Sometimes by reason of her sheer vitality she flung off the effects of the dope, and was keenly conscious of her surroundings. There was one girl who came and went, a pretty girl with fluffy golden hair, who looked at her dispassionately and made no reply to the questions with which Maisie plied her. And once she had seen Pinto and would have screamed, but they stopped her in time. One night the old doctor had come into the room very drunk. He was crying and moaning in a maudlin fashion about some mysterious position which he had lost, and he had sat on the bed and, cursed his passion for strong drink with such vehemence that she, in her half-dazed state of mind, had found herself interested against her will.
In one of her lucid intervals she had realised a vital fact, that she was under the influence of a drug, and instinctively knew that she was becoming more and more immune to its action. She formed a vague plan, which she had almost forgotten the next morning. She must always be sleepy, almost dazed; she must never show signs of returning consciousness. She had been a week in the "nursing home" before she made this plan. She could lie now with her eyes shut, picking up the threads. She heard somebody talk of a ship and of a passport, and learned that she was to be removed in another week. She could not find where, but it was somewhere on a ship. She tried once, when the nurses were out of the room, to get out of bed and walk to the window. Her legs gave way beneath her, and it was with the greatest difficulty that she managed to crawl back to bed.
There was no escape that way. There was no help either from the nurses who were not nurses at all, nor from the maudlin little doctor, nor from the pretty girl who came sometimes and looked down on her with undisguised contempt—or was it pity? Then one night she woke in a fright. Two people were talking. She half turned her head and saw that Pinto was in the room, and his face was a flaming fury. She had seen that look before, but now his rage was directed at somebody else, and with a start she recognised the pretty girl that the nurses called Lollie.
"You're not in this, Lollie," said the man, and she laughed.
"That's just where you're wrong, Silva," she replied. "I'm very much in it. What happens to this girl when she leaves here heaven only knows—I guess it's up to the colonel. But while she's here I'm looking after her."
"You are, are you?" he said between his teeth. "Well, now you can go and take a walk."
"I can also take a seat too," she said.
He walked over to her and glowered down at the girl, and she puffed a cloud of cigarette smoke in his face.
"I'm a crook because it pays me to be a crook," said the girl calmly. "If it's jollying along one of the colonel's blue-eyed innocents, or keeping a watchful eye upon Mr. King, or acting trustful maiden to some poor fool from the country—why, I'm ready and willing, because that's my job. But this is a different matter altogether. If the colonel says she's got to go abroad, why, I suppose she's got to go. But she's not going to be on my conscience, that's all," said Lollie.
They passed through the door into a smaller room where the night watchers sat. She made as though to sit at the table when he gripped her arm and swung her round. She put up her hands to defend herself, but was thrown against the wall, and his grip was on her throat.
"Do you know what I'll do for you?" he hissed.
"I don't care what you do," she said. She was on the verge of tears. "You're not going into that room—you're not going!"
She sprang at him, but with a snarl like a wild beast, he turned and struck her, and she fell against the wall.
"Now get out"—he pointed to the door—"get out and don't show your face here again. And if you've got any information, you can report it to the colonel and see what he's got to say to you!"
She slunk from the room. Pinto went back to the room where the girl lay.
"Cover your head with a blanket, my pretty?" he said. "Pinto must not see that pretty face, eh?"
He laid hold of the blanket's edge and pulled it gently down. But the blanket would not come away. It was being clutched tightly. With a jerk he wrenched it down, then stumbled backwards to the floor, a grotesque and ludicrous figure, for the white silk mask of Jack o' Judgment confronted him and the hateful voice of his enemy shrilled:
"I'm Death! Jack o' Judgment! Poor old Jack! Jack, the hangman! You'll meet him one day, Pinto—meet him now!"
Pinto collapsed—he had fainted.
MAISIE TELLS HER STORY
"There is one fact which I would impress upon you," said Sir Stanley Belcom, addressing the heads of his departments at the early morning conference at Scotland Yard, "and it is this, that the criminal has nine chances against the one which the law possesses. He has the initiative in the first place, and if he fails to evade detection, the law gives him certain opportunities of defence and imposes certain restrictions which prevent one taking a line which would bring the truth of his assertions or denials to light. It protects him; it will not admit evidence against him; it will not allow the jury to be influenced by the record of his previous crimes until they have delivered their verdict upon the one on which he stands charged; in fact, gentlemen, the criminal, if he were intelligent, would score all the time."
"That's true enough, sir," said Cole, of the Record Office. "I've never yet met a criminal who wasn't a fool."
"And you never will till you meet Colonel Boundary," said Sir Stanley with a good-natured smile, "and the reason you do not meet him is because he is not a fool. But, gentlemen, every criminal has one weak spot, and sooner or later he exposes the chink in his armour to the sword of justice—if you do not mind so theatrical an illustration. Here, again, I do not think that Boundary will make any such exposure. One of you gentlemen has again brought up the question as to the prosecution of the Boundary Gang, and particularly the colonel himself. Well, I am all in favour of it, though I doubt whether the Home Secretary or the Public Prosecutor would agree with my point of view. We have a great deal of evidence, but not sufficient evidence to convict. We know this man is a blackmailer and that he engages in terrorising his unfortunate victims, but the mere fact that we know is not sufficient. We need the evidence, and that evidence we have not got. And that is where our mysterious Jack o' Judgment is going to score. He knows, and it is sufficient for him that he does know. He calls for no corroborative evidence, but convicts and executes his judgment without recourse to the law books. I do not think that the official police will ever capture Boundary, and if it is left to them, he will die sanctified by old age and ten years of comfortable repentance. He will probably end his life in a cathedral town, and may indeed become a member of the town council—hullo, King, what is the matter?"
Stafford King had rushed in. He was dusty and hot of face, and there was a light of excitement in his eyes.
"She's found, sir, she's found!"
"She's found?" Sir Stanley frowned. "To whom are you referring? Miss White?"
Stafford could only nod.
With a gesture the commissioner dismissed the conference. Then:
"Where was she found?" he asked.
"In her own flat, sir. That is the amazing thing about it."
"What! Did she come back herself?"
Stafford shook his head.
"It is an astonishing story, sir. She was, of course, detained and held prisoner somewhere, and last night—she will not give me any details—she was carried from the house where she had been kept prisoner. She had an awful experience, at which she only hints, poor girl! Apparently she fainted, and when she came to she was in a motor-car being carried along rapidly. And that is about all she'll tell me."
"But who brought her away?" asked the commissioner.
Again Stafford shook his head.
"For some reason or other she is reticent and will give no information at all. It is evident she has been drugged, for she looks wretchedly ill—of course, I haven't pressed her for particulars."
"It is a strange story," said the commissioner.
"I have a feeling," Stafford went on, "that she has given a promise to her unknown rescuer that she will not tell more than is necessary."
"But it is necessary to tell the police," said the commissioner, "and even more important for the young lady to tell her—fiance, I hope, King?"
The young man reddened and smiled.
"I agree with you that this is not the moment when you can cross-examine the girl, but I want you to see her as soon as you possibly can and try to induce her to tell you all she knows."
* * * * *
Maisie White lay on the sofa in her own room. She was still weak, but oh! the relief of being back again and of ending that terrible nightmare which had oppressed her for—how long? Even the depressing effect of the drug could not quench the exaltation of finding herself free. She went over the details of the night one by one. She must do it, she thought. She must never lose grip of what happened or forget her promise.
First she recalled seeing the weird figure of Jack o' Judgment. He had lifted her from the bed and had laid her on the floor. She remembered seeing him slip beneath the blankets, and then Pinto had come. She recalled the cracked voice of her rescuer, his fantastic language.
She had awakened to consciousness to find herself in a big car which was passing quickly through the dark and deserted streets. She had no recollection of being carried from the room or of being handed to the thick-set man who stood on a ladder outside the open window. All she recalled was her waking to consciousness and seeing in the half-light the gleam of a white silk handkerchief.
She was too dazed to be terrified, and the soft voice which spoke into her ear quelled any inclinations she might have had to struggle. For the man was holding her in his arms as tenderly as a brother might hold a sister, or a father a child.
"You're safe, Miss White," said the voice. "Do you understand? Are you awake?"
"Yes," she whispered.
"You know what I have saved you from?"
"I want you to do something for me now. Will you?" She nodded again. "Are you sure you understand?" said the voice anxiously.
"I quite understand," she replied.
She could have almost smiled at his consideration.
"I am taking you to your home, and to-morrow your friends will know that you have returned. But you're not to tell them about the house where they have kept you. You must not tell them about Silva or anybody that was in that house. Do you understand?"
"But why?" she began, and he laughed softly.
"I am not trying to shield them," he said, answering her unspoken thought, "but if you give information you can only tell a little, and the police can only discover a little, and the men can only be punished a little. And there's so much that they deserve, so many lives they have ruined, so much sorrow they have caused, that it would be a hideous injustice if they were only punished—a little. Will you leave them to me?"
She struggled to an erect position and stared at him.
"I know you," she whispered fearlessly; "you are Jack o' Judgment."
"Jack o' Judgment!" he laughed a little bitterly. "Yes, I am Jack o' Judgment."
"Who are you?" she asked.
"A living lie," he replied bitterly, "a masquerader, a mummer, a nobody."
She did not know what impelled her to do the thing, but she put out her hand and laid it on his. She felt the silky smoothness of the glove and then his other hand covered hers.
