"I've got it" said Pinto sullenly.
THE GREEK PHILLOPOLIS
The upbuilding of the Boundary gang had neither been an accident, nor was it exactly designed on the lines which it ultimately followed.
The main structure was Boundary himself, with his extraordinary financial genius, his plausibility, his lightning exploitation of every advantage which offered. Outwardly he was the head of three trading corporations which complied with the laws, paid small but respectable dividends and cloaked other operations which never appeared in the official records of the companies.
The sidelines of the gang came through force of circumstances. Men—good, bad and indifferent—were drawn into the orbit of its activities, as extraordinary circumstances arose or dire necessities dictated. Throughout the length and breadth of Britain, through France, Italy, and in the days before the war, and even during the war, in Germany, in Russia and in the United States, were men who, if they could not be described as agents, were at least ready tools.
He had a finger in every unsavoury pie. The bank robber discharged from gaol did not ask Colonel Boundary to finance him in the purchase of a new kit of tools—an up-to date burglar's kit costs something over two hundred pounds—but there were people who would lend the money, which eventually came out of the colonel's pocket. Some of the businesses he financed were on the border line of respectability. Some into which his money was sunk were frankly infamous. But it was a popular fiction that he knew nothing of these. Or, if he did know, that he was financing or at the back of a scoundrel, it was insisted that that scoundrel was engaged in (so far as the colonel knew) legitimate enterprise.
Paul Phillopolis was a small Greek merchant, who had an office in Mincing Court—a tiny room at the top of four flights of stairs. On the glass panel of its door was the announcement: "General Exporter."
Mr. Phillopolis spent three or four hours at his office daily and for the rest of the time, particularly towards the evening, was to be found in a brasserie in Soho. He was a dark little man, with fierce moustachios and a set of perfect white teeth which he displayed readily, for he was easily amused. His most intimate acquaintances knew him to be an exporter of Greek produce to South America, and he was, in the large sense of the word, eminently respectable.
Occasionally he would be seen away from his customary haunt, discussing with a compatriot some very urgent business, which few knew about. For there were ships which cleared from the Greek ports, carrying cargoes to the order of Mr. Phillopolis, which did not appear in any bill of lading. Dazed-looking Armenian girls, girls from South Russia, from Greece, from Smyrna, en route to a promised land, looked forward to the realisation of those wonderful visions which the Greek agent had so carefully sketched.
In half a dozen South American towns the proprietors of as many dance halls would look over the new importations approvingly and remit their bank drafts to the merchant of Mincing Court. It was a profitable business, particularly in pre-war days.
The colonel departed from his usual practice and met the Greek himself, the place of meeting being a small hotel in Aldgate. Whatever other pretences the colonel made, he did not attempt to continue the fiction that he was ignorant of the Greek's trade.
"Paul," he said after the first greetings were over, "I've been a good friend to you."
"You have indeed, colonel," said the man gratefully.
He spoke English with a very slight accent, for he had been born and educated in London.
"If ever I can render you a service——"
"You can," said the colonel, "but it is not going to be easy."
The Greek eyed him curiously.
"Easy or hard," he said, "I'll go through with it."
The colonel nodded.
"How is the business in South America?" he asked suddenly.
The Greek spread out his hands in deprecation.
"The war!" he said tragically, "you can imagine what it has been like. All those girls waiting for music-hall engagements and impossible to ship them owing to the fleets. I must have lost thousands of pounds."
"The demand hasn't slackened off, eh?" asked the colonel, and the Greek smiled.
"South America is full of money. They have millions—billions. Almost every other man is a millionaire. The music-halls have patrons but no talent."
The colonel smiled grimly.
"There's a girl in London of exceptional ability," he said. "She has appeared in a music-hall here, and she's as beautiful as a dream."
"English?" asked the Greek eagerly.
"Irish, which is better," said the other; "as pretty as a picture, I tell you. The men will rave about her."
The Greek looked puzzled.
"Does she want to go?" he asked.
The colonel snarled round at him:
"Do you think I should come and ask you to book her passage if she wanted to go?" he demanded. "Of course she doesn't want to go, and she doesn't know she's going. But I want her out of the way, you understand?"
Mr. Phillopolis pulled a long face.
"To take her from England?"
"From London," said the colonel.
The Greek shook his head.
"It is impossible," he said; "passports are required and unless she was willing to go it would be impossible to take her. You can't kidnap a girl and rush her out of the country except in storybooks, colonel."
Boundary interrupted him impatiently.
"Don't you think I know that?" he asked; "your job is, when she's in a fit state of mind, to take her across and put her somewhere where she's not coming back for a long time. Do you understand?"
"I understand that part of it very well," said the Greek.
"I'm not to be mixed up in it," said Boundary. "The only thing I can promise you is that she'll go quietly. I'll have her passports fixed. She'll be travelling for her health—you understand? When you get to South America I want you to take her into the interior of the country. You're not to leave her in the music-halls in one of the coast towns where English and American tourists are likely to see her."
"But how are you going to——"
"That's my business," said the colonel. "You understand what you have to do. I'll send you the date you leave and I'll pay her passage and yours. For any out-of-pocket expenses you can send the bill to me, you understand?"
Obviously it was not a job to the liking of Phillopolis, but he had good reason to fear the colonel and acquiesced with a nod. Boundary went back to where he had left Pinto and found the Portuguese biting his finger-nails—a favourite spare-time occupation of his.
"Did you fix it?" he asked in a low voice.
"Of course, I fixed it," said the colonel sharply.
"I'm not going to have anything to do with it," said the other, and the colonel smiled.
"Maybe you'll change your mind," he said significantly.
There was a knock at the door and the colonel himself answered it. He took the card from the servant's hand and read:
"Mr. STAFFORD KING, "Criminal Intelligence Department."
He looked from the card to Pinto, then
"Show him in."
THE COLONEL AT SCOTLAND YARD
The two men had not met since they had parted at the door of the North Lambeth Police Court, and there was in Colonel Boundary's smile something of forgiveness and gentle reproach.
"Well, Mr. King," he said, "come in, come in, won't you?"
He offered his hand to the other, but Stafford apparently did not see it.
"No malice, I trust, Mr. King?" said the colonel genially. "You know my friend Mr. Silva? A business associate of mine, a director of several of my companies."
"I know him all right," said Stafford and added, "I hope to know him better."
Pinto recognised the underlying sense of the words, but not a muscle of his face moved. For Stafford King the hatred with which he regarded the law lost its personal character. This man was something more than a thief-taker and a tracker of criminals. Pinto chose to regard him as the close friend of Maisie White, and as such, his rival.
"And to what are we indebted for this visit?" asked the bland colonel.
"The chief wants to see you."
"Sir Stanley Belcom. Being the chief of our department I should have thought you had heard of him."
"Sir Stanley Belcom," repeated the other; "why, of course, I know Sir Stanley by repute. May I ask what he wants to see me about? And how is my young friend—er—Miss White?" asked the colonel.
"When I saw her last," replied Stafford steadily, "she was looking pretty well, so far as I could tell."
"Indeed!" said the colonel politely. "I have a considerable interest in the welfare of Miss White. May I ask when you saw her?
"Last night," replied Stafford. "She was standing at the door of her apartments in Doughty Street, having a little talk with your friend," he nodded to Pinto, and Pinto started; "also," said the cheerful Stafford, "another mutual friend of ours, Mr. Crewe, was within hailing distance, unless I am greatly mistaken."
"So you were watching, eh?" burst out Pinto "I thought after the lesson you had a couple of weeks ago, you'd have——"
"Let me carry on this conversation, if you don't mind," said the colonel, and the fury in his eyes silenced the Portuguese.
"We have agreed to let bygones be bygones, Mr. King, and I am sure it is only his excessive zeal on my behalf that induced our friend to be so indiscreet as to refer to the unpleasant happenings—which we will allow to pass from our memories."
So the girl was being watched. That made things rather more difficult than he had imagined. Nevertheless, he anticipated no supreme obstacle to the actual abduction. His plans had been made that morning, when he saw in the columns of the daily newspaper a four-line advertisement which, to a large extent, had cleared away the greatest of his difficulties.
"And if Mr. King is looking after our young friend, Maisie White, the daughter of one of our dearest business associates—why, I'm glad," he went on heartily. "London, Mr. King, is a place full of danger for young girls, particularly those who are deprived of the loving care of a parent, and one of the chief attractions, if I may be allowed to say so, which the police have for me, is the knowledge that they are the protectors of the unprotected, the guardians of the unguarded."
He made a little bow, and for all his amusement Stafford gravely acknowledged the handsome compliment which the most notorious scoundrel in London had paid the Metropolitan Police Force.
"When am I to see your chief?"
"You can come along with me now, if you like, or you can go to-morrow morning at ten o'clock," said Stafford.
The colonel scratched his chin.
"Of course, I understand that this summons is in the nature of a friendly——" he stopped questioningly.
"Oh, certainly," said Stafford, his eyes twinkling, "it isn't the customary 'come-along-o'-me' demand. I think the chief wants to meet you, to discover just the kind of person you are. You will like him, I think, colonel. He is the sort of man who takes a tremendous interest in—er——"
"In crime?" said the colonel gently.
"I was trying to think of a nice word to put in its place," admitted Stafford; "at any rate, he is interested in you."
"There is no time like the present," said the colonel. "Pinto, will you find my hat?"
