"But the police don't do that sort of thing."
"Who said the police did it?" snarled the colonel. "Of course they didn't. They haven't the sense. That's Mr. Jack o' Judgment once more, and this time, Pinto, he's real dangerous."
"Jack o' Judgment!" gasped Pinto. "But would he commit a burglary?"
The colonel laughed scornfully.
"Would he commit murder? Would he hang Raoul? Would he shoot you? Don't ask such damn-fool questions, Silva! Of course it was Jack o' Judgment. I tell you, the night you were in Yorkshire making a mess of that Crotin business, Jack o' Judgment came here, to this very room, and told me that he would ruin us one by one, and that he would leave me to the last. He mentioned us all—you, Crewe, Selby——"
He stopped suddenly and scratched his chin.
"But not Lollie Marsh," he said. "That's queer, he never mentioned Lollie Marsh!"
He was deep in thought for a few moments, then he went on:
"So he's worked off Phillopolis, has he? Well, Phillopolis has got to take his medicine. I can do nothing for him."
"But surely he can prove——" began Pinto.
"What can he prove?" asked the other. "Can he prove how he earns his money? He's been taken with the goods; he hasn't that chance," he snapped his fingers. "I'll make a prophecy," he said: "Phillopolis will get five years' penal servitude, and nothing in the world can save him from that."
"An innocent man!" said Pinto in amazement. "Impossible!"
"But is he innocent?" asked the colonel sourly. "That's the point you've got to keep in your mind. He may be innocent of one kind of crookedness, and be so mixed up in another that he cannot prove he is innocent of either. That's where they've got this fellow. He dare not appeal to the people who know him best, because they'd give him away. He can't tell the police who are his agents in Greece or Armenia, or they'll find out just the kind of agency he was running."
He squatted back in his chair, pulling at his long moustache.
"Phillopolis, Crewe, Pinto, Selby, and then me," said he, speaking to himself, "and he never mentioned Lollie Marsh. And Lollie has been the decoy duck that has been in every hunt we've had. This wants looking into, Pinto."
As he finished speaking there was a little buzz from the corner of the room and Pinto looked up startled. The colonel looked up too and a slow smile dawned on his face.
"A visitor," he said softly. "Not our old friend Jack o' Judgment, surely!"
"What is it?" asked Pinto.
"A little alarm I've had fixed under one of the treads of the stairs," said the other. "I don't like to be taken unawares."
"Perhaps it is Crewe," suggested the other.
"Crewe's gone home an hour ago," said the colonel. "No, this is a genuine visitor."
They waited for some time and then there was a knock at the outer door.
"Open it, Pinto," and as the other did not instantly move, "open it, damn you! What are you afraid of?"
"I'm not afraid of anything," growled the Portuguese and flung out of the room.
Yet he hesitated again before he turned the handle of the outer door. He flung it open and stepped back. He would have gone farther, but the wall was at his back and he could only stand with open mouth staring at the visitor. It was Maisie White.
She returned his gaze steadily.
"I want to see Colonel Boundary," she said.
"Certainly, certainly," said Pinto huskily.
He shut the door and ushered her into the colonel's presence. Boundary's eyes narrowed as he saw the girl. He suspected a trap and looked past her as though expecting to see an escort behind her.
"This is an unexpected honour, Miss White," he said suavely, and he looked meaningly at the clock on the mantelpiece. "We do not usually receive visitors so late, and especially charming lady visitors."
She was carrying a thick package, and this she laid on the table.
"I'm sorry it is so late," she said calmly, "but I have been all the evening checking my father's accounts. This is yours."
She handed the package to the colonel.
"That parcel contains banknotes to the value of twenty-seven thousand three hundred pounds," said the girl quietly; "it represents what remains of the money which my father drew from your gang."
"Tainted money, eh?" said the colonel humorously. "I think you're very foolish, Miss White. Your father earned this money by legitimate business enterprises."
"I know all about them," she said. "I won't ask you to count the notes, because it is only a question of getting the money off my own conscience, and the amount really doesn't matter."
"So you came here alone to make this act of reparation?" sneered the colonel.
"I came here to make this act of reparation," she replied steadily.
"Not alone, eh? Surrounded entirely by police. Mr. Stafford King in the offing, waiting outside in a taxi, or probably waiting on the mat," said the colonel in the same tone. "Well, well, you're quite safe with us, Miss White."
He took up the package and tore off the wrapping, revealing two wads of banknotes, and ran his finger along the edges.
"And how are you going to live?" he asked.
"By working," said the girl; "that's a strange way of earning a living, don't you think, colonel?"
"You'll never work harder than I have worked," said Colonel Dan Boundary good-humouredly. And, looking down at the money: "So that's Solly White's share, is it? And I suppose it doesn't include the house he bought, or the car?"
"I've sold everything," said the girl quietly; "every piece of property he owned has been realised, and that is the proceeds."
With a little nod she was withdrawing, but Pinto barred her way.
"One moment, Miss White," he said, and there was a dangerous glint in his eye, "if you choose to come here alone in the middle of the night——"
The colonel stepped between them, and he swept the Portuguese backwards. Without a word he opened the door.
"Good night, Miss White," he said. "My kind regards to Mr. Stafford King, who I suppose is somewhere on the premises, and to all the bright lads of the Criminal Intelligence Department who are at this moment watching the house."
She smiled, but did not take his proffered hand.
"Good-bye," she said.
The colonel accompanied her to the outer door and switched on all the stair lights, as he could from the master-switch near the entrance to his flat, and waited until the echo of her footsteps had passed away before he came back to the man.
"You're a clever fellow, you are, Pinto," he said quietly; "you have one of the brightest minds in the gang."
"If she comes here alone——" began Pinto.
"Alone!" snarled the colonel. "I hinted a dozen times, if I hinted once, that she'd come with a young army of police. The first shout she made would have been the signal for your arrest and mine. Haven't you had your lesson to-night? How long do you think it would take Stafford King to trump up a charge against you and put you where the dogs wouldn't bite, eh?"