"Thank you," he said simply. "Do you think you can walk? We are just turning into Doughty Street. We've passed the policeman on his beat; he is going the other way. Can you walk upstairs by yourself?"
"I—I'll try," she said, but when he assisted her from the car she nearly fell, and he half carried, half supported her into her room.
He stood hesitating near the door.
"I shall be all right," she smiled. "How quickly you understand my thoughts!"
"Wouldn't it be well if I sent somebody to you—a nurse? Have you the key I gave you?"
"How did you get it?" she asked suddenly, and he laughed again.
"Jack o' Judgment," he mocked, "wise old Jack o' Judgment! He has everything and nothing! Suppose I send a nurse to you, a nice nurse. I could send the key to her by messenger. Would you like that?"
She looked doubtful.
"I think I would," she said with a weak smile. "I am not quite sure of myself."
He did not take off the soft felt hat which was drawn tightly over his ears, nor did he remove his mask or cloak. She was making up her mind to take a closer stock of him, when unexpectedly he backed towards the door, and with a little nod was gone. He had left her on the couch, and there she was, half dozing and half drugged when the matronly nurse from St. George's Institute arrived half an hour later.
Stafford called in the afternoon and was surprised and delighted to learn that he could speak to the girl. He found her looking better and more cheerful. He bent over and kissed her cheek, and her hand sought his.
"Now, I'm going to be awfully official," he laughed, "I want you to tell me all sorts of things. The chief is very anxious that we should lose no time in getting your story."
She shook her head.
"There's no story to tell, Stafford," she said.
"No story to tell?" he said incredulously. "But weren't you abducted?"
"There's that much you know," she said; "I was abducted and taken away. I have been detained and I think drugged."
"No harm has come to you?" he asked anxiously.
Again she shook her head.
"But where did they take you? Who was it? Who were the people?"
"I can't tell you," she said.
"You don't know?"
"Yes, I think I know, but I can't tell you."
"But why?" he asked in astonishment.
"Because the man who rescued me begged me not to tell, and, Stafford, you don't know what he saved me from."
"He—he—who was it?" asked Stafford.
"The man called Jack o' Judgment," said the girl slowly, and Stafford jumped up with a cry.
"Jack o' Judgment!" he said. "I ought to have guessed! Did you see his face?" he demanded eagerly.
She shook her head again.
"Did he give you any clue as to his identity?"
"None whatever," she replied with a little gleam of amusement in her eyes. "What a detective you are, Stafford! And I thought you were coming down here to tell me"—the colour went to her cheeks—"well, to tell me the news," she added hastily. "Is there any news?"
Then he remembered that she knew nothing whatever of her father's death and its tragic sequel, and this was not the moment to tell her. Later, when she was stronger, perhaps.
She was watching him with trouble in her eyes. She had noted how quickly he had stopped and guessed that there was something to be told which he was withholding for fear of hurting her. Her father was uppermost in her mind and it was natural that she should think of him.
"Is there any news of my father?" she asked quietly.
"None," he lied.
"You're not speaking the truth, Stafford." She put her hand on his arm. "Stafford, is there any news of my father?"
He looked at her, and she saw the pain in his face.
"Why don't you wait a little while, and I'll tell you all the news," he said with an assumption of gaiety. "There have been several fashionable weddings——"
"Please tell me," she said, "Stafford. I've been for weeks under the influence of a drug, and somehow it has numbed pain, even mental pain, and perhaps you will never find me in a better condition to hear—the worst."
"The worst has happened, Maisie," he said gently.
"He has been arrested?" she asked.
He shook his head.
"No, dear, worse than that."
"Not—not suicide?" she said between her set teeth.
Again he shook his head. "He is dead," he said softly.
There was a long silence which he did not break.
"Dead!" she said again. "How?"
"He was shot by—we think it was by a member of the Boundary Gang, a man named Raoul."
She looked up at him.
"I have never heard my father speak of him."
"He was a man imported from France, according to our theory."
"And was he captured?"
"He was killed too," said Stafford; "he was caught in the act and instantly executed."
"By whom?" she asked.
"By Jack o' Judgment," replied Stafford.
"Jack o' Judgment!" She breathed the words. "And I—I never thanked him! I never knew!"
He told her the story step by step of the discovery which the police had made and the theories they had formed.
"He was lured there," said the girl.
She did not cry. She seemed incapable of tears.
"He was lured there and murdered, and Jack o' Judgment slew his murderer? Poor father! Poor, dear daddy!"
And then the tears came.
Half an hour later he left her in charge of the nurse and went back to Scotland Yard to report.
THE GANG FUND
The news of the girl's escape had been received in another quarter. Colonel Boundary had sat in his favourite chair and listened without comment to Pinto's halting explanation.
"Oh, they went out of the window and down a ladder, did they?" said the colonel sarcastically when the Portuguese had finished, "and you had a fit on the mat, I suppose? Well, that's a hell of a fine story! And what did you do? You who were plastered all over with guns? Couldn't you shoot?"
"Did you shoot when you saw Jack o' Judgment?" said the other sullenly. "It is no good your telling me what I ought to do."
"Maybe it isn't," said the colonel. "Well, there's nothing to do now, anyway. The girl's gone, and all your fine plans have come unstuck."
"They weren't my plans," said Pinto indignantly, "it was your scheme throughout."
The colonel bit off the end of his cigar and contemplated the ceiling reflectively.
"We can only wait and see what will happen," he said. "The odds are all in favour of our being raided."
Pinto went pale.
"Yes," said the colonel, talking to himself, "I guess this is our last day of freedom. Well, Pinto, I hope you can pick oakum."
"Oh, shut up about oakum," growled the other; "it isn't a joke."
"It is not a joke," said the colonel, "and if it is, it is one of those jokes that make people laugh the most. And do you know the kind of joke that makes people laugh the most, Pinto? It is when somebody gets hurt; and we are the people who are going to get hurt."
"Do you think she'll tell the police?"
"It is extremely likely," said the colonel; "in fact, it is extremely unlikely that she won't tell the police. I am rather glad I'm out of it."
Pinto leaped up.
"You're out of it!" he shouted. "You're in it up to the neck!"
The colonel shook his head.
"I'm absolutely out of it, Pinto," he said, flicking the ash of his cigar into the fireplace. "I cannot be identified with this unhappy affair by so much as a finger-print."
The Portuguese scowled down at him.
"So that's the game, is it? You're going to double-cross us? You're going to be out of it and we're going to be in it."
"Sit down, you fool. Double-cross you! You are easily scared at a little leg-pulling. I'm merely pointing out that it is not a matter in which I am greatly interested. It is a good thing for you I'm not. Who are the police after? You and Crewe and the rest of the gang? Not on your life! They're after me. They get the trunk and all the branches come down with it. Do you see? There's no sense in lopping off a few branches even of deadwood. It won't be good enough if they connect you with the case, unless they connect me too. They're after the big horns, they're not shooting the little bucks. If she tells the police, they're going to nose around for two or three days, seeing how far they can connect me with it. And if there's any connection—the slightest, Pinto—why, they'll pinch you without a doubt, but they'll pinch me too."
The colonel blew a blue ring of smoke into the air and watched it float to the ceiling.
"The advantage of having a business associate like me is that I'm a sort of insurance to you little crooks. I am the big fish they're trying to hook, and their bait isn't the kind of bait that you'd swallow."
"I've burnt all the papers I had," explained Pinto, "and covered my trail."
"When you burnt your boats and came in with me," said the colonel, "you burnt everything that was worth burning. I tell you it isn't you they're trailing. It is me or nothing. Maybe they'll scare you," he said reflectively, "hoping you'll turn King's evidence. I've got a feeling that you won't—if I had a feeling the other way about, Pinto, you wouldn't see the curtain rise at the Orpheum to-night. And now," said the colonel, "we'll go out."
He rose abruptly, walked into his bedroom, and came out wearing his broad felt hat. He found Pinto biting his finger-nails nervously and looking out of the window.
"I don't want to go out," said Pinto.
"Come out," said the colonel. "What's the good of staying here, anyway? Besides, if they are going to pinch you, I don't want them to pinch you in my rooms. It would look bad."
They walked downstairs into the street, and a few minutes later were strolling across the Green Park, the colonel a picture of a contented bourgeoisie with his half-smoked cigar, and his hands clasped together under the tails of his alpaca coat.
"I don't see how you can say they've no evidence against you. Suppose Crotin squeals?"
"He ain't stopped squealing yet," said the colonel philosophically, "but I don't see what difference it makes. Pinto, you haven't got the hang of my methods, and I doubt if you ever will. You're a clever, useful fellow, but if you were allowed to run the gang, you'd have it in gaol in a month. Take Crotin," he said. "I dare say he's feeling sore, and maybe this damned Jack o' Judgment person is standing behind him telling him——" He stopped. "No, he wouldn't either," he said after a moment's thought, "Jack o' Judgment knows as much about it as I do."
"What are you talking about?" asked the other impatiently.
"Crotin," said the colonel; "he hasn't any evidence against me. You see, I do not do any business by letters. You fellows have often wanted me to write to this person and that, but writing is evidence. Do you get me? And what evidence has Crotin? Absolutely none. I have never written a line to him in my life. Crewe brought him down to the flat. We gave him a dinner and put the proposal to him in plain language. There's nothing he could take before a judge and jury—absolutely nothing."
He took the cigar from his mouth and blew a cloud of smoke.
"That's the way I've built the business up—no letters, no documents, nothing that a lawyer can make head or tail of."