On the way to Scotland Yard they chatted on general subjects till Stafford asked:
"Have you had another visitation from your friend?"
"The Jack o' Judgment?" asked the colonel. "Yes, we met him the other night. He's rather amusing. By the way, have you had complaints from anywhere else?"
Stafford shook his head.
"No, he seems to have specialised on you, colonel. You have certainly the monopoly of his attentions."
"What is going to happen supposing he makes an appearance when I happen to have a lethal weapon ready?" asked the colonel. "I have never killed a person in my life, and I hope the sad experience will not be mine. But from the police point of view, how do I stand suppose—there is an accident?"
Stafford shrugged his shoulders.
"That is his look out," he said. "If you are threatened, I dare say a jury of your fellow countrymen will decide that you acted in self-defence."
"He came the other night," the colonel said reminiscently, "when we were fixing up a particularly difficult—er—business negotiation."
"Bad luck!" said Stafford. "I suppose the mug was scared?"
"The what?" asked the puzzled colonel.
"The mug," said Stafford. "You may not have heard the expression. It means 'can'—'fool'—'dupe.'"
The colonel drew a long breath.
"You still bear malice, I see, Mr. King," he said sadly.
He entered the portals of Scotland Yard without so much as a tremor, passed up the broad stairs and along the unlovely corridors, till he came to the double doors which marked the First Commissioner's private office. Stafford disappeared for a moment and presently returned with the news that the First Commissioner would not be able to see his visitor for half an hour. Stafford apologised but the colonel was affability itself and kept up a running conversation until a beckoning secretary notified them that the great man was disengaged.
It was King who ushered the colonel into his presence. Sir Stanley was writing at a big desk and looked up as the colonel entered.
"Sit down, colonel," he said, nodding his head to a chair on the opposite side of the desk. "You needn't wait, King. There are one or two things I want to speak to the colonel about."
When the door had closed behind the detective, Sir Stanley leaned back in his chair. Their eyes met, the grey and the faded blue, and for the space of a few seconds they stared. Sir Stanley Belcom was the first to drop his eyes.
"I've sent for you, colonel," he said, "because I think you might give me a great deal of information, if you're willing."
"Command me," said the colonel grandly.
"It is on the matter of a murder which was committed in London a few months ago," said the commissioner quietly and for a moment Colonel Boundary did not speak.
"I presume you are referring to the 'Snow' Gregory murder?" he said at last.
"Exactly," nodded the commissioner. "We have had an inquiry from America as to the identity of this young man. Now, you knew him better than anybody else in London, colonel. Can you tell me, was he an American?"
"Emphatically not," said the colonel with a little sigh, as though he were relieved at the turn the conversation was taking. "I came to know him through—er—circumstances, and exactly what they were I cannot for the moment remember. I had a lot to do with him. He did odd jobs for me."
"Was he well educated?" asked the commissioner.
"Yes, I should say he was," said the colonel slowly. "There was a story that he had been to Oxford, and that's very likely true. He spoke like a college man."
"Do you know if he had any relations in England?"
The commissioner eyed the other straightly and the colonel hesitated. How much does this man know? he wondered, and decided that he could do no harm if he told all the truth.
"He had no relations in England," he said, "but he had a father who was abroad."
"Ah, now we're getting at some facts," said the commissioner and drew a slip of paper towards him. "What was the father's name?"
The colonel shook his head.
"That I can't tell you, sir," he said. "I should like to oblige you but I have no more idea of what his name was than the man in the moon. I believe he was in India, because letters from India used to come to Gregory."
"Was Gregory his name?"
"His Christian name, I think," said the colonel after a moment's thought. "He went wrong at college and was sent down. Then he went to Paris and started to study art, and he got in trouble there, too. That's as much as he ever told me."
"He had no brothers?" asked the commissioner.
"None," said the colonel emphatically. "I am certain of that, because he once thanked God that he was the only child."
"I see," the commissioner nodded; "you have formed no theory as to why he met his death or how?"
"No theory at all," said the colonel, but corrected himself. "Of course, I've had ideas and opinions, but none of them has ever worked out. So far as I know, he had no enemies, although he was a quick-tempered chap, especially when he was recovering from a dose of 'coco,' and would quarrel with his own grandmother."
"You've no idea why he was in London? Apparently he did not live here."
The colonel shrugged his massive shoulders.
"No, I couldn't tell you anything about that, sir," he said.
"He was not an American?" asked the commissioner again.
"I could swear to that," answered the colonel.
There was a pause and he waited.
"There's another matter." The commissioner spoke slowly. "I understand that you are being bothered by a mysterious individual who calls himself the Knave of Judgment."
"Jack o' Judgment," corrected the colonel with a contemptuous smile. "Those sort of monkey tricks don't bother me, I can assure you."
"I have my theories about the Jack o' Judgment," said the commissioner. "I have been looking up the circumstances of the murder, and I seem to remember that on the body was found a playing card."
"That's right," said the colonel, who had remembered the fact himself many times, "the Jack of Clubs."
"Do you know what that Jack of Clubs signified?" asked the commissioner, but the colonel could honestly say that he did not. Its presence on the body had frequently puzzled him and he had never found a solution.
"There is a certain type of ruffian to be found, particularly in Paris, who affects this sort of theatrical trade-mark—did you know that?" asked the commissioner.
The colonel was suddenly stricken to silence. He did not know this fact, in spite of his extraordinary knowledge of the criminal world.
"These men have their totems and their sign manuals," said the commissioner. "For example, the apache Flequier, who was executed at Nantes the other day, invariably left a domino—the double-six—near his victim."
This was news to the colonel too.
"I've been giving a great deal of thought and time to this case," said the commissioner, "and I was hoping that perhaps you could help me. The most workable theory that I can suggest is that this unfortunate man was destroyed by a French criminal of the class which I have indicated, the bullying apache type, which is so common in France. Why the murder was committed," the commissioner fingered his paper-knife carelessly, "what led to it and who committed it, and more especially who instigated the crime, are matters which seem to me to defy detection. Do you agree?"
"I quite agree," said the colonel, licking his dry lips.
"Now I suggest to you," said the commissioner, "that your Jack o' Judgment, whoever he is, is some relation to the dead man."
He spoke slowly and emphatically and the colonel did not raise his eyes from the desk.
"It is not my business to make life any easier for you," the commissioner was saying, "or to assist you in any way. But as the Jack o' Judgment seems to me to be engaged in a wholly illegal practice, and as I, in my capacity, must suppress illegal practices, I make you a present of this suggestion."
"That the Jack o' Judgment is related to 'Snow' Gregory?" asked the colonel huskily.
"That is my suggestion," said the commissioner.
"And you think——"
The commissioner raised his shoulders.
"I think he is your greatest danger, colonel," he said, "far greater than the police, far greater than the clever minds which are planning to bring you to the dock and possibly," he added, "to the gallows."
Ordinarily the colonel would have protested at the suggestion in the speech, protested laughingly or with dignity, but now he was stricken dumb, both by the seriousness of the commissioner's voice and by the consciousness of a new and a more terrible danger than any that had confronted him. He rose, realising that the interview was ended.
"I am greatly obliged to you, Sir Stanley," he said clearing his throat. "It is good of you to warn me, but I'd not like you to think that I am engaged in any dishonest——"
"We'll let that matter stand over for discussion until another time," said the commissioner dryly, as Stafford King came into the room. "You might show the colonel the way to the street. Otherwise he will be getting himself entangled in some of our detention rooms. Good morning, Colonel Boundary. Don't forget."
"I'm not likely to," said the colonel.
He recovered his poise quickly enough and by the time he was in the street he was back in his old mood. But he had had a shock. That sunny afternoon was filled with shadows. The booming bells of Big Ben tolled "Jack o' Judgment," the very wheels of the taxi droned the words. And Colonel Boundary came back to Albemarle Place for the first time in his life with his confidence in Colonel Boundary shaken.
There was nobody in save the one manservant he kept by the day, and he passed into the dining-room overlooking the street. He had work to do and it had to be done quickly. In one of the walls was set a stout safe, and this he opened, taking from it a steel box which he carried to the table. There was a fire laid on the hearth and to this he put a match though the day was warm enough. Then he proceeded to unlock the box. Apparently it was empty, but, taking out his scarf-pin, he inserted the point in a tiny hole, which would have escaped casual observation, and pressed.
Half the steel bottom of the box leapt up, disclosing a shallow cavity beneath. The colonel stared. There had been two letters put in there, letters which he had put away against the moment when it might be necessary to bring a recalcitrant agent to heel. They had gone. He slid his fingers beneath the half of the bottom which had not opened and felt a card. He drew this out and looked at it, licking his lips the while.
For the space of a minute he stared and stared at the Knave of Clubs he held in his hand. A Knave of Clubs signed with a flourish across its face: "Jack o' Judgment." Then he flung the card into the fire and, walking to the sideboard, splashed whisky into a tumbler with a hand that shook.
BUYING A NURSING HOME
The building in which Colonel Boundary had his beautiful home was of a type not uncommonly met with in the West End of London. The street floor was taken up entirely with shops, the first floor with offices and the remainder of the building was practically given over to the colonel. One by one he had ousted every tenant from the building, and practically the whole of the fourteen sets of apartments which constituted the residential portion of the building was held by him in one name or another. Some he had obtained by the payment of heavy premiums, some he had secured when the lease of the former tenant had lapsed, some he had gathered in by sub-hiring. He had tried to buy the building, since it served his purpose well, but came against a deed of trust and the Court of Chancery, and had wisely refrained from going any further into a matter which must bring him vis-a-vis with a Master in Chancery, with all the publicity which such a transaction entailed.