He walked to the window and watched the girl. There was a taxi-cab waiting at the entrance, and as he had suspected, a man was standing by the door and followed the girl into the cab before it drove away.
"She timed her visit. I suppose she gave herself five minutes. If she'd been here any longer, they would have been up for her, make no mistake about that, Pinto."
The colonel drew down the blinds with a crash and began pacing the room. He stopped at the farther end and looked at the wall.
"Do you know, I've often wondered why Jack o' Judgment damaged that wall?" he said. "He's got me guessing, and I've been guessing ever since."
"You thought it was a freak?" said Pinto, glad to keep his master off the subject of his Huddersfield blunder.
The colonel shook his head.
"I shouldn't think it was that," he said. "It was not like Jack o' Judgment to do freakish things. He has an object in everything he does."
"Perhaps it was to get you out of the room for the morning and make a search for your papers," suggested Pinto.
Again the colonel shook his head.
"He knows me better than that. He knew very well that I would shift every document from the room and that there was nothing for his bloodhounds to discover." He thought a moment, pulling at his long, yellow moustache. "Maybe," he said to himself, "maybe——"
"Maybe what?" asked Pinto.
"The workmen may have been up to some kind of dodge. They might have been policemen for all I know." He shrugged his shoulders. "Anyway, that's long ago, and if he'd made a discovery, why, I think we should have heard about it. Now, Pinto,"—his tone changed—"I'm not going to talk to you about Crotin. You've made a proper mess of it, and I ought never to have sent you. We have two matters to settle. Crewe wants to get out, and I think you're getting ready to bolt."
"Me?" said Pinto with virtuous indignation. "Do you imagine I should leave you, colonel, if you were in for a bad time?"
"Do I imagine it?" The colonel laughed. "Don't be a fool. Sit down. When did you see Lollie Marsh last?"
"I haven't seen her for weeks."
"Neither have I," said the colonel. "Of course she has an excuse for staying away. She never comes unless she's sent for. If we've got a mug we want to lead down the easy path, why, there's nobody in London who can do it like Lollie. And I understand you had some disagreement with the young lady over Maisie White?"
"She interfered——" began Pinto.
"And probably saved your life," remarked the colonel meaningly. "No, you have no kick against Lollie for that."
He pulled open the drawer of his desk, took out a card and wrote rapidly.
"I'll put Snakit on her trail," he said.
"Snakit!" said the other contemptuously.
"He's all right for this kind of work," said the colonel, alluding to the little detective whom he had bought over from Maisie White's service. "Snakit can trail her. He does nothing for his keep, and Lollie doesn't know him, does she?"
"I don't think so," said Pinto absently. "If you believe that Lollie is double-crossing you, why don't you——"
"I'll write to you when I want any suggestions as to how to run my business," said the colonel unpleasantly. "Where does Lollie live?"
"Tavistock Avenue," said Pinto. "I wish you'd be a little more decent to me, colonel. I'm trying to play the game by you."
"And you'll soon get tired of trying," said the colonel. "Don't worry, Pinto. I know just how much I can depend upon you and just what your loyalty is worth. You'll sell me at the first opportunity, and you'll be dead about the same day. I only hope for your sake that the opportunity never arises. That's that," he said, as he finished the card and put it on one side. "Now what is the next thing?" He looked up at the ceiling for inspiration. "Crewe," he said, "Crewe is getting out of hand too. I put him on a job to trace 'Snow' Gregory's past. I haven't seen or heard of him for two days, either."
Somebody laughed. It was a queer, little far-away laugh, but Pinto recognised it and his hair almost stood on end. He looked across at the colonel with ashen face, and then swung round apprehensively toward the door.
"Did you hear that?" he whispered.
"I heard it—thank the lord!" said the colonel, and fetched a long sigh.
Pinto gazed at him in amazement.
"Why," he said in a low voice, "that was Jack o' Judgment!"
"I know," said the colonel nodding; "but I still thank the lord!"
He got up slowly and walked round the room, opened the door that led to his bedroom, and put on the light. The room was empty, and the only cupboard which might have concealed an intruder was wide open. He came back, walked into the entrance hall, and opened the door softly. The landing was empty too. He returned after fastening the door and slipping the bolts—bolts which he had had fixed during the previous week.
"You wonder why I held a thanksgiving service?" said the colonel slowly. "Well, I've heard that laugh before, and I thought my brain was going—that's all. I'd rather it were Jack o' Judgment in the flesh than Jack o' Judgment wandering loose around my hut."
"You heard it before?" said Pinto. "Here?"
"Here in this room," said the colonel. "I thought I was going daft. You're the first person who has heard it besides myself." He looked at Pinto. "A hell of a prospect, isn't it?" he said gloomily. "Let's talk about the weather!"
DIAMONDS FOR THE BANK
There was no hope for Phillopolis from the first. The case against him was so clear and so damning that the magistrate, before whom the preliminary inquiry was heard, had no hesitation in committing him to take his trial at the Old Bailey on a charge of receiving, and that at the first hearing. Every article which had been stolen from the diamondsmiths' company had been recovered in his flat. The police experts gave evidence to the effect that he had been a suspected man for years, that his method of earning a living had on several occasions been the subject of police inquiry. He was known to be, so the evidence ran, the associate of criminal characters, and on two occasions his flat had been privately raided.
The woman who passed as his wife had nothing good to say of him. It was not she who had admitted the police. Indeed, they found her in an upper room, locked in. Phillopolis was something of a tyrant, and on the day of his arrest he had had a quarrel with the woman, who had threatened to expose him to the police for some breach of the law. He had beaten her and locked her into an upper bedroom, and this act of tyranny had proved his downfall, if it were true, as he swore so vehemently that the articles which were found in his room had been planted there.
The colonel was not present, nor were any other members of the gang, save little Selby, who had been summoned to the colonel's presence and had arrived in the early morning.
