Houston. It had been easy to throw him over into the lounge.
Then he had turned and crept up behind the unsuspecting barrister. An awkward movement by the drugged man had saved Gerlach's life. That same movement had betrayed him to the man he planned to slay. At the moment he had shifted his aim, pointing the gun at Gerlach's head instead of his arm, he had seen knowledge dawning in the man's eyes. He had gloried in the thought that the traitor knew his treachery had been discovered. It would be his last thought—the little foretaste of the hell to which the man was going.
Now Gerlach lived, and knew. Throughout the Court proceedings Burle had watched the man, striving to read his thoughts; to anticipate what use he would make of the knowledge. But the man had baffled him. Burle shuddered, involuntarily smuggling down into the warmth of his overcoat. What would the gangster do?
In George Street he turned into the Savoy Grill and ordered lunch. The waiter brought him an early edition of the evening paper. He snatched at it eagerly, scanning the report of the Court proceedings. He lingered on over the meal. At three o'clock he was to meet Ailsa Rae at the Grecian Tea-rooms.
He swore slightly under his breath. Why did the woman insist on his hanging about in restaurants and tearooms? Why would she not permit him to visit the Beauty Parlours and discuss their business in the privacy of her office? No one suspected the link that bound them together. What danger could there be in a friendly call at the Beauty Parlours? The woman was mad; driving herself insane with fear. Fear? What was there to fear? Denys Fahney was in prison, and unless something unforeseen happened would remain there for many months.
Collier had served him well. With only a sight of Denys Fahney's face as he came out of the Premier's room; with only a few words overheard through the thick door, he had been able to reconstruct the conversation. The man had brought the information to him and he had been able to act. He had met and countered one menace, but another had grown in its stead. A cold, cruel look came into his light-blue eyes. He would know how to deal with that man. He rose from the table and strolled out into George Street.
As he turned into King Street he saw Ailsa Rae walking before him. He quickened his step.
"Denys Fahney is remanded in custody for one week," He muttered the words as he drew level with the woman.
"You?" Ailsa halted, abruptly. "In custody for one week? What does that mean?"
"No bail. Goes to Long Bay for rest cure. Thank heavens!"
"But, one week—" Ailsa turned to face him. "Jim, that's impossible—one week, and then—"
"Then another—perhaps longer." The drug-master laughed harshly. "What are you frightened about now? Can't you see I've got matters well in hand? Denys Fahney goes up for the shooting of Carl Gerlach."
"And, Gerlach?" The woman moved slowly forward. "Jim, you've made a big mistake. Why did you shoot Gerlach? He's dangerous."
"Is he?" Burle laughed, although a shudder he could not repress shook him. "What's got him now? Say, how do you know this?"
"He came to me this morning. He came to my flat before I went to the Parlours."
"But I called for him at the hospital. He was there when I arrived, waiting for me."
"He came to me." The woman spoke rapidly. "He said he was going back to the hospital to meet you. Jim, he says you broke faith with him. He says he knows you intended to murder him. He says he is out of it—all, and for good."
"Out of it, is he?" Burle snarled the words. "Well, he was in court and gave his evidence of the shooting. He can't—he daren't back out of it now."
"He won't appear at the court again." Ailsa halted at the intersection of King and Pitt Streets. "Jim, I must leave you. I must go back to the Parlours. I—I'm frightened!"
"I'm coming with you." The big man spoke dominantly "We've got to talk this out. Looks to me a if you're trying to back out of the game, too."
"Oh, if I could!" Ailsa whispered the words under her breath. "Jim, you've made a mistake. I never liked your plan of the shooting. There were other ways—"
"Shut up!" The man spoke angrily. "Are you telling the world? Wait until we get to your office before you talk—if you have to talk at all!"
"No." She spoke without force. "I've told you I will not have you there. It's too dangerous."
For some minutes she walked in silence beside him. She glanced at his face and shrugged her shoulders. "Oh, come if you like. What does it matter—what does anything matter—now?"
A few yards before they came to the General Post Office she crossed the road and led into Peel Place. The man kept step with her, furtively watching her face. At the door of a small shop, the windows of which were veiled with heavy tapestried curtains, she stopped and again faced him.
"You know that you are making another mistake, James Burle?" The note of weariness still lingered in her voice. "If you are traced here—if you are watched—"
"Watched?" The man glanced over his shoulder, involuntarily. "Who's watching me?"
"That policeman, Inspector Knox!" Ailsa replied, in a low, uneven whimper. "He was suspicious last night. When you dropped that pen—"
"For God's sake, get inside!" The man leapt past her and opened the door. "Have you lost your remaining wits this morning?"
Ailsa did not reply. She walked into the long, low, beautifully furnished room of the Arcadian Beauty Parlours. As she entered, one of the attendants came to meet her, engaging her in whispered conversation. Burle remained with his back to the closed door, glancing curiously around him. His restless eyes noted the few choice paintings on the walls, the scatter of restful chairs, grouped intimately around the small, low tables; the exquisite cabinets lining the walls. There were no signs of a trade in the room. Only the half-reclining women customers; the fashionably dressed, beautiful girls, gliding from cabinet to customer, bearing the small, choice vases containing the cosmetics.
A sarcastic smile curved his lips. Who was to guess that behind that open pandering to feminine vanity lurked a trade, vicious, vile and degrading—a trade that brought to him, and the woman who was the ostensible head of the establishment, a large yearly fortune?
"Come!" Ailsa turned to the man. She led to a curtained door at the rear of the room. Behind the door lay a passage, bordered by many closed doors. She walked on quickly until, at the end of the corridor, she opened a door.
"Come in here, if you must talk. Remember, I have warned you."
"The holiest of holies!" Burle sneered as he flung his hat on a table, glancing around the office. "So this is your lair, Madam Ailsa Rae?"
"If you care to call it that." The woman spoke indifferently. "The lair of the little white hag!"
Again the man's questioning eyes searched the room.
"Ailsa, I must congratulate you. Not a sign of—it. I feel quite curious."
"You want my secrets." A flood of crimson passion swept the woman's face. "Well, why not? Something tells me we are at the end of our tether—that this must end soon—some way."
"If you like to call it that." Ailsa dropped her wraps on a chair. She turned passionately. "Jim! Can't you see the finger of fate pointing? That man—oh, he is but the beginning of things—of the end. He—"
"That man? Denys Fahney, I suppose?" Burle laughed. "Well, he's disposed of—effectually, I believe."
"Yet with him came the warning of the end!" The woman turned suddenly. "Jim, what frightened you? Oh, it's no good denying it. Directly you heard Denys Fahney was on your trail—no, he was not on your trail, then. We were safe, safe—until last night!"
"Yesterday Denys Fahney undertook to hunt us down."
"Yesterday!" The woman laughed scornfully. "Have not half a hundred men sworn to hunt us down, for months—and we are still free? What mattered another man? Jim, you are a coward—a damned coward!"
"A coward!" The red blood dyed the man's cheeks. He stepped forward angrily. Suddenly his expression changed. He laughed, sweeping the woman into his arms, bending his face to hers. "Ailsa! Have you forgotten?"
For a moment she rested content, burying her face in the hollow of his shoulder. Slowly her hand climbed along his sleeve, passing in spasmodic emotion behind his neck. A moment she rested then wrenched herself from him, with a little cry. "Can I forget—ever forget?"
She threw herself into a chair, burying her face in her hands. "Can I forget that moment of wild passion that made me—that gave me to you, body and soul? Jim, Jim! Am I ever to forget? Oh, if I could only forget. I could glory in forgetting—the shame when I discovered!"
"Discovered what?" For a moment Burle hesitated, then crossed and knelt beside the chair, seeking to take her in his arms again.
Blindly, she repulsed him.
"Forget that you—that your passion was simulated. That you never loved me; that from the moment you entered that room—my room—- you were calculating every move—every word. Forget that the passion was mine alone—the shame mine. That your desire was not for me but for what I possessed."
"Ailsa! I loved you."
"Loved? Jim, can you love? No. In you there is neither love nor passion. You desired—yes, you desired—this." Her sweeping arm indicated the office and the rooms beyond. "You desired the key to the foolish women who throng this place. You desired me because I held the door to them. You desired them—no, not their bodies but their souls—the money the conquest of their souls would bring you. And you knew there was only one way to them. You had to take me—to feign a passion that is not within you-to pretend a love you cannot feel. You—you took me—you took this! What have you made of me—of this, Jim Burle?"
"Ailsa!" A look of fear—of understanding—came in the man's eyes. "You haven't—?"
"The little white hag?" Ailsa came to her feet, with a hard laugh. "Why not? Yes, Jim you took my body! That which you brought to me in exchange has taken my soul."
With a quick movement she released herself from his detaining hands and crossed to a section of the panelling. She touched a spring and a concealed door flew open. From the cupboard she took a little, gold mounted vial and shook out a few grains of white powder on the back of her hand. Hungrily, greedily, she sniffed at it. For some seconds she stood motionless, her head bowed. Gradually, her figure tautened—a light came in her eyes. She turned to face the man, a rippling laugh parting her lips.
"God! Ailsa, I never thought you would come to that."
"No?" Again she laughed. "Why not I, as well as the women who come here to obtain it? They—we serve the Little White Hag. Oh, don't pretend, Jim Burle—not to me. Listen, you can hear the chink of the falling gold as the Little White Hag walks through these rooms. You won me for that, Jim—not for love. Your passion, simulated though it was that night—is for that gold—not for me. You desired not me, but this shop, those women, and you could only gain them by gaining me."
"Ailsa! I swear—"
"That you love me?" She dropped him a mocking courtesy. "No, don't talk of love, Jim Burle. You don't know love. Oh, I want to tear my flesh when you speak of love. I feel unclean. That night—that night! God, shall I ever forget it! I gave you—gave you everything, glorying in it, and awoke to find you knew not the meaning of the word—Jim, couldn't you have kept up the pretence for one small night? Couldn't you have chosen some later time to turn your desires into gold? Oh, that you could take my body—give your body—for that. You coward— coward—!"
A soft knock sounded on the pane of the door. For a moment the woman stood motionless, then crossed and opened the door. One of the attendants stood in the passage.
"Mr Carl Gerlach wishes to see yon, madam."
"Gerlach!" Ailsa gasped. "I cannot see—"
"You will see me." Gerlach, his head wrapped in bandages, pushed past the girl into the room and closed the door.
"Caught up to you, Jim Burle, at last."
"What the devil!" Burle took an angry step forward.
"Go away," the gangster laughed. "We'll settle our private differences alone. For the time, I have news. Denys Fahney's escaped. Got from the prison wagon on the road to Long Bay. He's free, James Burle. Understand? He's free, and on your trail!"
"Free?" The drug-master staggered. "Gerlach, that's a lie! I'll—"
"Lie, is it?" The gangster advanced a step, dragging from his pocket a sheet of letter paper. He turned to the woman. "Recognise that, Madame Ailsa Rae? Know that queer mark in the corner? Remember what that means? You should—as you made it. You know what you have to do when an order like that comes into your hands?"
"That?" Ailsa snatched at the paper, but the gangster withheld it, laughing.
"Where did you get that?"
"Snitched it." For the moment Gerlach held it aloft, then tossed it carelessly on the desk. "Snitched it from the pocket of Mister Inspector Knox as he left the Central Police Court this morning. It's got your name and address on it, Madame Ailsa Rae Get that? Now tell me, what was Inspector Knox doing with an order from the White Falcon on you—for 'snow'?"
THE telephone bell trilled, shrilly. Madame Rae went to the desk and lifted the receiver. She listened a few seconds and replaced the instrument with a murmured acknowledgement.
"Who was that?" Burle asked quickly.
"A message from the parlours." Ailsa spoke indifferently. "I am always informed immediately any important customer enters." She turned to the gangster. "Gerlach, you say you stole that order from Inspector Knox?"
"What are you talking about?" The man replied, roughly. "I snitched it—lifted it, if you want to know. He was easy—dead easy."
"The White Falcon!" Burle had sunk into a chair, a baffled look in his eyes. "He warned me!"
"Who warned you?" The woman turned quickly on her lover. "The White Falcon?"
"Yes. He told me to leave Denys Fahney alone, last night, just before I left my rooms to take you to the ball—"
"And you decided to disobey him? You fool—fool!" The woman spoke passionately. "Jim, why are you always thrusting yourself into danger?"
"What's the White Falcon got to do with us?" Burle lifted his head, a flush of anger staining his cheeks. "We were going on all right before he came."
"What's this?" Gerlach took a step forward. "The White Falcon warned you to leave Denys Fahney alone? Say. Burle, who is this White Falcon?"
"Tell me who the Little Grey Woman is and I may be able to answer your question." The drugs master laughed. "All I know is that he came to me about six months ago, and I found myself taking orders. He's—"
"What?" For the moment the gangster was the dominant person in the room. When Burle did not reply he turned to the woman. "Say, Ailsa, what do you know of the White Falcon?"
"No more than Jim." The beauty specialist answered helplessly. "Jim brought him to me at my flat. He told us that we would have to get—It—from him in future."
"The king-pin, eh?" Gerlach laughed. "What's that mean? You had your lines out? You hadn't to take it from him unless you wanted to."
"Hadn't we?" Burle sneered. He hesitated a moment. "Well, as you've thrust yourself into it, right up to the neck, you may as welt know the truth. I get the stuff from—" Again he hesitated "—from the little men up north. They get it in through Darwin. Oh, you needn't look at me like that! You can walk off the steamer at Darwin port with quite a fair-sized bundle under your arm and no one will say a word—if the right oil's out. Well, the White Falcon told me I'd have to get my supplies from him in future. I laughed; there was a parcel of the right stuff on the way down from Darwin at that time. I guessed that would keep me supplied until I had had time to deal with the White Falcon. Well, the stuff didn't arrive."
"What happened to it?" Gerlach was curious.
"Just disappeared." Burle shrugged his shoulders "I made inquiries but could discover nothing. I could not even get proof the stuff had been landed. Some said it had; others declared nothing had arrived on the ship. Then the White Falcon came to me again. I had to buy, and at his price."
"Who is the White Falcon?" the gangster asked, quickly.
"Who knows?" The snow-master laughed. "I may go home and find him sitting in my arm chair, smoking my cigars—he's good enough to say they're better than he can afford to buy. That's all I know of him."
"What's he like?"
"Tall, thin, wears a half mask with a small white falcon painted on it, between the eye-holes. Quickest hand with a gun I've come across. I tried to bail him up, and know."
"When did he first come to you?"
"About six months ago." Burle hesitated. "Yes, almost six months bar about a week."
"And when did you first hear from the Little Grey Woman?"
"Ah!" Ailsa Rae sprang to her feet. "Jim, don't you remember? It was the night after you brought the White Falcon to me that the letter from the Little Grey Woman arrived."
"Brought the White Falcon to you?" Gerlach swung round on the woman. "That's queer. If he brought the White Falcon to you, then Burle knows something more than he has told. You, Jim Burle. I've not forgotten last night. But for—"
"Fahney jerked my arm." Burle sprang to his feet, before the threatening gesture of the gangster. "I'll swear it was an accident!"
"Stop!" Ailsa sprang between he men. "You mustn't quarrel here. You'll ruin me!"
"Then let him tell the truth." Gerlach was crouching before the door, his right hand ominously behind him. "I say this: Burle knows more of the White Falcon than he's told us."
"I've told you all I know." The drug-master spoke sulkily.
"You say he was masked—yet you took him from your rooms to Ailsa's flat. Suppose you suggest you walked through the streets, he with a mask on, and nobody took any notion. Have another try, old man. I'll wait while you think."
"It is true!" The woman interjected. "I had just arrived home when they came. A man passed me quickly, walking towards the building. I couldn't see his face for he wore a long dust coat over evening dress and the collar was turned up over a scarf. Then Jim came in. When we went up to my flat the White Falcon was in my sitting-room, awaiting us."
"You came through the streets with him, Burle, and never got a look at his face?" Gerlach laughed incredulously. "I thought you had more pluck!"
"No." Burle spoke sullenly. "He left my rooms before me, telling me to give him five minutes' start. Just as I arrived at Burleston House I saw him pass Ailsa on the steps. I could see he wasn't masked then."
"You saw his face?" He looked back for a moment. "I could see the flesh on the line of his eyes, just above the coat collar. No, he wasn't wearing a mask, but I could see little of his face."
"Didn't you get something?" Gerlach spoke eagerly.
"Just a line to let us—" The telephone bell trilled again. Ailsa held up her hand for silence and crossed to the desk. The gangsters eyes completed the interrupted sentence. The drug-master shook his head, negatively.
"Margaret Venne and Doris Lyall have entered the parlours." Ailsa turned from the telephone, speaking softly.
"Margaret Venne!" Burle laughed softly. "She's all right."
"Sent to you with one of the White Falcon's sign-manuals?" questioned Gerlach.
"No," the woman answered. "Margaret Venne came to me, direct. I—I prescribed for general depression—and headaches."
"Cocaine!" Gerlach laughed heartily. "Oh, what a game! Dr. Ailsa—"
"Hold your foul tongue!" Burle sprang to his feet. "Say, Ailsa, who's the other skirt?"
"Doris Lyall." The beauty specialist mused a moment. A sudden light came into her eyes. "Why, Jim! Doris Lyall! Why, she was the girl in the Alamanza vestibule last night. The girl who—"
"Denys Fahney's tart!" The gangster sprang forward, his face glowing. "Say, does she—?"
"No," Ailsa answered quickly. "This is the first time she has come here. Margaret Venne must have brought her."
"She must have." Burle caught at the woman's hands. "Ailsa, you must make this your work. If the girl gets on to—It—we're safe. Denys Fahney'll be in our hands. He can't act against us with his sweetheart one of the crowd. You've got to get her in—get her on the stuff. Then—"
"No, no!" The woman shrank back in horror. "I can't. That would be too horrible. The others are different. They're used to it. They come here to get the stuff they have to have. But, that girl! To bring her to—"
"Cut that! You've got to do it." The big man towered over the shrinking woman. "Get to work, Ailsa. It will be easy to tip Margaret Venne what you want. She's well under the influence of the drug. If she says she won't help you, cut off supplies. That'll bring her to her senses. I'll see that she gets nothing elsewhere."
"But, with you—and him—here?"
"Go out to them." Burle issued his orders rapidly. "Get Margaret away from that girl for a moment, and tell her what she's to do. Don't make any mistake or it'll be the worse for you. Jove, with that girl in the ring we can snaffle Fahney and double cross the White Falcon Get to it, girl!"
He pushed the woman from the room and closed the door. As he turned to face the gangster, he started. Gerlach had backed to the opposite side of the room and was covering him with an automatic.
"Come from that door, Jim Burle." The gangster snarled the order. "There is a word or so between you and I, before we leave this room."
"What do you mean?" The drug-master wilted, while striving to show a brave face. "What's got you, Gerlach? Are you backing down from the ring? If that's your game—"
"Backing, nothing!" The automatic steadily covered the man. "There's a little matter that started in the Alamanza balcony to be explained, Burle. What have you got to say now?"
"Say?" Burle took a step forward, to halt before the menace of the gun.
"I'll say you're mad!"
"Mad, am I?" Gerlach laughed. "Mad to believe what I saw in your eyes just before you fired at me over Denys Fahney's shoulder? Burle, you tried to murder me!"
"I tell you; Fahney moved just as I pressed the trigger—"
"And I say, you lie! Stop where you are. God, I won't miss you if you force me to fire!"
For a moment the men stood motionless, glaring into each other's eyes. Suddenly, Burle dropped his hands to his side, and laughed.
"That gets you nowhere, Gerlach," he said quietly. "You say I tried to murder you. What proof have you? Oh, put that gun down. What's the good of acting heroics? Fire, if you want to, and get it over. There's Long Bay, at an early hour in the morning; behind that bullet. I'll be pleased to attend—even as a ghost. They allow ghosts at executions, don't they? You'll see me, if the officers don't."
A look of indecision came into Gerlach's eyes. The automatic wavered from the direct line. Burle noticed the movement, slight as it was, and took advantage of it.
"You say I tried to murder you." The drug-master spoke easily. His hand was creeping up towards his breast-pocket. "No, you needn't start. I haven't a gun on me—only a letter—a letter that might interest you."
With a quick motion he pulled an envelope from his pocket. "There you are, Carl Gerlach. Have a look at that. You dropped it the other night. A pal picked it up and brought it to me."
He drew the sheet of notepaper from the envelope and threw it on the desk. For a few seconds the gangster looked from Burle to the letter, undecidedly. He took a step closer to the desk and glanced down at the writing A gasp of horror rose to his lips. He grabbed at the paper with his left hand. For a definite moment his eyes left Burle.
"You bloody traitor!" With a sudden spring the drug-master sprang forward, knocking the automatic from the gangster's hand. "You accuse me of: trying to murder you? Well, what if I did? What do you deserve for that letter? You tried to sell us to the Little Grey Woman! Well, you tried and failed. Now you go—go out! Understand? You—go—out! Get that, you damned fool! You blasted traitor! Get that!"
The two men stood breast to breast, tensed for the struggle. Burle towered above his opponent, his face blazing with fanatic anger. Gerlach moved suddenly and a queer look of triumph dawned on the drug-master's face. He held the man, motionless, gazing down into his face, expectantly.
Suddenly Gerlach collapsed with a little cry, falling forward on to Burle. The crook held him upright, watching the dull, grey colour spread over the man's face. At length, he stepped back, allowing the gangster to fall to the ground. A convulsive spasm shook the dying man's frame. He struggled to get to his feet—to get at the automatic lying but a few feet from his hand. Almost he succeeded, then fell to the floor, his face scraping along the thick rug.
A last glance at the man lying at his feet and Burle turned to the long mirror and carefully re-arranged his dress, disordered in the brief struggle. Satisfied, at length, that he had removed all traces of the fight, he turned and bent over the dead man.
A moment and he took from his pocket a small, shining instrument. Wiping it carefully on his handkerchief, he pressed it in the dead man's right hand. Again he searched his packet, bringing out a small, black box, which he placed on the desk, the lid open. A quick, searching glance around the room and he crossed to the door. In the corridor, he turned and stared for some seconds at the closed door of the office.
A mocking smile lit his lips as he walked down to the curtained entrance to the main shop. There was not a tremor in his face as he stood aside to allow an attendant, escorting a customer, to precede him. At the open door of the main room, he halted, glancing questioningly around the room. Ailsa saw him almost immediately. With a muttered excuse she left her clients and came towards him.
"Jim! What is the matter? Why have you come in here?"
"Tired of waiting, m'dear." The man laughed, slightly. "Besides-Oh, there is Margaret Venne. I must speak to her."
"No. One moment!" The woman caught at his sleeve. "Jim, where is Carl Gerlach? I left him in the office with you. Did you quarrel with—"
"Quarrel?", Again Burle laughed, yet a hunted look came into his eyes. "Absurd, Ailsa! Gerlach is quite calm and peaceful. I believe he has something to tell—no, show you. None of my business. Now, I must really speak to Margaret Venne. You have obeyed—shall I say—orders?"
The woman nodded, a miserable look dawning in her eyes. She watched while the drug-master crossed to where Mrs Venne and Doris Lyall sat. She slowly followed.
"Why, Jim Burle!" Mrs Venne's slow drawl held a faint note of amusement. "What are you doing in a beauty parlour? I cannot believe your complexion requires expert treatment."
"Mrs Venne! I am delighted!" The man's bold gaze swept the dainty form of the girl. "Delighted to meet you here."
"Is that a tribute to my age, Mr Burle?" Margaret Venne laughed slowly, "Doris, dear, may I introduce Mr James Burle. He can be a very amusing companion, sometimes."
"Am I to take that as a challenge, Mrs Venne?" Burle could not take his eyes from the girl, "if so—"
"I shall give you time for consideration, and study." Mrs Venne rose, languidly, and moved towards the door. "Madame Rae, Doris and I must certainly go. We have heaps and heaps to do, this afternoon."
"Then, may I?" Burle held the door open. "Your car—"
"Doris' car. In Castlereagh Street." Mrs Venne turned to the beauty-specialist. "Really, Madame Rae, this is most inconvenient. To have to walk down this shabby Peel Place! Always blocked by some ugly lorry, or—Why, there's Isobel Kilgour. And that charming Mr Loames, who does those very quaint drawings. I'm really frightened he will caricature me, one day. Isobel, dear, I'm delighted. Doris, you know Isobel? And Mr William Loames? Mr Burle, I am quite ready. Why—?"
Jim Burle had ceased to pay attention to the women. He was looking past Loames, on to the street.
Walking towards the door of the Beauty Parlours was Inspector Knox.
THE car moved slowly down the road and turned into Martin Place. Jim Burle stood, hat in hand, watching it, a little smile twisting his lips.
Margaret Venne and Doris Lyall! And Doris Lyall was the girl to whom Denys Fahney was engaged. Involuntarily, he took a few steps in the direction in which the car had travelled; then stopped and shrugged his shoulders. For the time, he must put the girl from his mind. Perhaps later, he would be able to deal with her. He hoped so, for her bright, young beauty fascinated him. For the first time he could remember, he wanted a woman, wanted her badly and for herself, alone, not for any material benefit she could bring to him.
Suddenly, he looked down, holding out his hands before him, a grim smile on his lips. There was nothing wrong with his nerves; his hands were steady as rocks. Yet, but a few minutes before he had struck a man to death.
Burle turned abruptly on his heels and walked in the direction of King Street. At the corner of the street he again held out his hands, surveying them, quizzically. His nerves were quite steady—completely under his control—and he must use them. What were his chances for and against detection?
Escape? A little laugh came from between his set lips. Did he have to think of escape? Had he anything to fear?