Nor had he been successful in acquiring any of the premises on the first floor. They were held by three very old established businesses—an estate agent, a firm of land surveyors and the offices of a valuer. He missed his opportunity, at any rate, of securing the business of Lee and Hol, the surveyors, and did not know it was in the market until after it had been transferred to a new owner. But they were quiet, sober tenants, who closed their offices between five and six every night and did not open them until between nine or ten on the following morning, and their very respectability gave him a certain privacy.
The new proprietor of Lee and Hol was a short-sighted, elderly man of no great conversational power, and apparently of no fixed purpose in life except to say "no" to the very handsome offers which the colonel's agents made when they discovered there was a chance of re-purchasing the business. Boundary had personally inspected all the offices. He had found an excuse to visit them several times, duly noted the arrangement of the furniture, the sizes of the staffs and the general character of the business which was being carried on. This was a necessary precaution because these offices were immediately under his own flat. But just now they had a special value, because it was a practice during the daytime for the three firms to employ a commissionaire, who occupied a little glass-partitioned office on the landing and attended impartially to the needs of all three tenants to the best of his ability.
Boundary descended the stairs and found the elderly man in his office, leisurely and laboriously affixing stamps to a pile of letters. He called him from his task.
"Judson," he said, "have you seen anybody go up to my rooms this afternoon?"
The man thought.
"No, sir, I haven't," he replied.
"Have you been here all the time?"
"Yes, since one o'clock I have been in my office," said the commissionaire. "None of our young gentlemen wanted anything."
"You didn't go out to go to the post?"
"No, sir," said the man. "I've not stirred from this office except for one minute when I went into Mr. Lee's office to get these letters."
"And you've seen nobody go upstairs?"
"Not since Mr. Silva came down, sir. He came down after you, if you remember."
"Nobody's been up?" insisted the other.
"Not a soul. Your servant came down before you, sir."
"That's true," said the colonel remembering that he had sent the man on a special journey to Huddersfield with a letter to the bigamous Mr. Crotin. "You haven't seen a lady go up at all?" he asked suddenly.
"Nobody has gone up them stairs," said the commissionaire emphatically. "I hope you haven't lost anything, sir?"
The colonel shook his head.
"No, I haven't lost anything. Rather, I've found something," he said grimly.
He slipped half-a crown into the man's hand.
"You needn't mention the fact that I've been making inquiries," he said and went slowly up the stairs again.
The card had been put there that day. He would swear it. The ink on the card had not had time to darken and when he made a further search of his room, this view was confirmed by the appearance of his blotting-pad. The card had been dried there, and the pen, which had been left on the table, was still damp.
The colonel passed into his bedroom and took off his coat and vest. He searched his drawer and found what looked to be like a pair of braces made of light fabric. These he slipped over his shoulder, adjusting them so that beneath his left arm hung a canvas holster. From another drawer he took an automatic pistol, pulled the magazine from the butt and examined it before he returned it, and forced a cartridge into the breach by drawing back the cover. This he carefully oiled, and then, pressing up the safety catch, he slipped the pistol into the holster and resumed his coat and vest.
It was a long time since the colonel had carried a gun under his arm, but his old efficiency was unimpaired. He practised before a mirror and was satisfied with his celerity. He loaded a spare magazine, and dropped it into the capacious pocket of his waistcoat. Then, putting the remainder of the cartridges away tidily, he closed the box, shut the drawer and went back to his room. If all the commissioner had hinted were true, if this mysterious visitor was laying for him because of the 'Snow' Gregory affair, he should have what was coming to him.
The colonel was no coward and if this eerie experience had got a little on his nerves, it was not to be wondered at. He drew up a chair to the table, sitting in such a position that he could see the door, took a pencil and a sheet of paper and began to write rapidly.
The man's knowledge was encyclopaedic. Not once did he pause or refer to a catalogue, and he was still writing when Crewe came in. The colonel looked up.
"You're the man I want," he said.
He handed the other three sheets of paper, closely covered with writing.
"What's this?" asked Crewe and read:
"Twenty-three iron bedsteads, twenty-three mattresses, twenty-three——"
"Why, what's all this, colonel?"
"You can go down to Tottenham Court Road and you can order all that furniture to be taken into No. 3, Washburn Avenue."
"Are you furnishing a children's orphanage or something?" asked the other in surprise.
"I am furnishing a nursing home, to be exact," said the colonel slowly. "I bought it this morning, and I'm going to furnish it to-morrow. Send Lollie Marsh to me. Tell her I want her to get three women of the right sort to take charge of a mental case which is coming to my nursing home. By the way, you had better telegraph to old Boyton, or better still, go in a cab and get him. He'll probably be drunk but he's still on the medical register and he's the man I want. Take him straight away to Washburn Avenue, and don't forget that it's his nursing home and not mine. My name doesn't occur in this matter and you'd better get a dummy to do the buying for you from the furniture people."
"Who is the mental case?" asked the other.
"Maisie White," snapped the colonel, and Crewe stared.
"Mad?" he said incredulously. "Is Maisie mad?"
"She may not be at present," said Boundary, "but——"
He did not finish his sentence, and Crewe, who was once a gentleman and was now a thief, swallowed something—but he had swallowed too much to choke at the threat to a girl in whom he had not the slightest interest.
THE LOVE OF STAFFORD KING
Maisie White had no illusions. When the report came to her that the detective she had employed had passed his services over to the man he was engaged to watch, she knew that the full force of the Boundary Gang would be employed to her extinction. Strangely enough, she did not appear to be disturbed, as she confessed to Stafford King. They were lunching together at the Hotel Palatine and the detective was unusually thoughtful.
"Why don't you go out of London?" he asked.
"I must go on with my work," she said.
"What is your work?" he asked.
"I have told you once," she replied. "I am trying to disentangle my father from disgrace. I am working to put him apart when the day of reckoning comes."
"You've not heard from him?" he asked.
She shook her head, and her eyes filled with tears.
"He has been a good father to me," she said, "the kindest and best of daddies. It is dreadful to think——" her lips quivered and she could go no further.
Nor could Stafford King make matters any easier for her. He knew better than she the depth of Solomon White's commitments. If the gang ever smashed, and if by good fortune the law ever took its course, there was no hope for Solomon White's escape from his share of the responsibility.
"Why do you think your father went away?" he asked, to turn the subject to a new aspect.
She did not reply instantly.
"I think he was scared," she said after a while. "I was shocked when I discovered how much in awe of the colonel he stood. He was just terrified at the threat, and yet I know he would have given his life to protect me from harm. I think it was just I that spurred him on to make the plans he did."
Stafford King agreed with a gesture.
"Now what are we going to do about you?" he asked, half-humorously, half-seriously. "I cannot let you go wandering loose about London—I'm scared to death as it is."
She smiled at him.
"You had better lock me up," she said flippantly and he nodded in the same spirit.
"I know a little house in St. John's Wood that would serve us beautifully as a prison," he said. "It has ten rooms and two admirable bathrooms. There is central heating and a large shady garden, and if you will only let me take you before a Justice of the Peace, or even a commonplace clergyman——"
She shook her head.
"That isn't prison," she said quietly and put her hand over the table.
He caught it in his and held it tight.
"Maisie," he said, "you know I love you. I love you more dearly than anything in the world."
She did not speak.
"As my wife," he went on, "you would be safe and I should be happy. I just want you all the time."
Gently she disengaged her hand, shaking her head with a little smile.
"What would that mean, Stafford?" she said. "You know you are deceiving me when you agree that my father——" again her voice shook—"no, no," she said, "it would ruin your career to have the daughter of a convict for your wife. I realise very well what it will mean, for I know—I know—I know!"
"What do you know?" he asked in a low voice.
"I know that all my work will be in vain. But I must go on with it. I must, or I shall go mad. I know nothing on earth can clear my father, but I'm not going to tell you that again. I just want to think there is a possibility that some miracle will happen, that all the evidence which even I have against him will be explained away."
He took her unresisting hand in his, and under the cover of the tablecloth held it tight.
"That is why I wanted to leave the service," he said, and she looked at him quickly.
"Because you thought that it would mean ruin?"
"No, not that. It would hurt you, that is all. Of course, if such a thing happened I would be obliged to resign."
"And you'd never forgive yourself."
"I wanted to anticipate such a happening, and, darling, you've got to face the future without any other illusions."
She winced at the word "other" but he went on, unnoticing:
"Boundary is a tiger. If he thinks there is reason to fear you, he will never let up on you till he has you in his grip. I tell you this," he said earnestly, "that for all the power of the police, for all their organisation and the backing which the law gives them, they may be helpless against this man if he has marked you down for punishment."
"I'm not afraid," she said quietly.
"But I am," said he. "I'm so afraid, that I'm sick with apprehension sometimes."
"Poor Stafford!" she said softly, and there was a look in her eyes which compensated him for much. "But you mustn't worry, dear. Truly, truly, you mustn't worry. I'm quite capable of looking after myself."
"And that's the greatest of all your illusions," he said, half-laughingly and half-irritably. "You're just the meekest little mouse that ever came under the paw of a cat."
She shook her head smilingly.