"He hasn't a ghost of a chance," reported Selby, who had a lifelong acquaintance with criminals of the meaner sort, and had spent no small amount of his time in police courts, securing evidence as to the virtue of his proteges. "If he doesn't get ten years I'm a Dutchman."
"What does Phillopolis say?"
"He swears that the goods were not in his flat when he went out that night," he said, "but if they were planted, the work was done thoroughly. The detectives found jewel cases under cushions, hidden in cupboards, on the tops of shelves, and one of the best bits of swag—a wonderful diamond necklace—was discovered in his boot, at the bottom of his trunk."
The conversation took place in the Green Park, which was a favourite haunt of the colonel's. He loved to sit on a chair by the side of the lake, watching the children sailing their boats and the ducks mothering their broods. He was silent. His eyes were bent upon the efforts of a small boy to bring a little waterlogged boat to a level keel and apparently he had no other interest.
"Have a cigar, Selby," he said at last. "What is the news in your part of the world?"
Selby was carefully biting off the end of his gift.
"Nothing much," he said. "We got some letters the other day from Mrs. Crombie-Brail. Her son has got into trouble at the Cape. Lew Litchfield got them. He was doing a job in Manchester."
Lew Litchfield was a bright young burglar of whom the colonel had heard, and he knew the kind of "job" on which Lew was engaged.
"You bought 'em?" he asked.
"I gave a tenner for them," said Selby. "I don't think they're much use."
The colonel shook his head.
"That's not the kind of letter that brings in money," he said. "You can't bleed a mother because her son got into trouble—at least, not for more than a hundred."
"Letters have been scarce lately," said his agent disconsolately; "I think people have either given up keeping or writing them."
"Maybe," said the colonel. "Anyway, I didn't bring you down to talk about letters. I've work for you."
Selby looked uneasy, and that in itself was a discouraging sign. Usually the little crook from the north hailed a job of any kind with enthusiasm.
It was an unmistakable proof to the colonel that he was losing grip, that the magic of his name and all that it implied in the way of protection from punishment, was less than it had been.
"You don't seem very pleased," he said.
Selby forced a smile.
"Well, colonel," he said, "I've a feeling they're after us, and I don't want to take any risks."
"You'll take this one," said the colonel. "There's somebody to be put away."
The man licked his lips.
"Well, I'm not in it," he said. "I had enough with that Hanson business."
"By 'put away' I don't mean murdered or ill-treated in any sense," said the colonel, "and besides, it is one of our own people."
But even this assurance did not satisfy the man.
"I don't like it," he said; "they tell me that this Jack o' Judgment——"
"Just forget Jack o' Judgment for a minute and think of yourself," snapped the colonel. "You've made your pile, and you find England's getting a bit too hot for you, don't you?"
"I do indeed," said the man fervently. "You know, colonel, I was thinking that a trip to America wouldn't be a bad idea."
"There are plenty of places to go to without going to America," said the colonel. "I tell you that I mean Lollie no harm."
"Lollie?" Selby was surprised, and showed it. "She hasn't——"
"I don't know what she's done yet, but I think it is time she went away," said the colonel, "and so far as I can judge, it is time you went too, Selby. I don't know whether Lollie is betraying us, and maybe I'm doing her an injustice," he went on, "but if I put up to her a suggestion that she should leave the country, maybe she'd probably turn me down. You know how suspicious these women are. The only idea I can think of is to scare her and make her bolt quick and sudden, and I want you to provide the means."
Selby was waiting.
"I bought a motor-boat, one of those swift motor-boats that the Government used during the war. I have it ready at Twickenham, and you can get all your goods on board and go to——"
"Anywhere you like," said the colonel, "Holland, Denmark—one place is as good as another, and it'll be a good sea-going boat. You see, my idea is this. If I think Lollie is negotiating to put us away, I can give her a fright which will make her jump at the means of getting out of England by the quickest and shortest route. You can go with her and keep her under your eye until the trouble blows over."
He saw a look in the man's face and correctly interpreted it.
"I'm not worried about you double-crossing me," he said, "even if you are abroad. I've enough evidence against you to bring you back under an extradition warrant." He laughed as Selby's face fell. "You see Selby, there's nothing in it that you can take exception to. I don't even know that Lollie will refuse to go in the ordinary way, but I must make preparations."
"It is a reasonable suggestion," said Selby, after considering the matter for a few minutes. "I'll do it, colonel."
"You'd better bring a couple of men to London who can handle Lollie if she gives any trouble—no, no," said the colonel, raising his hand in dignified protest, "there's going to be nothing rough. How can there be? You'll be in charge of it all, and it is up to you as to how Lollie is treated."
It did not occur to Selby until an hour later to ask the colonel how he knew that his hobby was motor-boating, but by that time the colonel had gone.
It was true, as Boundary said, that the gang was scared—and badly scared. It was equally true that they needed only one jar before it became a case of every man for himself. Already even the minor members were making their preparations to break away. The red light was burning clear before all eyes. But none knew how readily the colonel had recognised the signs, and how, in spite of his apparent philosophy and his contempt of danger, he, more than any of the others, was preparing for the inevitable crash.
Jack o' Judgment, he told himself, was playing his game better than he could play it himself. The arrest of Phillopolis had removed one of the men who might have been an inconvenient witness against him. White was gone, Raoul was gone. He had planned the disappearance of Selby, a most dangerous man, and Lollie Marsh, an even more dangerous woman and there remained only Pinto and Crewe.
When he had taken leave of his agent, the colonel walked to Westminster and boarded a car which carried him along the Embankment to Blackfriars. He might have been followed, and probably was, but this possibility did not worry him. He walked across Ludgate Circus, up St. Bride Street to Hatton Garden, and turned into the office of Myglebergs'. Mr. Mygleberg, a very suave and polite gentleman, received him and ushered him into a private room. This shrewd Dutchman had no illusions as to the colonel's probity, but he had no doubt either that the big man could pay handsomely for everything he bought.