Had he anything to fear? Gerlach was dead. Had he left anything behind to point to his murderer? The hypodermic needle was in the dead man's hand. The slight puncture, through which the poison had spurted into the dead man's veins, had been placed to give the appearance of suicide. The dead man's fingerprints were on the little black case, lying on the desk. There was nothing to show the man had been murdered. There was nothing to point to him as the murderer, except Ailsa Rae!
The woman was his one weak spot. If Ailsa spoke—If she told the detectives that she had left him in the office with Gerlach while she went to attend to some customers in the main shop—But would she do that? Burle laughed again. He could trust the woman! Ailsa would not say anything to incriminate him. Her interests were too greatly bound up with his.
What other danger had he to fear? He had come from the office to the beauty parlour. Ailsa had seen him enter through the door opening on the corridor. He believed Margaret Venne had also seen him enter. But he held her by the power of the drug. Had Doris Lyall, also, seen him enter from the direction of the office? If she had, what then? He would say he had left Gerlach in the private office awaiting Ailsa's return. Gerlach had called on the woman many times, previously. She was a customer of his. There could be nothing strange at him being in her office—there was nothing the police could find to connect him with the man's death.
No. He was safe.
From the moment he had walked out of the office, after casting one searching glance at the sombre figure on the floor—the wide open eyes staring musingly up at the ceiling—he had not betrayed himself by one sign of agitation. He had been entirely normal. He had escorted Margaret and Doris Lyall to their car and, when it had driven off, had lingered in the vicinity of the shop. Nowhere could he trace a false step.
And Ailsa! He almost laughed aloud. Ailsa would go back to her office and discover—it. She would raise the alarm and send for the police.
They would come—and declare the man had committed suicide.
The police Inspector Knox had been outside the shop when he had left with the two women. What was the man doing there? Had he followed Ailsa and him to the beauty parlours? No, that was impossible. Gerlach would have seen him lingering about when he came to the shop, and warned him. Had the man followed Gerlach? That was more probable. But for what reason?
At the corner of Pitt and King Streets he hesitated. He had not been to his offices that day. There was only the typist and the office boy in charge. He must go there before the day closed. He turned in at the saloon bar of a hotel and called for brandy. The strong spirit surged through his body, causing a glow of exhilaration. What had he to fear?
With firm step he turned again to the street. A cruising taxi was passing and he raised his stick. From the edge of the pavement a lounger sprang forward to hold open the door Mechanically, he felt in his pocket for a coin and held it out to the man.
As their hands met, something was slipped into his palm His fingers closed on it automatically. A sudden terror shook him as he gazed down on the screw of paper in his hand.
He leaned forward to call to the driver to stop He wanted to turn back and question the man. Again he glanced down at the paper, unfolding it with trembling fingers. It bore only four words, written in pencil: "The Little Grey Woman."
With a gasping sigh he sank back on the cushions. The Little Grey Woman! What did that mean? How had she contrived that paper should come into his hands, at that moment?
A mortal terror shook him. Three times papers, bearing those words, had been slipped into his hands, by persons unknown to him. Each time their advent had followed or preceded some disaster. What was to happen this time? Could the Little Grey Woman have knowledge of what had happened in the beauty parlour's office? That was impossible!
At the door of the building in which were his offices, he alighted with difficulty, thrusting some coins into the driver's outstretched palm. He lurched to the entrance, staggering drunkenly to the lift. There he steadied himself by holding on to the sides of the car, while the attendant whisked him up to his floor.
In the corridor, and safe from observation, he leaned against the wall, trying to steady his reeling senses. He dared not go to his offices, to pass under the critical gaze of the girl typist, in that state. She would notice, perhaps comment on his condition, to someone. He waited, and gradually the fit of terror passed.
Leaning heavily on his stick he moved slowly towards the office door. In the room, he tried to nod carelessly and curtly. Under the girl's gaze another sudden, tremor shook him. He staggered on, into his private room. Hardly had he seated himself at his desk when the girl knocked and entered.
"What's the matter?" He looked up sharply—suspiciously.
"The mail, Mr Burle." The girl eyed him curiously. "Mr Burle, aren't you well?"
"Well?" Suddenly his eyes caught his reflection in the mirror on the opposite wall. He had forgotten to remove his hat.
"Yes—that is—no: I I've had a shock—nearly an accident. Run down, y'know."
The girl nodded understandingly. Burle rose, stiffly, from his seat and thrust his hat on to a peg. "Anything happened?"
"A few orders, Mr Burle." She hesitated. "I attended to them. Mr Gerlach hasn't been here, today."
"Gerlach?" He could not repress the start at the mention of the man's name. "No? Didn't you know? He met with an accident, last night. It—it's in the newspapers. Someone tried to shoot him. He won't be in for a few days, perhaps."
The girl nodded and left the room.
Burle remained seated, watching his reflection in the glass. What had he said? He knew he had spoken wrongly, although he could not realise how. Would the girl remember what he had said? He half-rose from his seat to go into the outer, office and explain, but dropped back again. No, that would be foolish. He must let the matter rest.
He slit open the envelopes of the small mail and mechanically skimmed the enclosures. There was little of moment in the letters The business in York Street was a blind. The secret, underground, work that brought in the ever increasing flood of gold, was conducted elsewhere. Gerlach would not come back to those offices. In a hour or so, perhaps immediately she left the building, the girl would learn of the man's death Would she connect that with his name with the careless statement he had mile? He struck the bell sharply.
"Miss Saunders." He spoke in his old slow, abrupt tones. "I should have told you that Mr Gerlach is ill. It is possible he will not be able to attend here for several days. I shall have to do his work. Can you I run the offices while I am out?"
"Of course, Mr Burle." The girl flushed with pleasure. "There is not a lot to do, you know."
"It will mean extra work." The drug-master spoke carefully. "I'll remember that. Do your best and don't talk. Understand? Good. Between ourselves, I'm not too satisfied with Mr Gerlach. He-may not come back. In that case, I shall continue the out-door work, leaving the office to your management. That suit you? Good! I pay well y'know. Miss Saunders and—I pay for a still tongue, as well as good work. Get me? Well, get to it!"
When the girl had left the room he closed and locked his desk. Picking up his hat, he turned to go out through his private door to the corridor. No, be must not leave that way. He must follow his usual custom and go through the main offices.
He would have to speak to the girl again—and he had come to fear her bright, inquisitive eyes. As he turned at the door, his eyes fell on another door. It was the door of the room Gerlach had occupied.
What lay in that room? He would have to see, that night. He would have to search the room. What had Gerlach left there? He crossed and opened the door, peering into the darkness. He could see much that reminded him of the man who, for more than two years, had been at his right hand in the nefarious drug-trade. He would clear the room the next morning, No, that night! He could not rest unknowing what secrets lay there.
Then, he would have to write to Gerlach's private address, dismissing him from his employ. No, he could not do that. The news of the man's death, would be in the newspapers that night. The police—The police would come to him. He had told Inspector Knox that Gerlach was in his employ. They would want to search the room Gerlach had occupied. He would have to permit that. What if the man had left anything in his desk, incriminating him with the drug trade. Yes, he must search that night—at once.
Closing the door he returned to his desk, sitting there tensed and expectant. Would that girl never go? He could hear her moving about the outer office. He could hear her voice, speaking to the boy. Unaccountable ages seemed to pass before he heard the boy go slithering along the corridor. He glanced at his watch. It was nearly half-past five—and she should have left at the hour. Would she never go?
At last he heard her light step in the corridor; the turning of her key in the lock of the door. He sprang to his feet, and waited. Was he alone in the offices? He crossed to the door and peered out. Yes, she had gone, the general office-was in darkness.
He closed the door and turned the key in the lock. With fearful steps he went to the door of Gerlach's room and opened it. As he entered, he stopped with a cry of alarm.
In the chair before Gerlach's desk, sat a woman dressed in a long, grey cloak.
At his cry she swung round to face him. Across her face was stretched a mask of grey silk. Her lips showed, curved in a slight smile. "Good evening, Mr Burle."
The light, silvery voice was strangely inexpressive. "Your Mr Gerlach was a very interesting man, extremely fond of placing his thoughts on paper."
"You—" The man's eyes wavered from the woman's face to the little pile of papers lying under her hand on the desk. "What are you doing here? Who are you?"
"I?" The Little Grey Woman rose slowly to, her feet. "James Burle, I came to tell you that your mistress, Ailsa Rae, was, arrested this afternoon for the murder of Carl Gerlach!"
THE man rocked dazedly on his heels, staring at the Little Grey Woman, seated at the desk in the gloomy room. She looked up at the man, a slight smile parting her firm lips.
"You—you say—" Burle spoke in broken tones.
"I said that Inspector Knox arrested Ailsa Rae for the murder of Carl Gerlach, this afternoon." Her voice was low and even. "The news seems to disturb you, James Burle."
"Its lie!" The drug-master took a step forward, "Ail—Ailsa never did it!"
"No. Ailsa never murdered Carl Gerlach." The Little Grey Woman spoke slowly. "James Burle, was Carl Gerlach alive when you left him in Ailsa Rae's office?"
"Alive?" For the moment the man's face worked horribly. "Carl alive! Then—" He pitched forward on his face.
With a little cry of alarm the woman sprang to her feet and bent over the unconscious man. Was he dead? With some difficulty, she managed to roll him over on to his back. Loosening his collar, she slipped her hand beneath his vest, over his heart. At first, she could not feel the pulse beating. She bent down until her cheek almost rested on the white lips.
Yes, he was alive. She sat back on her heels and studied the still face. What had happened to cause the man to faint? What had he meant by the exclamation, "Carl alive!"? Did he fear—?
He had been dazed, ill, when he came into the room. Had he understood that Ailsa had been arrested and had the knowledge shocked him? Why?
Burle had been alone in Ailsa Rae's office with Carl Gerlach. He had come from that office to the beauty parlour—alone. That could only mean that the man had remained in the office; for there was no way from the office to the lane, except through the main parlour. But a few minutes after Burle had left the shop, Ailsa had returned to the office, to find Gerlach, dead.
She had raised an alarm. Inspector Knox had been in the lane and had gone at once to the office. He had questioned Ailsa and her staff. The Little Grey Woman-could not understand. Why had not Ailsa Rae stated that she had left Burle and Gerlach in her office while she went to the beauty parlours? She had avoided all mention of Burle's name, stating only that Gerlach had remained in her office, when she was called away. Only through one of the attendants had the presence of the snow-master come to the knowledge of the detective.
Ailsa Rae had tried to deny that Burle had been on the premises that day. Faced with the evidence of her assistant, she had grudgingly admitted that he had accompanied her back to the shop. She had vehemently denied that Burle had remained in the office; declaring that he had come to the main room with her and loitered about until Margaret Venne and Doris Lyall had left.
She was insistent that Gerlach had remained alone, waiting her return to finalise certain business. Puzzled and very doubtful, Inspector Knox had taken the only course open to him.
Ailsa Rae had confessed that she was the last person to see the gangster alive. She had left him alone in the office; she had returned, alone, to discover him dead. The doctor had stated that Gerlach had died within a few minutes of Ailsa leaving the room. But the fatal hypodermic needle, with the traces of poison in the container, had been in the man's hand. The box that had held it, lay on Ailsa's desk!
Rocking slowly backwards and forwards, on her heels, the Little Grey Woman gravely considered the unconscious man. Had his last, incoherent words given her a clue to the mystery? She believed so. She had seen Burle and Ailsa in King Street and had followed them to the beauty parlours. She had watched, and witnessed the arrival of Gerlach. She had seen Burle come out of the shop. She had witnessed Ailsa Rae's mad rush into the lane. Unobtrusive and silent, she had slipped into the shop and witnessed the final scenes of the drama.
When the taxi-car, bearing the detective and the semi-conscious woman, had driven from the lane, she had come down to York Street, why, she did not understand. At the back of her mind was the thought that, amid the papers left by the dead man, she might find some clue that might help her in her quest. She had lingered about the corridors of the building until the typist and the boy departed. She had watched the girl typist lock the door and believed the offices were deserted. Burle's heavy step as he crossed his office to the door of Gerlach's room, had alarmed her. More in bravado—in an attempt to startle him into some action that would give her an opportunity to escape—she had asked her question.
"Jim Burle, was Carl Gerlach alive when you left him in Ailsa Rae's office?"
The words sprang again to her lips. She bent lower over the unconscious man. If only she could make him speak! If only she could make him continue that broken sentence.
"Carl alive!" Then—Then what? Did Burle fear the dead man? Had he misunderstood her? Did he believe that Gerlach was alive If so, then had his sudden lapse into unconsciousness any connection with his words?
She bent over the unconscious man and, calmly and methodically, commenced to search his pockets. He carried little on him. In hi breast-pocket were a couple of letters of no interest to her. He possessed but a small sum of money and a cheque book, a bunch of keys and the usual litter of small articles—match-box, cigarette-case, etc. There was nothing on him to connect him with the drug-ring.
Again she searched. Turning back his waistcoat, she found an inner pocket. There was a roll of soft substance at the bottom. With eager fingers she drew it but and laid it on the man's chest. It was a roll of soft grey silk, confined with a rubber band. She slipped the band and unrolled the silk. The article was a mask—a full mask of soft grey silk. Involuntarily her hand went to her face, to make sure the mask she wore was still in place.
No, it was not her mask. Then how had Burle come into possession of a mask exactly patterned to the one she wore? Again she plunged her hand in the pocket: It was empty. Feverishly, she turned back the other flap of the waistcoat. There she found a similar pocket. In it was something hard. She thrust in her hand and brought out a curved black thing.
Curiously she turned it over, to utter a cry of astonishment. It was a mask of stiff, black material—just sufficient to cover the eyes and the bridge of the nose of the wearer. Between the eye-holes had been painted a small, white bird.
The White Falcon! The sign of the man she had traced over half the world, the man who stood for all that was infamy in the old world and the new, the man she had sworn to track down and destroy! She bent lower, peering into the still face of the man. No, he was not the White Falcon. Then how had he come to have in his possession the White Falcon's mask?
She rose slowly to her feet and gathered together the few papers of interest she had found in Carl Gerlach's desk Concealing them in her dress, she turned again to the unconscious man. Should she continue her search? The rattle of brooms and pails in the corridor startled her. She took a step towards the door and hesitated. The cleaners had come to the floor. Soon they might come to that room. They must not find her there.
But—Someone was walking along the corridor. The Little Grey Woman sprang to the door communicating with Burle's office. If the cleaners entered she must hide—hide until she could slip away. They, would come on the unconscious man. During the confusion would be her opportunity to escape. Her lips compressed in a firm line, she waited.
The footsteps halted at the door for a moment, then passed on. A few steps, that rang loudly in the deserted building, and they halted again. A pause, and they returned to the door of Gerlach's room. A key was thrust into the lock and turned. Yet the door did not open. The key was withdrawn and another substituted. This time the wards snapped back.
As the door slowly opened the Little Grey Woman glided into Burle's office and closed the communicating door. A long wearying silence. Curiously she Little Grey Woman opened the door a few inches and peeped out. Burle still lay on the floor and bending over him was a man. Who was the man? What was he doing? The Little Grey Woman opened the door still further. The I man was kneeling beside Burle searching his pockets. Presently he rose to his feet and went to the opened desk.
The Little Grey Woman smiled. Who was the man? What was he doing there? What was he searching for? He would find nothing in the desk or on the man. She had taken everything she could find that in any way connected Burle and Gerlach with the drug-ring. Then, she remembered; she had left the two masks lying on Burle's chest.
The man searched hastily, but thoroughly. A moment and he went to the door and removed the keys he had left in the lock. Placing them in his pocket he went to the corridor and shouted for help. Without waiting to hear if his summons had been answered he returned to the side of the unconscious man. There came answering shouts from various parts of the building, followed by the sounds of running feet.
The Little Grey Woman closed the door until only a narrow crack remained, through which she could watch the section of the floor on which Burle lay. Dim figures crowded into the room. Someone, switched on the lights. Silently the Little Grey Woman closed the door and stood with her ear pressed against the panel.
"What's the matter here?" Inspector Knox paused at the door of the room, gazing curiously at the little group around the prostrate form of a man.
"Murder!" A woman turned from trying to peer over the shoulders of those nearest the centre of the throng to answer the question. "Help! Help!"
"Hold your tongue!" The detective thrust himself through the group that surrounded Burle. "Make way, there. I'm a police officer. Now what's happened here? Murder?"
"No." A dark complexioned man kneeling beside Burle's unconscious body looked up, starting involuntarily. "Why, you're—"
"Who're you?" Knox glanced inquisitively at the man. "I seem to know you. What's your name and what are you doing here?"
"My name is Gilbert Quartly. I am a medical student.
"Well? These ain't your offices." Knox spoke abruptly. "How did you come here?"
"I came to see Mr Burle."
Denys Fahney, uncertain of his new disguise spoke slowly. Face to face with the detective who had arrested him at the Alamanza, he felt himself in danger, in spite of the excellence of his make up. "I was passing along the corridor to Mr Burle's public office when—when I saw this door was open and a man lying on the floor. I came in and—"
"He is James Burle," Denys answered mechanically.
"Know him well?"
"I have only seen him once before."
"You're a medical student you say? What's the matter with him?"
"He has fainted."
"If you prefer: his unconsciousness is, I believe, due to some shock."
"A shock!" Knox rapidly passed his hand over the unconscious body.
"I can find no wound on him. He is breathing easily and shows signs of recovery."
Knox rose to his feet somewhat puzzled. He looked from the unconscious man on the ground to Gilbert Quartly, standing beside him, looking down with a quiet smile on his lips. Something in the poise of the man stirred the detective's memory. He caught Quartly by the shoulder and roughly dragged him under the electric light.
"Let's have a look at you. Lor'! You gave me a shock!"
He keenly examined the man's features and form, line after line. "Yes, you're like him—damned like him—but you're not him. At least, I don't think so."
"Have I a double?" Denys tried to speak lightly. Knox's scrutiny was wholly disconcerting.
"A double?" The detective reluctantly released his hold, "I'd have sworn, as you stood by him, that—" He shrugged his shoulders. "Well, we'll have to see about this man. You say you're a medical student. What's to be done for him?"
"Let him lie." Denys spoke as coolly as he could. "As I told you, he has only fainted. He will recover soon. Then, send him home in a taxi A night's sleep and—"
"Then—" Knox swung round on the little group huddled at the door. "Thank you, ladies and gentlemen! The show has ended. Won't detain you from your various occupations. Understand? I want this corridor, cleared—and at once. No lingering about. Get me?"
HE strode towards the door. As he advanced the crowd gave way before him. For some minutes he stood at the door, seeing that his orders that the corridor be cleared, were obeyed. Then, leaving the door half-open, he turned again to the room. Burle was moving restlessly. For a moment the detective stood looking down, meditatively, on the man.
"Mr Quartly." He spoke abruptly. "I want a few minutes of your time. Mr Burle's recovering, as you said he would, and I don't want to leave him. Like yourself. I came here to see him. Will you oblige me by going through the rooms of this suite and finding out if anyone is in them? I'll watch the corridor."
"Search the rooms?" Denys looked uncertainly at the detective. "But—but there will be no one there, now. If anyone had been in the offices before I entered they would have escaped in the confusion."
"I don't think so," Knox smiled grimly. "I've had an eye on the passage from the moment I came on the floor, and no one has passed from these offices to the head of the stairs. Remember the lay-out of the house, Mr Quartly? These rooms are at the end of the corridor and this is the first of the suites. There's no way from the other rooms, except by passing this door."
The barrister nodded. Yet he hesitated a moment, his hand on the door-knob of the inner room.
"Well?" The police officer looked up sharply. "'Fraid? Want me to come and hold your hand?"
Denys flushed darkly. He turned and flung open the door. With impatient fingers he searched for the light-switch and threw it over. There was no one in the room. He crossed to the opposite door and opened it. In the dim light, reflected from the lit corridor, he could see he was standing on the threshold of the public office. The light-switches were on the other side of the room, close to the door.
As his hand closed on the little switch, he heard the door, through which he had entered, close gently. With a slight exclamation, he swung around. Before this door stood the Little Grey Woman, her finger to her lips.
"You?" Denys spoke in a whisper. "What are you doing here?"
"Like you, Mr Fahney, I came to see James Burle." The low voice was sweet, but strangely inexpressive. "He fainted while I was talking to him and—then you came in. I came into these offices, hoping to get away unobserved."
"But, the police—Inspector Knox is with Burle now," Denys spoke eagerly. "He sent me in here to search the offices. If he finds you—"
"The good Inspector Knox!" The Little Grey Woman laughed lightly. "Yes, I heard him—I heard him question the identity of—Mr Gilbert Quartly. He thought he remembered—but he did-not. Mr Fahney, if he had mentally reconstructed the scene in the Alamanza balcony! If he had called to his mind a picture of the two men he had seen when he had climbed the balustrade—the one man prone on the ground, the other standing over him. Do you think—"
"Don't!" Denys shivered involuntarily. At the moment when Knox had caught him by the shoulder in the other office, swinging him round so that the light fell on his face, he had thought his time of freedom had passed. Almost he had anticipated the words, "Denys Fahney," springing to the police-officer's lips.
"What do you want?"
Again the woman laughed. Stepping forward, she laid he hand gently on Denys' arm.
"Mr Fahney, you are searching these rooms for intruders. I do not know what Inspector Knox suspects—but I had nothing to do with James Burle's fainting fit. I had just given him the information that Madame Ailsa Rae had been arrested—"
"So you do not know? Yes, Ailsa Rae was arrested for the murder of the man you were supposed to have attempted to kill in the Alamanza balcony."
"Carl Gerlach dead!" Denys stepped forward impulsively. "How do you know that?"
"I was there—at Madame Rae's shop but a few minutes after he was found."
"Hey, Mr Quartly!" The detective's voice echoed through the silent rooms. "Found anyone?"
With a quick movement, Denys reached for the door and flung it open, pushing gently to one side the Little Grey Woman. In Burle's office, he hesitated a moment. He could not betray the Little Grey Woman. She had given him his freedom; given him the chance to continue the work he had undertaken. Even if he had to lie he had to protect her.
"Nothing suspicious there, Inspector." Without looking back Denys entered the room where the police officer remained with the semi-conscious man. Burle was seated in a chair before the desk, the detective standing over him, holding a glass of water to his lips.
"Been a devil of a time," Knox growled. "Here, have a look at your patient. He seems' damned groggy. What's the matter? Drugged?"
"I don't think to." Denys bent over the man who was leaning forward on the desk; his head resting on his folded arms. "Nothing more than the shock—and it must have been a severe one, by the look of him. Best to get him home and let him rest a while. He may be able to answer your questions later."
"Questions?" Knox shrugged his shoulders. "What the hell questions am I to ask him? Now if he had been blackjacked—You're certain he has no bruises or anything like that?"
The lights in the room suddenly went out. With a cry of alarm, Knox sprang to the door leading to the corridor. Involuntarily Denys glanced at the door of the inner room. Had the Little Grey Woman been responsible for the extinguishing of the lights?
"Keep your eyes on that corridor, Mr Quartly. There's something damned queer about this place."
Knox had re-entered the room and crossed to the inner door. "I'm going to make a thorough search."
Denys took a step forward as if to intercept the Inspector. If he went into the public office he could not fail to find the Little Grey Woman. He would arrest her for he had declared that on the Department's list of wanted persons stood her name and description. Yet how could he prevent her arrest—how could he help the Little Grey Woman to escape? He had left her abruptly, answering the Inspector's call. He had inferred, if he had not deliberately lied, that the other rooms of the suite were empty. If Knox searched he would find the mystery woman.
Denys looked helplessly around him. What could he do? How could he bring the Inspector back to the room? How could he find a means to help the Little Grey Woman to escape? His eyes fell on the drug-master huddled over the desk. In a few, quick steps he reached the man's side, shaking him violently.
"Burle! Jim Burle! Quick! Here's your chance to get away!" The man looked up dazedly. "Hurry, man! Can't you understand? When Knox returns he will take you to prison!"
"Prison!" Burle spoke thickly. "She said Ailsa was in prison."
"The woman. The Little Grey Woman!" Burle staggered to his feet to fall back on the chair, exhausted. "She said Carl Gerlach was alive."
"Gerlach alive?" Denys was puzzled.
"The Little Grey Woman told me that he was dead and that a Madame Rae had been arrested for his murder."
"Carl dead!" Again Burle staggered to his feet, swaying dizzily.
"Then Ailsa—I—I—" He staggered towards the door, Denys watching him eagerly, following a few steps behind him. As Burle caught at the edge of the door, the barrister thrust forward at the back of the man's knees, bringing him heavily to the ground. The door, moving under the impulse of the falling man's hand, swung shut with a loud slam.
"Inspector Knox!" Denys fell to his knees beside Burle. "Quick! Quick!"
The police officer came running into the room. Between them they raised Burle and carried him to a chair before the desk. The man was bleeding from a cut on the forehead, where he had struck his head against the door.
"What happened?" Knox asked angrily. "He was too ill to move when I left the room. Yet, directly my back's turned, he gets up and goes to the door. Couldn't you look after him for a few minutes?"
"I was looking around the room." Denys spoke vaguely, conscious that his explanation was weak. "Suddenly he got up and staggered to the door. Before I could reach him, he fell, shut—"
"The door's shut!" With a single bound the detective crossed the room and flung open the door. A glance down the corridor in the direction of the lift and he ran out. Denys sprang into the corridor to follow him. He was in time to see a whisp of grey skirt disappear around the corner of the stairs, leading to the upper floors. Knox was half-way to the foot of the stairs, his whistle to his lips, the shrill call echoing through the silent house.