"What about the documents that Hanson talked about?"
The colonel frowned and then laughed.
"They're nothing but records of our transactions, and they're not evidence. Why, even the police have given up the search for them. By the way, I haven't done with Crotin," he said after a while.
"He's done with you, I should think," said Pinto grimly.
The colonel nodded.
"I guess so, but he hasn't done with the gang. You can take him on next."
"I?" said Pinto in affright. "Now look here, colonel, don't you think it's time we laid low——"
"Laid low!" said the colonel scornfully. "We're either going to get into trouble or we're not. If we're not going to get into trouble, we might as well go on. Besides, we want the money. The business has slackened off, and we haven't had a deal since the Spillsbury affair, and that won't last very long. We've got to split our loot six ways, Pinto, and that leaves very little for anybody."
"Where are you going now?" asked the other, as the colonel changed his direction.
"It just struck me that we might as well go over to the bank and see how our balance stands. Also, with the exchange going against us, I want to tell Ferguson to buy dollars."
The handsome premises of the Victoria and City Bank in Victoria Street were only a stone's throw from the park; and, whatever might be the views of Ferguson, the manager, as to the colonel's moral character, he had a considerable respect for him as a financier, and Dan Boundary was shown immediately into the manager's office.
He was gone some time, whilst Pinto waited impatiently outside. The colonel never invited other members, even of the inmost council, to share his knowledge of finances. They all knew roughly the condition of the exchequer, but really the balance at the Victoria and City was the colonel's own. It was the practice of the Boundary Gang (as was subsequently revealed) to share, after each coup, every man taking that to which he was entitled. The money was split between five, the sixth share going to what was known as the Gang Account, a common fund upon which all could draw in moments of necessity.
The Gang Fund was not so described in the books of the bank. It was known as "Account B." The expenses of operations were usually paid out of the colonel's private account, and credited to him when the share-out came. He was absolute master of his own balance, but it required three signatures to extract a cheque from Account B. One of the objects of the colonel's visit was to reduce this number to two, the death of Solomon White having removed one of the signatories.
He returned to Pinto, apparently not too well satisfied.
"There's quite a lot of money in the Gang Account," he said. "I've struck off Solly's name, and your signature and mine, or mine and Crewe's, is sufficient now."
"Or mine and Crewe's, I suppose?" suggested Pinto, and the colonel smiled.
"Oh, no," said he. "I'm not a great believer in the indispensability of any man, but I'm making the signature of Dan Boundary indispensable before that account is touched."
They walked back through the park, and the colonel expounded his philosophy of wrong living.
"The man who runs an honest business and mixes it with a little crooked work is bound to be caught," he said, "because his mind is concentrated on the unpaying side of the game. You've got to run a crook business in an honest way if you want to escape the law and pay big dividends. They call our system blackmail, but it ain't. A blackmailer asks for something for nothing, and he's bound to get caught sooner or later. We offer spot cash for all the things we steal, and that baffles the law. And we're not the only people in London, or in England, or in the world, who are pulling bargains by scaring the fellow we buy from. It is done every day in the City of London; it is done every day by the trusts that control the little shops in the suburbs; it is done even by the big proprietary companies that tell a miserable little tradesman that, if he doesn't stop selling one article, they won't supply him with theirs. Living, Pinto, is preying. The only mistake a crook ever makes is when he goes outside of his legitimate business and lets some other consideration than the piling up of money influence him."
"How do you mean?" asked Pinto wearily. He hated the colonel when he was in this communicative mood of his.
"Well," said the colonel slowly, "I shouldn't have been so keen to go after Maisie White if it hadn't been that you were fond of her and wanted her. That's what I call letting love interfere with business."
"But you said you were afraid of her blabbing. You don't put it on to me," said the indignant Pinto.
"I was and I wasn't," said the colonel. "I think I almost persuaded myself that the girl was a danger. Of course, she isn't. Even Solomon White wasn't a danger."
He stopped dead, and, speaking slowly and pointing his words with a huge forefinger on the other's chest, he said:
"Bear this fact in mind, Pinto, that I have no malice against Miss White, and I don't think that she can harm me. As far as I'm concerned, I will never hurt a hair of her head or do her the slightest harm. I believe that she has nothing against me, and I give orders to anybody who's connected with me—in fact, to all of my business associates—that that girl is not to be interfered with."
Slowly, emphatically, every word emphasised, the colonel spoke, but Pinto did not smile. He had seen the colonel in this gentle mood before, and he knew that Maisie White was doomed.
PINTO GOES NORTH
Had Pinto been a psychologist, which he was not, he might have been struck by the unusual reference on the part of the colonel to the funds of the gang. It was a subject to which the colonel very seldom referred, and it was certainly one which he did not emphasise. The truth was that the colonel's investigations into his own private affairs had not been as satisfactory as he had hoped would be the case.
He was in the habit of advancing money, and the gang owed him a considerable sum, money which had been advanced for the pursuit of various enterprises. To draw that money would leave the Gang Fund sadly depleted, and he could not afford to draw upon it at a moment when they were all on edge. Not only were the two principal subordinates in the condition of mind which led them to jump at every knock and start at every shadow, but he had been receiving urgent messages from all parts of the country from the other men, and he had determined upon a step which he had not taken for three years—a meeting of the full "Board" of his lawless organisation.
That night summonses went forth calling his "business associates" to an Extraordinary General Meeting of the North European Smelter Syndicate. This was one of the companies which he operated, and the existence of which was justified by a small smelting works in the North of England, and owed its international character to the fact that it had branch works in Sweden. Its turnover was small, its list of stockholders was select. A summons to a General Meeting of the North European Smelter Company meant that the affairs of the gang were critical, and in this spirit the call was obeyed.
The meeting was held in the banquet hall of a West End restaurant, and the twenty men who assembled differed very little in appearance from twenty other provincial business men who might have been gathered to discuss the affairs of any company.
Their coming excited no comment, and apparently did not even arouse the attention of vigilant Scotland Yard. Nor, had the colonel's speech been taken down by a shorthand writer and submitted to the police, could any suggestion be found of the significance of the meeting. He spoke of the difficulties of trading, of the "competition" with which the company was faced, and called upon all the shareholders to assist loyally the executive in a very critical and trying time. But those who listened knew very well that the "competition" was the competition of the police, and they had their own ideas as to what constituted the trying time to which the colonel made reference.
It was a very commonplace, ordinary company meeting, which ended in a conventional way by a vote of confidence in the directors. It was when that had been passed, and the meeting had been broken up, and members and officials were talking together, that the real business started.
Then it was that Selby, the stout little man whose special job was to act as intermediary between the company and its more criminal enterprises, received his instructions to speed up. Selby was the receiver of letters. A burglar or a pickpocket who acquired in the course of his activities documents and letters which had hitherto been worthless found a ready market through Selby. Eighty letters out of every hundred were absolutely valueless, but occasionally they would find a rich gem, a love letter discreetly cherished, on which a new "operation" would be based. Then would begin the torturing of a human soul, the opening of new vistas of despair, the stage be cleared for a new tragedy.
The colonel was to find that the chief anxiety of his "shareholders" was not as to the future of the company or as to the success of its trading. Again and again he was asked a question couched in identical words, and again and again he replied with a shrug of his big shoulders:
"What's the good of worrying about a thing like that? Jack o' Judgment is a crook! That's all he is, boys, a crook. He's not the sort of man who'll go to the police and give us away; he wouldn't dare put his nose inside a police station. You leave him to us, we'll fix him sooner or later."
"But," somebody asked uneasily, "what about Raoul, that fellow who was killed at Putney?"
The colonel lifted his eyebrows.
"Raoul," he said; "he was nothing to do with us. I never heard the fellow's name until I read it in the paper. As to White"—he shrugged his shoulders again—"we can't prevent people having private quarrels, and may be this Frenchman and White had one. My theory is," he said, elaborating an idea which had only at that moment occurred to him, "that Raoul, White and this Jack o' Judgment were working together. Maybe it isn't a bad thing that White was killed under the circumstances."
He dropped his hand on the other man's shoulder and oozed geniality.
"Now, back you go, my lads, and don't worry. Leave it to old Dan to fix Jack o' Judgment, or Bill o' Judgment, or Tom o' Judgment, whoever he may be, and that we'll fix him you can be certain."
Coming away from the meeting, he expressed himself as being perfectly satisfied with its results. He brought Pinto and Crewe back with him in his car, and dropped the latter at Piccadilly Circus. Pinto would have been glad to have joined the "Swell," but the colonel detained him.
"I want to talk to you, Pinto," he said.
"I've had enough business for to-day," said the Portuguese.
"So have I," said the colonel, "but that doesn't prevent my attending to pressing affairs. I was talking to you to-day—or was it yesterday?—about Crotin."
"The Yorkshire woollen merchant?" said Pinto.
"That's the fellow," replied the colonel. "I suggested you should go and see him."
"And I suggested that I shouldn't," said Pinto; "let him rest. You'll never get another chance like you had before."
"Rest nothing," said the colonel testily, "you're scared because you imagine Crotin is warned? What do you think?"
Pinto was silent.
"I suppose you think that, because Jack o' Judgment intervened at the right moment, he went back to Yorkshire feeling full of himself? Well, you're wrong. You don't understand one side of the psychology of this business. That little fellow is quaking in his shoes and wondering what his grand wife would say if the fact that he was a bigamist was revealed. And there's more reason for his fear to-day than ever there was. Look here!"