"But I tell you I'm speaking seriously," he went on. "I'll do my best to look after you. I'll have a man watching you day and night."
"But you mustn't," she protested. "There's no immediate cause for worry."
He saw her to the door of the restaurant and showed her into the taxi-cab which came at his whistle, and she leant out of the window and waved her hand in farewell as she drove off.
Two men stood on the opposite side of the road and watched her depart.
"That's the girl," said Crewe.
THE TAKING OF MAISIE WHITE
A week passed without anything exceptional happening, and Maisie White had ceased even to harbour doubts as to her own safety—doubts which had been present, in spite of the courageous showing she had made before Stafford King. Undeterred by her previous experience, she had made arrangements with another and a more responsible detective agency and had chosen a new watcher, though she had small hopes of obtaining results. She knew his task was one of almost insuperable difficulty, and she was frank in exposing to him what those difficulties were. Still, there was a faint chance that he might discover something, and moreover she had another purpose to serve.
She had seen Pinto Silva once. He had called, and she had noticed with surprise that the debonair, self-confident man she had known, whose air of conscious superiority had been so annoying to her, had undergone a considerable change. He was ill-at-ease, almost incoherent at moments, and it was a long time before she could discover his business.
This time she received him in her tiny sitting-room, for Pinto was somehow less alarming to her than he had been. Perhaps she was conscious that at the corner of the street stood a quietly dressed man doing nothing particular, who was relieved at the eighth hour by an even less obtrusive-looking gentleman from Scotland Yard.
She waited for Pinto to disclose his business, and the Portuguese was apparently in no hurry to do so. Presently he blurted it out.
"Look here, Maisie," he said, "you've got things all wrong. Things are going to be very rotten for you unless—unless——" he floundered.
"Unless what?" she asked.
"Unless you make up with me," he said in a low voice. "I'm not so bad, Maisie, and I'll treat you fair. I've always been in love with you——"
"Stop," she said quietly. "I dare say it is a great honour for a girl that any man should be in love with her, but it takes away a little of the compliment when the man is already married."
"That's nothing," he said eagerly. "I can divorce her by the laws of my country. Maisie, she hates me and I hate her."
"In those circumstances," she smiled, "I wonder you wait until you fall in love again before you get divorced. No, Mr. Silva, that story doesn't convince me. If you were single or divorced, or if you were ever so eligible, I would not marry you."
"Why not?" he demanded truculently. "I've got money."
"So have I," she said, "of a sort."
"My money's as clean as yours, if it is Solomon White's money."
"I'm well aware of that, too," she said. "It is Gang money, isn't it—loot money. I don't see what good I shall get out of exchanging mine for yours, anyway. It is just as dirty. The money doesn't come into it at all, Mr. Silva, it is just liking people well enough—for marriage. And I don't like you that way."
"You don't like me at all," he growled.
"You're very nearly right," she smiled.
"You're a fool, you're a fool!" he stormed, "you don't know what's coming to you. You don't know."
"Perhaps I do," she said. "Perhaps I can guess. But whatever is coming to me, as you put it, I prefer that to marrying you."
He started back as though she had struck him across the face, and he turned livid.
"You won't say that when——"
He checked himself and without another word left the room, and she heard his heavy feet blundering down the stairs.
And then she met him again. It was two nights after. She met him in a horrible dream. She dreamt he was flying after her, that they were both birds, she a pigeon and he a hawk; and as she made her last desperate struggle to escape, she heard his hateful voice in her ear:
"Maisie, Maisie, it is your last chance, your last chance!"
She had gone to bed at ten o'clock that night, and it seemed that she had hardly fallen asleep before the vision came. She struggled to sit up in bed, she tried to speak, but a big hand was over her mouth.
Then it was true, it was no dream. He was in the room, his hand upon her mouth, his voice in her ear. The room was in darkness. There was no sound save the sound of his heavy breathing and his voice.
"They'll be up here in five minutes," he whispered. "I can save you from hell! I can save you, Maisie! Will you have me?"
She summoned all the strength at her command to shake her head.
"Then keep quiet!"
There was a note of savagery in his voice which made her turn sick.
For a second she filled her lungs to scream, but at that instant a mass of cotton-wool was thrust over her face, and she began to breathe in a sickly sweet vapour. Somebody else was in the room now. They were holding her feet. The voice in her ear said:
"Breathe. Take a deep breath!"
She sobbed and writhed in an agony of mind, but all the time she was breathing, she was drawing into her lungs the chloroform with which the wool was saturated.
At two o'clock in the morning a uniformed constable, patrolling his beat, saw an ambulance drawn up outside a house in Doughty Street. He crossed the road to make inquiries.
"A case of scarlet fever," said the driver.
"You don't say," said the sympathetic constable.
The door opened and two men walked out, carrying a figure in a blanket. The policeman stood by and saw the "patient" laid upon a stretcher and the back of the ambulance closed. Then he continued his walk to the corner of the street, where he found, huddled up in a doorway, the unconscious figure of a Scotland Yard detective, whose observation had been interrupted by a well-directed blow from a life preserver.
THE COMMISSIONER HAS A THEORY
"To all stations. Stop Ambulance Motor No. LKO 9943. Arrest and detain driver and any person found therein. Warn all garages and report.—COMMISSIONER."
This order flashed from station to station throughout the night, and before the dawn, nine thousand policemen were on the look-out for the motor ambulance.
"There's a chance, of course," said Stafford, "but it is a poor chance."
He was looking white and heavy-eyed.
"I don't know, sir," said Southwick, his subordinate. "There's always a chance that a crook will do the obviously wrong thing. I suppose you've no theory as to where they have gone?"
"Not out of town—of that I'm certain," said King, "that is why the quest is so hopeless. Why, they'll have got to their destination hours before the message went out!"
They were standing in the girl's bedroom, which still reeked with chloroform, and all the clues were piled together on the table. There were not many. There was a pad of cotton-wool, a half-empty bottle of chloroform, bearing the label of a well-known wholesaler, and one of a pair of old wash-leather gloves, which had evidently been worn by somebody in his desire to avoid leaving finger-prints.
"We've not much to go on there," said Stafford disconsolately; "the chloroform may have been sold years ago. Any chemist would have supplied the cotton-wool, and as for the glove"—he picked it up and looked at it carefully, then he carried it to the light.
Old as it was, it was of good shape and quality, and when new had probably been supplied to order by a first-class glove-maker.
"There's nothing here," said Stafford again, and threw the glove back on the table.
A policeman came into the room and saluted.
"I've cycled over from the Yard, sir. We have had a message asking you to go at once to Sir Stanley Belcom's private house."
"How did Sir Stanley know about this affair?" asked Stafford listlessly.
"He telephoned through, sir, about five o'clock this morning. He often makes an early inquiry."
Stafford looked round. There was nothing more that he could do. He passed down the stairs into the street and jumped on to the motor-cycle which had brought him to the scene.
Sir Stanley Belcom lived in Cavendish Place, and Stafford had been a frequent visitor to the house. Sir Stanley was a childless widower, who was wont to complain that he kept up his huge establishment in order to justify the employment of his huge staff of servants. Stafford suspected him of being something of a sybarite. His dinners were famous, his cellar was one of the best in London and because of his acquaintances and friendships in the artistic sets, he was something of a dabbler in the arts he patronised.
The door was opened and an uncomfortable-looking butler was waiting on the step to receive Stafford.
"You'll find Sir Stanley in the library, sir," he said.
Despite his sorrow, Stafford could not help smiling at this attempt on the part of an English servant to offer the conventional greeting in spite of the hour.
"I'm afraid we've got you up early, Perkins," he said.
"Not at all, sir."
The man's stout face creased in a smile.
"Sir Stanley's a rare gentleman for getting up in the middle of the night and ordering a meal."
Stafford found his grey-haired chief, arrayed in a flowered silk dressing-gown, balancing bread on an electric toaster.
"Bad news, eh, Stafford?" he said. "Sit down and have some coffee. The girl is gone?"
"And our unfortunate detective-constable, who was sent to watch, is half-way to the mortuary, I presume?"
"Not so bad as that, sir," said Stafford, "but he's got a pretty bad crack. He's recovered consciousness but remembers nothing that happened."
Sir Stanley nodded.
"Very scientifically done," he said admiringly. "This, of course, is the work of the Boundary Gang."
"I wish——" began Stafford between his teeth.
"Save your breath, my friend," smiled Sir Stanley; "wishing will do nothing. You could arrest every known member of the gang, and they'd have twenty alibis ready, and jolly good alibis too. It is years since the colonel staged an outrage of this kind and his right hand has not lost its cunning. Look at the organisation of it! The men get into the house without attracting the attention of your watcher. Then, at the exact second that the ambulance is due, along comes their 'cosher,' knocks down the policeman on duty. I don't suppose the thing took more than ten minutes. Everything was timed. They must have known the hour the policeman on the beat passed along the street."
Sir Stanley poured out the coffee with his own hands, and relapsed back into his armchair.
"Why do you think they did it?"
"They were afraid of her, sir," said Stafford.
Sir Stanley laughed softly.
"I can't imagine Boundary being afraid of a girl."
"She was Solly White's daughter," said Stafford.
"Even then I can't understand it," replied the chief, "unless—by jove! Of course."
He hit his knee a smack and Stafford waited.
"Probably they've got some other game on, but I'll tell you one of the ideas of taking that girl—it is to bring back Solomon White. He disappeared, didn't he?"