Had that whisp of grey skirt belonged to the Little Grey Woman? Denys believed so. He believed that she had taken his sudden call to the detective, following on the slamming of the door, as a warning to escape. But, if so, why had he taken the stairs to the upper stories? Why had she not made her way down to the street? In the upper parts of the house she would be trapped. Knox was whistling shrilly. Soon the police would gather in the building. A thorough search could only lead to her discovery and capture. Almost Denys followed the detective in his mad charge up the stairs. Then he remembered the drug-master, but semi-conscious, in the office. He turned back.
Whatever crimes the Little Grey Woman had committed, whatever reasons the police had for her apprehension, he was indebted to her for his liberty. And in his liberty lay the result of the work he had set his hand to—the tracking down of the drug-ring that was preying on the very life-blood of the country. He had but one clue to follow—the clue he had chanced upon in the Alamanza balcony—when James Burle had tried to frame him for the attempted murder of Carl Gerlach. To follow that clue he must watch the drug-master. From the moment he had been secure in his escape—secure in the disguise the Little Grey Woman and Bill Loames had obtained for him—he had set out on the trail of the man. He had watched the office buildings in York Street until he had seen Burle enter. He had followed him to the door of his offices, intending to wait until the house was deserted and then search for the evidence he was certain he would find among the man's papers—evidence of the workings of the drug-ring. He had failed in that.
The Little Grey Woman had been before him; but he would not fail with the man. He would remain on the trail of the drug-master, until he had learnt his habits and customs—until he was certain that, sooner or later, the man would lead him to the secret places of the drug-ring—to the house where the leaders met—to the store from where the many agents obtained their supplies.
Denys turned from the foot of the stairs, up which the Little Grey Woman had fled, and went back to Burle's offices. The lights were still out and with a cursory glance at the man huddled over the desk, he went into the public office. There he found the fuses. One of the covers had been removed. On the ground beneath the fuse-box lay a common metal paper knife, badly burned.
So the Little Grey Woman had also played a part in securing her escape. She had broken the fuses, throwing the offices into darkness. Ignorant of her plans, he had played a part in them. Denys smiled, as he hunted for a piece of wire to temporarily replace the fuse-wire. The lights switched on again, he went to the office in which Burle sat.
As his hand was on the door-knob, the door was thrust violently open and the detective strode in.
"Where's Burle?" Knox spoke angrily. "Fine sort of an associate you are to a police officer. I told you to keep the door open and watch the corridor, and you allowed the fool to barge in and shut it. Now—"
"Where's Burle?" Denys repeated the police officer's question. "He was in the chair before, the desk when I came through to fix the lights. I was going back to attend to his head. Surely—"
"Well he's not there now." The detective searched the room with eager eyes. "Didn't follow you in here, did he? No, he's not here. Can't be far away. I've a couple of my men here, now, and we'll soon run him down."
"But, the wo—the person you chased up the stairs?" Denys spoke with some diffidence. "Did she get away?"
"The woman!" Knox turned and fixed the young man with piercing eyes. "How do you know it was a woman?"
"I thought I caught sight of the flick of a skirt as you ran down the passage." The barrister hesitated. "I may have been mistaken."
"Oh, it was a woman all right, Mr Quartly." Knox smiled grimly. "I saw that bit of skirt, too. It's all I did see of her. How she got away so slick, I can't understand. Still, she hasn't got out of the house and I remain here until I find her. What's worrying me is where that man is."
"James Burle." Denys nodded. "If he's gone, he got away while I was fixing the lights. But he didn't look capable of moving when I came through his office. You know where he lives?"
"Macquarie Street. Big block of flats."
Knox led into Burle's private room. "Wonder whose place this is." He strode to the desk, fingering the papers. "Humph! Burle's private office. Then that other room's the late Carl Gerlach's office. Well, I'll have a good look round before I leave. Want to get away, Mr Quartly?"
"Not particularly." Denys tried to make his voice sound indifferent. "Rather interested in police work. If you don't mind—"
"Stay if you want to." The detective turned again to the desk. "Nothing here, among this litter of papers. Wonder if these drawers contain anything interesting." The detective commenced to search the small drawers in the upper part of the desk.
Denys watched him for a few moments. Suddenly, he spoke. "What are you searching for, Inspector Knox?"
"Anything I can find that will explain what's happened since I came in here," the detective answered imperturbably.
"Nothing in particular?"
For the moment the police officer did not answer. He turned and gazed steadily at the barrister. "Now why should you say that, Mr—er—Quartly?"
"You have no definite suspicions of Mr Burle? Yet you were in the building when I found him on the floor of that room, insensible?"
Knox laughed. "I can't explain police secrets, even to a budding doctor."
"Perhaps I can guess." Denys spoke carefully. He knew that he was treading dangerous ground. "Shall I say you called here in reference to the tragedy that happened in Peel Place, this afternoon?"
"What do you know?" Knox stepped forward, laying his hand heavily on the barrister's shoulder. "Look hare, Mr Quartly, you seem to know more than's quite honest. Just tell me what you are getting at."
"Just this." Denys faced the police officer boldly. "I'm certain James Burle is one of the heads of the drug-ring in this State. When you were called to Madame Rae's beauty parlours, through the murder of Carl Gerlach, you found some evidence that caused you to come here. You arrested Ailsa Rae, but—"
"Arrested Ailsa Rae!" Knox interrupted. "Who told you that? Remember, Mr Quartly, there's not a word in the papers, yet, of Carl Gerlach's death. I'll want you to explain how you came by that knowledge and—"
"Then Ailsa Rae is not under arrest?" Denys blurted the question in surprise.
"Not to my knowledge. There's no evidence against her. So far as I can see, at present, it's a case of suicide."
"But she said—" Denys stopped quickly. He was admitting more than he should.
"She? Who's she?" Knox's eyes blazed with excitement. "Speak! Speak, you fool! You didn't get that information on the streets. You got it here! Who told you? Speak up! I'm going to know, if I have to drag it from you piecemeal."
"I see it!" Conclusions were rapidly assembling in the barrister's trained brain. "Yes! She told him that to make him confess. It was the news of Ailsa Rae's arrest that broke James Burle up. Let me go, you ass! I've got to get after him. He mustn't get away!"
"Neither must you until I know more of you and what you know." Knox's grip tightened on the young man's shoulder. "Now, for the last time, who's this mysterious 'she?'"
"Don't you understand?" Denys spoke excitedly. "She's the Little Grey Woman!" With a sudden wrench he freed himself from the astonished police officer, running along the corridor and down the stairs at full speed.
JAMES BURLE sat at the desk dimly conscious of Inspector Knox's mad dash into the corridor in pursuit of the Little Grey Woman. He strove to shake off the lethargy that held him; to clear his brain to answer the many questions that would inevitably rise to the police officer's lips when he realised that he was in a position to answer intelligently.
He struggled from the chair and staggered to the door, holding weakly on to the lintel and peering up the corridor towards the foot of the stairs He could see Denys Fahney standing undecided whether to follow the police officer or return to the offices. As the barrister turned back toward the offices, Burle slunk back to his chair, burying his face in his arms. When Denys passed through to the general office to try and fix the lights, Burle sprang to his feet. The few minutes further rest had been sufficient, to call up the reserves of his strength. He staggered slightly as he moved towards the door. There was no one in the corridor.
With stealthy steps he stole in the direction of the stairs. Again he hesitated. He could hear the noise of the searchers on the upper floors. Then came the sounds of returning steps. Burle slipped silently down the stairs. At the door of the building he again hesitated, peering furtively out into the night.
There was no one on watch in the street. The cool night air swept the remaining dumbness from his brain. A few yards from the building and he crept into a dark alley and took stock of himself. He was without hat and his dress was in disorder.
Buttoning up his waistcoat, he dusted his clothing with his handkerchief. He could not replace the missing hat, for the shops were shut and he dared not return to the offices. But what did a hat matter? Many men strolled through the streets of the during the night hours, hatless. If only he could appear careless—unworried! And through his brain pounded the thought that Ailsa Rae sat in a prison cell, accused of the murder of Carl Gerlach.
For almost the first time in his life, a wave of emotion swept over him. She had been true—loyal to him in spite of his brutality—although she knew his love had ever been a pretence; a scheme to draw her into the net of his nefarious, illegal trade.
Gradually his walk quickened to a run. At the corner of Barrack Street he paused. He must gain control of himself before he walked down to George Street and the gay throngs of pleasure seekers that crowded that thoroughfare during the evening hours. He must decide where he was going. His instinct was to return to his flat. He wanted time to think and plan.
Dominant in his thoughts was the position of the woman he now realised was necessary to him. He must obtain her freedom! But how could he do that? He could not go to the police and confess that he and not Ailsa Rae, had murdered the man. He had planned for the murder to have the appearance of suicide—he could not alter the arrangements without betraying himself. He would go to his flat and rest.
What if the Inspector followed him there? He could explain that he had come to his senses while alone in the darkened offices, and had crawled home. He did not fear the man's questions now. Every moment he was feeling stronger, more sure of himself. An hour—or even less and he would face the most searching police inquisition with equanimity. In George Street, at the corner of Barrack Street, he stopped, looking about him for a taxi. A few moment and a cruising car passed. He raised his hand and the driver swerved in towards the curb. As he was about to enter the car he hesitated, looking round. A woman had halted before a shop window. Something in her appearance was familiar. For a moment he stared at her blankly. Where had he seen her before At last he remembered. With a curt word to the man to await him, he followed her.
"Pardon me." He caught up to the girl as she again paused before show-window. "You are employed—at the Arcadia Beauty Parlours, I am not mistaken?" The girl looked at him doubtfully, taking in his dishevelled dress, his lack, of a hat.
Slowly, she nodded. "Please don't be frightened." Burle spoke more humbly than he had ever spoken to man or woman before. "I met with an accident a little while ago and lost my hat—I suppose I look a bit wild. But I had to speak to you. I have only just heard. There was a—an accident at the Parlour."
"A man committed suicide," the girl answered eagerly, now interested. "We were so shocked! He looked awful, really awful, lying there, staring up at the ceiling with open eyes. I wanted to shriek, to—"
"A suicide?" the drug-master interrupted abruptly. "I thought—Are you quite sure it was suicide?"
"Quite." A glint of curiosity crossed the girl's face. "I heard the doctor tell the police officer. He said the man had injected an—anth—some poison into his thigh with a hy—hy—oh, you know, something like a needle or a pin."
"Hypodermic needle." Burle spoke dully.
"And Madame Rae?"
"Madame closed the parlours and went home—at least, the police took her home." The girl continued volubly. "Poor dear! She was so upset and ill. The police asked so many questions. They wanted the names of every person who called at the parlours that afternoon. Madame said—"
"Thanks awfully." Burle spoke hastily. He dared net stand talking to the girl in the strong light shining from the windows. Already people were staring at them curiously. At any moment a plain-clothes constable might come along, and be suspicious. "I have a taxi waiting and must get home, Feel too conspicuous like this."
He turned and left the girl. For a moment she watched him. Then as he entered the car and drove off, she continued her stroll up the street. Burle lay back in the car. His throat was parched—he wanted a long satisfying drink. A drink that would send the hot blood surging again through his numbed veins. The hotels were shut, but he could get it at his flat.
Almost he leaned forward to urge the driver to greater speed.
Ailsa was free! The Little Grey Woman had lied! For what reason? He could distinctly remember her words. She had told him that Ailsa Rae had been arrested for the murder of Carl Gerlach. It was those words that had knocked him over—her direct declaration coming on the stress of the past few hours.
Why had the Little Grey Woman lied? Immediately, to his brain came the answer. She had noticed his condition when he entered the room. She had seen he was oh the borders of a breakdown. She had spoken with deliberate intent—to administer the final shock to his rawed nerves, to surprise from him a confession that he, and not Ailsa Rae, was responsible for the death of the gangster.
And she had obtained the confession she sought. What would she do with it? A grim smile rose to Burle's lips. What could the Little Grey Woman do with his surprised confession?
She was a fugitive from justice, in danger of arrest from the first police officer who recognised her. At that moment she was hiding on the upper floors of his office buildings, from the police. The next morning the newspapers might blazon the news that the Little Grey Woman, wanted by the police officers of the world, was a prisoner—seated in a cell, awaiting the completion of the formalities that would hand her over to punishment, in one of the countries where she had offended against the law.
Who was the Little Grey Woman? Burle was puzzled. She had come out of the unknown, primed with full knowledge of the work he and the drug-circle were doing. She had made it her business to trace down every line of their activities. Yet when she had obtained the knowledge she sought she had not used it. With the knowledge she held she could have demanded admission into the gang—have even challenged his position of leader. She could have remained outside the gang, demanding and receiving a share in their profits, as the price of her silence. Yet she had only watched—learning, understanding. She had remained quiescent—not attempting to interfere with them in any way.
At first, he and the men and women who trafficked in the deadly drugs had been suspicious. They had watched, waiting for a moment when she would be off her guard. They had watched for the time when they could relieve themselves from the dangers of her espionage. They had not found the opportunity—she had guarded herself too well. Then their suspicious hostility had been replaced by indifference. With the relaxation of their watchfulness had coincided a renewal of the Little Grey Woman's activities. What did she seek?
Again Burle pondered the question he had so often asked himself in vain. This time the answer came immediately to his lips. He sat upright on the swaying cushions of the car, the light of knowledge in his eyes. He had watched her, through half-closed eyes, while he lay on the floor in Gerlach's office. Subconsciously, his numbed brain had recorded the look that came into her eyes when she folded back his waistcoat and brought out the mask with the mark of the White Falcon on it. From that moment he had known. The Little Grey Woman sought the White Falcon.
The car drew up at the entrance to the block of flats and Burle alighted, thrusting some coins into the driver's hand. He walked unsteadily through the hall to the elevator—glad that at that time of night there were few attendants about. With shaking hands he closed the grille-door and pressed the button opposite the number 6.
A few seconds and he would be in his flat, the door closed. Some dozen steps from the door, the whiskey bottle stood on the side-board in his sitting-room. A long, strong drink and he would sit down and arrange his facts. At last he had both his enemies in his hands. The White Falcon! The words burned into his brain. The White Falcon; and the Little Grey Woman was the enemy of the White Falcon. If he could get in touch with her! He would deliver her enemy into her hands. Then, while the White Falcon and the Little Grey Woman fought out their vendetta, he would reorganise his gang—he would again become supreme master of the drug traffic of the Commonwealth.
He fumbled at the door with his key. At last it slipped into the lock and the door swung open. For a moment he hesitated, almost' afraid to step into the darkness of the flat. With a grim laugh, he braced himself. What had he to fear now? Gerlach, the traitor, was dead. Ailsa was free. The White Falcon and the Little Grey Woman were in his power, puppets to the strings he would pull. A few days more and—
He threw open the door of the sitting-room, switching on the lights as he entered. A couple of strides and he was at the side-board, the decanter in his hand. A long, satisfying drink of raw spirits. Again he filled the glass, nearly to the brim, and turned to seek a chair.
"Strong drink betrayeth a man!" The light, mocking tones were low, yet filled the room. With a gasp of surprise, Burle stepped back.
"The White Falcon!" The yellow liquid splashed from the glass on to the carpet.
"The White Falcon, as you say." The tall man in correct evening dress sitting in a chair on the opposite side of the room, spoke easily. "I have waited long for you, Mr James Burle."
"The truth!" The man spoke quickly. "You have come from your offices where you had an interesting interview with Denys Fahney and Inspector Knox. Need I mention that the Little Grey Woman was also present? Before that you were at the Arcadian Beauty Parlours with Madame Ailsa Rae. You were there when Carl Gerlach entered and you left—shall we say after he committed suicide?"
"I know that you are false to your oath—to the oath you took in this room some three months ago, James Burle." The White Falcon spoke easily. "You fool! You damned fool!"
"That is a lie!" Burle answered wildly. "I gave no oath. You—you held me in an iron clasp. I had to do as you commanded. You held my supplies. If I had not acceded to your demands, the ring—"
"The ring of agents you had formed in this State—that you are proposing to extend throughout the Commonwealth—would have risen against you." The White Falcon laughed ironically. "To save yourself from them you swore to obey my commands—that you would abide by the agreement I offered you. Yet from that day you have tried, by every means possible, to evade the obligations you assumed. More, what of this?"
From an inner pocket of his light overcoat, the man brought out a black mask painted with the sign of the White Falcon, and tossed it on the floor at Burle's feet. The drug-master looked down on it fascinated.
"You know it?" The man laughed slightly. "Of course. For your future information I may add there is only one legitimate mask bearing the sign of the White Falcon. That mask I wear. Only recently I learnt there were two others. One lies at your feet—I found it in your desk. The other, the Little Grey Woman took from your pocket this evening."
"I fainted in my offices." Burle's courage had evaporated. He cringed before the menacing figure in the chair. "She—the Little Grey Woman came in—"
"Why the masks?" the man interrupted. "Shall I tell you the truth you dare not tell me, James Burle? It is this. You planned to take the place of the White Falcon before your gang. You were going to commit me in some manner that would hound not only your band of agents on my track for vengeance, but also the police. You fool—to think you could outwit, me! Listen!"
He paused suddenly, holding tip his hand in warning. Through the silence of the room came the slight sound of a key, grating in the lock of the outer door.
"Take that mask, James Burle." The White Falcon was on his feet, his body tensed with excitement. "Take that mask and wear it. You planned to act the White Falcon. Now you shall. Put on that mask and sit in that chair."
Mechanically, Burle obeyed. He took the chair vacated by the master crook, watching with fascinated eyes. The White Falcon paused an instant, listening intently. Stealthy footsteps sounded in the passage without.
With hardly a sound, the White Falcon stole to the door of the bed room and pushed it open. There he turned to face the drug-master. A slight motion of the automatic he held in his hand, and Burle raised the black mask to his face. The man backed into the darkness of the room until all Burle could see was the sinister muzzle of the gun, peering out of the darkness.
AGAIN followed a long silence. It was broken by a slight, slithering sound, as of soft shoes pushed over the polished boards. The door began to move slowly, and as it moved so did the door of the bedroom, until only a slight crack remained, through which peeped the muzzle of an automatic. With a wrench Burle drew his fascinated gaze from the door through which the White Falcon had disappeared, to watch the outer door.
It was still moving. Very slowly it swung open and around the edge came three fingers of a short, stumpy hand. The regular, sharp clock-clack of the clock on the sideboard were the only sounds that broke the stillness of the room for a full minute.
Burle sat upright in the chair, his eyes fastened on the three fingers of the hand clutching the partially-opened door. For a fraction of a second he glanced towards the bed-room door. Now even the muzzle of the menacing automatic had disappeared. Again he looked towards the outer door. What was the man doing there? Did he believe that he was still unheard, unobserved? Did he not know that the fingers holding the edge of the door were betraying him?
Burle glanced furtively towards the bedroom as his hand stole towards his hip-pocket. Suddenly, from the darkness peered out the menacing automatic, beckoning him to sit still. Suddenly the fingers were withdrawn and the door pushed still further open. A head of black, sleek hair came into view. Slowly the forehead and features followed. With a start, Burle sprang to his feet, his terror of the White Falcon lost in surprise.
"Gow! Ted Gow!" He clutched at the back of the chair, almost overcome with the relief. "What the hell do you mean by entering my flat in that creepy manner? Jove, you gave me the shock of my life! Why—"
"Burle!" The short, broad man who had entered the room bent forward, peering strangely at the masked face. "Burle, and behind the White Falcon's mask! Why, then—"
"No." The drug-master stepped forward hastily, then glanced-to wards the bedroom door. "Not—"
"Burle and the White Falcon the same man!" The half-Chinese features of the man wrinkled in an evil grin. "And to think none of us guessed that. Another of your tricks, eh? Lor', and a good one, too. Taking it in with both hands, eh? Well, there's enough for two, eh, or—?"
Burle could not mistake the suggestion in the man's voice. Again he glanced towards the bedroom door. He could see nothing. Was the White Falcon still lurking there? Why had not the threatening automatic reappeared when he disobeyed orders and left the chair. Involuntarily he swung round as if to go to the bedroom to find out if the mystery man was still there or had been scared away by the arrival of the half-caste.
"What's the matter?" Gow came further into the room, following the direction of Burle's eyes. "What's the game, Jim? Wearing that mask for practice while you're at home? You'll have to alter your voice, y'know. I recognised it at once, and so will the others."
Again his eyes followed Burle's towards the bedroom door. "Say, what's there?"
Disregarding Burle's outstretched arm he passed to the bedroom door and flung it open. His fingers sought the light switch and pressed it down. He looked inquisitively around the empty room, then back to Burle's agitated face.
"Empty!" Burle followed the half-caste to the door of the room. "Why, he—"
"The White Falcon."
"Still trying to tell the tale?" The man laughed jeeringly. "Cut it out, Jim. You're the White Falcon, and a damned bad one, too, if you can't act the part better. But I'm in on this lay, now, and I'll see that—"
"I tell you, Gow, the White Falcon was in this room but a few minutes ago." Burle spoke eagerly. "He was in the sitting room with me when you put your key in the lock. Fool that I am, I didn't remember I'd given you a key. But he had me all mazed up. When you came along the passage he—"
"Went into the bedroom and disappeared." Gow laughed disbelievingly. He entered the room and went to the door leading to the hall, testing the lock. The door was fastened. "Look at that. The door locked, and the key in the lock on this side. Now, Jim, what are you giving me? Trying to beat me out of my share? That kite won't fly. I'm in this for keeps. Kick, and I'll see there's a new White Falcon—and a new Jim Burle—wanted in the gang. See?"
Burle nodded. He realised that nothing he could say would change the man's opinion. Gow was certain he had discovered the secret of the White Falcon, that the mysterious crook who had blackmailed the drug ring, was but another metamorphosis of James Burle, their leader; that under the guise of-the White Falcon the drug-master was attempting to wrest from the gang a still higher price for their illegal supplies. The locked door did net deceive him.
Both he and Gow well knew how to open and shut a locked door, with the key on the opposite side. In a secret cupboard in his sitting room, Burle had a complete set of burglar implements. Long since he had abandoned the more dangerous game for the softer and more profitable pursuit of drug-running.
But why had the White Falcon left the bedroom? Why had he fled before the arrival of a single man—a man who had not the slightest knowledge that he was in the flat? The White Falcon was no coward. Many times, during the past months, he had escaped from almost impossible positions by sheer daring and nerve. Time and again, Burle and his followers had believed they had the man cornered, to be faced with a resourcefulness that showed them they were dealing with more than normally brave man.
"Get this Gow." Burle swung savagely on his lieutenant. "The White Falcon's been here. Shut up and listen! I've only been home a few minutes. When I entered the sitting-room he was here, waiting for me. When we heard you at the door he forced me to sit in that chair and wear this mask. When you entered the sitting room he was standing just within the bedroom door, threatening me with his gun. I daren't stir; I daren't call out to warn you. Then, when you spoke—when I called out your name, he disappeared. 'Course he went out of that door. You or I could do the same trick any old time."
"Kid-stakes!" The half-caste leered up at the drug-master. "Try again, Mr James Burle. Think I'll swallow anything you like to feed me with? Well, I did once, but I'm wiser now, and a damned good thing for you. The gang were getting tired of your tricks. The White Falcon stuff was wearing thin. No one but you had seen the fellow, and the others were asking questions. Now—"
"Now?" Burle spoke questioningly. "Now I've seen the White Falcon!" The man leered evilly. "Understand? I've seen the White Falcon—and I'll tell them so. I won't say I recognised him unless I have to. That's between you and me, so long as you play square. They'll take my word; believe me, and they'll go on paying higher and higher for the stuff."
"There's not an ounce in hand." Burle made a despairing gesture. He turned sharply on the half-caste. "Look here, Gow, if you can see a way out, you're on. I am not pitching a tale when I say that the White Falcon's been here, and that I'm not him. For months I've had to buy the stuff from him. Time and again I've tried to run packets for myself, but he's crossed me every time. Now—"
"The Maratui's sighted." Gow spoke in a whisper.
"The Maratui?" Burle whipped round eagerly, his face alight with hope. "When? Where?"
"Tonight. On the board at the General Post Office."
The half-caste laughed again. "You told me to keep a watch for her and I have. Now what's the Maratui to do with us?"
"And the White Falcon doesn't know." Burle gave a sigh of relief. "Yes, he doesn't know, for he'd have taunted me with the knowledge if he had."
"If you shout it that way, he'll hear it down in the streets." Gow spoke cynically. "You haven't told me. What's the Maratui got for us?"
"Gow! Ted Gow!" The drug master seized the little man by his shoulders and swung him round. "We've won! We've beaten the White Falcon."
"Beaten yourself!" Gow released himself with an effort. "Well, if you like it that way, I don't mind. Now what's this joke about this Maratui?"
"This." Burle led the way into the sitting-room. "Get a drink and sit down, man. The Maratui's arrived!"
"Want to drink her health? Well, I don't mind. Drink it all night in this sort of stuff. Here's health!"
"Dick Graine's on board that boat."
"He's bringing a big parcel of the goods with him." Burle drained his glass at a gulp. "Lord! The relief of it! There'll be no trouble now. Get this stuff lauded and—"
"Landed? In Sydney Harbour and with all the dicks after us, and it?" The half-caste laughed harshly "What the hell—?"
"There'll be no trouble." The drug-master bent forward earnestly. "Listen, Gow! I told you to keep a watch for that boat for I had you in mind for the job. You drive a car?"
"Get to the wharf, tomorrow morning, as soon as possible. Be certain you're there before the boat berths. Find Graine and tell him you're, the chauffeur he asked me to engage for him. He's a car on board—a real beauty. It's your work to get it landed as soon as possible. Drive it to the House of Dreams—you know. That's your job. Get that car, to Epping and stand in with me, otherwise."