He took a newspaper out of his pocket and Pinto remembered that, even during the meeting, the colonel had twice made reference to its columns and had wondered why. He had suspected that there had been some reference to the Boundary Gang, but this was not the case. The paragraph which the colonel pointed out with his thick forefinger was this:
"By the death of Sir George Tressillian Morgan an ancient baronetcy has become extinct. His estate, which has been sworn at over a million, passes to his niece, Lady Sybil Crotin, the daughter of Lord Westsevern, Sir George's son and heir having been killed in the war. Lady Sybil is the wife of a well-known Yorkshire mill-owner."
"I didn't know that," said Pinto, interested in spite of himself.
"Nor did I till to-day," said the colonel. "The fact is, this damned Jack o' Judgment has put everything else out of our minds. And you can see for yourself, Pinto, that this business is important."
"We are not only after the mill, but here's a chance of making a real big coup. Now I can't send anybody else to Yorkshire—Crewe is impossible. Crotin knows him, and the moment he puts in an appearance, as likely as not Crotin would lose his head and give the whole show away. It is you or nobody."
He rubbed his chin thoughtfully.
"You know, there are times when I'm sorry about Solomon White," he said, "he was the boy for this kind of business—that is to say in the old days—he got a bit above himself towards the end."
Pinto was to find that the colonel had made all arrangements, and that for the previous two days he had been planning a predatory raid on the Yorkshireman.
There was to be a bazaar in Huddersfield on behalf of a local hospital, in which Lady Sybil Crotin took a great interest. She was organising the fete and had invited subscriptions.
"They're not coming in very fast, according to their local paper," said the colonel, "and that has given me an idea. You're a presentable sort of fellow, Pinto, and it is likely you'll be all the more successful because you're a foreigner. You'll go up to Yorkshire and you'll take a thousand pounds, and if necessary you'll subscribe pretty liberally to the fund, but it must be done through Lady Sybil. You can make yourself known to her and invite yourself to the house, where you can meet Crotin himself."
He made other suggestions, for he had worked out the whole scheme in detail for the other to carry into effect. Pinto's objections slowly dissipated. He was a vain man and had all the vices of his vanity. A desire to be thought well of, to be regarded as a rich man when he was in fact on the verge of ruin, had brought him into crooked practices and eventually into the circle of the colonel's acquaintances.
To appear amongst the fair as a giver of largesse on a magnificent scale suited him down to the ground. It was a part for which he was eminently fitted, as the colonel, a shrewd judge of humanity, knew quite well.
"I'll take it on," said Pinto, "but do you think he'll squeal?"
Boundary shook his head.
"I never knew a man who was caught on the rebound to squeal," he said. "No, no, you needn't worry about that. All you have to do is to use your discretion, choose the right moment, preparing him by a few hints for what is coming, and you'll find he'll sit down, like the hard-headed business man he is, and talk money."
Pinto pulled a little face.
"I know what you're thinking," said the colonel. "You hate the idea of the generous donor being unmasked and appearing to anybody as a blackmailer. Well, you needn't worry about that. Lady Sybil will not know, nor will anybody else that counts. And, believe me, Crotin doesn't count. Anyway, you can pretend that you're a perfectly innocent agent in the matter, that you know me slightly and that I've dropped hints which made you curious and which you are anxious to verify."
Pinto went off to make preparations for the journey. He had one of the top flats in the Albemarle building, a suite of rooms which, if they were not as expensively furnished as the colonel's, were more artistic. He had recently acquired the services of a new "daily valet"—a step he could take without fear that his secrets would be betrayed, since he had no secrets in his own rooms, kept no documents of any kind, and received no visitors.
The man opened the door to his ring.
"No, sir, nobody has been," said the servant in answer to his query, and Pinto was relieved.
For the past two days he had been living in a condition bordering on panic. It seemed unlikely that the colonel's confidence would be justified and that the police would take no action. And yet the incredible had happened. There had not been so much as an inquiry; and not once, though he had been on his guard, had he detected one shadow trailing him. His spirits rose, and he whistled cheerfully as he directed the packing of his trunk, for he was travelling North fully equipped for any social event which might await him.
"I am going to Yorkshire," he explained. "I'll give you my address before I leave, and you can let me know if there are any inquiries and who the inquirers were."
"Certainly, sir," said the man respectfully, and Pinto eyed him approvingly.
"I think you'll suit me, Cobalt," he said. "My last valet was rather a fool and inclined to stick his nose into business which did not concern him."
The man smiled.
"I shan't trouble you that way, sir," he said.
"Of course, there's nothing to hide," said Pinto with a shrug, "but you know what people are. They think that because you're associated in business with Colonel Boundary you're up to all sorts of tricks."
"That's what Mr. Snakit said, sir," remarked the man.
"Snakit?" said the puzzled Pinto. "Who the devil is Snakit?"
Then he remembered the little detective whom Maisie had employed and who had been bought over by the colonel.
"Oh, you see him, do you?" he asked carelessly.
"He comes up, sir, now and again. He's the colonel's valet, isn't he, sir?"
"Not exactly," he said. "I shouldn't discuss things with Snakit. That man is quite reliable and——"
"Anyway, sir, I should not discuss your business," said the valet with dignity.
He finished packing and, after assisting his master to dress, was dismissed for the night.
"A useful fellow, that," thought Pinto, as the door closed behind the man. The "useful fellow" reached the street and, after walking a few hundred yards, found a disengaged taxi and gave an address. Maisie White was writing when her bell rang. It rang three times—two long and one short peals—and she went downstairs to admit her visitor. She did not speak until she was back in her room, and then she faced the polite little man whom Pinto had called Cobalt.
"Well, Mr. Grey," she said.
"I wish you'd call me Cobalt, miss," said the man with a smile. "I like to keep up the name, otherwise I'm inclined to give myself away."
"Have you found out anything?"
"Very little, miss," said the detective. "There's nothing to find in the apartment itself."
"You secured the situation as valet?"
"Thanks to the recommendations you got me, miss, there was no difficulty at all. Silva wanted a servant and accepted the testimonials without question."
"And you've discovered nothing?" she said in a disappointed tone.
"Not in Mr. Silva's room. The only thing I found out was that he's going to Yorkshire to-morrow."
"For long?" she asked.
"For some considerable time," said the detective.
"At least, I guess so, because he has packed half a dozen suits, top hats and all sorts of things which I should imagine he wouldn't take away unless he intended making a long stay."
"Have you any idea of the place he's going to?"
"I shall discover that to-morrow, miss," said Cobalt. "I thought I'd tell you as much as I know."
"And you have not been into the colonel's flat?"
The man shook his head.
"It is guarded inside and out, miss, now. He has not only his butler, who is a tough customer, to look after him, but he has Snakit, the man you employed, I understand."
"That's the gentleman," said the girl with a little smile. "Very good, Cobalt—you'll 'phone me if you make any other discoveries."
She was sitting at her solitary breakfast the next morning when the telephone bell rang. It was from a call office, and presently she heard Cobalt's voice. "Just a word, miss. He leaves by the ten-twenty-five train for Huddersfield," said the voice, "and the person he is going to see is Lady Sybil somebody, and there's money in it."
"How do you know?" she asked quickly.
"I heard him speaking to the colonel on the landing and I heard the words: 'He'll pay.'"
She thought a moment.
"Ten-twenty-five," she repeated; "thank you very much, Mr. Cobalt."
She hung up the receiver and sat for a moment in thought, then passed quickly to her bedroom and began to dress.
A PATRON OF CHARITY
Lady Sybil Crotin was not a popular woman. She was conscious that she had married beneath her—more conscious lately that there had been no necessity to make the marriage, and she had grown a little soured. She could never mix with the homely wives of local millionaires; she professed a horror of the vulgarities with which she was surrounded, hated and loathed her lord and master's flamboyant home, which she described as something between a feudal castle and a picture-palace; and openly despised her husband's friends and their feminine relatives.
She made a point of spending at least six months of the year away from Yorkshire, and came back with protest at her lot written visibly upon her face.
A thin, angular woman, with pale green eyes and straight, tight lips, she had never been beautiful, but five or six years in an uncongenial environment had hardened and wasted her. That her husband adored her and never spoke of her save in a tone of awe was common property and a favourite subject for local humour. That she regarded him with contempt and irritation was as well known.
In view of Lady Sybil Crotin's unpopularity, it was perhaps a great mistake that she should make herself responsible for the raising of funds for the local women's hospital. But she was under the impression that there was a magic in her name and station which would overcome what she described as shyness, but which was in point of fact the frank dislike of her neighbours. A subscription list that she had opened had a weak and unpromising appearance. She had with the greatest difficulty secured help for the bazaar, and knew, even though it had been opened by a duchess, that it was a failure, even from the very first day.
Had she herself made a generous contribution to the bazaar fund, there might have been a hope; but she was mean, and the big, bleak hall she had chosen as the venue because of its cheapness was unsuitable for the entertainment she sponsored.
On the afternoon of the second day, Lady Sybil was pulling on her gloves, eyeing her husband with an unfriendly gaze as he sat at lunch.
"It was no more than I expected," she said bitterly. "I was a fool ever to start the thing—this is the last time I ever attempt to help local charities."
Mr. Crotin rubbed his bald head in perplexity.
"They'll come," he said hopefully, referring to the patrons whose absence was the cause of Lady Sybil's annoyance. "They'll come when they hear what a fine show it is. And if they don't, Syb, I'll come along and spend a couple of hundred pounds myself."