"That's the game—to bring back Solomon White. And whatever the danger to himself, he'll be in London to-morrow as soon as this news is known."
Sir Stanley sat thinking, with his chin in his hand, his forehead wrinkled.
"There's some other reason, too. Now, what is it?"
Stafford guessed, but did not say.
"That girl will take some recovering before harm comes to her," said Sir Stanley softly, "your only hope is that friend Jack comes to your rescue."
"Jack o' Judgment?"
Sir Stanley nodded and the other smiled sadly.
"That's unlikely," he said; "indeed, it is impossible. I think I might as well tell you my own theory as to why she was taken and why Boundary took so much trouble to capture her."
"What is your theory?" asked Sir Stanley curiously.
"My theory, sir, is that she is Jack o' Judgment," said Stafford King.
"She—Jack o' Judgment?"
Sir Stanley was on his feet staring at him.
"Impossible! It is a man——"
"You seem to forget, sir," said Stafford, "that Miss White is a wonderful mimic."
"She wants to clear her father. She told me that only a week ago. And then I've been making inquiries on my own. I found that she was seen coming out of the Albemarle mansion, the night that Jack made his last visit to Boundary's flat."
Sir Stanley rose.
"Wait," he said and left the room.
Presently he came back with something in his hand.
"If Miss White is Jack o' Judgment, and if she were captured to-night, how do you account for this? it was under my pillow when I woke up."
He laid on the table the familiar Jack of Clubs.
IN THE TURKISH BATHS
Colonel Boundary had a breakfast party of three. Though he had been up the whole of the night, he showed no signs of weariness. Not so Pinto or Crewe, who looked fagged out and all the more tired because they were both conspicuously unshaven.
"Half the game's won," said the colonel. "We'll get rid of this girl and Solly White by the same stroke. I'm afraid of Solly, he knows too much. By the way, Raoul is coming over."
"Raoul!" said Crewe, sitting up suddenly, "why, colonel, you're mad! Didn't the Scotland Yard man tell you——"
"That he suspected a French hand in the case of 'Snow' Gregory? All the more reason why Raoul should come," said the colonel calmly; "he ought to report this morning."
"You're taking a risk," growled Pinto.
"Nothing unusual," replied the colonel, shelling a plover's egg. "It is the last thing in the world they would suspect at Scotland Yard after their warning, that I should bring Raoul over again. Besides, they don't know him anyway. He's just a harmless young French cabinet-maker. He doesn't talk and I will get him out of the silly habit of leaving his visiting-card."
There was a silence, which Crewe broke.
"You want him for——"
He did not finish the sentence.
"For work," replied the colonel. "It is a thousand pities, but it would be a thousand times more so if you and I were jugged, and waiting in the condemned cell for the arrival of Mr. Ellis, the eminent hangman. Raoul's a workman. We can trust him. He doesn't try any funny business. He lives out of this country and I can cover his tracks. Besides," the colonel went on, "I shall give him enough to live in comfort for the next two years. Raoul is a grateful little beast, and thank God! he can neither read nor write."
"I don't like it," said Crewe. "I hate that kind of thing. Why not give Solly a chance? Why not get up a fight—a duel, anything but cold-blooded murder?"
The colonel turned his cold eyes upon the other, and his lips parted in a mirthless smile.
"You're speaking up to your character now, aren't you, Crewe?" he said unpleasantly. "You're 'Gentleman Crewe' once again, eh? Want to do everything in the public school fashion? Well, you can cut out all that stuff and feed it to the pigs. I'm Dan Boundary, looking forward to a pleasant old age. There's nothing of the Knights of the Round Table about me."
"All right," he said, "have it your own way."
"You bet your life I'm going to have it my own way," said the colonel. "Have you seen the girl this morning, Pinto?"
Pinto shook his head.
"You'll keep away from there for a couple of days. I've got Boyton on the spot and he'll be feeding her with bromide till she won't care whether she's in hell or Wigan. Besides, we'll all be shadowed for the next day or two, make no mistake about that. Stafford King won't let the grass grow under his feet. And now, you chaps, go home and try to look as though you've had a night's rest."
After their departure the colonel made his own preparations. There were Turkish baths in Westminster and it was to the Turkish baths he went. Clad in a towel, he passed from hot room to hot room, and finally came to the big, vaulted saloon, tiled from floor to roof, where in canvas-backed chairs the bathers doze and read. The colonel lay back in his chair, his eyes closed, apparently oblivious to his surroundings. Nor was it to be observed that he saw the thin little man who came and sat beside him. The new-comer was sallow-skinned and lantern-jawed, and his long arms were tattooed from shoulder to wrist.
"Here!" said a soft voice in French.
The colonel did not open his eyes. He merely dropped the palm fan which he was idly waving to and fro so that it hid his mouth.
"Do you remember a Monsieur White?" he said in the same tone.
"Perfectly," replied the other. "He was the man who would not have your little 'coco' friend—disposed of."
"That is the man," said the other. "You have a good memory, Raoul."
"Monsieur, my memory is wonderful, but alas! one cannot live on memory," he added sententiously.
"Then remember this: there is a place near London called Putney Heath."
"Putney Heath," repeated the other.
"There is a house called Bishopsholme."
"Bishopsholme," repeated the other.
"It is empty—to let, a louer, you understand. It is in a sad state of desolation. The garden, the house—you know the kind of place?"
"At nine o'clock to-night and at nine o'clock to-morrow night you will be near the door. There is a large clump of bushes, behind which you will stand. You will stay there until ten. Between those hours M. White will approach and go into the house. You understand?"
"Perfectly, monsieur," said the voice again.
"You will shoot him so that he dies immediately."
"He is a dead man," said the other.
There was a long pause.
"I will pay you sixty thousand francs, and I will have a motor-car to take you direct to Dover. You will catch the night boat for Ostend. Your passport will be in order, and you can make your way to Paris at your leisure. The payment you will receive in Paris. Is that satisfactory?"
"Eminently so, monsieur," said the other. "I need a little for expenses for the moment. Also I wish information as to where the motor-car will meet me."
"It will be waiting for you at the corner of the first road past the house, on the way from London. You will not speak to the chauffeur and he will not speak to you. In the car you will find sufficient money for your immediate needs. Is there any necessity to explain further?"
"None whatever, monsieur," said the soft voice, and Raoul dropped his head on one side as though he were sleeping.
As for the colonel, he did not simulate slumber, but passed into dreamland, sleeping quietly and calmly, with a look of benevolence upon his big face.
The only other occupant of the cooling room, a big-framed man who was reading a newspaper, closed his eyes too—but he did not sleep.
SOLOMON COMES BACK
At nine o'clock that night the colonel, in immaculate evening-dress, sat playing double-dummy bridge with his two companions. In the light of the big shaded lamp overhead there was something particularly peaceful and innocent in their occupation. No word was spoken save of the game.
It was a quarter to nine, noted the colonel, looking at the little French clock on the mantelpiece. He rose, walked to the window and looked out. It was a stormy night and the wind was howling down the street, sending the rain in noisy splashes against the window panes. He grumbled his satisfaction and returned to the table.
"Did you see the paper?" asked Pinto presently.
"I saw the paper," said the colonel, not looking up from his hand. "I make a point of reading the newspapers."
"You see they've made a feature of——"
"Mention no names," said the colonel. "I know they've made a feature about it. So much the better. Everything depends——"
It was as he spoke that Solomon White came into the room. Boundary knew it was he before the door handle turned, before the hum of voices in the hall outside had ceased, but it was with a great pretence of surprise that he looked up.
"Why, if it isn't Solomon White!" he said.
The man was haggard and sick-looking. He had evidently dressed in a hurry, for his cravat was ill-tied and the collar gaped. He strode slowly up to the table and Boundary's manservant, with a little grin, closed the door.
"Where have you been all this time, Solomon?" asked Boundary genially. "Sit you down and play a hand."
"You know why I've come," breathed Solomon White.
"Surely I know why you've come. You've come to explain where you've been, old boy. Sit down," said Boundary.
"Where is my daughter?" asked White.
"Where is your daughter?" repeated the colonel. "Well, that's a queer question to ask us. We've been saying where is Solomon White all this time."
"I've been to Brighton," said the man, "but that's nothing to do with it."
"Been at Brighton? A very pleasant place, too," said Boundary. "And what were you doing at Brighton?"
"Keeping out of your way, damn you!" said White fiercely. "Trying to cure the fear of you which has made a rank coward of me. If you wanted to find a method for curing me, colonel, you've found it. I've come back for my daughter—where is she?"
The colonel pushed his chair back from the table and looked up with a quizzical smile.
"Now you're not going to take it hard, Solomon," he said. "We had to have you back and that was the only scheme we could think of. You see, there are lots of little bits of business that have to be cleared up, bits of business in which you had a hand the same as my other business associates."
"Where is the girl?" asked the man steadily.
"Well, I'm going to admit to you," said the colonel, with a fine show of frankness, "that I've put her away—no harm has come to her, you understand. She's at a little place at Putney Heath, a house I took specially for her, surrounded by loving guardians——"
"Like Pinto?" asked the man, looking down at the silent Silva.
"Like Lollie. Now you can't deny that Lollie's a very nice girl," said the colonel. "Sit down, Solomon, and talk things over."
"When I've got my girl I'll talk things over with you. Where is this place?"