"I'm the mug, am I?" Gow started to his feet. "So that's your game? Cushions stuffed with snow, eh? You big stiff! Think they're not on that? Why, they forgot that joke before you were born!"
"Try them if you like." Burle, pulled his chair closer to the half-caste. "Look here, Gow, you know Gerlach's gone?"
"Yep." Sudden suspicion blazed in the half-caste's eyes. "So you did—"
"Who says that?" Burle interrupted. "Gerlach committed suicide. If you don't believe me, go to the big house in Phillip Street, and they'll tell you the same. I'm not saying I'm sorry, for Carl was beginning to kick over the traces. But that's another matter. Want his job?"
"Then get that car to Epping."
"And this man—Graine?"
"You won't see him again. His job's finished when the car's landed."
"Get the car to Epping. Directly you get there, remove the tyres and take them into the house. There's another set waiting for you in my office."
"Just what I say. Take those tyres off and carry them into the house. Charlie Wing will know what to do with them."
"The stuff's in the tyres!" Gow whittled softly. "That is a new one."
"Balloon tyres; only the tyres hold the stuff, and they're safe. You can put air in them if you wish. Perhaps you'll have to, for they're sure to have run down on the trip. Pump them up all you want to and get away from the wharf as soon as possible. Run Graine up to the Hotel Splendide, and leave him there, just as if you were taking the car to the garage. See you're not followed. That's all!"
"What a joke!" The half-caste grinned admiringly. "Say, I'll have another drink on that!"
He went to the side-board and refilled his glass.
Burle watched him gloweringly. The man might be of use. If he took the car from the wharf and got it safe to Epping But Gow might be dangerous. Well, time would tell. If he kicked too hard, if he still harped on that White Falcon idea—
"That's enough, Gow." He spoke sharply. "Time you got away, if you're to be on the wharf when the Maratui gets in. Then, perhaps, I'll have another payable job for you."
"Get the car first—and get out!" the drug-master interrupted. "I want to get to bed. Get out!"
He watched the man finish his drink, tilting his glass to catch the last drops of the spirit. He answered his "good night" with a short nod. His brain was full of plans for the future.
Alone in his room, he rose from his chair and paced the floor. Once again he held the upper hand; yet, once again, a new danger threatened him. Gow, the half-caste! Burle smiled. He could make use of the man. Gow would get the car from the wharf and drive it to Epping. There he would meet it and take charge of the precious tyres with their cargo of snow. There he would meet Gow and give him his instructions for the other work he had in mind.
The other work! The work of bringing to him the girl who had caught his passing fancy, the task of abducting Doris Lyall. What would the man say to that? Bah, what did his personal opinions matter? He went to the outer door and carefully secured it.
Again in the sitting-room, he commenced a thorough search of the flat. There was no one there. He had been right. The White Falcon had taken flight on the arrival of the half-caste. He had slipped through the bedroom door, locking it after him.
Convinced that he was alone, Burle went into the bed-room and commenced to undress. He was pleased with himself. At the moment when he feared—when he believed that his enemies had at last triumphed over him, he had defeated them.
Carl Gerlach was dead; Denys Fahney was a fugitive from justice. Only the White Falcon and the Little Grey Woman remained. And in the eyes of the half-caste, Gow, he was the White Falcon! Gow believed him to be the White Falcon. Then, if Gow came up against the real man, he would attempt to black-mail him, as he had attempted to black-mail him, Burle, that night. The White Falcon would resent the man's attitude, perhaps threaten violence and Gow—Gow had no fears and no scruples.
Burle turned in his pacing of the room, and went to the looking-glass. Suggestively, he drew his coarse finger across his thick neck. Gow would retaliate—and there would be no more White Falcon. There remained the Little Grey Woman. Burle slipped into bed and pulled the clothes high around his neck. The Little Grey Woman!
The police were hot on her track. They were searching the building in York Street-for her. Perhaps he would be a good citizen. Perhaps he would give the police a hand in tracking her down. Yes, that would be his game.
Ailsa! He might have trouble with her. If he took Doris Lyall—Ailsa! Surely she had enough to trouble her for the present. The police were about her parlours, questioning, spying, watching, searching. The next morning he would go to Epping. Ailsa did not know where the House of Dreams stood. There were many who had been there but few who could tell the location. He had kept his secret well.
Yes, he would go there till his plans matured. The next morning he would: telephone to the girl at the office and tell her to carry on as best she could. He would say that he was ill, and had been ordered away to recuperate. He would go away to the House of Dreams. There he would bribe Gow to bring the girl—Doris Lyall. In the House of Dreams he would rest—with her—later.
Only the staccato ticking of the clock in the sitting-room broke the silence of the flat. Silently, the minutes passed. A faint beam of moonlight crept into the room and rested on the bed. Slowly it crept up until it lay across the coarse hand outside the covers. From the darkness materialised a slight, grey figure.
SILENT as one of the shadows of the night it crept towards the bed. At times it paused, the head bent forward towards the sleeping man, listening. From out of the clinging robes came a hand. For a single moment the hand appeared to rest on the thick coarse fingers spread on the coverlet; then were withdrawn. Beside the man's hand lay a whisp of grey silk.
The first rays of the new day awoke Jim Burle from troubled slumber. He had tossed restlessly from side to side through the long night, dreaming strangely. Always the shrouded form of the Little Grey Woman stood beside his bed watching him, a strange taunting smile showing beneath the grey silk mask.
For a time he lay still, conning over the events of the past day; trying to elaborate the plans for the future that had thronged his brain when he lay down to sleep the previous night. Gradually the strange restlessness of his awakening gave place to smooth satisfaction. He sat up, and something dark slid from the white coverlet to the floor.
It was a mask of thin, grey silk!
Burle sat on the edge of the bed staring at it with wide, frightened eyes. Where had it come from? It had not been in the room the previous night. A grey silk mask!
Then the Little Grey Woman had been in his room during the night.
He sprang from the bed and went to the window. Far over the eastern sky he could see the sun, lazily climbing above the horizon. He turned to the dressing table and looked at his watch. It was hardly six o'clock. When had the Little Grey Woman been in his room? He remembered following Gow to the outer door of the flat the previous night, and bolting it after him. Then he had searched the flat and had found no one. How then had the Little Grey Woman gained entrance?
Dragging on his dressing-gown, Burle went into the hall to the outer door of the flat. The bolts had been pulled back! But he had shot them well home after Gow had left! The drawn bolts showed that someone had been in the flat during the night. He was certain he had searched the rooms. He had not overlooked a place where anyone could hide.
Yet "she" had been there! The Little Grey Woman had visited his offices the previous afternoon. He had seen her through his half-closed eyes when he lay on the floor, partially unconscious. The police had chased her to the upper floors of the building. While Inspector Knox had been engaged in the search for her he had slipped, unnoticed, from his offices to the street.
The Little Grey Woman had followed him from his offices to his home. For what reason? Had he been in the flat when the White Falcon had bailed him up? That was possible. Had she been in the room while he had talked with Gow? That was almost a certainty.
Gow was to meet the Maratui that morning. After the escape of the White Falcon from the flat they had discussed the arrival of Dick Graine and the cocaine-bearing motor car. Had the Little Grey Woman overheard his plans?
Burle ran back to his bedroom and commenced to dress. He must get to the wharf and find Gow. But he must not act in haste. What would the Little Grey Woman do with the information she had obtained—if she had really been in the flat the previous night? Would she go to the Customs authorities and tell them of the cargo of cocaine that was to be taken under their eyes from the hold of the Maratui, hidden in the motor car's tyres? If she did so the Customs authorities would communicate with the Drug Squad at police headquarters. They would detain her to re-tell the story to the detectives when they arrived at the sheds. And the police badly wanted the Little Grey Woman.
No, she would not do that! Burle laughed slightly. The fight was still to remain between him and the Little Grey Woman It was his wits against hers—and with the refreshment of the long night's sleep, troubled though it was by sinister dreams, he felt fully confident. He would go to the wharf, but he would not meet Gow. That would be too dangerous. If in some manner the Little Grey Woman had communicated with the authorities, then Gow would be watched and arrested after he had taken possession of the motor car. He, Dick Graine and the car would be searched and the drugs found. He must hover in the background until he saw what was likely to happen.
If Gow was unwatched, if he was allowed to take possession of the car and drive away, then he must trail him. Only when he knew the man was unshadowed and on the road to the hidden house at Epping, dare he come forward.
Turning to the telephone, Burle rang up the garage and ordered his car to be brought to the door. The Maratui was to berth at No. 1, Circular Quay. Outside that wharf waited the line of motor cars travelling by the vehicular punt to the North Shore. Somewhere amid that line of cars he could linger unnoticed.
Finishing his dressing, he went into the sitting-room and found the automatic he had left on the desk the previous night. As he was slipping it into his pocket, a thought struck him.
The Little Grey Woman had been in the flat the previous night. Had she tampered with the gun? He opened the magazine and tilted the cartridges out on his palm. A careful examination and he threw them in the waste-paper basket. They had been tampered with. He reloaded the automatic from a box of cartridges he took from a drawer of the desk, and slipped it in his pocket. Now he knew the Little Grey Woman was hot on his trail. He must make no mistakes! He glanced carefully around the room. There was nothing more he needed. The car—
The door bell rang, shrilly. Burle started and waited. Again the bell rang imperatively. Almost fearfully he went into the hall and opened the door.
A tall, muscular man stood on the doorstep.
"Mr James Burle?"
"Yes?"' The drug-master eyed the man closely. "Who are you? What do you want?"
"Received your message at Police Headquarters, Mr Burle. Came round at once. My name's Houston—Detective-Sergeant Houston."
"My message?" Burle was bewildered. He had sent no message to Police Headquarters.
"Your message, yes." Houston looked at the man curiously. "What happened, Mr Burle? Forgotten you rang Headquarters half an hour ago and reported a robbery at your flat?"
"Eh?" Houston came into the hall and looked about him curiously. "Say, Mr Burle, what's the matter with you? Drugged, eh?"
"What—" Burle turned swiftly on the detective. "What do you—"
"Simple." Houston went to the door of the sitting-room and pushed open the door. A quick glance around the room and he entered the bed-room, the drug-master following closely. "You look as if the thieves had found you asleep, and to prevent interference from you, had given you a sniff of something. Chloroform, I guess."
"Chloroform!" Burle now remembered that when he awoke he had thought there was a strange smell in the bed-room. So he had been chloroformed! The Little Grey Woman had been in his flat and drugged him.
He turned abruptly to the Sergeant.
"Sorry, Mr Houston. The thieves must have given me a strong dose. Why, I don't even remember telephoning to you."
"No?" Houston looked sharply at the man. "Best sit down, Mr Burle. If you'll excuse me—" He took the drug-master by the arm and helped him into the sitting room. Placing him in a chair, he mixed a strong brandy-soda.
"Drink this, Mr Burle. Sit quiet a minute, then you can give me what details you know."
Burle seized the glass avidly and drank the strong mixture at a gulp. His brain was in a whirl. Who had telephoned in his name to the police?
For what reason had a robbery been reported to the police as happening at his flat? He had not far to seek for an answer. She had been the thief who had been in his rooms the previous night. Now he knew that she had overheard his conversation with Gow. She had sent the message to the police to prevent him getting down to the wharf and watch the half-caste while he took possession of the motor car and its valuable contents.
He must get rid of the police officer. He must get to the wharf. He must be alone to think and to plan—to devise some way out of this new difficulty. Unless he acted, and acted quickly, the Little Grey Woman would succeed in depriving him of the huge cargo of cocaine on which he had built his future operations.
"The bed-room!" Allowing himself to slip limply back in the chair, Burle spoke in a hoarse whisper. "You're right, officer! I've been drugged! There was someone in my rooms last night. On the floor—a grey silk mask!"
"What's that? A grey silk mask!" A note of triumph rang in Houston's tones. "The Little Grey Woman! Jove! We want her—and she came to you last night! Why, the Commissioner received cables from England yesterday urging that she be run down and arrested at all costs. She's dangerous!"
"Sit still, Mr Burle." Houston pressed the man gently back in his chair. "You've got to give yourself time to recover from that drug. Now, tell me. What time did you see her in your room?"
"I—I didn't see her. I found the mask this morning when I got up Then—"
"Then you rang us up. Quite right. Found anything missing? No! Well, you sit here and I'll have a look-see around the bed room. When you feel like it have a look around here—where you keep any valuables and that. Try and discover what she was after. That's the best sort of clue we can get."
The police officer passed into the bed-room, leaving the door ajar. For some moments Burle sat and watched him searching the room. He waited until the man passed from view where he sat, then rose silently. Going to his desk he pressed a portion of the interior panelling.
A slide opened, revealing a narrow compartment. From it he took a small vial containing a fine white powder. He had never taken the drug before, in spite of the many pounds of it that had passed through his hands; his knowledge of the drug's effects was entirely from hearsay.
He had been frightened of it; fearful that if curiosity overcame him and he tried it the drug would fasten on him and become a habit. Now—now he had to have something to steady his nerves. The brandy had been good, but its action was effervescent. He wanted something stronger, faster. He must recover control of his brain—and it must work fast and freely.
He glanced back over his shoulder to the door of the bed-room. The police officer was still out of sight. Unscrewing the top of the vial Burle took out a few grains on the back of his hand and sniffed them up his nostrils eagerly.
He waited a moment but felt no effects. Again he tilted the vial, drawing up the grains eagerly. There was no reaction. With an exclamation of annoyance he thrust the vial into the secret compartment and closed the slide. As he reached his chair again Houston came out of the bed-room.
"Nothing wrong in there, so far as I can see." The officer spoke cheerfully. "I'd like you to have a look around if you feel fit. Missing anything in here?"
"Not so far as I can discover, Sergeant."
Of a sudden the drug acted and Burle felt himself spring suddenly into a wonderful mental and physical activity. He wanted to laugh and sing; to tell this dull policeman that the Little Grey Woman had challenged him. That he would accept her challenge and defeat her.
"I'll have a look around the bed-room—and if I find nothing missing all I can do is to apologise for troubling you. I must have suffered from bad dreams last night."
"Dreams that materialise in a grey silk mask!" Houston shook his head gravely. "No, Mr Burle, you weren't dreaming. The Little Grey woman was here, right enough."
"But if she took nothing—"
"The Little Grey Woman's important." The Sergeant spoke dialectically. "We'll have to get to the bottom of this."
"But if I've lost nothing," the drug-master persisted. "'Course, it's damned uncomfortable to be drugged, but I've important business this morning, Sergeant. If I've wasted your time, may I—Oh, don't be a fool, man! This is strictly between ourselves. Good! Then you don't want me any more?"
"'Fraid I will, sir." Houston smiled grimly, yet he pocketed the note. "The Commissioner's handling the Little Grey Woman matter himself. Breakfasted, sir?"
"I haven't either. Thought we'd breakfast together and then walk down to Headquarters. The Commissioner would like to see you."
"You mean—" Burle paled slightly. "Is that the police way to arrest—?"
"Arrest, sir?" Houston lifted his heavy brows. "Say, Mr. Burle, you're not as good as you look. That drugging was heavier than I supposed. No, there's no talk of arrest, but the Commissioner will want to hear what you have to say about the Little Grey Woman. Now, what about breakfast? They've a restaurant in this building. By the time we've finished, the Commissioner will be in his office."
Burle shrugged his shoulders, following the officer from the flat. Again the question came to his mind: who had telephoned the police? Almost he had come to believe he had done so. Now the Maratui would have berthed. Gow would be waiting to take possession of the motor-car. If he was not arrested he would drive to Epping, and—
But would Gow be allowed to drive the car from the wharf? Had he and Graine been arrested? When this fool policeman took him to Headquarters, would he find there Gow and Graine, perhaps eager to tell all they knew of him? He must know—and know at once, yet this police officer clung tenaciously to him.
In irritable wrath, Burle walked down to the restaurant. In almost silence they breakfasted, what little conversation passing being initiated by Houston. As they left the block of buildings Burle noticed his car standing against the curb. He had forgotten it. If he had known—remembered—
"Jump in, Sergeant." He slid into the seat behind the wheel. "This will be quicker."
"No hurry, sir The Commissioner rarely gets in before half past nine. Sorry to detain you, but you're the one link we have with the Little Grey Woman."
Burle groaned in spirit as he drove across the Hunter and Phillip Streets intersection and looked up at the newspaper clock opposite Police Headquarters. It was within a few minutes of half-past nine.
Gow would have been to the wharf. The vessel would have been docked nearly two hours. If only he could only get away from the police officer.
Superintendent Bartholomew was in his room. Houston took his witness direct to his superior officer, thinking, possibly, that the Superintendent would like to hear his story while they awaited the arrival of the Commissioner.. Fretting and disgusted, he told his tale again. Even to his own ears it did not sound convincing.
The Superintendent was more plastic than the detective. Burle made a plea to be allowed to leave for a short time, on pressing business. Bartholomew assented on condition that Burle would return within the half-hour and report to the Commissioner.
With eager steps the drug-master ran down to the street and mounted his car. As he pressed the starter, he saw Gow standing at the intersection, awaiting him. He motioned the man to go towards Macquarie Street and followed him. Out of sight of Police Headquarters he caught up to the man and bade him enter the car.
"Fine bloke to plan a game aren't you?" The man turned evil eyes on the drug-master. "What happened?"
"You should know; what do you mean by telephoning me that the Maratui would not berth before nine? She got in at seven and there was a gang of men waiting to get the car out. It was landed and driven away before eight."
"I telephoned you?" Burle gasped. "I never telephoned you, man! You're mad, or doped!"
"Mad, am I?" The half-caste's hand slid to his belt, at the back. "Look here, Mr James Burle, you're playing on a double-cross—and I'm not satisfied. See?"
"Blast you!" Burle's right hand left the wheel of the car. A fraction of a second and the muzzle of an automatic dug into the man's ribs. "Make one move, Gow, and I'll blow you apart, whatever happens. Keep your hands in front of you, you cur. With that knife your so fond of in your fist, it'll be self-defence. Understand? Now, who drove that car from the wharf? S'pose you know that?"
"Guess you don't want to be told." Gow laughed bitterly. "Trying to act the innocent, eh? Oh, well, if I've got to say it: the car was taken from the ship by a woman."
"THE car was taken by a woman." Burle repeated the half-caste's statement, partly to himself. Subconsciously he linked the words to the grey silk mask that had been on the coverlet of his bed when he awoke that morning. The trail led back to the Little Grey Woman.
She had been in his rooms when he and Gow had discussed the arrival of the Maratui and the disposal of the motor car, with its cargo of cocaine. She had telephoned Gow with the false news that the ship would not arrive at the wharf until a late hour; she had sent the police to his flat, to investigate a fictitious robbery—to detain him from overseeing Gow.
For the time his plans were in chaos. He had relied on the consignment of drugs to carry on the work of the drug-circle. Now it had been taken from him and he did not know what to do. He could not get in touch with the White Falcon even if he did so, would the mysterious stranger continue his supplies?
If he could find Graine, find him and send him back to Japan to organise the despatch of a further supply of the drug! But his plans for the runner had been too complex and complete.
He had seen to it that the man, once he had landed the consignment, should disappear. Within an hour of his landing from the steamer, he had collected the money due to him. For the next couple of months he would be in the north-lands of the continent, treading a devious path towards the Nipponese Empire. In about six months' time he would arrive in Japan, organising a new delivery. It would be impossible to make new arrangements by letter—and the motor car trick could not be worked again. The Little Grey Woman had the motor car with its valuable cargo. Where would she take it?
Sitting in the silent car, in Macquarie Street, Burle reviewed his knowledge of the Little Grey Woman. He had to confess he knew, little of her. During her activities he had had to face and fight the White Falcon. He had believed the Little Grey Woman negligible—almost holding the opinion openly expressed by his gang, that she was half mad. Now she had stepped in, at the psychological moment, and smashed his carefully laid plans. Almost without an effort she had taken from him the precious motor car. What would she do with it?
With sudden impulse he put the car in motion and swung down the road towards Circular Quay, driving recklessly.
"Where are you going?" Gow inquired curiously.
"The House?" The ugly features of the half-caste twisted into a comical smile of surprise. He opened his mouth as if to protest, then, apparently changing his mind, sat back and folded his arms. At the foot of Macquarie Street, Burle took the road to the right of the line of wharves bordering Sydney Cove, making for Bennelong Point. A vehicular punt was on the point of departure and he just managed to squeeze on board. As the vessel made its way out of the dock, Gow touched him on the arm.
"Just missed the boat. Good for us." The half-caste turned in his seat, looking back towards the roadway they had just left. "Jim, I'm half inclined to believe you."
"That you haven't been trying to put one over me—this time."
"Woke up sensible!" Burle grunted. "You think the dicks are after us?"
"Who took the car?"
"The Little Grey Woman." Burle spoke positively.
"Ugh! Then its in the hands of the busies." Gow shook his fist towards the land. "I've wondered about her. Always spyin' yet never doing nothing. Now I know!"
"She's done plenty this time!" The drug-master almost groaned at he spoke.
Was the half-caste right? Burle wondered. His theory held muck that made happenings plain. If the Little Grey Woman was in league with the police, then why were they chasing her? Why had not she, with the large amount of information the gang had contemptuously allowed to drift into her possession, organised a police raid on their Sydney headquarters before this? One thing she did not know. That was the house at Epping—the House of Dreams.
Besides the habitués that frequented the place, the House of Dreams was known to only three members of the gang. For the time it was the best refuge he could think of. The punt came to the deck at North Shore with a grinding of timbers and rattling chains. Burle's car was at the rear of the punt and he had to wait until nearly all the other ears were disembarked before he could run on to the street.
Once he looked back across the waters of the harbour to the dock they had left. Another punt was on the point of departure. If Gow had been right, and they were being pursued by the police, then at the front of that vessel was the police car. That meant they had less than ten minutes to get away.
"Where're you going?" Gow asked as Burle gathered speed up the steep hill. "One of those dicks will have telephoned North Sydney to intercept us while they waited for the punt."
"I'm not done yet." Burle grinned.
"Think they've got the car's number?"
"Not unless they've got good eyesight," the half-caste answered. But Burle remembered he had driven Sergeant Houston in the car down to Police Headquarters. It was certain the police officer had noted the number and the description of the car. He swung round the corner into Fitzroy Street, going towards Kirribilli, narrowly escaping collision with a following car far out on the roadway. Just over the crest of the hill he brought his car to a standstill.
He slid from the driver's seat and tilted it up. From the box beneath he brought out a couple of number-plates. "Get these on, Gow. I've got some writing to do."
The half-caste obeyed without comment. Burle watched him for a minute, then stepped into the rear seat and took some paper from his pocket. A moment's thought and he wrote a few lines.
"What'll I do with these?"
Gow stood beside the car, the discarded number-plates in his hand.
"Hold-on to them. Jump in." Burle climbed again to the driver's seat and let the car run down the hill to Carrabella Street. There he again pulled up.
"Get out, Gow."
The half-caste looked surprised but obeyed.
"Take those plates—and this." The drug-master handed the man a sheet of paper on which he had written his instructions. "Go down that way and take the first turning to your left. Where the road bends to the right you will find a piece of vacant ground, on the left, leading to the water. There'll be no one about at this time of day. Slide those plates into the Harbour, as far out as possible. Come back to Carrabella Street and continue on. The next turning to the left will take you down to the ferry. Get back to the city and send off that telegram. Then follow the instructions I have written. Understand? If you fail, don't show up at Epping, or I'll kill you!"
He waited till the half-caste read the pencilled lines. The man looked up with a grin. "Who's the girl?"
"Denys Fahney's skirt. He's the man who's hunting us down. Get—"
"Yes! He'll follow her."
"He won't know where she's gone to, if you're smart. He knows nothing about the House of Dreams. If he comes there—well, Charlie and his mob'll be there!" Burle made a suggestive motion with his hand that made the half-caste laugh—the old world gesture of disembowelling an opponent.
"Oh, all right."
"You can do it?"
"Easy. The girl gets the telegram. She thinks it's from her boy, in smoke. Instead, I'll be there. Her car's left on the roadway, and she comes on in the car I'm to get from Boscabel. Easy, what?"
Burle nodded. He took a roll of notes from his pocket and tossed them to the half-caste. "There are more of those fellows to come." He spoke grimly. "Stick to me, Gow, and you'll not be sorry. The Little Grey Woman may have that cargo of cocaine, but I'm not broke by a long chalk! The gang must go and we must rest under smoke for a bit. Later we'll get a new gang and new plans. Then—"
"Meanwhile, there's the girl." Gow smiled evilly. "Well, so long, Jim. I'm off!"
The drug-master watched the man stride down the street, the number plates under his arm. He smiled grimly. If Gow brought the girl to Epping, well and good; but that would be the end of the usefulness of the half-caste. He would have to be got rid of. Charlie and his crowd? No, the half-caste was too thick in with them. But there were other ways.
He threw in the gears and sent the car northwards. Through a varies of by-ways he came on the main road, a little past Mosman, and made for Chatswood. Here, again, he sought by-ways, driving eastwards. An hour from the time he dropped Gow at Kirribilli, he came to the town of Epping.
Again he sought an eastward-pointing road. A quarter of an hour's drive and he stopped the car and alighted. Pulling down some poles, he drove on to a cart-track. For more than a mile he kept to the track, skirting fields and penetrating bushlands. Another panel barred his path. Pulling down the poles, he drove the car down a hill to a creek.
Crossing the creek on a plank-bridge, he came to a small hut in the middle of well-cultivated market gardens. The sounds of the engine brought a well built, elderly Chinese out of the hut.