"You'll do no such thing," she snapped; "and please get out of that ridiculous habit of reducing my name to one syllable. If the people of the town can't help to support their own hospital, then they don't deserve to have one, and I'm certainly not going to allow you to waste our money on that sort of nonsense."
"Have your own way, love," said Mr. Crotin meekly.
"Besides," she said, "it would be all over the town that it was your money which was coming in, and these horrid people would be laughing at me."
She finished buttoning her gloves and was looking at him curiously.
"What is the matter with you, John?" she asked suddenly, and he almost jumped.
"With me, love?" he said with a brave attempt at a smile. "Why, there's nothing the matter with me. What should there be?"
"You've been very strange lately," she said, "ever since you came back from London."
"I think I ate something that disagreed with my digestion," he said uneasily. "I didn't know that I'd been different."
"Are things well at your—factory?" she asked.
"At mills? Oh, aye, they're all right," he said. "I wish everything was as right as them."
"As they," she corrected.
"As they," said the humble Mr. Crotin.
"There's something wrong," she said, and shook her head, and Mr. Crotin found himself going white. "I'll have a talk with you when I've got this wretched bazaar business out of my head," she added, and with a little nod she left him.
He walked to the window of the long dining-hall and watched her car disappearing down the drive, and then with a sigh went back to his entremets.
When Colonel Dan Boundary surmised that this unfortunate victim of his blackmail would be worried, he was not far from the mark. Crotin had spent many sleepless nights since he came back from London, nights full of terror, that left him a wreck to meet the fears of the days which followed. He lived all the time in the shadow of vengeful justice and exaggerated his danger to an incredible degree; perhaps it was in anticipating what his wife would say that he experienced the most poignant misery.
He had taken to secret drinking too; little nips at odd intervals, both in his room and in his private office. Life had lost its savour, and now a new agony was added to the knowledge that his wife had detected the change. He went to his office and spent a gloomy afternoon wandering about the mills, and came back an hour before his usual time. He had not the heart to make a call at the bazaar, and speculated unhappily upon the proceeds of the afternoon session.
It was therefore with something like pleasure that he heard his wife on the telephone speaking more cheerfully than he had heard her for months.
"Is that you, John?" she was almost civil. "I'm bringing somebody home to dinner. Will you tell Phillips?"
"That's right, love," said Mr. Crotin eagerly.
He would be glad to see some new face, and that it was a new face he could guess by the interest in Lady Sybil's tone.
"It is a Mr. de Silva. Have you ever met him?"
"No, love, I've not. Is he a foreigner?"
"He's a Portuguese gentleman," said his wife's voice; "and he has been most helpful and most generous."
"Bring him along," said Crotin heartily. "I'll be glad to meet him. How has the sale been, love?"
"Very good indeed," she replied; "splendid, in fact—thanks to Mr. de Silva."
John Crotin was dressing when his wife returned, and it was not until half an hour later that he met Pinto Silva for the first time. Pinto was a man who dressed well and looked well. John Crotin thought he was the most impressive personality he had met, when he stalked into the drawing-room and took the proffered hand of the mill-owner.
"This is Mr. de Silva," said his wife, who had been waiting for her guest. "As I told you, John, Mr. de Silva has been awfully kind. I don't know what you're going to do with all those perfectly useless things you've bought," she added to the polished Portuguese, and Pinto shrugged.
"Give them away," he said; "there must, for example, be a lot of poor women in the country who would be glad of the linen I have bought."
At this point dinner was announced and he took Lady Sybil in. The meal was approaching its end when she revived the question of the disposal of his purchases.
"Are you greatly interested in charities, Mr. de Silva?"
Pinto inclined his head.
"Both here and in Portugal I take a very deep interest in the welfare of the poor," he said solemnly.
"That's fine," said Mr. Crotin, nodding approvingly. "I know what these poor people have to suffer. I've been amongst them——"
His wife silenced him with a look.
"It frequently happens that cases are brought to my notice," Pinto went on, "and I have one or two cases of women in my mind where these purchases of mine would be most welcome. For example," he said, "I heard the other day, quite by accident, of a poor woman in Wales whose husband deserted her."
Mr. Crotin had his fork half-way to his mouth, but put it down again.
"I don't know much about the case personally," said Pinto carelessly, "but the circumstances were brought to my notice by a friend. I think these people suffer more than we imagine; and I'll let you into a secret, Lady Sybil," he said, speaking impressively. He did not look at Crotin, but went on: "A few of my friends are thinking of buying a mill."
"A woollen mill?" she said, raising her eyebrows.
"A woollen mill!" he repeated.
"But why?" she asked.
"We wish to make garments and blankets for the benefit of the poor. We feel that, if we could run this sort of thing on a co-operative basis, we could manufacture the stuff cheaply, always providing, of course, that we could purchase a mill at a reasonable figure."
For the first time he looked at Crotin, and the man's face was ghastly white.
"What a queer idea!" said Lady Sybil. "A good mill will cost you a lot of money."
"We don't think so," said Pinto. "In fact, we expect to purchase a very excellent mill at a reasonable sum. That was my object in coming to Yorkshire, I may tell you, and it was only by accident that I saw the advertisement of your bazaar and called in."
"A fortunate accident for me," said Lady Sybil.
Crotin's eyes were on his plate, and he did not raise them.
"I think it is a great mistake to be too generous with the poor," said Lady Sybil, shaking her head. "These women are very seldom grateful."
"I realise that," said Pinto gravely. "But I am not seeking their gratitude. We find that many of these women are in terrible circumstances owing to no fault of their own. For example, this woman in Wales, whose husband is supposed to have deserted her—now, there is a bad case."
Lady Sybil was interested.
"We found on investigation," said Pinto, speaking slowly and impressively, "that the man who deserted her has since married and occupies a very important position in a town in the north of England."
Mr. Crotin dropped his knife with a crash and with a mumbled apology picked it up.
"But how terrible!" said Lady Sybil. "What a shocking thing! The man should be exposed. He is not fit to associate with human beings. Can't you do something to punish him?"
"That could be done," said Silva, "it could be done, but it would bring a great deal of unhappiness to his present wife, who is ignorant of her husband's treachery."
"Better she should know now than later," said the militant Lady Sybil. "I think you do very wrong to keep it from her."
Mr. Crotin rose unsteadily and his wife looked at him with suspicion.
"Aren't you feeling well, John?" she asked with asperity.
It was not the first time she had seen her husband's hand shaking and had diagnosed the cause more justly than she was doing at present, for John Crotin had scarcely taken a drink that evening.
"I'm going into the library, if you'll excuse me, love," he said. "Maybe, Mr.—Mr. de Silva will join me. I'd—I'd like to talk over the question of that mill with him."
"Then run along now," said Lady Sybil, "and when you've finished talking, come back to me, Mr. de Silva. I want to know something about your charitable organisations in Portugal."
Pinto followed the other at a distance, saw him enter a big room and switch on the lights and followed, closing the door behind him.
Mr. Crotin's library was the most comfortable room in the house. It was lighted by French windows which opened on to a small terrace. Long red velvet curtains were drawn, and a little fire crackled on the hearth.
When the door closed Crotin turned upon his guest.
"Now, damn you," he said harshly, "what's thy proposition? Make it a reasonable sum and I'll pay thee."
THE SOLDIER WHO FOLLOWED
In the train which had carried Pinto Silva to Huddersfield were one or two remarkable passengers, and it was not a coincidence that they did not meet. In a third-class carriage at the far end of the train was a soldier who carried a kit-bag and who whiled away the journey by reading a seemingly endless collection of magazines.
He got out at Huddersfield too, and Pinto might and probably did see him as he passed through the barrier. The soldier left his kit-bag at the cloak-room and eventually became one of the two dozen people who patronised Lady Sybil's bazaar on that afternoon. He passed Pinto twice, and once made a small purchase at the same stall where the Portuguese was buying lavishly. If Pinto saw him, then he did not remember the fact. One soldier looks very much like another, anyway.
Lady Sybil had reason to notice the representative of His Majesty's forces, and herself informed him severely that smoking was not allowed, and the man had put his cigarette under his heel with an apology and had walked out of the building. When Lady Sybil and her guest had entered her car and were driven away to Mill Hall, the soldier had been loitering near the entrance, and a few minutes later he was following the party in a taxi-cab which had been waiting at his order for the past two hours.
The taxi did not turn in at the stone-pillared gates of the Hall, but continued some distance beyond, when the soldier alighted and, turning back, walked boldly through the main entrance and passed up the drive. It was dusk by now, and nobody challenged him.
He made a reconnaissance of the house and found the dining-room without any difficulty. The blinds were up and the servants were setting the table. Then he passed round to the wing of the building and discovered the library. He actually went into that room, because it was one of Lady Sybil's standing orders that the library should be "aired" and that the scent of Mr. Crotin's atrocious tobacco should be cleared.
He sniffed the stale fragrance and was satisfied that this was a room which was lived in.
If there was any real, confidential talk between the two men, it would be here, he thought, and looked round for a likely place of concealment. The room was innocent of cupboards. Only a big settee drawn diagonally across a corner of the room promised cover, and that looked too dangerous. If anybody sat there and by chance dropped something—a pipe or an ash-tray——
He walked back to the terrace to take his bearings in case he had to make a rapid exit. He looked round and then dropped suddenly to the cover of the balustrade, for he had seen a dark figure moving across the lawn, and it was coming straight for the terrace. He slipped back into the room and as he did so he heard a step in the passage without. He stepped lightly over to the settee and crouched down.