"I'm glad you've come, colonel," he said; "I have been expecting you for a couple of days. We have just had a wonderful parcel of stones from Amsterdam, and I think some of them would suit you."
He disappeared and came back with a tray covered with the most beautiful diamonds that had ever left the cutter's hands. The colonel went over them slowly, examining them and putting a selected number aside.
"I'll take those," he said, and Mr. Mygleberg laughed.
"They're the best," he chuckled. "Trust you to know a good thing when you see it, colonel!"
"What have I to pay for these?"
Mygleberg made a rapid calculation and put the figures before Colonel Boundary.
"It is a big price," said the colonel, "but I don't think you have overcharged. Besides, I could always sell them again for that much."
Mr. Mygleberg nodded.
"I think you are wise to put your money into stones, colonel," he said; "they always go up and never go down in value. You can lose other things. They're easy and they're always convertible. I always tell my partner that if I ever become a millionaire I shall invest every penny in stones."
The colonel paid for the gems from a thick wad of notes he took from his hip-pocket. They were, in point of fact, the identical notes which Maisie White had handed to him the night previous. He waited whilst the jewels were made up into a little oblong package, heavily sealed and inscribed with the colonel's name and address, and then, shaking hands with Mygleberg and fixing a further appointment, he came out into Hatton Garden, whistling a little song and apparently the picture of contentment.
He was getting ready for flight too. This, the first of many packages which he intended depositing in the private safe of his bank, would go with the ever-increasing pile of American gold bonds of high denomination which filled that steel repository. For months the colonel had been converting his property into paper dollars. They were more easily negotiated and less traceable than English banknotes, and they were more get-at-able. A big balance in the books of the bank might be creditable and, given time, convertible into cash. Then nobody knew but himself the amount standing to his credit. He was not at the mercy of prying bank clerks or a manager who might be got at by the police. At a minute's notice, and without anybody being the wiser, he could demand the contents of his safe and walk from the bank premises without a soul being aware that he was carrying the bulk of his fortune away.
He took a cab and drove now to the bank premises. Ferguson, the manager, received him.
"Good morning, colonel," he said. "I was just writing you a note. You know your account is getting very low."
"Is that so?" said the colonel in surprise.
"I thought you wouldn't realise the fact," said Ferguson, "but you've been drawing very heavily of late."
"I'll put it right," said the colonel. "It is not overdrawn?" he asked jocularly, and Ferguson smiled.
"You've eighty thousand pounds in Account B," he said. "I suppose you don't want to touch that?"
Account B was the euphonious name for the fund which was the common property of all the leaders of the Boundary Gang.
"Unless you're anxious that I should get penal servitude for fraudulently converting the company's funds?" said the colonel in the same strain. "No, I'll fix my account some time to-day. In the meantime"—he produced a package from his hip-pocket—"I want this to go into my safe."
"Certainly," said Ferguson, and struck a bell. A clerk answered the call. "Take Colonel Boundary to the vaults. He wants to deposit something in his safe," he said, "or would you like me to do it, colonel?"
"I'll do it myself," said the colonel.
He followed the clerk down the spiral staircase to the well-lit vault, and with the key which the man handed him opened Safe No. 20. It was divided into two compartments, that on the left consisting of a deep drawer, which he pulled out. It was half filled with American paper currency, as he knew—currency neatly parcelled and carefully packed by his own hands.
"I often wonder, Colonel Boundary," said the interested clerk, "why you don't use the bank safe. When a customer has his own, you know, we are not responsible for any of his losses."
"I know that," said the colonel genially. "Still one must take a risk."
He placed the package on the top of the money, pushed back the drawer, locked the safe and handed the key to the young man.
"I think the bank takes enough risks without asking them to accept any more," he said, "and besides, I like to take a little risk myself sometimes."
"So I've heard," said the clerk innocently, and the colonel shot a questioning look at the young man.
THE VOICE AGAIN
He left the bank with the sense of having done his duty by himself. He had not planned the route by which he was leaving the country, or the hour. Much was to happen before he shook the dust of England from his feet, and as he had arranged matters he would have plenty of time to think things over before he made his departure.
A great deal happened in the next few days to make him believe that the necessity for getting away was not very urgent. He met Stafford King in the Park one morning, and Stafford had been unusually communicative and friendly. Then the whispering voices in the flat had temporarily ceased, and Jack o' Judgment had given him no sign of his existence. It was five days after he had made his deposit in the bank that the first shock came to him. He found Snakit waiting on returning from a matinee, and the little detective was so important and mysterious that the colonel knew something had been discovered.
"Well," he asked, closing the door, "what have you found?"
"She is in communication with the police," said Snakit, "that's what I've found."
"Miss Marsh is the lady. In communication with the police," said the other impressively.
"Now just tell me what you mean," said the colonel. "Do you mean she's on speaking terms with the policeman on point duty at Piccadilly Circus?"
"I mean, sir," said Snakit with dignity, "that she's in the habit of meeting Mr. Stafford King, who is a well-known man at Scotland Yard——"
"He's well-known here too," interrupted the colonel. "Where does she meet him?"
"In all sorts of queer places—that's the suspicious part of it," said Snakit, who had joyously entered into the work which had been given to him, without realising its unlawful character.
He had accepted without question the colonel's story that he was the victim of police persecution, and as this was the first news of any importance he had been able to bring to his employer, he was naturally inclined to make the most of it.
"He has met her twice at eleven o clock at night, at the bottom of St. James's Street, and walked up with her, very deeply engaged in conversation," said Snakit, consulting his note-book. "He met her once at the foot of the steps leading down from Waterloo Place, and they were together for an hour. This morning," he went on, speaking slowly, and evidently this was his tit-bit, "this morning Mr. Stafford King went to the Cunard office in Cockspur Street and booked cabin seventeen on the shelter deck of the Lapland for New York."
"In what name?"
"In the name of Miss Isabel Trenton."
The colonel nodded. It was a name that Lollie had used before, and the story rang true.
"When does the Lapland sail?" he asked, and again the detective consulted his book.