With a surly nod to Burle, he opened a gate and admitted him into a yard. "All well, Charlie?"
"Came to stay awhile. Anyone up at the house?"
The Chinese shook his head negatively. He was walking towards the other side of the yard, when Burle stopped him.
"Gow'll come. No one else. Understand?"
"Anyone ring up, say the house's closed. Understand? Well, get on."
The man opened a gate revealing a path leading into the heart of timbered country. He led the way along the rough track, Burle driving slowly after him. Five minutes' progress over the deep-rutted track and they came out on a clearing before a two-storied brick house.
Burle looked at the place with quizzical amusement in his eyes. The house appeared deserted. The windows were boarded up and the verandas surrounding it were rotted and broken. One of the chimneys had fallen and sections of the roof looked to be anything but watertight.
The place was almost a ruin—to outward appearances.
Yet the drug-master knew that inside the house was warm, comfortable and in excellent repair.
The Chinese led around the side of the house until he came to the door of a shed, built against the brickwork of the house. He swung open one leaf of the doors, to jump back with a cry of fright. Burle sprang from the car and ran to the door of the shed. For the moment he could not believe the evidence of his eyes. He uttered an oath and ran into the shed.
Occupying most of the space in the shed was a low-built car, shod with peculiarly large balloon tyres. For the time the drug-master stood in puzzled amazement. Slowly he turned to face the yellow man.
Charlie Wing was staring at the strange car in obvious terror. A of queer sounds were coming from his parted lips. Burle caught him by the shoulders and swung him to face him.
"Damn you, you yellow devil! Who have you let in here?"
"No come." The man cringed.
Again Burle repeated his question, without eliciting a coherent reply. Bidding the man stand to one side Burle carefully examined the ground before the shed. There were new tracks leading into the bushlands. He followed them for some distance. They led on to the banks of the creek. He could see the place where the car had been driven through the waters at the old ford.
Puzzled, he returned to the shed and the strange car. Although he had never seen the car before he had no doubts of its identity. The car was the one he had told the half-caste to bring from Circular Quay to Epping. It was the car the Little Grey Woman had taken from the Maratui, and she had brought it to the House of Dreams.
Then the Little Grey Woman knew of the House of Dreams! But why had she brought the car there? Casting back on time he believed she had come straight to the house from the wharf. He went quickly to one of the tyres. It looked very new. Yet he had instructed Graine to, before leaving Japan, drive the car sufficiently to take off the newness from the tyres.
A sudden suspicion came to him. He sprang to the back of the shed and pressed a spring. Part of the brickwork swung back on well-oiled hinges. Followed by Charlie Wing he ran through and to the rooms he kept in the house for his own use. As he opened the door he fell into a frenzy of rage, cursing loudly.
The tyres he had obtained to replace the cocaine-filled tyres on the car—the tyres he had brought into that room with his own hands and stood in the corner opposite the door—had disappeared.
Had the Little Grey Woman taken them? He knew the answer to his question. The new tyres were on the low-hung car. The cocaine-filled tyres had disappeared—with the Little Grey Woman.
Burle crossed the room and dropped into the chair before the desk. He was bewildered and depressed. Whatever plans he formed, whatever actions he took, the Little Grey Woman anticipated and defeated him.
She had taken the car holding the cargo of cocaine from the ship, and brought it to the House of Dreams. She had changed the tyres on the car, carrying away these holding the illegal drugs. But why had she brought the car to Epping, to make the change of tyres? She could have obtained tyres that would fit the car in the city. Had she taken the loaded tyres from the House of Dreams?
Burle could not believe that possible. There had been five tyres on the car—a load more than a strong man could carry. Then had she helpers? Only by the Little Grey Woman being at the head of a gang could her actions be explained.
IT had been possible for the Little Grey Woman to bring the motor car to the House of Dreams, without coming under the observation of the Chinese in the market-gardens. Burle knew he had found the place where she had forded the creek. But only one car had come to the house, and that stood in the shed. How had she taken the loaded tyres from the House?
An hour spent in conjectures and Burle was certain the Little Grey Woman had not taken the loaded tyres from the House of Dreams. They were somewhere in the house; or in the thick scrub surrounding it. Then if the tyres were about the house or grounds, the Little Grey Woman was also there.
He turned to face the impassive Chinese sitting by the doorway.
"Look here, Charlie! You've been up to some game! Who have you let into the house?"
The man shook his head negatively, remaining silent.
"No good trying that." Burle left his seat and walked across to face the man. "I told you about that car and the cocaine. Now, someone's brought the car here by the old ford. Someone's taken the tyres, from the wheels and replaced them with others. What do you know of that?"
"No?" The drug-master eyed the man closely. He had good reason to believe Charlie Wing faithful to his interests. For some minutes he was lost in thought, then waved his hand towards the door.
"Get! Pass the word around. No one's to come here; no-one's to go away from here. Understand, you yellow devil? Anyone coming to visit the House of Dreams, they're to be shooed off. Anyone trying to get away from it—well, your chaps have knives! Get me?"
The Chinese nodded without a muscle of his face moving. For a Burle stood in the open doorway, watching the man pad through the hall, then closed the door heavily and returned to his desk. He lifted the receiver of the telephone connected by underground wire to Charlie Wing's hut in the market gardens—and called a Sydney number.
A few seconds and he had the connection. "Boscabel there? Good! Burle speaking. There's trouble about; something's gone wrong. No, I'm not explaining over the wire. Just get this: the House of Dreams is closed for a time. Get me? Closed, I said! Pass the word around. No one's to come near the place till I say so."
For a full minute he stood with his ear to the receiver, listening. Presently, without making any reply, he thrust the receiver on the rest and went to the door. In the hall, he halted and stared intently at the great outer door. It had not been opened since he purchased the house. With his consent, it would never be opened.
He glanced around the wide hall and up the fine, old stair-case. The House of Dreams was a fortress. In it he would hide and wait until the enemies surrounding him had grown careless, and dispersed. Then he would emerge from his retirement and re organise his gang. Five years had passed since he purchased the House of Dreams—to make it a refuge and little heaven for the wealthy drug-addicts he had gathered around him.
The House of Dreams! Few people in the Epping district remembered the old brick house that was once the centre of a thriving and extensive farming property, in the early days of the State. If they remembered it, they would conclude it had, by now, fallen to ruins—ruins hidden amid the thick bushlands Burle had allowed to grow up around the house-site.
The house had been almost a ruin when he had first discovered it. Immediately he set eyes on the place he knew it was what he had been looking for, for many months. He had purchased the property, ostensibly for market gardens along the banks of the creek. Secretly, he had had the interior of the house repaired, making of it a luxurious, sensual palace for his debased clients; hidden behind the dilapidated exterior.
He turned to the great staircase and ascended to the upper storey. Again, at the head of the stairs, he halted and looked back. A Chinese servant was padding through the hall. Burle smiled. Charlie Wing had lost no time in sending in the servants. The House of Dreams was closed, except to himself and one other—the girl he had sent Ted Gow to obtain.
In that house he would hide from his enemies, served by the plaint Chinese. Around the house and grounds there would be the Chinese market-gardeners—a guard through which no foe could possibly penetrate. But before he could rest, he must search the house. The thought that the Little Grey Woman was somewhere within the walls was persistent. He groped forward, in the dim twilight thrown by the single globe burning in the hall, until he came to the switches. He threw over the levers and the sudden burst of light almost blinded him. For a moment he remained with his hand on the switch, then moved forward. What did the lights matter? Not one ray could penetrate doors or windows.
From either end of the gallery extending the width of the house, ran two corridors. Burle chose the east corridor and walked quickly, until he came to the fast door on the right-hand side. It opened into a large room furnished mainly with low divans. The air of the room was heavy with the oily, enervating scent of opium.
For a moment he gasped for breath, then moved into the room and switched on the light. He glanced curiously around the room. The only light came from a single dulled globe set in the centre of the ceiling. There were no windows; the walls were hung with dull-coloured curtains. Satisfied there was no one in the room, Burle passed to one of the walls and pulled aside the curtain. He pressed on a small panel and a door swung open.
If the Little Grey Woman had penetrated the House of Dreams, if she had learned the secret of the door in the garage, she would still not know of this secret, inner room; the hidden place where he stored his supplies of the illicit drugs.
He switched on the light and looked around. The room was narrow. Down one side ran a bench, and, above it, shelving holding stacks of the small, narrow vials in which he traded his drugs. Nothing had been touched. His eyes wandered to the far corner of the room and a startled exclamation came from his lips. With a bound he crossed the room to the corner. There were stacked the five motor tyres!
One searching glance and he knew they were the tyres the Little Grey Woman had taken from the car in the garage. Why had she brought them there?
He had to make certain he was not mistaken. Dropping to his knees, he took out his penknife and slit into the thick rubber. A few minutes' work and some grains of white powder filtered out on to the floor. Burle rose to his feet, bewildered and perplexed.
Why had the Little Grey Woman brought those tyres to the secret room? Why had she brought the car to the House of Dreams? Try as he would, he could not fathom her purpose. The tyres were inside the house. Then the Little Grey Woman was also inside the house.
With sudden impulse, Burle turned to the door. As his hand touched the woodwork, the light flickered and expired.
With a wrench he flung open the door to fall back amazed. The light in the big room was also extinguished. He glanced towards the door leading into the corridor. It was closed, but under the edge showed a thin line of bright light. Then the lights in the corridor were still burning. He stumbled a few steps forward through the thick scented darkness, to halt suddenly at the sound of a soft footstep in the room. He beat forward to listen. The sounds did not come again.
Cautiously, he took another step forward—to be dazed by a sudden burst of light. Directly before him stood a large easel. He stared at it with unbelieving eyes. It had not been in the room when he had passed through to go to the secret cupboard.
ON the easel was a big frame, shrouded by a crimson velvet cloth. With trembling fingers Burle caught at the edge of the velvet and dragged it from before the frame. On the easel stood a framed photographic enlargement. For long minutes Burle stared at the pictured scene, terror rising in his heart. The photograph was of Ailsa Rae's office in the Beauty Parlours.
On the ground before the desk lay, prone, the form of a man. Burle did not have to glance at the pictured face. He knew him. It was Carl Gerlach—the man he had murdered!
A shrill cry of terror rose to his lips. Without another glance at the photograph he ran from the room and down the corridor to the gallery at the head of the stairs, shrieking for help.
In the wide gallery, crossing the head of the stairs, Burle halted abruptly. The hall below was blazing with light, and gathered there were the yellow men Charlie Wing had brought from the market gardens to the house to serve as servants. For some minutes he stood trembling, clutching the rail of the balustrade, striving to gain his composure; to force himself to go down the stairs to the hall; to explain away, with a few gruff words, his cries for help. But he could not move; only stand there clutching the polished wood as if it were his only safety. He could only lean forward, staring down on the waving sea of upturned emotionless yellow faces, lit only by the dark, inexpressive, slit eyes.
A man came from amid the crowd at the foot of the stairs. Slowly and with frequent glances back he commenced to ascend. At length the inertia that bound Burle was released. He turned towards the head of the stairs to meet the man. For the moment he did not recognise him. It was only when they came almost breast to breast that he could give him a name.
"Charlie Wing! What are they doing there?" Burle raised a shaking arm, pointing at the yellow men in the hall. "Tell them to go! What—what the h—"
"You cly out?"
"I cry out? No." For the moment Burle forgot the loaded tyres in the secret room. "Yes. I cried out. There's someone in the house—some woman! Tell your men—get them to work. Find her! Find her, I say!" He turned from the Chinese headman to lean over the balustrade, beckoning to the men in the hall. "You fellows! Get about!" He dragged from his pocket a roll of notes. "See! Money! Plenty money! Get the woman! The Little Grey Woman! The man who brings her to me gets this!"
Only a few of the Chinese stirred, making to ascend the stairs. They moved slowly and reluctantly. Burle impatiently faced round to the headman.
"You, Charlie Wing. Tell them what I say! There's a woman in this house. A woman in a grey silk cloak and wearing a grey silk mask. I want her! Tell those yellow devils there's money for her. Much money! Take! Look!" He thrust the roll of notes into the man's hands. "Take it, Wing! Take it and count it! Tell them—tell your men that the man who brings that woman to me shall have that!"
For a moment the Chinese fingered the notes covetously. Then, holding them above his head he leaned over the rail, speaking rapidly in Cantonese to his men. Immediately there was a stir of interest among the crowd in the hall. Those who had moved forward to the bottom of the stairs commenced to ascend with agility.
As they passed their headman they paused an instant to lay lingering fingers on the notes. Straddling across the gallery, they called to their fellows below that the money was real—a fine fortune for the lucky winner.
Stuffing the notes in the bosom of his blouse, Charlie Wing took command of the search. Some of the Chinese he sent to explore the offices; a couple he detailed to carry the news of the search to the men still in the gardens. A few minutes and the house was a scene of seething excitement.
Burle smiled grimly as he made his way down the stairs. In the wide hall he paused and looked around him. The lights still blazed, but what did that matter? Through the thick boards sealing doors and windows, the lights could not be observed from without. And if they were, what mattered? Any stranger wandering near the creek would be captured and brought to him.
A last, lingering look around the hall, and Burle turned towards the suite of rooms he retained for his personal use. A strange longing had come over him; a feeling he could pot understand. At first, he had thought he wanted a drink—a long drink of potent spirits—to quiet his shaking nerves. In the outside world, hardly an hour of the waking day passed without his resorting to brandy. But now he found himself with a distaste for the spirits—yet his whole being craved for the relief that only drink could bring.
Only when his hand rested on the door of his rooms did he realise what the feeling possessing him meant. He did not want spirits, but he wanted a stimulant. He wanted the drug he had tasted for the first time in his Sydney flat. He wanted cocaine!
For the moment he was dazed with the discovery. He tried to turn the handle of the door and enter the room; but he could not. In the room he knew he would find a decanter of brandy. A few steps and he could nerve himself with the strengthening spirit—and his body involuntarily shrank back from before the door. He wanted cocaine!
To his memory sprang the strange effect of the drug, thrilling every nerve to intense life. He wanted to realise again the long, steady drawing of the white grains into his body. He wanted to experience again the thrills of anticipation—the momentarily dread that the drug would not react—followed by the terse joy when he found its insidious strength storming every nerve centre of his being.
Without conscious volition, he stepped back and turned to the stairs. There was no cocaine in his rooms. Only in the secret cupboard, where the loaded tyres were stored, could he find the drug.
Mechanically he ascended the shallow stairs. At the door of the big room he halted and mopped his sweating brows with his handkerchief. He knew he was acting foolishly; but some, unseen power was drawing him forward against his will.
Slowly his hand found the door handle. Averting his eyes from the easel in the centre of the room, he hurried across to the secret door and pressed the spring. As he touched the light switch, his eyes went to the corner where the tyres were stacked. They were not there!
Dazedly he drew his hand across his eyes. Surely he had not seen rightly. He crossed to the corner, groping with his hands.
The tyres were not there. Someone had taken them from the cupboard.
But they had been in the corner when he first came to the secret room. He could not doubt that. He knew that he had touched them. He remembered kneeling beside them, drawing out his pocket-knife and cutting into the resilient rubber. He remembered seeing the white grains trickle from the cut in the face of the tyre out on to the floor.
The tyres had certainly been there. On the floor lay a trail of white powder, leading from the corner to the door. He had not left that trail of powder when he ran from the cupboard. It had been left by the person who had taken the tyres away, by the Little Grey Woman.
Close to where the tyres had been stacked was a small pile of cocaine. Burle fell to his knees and lifted a few grains to his nostrils. For seconds he waited kneeling, expectant for the drug to come into effect.
The interval seemed inordinately long. Almost he despaired that the powder was not cocaine. Then came that strange feeling of elation, of full nervous strength.
He rose to his feet, again steady and arrogant. Half turning to the door, he hesitated, then returned and carefully gathered the scattered grains of cocaine into an old envelope. Those grains of cocaine were all the drugs remaining in the House of Dreams. He folded the envelope carefully and stowed it in a vest pocket. He would want it—every grain of the drug—for his own use. Only through the aid of the Little White Hag could he hope to face his gathering enemies successfully. In the big room he came face to face with the photograph on the easel. For a moment he hesitated, then crossed to it and dashed easel and photograph across the room.
Fool! That the Little Grey Woman could think to frighten him with that.
Again in the gallery he paused and listened to the sounds filling the house. The Chinese were searching for the Little Grey Woman. She was in the house—for had she not removed the tyres from the secret cupboard? Then, the Chinese would capture her.
Catch her! An evil grin came on Burle's full lips. The Chinese would catch the Little Grey Woman. Those yellow devils were said to be adepts at torture. Well, he would show them something; he would show them heights of torture their centuries-old mines could not fathom—when they brought the Little Grey Woman to him.
He ran down the stairs, the blood coursing gaily through his veins. At the door of his rooms he paused again, taking out his watch. Gow should arrive at the House of Dreams any minute—and with him would be the girl. Doris would be in his power—in the hidden House of Dreams; the old ruins, hidden in the bushlands.
She would be with him, and surrounding and guarding them would be the yellow, silent Chinese. He could rule Gow, as he ruled the Chinese—or dispose of him. Perhaps the latter was the better way. Gow was free with his knife. That was good, when he directed the half-caste's hand. But, if the man turned on him? If he again tried to blackmail him as he had the previous night—that morning.
The half-caste must go. Yet he must act cautiously. Gow was related to many of the Chinese working in the market gardens and in the house. If he quarrelled with Gow the Chinese might take part against him. And he dared not let the yellow men get out of hand.
Flinging open the door he strode into the room. As the lights sprang into life a woman standing before his desk turned. Burle stared at her in amazement.
"Margaret! Margaret Venne!" He rode forward until he stood over the woman, who had sunk into the chair before the desk, cowering. "What are you doing here?"
"Jim!" The woman gasped, then laughed sillily. "Oh, Jim! Give it to me! Quick! Quick!"
"What?" Burle looked at her suspiciously. "Say, how did you get in here?"
"Ailsa says she has none." The woman did not answer his question. "I know she lies! She lies! She must lie! But she won't give it to me, and I must have it!"
"How did you get into the house?" The drug-master shook the woman roughly by the shoulder. "Tell me You'll get nothing unless you tell me how you got in!"
"In?" Margaret shook her head. "Why, the door—the door you showed me. Jim, give it to me. I'll do anything, Jim; anything if you give me some."
"You know." The woman's voice sank to a whisper. "Jim, Ailsa says she won't give me any more; that she's thrown away what she had. Oh, isn't she foolish, mad—and I want it so much. Jim, give me a pinch, just a little smell of it, and I'll do anything you tell me. Honest, I will. Anything, but Oh, Jim, Jim, I must have it."
Instinctively Burle's fingers went to the little packet in his vest pocket, to feel the paper in which lay a few grains of cocaine he had swept up from the floor of the secret room. Almost he withdrew the paper, then thrust it back again, angrily.
"You say you came in through the garage door. Well, how did you get to that door?" Burle's eyes were full of suspicion.
"I drove out here. Jim, give me—"
"Drove! Like that?" He lifted the woman's shaking hand and let it drop inertly on the desk again. He laughed heartily. "Drive a car like that?"
"I did! I did—"' Margaret's voice rose to a shriek. "Jim! Have mercy! I did drive out here. I swear it! I don't know how, for I was bad and Ailsa wouldn't give me any. She won't give me any more; she says that she has thrown-away what she had and—"
"Drove out here!" Burle's eyes were blazing, piteously. "Yes, you drove out here. Then why didn't you take some of the stuff from the tyres before you stowed them away in the secret room? Why didn't you—"
He ceased speaking, abruptly, gloating over the woman cowering in the chair. His hands stretched forward, the fingers curving ominously, a look of fiendish triumph lighting his eyes.
"Why didn't you, Margaret Venne? Lord! I never guessed it was you. Margaret Venne, the Little Grey Woman!"
"THE Little Grey Woman!" Burle hissed the words again from between his clenched teeth, bending over the woman crouching in the chair. A grim smile flecked his lips; an evil light glowed in his eyes. At last he held the Little Grey Woman—the mysterious opponent he had fought unsuccessfully for many months. He had her, alone in the House of Dreams. She was his, to do what he liked with. And without the closed door, passing to and fro through the house, were the Chinese, searching for her. He had but to touch the bell and they would come, running. He would show her to them; he would teach them with what ingenuity a white man could torture and revenge himself on his enemy.
"Drop that bunk." He shook the woman roughly. "May as well confess. You're the Little Grey Woman ain't you?"
The woman stirred uneasily. She looked up at the man, torments in her eyes.
"Jim, you know me, Jim. I'm Margaret Venne. You remember You took me to Ailsa and she gave me—it. Now she refuses me—and I've come to you. For God's sake, Jim! Can't you see? I'm in torment, and—oh, Jim, Jim. Just one sniff—one little pinch. I'll do anything you want. I'll—"
"You'll do it without." The hard' tone remained in the man's voice, yet a puzzled look had dawned in his eyes. "Just one thing, Margaret. You're the Little Grey Woman, aren't you?"
"The Little Grey Woman—" The reiterated words had at last pierced the clouded brain. "She won't give me—it, Jim. But you will, won't you, Jim. Oh, give me! Give it me!"
For long moments he stood looking down on the sobbing woman. Was she the Little Grey Woman? Was the Little Grey Woman a drug addict? The idea was impossible—absurd. Yet the Woman in the chair was suffering—suffering agonies for lack of the drug!
He felt in his pocket for the precious packet of cocaine. With reluctant fingers he drew it out and shook a few grains on to a sheet of paper, placing it on the desk. The woman watched him eagerly. As he screwed up the paper again she stretched out eager hands.
"Give it me, Jim! I'm dying for it! Oh, you're cruel, cruel!"
Burle held the drug back from her grasping hands, watching her closely. If-she was the Little Grey Woman? Could he doubt against the evidence of his eyes? He knew the Little Grey Woman was in the house. He had proof of that. But, this woman? Was she indeed his enemy?
"Tell me!" He bent lower, warding off her hands. "I'll give it to you, Margaret. Understand? I'll give it to you if you tell me the truth. Are you the Little Grey Woman?"
For a full minute the Woman's eyes wavered under his. Her glance fell from his face to the cocaine scattered on the white paper. Instinctively, her hands went out to the drug for which every nerve in her body was tingling; the withdrawal of which from her was torturing her with the pangs of the damned.
"Tell me!" He drew the paper still further from her.
"Yes! Yes!" Margaret broke from his hands, grasping at the paper eagerly. "Give it to me! Jim, Jim, why are you so unkind? Give it to me!"
"You are the Little Grey Woman?"
"Yes. Anything! Yes, yes! Ahhh!" A long, low, scarcely audible sigh, and the paper showed no signs of the drug. For some, seconds she sat, her head in her clasped hands. The few grains of the drug took time to act on her long accustomed nerves.
At length she looked up, smiling.
"That was good—good, Jim. But you gave me so little. I want more—more to keep by me—so that Jim, you can't understand; you are not helpless before it. It's hell without it! Hell! Oh, he couldn't invent the tortures—"
"You'll get no more!" Burle exclaimed, his voice hoarse with passion.
"What?" The woman swung round in her chair to face him. "Jim, you're absurd! Why, you've got tons and tons of it."
"You think so?"
"I know. You've been successful. You've beaten the White Falcon." She nodded her head wisely. "Oh, I know."
"Yes—you know." The unrestrained brutality of the man's nature broke bounds. "You know. Blast you! You've admitted it. So you're the Little Grey Woman! Well, I'll give you this: I never suspected you. No, not of all the women I know. The Little Grey Woman taken to 'snow'! Good Lor'!"
"But I'm not." Margaret rose from her seat, to be thrust back violently. "Jim—"
"The Little Grey Woman!" The drug-master gloated over the now fearful woman. "And the Chinese ginks are hunting the house for you. Well, they can stop now. I'll give them something better to amuse themselves with."
He went to the door, keeping his eyes steadily on the woman. Through the partly opened door he shouted for Charlie Wing. The man came padding down the stairs, questions in his eyes.
"No need to hunt further, Charlie." Burle's tones rang with triumph. "I've found her ladyship—in my room, searching my desk. Oh, I've got her safe. Trust me for that. Get your chaps into the hall. I've got a stunt on that'll make 'em laugh!"
"All li'." The Chinese was straining forward, trying to peer into the room. "Want a look? Well, you'll see all you want, later. Get your men here first. Line 'em Up in the hall and then come to me. I shall want you to help me out there with her."
He shut the door in the man's face and went back to the woman. Already the few grains of cocaine he had allowed her were passing the height of their effect. She was falling into despondency, the forerunner of the anguished racking of nerves. Yet a similar amount of the drug had held him up for hours. He had doubted if the Little Grey Woman was an addict. The idea had seemed impossible. Yet he had seen—she had acknowledged she was the Little Grey Woman—and he saw his revenge opening before him.
He waited, silently watchful, beside the desk, until Wing tapped at the door. Calling in the man he bade him carry the woman out into the great hall. There he found the Chinese servants, reinforced by many of the workers in the market gardens, drawn up in solid, impassive lines. For a few moments he watched them Almost he believed he could see cruel anticipation in the half-closed, slit eyes.
He, James Burle, would show them something! Something that would lift them out of the Oriental impassiveness. He would show them that he, too, could wrack and rend. He would show them that he, within a few hours, could have his enemy at his feet, crying, pleading, beseeching him for death—to end the torments that flesh could not withstand.
And she, this woman, Margaret Venne, the Little Grey Woman, who had met and thwarted him at every turn, had showed him the way. He had planned revenge against the day when he found the Little Grey Woman in his power—but never a revenge like this.