It was evidently a servant, for he heard the French windows closed and the clang of the shutters. They were evidently very ordinary folding-shutters, fastened with an old-fashioned steel bar—he made a mental note of this. Then he heard the swish of the curtain-rings upon the brass pole as the curtains were drawn. A dim light was switched on, somebody poked the fire, and then the light was put out and the door closed softly.
The intruder did some rapid thinking. He crossed to the nearest of the windows, noiselessly opened the shutters and pushed them back to the position in which they stood when not in use. Then he unlatched the window and left it, hoping that it would not blow open and betray him. This done, he again pulled the heavy curtains across and returned to his place of concealment. That was to be the way out for him if the necessity for a rapid retreat should arise.
There was no sound save the ticking of the clock and the noise of falling cinders for ten minutes, and then he heard something which brought him to the alert, all his senses awakened and concentrated. It was the sound of a light and stealthy footstep on the terrace outside. He wondered whether it was a servant and whether he would see that one of the windows was unshuttered. He had half a mind to investigate, when there came another sound—a lumbering foot in the passage. Suddenly the door was opened, the lights were flashed on, and the man behind the settee hugged the floor and held his breath.
* * * * *
"How much do I want?"
Pinto laughed and lit a cigarette.
"My dear Mr. Crotin, I really don't know what you mean."
"Let's have no more foolery," said the Yorkshireman roughly. "I know that you've come up from Colonel Boundary and I know what you've come for. You want to buy my mill, eh? Well, I'll make it worth your while not to buy my mill. You can take the money instead."
"I really am honest when I tell you that I don't understand what you are talking about. I have certainly come up to buy a mill—that is true. It is also true that I want to buy your mill."
"And what might you be thinking of paying for it?" asked Crotin between his teeth.
"Twenty thousand pounds," said Pinto nonchalantly.
"Twenty thousand, eh? It was thirty thousand the last time. You'll want me to give it to you soon. Nay, nay, my friend, I'll pay, but not in mills."
"Think of the poor," murmured Pinto.
"I'm thinking of them," said the other. "I'm thinking of the poor woman in Wales, too, and the poor woman in there." He jerked his head. Then, in a calmer tone: "I guessed at dinner where you came from. Colonel Boundary sent you."
"Let us mention no names," he said politely. "And who is Colonel Boundary, anyway?"
Crotin was at his desk now. He had taken out his cheque-book and slapped it down upon the writing-pad.
"You've got me proper," he said, and his voice quavered. "I'll make an offer to you. I'll give you fifty thousand pounds if you write an agreement that you will not molest or bother me again."
There was a silence, and the soldier crouched behind the settee, listening intently. He heard Pinto laugh softly as one who is greatly amused.
"That, my good friend," said Pinto, "would be blackmail. You don't imagine that I would be guilty of such an iniquity? I know nothing about your past; I merely suggest that you should sell me one of your mills at a reasonable price."
"Twenty thousand pounds is reasonable for you, I suppose," said Crotin sarcastically.
"It is a lot of money," replied Pinto.
The Yorkshireman pulled open the drawer of his desk and slammed in the cheque-book, closing it with a bang.
"Well, I'll give you nothing," he said, "neither mill nor money. You can clear out of here."
He crossed the room to the telephone.
"What are you going to do?" asked Pinto, secretly alarmed.
"I'm going to send for the police," said the other grimly. "I'm going to give myself up and I'm going to pinch thee too!"
If Crotin had turned the handle of the old-fashioned telephone, if he had continued in his resolution, if he had shown no sign of doubt, a different story might have been told. But with his hand raised, he hesitated, and Pinto clinched his argument.
"Why have all that trouble?" he said. "Your liberty and reputation are much more to you than a mill. You're a rich man. Your wife is wealthy in her own right. You have enough to live on for the rest of your life. Why make trouble?"
The little man dropped his head with a groan and walked wearily back to the desk.
"Suppose I sell this?" he said in a low voice. "How do I know you won't come again——"
"When a gentleman gives his word of honour," began Pinto with dignity, but was interrupted by a shrill laugh that made his blood run cold.
He swung round with an oath. Framed in an opening of the curtains which covered one of the windows was the Figure!
The black silk gown, the white masked face, the soft felt hat pulled down over the eyes—his teeth chattered at the sight of it, and he fell back against the wall.
"Who wouldn't trust Pinto?" squeaked the voice. "Who wouldn't take Pinto's word of honour? Jack o' Judgment wouldn't, poor old Jack o' Judgment!"
Jack o' Judgment! The soldier behind the settee heard the words and gasped. Without any thought of consequence he raised his head and looked. The Jack o' Judgment was standing where he expected him to be. He had come through the window which the soldier had left unbarred. This time he carried no weapon in his hand, and Pinto was quick to see the possibilities. The electric switch was within reach, and his hand shot out. There was a click and the room went dark.
But the figure of Jack o' Judgment was silhouetted against the night, and Pinto whipped out the long knife which never left him and sent it hurtling at his enemy. He saw the figure duck, heard the crash of broken glass, and then Jack o' Judgment vanished. In a rage which was three parts terror, he sprang through the open French windows on to the terrace in time to see a dark figure drop over the balustrade and fly across the park.
THE CAPTURE OF "JACK"
Pinto leapt the parapet and was following swiftly in its wake. He guessed rather than knew that for once Jack o' Judgment had come unarmed, and a wild exultation filled him at the thought that it was left to him to unveil the mystery which was weighing even upon the iron nerve of the colonel.
The figure gained the shrubbery, and the pursuer heard the rustle of leaves as it plunged into the depths. In a second he was blundering after. He lost sight of his quarry and stopped to listen. There was no sound.
"Hiding," grunted Pinto. And then aloud: "Come out of it. I see you and I'll shoot you like a dog if you don't come to me!"
There was no reply. He dashed in the direction he thought Jack o' Judgment must have taken and again missed. With a curse he turned off in another direction and then suddenly glimpsed a shape before him and leapt at it. He was flung back with little or no effort, and stood bewildered, for the coat his hand had touched was rough and he had felt metal buttons.
"A soldier!" he gasped. "Who are you?"
"Steady," said the other; "don't get rattled, Pinto."
"Who are you?" asked Pinto again.
"My name is Stafford King," said the soldier, "and I think I shall want you."
Pinto half turned to go, but was gripped.
"You can go back to Huddersfield and pack your boxes," said Stafford King. "You won't leave the town except by my permission."
"What do you mean?" demanded Pinto, breathing heavily.
"I mean," said Stafford King, "that the unfortunate man you tried to blackmail must prosecute whatever be the consequence to himself. Now, Pinto, you've a grand chance of turning King's evidence."
Pinto made no reply. He was collecting his thoughts. Then, after a while, he said:
"I'll talk about that later, King. I'm staying at the Huddersfield Arms. I'll meet you there in an hour."
Stafford King did not move until the sound of Pinto's footsteps had died away. Then he began a systematic search, for he too was anxious to end the mystery of Jack o' Judgment. He had followed Pinto when he dashed from the room and had heard the Portuguese calling upon Jack o' Judgment to surrender. That mysterious individual, who was obviously lying low, could not be very far away.
He was in a shrubbery which proved later to be a clump of rhododendrons, in the centre of which was a summer-house. To the heart of this shrubbery led three paths, one of which Stafford discovered quite close at hand. The sound of gravel under his feet gave him an idea, and he began walking backward till he came to the shadow of a tree, and then, simulating the sound of retreating footsteps, he waited.
After a while he heard a rustle, but did not move.
Somebody was coming cautiously through the bushes, and that somebody appeared as a shadowy, indistinct figure, not twenty yards away. Only the keenest eyesight could have detected it, and still Stafford waited. Presently he heard the soft crunch of gravel under its feet, and at that moment leapt towards it. The figure stood as though paralysed for a second, and then, turning quickly, fled back to the heart of the bushes. Before it had gone a dozen paces Stafford had reached it, and his arm was about its neck.
"My friend," he breathed, "I don't know what I'm to do with you now I've got you, but I certainly am going to register your face for future reference."
"No, no," said a muffled voice from behind the mask. "No, no, don't; I beg of you!"
But the mask was plucked away, and, fumbling in his pocket, Stafford produced his electric lamp and flashed it on the face of his prisoner. Then, with a cry of amazement, he stepped back—for he had looked upon the face of Maisie White!
For a moment there was silence, neither speaking. Then Stafford found his voice.
"Maisie!" he said in bewilderment, "Maisie! You—Jack o' Judgment?"
She did not answer.
"Phew!" whistled Stafford.
Then sitting on a trunk, he laughed.
"It is Maisie, of all people in the world. And I suspected it, too!"
The girl had covered her face with her hands and was crying softly, and he moved towards her and put his arm about her shoulder.
"Darling, it is nothing very terrible. Please don't go on like that."
"Oh, you don't understand, you don't understand!" she wailed. "I wanted to catch Silva. I guessed that he was coming north on one of his blackmailing trips, and I followed him."
"Did you come up by the same train?"
He felt her nod.
"So did I," said Stafford with a little grin.
"I followed him to the bazaar," she said, "and then I watched him from a little eating-house on the opposite side of the road. Do you know, I wondered whether you were here too, and I looked everywhere for you, but apparently there was nobody in sight when Pinto came out with Lady Sybil, only a soldier."
"I was that soldier," said Stafford.