"Next Saturday," he said, "from Liverpool."
"Very good," said the colonel; "thank you, Snakit, you've done very well. See if you can pick them up to-night, or, stay——" He thought a moment. "No, don't shadow her to-night. I'll have a talk with her."
The news disturbed him. Lollie was getting ready to bolt—that was unimportant. But she was bolting with the assistance of the police, who had booked her passage. That meant that they had got as much out of her as she had to tell, and were clearing her out of the country before the blow fell. That was not only important, but it was grave. Either the police were going to strike at once or——
An idea struck him, and he telephoned through to Pinto. Another got him into touch with Crewe, and these three were in consultation when Selby came that afternoon.
He arrived at an unpropitious moment, for the colonel was in a cold fury, and the object of his wrath was Crewe, who sat with folded arms and tense face, looking down at the table.
"That gentleman business is played out, Crewe," stormed the colonel, "and I'm just about tired of hearing what you won't do and what you will do! If Lollie's put us away, she has got to go through it."
"What use will it be, supposing she has?" said the other doggedly. "I don't for a moment believe she has done anything of the sort. But suppose she has given you away, what are you going to do? Add to the indictment? She's sick of the game and wants to get away somewhere where she can live a decent life."
"Oh, you've been discussing it with her, have you?" said the colonel with dangerous calm. "And maybe you also are sick of the game and want to get away and live a decent life? I remember hearing you say something of that sort a few weeks ago."
"We're all sick of it," said Crewe. "Look at Pinto. Do you think he's keen?"
"Why do you bring me into it?" he complained. "I'm standing by the colonel to the last. And I agree with him that we ought to know what Lollie told the police."
"She's told them nothing," said Crewe. "She isn't that kind of girl. Besides, what does she know?"
"She knows a lot," said the colonel. "I'll put a supposition to you. Suppose she's Jack o' Judgment?"
Crewe looked at him in astonishment.
"That's an absurd suggestion," he said. "How could she be?"
"I'll tell you how she could be," said the colonel; "she has never been with us when Jack made his appearance—you'll grant that?"
Crewe thought for a moment.
"There you're wrong," he said; "she was with us the night Jack first came."
The colonel was taken aback. A theory which he had formed was destroyed by that recollection.
"So she was. That's right, she was there! I remember he insulted her. But I'm certain she's seen him since; I am certain she's been working hand-in-glove with him since. Who was the Jack who went to Yorkshire?"
It was Crewe's turn to be nonplussed.
"Jack o' Judgment must be working with a pal," the colonel went on triumphantly, "and I suggest that that pal is Lollie Marsh."
"That's a lie!"
The colonel looked up quickly.
"Who said that?" he demanded harshly.
Crewe shook his head.
"It was not me," he said.
"Was it you, Selby?"
"Me?" said the astonished Selby. "No, I thought it was you who said it. It came from your end of the table, colonel."
The colonel got up.
"There's something wrong here," he said.
"I've got it!" It was Pinto who spoke. "Did you notice anything peculiar about the voice, colonel?" he asked eagerly. "I did, the first time I heard it, and I've been wondering how I'd heard it before, and just now it has struck me. It was a gramophone voice!"
"A gramophone voice?"
"It sounded like a voice on a speaking machine."
The colonel nodded slowly.
"Now you come to mention it, I think you're right," he said; "it sounded familiar to me. Of course, it was a gramophone voice."
They made a careful search of the apartment, taking down every book from the big shelf in one of the alcoves, and turning the leaves to discover the hidden machine. With this idea to guide them the search was more complete than it had been before. Every drawer in the desk was taken out, every scrap of furniture was minutely examined, even the massive legs of the colonel's writing table were tapped.
Crewe took no part in the search, but watched it with a slight smile of amusement, and the colonel turning, detected this.
"What the devil are you grinning about?" he said. "Why aren't you helping, Crewe? You've got an interest in this business."
"Not such an interest that I'm going to fool around looking for a gramophone voice that goes off at appropriate intervals," said Crewe. "Doesn't it strike you that it would have to be a pretty smart gramophone to chip in at the right moment?"
The colonel pondered this a minute and then went back to his place at the table, mopping his forehead.
"Pinto's right," he said; "the fellow has smuggled some fool machine into the flat, and we shall discover it sooner or later. I don't know how he controls it, or who controls it"—he looked suspiciously at Crewe—"or who controls it," he repeated.
"You said that before," said Crewe coolly.
The colonel had something on his lips to say, but swallowed it.
"We'll meet here to-night at eleven. I told Lollie to come. Now, Crewe," he said in a more gentle tone, "you're in this up to the neck, and you've got to go through with it. After all, your life and liberty are at stake as much as ours. If Lollie's played us false, we've got to be——"
"Lollie has not played you false, colonel," said Crewe. His face was very pale, the colonel noticed. "I like that girl, and——"
"So that's it," said the colonel, "a little love romance introduced into our sordid commercial lives! Maybe you know what she's been talking to Stafford King about?"
Crewe did not immediately reply.
"Do you?" asked the colonel.
"I know she has been trying to get out of the country, to break with the gang, but that she has given you or any of us away is a lie. Lollie's had a rotten life, and she's just sick of it, that's all. Do you blame her?"
"There's no question of blaming her or praising her," said the colonel patiently; "the question is whether we condemn her or whether she still has our confidence, and that we shall know to-night. You will be present, Crewe."
"I shall be present, you may be sure," said Crewe, and there was a look on his face which Pinto, for one, did not like.
LOLLIE GOES AWAY
It seemed to "Swell" Crewe that the scene was curiously reminiscent of a trial in which he had once participated. The colonel, at the end of the long table, sat aloof and apparently noncommittal, a veritable judge and a merciless judge at that. Pinto sat at his right, Selby on his left, and Crewe himself sat half-way between the girl at the farther end of the table and Pinto.