"It is on Putney Heath," said the colonel. "Now aren't I being straightforward with you? If I had any bad designs against the girl, should I tell you where she is? If you go there, Solomon, take some of your copper friends."
"I have no copper friends," said the man angrily. "You know that well enough. What am I that I should go to the police? Can I go to them with clean hands?"
"Well, that's a question I've often asked myself," said the colonel. "I've often said——"
"What is the name of the house?" interrupted White. "I want to see whether you're playing square with me, Boundary, and if you're not, by——"
"Don't threaten me, don't threaten me, Solomon," said the colonel with a good-humoured gesture. "I'm a nervous man and I suffer from heart disease. You ought to know better than that. Bishopsholme is the place. It is the fourth big house after passing Tredennis Road—a fine villa standing in its own grounds. It looks a bit deserted because it was empty until a few days ago, when I put a scrap or two of furniture into it. Why not wait——"
"First I'll find out whether you're speaking the truth, and if you're not——"
"Gently, gently," growled Crewe. "What's the good of kicking up a row, White? The colonel's dealing straighter with you than you're dealing with us."
He was not in the colonel's secrets, and he himself was deceived, thinking that the girl had been removed to the house which he now heard about for the first time, and that the sole object of the abduction was to bring White back.
"Stay a while," said Boundary. "It is only just nine——"
But White was gone.
He pushed past the servant, one of the readiest and most dangerous of the colonel's instruments, and into the half-dark corridor. There was a light on the landing below, and as he ran down the stairs he thought he saw somebody standing there. It looked like a woman till the figure turned, and then Solomon White stood stock still. It was the first time he had seen Jack o' Judgment. The shimmer of the black silk coat, the curious suggestion of pallor which the white mask conveyed, the slouch hat, throwing a black bar of shadow diagonally across the face, lent the figure a peculiarly sinister aspect.
The voice was commanding, the glittering revolver in the figure's hand more so.
"Who are you?" gasped Solomon White.
"Jack o' Judgment! Have you ever heard of little Jack?" chuckled the figure. "Oh, here's a new one—Solomon White, too, and never heard of Jack o' Judgment! Didn't you see me when they took me out of 'Snow' Gregory's pocket? Little Jack o' Judgment!"
Solomon White stepped back, his face twitching.
"I had nothing to do with that," he said hoarsely, "nothing to do with that, do you hear?"
"Where are you going? Won't you tell Jack something, give him a bit of news? Poor old Jack hears nothing these days," sighed the figure, laughter bubbling between the words.
"I'm going on private business. Get out of my way," said the other, remembering the urgency of his mission.
"But you'll tell Jack o' Judgment?" wheedled the figure, "you'll tell poor old Jack where you are going to find your beautiful daughter?"
"You know!" said the man.
He took a step forward, but the revolver waved him back.
"You'll speak, or you don't pass," said Jack o' Judgment. "You don't pass until you speak; do you hear, Solomon White?"
The man thought.
"It is a place called Bishopsholme," he said gruffly, "on Putney Heath. Now let me pass."
"Wait, wait!" said the figure eagerly, "wait for me—only five minutes! I won't keep you! But don't go, there's death there, Solomon White! It is waiting for you—don't you feel it in your bones?"
The voice sank to a whisper, and in spite of himself, a cold shiver passed down White's spine. He half-turned to go back.
"Wait!" said the figure again eagerly, fiercely. "I shall not keep you a minute—a second!"
Solomon White stood irresolutely, and the mask seemed to melt into the darkness. White strained his ears to catch the soft patter of its shoes as it mounted the stairs, but no sound came. Then with a start he seemed to awake as if from a bad dream, and without another word strode down the remaining stairs into the night.
On the landing above, the strange being who called himself "Jack o' Judgment" stood outside the door of Boundary's flat. He had taken a key from his pocket and had it poised, when he heard the clatter of the other's feet. He stood undecidedly, but only for a second, then the key slipped into the lock and the door opened. The butler from his little pantry saw the figure and slammed his own door, bolting it with trembling fingers.
In a second Jack o' Judgment was in the room facing the paralysed trio.
He spoke no word, but suddenly his right arm was raised, some shining object flew from his hand, and there was a crash of glass and instantly a vile odour. On the opposite wall where the bottle had broken appeared a dark and irregular stain.
Then, without so much as a laugh, he stepped back through the door and raced down the stairs in pursuit of White. It was too late; the man had disappeared. Jack o' Judgment stood for a moment listening, then he slipped off the black coat and ripped off the mask. The coat was of the finest silk, for he rolled it into the space of a pocket-handkerchief and slipped it in his pocket. The handkerchief went the same way. If there had been observers, they would have caught a glimpse of a man in evening dress as he went swiftly down the half-lighted stairway.
He turned and walked in the shadow of the building and passed down a side street, where a big limousine was awaiting him. He gave a murmured direction to the driver, and the car sped on its way.
THE JUDGMENT OF DEATH
Solomon White had a taxi waiting, and gave his directions. He was sufficiently loyal to the band to avoid calling especial attention to the house where the girl was imprisoned, and he told his cab to wait at the end of Putney Heath. The night was wild and boisterous and very dark, but he carried an electric torch, and presently he came to weather-stained gates bearing in letters which had half-faded the name he sought. He pushed open the gate with some trouble. There was a curving carriage-drive which led to the front door, which stood at the head of a flight of steps under a square and ugly portico.
He looked up at the building, but it was in darkness. Apparently it was empty, but he knew enough of the colonel's methods to know that Boundary would not advertise the presence of the girl to the outside world.
He stood hesitating, wondering. The whole thing might be a trap, but Solomon White was not easily scared. He took a revolver from his pocket, drew back the hammer and walked forward cautiously. There was no sign of life. The rustling of shrubs and trees was the only mournful sound which varied the roar of the storm.
He was opposite the door, and one foot was raised to surmount the first step, when there came a sound like the sharp tap of a drum.
Solomon White stood for fully a second before he crumbled and fell, and he was dead before he reached the ground.
Still there was no sign or sound of life. A church clock boomed out the quarter to ten. A motor-car went past, and then the laurel bushes by the side of the steps moved, and a man in a black mackintosh stepped out. He bent over the dead man, picked up the fallen torch and flashed the light on the dead man's face, then, with a grunt of satisfaction, Raoul Pontarlier unscrewed his Soubet silencer and slipped his automatic into the wet pocket of his mackintosh.
Feeling in an inside pocket for a cigarette, he found one and lit it from the smouldering end of a tinder-lighter. Then, carefully concealing the lighted cigarette in the palm of his hand, he walked softly and noiselessly down the drive, keeping to the shadow of the bushes and watching to left and right for signs of approaching pedestrians. At two points he could see the heath road, and nobody was in sight. There was plenty of time, and men had been ruined by haste. He reached the gate and carefully looked over. The road was deserted. His hand was on the gate, when something cold and hard was pushed against his ear and he turned round.
"Put up your hands!" said a mocking voice. "Put them up!"
The Frenchman's hands rose slowly.
"Now turn round and face the house. Quick!" said the voice. "Marchez! Halt!"
Raoul stopped. If he could only get his hands down and duck, one lightning dive....
His captor evidently read his thoughts, for he felt a hand slip into his mackintosh pocket, and he was relieved of the weight of his automatic.
"Go forward, up the steps. Stop!"
The stranger had seen the huddled figure of White, and stooped over him. He made no comment. He knew the man was dead before his hands had touched him.
"Mount the steps, canaille!" said the voice, and Raoul walked slowly up the steps of the house and halted with his face against the door.
A hand came up under his uplifted arm and sought the keyhole. A few minutes' fumbling until the prongs of the skeleton key had found its corresponding wards, and then the door swung open, emitting a scent of mustiness and decay.
"Marchez!" said the stranger, and Raoul walked forward and heard the door slam behind him.
The house was not empty, in the sense that it was unfurnished. The unknown was using an electric torch of extraordinary brilliancy, and revealed a dilapidated hall-stand and a musty chair. He took a brief survey and then:
"Down those stairs!" he said, and the murderer obeyed.
They were in the kitchen now, and again the bright light gleamed about. The windows were heavily shuttered, the grate was rusty, and a few odd pieces of china on the sideboard were dirty. There was a gas bracket in the centre over a large deal table, and this the stranger turned on. He heard the hiss of escaping gas, struck a match and lit it, and then for the first time Raoul gazed in fear and astonishment upon the man who held him.
"Monsieur," he stammered, "who are you?"
The masked figure slipped his hand into his pocket and flicked a card upon the table, and Raoul, looking down, saw the Jack of Clubs, and knew that his end was near.
* * * * *
For three hours the Frenchman had lain on the floor, tied hand and foot, a gag in his mouth, and the clocks were striking two when Jack o' Judgment came back. This time he wore neither mask nor coat but over his arm he carried a coil of fine rope. Raoul watched him, fascinated, as he walked about the kitchen, whistling softly to himself, and now and again breaking into scraps of song.
"Monsieur, monsieur," blubbered the terrified man, "I would make a confession. I will make a statement before the judge——"
Jack o' Judgment smiled.
"You shall make a statement before your judge, for I am he," he said, "and I think this is the place."
He glanced up at the high roof of the kitchen, for there was a stout hook, where in old times heavy sides of bacon hung. He drew the table under the place and put a chair on top. Then he mounted, and with a skillful cast of his rope caught the hook and drew the rope slowly through. He did not move the table or take any notice of the man on the floor, but stood as a workman might stand who was calculating distances, and all the time he whistled softly.