With a conquering air he followed the men carrying Margaret Venne out into the hall. With his own hands he dragged a massive chair before the closed main doors and motioned to the Chinese to seat their burden there.
"Tie her up, Charlie; not too tight. Let her lean forward. See, I want her to be able to lean on the table."
He placed a small table before the bound woman.
"That's right! Now stand back and tell your fellows what I'm saying."
He drew the packet of cocaine out of his breast pocket, holding it up so that Margaret could see it. Her eyes fastened on the screw of paper, hungrily.
"Want another dose. Margaret?" He laughed breezily. "Well, I'm going to give you all this! All for yourself—if you can get to it! Lucky woman! Lucky Little Grey Woman! Blast you!"
He caught her by the back of her neck, forcing her head down until her nose touched the table about two inches from the near edge. Satisfied with her position, he poured a few grains of the cocaine on the spot where her face had rested, then with the powder drew a line back to the far edge of the table.
"There it is, Margaret, m'dear."
He restrained her from immediately lowering her face to the table.
"No, no! Wait until I've finished speaking. Hold still, damn you! I've more to say."
Exhausted by the brief struggle Margaret lay back in the chair, looking up at her captor with pleading eyes. Burle watched her, gloatingly.
"There's the snow, Margaret. There's a fair pinch, just where you can reach it. You'll get that; you may be able to get some more if you struggle hard. We'll enjoy seeing you try to get it. That'll last you the night. Tomorrow we'll come and watch you get at the stuff over here. You won't get it—I know that, for if you struggle too hard you'll overturn the table. But you'll have the Little White Hag well under your eyes."
He stepped back from the chair, releasing his hold on the woman's shoulder. "You'll see it, day and night—lying there—just out of your reach. And you'll suffer, damn you, you'll suffer. And I'll watch—watch—watch!" He walked back to where the Chinese stood. With a harsh laugh he saw the woman bend forward, striving to reach the white powder.
A few minutes and, she sat upright again, fully recovered. Yet, into her dark eyes had come a look of fear.
"Feel better, m'dear?" Burle jeered. "You'll feel worse presently. I'll see to that. And this is only the beginning. You're going to sit there watching the cocaine until the hell you say you suffer overcomes you. And I'll come in here and watch you. I'll have your friend, Doris Lyall, with me. I'll teach her to come here and watch you. She'll be glad to do it when she's been in the House of Dreams a few days. You—you Little Grey Woman! Damn you! Blast you! I'll teach you to interfere with James Burle!"
"Don't be ridiculous, Jim." Margaret, fortified by the grains of cocaine she had been able to reach, spoke proudly, but nervously. "You know I'm not the Little Grey Woman. You know—"
"I know you're not the Little Grey Woman when you've got the stuff inside you—but you are when you're pleading for it. Get that! Little Grey Woman or not, I'll wring the truth from you, or—"
The telephone rang shrilly in Burle's room.
He turned and sprang through the open door.
He called through the door to Charlie Wing. "Get your fellows about their work, Charlie, Gow's coming up to the house and he's bringing a visitor—for me."
There was supreme triumph in the man's tones. At last he had won! He had the girl, and his enemy, in his hands. For one he had made full arrangements. For the other; his thoughts were full. Gow was bringing her to him. Gow would go and he and the girl—and the woman in the hall—would remain.
There would be only the Chinese servants about the house and they—they would laugh. He had not long to wait.
A slight, sliding sound down the passage leading to the secret door opening into the garage and Gow came to view, carrying what looked like a bundle of wraps.
Burle, his heart beating high, took the bundle from Gow and carried it into his room. He laid the girl on the couch and turned to face the half-caste, smiling sardonically.
"Good man!" Burle held out his hand, his tones exultant. "You've done excellently. To-morrow—"
"Now!" Gow interrupted.
"Now—? What do you mean? You know—"
"I know you, Mr James Burle." Gow's even white teeth flashed in a smile. "Oh yes, I know you, Jim Burle—too well. You think you've got the girl and, no, no, Ted Gow isn't that sort. We'll settle now or—"
"Or you don't touch the girl until you do."
"You—" Burle sprang forward angrily, to recoil at the sight of the man's knife, pointing at his breast.
"Stop there." Gow's smile was exasperating. "No, Jim, I don't trust you. You know too many tricks for me. I want what you promised; get it, and get it quick!"
"Or?" Burle sneered. "The girl is in my charge until you find time to part. See?"
"I'll see!" The drug-master sprang past the man to the door, flinging it open. "I'll call your bluff! Wing! Charlie Wing!"
"Good!" Gow laughed easily. "We'll see what Wing will do."
The head-man entered, followed by half-a-dozen of the Chinese attracted by Burle's shouts.
"Get that man!" Burle pointed to the half-caste who stood in the centre of the room. "Take him, I say, and tie him up."
The man looked puzzled. He glanced from Burle to the half-caste and a slight smile rose to his thin lips. Some slight signal passed between the two Asiatics—and Gow laughed openly.
"No good, Jim. Dog wont eat dog, with us—and you know I'm more than half Chink. Get that and we won't quarrel. Now I want what I've been promised. Hand over the money and the stuff—or you don't touch the girl until you do. Keep me too long waiting and—well I ain't above fancying a bit of frock for myself."
BURLE'S eyes travelled from the glowering face of the half-caste to the group of impassive Chinese before the door. A muttered curse rose to his lips. He knew he was helpless, defeated, and that at the very hour of his triumph. He had promised Gow much, confident that when the man had abducted the girl and brought her to the House of Dreams he would be able to find some way to dispose of the man and his claims. He had never intended to pay the man. He had relied on his Chinese to settle any claim Gow might try to enforce. Now blood was calling to blood. The Chinese had sided with their half-brother. Burle cursed himself for a fool for not anticipating this. That Gow, the son of a full-blooded Chinese and a white woman, possessed the racial characteristics of the east, even though be was Australian trained and schooled; although he had lived principally with white people since attaining manhood. He was at heart a Chinese of the Celestial Empire; nothing would change that. Burle had no money with him at the House of Dreams. The last notes he possessed he had used to bribe the Chinese to search for the Little Grey Woman. He had not even the cocaine brought to Sydney in the loaded tyres; but he would not have parted with that at any cost. Vainly he cast around in "his mind for some means to bring both Chinese and Gow to their former submission. Suddenly he turned to Charlie Wing.
"Those notes, Charlie! Your fellows did not catch the Little Grey Woman. Give 'em back!"
Almost a smile broke the inexpressive features of the head-man. He turned to the Chinese grouped behind him, muttering some words in a low tone. A queer, little smile ran round the group. Each man drew off his blouse and held it up. Again Burle cursed himself for a fool. Of course, Wing would have divided the plunder with his men directly they were out of sight.
"Look here, Gow." He turned, bluffly friendly to the half-caste. "This is absurd! You know I have the money in my bank in Sydney."
"Where the johns are hunting for you," Gow laughed. "I don't like your chances of changing a cheque."
"You can have the cheque." The drug-master spoke eagerly. "I'll date it back a couple of days—then they won't think you know anything of me."
"They won't." Gow's reply was pointedly suggestive. "What of the stuff, Jim. I can get rid of that. You were to give me half notes and half the 'snow'. I'll take the 'snow'—all of it—and call it square."
Burle gasped. The tyres containing the cocaine would bring many thousands of pounds. More, on the contents of those tyres he was building his plans to rehabilitate his drug trade. Without the cocaine he was helpless.
"What of it, Jim?" Gow moved slightly to one side. "There's the girl! Worth, the price, isn't she? Come to think of it, why should I bargain? You've turned dog on me; Charlie knows that. He's with me in this. Why shouldn't we take the 'snow' and the girl? I can do with her."
"The tyres have disappeared." The drug-master made the confession in dejected tones. "They—"
"A good tale!" The half-caste's laugh was echoed by the Chinese grouped at the door. "There's the car in the garage, with the tyres still on it."
"They're clean. They're the tyres you brought here to replace those holding the cocaine," Burle said, eagerly. "The others were in—"
"Who-took them there?" Gow interrupted.
"I don't know."
"Are they there still?"
"Where were they?"
"In the secret cupboard opening from the opium room."
"I know." The half-caste spoke rapidly in a strange dialect. One of the Chinese at the door turned and left the room.
"If the tyres are still there and the cocaine in them I'll give you the girl and take them. You'll have a week here to make yourself sweet with her. Then Charlie and I are getting out—get that—and the others will not stop after we leave." The half-caste spoke slowly and distinctly. "You're a wash-out, James Burle! A wash-out, get that! The little devil got you. Nothing you do turns out right. I'm through—so's Charlie."
He turned to the group of Chinese and in Cantonese repeated the words. The men responded with vigorous nods.
For some minutes there was silence, broken by the return of the man who had gone to search the secret room. He spoke a few words monotonously and without inflection in his voice.
"Won Get says there're no tyres in the cupboard." Gow uttered the words as if he had anticipated the report. "Try again, Jim Burle."
"I told you there was nothing there," Burle replied angrily.
"Then were is it?"
"I don't know." The drug-master hesitated. "I believe the Little Grey Woman took it from the cupboard."
"And the Little Grey Woman?"
"She's out there." For the moment the gleam of satisfaction lit the man's eyes. "Jove, Gow, it was great! She's a drug addict and I've got her tied up with the drug just out of her reach. She's quiet just now for I let her have one dose. But she won't get more. It's there, but out of her reach—Maybe I—"
The half-caste spoke indifferently. "You're forgetting, Jim. I want my pay."
"Don't be a fool, man. I'll get the money from the bank somehow. I'll get back the cocaine. She'll tell me where she's hidden the stuff when her nerves get shy. Yes, she'll tell where the drug is—and more. Maybe she can tell us about the White Falcon. If we can get them both, then—"
Ted Gow, with a contemptuous shrug of his shoulders, turned and spoke to the Chinese at the door. A couple of them came forward and lifted the girl from the couch, carrying her towards the door. In sudden passion Burle jumped forward—to find his arms held; himself in the grip of the Chinese.
"Gow! You devil! What are you going to do with her?" he shouted.
"No?" The half-caste turned at the door. "Don't worry, Jim. I'll keep the girl and keep her safe. You'll have time to think. Tonight I shall put her in one of the upstairs rooms. No one shall go near her, I promise you that. Tomorrow—perhaps. The girl is nothing. I want what you promised me; then I go back to the land of my fathers. If I get not the money—Well, a white girl is worth much in my land!"
In sudden frenzy Burle sprang forward, dragging the men holding him through the door out into the hall. There they managed to restrain him, holding him back while Gow followed the man carrying Doris up the stairs. In the gallery, Gow turned and waved toward where Margaret Venne sat before the drug strewn table.
"The Little Grey Woman, Jim." There were tones of merriment in the half-caste's voice. "Ask her! Perhaps she can tell you how to get the girl from me."
He disappeared into one of the corridors, leaving Burle shouting with anger. Again he made efforts to get to the stairs, but this Chinese pulled him back until he stood facing Margaret across the table! There they released him. Burle turned savagely on the men who had held him. In a mad rush he scattered them and ran to the foot of the stain.
There he found two men on guard, drawn knives in their hands.
He hesitated to turn savagely at the sound of laughter behind him He could only see the impassive faced Chinese, but now each man held a long wicked-looking knife in his hand.
What could he do? He was alone in the House of Dreams with the Chinese he had treated like dogs, considering them only as creatures made to minister to his pleasures. Gow was the upper floor with the girl. What was happening to her?
He turned abruptly and strode to the door of his room. There, he glanced back, to see the Chinese on guard at the foot of the stairway seat themselves on the bottom step. The others, headed by Wing, were straggling towards the back of the hall on the way to the offices. Again Burle cursed under his breath. He was helpless. He had lost the cocaine and the girl.
His eyes fell on the silent figure of the woman seated before the drug-strewn table. With a muttered exclamation he strode back into the hall to come to a halt before Margaret, and look down on her with gloomy satisfaction. Whatever he had lost, he still retained the Little Grey Woman! Could he through her regain the cocaine-laden tyres—and the girl? It was possible. Reluctantly he had to admit to a belief in the Little Grey Woman's wonderful powers. He bent until his face almost rested against hers.
The woman looked up at him with dulled eyes.
"Margaret, where are the tyres?"
There was no answering intelligence in the woman's face. From between her blanched lips came little gasping moans. Again he repeated the question. The woman bent forward, straining at the ropes to get at the white powder on the table.
"You shall have it!" The drug-master spoke anxiously. "You shall have it, Margaret, if you tell me where the tyres are. Margaret, Doris Lyall, your friend, is in the hands of the half-caste, Gow. Do you want to help her?"
"Doris?" For a moment a flicker of intelligence lit Margaret's eyes. "Doris? Jim! Doris wouldn't let you treat me like this, Jim. Oh, Jim, Jim! Give me—it. Can't you see how I'm suffering? Jim, Jim!"
Burle turned from the woman savagely. He could get nothing from her. Then let her sit there and suffer! Perhaps in the morning, when she had watched the drug strewn table through the night hours, she would be more reasonable. But dare he leave her there too long? A couple of days and she would be insane. What did it matter?
He laughed loudly. The Little Grey Woman a lunatic! The Little Grey Woman a thing of fun—not fear! Again at the door of his room, Burle looked back. Something within himself was crying for him to go to the table again. He recognised the call, with a shrug of his shoulders. Well, why not? Later, when he had found a way out of his difficulties when he had the girl and the cocaine—he could break himself free from the drug. Until then—
He walked slowly back to the table and scooped up a pinch of the scattered powder. Margaret's eyes lightened as she watched him. Slowly he dropped the grains on to the back of his hand and drew them up his nostrils.
The woman fell back in her chair with a groan of disappointment. Burle laughed.
In his room, Burle paced the floor until the drug steadied his nerves. Suddenly an idea sprang to his mind. He turned towards the door, to hesitate. No, he must not act now. Later, in the quiet, early hours of the morning! Yes, that would be the time. Until then he would try and sleep; he could sleep now.
Throwing himself on the bed Burle shut his eyes, trying to elaborate the idea that had occurred to him into a definite plan. He could not think in the light. Reaching up, he seized the light-cord and pulled. That was better. In the dark he could think and plan.
Gow and the Chinese! For them to think they could hamper and defy him! Tomorrow he would show them a point. Again he laughed, tuning on his side and settling himself comfortably. Tomorrow. A delicious drowsiness came over him. Willingly he gave himself up to it.
A cry awakened him. For some moments he lay and listened. Again came the cry. Someone was calling him. He swung his feet to the ground, and, sitting on the edge of the bed, listened. It was only Margaret Venne. She was calling on him to give her the cocaine, promising to do anything he wanted. Well, he only wanted one thing from her—the place where she had hidden the tyres.
Should he go to her?
No, let her wait. Tomorrow she would be still more willing to talk.
He swung back on to the bed, yielding himself to the sleep that still held on him.
There was someone in the room, someone speaking. Slowly he came to semi-consciousness, half-opening his eyes and listening. He was certain he could hear someone. It was a woman and she was speaking from far-away.
Margaret? It might be. He was too comfortable to go out into the hall and see. Let her wait. There was someone in the room. Now he was wide awake. He lay still, listening intently.
Margaret, in the hall, was silent; but there was someone moving about close to him. He turned silently to face the door, reaching for the light-cord. Was it Gow come back to search? If it was, and he was alone, then—
He snapped at the cord savagely, flooding the room with light. With eager eyes he searched the room. There was no one there. But the door was closed—and he had left it half-open when he entered the room. Who had closed it? He sat up on the bed—to see, standing against the foot-rail of the bed, the Little Grey Woman.
"YOU?" Burle lifted himself on his elbow, now fully awake. "I thought—"
"You thought you had captured the Little Grey Woman!" The figure at the foot of the bed spoke softly, derision in her voice. "Did you really believe you could do that, James Burle?"
"I found you searching my desk." The drug-master spoke dazedly. "We caught you and tied you up, and—"
"Carried me into the hall and sat me before a drug-strewn table!" Light laughter lit the woman's voice. "You had further ideas in your mind, but Gow came—and fooled you. James Burle, do you think I would trouble to travel across the world to measure wits against you?"
Burle did not answer. He was trying to arrange his ideas. The woman he had captured—Margaret Venne—was not the Little Grey Woman!
The mystery woman stood at the foot of the bed, jeering him, serene and confident. Through the slits in the grey silk mask he could see her eyes gleaming. They showed no signs of the insidious drug. For the moment he thought of springing from the bed and making a dash for the door to summon his Chinese servants. Something of his thoughts must have shown on his face, for at the slight, involuntary movement he made the Little Grey Woman's hand came into view, holding a very serviceable automatic.
"Lie still, Burle." There was command in the light tones, most evidently disguised. "You have come to the end of your tether. Within a few hours you will—"
"You telephoned for the police!" Burle now recognised the meaning of the soft murmuring in the next room that had awakened him. "You have told them of this house. Then—"
"The police will come here." The Little Grey Woman nodded mockingly. "How clever of you, Jim. Yes, I telephoned Inspector Knox while you were asleep. He promised to come here immediately and to bring sufficient force with him to smoke out this nest of corruption. But before he arrives we must talk."
"What do you want?" The man spoke sullenly.
"I want the White Falcon." The Little Grey Woman came from the foot of the bed and seated herself just out of reach.
"You don't know the White Falcon?" Burle showed surprise. For some time he had believed that the Little Grey Woman and the White Falcon were in league against him.
"No." The mystery woman spoke slowly. "At one time I was of the opinion that you, James Burle, were the White Falcon. Soon, however, I knew you had not the brains to play the part. You, big and important as you think yourself are but a pawn in the big game. The White Falcon is the real master mind."
"I know nothing of him." The drug-master moved restlessly.
"Lie still!" The Little Grey Woman spoke sharply. "There must be things you know I only guess at. I must have your knowledge or—"
"And if I refuse to tell you?"
Burle grinned. "Say, whatever your name. You might let me get up. I'm not in the habit of receiving ladies in bed."
"No?" Her tone was an insult. "Burle, will you answer my questions?"
"Tell me what you have done with the cocaine tyres."
"You remember the well in the yard?"
"Yes. You know that."
The Little Grey Woman smiled.
"You discovered that when you were exploring the house. You found in the yard a paving stone bearing a strange mark. With some labour you lifted it and found beneath a fixture in the rocks on which this house was built. You were going to explore that fixture but you did not. It goes deep into the earth, James Burle. Your tyres are there. Have you the pluck to go down and retrieve them?"
Burle groaned. The cocaine was lost irretrievably. Beneath the stone in the yard lay an unfathomable chasm. He had lowered a weighted lantern into it to find that many hundred feet down was running water.
"How did you get them there?" he questioned curiously.
"You are asking questions, not answering mine. No, you are not the White Falcon. He is cleverer than that. I dropped the tyres from an upstairs window to the yard. Then while you where searching the house for me I went to the yard and dropped the tyres into the well."
The man cursed loudly. Every move he had made the Little Grey Woman had turned to her own advantage. He had believed he had her cornered in the House of Dreams and she had used his own actions to ruin him.
"What do you want from me?" he growled.
"Tell me what you know of the White Falcon."
"What do you want him for?"
"To crush him! To watch him walk to the prison he so richly deserves." Passion showed in the Little Grey Woman's voice. She leaned forward, speaking earnestly.
"Burle, wicked as you are you are harmless beside that man. You chose an easy, yet evil, path to the wealth you coveted. But the White Falcon! He cares little for the money. He laughs at—enjoys—the misery he creates. He passes, a sinister cloud, from country to country; and where his shadow rests, women, men, and even children go down to the hell of degradation."
Burle looked curiously at the slender, grey-clad figure seated beside his bed. The woman had spoken with an intensity of feeling that left him tongue-tied. He turned on his side to watch her, striving to pierce the mystery surrounding her personality.
"You knew him before he came to Australia?" he asked at length.
"I have known of him long." The woman reverted to her usual careless lightness. "In Europe he corrupted whole nations with the infernal drugs he dealt in. Almost I had caught up to him—with the evidence that would have sent him to a living death—when he disappeared. I next heard of him in America and followed. Again I traced to the centre of the huge organisation he had built—to find he had sailed for England the previous day." She paused a few seconds, then continued: "There is little more I can tell. Again I took up the trail and found him settled in London. Almost as I was prepared to place the hand of the law on his shoulder he disappeared. This time I was lucky. One of his dupes had learned he had sailed for Australia. I came here—to find him working through you."
"Not with me!" Disregarding the threatening gun Burle sat up on the bed. "Curse him! I had my own organisation—one that I had built up myself. I imported my own drugs. He stopped that and forced me to purchase from him. The tyres—"
"Were your last attempt to free yourself from his dominance," the Little Grey Woman laughed. "I know that! James Burle, who is the White Falcon?"
"I don't know."
"You have never seen him face to face?"
"Never without that mask with the sign of the White Falcon."
"Never?" The woman did not wait for a reply. "James Burle, the White Falcon is here, about this house. I know that. He knew of the loaded tyres that came on the car. I was able to trick him—to get to the wharf and bring the car here. By this time he has learned the truth and has followed to this house. Soon—"
"Who are, you?" Burle slid nearer and peered into the woman's face. "You talk—"
"And act!" The Little Grey Woman sprang to her feet. "Listen to me, James Burle! You will release the woman in the hall. You-"
"Margaret Venne." The mystery woman spoke sharply. "You will release the girl, Doris Lyall. Denys Fahney is on his way here to take her home. An hour, perhaps less—"
"And what do I get?"
"One chance to keep your freedom," she laughed. "James Burle, I would not give you that but for the sake of the woman you deceived and betrayed. Ailsa Rae went on her knees to me, pleading for your life and freedom."
She paused, listening intently. Some sound without the room had caught her quick ears. She rose to her feet and caught at the light-cord above the man's head. The lights were extinguished, leaving the room in complete darkness.
Burle sprang from the bed, grasping at where the Little Grey Woman had stood. She was not there and he groped through the darkness for the door. It was shut and locked. He felt in his pocket for his keys to remember he had left them on his dressing-table. He was some time finding them and making his way back to the door. His office was in darkness. Switching on the lights he re-entered his bedroom to find the Little Grey Woman had dragged the cord entirely from the light-switch.
Back in his office he went to the door leading into the hall. That also was locked. A single light shone in the large hall. As he stepped through the doorway he glanced to where he had left Margaret Venne. The woman was still seated in the massive chair before the drug-strewn table!
Burle rubbed his eyes. While the Little Grey Woman had been in his bedroom he had studied her carefully. He had become certain, he was prepared to swear that she and Margaret Venne were the same person. With hesitating steps he walked down the hall and stood opposite the woman. She lifted lustreless eyes to his face. "Jim! Jim! Why are you torturing me like this? Oh, Jim, be merciful. Give me—give me—it. Just one little bit! Jim! Jim! Jim!"
For a moment he gazed intently at the woman, then swung the table to one side and bent over her, feeling at her bonds. She was firmly tied. He had been mistaken—Margaret Venne was not the Little Grey Woman. Callously he searched her, eager to discover the grey cloak and mask. He could find nothing and stepped back, puzzled.
Margaret was crying bitterly. Even through her drug-laden senses the indignity Burle had offered her had penetrated. For some moments he stood looking down on her then, with sudden compunction, he shoved the table before her, scooping the drug into a heap where she could reach it.
"Sorry, Margaret." He spoke gruffly. "I can't untie you for the present, but—"
He strode impatiently down the hall. What was he to do? The Little Grey Woman had told him she had telephoned to Inspector Knox. That had been half an hour, or more, ago. He had a bare half hour in which to safeguard himself.
In the garage stood the car brought to Australia on the Maratui. The car was fast. In half an hour he could be far from the House of Dreams. He had the car and the girl, Doris. The girl belonged to Fahney—the man who had sworn to hunt him down.
Fahney had influence. If he took the girl—took her away with him in the car and hid her—he might have a chance to bargain for his freedom. He might be able to make terms for he knew much of the workings of his drug-circle still hid from the authorities. He would have to give up the girl, eventually, unharmed, but he would retain his freedom.
But between him and the girl were the Chinese, seated at the foot of the stairs where Gow had placed them on guard. For a time he stood looking at them, a slight smile curling his lips. Did Gow believe those two men could stop him?
With a studied carelessness he walked down the hall again, to pause before Margaret Venne. Stooping close to her he spoke softly.
"Margaret! Listen to me! I've got to bolt." (She lifted her eyes, sanity again shining in them.)
"Can't cut you free, but I won't leave you bound—not with those Chinks about. I'll do this, see?" He cut one of her wrists free. "There! It will take you a time to undo the knots, but you can manage. Good-bye, and—" he hesitated, "—well, I'm sorry."
Turning, he strode down the hall, past the foot of the stairs and the drowsy guards. Under the gallery he slipped off his shoes and mounted a strong table. He could just reach the woodwork of the gallery. A spring and he obtained a grip; a moment later and he swung himself over the balustrade. In the gallery he turned and crept down the corridor, searching each room as he went. At length he came to one with the door locked. His pass-key swung the wards and he entered. Closing and locking the door he pressed down the light switch.
On the bed lay a girl, her face turned from the door. Burle cautiously approached and bent over her. A long look and he started back with a cry of astonishment.
The girl was not Doris Lyall!
His cry awoke the sleeper. She sat up and turned to him, rubbing her eyes. Burle glared at her in amazement.
"God! Ailsa, what are you doing here?"
"JIM!" Ailsa sat up on the bed, holding out her arms to the man. "What are you doing here?" Burle caught the woman roughly by the shoulder, shaking her.