Lollie Marsh had no doubt as to why she had been summoned. Her pretty face was drawn, the hands which were clasped on the table before her were restless, but what Crewe noticed more particularly was a certain untidiness both in her costume and in her usually well-coiffured hair. As though wearying of the part she had been playing, she was already discarding her makeup.
"I hate to bring you here, Lollie, and ask you these questions," the colonel was saying, "but we are all in some danger and we want to know just where we stand with you."
She made no reply.
"The charge against you is that you've been in communication with the police. Is that true?"
"If you mean that I've been in communication with Mr. Stafford King, that's true," she said. "You told me to get into touch with him. Haven't I been for weeks——"
"That's a pretty good excuse," interrupted the colonel, "but it won't work, Lollie. You don't touch with a man like Stafford King and meet him secretly in St. James's Street. And you don't touch by seeing him for half an hour at a time, and I haven't heard of you ever getting off with a fellow to the extent of his paying for your passage to America."
"You know the way it is done. You did it before, Lollie," the colonel went on. "Now, you've got to be a good girl and tell us how far you've gone."
"I'll tell you the truth," she said. "I'm sick of this life, colonel. I want to go straight. I want to get away out of it all and—and—he's going to help me."
"A social reformer, eh?" said the colonel. "I didn't know the police went in for that sort of stunt. And when did he take this sudden liking for you, Lollie?"
"It wasn't a sudden liking at all," she said, "but I think it was because—well, because I stopped Pinto in the nursing home—and Miss White told him—I think that's all."
The colonel looked down on his pad.
"There's something in that," he said. "It sounds feasible. Didn't he question you?" he said, raising his eyes.
"About you?" she said.
"About us," corrected the colonel.
"He asked me nothing about you, nothing about your habits or your methods or about any of our funny business. I'll swear it," she said.
"You're not going to believe that, are you, colonel?" demanded Pinto. "You can see that she is lying and that she's double-crossing you?"
"She's neither lying nor double-crossing us." It was Crewe who spoke. "I don't know what you think about it, colonel, but I am convinced that Lollie is speaking the truth."
"You!" Pinto laughed loudly. "I think you're in a state of mind when you'd believe anything Lollie said. And anyway you're probably in with her."
"You're a liar," said Crewe, so quietly that none suspected the surprising thing that would follow, for of a sudden his fist shot out and caught Pinto under the jaw, sending him sprawling to the floor.
The colonel was instantly on his feet, his hand outspread.
"That's enough, Crewe," he said harshly. "I'll have none of that!"
Pinto picked himself up, his face livid.
"You'll pay for that," he said breathlessly, but "Swell" Crewe had walked to the girl and had laid his hand on her shoulder.
"Lollie," he said, "I'm believing you and I think the colonel is, too. If you're going out of the country, why I'll say good luck to you. You've made a very wise decision and one which we shall all make—some of us perhaps too late."
"Wait a moment," said the colonel. He exchanged a glance with Selby and the man slipped quietly from the room. "Before we do any of that fare-thee-well stuff, I've got a few words to say to you, Lollie. I'm with Crewe. I think it is time you went out of the country, but you're going out my way."
"What do you mean?" she asked.
Her hand clutched "Swell" Crewe's sleeve.
"You're going out my way," said the colonel, "and I swear no harm will come to you. You're leaving to-night."
"But how?" she asked, affrighted.
"Selby will tell you. You'll meet him downstairs. Now be a sensible girl and do as I tell you. Selby will go with you and see you safe. We made all preparations for your departure to-night."
"What's this, colonel?" asked Crewe.
"You're out of it," said the colonel savagely. "I'm running this show myself. If you want to join Lollie later, why you can. For the present, she's going just where I want her to go and in the way I have planned."
He held out his hand to the girl and she took it.
"Good-bye and good luck, Lollie!" he said.
"But can't I go back to my rooms?" she asked.
He shook his head.
"Do as I tell you," he said shortly.
She stood at the door and for a moment her eyes met Crewe's and he moved toward her.
The colonel gripped his arm.
"Good-bye, Lollie," and the door shut on the girl.
"Let me go," said Crewe between his teeth. "If she trusts you, I don't. This is some trick of that dirty half-breed!"
With a snarl of rage Pinto whipped his ever-ready knife from his hip pocket and flung it. It was the colonel who drew Crewe aside, or that moment was his last. The knife whizzed past and was buried almost to the hilt in the wall. The colonel broke the tense silence which followed.
"Pinto," he said in his silkiest voice, "if you ever want to know what it feels like to be a dead man, just repeat that performance, will you?" Then his rage burst forth. "By God! I'll shoot either of you if you play the fool in front of me again. You dirty little pickpockets that I've taken from the gutter! You miserable little sneak-thieves!"
He let loose a flood of abuse that made even Crewe wince.
"Now sit down, both of you," he finished up, out of breath.
He went to the window and looked out. The car which he had hired for the occasion was still standing at the door and he distinguished Selby talking to the chauffeur.
"Listen you," he said, "and especially you, Crewe. You're too trusting with these females. Maybe Lollie's speaking the truth, but it is just as likely she's lying. I'm not going to take your corroboration, you know, Crewe," he said. "We've got to depend on her word. There's nobody else can speak for her, is there?"
Before Crewe could speak the colonel was answered:
"Jack o' Judgment! Poor old Jack o' Judgment! He'll speak for Lollie!"
The colonel looked up with a curse. There was nobody in the room, but the voice had been louder than ever he had heard it before. It seemed as though it emanated from a disembodied spirit that was floating through the air. There was a knock at the outer door.
WHERE THE VOICE LIVED
"Open it," said the colonel in a low voice; "open it, Crewe"—he pulled open the drawer and took out something—"and if it is Jack o' Judgment——"
Crewe opened the door, his heart beating at a furious rate, but it was Selby who came into the room and faced the half-levelled gun of the colonel.
"What do you want?" asked Boundary quickly. "You fool, I told you not to lose sight of her——"
"But when is she coming down?" asked Selby. "I've been waiting there all this time and there's a policeman at the corner of the street—I wondered whether you had seen him too."