"Monsieur, monsieur, for God's sake spare me! I will make reparation!"
"You speak truly," said the other without taking his eyes from the rope, "for it is reparation you make this night for two dead men, and God knows how many besides."
The murderer twisted his head.
"For a man called Gregory particularly," said Jack o' Judgment, "shot down like a mad dog."
"I was paid to do it. I knew nothing against him, I had no malice in my heart," said the man eagerly.
"Nor have I," said Jack o' Judgment, "for behold! I shall kill you without passion, as a warning to all villains of all nationalities."
"This is against the law," whined the man, beads of sweat standing on his forehead. "Give me a knife and let me fight you. You coward!"
"Give Solomon White a pistol, and let him fight you," said the other. "It is against the law—well, I know it. But it is much more speedy than the law, my little cabbage!"
He was busy making a slip-knot at one end of the rope, and presently he had finished it to his satisfaction.
"Raoul Pontarlier," he said, "this is a moment for which I have waited."
The man screamed and twisted his head, but the noose was about his neck and tightening. Then with a wrench Jack o' Judgment jerked him to his feet.
"On to the table," he said sternly. "Mount! It is quicker so!"
"I will not, I will not!" yelled the Frenchman. His voice rose to a shrill scream. "I—help!... help!..."
Half an hour later Jack o' Judgment came down the dark path, stopping only for a second to look upon the figure of Solomon White.
"God have mercy on you all!" he said soberly, and passed into the night.
THE COLONEL IS SHOCKED
"The Putney mystery," said the Daily Megaphone, "surpasses any of recent years in its sensational character. There is a touch of the bizarre in this grim spectacle of the dead man at the door of the empty house, and the swaying figure of his murderer hanging in the kitchen, with no other mark of identification than a playing card pinned to his breast.
"The tragedy can be reconstructed up to a point. Mr. White was evidently killed in the garden by the Frenchman who was found hanging. The automatic pistol in his pocket, which had recently been discharged, might support this theory even if the police had not found tracks of his feet in the laurels. But who hanged the man Raoul with a hangman's rope? That is the supreme mystery of all. The Putney police can offer no information on the subject, and Scotland Yard is as reticent. The circumstances of the discovery are as follows. At three o'clock on the morning of the 4th, Police-Constable Robinson, who was patrolling his beat, entered the garden, as is customary when houses are empty, to see if any doors had been forced. There had been an epidemic of burglaries in the region of Putney Heath during the past two or three months, and the police are exercising unusual vigilance in relation to these houses. The constable might not have made his inspection that night but for the fact that the garden gate had been left wide open...."
Here followed an account of how the body was found and how further investigation led the constable to the kitchen to make his second gruesome discovery.
Colonel Boundary folded up the paper slowly and put it down. He had bought a copy of an early edition of the evening newspaper as he was stepping into his car, and now he was driving slowly through the park. He lit a cigar and gazed stolidly from the window. But his face showed no sign of mental perturbation.
The car had made the circuit of the Park twice when, turning again by Marble Arch, he saw Crewe standing on the sidewalk. A word to his chauffeur, and the machine drew up.
"Come in," he said curtly, and the other obeyed.
The hand that he lifted to take his cigarette from his lips trembled, and the colonel eyed him with quiet amusement.
"They've got you rattled too, have they?" he said.
"My God! It's awful!" said Crewe. "Awful!"
"What's awful about it?" asked the colonel. "White's dead, ain't he? And Raoul's dead, ain't he? Two men who might talk and give a lot of trouble."
"What did he say before he died? That's what I've been thinking. What did he say?"
"Who? Raoul?" demanded the colonel. He had asked himself the same question before. "What could he say? Anyway, if he had a statement to make, and his statement was worth taking, why, he'd be alive to-day! Raoul was the one witness that they wanted, if they only knew it. They've bungled pretty badly, whoever they are."
"This Jack o' Judgment," quavered Crewe, his mouth working. "Who is he? What is he?"
"How do I know?" snarled the colonel. "You ask me these fool questions—do you expect a reply? They're dead, and that's done with. I'd sooner he killed Raoul than made a mess of my room, anyway!"
"Why did he do it?" asked Crewe.
The colonel growled something about fools and their questions, but offered no explanation.
"It may have been a monkey trick to make us change, our quarters—the stuff was sulphuretted hydrogen and asafoetida. It may have been just bravado, but if he thinks he can scare me——"
He sucked viciously at his cigar end.
"I've got workmen in to strip the walls and re-paper the bit that's soiled," he said. "I'll be back there to-night."
The colonel threw the end of his cigar from the window and relapsed into moody reverie. When he spoke it was in a more cheerful tone.
"Crewe," he said, "that guy at Scotland Yard has given me an idea."
"Which guy?" asked Crewe, steadying his voice.
"The First Commissioner," said the colonel, lighting another cigar. "He particularly wanted to know if 'Snow' had any relations. Curse 'Snow'!" he said between his teeth, and dropping his mask of urbanity. "I wish he'd—well, it doesn't matter; he's dead, anyway—he's dead."
"Relations?" said Crewe. "Did you tell him anything?"
"I told him all I knew, and that was very little," said the colonel, "but it struck me that Sir Stanley knows much more about this fellow 'Snow' than we do. At any rate, somebody's been making inquiries, and I guess that somebody is the fellow who settled Raoul."
"Jack o' Judgment?"
"Jack o' Judgment," repeated the colonel grimly. "You showed 'Snow' Gregory into the gang—what do you know about him?"
Crewe shook his head.
"Very little," he said. "I met him in Monte Carlo. He was down and out. He seemed a likely fellow—educated, a gentleman and all that sort of thing—and when I found that he'd hit the dope, I thought he'd be the kind of man you might want."
The colonel nodded.
"He never talked about his relations. The only thing I know was that he had a father or an uncle, who was in India, and I gathered that he had forged his name to a bill. When I arrived in Monte Carlo he was spending the money as fast as he could. I guess that was why he called himself Gregory, for I'm sure it wasn't his name."
"You're sure he never spoke of a brother?"
"Never," said Crewe; "he never talked about himself at all. He was generally under the influence of dope or was recovering from it."
The colonel pushed back his hat and rubbed his forehead.
"There must be some way of identifying him," he said. "He came from Oxford, you say?"
"Yes, I know that," said Crewe; "he spoke of it once."
"What house in Oxford? There are several colleges, aren't there?"
"From Balliol," said Crewe. "I distinctly remember him talking about Balliol."
"What year would that be?"
"He left college two years before I met him at Monte Carlo," he said; "that would be——" He gave the year.
"Well, it is pretty simple," said the colonel. "Send a man to Oxford and get the names of all the men that left Balliol in that year. Find out how many you can trace, and I dare say that will narrow the search down to two or three men. Now get after this at once, Crewe. Spare no expense. If it costs half a million I'm going to discover who Mr. Jack o' Judgment is when he's at home."
He dismissed Crewe and gave fresh instructions to his driver, and ten minutes later he was stepping out of his limousine at the entrance to Scotland Yard.
Stafford King was not in, or at any rate was not available. Greatly daring, the colonel sent his card to the First Commissioner. Sir Stanley Belcom read the name and raised his eyebrows.
"Show him in," he said, and for the second time the colonel was ushered into the presence of the chief.
"Well, colonel," said Sir Stanley, "this is rather a dreadful business."
"Terrible, terrible!" said the colonel, shaking his head. "Solomon White was one of my best friends. I've been searching for him for weeks."
"So I've heard," said Sir Stanley dryly. "Have you any theory?"
"What about this man called Raoul? Is he unknown to you?" asked Sir Stanley.
"That's what I've come to see you about, sir," said the colonel in a confidential tone. "You remember the last time I was here, you suggested that possibly the murderer of poor Gregory might be a Frenchman. You remember how you told me that these French assassins have a trick of leaving some fantastic card or sign of their handiwork?"
Sir Stanley nodded.
"Well, here you have the same thing repeated," said the colonel triumphantly, "and the identical card. Do you think, sir, that the murderer of my poor friend Gregory and my poor friend White was the same man?"
"In fact, Raoul?" asked Sir Stanley.
The colonel nodded, and for a few moments Sir Stanley communed with his well-kept finger-nails.
"I don't think it will do any harm if I tell you that that is my theory also, Colonel Boundary," he said, "and, giving confidence for confidence, would you have any objection to telling me whether Raoul is one of your—er—business associates?"
There was just the slightest shade of irony in the last two words, but the colonel preferred to ignore it.
"I'm very glad you asked me that question, sir," he said with a sigh, so palpably a sigh of relief that the recording angel might be excused if he were deceived. "I have never seen Raoul before. In fact, my knowledge of Frenchmen is a very small one. I do very little business in France, and I certainly do no business at all with men of that class."
"What class?" asked the other quickly.
The colonel shrugged his big shoulders.
"I am only going on what the newspapers say," he said. "They suggest that this man is an apache."
"You do not know him?" asked Sir Stanley after a pause.
"I have never seen him in my life," said the colonel.
Again Sir Stanley examined his finger-nails as though searching for some flaw.
"Then you will be surprised to learn," he drawled at last, "that you sat next to him in the cooling-room of the Yildiz Turkish Baths."
The colonel's heart missed a beat, but he did not flinch.