"You! Where is—?" He hesitated, staring down at the woman with amazed eyes. How had Ailsa come there? He had entered the room believing to find Doris Lyall within it—to discover the woman he had abandoned.
"Jim! Why do you look at me like that? Oh, I am frightened." She covered her face with her hands, shrinking from him. "Oh, I can't bear it! I thought you had sent for me. When they came to my flat—"
"They?" the drug-master interrupted.
"The woman and the man." Ailsa swung from the bed and faced him. "Jim, you sent for me, didn't you?"
"Send for you?" Angry words rose to his lips, but he bit them back. He to send for Ailsa when he had planned and schemed to get Doris Lyall alone in the House of Dreams. "Tell me! Who was the woman?"
"I don't know." Ailsa, with a shrug of indifference, went to the dressing table and smoothed her hair. "She told me—"
"What?" Burle interjected as the woman paused.
"She said you wanted me; that you had sent her to bring me to you. She said I was to do exactly as she told me or I would bring disaster upon you; that you were in terrible danger. Jim, what is the matter?"
A woman had brought Ailsa to the House of Dreams! Burle brushed his eyes with his hand. What woman? She could not have been the Little Grey Woman for she had been in the House of Dreams before he arrived. For some seconds he stood, awkwardly, watching the woman before the mirror. Suddenly he strode to her, catching her by the shoulders.
"Jim!" She turned swiftly, creeping into his half-reluctant arms. "Jim! Tell me! You have not forsaken me?"
"'Course not." The words rose unbidden to his lips. "I'm worried, Ailsa. The police and the Little Grey Woman are hot on my tracks. 'Fact, the Little Grey Woman is about here, now."
"Here?" Ailsa looked up startled. "You have caught her?"
"Yes! No! I don't know." He paused a moment. "Ailsa, who was the woman who brought you from the parlours here?"
"I don't know her, Jim. I don't think I have ever seen her before."
"It was not Margaret Venne?"
"Margaret?" Ailsa looked surprised. "Why, Jim, she's full of—it. She came to me and—"
"You refused to give her any more of the stuff, eh?"
"How do you know that?"
"She told me." Again Burle hesitated. "She's downstairs. I caught her searching my desk and had her tied up. Tonight—"
"Margaret? Jim, what have you done?"
"Who brought you here?" The man reverted to the one question that insisted in his mind. "I thought—"
"You thought that girl, Doris Lyall, was in this room?" Ailsa pushed him from her angrily. "Jim, are you going to make that girl what you have made me? Oh, you needn't deny it; I can see my answer in your face. Jim—"
"How did you come here?" Again the man questioned.
"She—the woman who came to my flat—brought me." Ailsa spoke reluctantly. "She had a motor-car waiting before the door. When I got into the car I found a man there. I know they drove across the river to the north and they must have drugged me, for I knew nothing more. I was asleep until I opened my eyes and saw you bending over me."
"The Little Grey Woman!" Burle murmured the words. Ailsa had been "brought to Epping by the Little Grey Woman. Yet how could that be, when the Little Grey Woman had been in the House of Dreams many hours before Ailsa had been decoyed from her flat.
"Who was here when you arrived?"
"I don't know!" Ailsa looked astonished. "I told you, Jim, I was brought here asleep. She—the woman—gave me something to drink just after we left the punt. I went to sleep and knew nothing until you awoke me."
Impatiently Burle turned and strode up and down the room. He could feel the net closing about him.
Could he escape? He had come to Epping for refuge from the police and the Little Grey Woman. She had followed him. She had come to him in his rooms to taunt him, to tell him she had sent for the police, calling them to the House of Dreams. Then for some reason, the Little Grey Woman had had Ailsa brought to him. Why? In his thoughts he had abandoned his former mistress. He had tired of her. Yet had he? He had a feeling that in the past his luck had been linked with Ailsa, While he had been with her, following her advice, dealing, so as possible to him, honestly with her, he had been successful. He had been wealthy, a power in the underworld of men and women who preyed on the vices of their fellows. Directly his thoughts had turned from Ailsa, directly he had forsaken her counsels, he had become suspect by the police—he had been forced into hiding-Now, if He turned suddenly to the woman. "Ailsa! I've been a fool! I've—"
"Jim!" With abandon the woman slipped into his arms again.
"Oh, Jim, Jim! Don't say that! You made a mistake—that's all! Jim, come away with me. Just you and I together. In another State, another country—"
"The police are on their way here, Ailsa. The Little Grey Woman sent for them."
"There's a way! There must be a way!" She spoke hysterically. "Jim, think! There is a way to escape! You've told me that so often—so often—that you could never be captured here. You told me you had plans—"
"There is a way." A light lit the sombre eyes of the drug-master. "Ailsa, will you come with me? Give up the parlours, and all that? Get out of this State? Will you? We'll go somewhere where they can't find us and I'll marry you, Ailsa, right and proper. Ailsa, come! I've money in the bank and I can get at it. We'll have enough to keep us, right and good. You shall have half of what I've got—no, you shall have it all. Ailsa, will—"
"Of course, Jim." Proudly she slipped her hand into his. "We'll go now, before the police come. You know how to get away."
"We'll have to walk to Epping, Ailsa. I daren't touch the cars in the garage. The Little Grey Woman's in the house, and if—"
"I'll walk anywhere with you, Jim." There was perfect trust in the eyes she raised to his.
"Wait here—" He caught the woman in his arms, straining her to him. "I'll have to clear the way, but I'll come back for you."
"Yes, you'll come back! Jim, Jim! You'll come back!" At the door, Burle turned to look again at the woman. All the passion he had felt for her—the passion he had thought to be lost for ever—had returned; now purified by real love, trust, and faith. He told himself he had gained something—something that had been missing when he had taken the woman, soul and body, in the height of his passion. The corridor was in darkness, lit only by the reflected light from the gallery.
For some seconds Burle stood listening. The house was silent.
Moving softly, he stole in the direction of the stairs. He would have to get rid of the Chinese guarding the foot of the stairs. That would not be difficult. They would not expect an attack from above; they had believed he had gone towards the offices of the building. In stockinged feet he moved, ghostlike, through the shadows towards the gallery. Almost he had reached the turning to the gallery when he stopped. If he went with Ailsa he would leave the girl, Doris, in the house alone with the Chinese and the half-caste. He remembered the glances the man had cast at the girl. He could well interpret them.
Suddenly he turned and retraced his steps. He had to find the girl and release her. Where was she?
He came again to the door of the room where Ailsa awaited his return and paused. At the next door he t tried the handle. The door was unfastened. He threw, it open and peeped in, throwing on the lights for a brief second. The room was empty.
He closed the door and passed on. There was someone lurking in the shadows at end of the corridor Burle waited, peering forward eagerly. Yes, there was someone there; a movement in the still shadows had betrayed him.
Who was it? Who was watching him?
Catching at the handle of the door before which he stood, Burle turned it and let it slip quickly from his hand. At the slight click he darted across the corridor to the opposite wall and waited. The shadow at the end of the corridor moved coming forward. Burle felt in his pocket for his torch, to curse under his breath. He had left it in his room. He moved silently backwards along the wall, feeling for the light-switch. The shadow advanced, slowly and silently. Keeping well in the darkest shadows, Burle groped for the switch. He knew it was near, but it evaded his fingers.
As the shadow reached the door of the room in which Ailsa waited, his fingers found the little knob. He pressed on it savagely. The light came to life, throwing direct beams on the crouching form and savage features of the half-caste.
"So that's your game!" Burle's hand went to his hip-pocket. "Come away from that door, Gow!"
"Iz zat zo?" The half-cast mocked evilly. "And what does Mister James Burle want with the girl? It is well I remembered and stood on guard."
"Get away from that door, you cur." Burle's fingers found the butt of his gun, but he did not draw it. "Get down to the gallery, Gow. I'll deal with you there."
"Deal with me!" A contemptuous smile broke on the lips of the half-caste. "Mister Burle has recovered his courage."
The drug-master took a step forward to find himself threatened by the half-caste's knife. For a moment he hesitated then, releasing his grip on his automatic, jumped forward, striking at the man's face. Gow dodged, but Burle's greater weight, hurled against him, threw him off his guard, the knife flying from his hand. Before the drug-master could recover his balance and obtain a grip on the man's throat, Gow wriggled from him and ran down the corridor to the head of the stairs.
Passion-blinded, Burle forgot the automatic in his pocket and raced after the half-caste. Gow was a good runner but hampered himself by continually glancing back at his pursuer. Once he cannoned into a doorway and almost fell. At the end of the corridor he forgot the turn and ran heavily into the opposite wall.
Burle's hands were on the man as he reached the head of the stairs, throwing him forward along the gallery. The half-caste staggered a few steps,' clutching at the balustrade to prevent himself falling. Despairingly he turned to face his enemy. There was no way of escape for him. In frenzied terror he shrieked again and again to his Chinese brothers for help.
Burle advanced on his man cautiously. He did not know whether the man was armed with another knife. He did not care, for anger shook him from head to feet. All he wanted was to get his hands on the man. He forget the automatic in his pocket; he forgot the Chinese, chattering in alarm, gathering in the hall below. All he could see was a the bared throat of his enemy, the man who had defied him, the man who had brought his schemes to ruin.
Slowly he crept forward towards the frenzied man, never taking his eyes from the bare flesh where he longed to place his hands. He heard the Chinese calling in the hall below but did not glance towards them. He could see Gow's lips moving; he could hear the panic-stricken appeals for assistance, shouted in Chinese and English; and below the moving mouth and chin, the yellowish-brown throat, the muscles working in spasmodic fear.
Within arm's reach of the terrorised man he stopped and circled, driving Gow back with menaces, until he brought up against the balustrade. Then suddenly he hit out at the man's face.
Burle laughed, gloatingly, as he felt the flesh beneath his fist. He would not use his full strength, for he did not wish to stun the man. Before the end, the moment when he would grasp the half-caste by the throat and wring life from him, he would torture and maim. He would see the grinning face cut to ribbons of bleeding skin and flesh. He would watch the red blood ooze from the wounds he would inflict; he would change those cries of defiance to whinings of mercy; then—
In sudden desperation. Gow made charge. Burle held back the blow he had been about to launch, letting he man come breast to breast with him. His hands found the soft flesh of the throat and tightened, gloatingly. In sudden effort he raised the man from his feet and held him wriggling and kicking, in the air.
For long seconds he held the man, watching the terror grow in the small slit eyes. Then, without apparent effort he raised his victim high and flung him back on the rail.
A SUDDEN rending of wood, followed by a despairing shriek from the half-caste. The balustrade, old and rotten, collapsed under the sudden impact. Burle sprang forward, clutching at the falling man, unwilling to lose his prey. He could not let his enemy escape him like that. His toe caught in a tear in the carpet and he staggered forward on to Gow, crashing the two of them on to the breaking rail.
For a moment he nearly regained his balance, but an effort for freedom by the half-caste dragged him forward. As his hands again found the bare yellow throat the balustrade collapsed and they fell through on to the paved hall many feet below. A wailing cry came from the Chinese thronging the hall. Those gathered under the gallery broke and fled at the sounds of the rending wood.
A moment and the two bodies hurtled through the air to crash on the tiles with a sickening thud. Burle, heavier than his half-caste opponent, had turned in the air and was beneath Gow when they crashed to the floor. For some moments he lay dazed and numb, then rolled over and looked up. At first he could see only the ring of yellow faces, glowering down on him, the narrow slit eyes aglow with the lust of battle.
A movement at the edge of the ring caught his eyes. It was Gow, crawling to the feet of his countrymen, strange cries coming from his bleeding lips. One of the Chinese lifted him to his feet. For a moment they stood jabbering, then the man slid a long knife into Gow's clutching hand, laughing low and cruelly. Burle strove to rise to his feet, to a fall back with a groan of despair.
At his movement the half-caste turned, clutching at the shoulder of the man who had given him the knife. He tried to walk forward but staggered and would have fallen but for the hands outstretched to support him.
Again Burle attempted to reach his feet. He was able to turn and gain his knees, but his legs refused the weight of his body. He fumbled in his hip-pocket for his automatic it was still there, caught in the lining. A desperate tug and he brought it out, the cloth ripping away. Another big effort and-he raised himself on his arm, levelling the weapon at the half-caste.
Gow was staggering forward slowly, clutching-at the air, the knife waving before him. Burle could only see the man through a mist. He raised the gun and tried to steady his hand. A low moaning cry came from the watching Chinese. Burle waited. He dared not risk a shot with his senses reeling, the vision of the half-caste dancing grotesquely before his eyes. If he fired and missed, if he shot one of the watching Chinese, his life would not be worth a moment's purchase.
The Chinese would arbitrate a fair knife and gun fight. That lay within their code. If he could shoot Gow before the half-caste could come within knife distance, he might regain his ascendancy over them. But he must shoot to kill—and kill with the one shot. He knew well the almost uncanny ability of the half-caste with the knife. He had seen Gow from many yards distance pin a playing card to the wall, through a named pip. If Gow threw the knife and he was not nerved to dodge—
Again he raised the automatic, sighting carefully. Why did not the man throw the knife? Twice he had drawn back his hand and hesitated. Was the half-caste too dazed with the fall to send the gleaming steel with unerring aim through the air? A sudden effort and Burle gained his feet, staggering forward. He would come to close quarters. With the automatic touching his opponent's breast, he would fire—not before.
Someone caught him from behind. He turned with a snarl. A hand reached over his shoulder, catching at the gun and wresting it from him. Someone thrust a knife in his hand and pushed him forward, staggering under the sudden impulse. So that was the Chinese intention! They had determined he and Gow should fight out their quarrel with their bared knives. That was the reason Gow had not thrown his knife.
Good! With his superior and weight he had no fear of hand to hand tussle with the half-caste. He could, he must win.
Gow was advancing to meet him, rocking unsteadily on his legs, yet recovering strength with every stride. Burle backed a few steps. He wanted more time to recover, for the fall from the gallery had shaken him the more severely. The half-caste smiled grimly. He called more words in the dialect that brought low chuckles of amusement from the interested Chinese. They shouted words of encouragement as the man advanced, crouching low.
With a sudden cry Burle sprang forward, closing with his opponent. Good luck favoured him. He caught Gow's armed hand in an iron grip, slashing wildly with the knife in his right hand. A wriggle by the half-caste caused him to miss his aim. With a muttered oath he sprang back from the man's answering thrust, changing his knife from his right hand to his left. Now he was better prepared. For the moment the half-caste was non-plussed. For a right handed man to attack a left-handed opponent in a knife fight is a tricky business. Both knives are on the same side and the usual hand-grips are impossible.
Gow retreated a step and Burle charged again. The half-caste ducked and Burle's knife passed over his shoulder. His arm struck the man's shoulder-blade, numbing his hand, and the knife fell harmlessly on the floor. Burle retreated a step, looking wildly about him. He was unarmed and at the mercy of his enemy. For a moment he looked around to try and locate his automatic. He glanced back to see Gow slithering forward, the knife held ready for the terrible disembowelling stroke.
Almost Burle despaired. Another second and—
"Hold that, Gow!" The voice came from under the gallery. Burle looked around. In the doorway stood a tall Chinese dressed in the usual dingy dungarees. In his right hand he held an automatic, waving it to and from, menacing the now frightened and angry Chinese. "Drop that knife." Again the man spoke. "No nonsense, now. Drop that knife! The two of you can fight it out with bare fists, if you want to. But no knives or guns. Understand that!"
Who was this man? He was not Chinese; his voice betrayed that. He was a white man, yet Burle could not recognise the voice. He backed slowly towards where the man stood.
"Get back, Burle." For a moment the automatic pointed straight at the drug-master's heart. "You're the bigger, though you got the worse shaking in the fall. Now, get to it, you two. And, you Chinks, if any of you interfere, if I see knife or gun, I fire. Understand?"
Burle laughed. He was far the superior of the half-caste in a hand to hand conflict, although Gow was lithe and wiry. He had no fear for the result of a hand to hand struggle. He glanced to where his opponent stood, to find him within hand's reach. Wildly he struck out; Gow dodged and closed. A sudden effort and Burle lifted the man from his feet and threw him back. But for the Chinese who had closed in and broke Gow's fall the fight would have ended there.
Who was the strange man who had come to his rescue? Watching Gow struggling to his feet, Burle tried to solve the problem. He was not a Chinese. He was certainly a white man: was he the White Falcon? Burle smiled at the thought. Would the White Falcon come to his rescue?
Gow was advancing again. Burle crouched, measuring his distance. This time the half-caste should not come to grips. He would strike, once only, and that blow—
There came the sounds of rushing feet on the verandah outside the great barred doors. Gow drew back. The Chinese turned to face the doors, wonder growing on their faces.
Outside a fight was in progress. Burle could hear the voices of white men rising above the shrill cries of the Chinese, who had been driven to the house from the market-gardens. A thunderous crash came on the barred doors. Again came a shower of blows, the heavy timber of the doors shivering and groaning. The turmoil on the verandah increased.
"Open this door! Open in the name of the law!"
The police had arrived at the House of Dreams.
Burle recognised the voice of Inspector Knox. In the hall there was commotion. Sudden terror had struck the Chinese. They were scattering, running to and fro, panic-stricken. Burle glanced to where the tall Chinese had stood, just within the doorway under the gallery. He was no longer there. They were caught like rats in a trap. Burle cursed his folly.
The Little Grey Woman had warned him that she had sent for the police. In spite of that he had dallied. Then had come Gow with his claim on the girl and the leadership of the gang. The delays had resulted in disaster. Again came the imperative voice from the verandah, with the demand for admission.
Burle looked at the big doors. They were shaken but still held fast. It would take the police many hours, with the weapons to their hands, to break down the doors. With a single bound he sprang on top of a table.
"Listen to me." His voice rang above the tumult within and without the hall. Again he shouted, and the Chinese, pausing in their useless search for a way to escape, turned inquisitive faces towards him.
"Think you can get away on your own?" Burle's eyes watched Charlie Wing standing in the midst of a group of Chinese, translating his words. "You've got a hope, with the police outside. Now you know what comes of bucking against me.
"No." His loud, dominant voice stilled the angry murmur rising from the Chinese. "I didn't send for the police. You can put that to account of the Little Grey Woman. She sent for them, and she thinks she's got you in a trap."
"Then you planned against us with the Little Grey Woman." Ted Gow, his face drawn with fear and rage, stepped into the open space before the table. "You've sold us to the police, James Burle."
"I'd have sold you to your master, the devil, in five seconds more, if the police hadn't come." The drug-master had to restrain himself from jumping off the table and continuing the interrupted fight. "Can you get these fellows out of this, Gow, you cur?"
"We don't trust you!" the half-caste turned impulsively to the men about him. "Wait, brothers. Presently the doors will open, Then, use your knives. We are many and the police are few. We will fight our way through them."
A hiss of applause came from the lips of the Chinese standing about Gow; but Burle, from his elevated position, saw that the majority of the Chinese looked to Charlie Wing for guidance.
"Wing!" Burle faced the man. "Tell your followers that I have not been idle. I have a way of escape for them. Will they follow and obey me—"
For minutes the hall was filled with the high chattering of the Chinese, rising above the sounds of the police attack on the main doors. At length Charlie Wing turned towards the table on which Burle still stood.
"All li'! Yuleed. I folla."
"No!" Blinded by passion, Gow ran towards the table in an attempt to overturn Burle. The drug-master did not wait. He sprang to the floor and met the half-caste in a frenzied grip, breast to breast. For the moment Gow almost held Burle, but he had not the weight for the hand to hand contest. Mad with rage, Burle raised the man high over his head and dashed him to the floor with terrific force.
A deep silence fell on the Chinese, broken by the low, weird wailing, rising in volume, and dying in eerie cadences. Two men from the small group constituting Gow's friends slid stealthily forward. Their movement caught Burle's eye. In a second he was at them, striking right and left. A few seconds and the opposition broke before his wild rage.
"Line up, there!" Burle turned to the main body of Chinese, gathered about Charlie Wing. "Line up, I say. When I give the word, you follow."
"No!" He turned to a couple of Chinese who were lifting Gow's insensible body. "Let him lie! I'll not have that traitor with us."
AGAIN the great doors of the house shivered under the attack of the police gathered outside the "keep." Burle smiled grimly. When he had first come to the House of Dreams he had taken care that its defences should be strong.
The police would be many hours breaking a way through doors or windows, unless assisted from within.
There were only two easy ways into the house. One through the concealed door in the garage; the other known only to Burle and the two Chinese he had employed in its construction. Those Chinese he had long since sent back to their native land.
Standing before the table from which he had spoken to the Chinese, Burle watched the crowd of sullen, yellow-faced men. He believed he had regained his old ascendency over them; that they had come to recognise that only by obedience to his orders could they be saved from the police gathered without the doors. Should he save them?
Already his cunning, brain was working; scheming how he could use the Asiatics to draw the police from his tracks. There must be a way! There was a way! But he must have time to plan and organise. Warily he glanced around the large hall, calculating the chances that formed in his brain. A sudden exclamation, arid he sprang forward, dividing the throng with wide sweeps of his arms.
The woman had disappeared!
Margaret Venne no longer sat at the table before the big doors. The table was there, and behind it still stood the massive chair in which she had sat, bound. Now, across the carved arms lay the throngs which had confined her hands and feet. In a couple of strides he reached the table. On the polished top lay the scattered cocaine.
Burle glanced hastily around the hall. Where was she? It was impossible that she had left the house. With a low cry of anger he turned to the watching Asiatics.
"The woman? Where is the woman? D—you, who let her go?"
"You." Burle swung round at the sound of the voice to see the yellow ranks divide to allow a man to crawl through. It was Gow, the half-caste, his face bleeding and battered; dragging behind him, limp and grotesque, a badly broken leg.
"You, James Burle. I watched. I saw you untie the woman. I saw you whisper to her, telling her to seek safety."
The broken man fell back on the floor exhausted. For some minutes he lay, supine, then raised himself on his hands, fanatic enmity blazing out of his eyes. A sweep of his hard drew the eyes of the Chinese towards him.
"Why do you listen to him, brothers?" The half-caste spoke in fluent Cantonese. "He tells you that the woman you bound is the Little Grey Woman; he now tells you that she brought the police here. Yet I, with these eyes, saw hint release her. Seize him, brothers! Fling open the doors and welcome the police. It is he they want, not you. Give him to them and they will let you go free."
The man's strength gave way and, as he finished speaking, he fell forward, the last words mumbled on to the cold tiles. A low murmur swelled through the yellow ranks. Burle sprang towards where Gow lay, to be confronted by a wall of knife-armed Chinese, shielding Gow from his murderous rage. Wildly he struck out, forgetting he was unarmed against these men with their long knives. His insane fury drove them back until he stood over the prostrate body of his foe.
"So, Gow!" A wolfish smile flecked his lips as he gazed down into the man's pain-filled eyes. "You say I lie, that I am a traitor! What are you? You took my bread; you swore to serve me. What were you when I found and trusted you? Down and out—a petty thief, a thug of the night. Who is the traitor—you or I?" He bent low over the man. "Ted Gow, what is the punishment for a traitor?"
Again the half-caste raised himself on his elbow, gazing stealthily into Burle's blood-shot eyes. A moment and he raised his right hand, motioning to his broken, bleeding face.
"I thank you for this, James Burle; for the leg I drag uselessly behind me; for the pains that sear my body!" For a long time he paused, a light of knowledge dawning in his eyes. "You have broken me—my body, but you cannot break my spirit. I know, and you know. There is only one thing more. For that you have my thanks. Act quickly. You have tortured—now kill!"
A twisted smile grew on the thin lips. Slowly his hand crept to the back of his neck. His body suddenly tensed and something glittering flew from his hand. Instinctively Burle ducked—to feel the cleft wind on his cheek as the knife flew past. For the moment he shrank back, almost in fear. Was it impossible to cow this man?
"Missed!" Gow fell over on his back with a hollow laugh. "The shades of your fathers guard you, James Burle!"
Passion-blinded, Burle sprang forward, kicking at the lolling head of the insensible half-caste. Something hit him heavily on the breast, and he fell back into the arms of the watching Asiatics. He dashed his hand across his eyes to clear his vision.
Before him stood the tall Chinese who had rescued him when he stood unarmed before Gow.
"You, again!" Burle thrust the Chinese back, advancing a step. "What do you want! You're not a Chink! Who are you?"
"Who am I?" A queer twisted smile came on the yellow face.. "Call me the man unknown—for another has stolen my name and history. What do I want? That which I can take, in spite of you and those like you, James Burle."
He stepped back, covering the drug-master with levelled automatic. With his left hand he motioned to the Chinese. "Lift that man. Carry him into one of the rooms and make him comfortable. Soon the police will come. They will take charge of him and bring the doctor."
For the moment the stranger dominated the group in the hall. Burle watched, sullenly, while two of the Chinese lifted Gow and bore him to his room. He made no protest; all his interests were centred on this man with the yellow face; who yet was of the white race. Who was he? What was he doing in the House of Dreams? Where had he come from? What objectives had he to gain?
Sudden illumination came to the drug-master. He sprang forward, ignoring the levelled gun.
"You! I know you! You are the White Falcon!"
"The White Falcon!" A low hiss came from the watching Chinese, rising to a weird angry cry. They surged forward, pushing Burle towards the man. With a laugh he turned and vaulted to the top of the drug-strewn table. A sweep of the automatic warned the Chinese not to approach closer.
"Am I the White Falcon." He laughed loudly. "Back, you scum! I'll shoot the first man who advances a step."
"Get him!" Burle waved the Chinese to the attack. "Get him, I say. A thousand pounds to the man who captures him!"
"A thousand pounds—and the police cells!" The man on the table laughed confidently. "Burle, you said there was a secret way from this house. Where is it?"