"I discovered where Mr. Crotin lived and came up later," she went on. "Of course, I had no very clear idea of what I was going to do, and it was only by the greatest luck that I found the window of the library open. It was the only window that was open," she said with a little laugh.
"It wasn't so much your luck as my forethought," smiled Stafford.
"Now I want to tell you about Jack o' Judgment," she began, but he stopped her.
"Let that explanation wait," he said; "the point is, that with your evidence and mine we have Pinto by the throat—what was that?"
There was the sound of a shot.
"Probably a poacher," said Stafford after a moment. "I can't imagine Pinto using a gun. Besides, I don't think he carries one. What did he throw at you?"
"A knife," she said, and he felt her shiver; "it just missed me. But tell me, how have we got Pinto?"
They had left the shrubbery and were walking towards the house. She stopped a little while to take off her long black cloak, and he saw that she was wearing a short-skirted dress beneath.
"We must compel Crotin to prosecute," said Stafford. "With our evidence nothing can save Pinto, and probably he will drag in the colonel, too. Even your evidence isn't necessary," he said after a moment's thought, "and if it's possible I will keep you out of it."
A woman's scream interrupted him.
"There's trouble there," he said, and raced for the house. Somebody was standing on the terrace as he approached, and hailed him excitedly.
"Is that you, Terence?"
It was a servant's voice.
"No," replied Stafford, "I am a police officer."
"Thank God!" said the man on the terrace. "Will you come up, sir? I thought it was the gamekeeper I was speaking to."
"What is the matter?" asked Stafford as he vaulted over the parapet.
"Mr. Crotin has shot himself, sir," said the butler in quavering tones.
* * * * *
Twelve hours later Stafford King reported to his chief, giving the details of the overnight tragedy.
"Poor fellow!" said Sir Stanley. "I was afraid of it ending that way."
"Did you know he was being blackmailed?" asked Stafford.
Sir Stanley nodded.
"We had a report, which apparently emanated from Jack o' Judgment, who of late has started sending his communications to me direct," said Sir Stanley. "You can, of course, do nothing with Pinto. Your evidence isn't sufficient. What a pity you hadn't a second witness." He thought for a moment. "Even then it wouldn't have been sufficient unless we had Crotin to support you."
Stafford cleared his throat.
"I have a second witness, sir," he said.
"The devil you have!" Sir Stanley raised his eyebrows. "Who was your second witness?"
"Jack o' Judgment," said Stafford, and Sir Stanley jumped to his feet.
"Jack o' Judgment!" he repeated. "What do you mean?"
"Jack o' Judgment was there," said Stafford, and told the story of the remarkable appearance of that mysterious figure.
He told everything, reserving the identification of Jack till the last.
"And then you flashed the lamp on his face," said Sir Stanley. "Well, who was it?"
"Maisie White," said Stafford.
Sir Stanley walked to the window and stood looking out, his hands thrust into his pockets. Presently he turned.
"There's a bigger mystery here than I suspected," he said. "Have you asked Miss White for an explanation?"
Stafford shook his head.
"I thought it best to report the matter to you, sir, before I asked her to——"
"To incriminate herself, eh? Well, perhaps you did wisely, perhaps you did not. I should imagine that her explanation is a very simple one."
"What do you mean, sir?"
"I mean," said Sir Stanley, "that unless Jack o' Judgment has the gift of appearing in two places at once, she is not Jack."
"But I don't understand, sir?"
"I mean," said Sir Stanley, "that Jack o' Judgment was in the colonel's room last night, was in fact sitting by the colonel's bedside when that gentleman awoke, and according to the statement which Colonel Boundary has made to me about two hours ago in this room, warned him of his approaching end."
It was Stafford's turn to be astonished.
"Are you sure, sir?" he asked incredulously.
"Absolutely!" said Sir Stanley. "You don't imagine that the colonel would invent that sort of thing. For some reason or other, possibly to keep close to the trouble that's coming, the colonel insists upon bringing all his little chit-chat to me. He asked for an interview about ten o'clock this morning and reported to me that he had had this visitation. Moreover, the experience has had the effect of upsetting the colonel, and for the first time he seems to be thoroughly rattled. Where is Miss White?"
"She's here, sir."
"Here, eh?" said the commissioner. "So much the better. Can you bring her in?"
A few minutes later the girl sat facing the First Commissioner.
"Now, Miss White, we're going to ask you for a few facts about your masquerade," said Sir Stanley kindly. "I understand that you appeared wearing the costume, and giving a fairly good imitation of the voice of Jack o' Judgment. Now, I'm telling you before we go any further that I do not believe for one moment that you are Jack o' Judgment. Am I right?"
"Perfectly true, Sir Stanley," she said. "I don't know why I did such a mad thing, except that I knew Pinto was scared of him. I got the cloak from my dress-basket and made the mask myself. You see, I didn't know whether I might want it, but I thought that in a tight pinch, if I wished to terrify this man, that was the role to assume."
Sir Stanley nodded.
"And the voice, of course, was easy."
"But how could you imitate the voice if you have never seen Jack o' Judgment?"
"I saw him once." She shivered a little. "You seem to forget, Sir Stanley, that he rescued me from that dreadful house."
"Of course," said Sir Stanley, "and you imitated him, did you?" He turned to his subordinate. "I'm accepting Miss White's explanation, Stafford, and I advise you to do the same. She went up to watch Silva, as I understand, and took the costume with her as a sort of protection. Well, Miss White, are you satisfied with your detective work?"
She smiled ruefully.
"I'm afraid I'm a failure as a detective," she said.
"I'm afraid you are," laughed Sir Stanley, as he rose and offered his hand. "There is only one real detective in the world—and that is Jack o' Judgment!"
THE PASSING OF PHILLOPOLIS
If Pinto Silva had a hobby, it was the Orpheum Theatre. The Orpheum had been in low water and had come into the market at a moment when theatrical managers and proprietors were singularly unenterprising and money was short. Pinto had bought the property for a song, and had converted his purchase into a moderate success. The theatre served a double purpose; it provided Pinto with a hobby, and offered an excuse for his wealth. Since it was a one-man show, and he produced no balance-sheet, his contemporaries could only make a guess as to the amount of money he made. If the truth be told, it was not very large, but small as it was, its dividends more or less justified his own leisure.
There had been one or two scandals about the Orpheum which had reached the public Press—scandals of a not particularly edifying character. But Pinto had managed to escape public opprobrium.
The Orpheum, at any rate, helped to baffle the police, who saw Silva living at the rate of twenty thousand a year, and were unable to trace the source of his income. That he had estates in Portugal was known; but they had been acquired, apparently, on the profits of the music-hall. He was not a speculator, though he was a shareholder in a number of companies which were controlled by the colonel; and he was certainly not a gambler, in the generally accepted sense of the term.
Whilst he was suspected of being intimately connected with several shady transactions, he could boast truly that there was not a scrap of evidence to associate him with any breach of the law. He was less inclined to boast that evening, when he turned into the stage-box at the Orpheum, and pulling his chair into the shadow of the draperies, sat back and considered his position. He had returned from Yorkshire in a panic, and had met the fury of the colonel's reproaches. It was the worst quarter of an hour that Pinto had ever spent with his superior, and the memory made him shiver.
The stage-box at the Orpheum was never sold to any member of the public. It was Pinto's private possession, his sitting-room and his office. He sat watching with gloomy interest the progress of the little revue which was a feature of the Orpheum programme, and his mind was occupied by a very pressing problem. He was shaken, too, by the interview he had had with the Huddersfield police.
He had had to fake a story to explain why he left the library, and why, in his absence, Mr. Crotin had committed suicide. Fortunately, he had returned to the house by the front hall and was in the hall inventing a story of burglars to the agitated Lady Sybil when they heard the shot which ended the wretched life of the bigamist. That had saved him from being suspected of actual complicity in the crime. Suppose they had—he sweated at the thought.
There was a knock on the door of the box, and an attendant put in his head.
"There's a gentleman to see you, sir," he said; "he says he has an appointment."
"What is his name?"
"Show him in, please," he said, and dismissed all unpleasant thoughts.
The new-comer proved to be a dapper little man, with a weather-beaten face. He was in evening dress, and spoke like a gentleman.
"I had your letter, Mr. Silva," he said. "You received my telephone message?"
"Yes," said Silva. "I wanted to see you particularly. You understand that what I say is wholly confidential."
"That I understand," said the man called Cartwright.
He took Pinto's proferred cigarette and lit it.
"I have been reading about you in the papers," said Pinto. "You're the man who did the non-stop flight for the Western Aeroplane Company?"
"That's right," smiled Cartwright. "I have done many long nights. I suppose you are referring to my San Sebastian trip?"
"Now I want to ask you a few questions, and if they seem to be prying or personal, you must believe that I have no other wish than to secure information which is vital to myself. What position do you occupy with the Western Company?"
Cartwright shrugged his shoulders.
"I am a pilot," he said. "If you mean, am I a director of the firm or am I interested in the company financially, I regret that I must answer No. I wish I were," he added, "but I am merely an employee."
"That is what I wanted to know," he said. "Now, here is another question. What does a first-class aeroplane cost?"
"It depends," said the other. "A long distance machine, such as I have been flying, would cost anything up to five thousand pounds."
"Could you buy one? Are they on the market?" asked Pinto quickly.
"I could buy a dozen to-morrow," said the other promptly. "The R.A.F. have been selling off their machines, and I know just where I could get one of the best in Britain."