"Not come down?" said the colonel. "She left here five minutes ago!"
"She hasn't come down," he said, "and I've certainly not passed her on the stairs. Is there any other way out?"
"No way that she could use," said the colonel shaking his head. "I've had new locks put on all the doors." He thought a moment. "If she hasn't come down she's gone up."
They went up the stairs together and searched, first Pinto's flat, and then the store-rooms and empty apartments on the floor higher up.
"Go down to the door and wait, in case she tries to get out," said the colonel.
He returned to the room with the two men and they looked at one another in frank astonishment.
"Have you any idea what's happened, Crewe?" asked the colonel suspiciously.
"No idea in the world," said Crewe.
"But she went downstairs," said the colonel. "I heard the alarm click."
"The alarm?" questioned Crewe.
"I've got a buzzer under one of the treads of the stairs," said the colonel. "It is useful to know when people are coming up."
* * * * *
Ten minutes passed and Selby returned to say that the policeman had been making inquiries as to whom the car belonged.
"You'd better get it away," said the colonel, "and send away your men."
"They've gone," said the other. "I wasn't taking any risks."
He disappeared to carry out the colonel's instructions, and they heard the whine of the moving car.
Boundary unlocked his tantalus and took out a full decanter of whisky. Without a word he poured three stiff doses into as many glasses and filled them with soda. Each man was thinking, and thinking after his own interests.
"Well, gentlemen," said the colonel at last. "I incline to give this business best."
He looked up and saw the dagger which Pinto had thrown. It was still embedded in the wall.
"It isn't enough that I should have Jack o' Judgment messing my room about," he growled, "but you must do something to the same wall! Pull it out and don't let me see it again, Pinto."
The Portuguese smiled sheepishly, walked to the wall and gripped the handle. Evidently the point had embedded in a lath, for the knife did not move. He pulled again, exerting all his strength and this time succeeded in extracting not only the knife but a large portion of the plaster and a strip of the wallpaper.
"You fool!" said the colonel angrily, "see what you have done—Jumping Moses!"
He walked to the wall and stared, for the dislodgment of plaster and paper had revealed three round black discs, set flush with the plaster and only separated from the room by the wallpaper, which had been stripped.
"Jumping Moses!" said the colonel softly. "Detectaphones!"
He took Pinto's knife from his hand and prised one of the discs loose. It was attached to a wire which was embedded in the plaster and this the colonel severed with a stroke of the knife.
"This is the business end of a microphone," he said.
"The voice!" gasped Pinto, and the colonel nodded.
"Of course. I was mad not to guess that," he said. "That's how he heard and that's how he spoke. Now, we're going to get to the bottom of this."
With a knife he slashed the plaster and exposed three wires that led straight downward and apparently through the floor. The colonel rested and eyed the debris thoughtfully.
"What is under this flat? Lee's office, isn't it? Of course, Lee's!" he said. "I'm the fool!"
He handed the knife back to Pinto, took an electric torch from his pocket and led the way from the flat. They passed down the half-darkened stairs to the floor beneath, on which was situated the three sets of offices. The colonel took a bunch of keys and tried them on the door of the surveyor's office. Presently he found one that fitted, and the door opened. He fumbled about for the electric switch, found it and flooded the room with light. It was a very ordinary clerk's office, with a small counter, the flap of which was raised. Inside the flap he saw something white on the floor, and, stooping, picked it up. It was a lady's handkerchief.
"L," he read. "That sounds like Lollie. Do you know this, Crewe?"
Crewe took the handkerchief and nodded.
"That is Lollie's," he said shortly.
"I thought so. This is where she was when we were looking for her. Here with Jack o' Judgment, eh? Let's try the inner office."
The inner office was locked, but he had no difficulty in gaining admission. Inside this was a private office which was simply furnished and had in one corner what appeared to be a telephone box. He opened the glass door and flashed his lamp inside. There was a little desk, a pair of receivers fastened to a headpiece, and a small vulcanite transmitter.
"This is where he sat," said the colonel meditatively, pointing to a stool, "and this——" he lifted up the earpieces—"is how he heard all our very interesting conversations. Go upstairs, Pinto, I want to try this transmitter."
He fixed the receiver to his ears and waited, and presently he heard distinctly the sound of Pinto closing the door of the room upstairs. Then he spoke through the receiver.
"Do you hear me, Pinto?"
"I hear you distinctly," said Pinto's voice.
"Speak a little lower. Carry on a conversation with yourself and let me try to hear you."
Pinto obeyed. He recited something from the Orpheum revue, a line or two of a song, and the colonel heard distinctly every syllable. He replaced the earpieces where he had found them, closed the door of the box and that of the outer office, and led the way upstairs. The whisky still stood upon the table and he lifted a glass and drained it at a draught.
"If you're a linguist, Crewe, you'll have heard of the phrase: Sauve qui peut. It means 'Git!' And that's the advice I'm giving and taking. To-morrow we'll meet to liquidate the Boundary Gang and split the Gang Fund."
He turned his companions out to get what sleep they could. For him there was little sleep that night. Before the dawn came, he was at Twickenham, examining a big motor-launch that lay in a boat-house. It was the launch which should have carried Lollie Marsh and Selby on their river and sea journey. It was provisioned and ready for the trip. But first the colonel had to take from a locker in the stern of the boat a small black box and disconnect the wires from certain terminals before he stopped a little clock which ticked noisily. He had tuned his bomb to go off at four in the morning, by which time, he calculated, Lollie Marsh and her escort would be well out to sea. For the colonel regarded no evidence that might be brought against him as unimportant.
The colonel was sleeping peacefully when Pinto rushed into his bedroom with the news. He was awake in a second and sat up in bed.
"What!" he said incredulously.
"Selby's pinched," said Pinto, his voice shaking. "My God! It's awful! It's dreadful! Colonel, we've got to get away to-day. I tell you they'll have us——"
"Just shut up for a minute, will you?" growled the colonel, swinging out of bed and searching for his slippers with the detached interest of one who was hearing a little gossip from the morning papers. "What is the charge against him?"