"Not for you, damn you!"
The drug-master swung viciously on the watching Chinese. "Get him, I say! I'll—"
"Not for me!" With a laugh the man lowered his gun. As the Asiatics, led by Burle, crowded forward to seize him he sprang high over their heads to the floor. Before they could turn he raced to the foot of the stairs, dashing aside the two Chinese remaining there on guard. Half way up the stairs he turned, pointing to the great doors.
"Not for you, Burle! Look! Look! The Little Grey Woman!"
Burle turned quickly. Was it fancy? For the moment he believed he saw the Little Grey Woman standing before the barricaded doors, tugging at the fastenings. Again the great doors shivered under the mighty attack launched by the police on the verandah. Burle watched a moment. The doors were badly battered. How long would they hold? He must get from the house before the police succeeded in forcing an entry.
He swung round to face the stairs. The unknown had disappeared.
With a howl of anger, Burle sprang forward, sweeping the Chinese from his path. "Up the stairs! Get him!"
A few of the Chinese ran to the foot of the stairs. "Bring everyone down from above!"
A woman ran from one of the corridors to the head of the stairs. Seeing the Chinese mounting to the gallery she shrank back. Then catching sight of Burle in the hall below she ran down the stairs to him.
"Jim! What does it mean? The police! They are at the doors." The great doors shivered and shook; for the moment it looked as if the police had succeeded in forcing them. A sullen murmur came from the Chinese in the hall. They moved towards the door under the gallery, as if to go to the concealed door opening into the garage.
"Not that way! The Little Grey Woman came in that way and the police will be guarding it!" Burle, clutching Ailsa by the arm, sprang before the Chinese.
"Bring down the girl! Bring her down and I will show you the way out."
"The girl, Ailsa turned to the drug-master, her face aflame with jealously.
"Doris Lyall. Don't be a fool, Ailsa." Burle spoke hastily. "The girl's our safety. With her in our hands we can make terms!"
He turned to the Chinese gathered on the stairs, motioning them to ascend. As they slowly advanced a man ran into the gallery from the far side, shooting across the head of the stairs. The Asiatics retreated down into the hall, panic-stricken.
A sudden rending sound from the great doors caused Burle to turn again. He was in time to see the doors shiver and collapse. Through the opening rushed the police officers, Inspector Knox at their head.
"HANDS up, everyone!"
Inspector Knox halted just within the great doors to gaze at the scene before him in amazement.
He had chanced to be at police headquarters when the Little Grey Woman had telephoned her call for help. Immediately he received her message he rushed to the instrument, to find the wire dead. An inquiry at the telephone had resulted in the information that the call had originated at a Chinese market garden a few miles outside Epping. That information had perplexed him.
The message from the Little Grey Woman had stated that Burle and the White Falcon were at Royce House, Epping. He telephoned the General Post Office, but the officials had no knowledge of a house of that name in the Epping district. He instituted a search through police records to find Royce House entirely unknown. Yet he had taken cognisance of the call.
He wanted James Burle, not for the present on any definite charge, but to question. He wanted the White Falcon, the man he believed to be the head of one of the most dangerous drug-circles in Australia. But, most of all, he wanted the Little Grey Woman.
Why had she telephoned him for help; herself wanted by the world police? The position was fantastic, yet he dared not neglect the call. Now he knew what he had previously suspected: that somewhere within a few miles of Sydney stood some old, forgotten house, constituting the present headquarters of the drug-ring.
Immediately he had received the last of the reports he had asked for, he collected the few men to hand at Police Headquarters and boarded a police car. At the offices he left orders that Sergeant Houston was to be found immediately and sent after him, bringing with him every available man.
At Epping he heard of the market gardens occupied by the Chinese, a few miles out of the town. The constable on duty at the local station remembered to have heard rumours of an old-time house, now hidden, in ruins, in the bushlands. The place had once been the homestead of a considerable estate. The man believed it to have been situated near the banks of the creek that ran through the market-gardens.
The clue, although faint, had been sufficient for the Inspector. Bundling his men back into the car he ordered the driver to make all speed to the market gardens. To his surprise he found them almost deserted. The few Chinese remaining about the huts scattered at his approach. Most of them took the secret path to Royce House.
When Knox came in sight of the place he believed he had been led on a wild-goose chase. It was a ruin and apparently deserted. Yet, why had the Chinese made directly for it, as a place of refuge; why were they collected before the old, great doors as if seeking shelter? A few minutes spent in seeking entry into the house and he knew it was occupied—and almost a fortress. He discovered the cars in the garage. Bidding his men arm themselves with whatever tools they could find, he commenced a vigorous attack on the main doors.
Now, the doors broken down, he found himself in the brilliantly lit hall, faced by the serried ranks of armed, Chinese under the orders of Burle. With a sigh he recognised that he had come to the end of his long search.
He glanced around him curiously. Behind the Chinese, ominously waiting and silent, he could see the stairs leading to the gallery. At the head of the stairs was standing a man armed with an automatic, keeping back a group of Chinese. As Knox stared upwards, a man and a woman ran from the corridor on the right of the stairs and joined the man with the automatic.
With surprise the Inspector recognised Doris Lyall and Denys Fahney. Another quick glance and he recognised the man on guard. He was Bill Loames, the artist. What were they doing there? Then he remembered the Little Grey Woman's message. Doris Lyall had been abducted by James Burle. Loames and Fahney had come to the House of Dreams to her rescue. He scanned the rows of yellow faces before him.
There were two persons missing he wanted to discover. First, the White Falcon, and secondly, the Little Grey Woman.
"Bill Loames! Denys Fahney!" The Inspector's voice rang through the big hall. "Keep those men down from the gallery. I'm going to disarm them."
He spoke a few words in an undertone to his men and advanced confidently. Almost as he reached the ranks of the Chinese, James Burle pushed through and confronted him.
"What's the meaning of this, Inspector?" Burle, arrogant and defiant, faced the detective. "May I know why you have burst in my doors and attacked my servants?"
"Your house, Mr Burle?" Knox smiled quietly. "I thought, for the minute, I was in the heart of old China."
"These men are my servants." The drug-master's eyes showed the strain he was undergoing. "You may not be aware that I own the market-gardens along the banks of the creek. But you have not answered my question. Why have you invaded my house?"
"I am going to search this place," Knox answered doggedly.
"And your search warrant?" Burle held out his hand. Knox cursed under his breath. He had no warrant. If Burle continued that attitude he would be forced to withdraw; and that in spite of the very suspicious evidence before him.
"No search warrant!" The drug-master laughed grimly. "I'm afraid, Inspector, this is going to be a serious business for you. There're those doors, antiques and of considerable value, completely destroyed. There's—"
"You're armed Chinese!" Knox interjected quickly. "Will you care to explain them?"
"Armed Chinese!" Burle's eyebrows lifted, superciliously. "Armed with the knives they employ in their work in the gardens."
"They are not in the gardens now Asiatics, my dear Inspector." The drug-master laughed in the detective's face. "You made quite a considerable noise in breaking down those doors—and they feared they were to be attacked. They chose knives—not fists as a white man would—to protect themselves. No, as you have no search warrant I suggest—"
"I have information that you abducted Miss Doris Lyall this afternoon and brought her here." The Inspector would not retreat unless forced to. "I'm going to search—"
Again Knox hesitated. He could not say he was relying on the telephone message from the Little Grey Woman for his information. The men would scoff at that answer. Burle well knew that the police were in pursuit of the Little Grey Woman; he knew that if she showed herself near the police she would be immediately arrested.
"The garage, Knox! Watch the garage!" Loames' voice rang out suddenly. "There's a secret door from the garage to the house."
Burle was retreating towards the back of the hall, the Chinese following and covering him. Knox stepped forward and the Chinese immediately halted, closing their ranks as if expecting to be attacked.
The detective was perplexed. He spoke a few words in an under-tone, and a couple of his men went out at the main doors. That left him with only three men to face the score or more Chinese commanded by Burle. He prayed that Houston would soon come to his relief. If the Sergeant did not arrive he would have to fight against overwhelming odds, or retreat—and that with the solution of his mysteries almost within his grasp.
The Little Grey Woman had called him to the house. Then, why had she not shown her hand further? For what reason had she brought him to this place without warning him of the tremendous odds he would have to face?
Had her telephone message been but another of her subtle tricks? Had she sent him to Epping to facilitate her own escape?
The space between the rigid ranks of the Chinese and the police officers gradually widened. Burle was again retreating towards the door under the gallery. A quiet smile of triumph was growing on the drug-master's lips. Knox watched, impatiently. Had the man a way of escape through that door? If only Houston would come!
Again Knox turned his attention to the drug-master.
He wondered if Burle was armed; he had shown no signs of weapons. He stood, with his arms to his sides, at intervals shuffling backwards a few inches at a time.
"Stop there, Burle." Knox advanced a step suddenly, "I'm going to call your bluff. I'm going to—"
"Arrest you for the murder of Carl Gerlach."
A voice from behind the ranks of the Chinese spoke. Burle whirled round rapidly. A Chinese had mounted a chair close to the door under the gallery. In his hand was an automatic, warning the Chinese back.
The drug-master gasped! Here again, was the Chinese who had rescued him when he stood unarmed before the half-caste, Gow.
A tremor ran through the ranks of the Chinese. They broke into confused groups, bewildered by the menace from the rear.
"The murder of Carl Gerlach?" Knox hesitated. Suddenly enlightenment came to him.
"No, no! Not that!" Ailsa ran from the rear of the hall to Burle's side. "Jim. Jim! You never did that! Carl killed himself! I know he did! You had left him and were with me in the shop—"
"James Burle wounded Carl Gerlach in the Alamanza Rooms balcony, on the night of the Artists' Ball." Denys leaned over the broken balustrade of the gallery.
"Now I know the truth!"
"But Burle was in the lounge beside the dancing floor, with the Little Grey Woman!" exclaimed Knox. "I heard them talking there. I saw her come out—"
"James Burle was in the lounge, but he did not stay there." A voice-from the far end of the gallery spoke. Knox looked towards where the voice came from. Leaning against the balustrade was the slight form of a woman, clad in along, grey cloak her face hidden by a grey silk mask. Her right hand, hanging over the rail, held a small automatic.
"The Little Grey Woman!" Burle was gazing up at the gallery, with eager eyes. Instinctively, his hand crept to his hip-pocket, to come away empty.
"You were there?" Knox spoke impulsively,
"I was there." The woman laughed slightly: "I had arranged to meet James Burle at the dance. I asked; him what he knew of the White Falcon. He denied all knowledge of the man, of having even heard his name. That was a lie. I left Burle and the lounge—"
"Colliding with me at the gate," the detective interjected. "But Burle did not follow you out. I entered the lounge almost immediately after you escaped and it was empty—except for Houston, whom we found, insensible."
"How did you get from the lounge to the gallery?" asked the Little Grey Woman, significantly.
"But Burle was not the attendant who cleared the gallery," protested Knox, following his own line of reasoning.
"Carl Gerlach was the attendant." The Little Grey Woman spoke positively. "You will remember that attendants were in dress trousers and waistcoats, with white jackets. It was easy for Gerlach, who was in evening dress, to slip in and out of the white jacket. After he had disposed of Sergeant Houston he changed to his dress coat and spoke to Denys Fahney.
"James Burle received information from a spy in the Premier's office that Denys Fahney had received a commission from the Government to hunt down the heads of the New South Wales drug-ring. Burle already knew that the net was closing in on him and his gang from two sides. With Fahney joining in the hunt also he had little, chance of escape."
"How did you know this?" Knox was thunderstruck. Only that morning he had learned of Denys Fahney's commission from the Police Commissioner.
"Let me continue." The Little Grey Woman moved towards the centre of the gallery, close to where Denys Fahney and Doris Lyall stood.
"Burle decided that Denys Fahney had to be put out of the way as quickly as possible. For that reason, he framed the shooting affair in the Alamanza Rooms balcony, during the Artists' Ball."
"But, how was it done?" Knox had turned from the keen watch he had held on the drug-master, interested in the revelations made by the woman.
"The scheme Burle evolved was simple." The Little Grey Woman smiled slightly. "He bribed Gerlach to allow him to wound him and frame Fahney for the shooting. Burle was to be the false attendant and clear the balcony of watchers, under pretext that it was required for some stunt purpose. It was there I intervened, demanding that Burle meet me at the beginning of the ball in the lounge beside the bandstand. I knew sufficient to force Burle to keep the appointment. He left me as soon-as possible, but by then his plans were badly disarranged."
The Little Grey Woman hesitated a moment and continued:
"Gerlach, not finding his accomplice in the gallery at work on the arranged plan, decided to clear the gallery himself. How he intended to fake the shooting I do not know, but just as the last of the guests were leaving the balcony Burle climbed over the front."
"But the whole affair was absurd," protested the detective. "Why should Gerlach allow Burle to shoot him in the head. A fraction of an inch and—"
"Gerlach knew nothing of that part of the business." The Little Grey Woman laughed gently. "Gerlach, though greedy for money, was not a fool and did not trust Burle to any great extent. But he did not know that Burle, after the forming of the plot to frame Fahney and before the scene in the Alamanza balcony, received, definite information that Gerlach was conspiring with me to sell him and the gang. It was then that Burle decided to alter his aim from Gerlach's shoulder to his head. Again, such action would still further commit Denys Fahney. But for his victim's sudden movement, that disarranged Burle's aim—"
"And the gun? Gerlach was not shot by the gun Fahney held." Knox was tingling with excitement. Now he had the last threads of the mystery in his grasp. "The gun with the partially cleaned barrel!"
"Belonged to Sergeant Houston." The Little Grey Woman leaned further over the rail. "It dropped from Houston's pocket when Gerlach sandbagged him at the end of the balcony: Gerlach picked it up and held it in his hand when he accosted Fahney. I believe he dropped it when Burle shot him. Burle, having to hold Fahney, who was drugged, also dropped his gun after firing at Gerlach. He stooped and picked up the wrong gun—the one Gerlach had dropped, and thrust it in Fahney's hand. Then he felt on the floor for whatever Gerlach had dropped. He found the gun—his own this, time-and carried it from the balcony. I saw him with the gun in his hand as he went downstairs, although I arrived too late in the balcony to prevent the shooting."
"You hell-cat!" In a single bound Burle was on the Inspector, throwing him down and wresting the gun from his hand. Almost with the same movement he turned and fired at the Little Grey Woman standing in the gallery, above his head.
AS Burle turned and fired, the false Chinese holding back the gang from the door under the gallery, sprang at him. Immediately the mob of Chinese broke, streaming, in panic-stricken confusion, out of the door into the offices at the rear of the house. Inspector Knox sprang to his feet, to see Ailsa lying on the ground bleeding from a wound in the chest. By her lay Burle and over, him stood the tall Chinese, menacing him with levelled gun.
"Say, what's happened?" He stared from the wounded woman to the group in the gallery.
"My fault, Inspector." Loames was descending he stairs. "I saw him raise, the gun to shoot the Little Grey Woman, and fired. Madame Rae sprang before Burle and I shot her, instead."
The detective dropped on his knees beside Ailsa. "Quick someone! Get a doctor. Where's the telephone in this den of thieves?"
"No good!" Ailsa opened her eyes languidly. "I-I'm—Where's Doris?"
The girl, who had come down into the hall accompanying Denys and Loames, sank to her knees and lifted the dying woman's head to her lap. "Oh; Madame Rae! Ailsa! Why did you do it?"
"You saw." A slight smile came on Ailsa's lips. "You love? Then, you know."
The girl nodded. She could understand the impulse that had led the woman to throw herself in the path of the bullet fired at her lover.
"A woman's way." Blood flocked the foam on the dying woman's lips. "But I saved you: He—But that is passed.
"Where's 'that damned telephone!" Knox was trying to stem the blood flowing from the woman's breast.
"In Burle's room," the Little Grey Woman answered from the outskirts of the group. "You will find Ted Gow there, Burle's right-hand man; perhaps also dying."
"God! The place is a shambles!" Knox rose to his feet. "Here, Anstey, Get the 'cuffs on Burle. He's up for double murder. Where the devil's Houston: He should have been here by this, time."
"Here, Inspector! Sorry I'm late, but I had a bad blow out on the way here. Delayed us a quarter of an hour."
"Good—now you're here!" Knox glanced with satisfaction at the large reinforcements streaming into the hall. "Got some of your men after the Chinese in the gardens. Round them all up. They're all in this."
He turned to the fake Chinese, standing guard over Burle.
"I'll relieve you of your prisoner now. Many thanks, and—who the devil are you?"
"I will answer for him for the present, Inspector." The Little Grey Woman crossed to where the men stood. "Perhaps, later, you will be glad to add your voucher for him."
"That doesn't relieve you."
Knox turned on the woman, abruptly. "I want you. There's a warrant out for your arrest. More than one, too. So far as I can see you're wanted in most of the civilised countries of the worlds—but what for, I can't make out."
"You can destroy them, Inspector," The Little Grey Woman slipped the mask from her face. "From now on the Little Grey Woman ceases to exist. Her work is finished."
"Margaret!" Denys exclaimed in amazement. "You?"
"Margaret Venne." The woman swept a low curtsey to the Inspector. "Margaret Venne, and-" She held out her closed left hand towards the detective. As his eyes came down to her hand her fingers opened. On her palm lay a little gold disc. At sight of it Inspector Knox drew himself up and saluted smartly.
"Mrs. Venne—I didn't know-" Again the Inspector saluted. Then, as the Little Grey Woman extended her right hand, shook it warmly.
"If you'd managed to drop me a hint—"
"I should have jeopardised my work." Margaret glanced, almost furtively, towards where Bill Loames stood, a frown on his brows.
"But Mrs. Venne!" Denys looked from the Little Grey Woman to the Inspector. "Say, Inspector! I thought you said the Little Grey Woman was a dangerous criminal?"
"So they reported to Headquarters from Scotland Yard and Mulberry Street." Knox spoke ruefully, then laughed. "Suppose you put them up to that, Mrs. Venne? But—"
"Perhaps I had better tell my story." The Little Grey Woman spoke hesitatingly—
"Three years ago I quarrelled with—with someone very dear to me. He—wanted his way, and I wanted mine. We were both foolish and-" She stopped speaking, glancing across the group to where Bill Loames stood, frowning deeply at his toes. "Like, most young girls I had ambitions to be of use in the world," the Little Grey Woman continued, more lightly and firmly. "I thought that quarrel could never be made up and went to a great friend, asking for work.
"He is a high officer in the League of Nations organisation. Through his influence, I was attached to the squad of men and women commissioned to suppress the illegal drugs trade. I may have been unduly favoured by my friend; or I may have shown ability for the work. Anyway, at the end of last year I was detailed to track down the man who was believed to be the head of a worldwide gang, importing the noxious drugs into civilised countries."
"The White Falcon?" interjected Knox.
"The White Falcon," Margaret Venne assented. "The most dangerous man in the world; the man who has accomplished more harm to mankind than all the wars of the past century.
"I shall not tell you of my many adventures in Europe and America before I got definitely on the track of this man," the Little Grey Woman continued after a slight pause. "Sufficient to say, I was but a few hours behind him when he, finding pursuit uncomfortably close, sailed from London to Australia. By chance, and the good offices of the British Government, was able to overtake and board his ship in the Mediterranean. I landed on Australian soil almost by his side."
"But why not have come to us!" Knox expostulated. "With your credentials you would have received every support and assistance."
"You forget—no, you do not know," the Little Grey Woman smiled tiredly. "I had left London in too great a hurry to obtain the necessary warrants. There was not one iota of evidence against him on Australian soil. I had to watch, to convict him, here."
She ceased speaking abruptly and looked around the little circle of interested listeners.
"Sergeant Houston, do you remember me?" With a sweep of her hand her grey wig fell to the ground. Before them stood a girl in her early twenties.
"Can't say." The officer stepped closer to Margaret Venne, peering down into her face. "Jove, I do now!"
He turned to the detective. "You remember, Inspector, I came from London, on exchange service, some nine months, or more, ago. Landed, at Fremantle from the Authenia. Well, Miss Mrs. Margaret Venne was a passenger on that ship. She also landed at Fremantle."
"And another passenger on the Authenia was a Mr. Neville—Mr. Rex Neville—the White Falcon." Margaret smiled. "Do you remember him also, Sergeant."
Houston nodded. A slight frown came on his face.
"I thought you would. The policeman's memory, eh, Sergeant." With a swift motion the Little Grey Woman turned to Burle, standing between two police officers. "James Burle, what folly induced you to drop that cocaine-laden fountain pen on the steps of the Alamanza Rooms?"
"I didn't," the man answered sullenly, almost under his breath.
"You didn't. I know you didn't," the Little Grey Woman laughed lightly. "Bully, coward and murderer, James Burle, of that one net you are innocent."
"But dammit—excuse me!" Knox coughed. "Beg pardon Mrs. Venne, I saw him drop it."
"I think not. You saw Sergeant Houston pick it up." Margaret turned quickly to the false Chinese, standing patiently by her side. "Arthur, now is your moment!"
A couple of quick steps took the man to the side of Sergeant Houston. A short struggle and the man stepped back a pace. Houston's hands were confined behind his back.
"Here! What the—" Knox sprang at the strange man. "Say, who're you and what does this mean?"
"Let me introduce my friend, Inspector." The Little Grey Woman interposed between Knox and the strange man. "Inspector Knox, will you favour me by shaking hands with Detective-Sergeant Houston, on exchange duty from Scotland Yard."
"Houston? But him?" Knox scratched his head perplexedly. "What the—Oh—The Lord! I wish you ladies would get away for a few minutes and let a man express himself properly! Say, Mrs. Venne. I've got to acknowledge your credentials, but—Haven't you made a mistake? Sergeant Houston and I—"
"This is the first time you have met Sergeant Houston." The Little Grey Woman laughed outright. "Forgive me, Inspector, and ask Arthur Houston—the real man—to tell his story."
"Well?" Knox turned suspiciously on the disguised man.
"I came out on board the same ship as Mrs. Venne." The man spoke officially. "On board the ship was a man named Rex Neville. He and I became very friendly. We landed at Fremantle and—and I remember being his guest at dinner that night. The next day I was picked up on the Perth Esplanade, stripped to my underclothes, and without the slightest means of proving, my identity."
"I can substantiate that, Inspector." The Little Grey Woman spoke quickly. "I came through to Sydney by train, following Rex Neville. I never gave another thought to Sergeant Houston, except to wonder why he was not on the train then."
For some seconds Margaret Venne paused, glancing across the group to where Bill Loames stood. He refused to meet her eyes and she turned again to the Inspector with a little sigh.
"The next time I came across Rex Neville he was in your company, Inspector. You were together in a restaurant and I heard you address him as 'Sergeant Houston.' I had inquiries made in Perth and discovered that a man had been to the police there, claiming to be Sergeant Houston, from London. As he had no credentials he had been looked upon as weak-headed, especially after the authorities discovered he had been in hospital, suffering from a severe assault. I telegraphed to Sergeant Houston to come to Sydney; and asked him to act with me in exposing the false Sergeant Houston, and in breaking up the drug-ring. He has done good work, Inspector. But for him both Burle and the White Falcon might have escaped."
"And—" Knox looked from one man to the other. Impulsively he held out his hand to the stranger.
"Sergeant Houston, 'fraid this, is but a belated welcome to New South Wales, but-"
"—And lastly, I exonerate James Burle from dropping the cocaine-laden fountain pen on the steps of the Alamanza Rooms. Rex Neville picked it up, after he had placed it there to draw your suspicions against Burle. It was one of his tricks he was waging in the war against Burle to obtain control of the illegal drug trade of Australia—now happily ended."
The Little Grey Woman turned as she finished speaking and passed through the great doors on to the verandah, and the shelter of the night. For some time she stood leaning against one of the posts, gazing out over the bushlands, now lightening under the first rays of dawn.
Furtively she raised her handkerchief to her eyes, brushing away the rising tears. She had succeeded; she had accomplished a work that would make her name in the Chancelleries of the world, but—
"I think you dropped this." A grave voice, spoke by, her side. Her hand flew to her heart; for the moment she could not speak.
At length she turned and her hands went out to meet his. "Bill—"
"Dora, I was a fool! A pig-headed, fool!" The artist caught her hands in a grip that hurt, yet brought the smiles to her lips. "Dora, can you forgive—"
"Bill, Oh, Bill, I was the fool." The Little Grey Woman found a comforting place on the breast of his jacket on which to hide her tear-stained face. "Can you forgive me, Bill? I've learned my lesson. Women can do world-work, but-"
"But, what?" Bill Loames's face was buried in her fragrant hair.
"There's a other work, Bill—dear. I want to learn it, Bill. I want you to show me—"
"Mrs. Venne!" Inspector Knox came quickly out of the big door. "I-Oh!"
He turned quickly, to re-enter the house, but Loames held him.
"There's not a Mrs. Margaret Venne, Bob!" The artist's face was transfigured with happiness. "Let me present you to Miss Dora Melville, an old friend of mine and—Wait a minute, Bob! There's a question I want answered." He turned to the girl. "What am I to teach you, Dora?"
"Bill!" She spoke gravely, but the happy smiles chased the tears from her eyes. "A long time ago you told me I should: learn to darn socks—"
"But, I want to, Bill." Pleading hands caught at his sleeve.
For a long moment Bill Loames looked deep into the girl's eyes. Then, catching the Inspector firmly by the elbow he led him to the door of the house.
"Say, Bob, old man." He spoke joyously. "You know the ropes. How long does it take to get a special license in this benighted country of yours?"
A strong push drove the Inspector out of sight of the verandah.
Bill Loames did not follow. He had other occasions—more interesting.
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