Pinto was looking at the stage, biting his lips thoughtfully.
"I'll tell you what I want," he said. "I am not very keenly interested in aviation, but it may be necessary that I should return to Portugal in a great hurry. It is no news to you that we Portuguese are generally in the throes of some revolution or other."
"So I understand," said Cartwright, with a twinkle in his eye.
"In those circumstances," Pinto went on, "it may be necessary for me to leave this country without going through the formality of securing a passport. I want a machine which will carry me from London to, say, Cintra, without a stop, and I want a pilot who can take me across the sea by the direct route."
"Across the Bay of Biscay?" asked the aviator in surprise, and Pinto nodded.
"I should not want to touch any other country en route, for reasons which, I tell you frankly, are political."
Cartwright thought a moment.
"Yes, I think I can get you the machine, and I'm certain I can find you the pilot," he said.
"To put it bluntly," said Pinto, "would you take on an engagement for twelve months, secure the machine, house it and have it ready for me? I will pay you liberally." He mentioned a sum which satisfied the airman. "It must not be known that the machine is mine. You must buy it and keep it in your own name."
"There's no difficulty about that," said Cartwright. "Am I to understand that I must go ahead with the purchase of the aeroplane?"
"You can start right away," said Pinto. "The sooner you have the machine ready for a flight the better. I am here almost every night, and I will give orders to the collectors on the barrier that you are to come to me just whenever you want. If you will meet me here to-morrow morning, say at eleven o'clock, I can give you cash for the purchase of the machine, and I shall be happy to pay you half a year's salary in advance."
"It will take some time to clear my old job," said Cartwright thoughtfully, "but I think I can do it for you. At any rate, I can get time off to buy the machine. You say that you do not want anybody to know that it is yours?"
"Well, that's easy," said the other. "I've been thinking about buying a machine of my own for some time and have made inquiries in several quarters."
He rose to leave and shook hands.
"Remember," said Pinto as a final warning, "not a word about this to any human soul."
"You can trust me," said the man.
Pinto watched the rest of the play with a lighter heart. After all, there could be nothing very much to fear. What had thrown him off his balance for the moment was the presence of Stafford King in Yorkshire, and when that detective chief did not make his appearance at the police inquiry nor had sought him in his hotel, it looked as though the colonel's words were true, and that Scotland Yard were after Boundary himself and none other.
He sat the performance through and then went to his club—an institution off Pall Mall which had been quite satisfied to accept Pinto to membership without making any too close inquiries as to his antecedents.
He spent some time before the tape machine, watching the news tick forth, then strolled into the smoking-room and read the evening papers for the second time. Only one item of news really interested him—it had interested the colonel too. The diamondsmiths' premises in Regent Street had been burgled the night before and the contents of the safe cleared. The colonel had arrested his flow of vituperation, to speculate as to the "artist" who had carried out this neat job.
Pinto read for a little, then threw the paper down. He wondered what made him so restive and why he was so anxious to find something to occupy his attention, and then he realised with a start that he did not want to go back to face Colonel Boundary. It was the first time he had ever experienced this sensation, and he did not like it. He had held his place in the gang by the assurance, which was also an assumption, that he was at least the colonel's equal. This irritated him. He put on his overcoat and turned into the street. It was a chilly night and a thin drizzle of rain was falling. He pulled up his coat-collar and looked about for a taxi-cab. Neither outside the club nor in Pall Mall was one visible.
He started to walk home, but still felt that disinclination to face the colonel. Then a thought struck him; he would go and see Phillopolis, the little Greek.
Phillopolis patronised a night-club in Soho, where he was usually to be found between midnight and two in the morning. Having an objective, Pinto felt in a happier frame of mine and walked briskly the intervening distance. He found his man sitting at a little marble-topped table by himself, contemplating a half-bottle of sweet champagne and a half-filled glass. He was evidently deep in thought, and started violently when Pinto addressed him.
"Sit down," he said with evident relief. "I thought it was——"
"Who did you think it was? You thought it was the police, I suppose?" said Pinto with heavy jocularity, and to his amazement he saw the little man wince.
"What has happened to Colonel Boundary?" asked the Greek irritably. "There used to be a time when anybody he spoke for was safe. I'm getting out of this country and I'm getting out quick," he added.
"Why?" asked Pinto, who was vitally interested.
The Greek threw out his hands with a little grimace.
"Nerves," he said. "I haven't got over that affair with the White girl."
"Pooh!" said the other. "If the police were moving in that matter, they'd have moved long ago. You are worrying yourself unnecessarily, Phillopolis."
Pinto's words slipped glibly from his tongue, but Phillopolis was unimpressed.
"I know when I've had enough," he said. "I've got my passport and I'm clearing out at the end of this week."
"Does the colonel know this?"
The Greek raised his shoulders indifferently.
"I don't know whether he does or whether he doesn't," he said. "Anyway, Boundary and I are only remotely connected in business, and my movements are no affair of his."
He looked curiously at the other.
"I wonder that a man like you, who is in the heart of things, stays on when the net is drawing round the old man."
"Loyalty is a vice with me," said Pinto virtuously. "Besides, there's no reason to bolt—as yet."
"I'm going whilst I'm safe," said Phillopolis, sipping his champagne. "At present the police have nothing against me and I'm going to take good care they have nothing. That's where I've the advantage of people like you."
"They've nothing on me," he said easily. "I have an absolutely clean record."
It disturbed him, however, to discover that even so minor a member of the gang as Phillopolis was preparing to desert what he evidently regarded as a sinking ship. More than this, it confirmed him in the wisdom of his own precautions, and he was rather glad that he had taken it into his head to visit Phillopolis on that night.
"When do you leave?" he asked.
"The day after to-morrow," said Phillopolis. "I think I'll go down into Italy for a year. I've made enough money now to live without worrying about work, and I mean to enjoy myself."
Pinto looked at the man with interest. Here, at any rate, was one without a conscience. The knowledge that he had accumulated his fortune through the miseries of innocent girls shipped to foreign dance halls did not weigh greatly upon his mind.
"Lucky you!" said Pinto, as they walked out of the club together. "Where do you live, by the way?"
"In Somers Street, Soho. It is just round the corner," said Phillopolis. "Will you walk there with me?"
"Yes, I will," he said.
He wanted to see the sort of establishment which Phillopolis maintained. They chatted together till they came to the street, and then Phillopolis stopped.
"Do you mind if I go ahead?" he said. "I have a—friend there who might be worried by your coming."
Pinto smiled to himself.
"Certainly," he said. "I'll wait on the opposite side of the road until you are ready."
The man lived above a big furniture shop, and admission was gained by a side door. Pinto watched him pass through the portals and heard the door close. He was a long time gone, and evidently his "friend" was unprepared to receive visitors at that hour, or else Phillopolis himself had some reason for postponing the invitation.
The reason for the delay was explained in a sensational manner. Suddenly the door opened and a man came out. He was followed by two others and between them was Phillopolis, and the street-lamp shone upon the steel handcuffs on his wrists. Pinto drew back into a doorway and watched. Phillopolis was talking—it would perhaps be more accurate to say that he was raving at the top of his voice, cursing and sobbing in a frenzy.
"You planted them—it is a plant!" he yelled. "You devils!"
"Are you coming quietly?" said a voice. "Or are you going to make trouble? Take him, Dempsey!"
Phillopolis seemed to have forgotten Pinto's presence, for he went out of the street without once calling upon him to testify to his character and innocence. Pinto waited till he was gone, and then strolled across the road to the detective who stood before the door lighting his pipe.
"Good evening," he said, "has there been some trouble?"
The officer looked at him suspiciously. But Pinto was in evening dress and talked like a gentleman, and the policeman thawed.
"Nothing very serious, sir," he said, "except for the man. He's a fence."
"A what?" said Pinto with well-feigned innocence.
"A receiver of stolen property. We found his lodgings full of stuff."
"Good Heavens!" gasped Pinto.
"Yes, sir," said the man, delighted that he had created a sensation. "I never saw so much valuable property in one room in my life. There was a big burglary in Regent Street last night. A jeweller's shop was cleared out of about twenty thousand pounds' worth of necklaces, and we found every bit of it here to-night. We've always suspected this man," he went on confidentially. "Nobody knew how he got his living, but from information we received to-day we were able to catch him red-handed."
"Thank you," said Pinto faintly, and walked slowly home, for now he no longer feared to meet the colonel. He had something to tell him, something that would inspire even Boundary with apprehension.
THE VOICE IN THE ROOM
As Silva anticipated, the colonel was up and waiting for him. He was playing Patience on his desk and looked up with a scowl as the Portuguese entered.
"So you've been skulking, have you, Pinto?" he began, but the other interrupted him.
"You can keep all that talk for another time," he said. "They've taken Phillopolis!"
The colonel swept his cards aside with a quick, nervous gesture.
"Taken Phillopolis?" he repeated slowly. "On what charge?"
"For being the receiver of stolen property," said the other. "They found the proceeds of the Regent Street burglary in his apartments."
The colonel opened his mouth to speak, then shut it again, and there was silence for two or three minutes.
"I see. They have planted the stuff on him, have they?"
"What do you mean?" asked Pinto.
"You don't suppose that Phillopolis is a fence, do you?" said the colonel scornfully. "Why, it is a business that a man must spend the whole of his life at before he can be successful. No, Phillopolis knows no more about that burglary or the jewels than you or I. The stuff has been planted in his rooms."