"You surprise me," he said. "I have only been to the Turkish baths once during the past three months, and that was yesterday."
Sir Stanley nodded.
"According to my information, which was supplied to me by my very able assistant, Mr. Stafford King, that was also the morning when Raoul was seen to enter that building."
"And he sat next to me?" said the colonel incredulously.
"He sat next to you," said Sir Stanley, with evidence of enjoyment.
"Well, that is the most amazing coincidence," exclaimed the colonel, "I have ever met with in my life! To imagine that that scoundrel sat shoulder to shoulder with me—good heavens! It makes me hot to think about it."
"I was afraid it would," said the First Commissioner.
He pressed the bell and his secretary came in.
"See if Mr. Stafford King is in the building, and tell him to come to me, please," he said. "You see, colonel, we were hoping you would supply us with a great deal of very useful information. We naturally thought it was something more than a coincidence that this man and you should foregather at a Turkish bath—a most admirable rendezvous, by the way."
"You may accept my word of honour," said Colonel Boundary impressively, "that I had no more idea of that man's presence, or of his identity, or of his very existence, than you had."
Stafford King came in at that moment, and the colonel, noting the haggard face and the look of care in the dark-lined eyes, felt a certain amount of satisfaction.
"I've just been telling the colonel about his meeting in the Turkish baths," said Sir Stanley. "I suppose there is no doubt at all as to that happening?"
"None whatever, sir," said Stafford shortly. "Both the colonel and this man were seen by Sergeant Livingstone."
"The colonel suggests that it was a coincidence, and that he has never spoken to the man," said Sir Stanley. "What do you say to that, King?"
Stafford King's lips curled.
"If the colonel says so, of course, it must be true."
"Sarcasm never worries me," said the colonel. "I'm always getting into trouble, and I'm always getting out again. Give a dog a bad name and——"
He stopped. There arose in his mind a mental picture of a man swinging in an underground kitchen, and in spite of his self-control he shuddered.
"And hang him, eh?" said Sir Stanley. "Now, I'm going to put matters to you very plainly, colonel. There have been three or four very unpleasant happenings. There has been the death of the chief witness for the Crown against you; there has been the death of this unhappy man White, who was closely associated with you in your business deals, and who had recently broken away from you, unless our information is inaccurate; there is the death of Raoul, who was seen seated next to you and apparently carrying on a conversation behind a fan."
"He never spoke a word to me," protested the colonel.
"And we have the disappearance of Miss White, which is one of the most important of the happenings, because we have reason to believe that Miss White, at any rate, is still alive," said Sir Stanley, taking no notice of the interruption. "Now, colonel, you may or may not have the key to all these mysteries. You may or may not know who your mysterious friend, the Jack o' Judgment——"
"He's no friend of mine, by heaven!" said the colonel, and neither man doubted that he spoke the truth.
"As I say, you may know all these things. But principally at this moment we are anxious to secure authentic news concerning Miss White. Both I and Mr. Stafford King have particular reasons for desiring information on that subject. Can you help us?"
The colonel shook his head.
"If by spending a hundred thousand pounds I could help you, I would do it," he said fervently, "but as to Miss White and where she is, I am as much at sea as you. Do you believe that, sir?"
"No," said Sir Stanley truthfully; "I don't."
"SWELL" CREWE BACKS OUT
The colonel left Scotland Yard with a sense that he had spent the morning not unprofitably. It was his way to beard the lion in his den, and after all, the police department was no more formidable than any other public department. He spent the morning quietly in Pinto's flat, making certain preparations. The workmen were making a thorough job of his damaged wall, as he found when he looked in, and the horrible odour had almost disappeared. It was to be a much longer job than he thought. It had been necessary to cut away and replace the plaster under the paper for the infernal mixture had soaked deep. Still the colonel had plenty to occupy his mind. What he called his legitimate business had been sadly neglected of late. Reports had come in from all sorts of agencies, reports which might by careful study be turned to the greatest advantage. There was the affair of Lady Glenmerrin. He had been months accumulating evidence of that lady's marital delinquencies, and now the iron was ready to strike—and he simply had no interest in a deal which might very easily transfer the famous Glenmerrin Farms to his charge at a nominal figure.
And there were other prospects as alluring. But for the moment the colonel was mainly interested in the stock value of Colonel Dan Boundary and the possibility of violent fluctuations. He was losing grip. The story of Jack o' Judgment had circulated with amazing rapidity, by all manner of underground channels, to people vitally concerned. Crewe, who had been a stand-by in almost every big coup he had pulled off, was as stable as pulp. White his right-hand man, was dead. Pinto—well, Pinto would go his own way just when it suited him. He had no doubt whatever as to Pinto's loyalty. Silva had big estates in Portugal, to which he would retire just when things were getting warm and interesting. Moreover, the British Government could not extradite Pinto from his native land.
The colonel found himself regretting that he had missed the opportunity of taking up American citizenship during the seven years he had spent in San Francisco. And what of Crewe? Crewe was to reveal himself most unmistakably. He came in in the late afternoon and found the colonel working through the litter on his desk.
"Have you started your search at Oxford?" asked the colonel.
"I've sent two men down there—the best men in London," replied Crewe.
He drew up a chair to the desk and flung his hat on a near-by couch.
"I want to have a little talk with you, colonel."
Boundary looked up sharply.
"That sounds bad," he said. "What do you want to talk about? The weather?"
"Hardly," said Crewe. A little pause, and then: "Colonel, I'm going to quit."
The colonel made no reply. He went on writing his letter, and not until he reached the end of the page and carefully blotted the epistle did he meet Crewe's eyes.
"So you're going to quit, are you?" said Boundary. "Cold feet?"
"Something like that," said Crewe. "Of course, I'm not going to leave you in the lurch."
"Oh, no," said the colonel with elaborate politeness, "nobody's going to leave me in the lurch. You're just going to quit, that's all, and I've got to face the music."
"Why don't you quit too, colonel?"
"Quit what?" asked Boundary. "And how? You might as well ask a tree to quit the earth, to uproot itself and go on living. What happens when I walk out of this office and take a first-class state-room to New York? You think the Boundary Gang collapses, fades away, just dies off, eh? The moment I leave there's a squeal, and that squeal will be loud enough to reach me in whatever part of the world I may be. There are a dozen handy little combinations which will think that I am double-crossing them, and they'll be falling over one another to get in with the first tale."
Crewe licked his dry lips.
"Well that certainly may be in your case, colonel, but it doesn't happen to be in mine. I've covered all my tracks so that there's no evidence against me."
"That's true," said the colonel. "You've just managed to keep out of taking an important part. I congratulate you."
"There's no sense in getting riled about it," said Crewe; "it has just been my luck, that's all. Well, I want to take advantage of this luck."
"In what way?"
"I'm out of any bad trouble. The police, if they search for a million years, couldn't get a scrap of evidence to convict me," he said, "even if they'd had you when Hanson betrayed you, they couldn't have convicted me."
"That's true," said the colonel again. He shook his head impatiently. "Well, what does all this lead to, Crewe? Do you want to be demobilised?" he asked humorously.
"That's about the size of it," said Crewe. "I don't want to be in anything fresh, and I certainly don't want to be in this——"
"In this Maisie White business," said Crewe doggedly. "Let Pinto do his own dirty work."
"My dirty work too," said the colonel. "But I reckon you've overlooked one important fact."
"What's that?" demanded Crewe suspiciously.
"You've overlooked a young gentleman called Jack o' Judgment," said the colonel, and enjoyed the look of consternation which came to the other's face. "There's a fellow that doesn't want any evidence. He hanged Raoul all right."
"Do you think he did it?" said Crewe in a hushed voice.
"Do I think he did it?" The colonel smiled. "Why, who else? And when he comes to judge you, I guess he's not going to worry very much about affidavits and sworn statements, and he's not going to take you before a magistrate before he hands you over to the coroner."
Crewe jumped to his feet.
"What have I done?" he asked harshly.
"What have you done? Well, you know that best," said the colonel with a wave of his hand. "You say the police haven't got you and haven't a case against you. Maybe you're right. That Greek was saying the same sort of thing to me. He was here this afternoon squealing about taking the girl to the Argentine, and wanted us to send the doctor, and he'll be waiting to meet us when we land. There's no evidence against him either. Maybe there's more evidence than you imagine. I wouldn't bank too much upon the police passing you by, if I were you, Crewe. There's something about Mr. Stafford King that I don't like. He's got more brains in his little finger than that dude commissioner has in the whole of his body. He doesn't say much, but I guess he thinks a lot, and I'd give something to know what he's thinking about me just now."
THE BRIDE OF DEATH
Time had long ceased to have any significance for Maisie White. There was daylight and nightlight. She seemed to remember that she had made a great fight on the day she arrived at this strange house when the hard-faced nurses had strapped her to the bed, and an old man, with trembling fingers, had pushed a needle into her arm. She remembered it hurt, and then she remembered very little else. She viewed life with a dull apathy and without much understanding. She ceased to resent the presence of the women who came and went, and even the uncleanly old doctor no longer filled her with a sense of revulsion. She just wanted to be left alone to sleep, to dream the strangest dreams that any girl had ever had. She did not know that this was the action of bromide of potassium, consistently administered in every drink she took, in every morsel of food she ate. Bromide in bread, in coffee, in mashed potatoes, in rice, in all the vehicles by which the drug could be administered.