"Loitering with intention to commit a felony," said Pinto. "They took him to the station and searched his bag. He had brought a bag with him in preparation for the journey. And what do you think they found?"
"I know what they found," said the colonel; "a complete kit of burglar's tools. The fool must have left his bag in the hall and of course Jack o' Judgment planted the stuff. It is simple!"
"What can we do?" wailed Pinto. "What can we do?"
"Engage the best lawyer you can. Do it through one of your pals," said the colonel. "It will go hard with Selby. He's had a previous conviction."
"Do you think he'll split?" asked Pinto.
He looked yellow and haggard and he had much to do to keep his teeth from chattering.
"Not for a day or two," said the colonel, "and we shall be away by then. Does Crewe know?"
Pinto shook his head.
"I haven't any time to run about after that swine," he said impatiently.
"Well, you'd better do a little running now then," said the colonel. "We may want his signature for the bank."
"What are you going to do?"
"I'm going to draw what we've got and I advise you to do the same. I suppose you haven't made any preparations to get away, have you?"
"No," lied Pinto, remembering with thankfulness that he had received a letter that morning from the aviator Cartwright, telling him that the machine was in good order and ready to start at any moment. "No, I have never thought of getting away, colonel. I've always said I'll stick to the colonel——"
"H'm!" said the colonel, and there was no very great faith in Pinto revealed in his grunt.
Crewe came along an hour later and seemed the least perturbed of the lot.
"Here's the cheque-book," said the colonel, taking it from a drawer. "Now the balance we have," he consulted a little waistcoat-pocket notebook, "is L81,317. I suggest we draw L80,000, split it three ways and part to-night."
"What about your own private account?" asked Pinto.
"That's my business," said the colonel sharply. He filled in the cheque, signed his name with a flourish and handed the pen to Crewe.
Crewe put his name beneath, saw that the cheque was made payable to bearer, and handed the book to the colonel.
"Here, Pinto." The colonel detached the form and blotted it. "Take a taxi-cab, see Ferguson, bring the money straight back here. Or, better still, go on to the City to the New York Guaranty and change it into American money."
"Do you trust Pinto?" asked Crewe bluntly after the other had gone.
"No," said the colonel, "I don't trust Pinto or you. And if Pinto had plenty of time I shouldn't expect to see that money again. But he's got to be back here in a couple of hours, and I don't think he can get away before. Besides, at the present juncture," he reflected, "he wouldn't bolt because he doesn't know how serious the position is."
"Where are you going, colonel?" asked Crewe curiously. "I mean, when you get away from here?"
Boundary's broad face creased with smiles.
"What a foolish question to ask," he said. "Timbuctoo, Tangier, America, Buenos Ayres, Madrid, China——"
"Which means you're not going to tell, and I don't blame you," said Crewe.
"Where are you going?" asked the colonel. "If you're a fool you'll tell me."
Crewe shrugged his shoulders.
"To gaol, I guess," he said bitterly, and the colonel chuckled.
"Maybe you've answered the question you put to me," he said, "but I'm going to make a fight of it. Dan Boundary is too old in the bones and hates exercise too much to survive the keen air and the bracing employment of Dartmoor—if we ever got there," he said ominously.
"What do you mean?" demanded Crewe.
"I mean that, when they've photographed Selby and circulated his picture, somebody is certain to recognise him as the man who handed the glass of water over the heads of the crowd when Hanson was killed——"
"Was it Selby?" gasped Crewe. "I wasn't in it. I knew nothing about it——"
The colonel laughed again.
"Of course you're not in anything," he bantered. "Yes, it was Selby, and it is ten chances to one that the usher would recognise him again if he saw him. That would mean—well, they don't hang folks at Dartmoor." He looked at his watch again. "I expect Pinto will be about an hour and a half," he said. "You will excuse me," he added with elaborate politeness "I have a lot of work to do."
He cleared the drawers of his writing-table by the simple process of pulling them out and emptying their contents upon the top. He went through these with remarkable rapidity, throwing the papers one by one into the fire, and he was engaged in this occupation when Pinto returned.
"Back already?" said the colonel in surprise, and then, after a glance at the other's face, he demanded: "What's wrong?"
Pinto was incapable of speech. He just put the cheque down upon the table.
"Haven't they cashed it?" asked the colonel with a frown.
"They can't cash it," said Pinto in a hollow voice. "There's no money there."
The colonel picked up the cheque.
"So there's no money there to meet it?" he said softly. "And why is there no money there to meet it?"
"Because it was drawn out three days ago. I thought——" said Pinto incoherently. "I saw Ferguson, and he told me that a cheque for the full amount came through from the Bank of England."
"In whose favour was it drawn?"
Pinto cleared his throat.
"In favour of the Chancellor of the Exchequer," he said. "That's why Ferguson passed it without question. He said that otherwise he would have sent a note to you."
"The Chancellor of the Exchequer!" snarled the colonel. "What does it mean?"
"Look here! Ferguson showed it me himself." He took a copy of The Times from his pocket and laid it on the table, pointing out the paragraph with trembling fingers.
It was in the advertisement column and it was brief:
"The Chancellor of the Exchequer desires to acknowledge the receipt of L81,000 Conscience Money from Colonel D. B."
The colonel sat back in his chair and laughed softly. He was genuinely amused.
"Of course, we can get this back," he said at last. "We can explain to the Chancellor of the Exchequer the trick that has been played upon us, but that means delay, and at the moment delay is really dangerous. I suppose both you fellows have money of your own? I know Pinto has. How do you stand, Crewe?"
"I have a little," said Crewe, "but honestly, I was depending upon my share of the Gang Fund."
"What about you, colonel?" asked Pinto meaningly. "If I may suggest it, we should pool our money and divide."
The colonel smiled.
"Don't be silly," he said tersely. "I doubt whether my balance at the bank is more than a couple of thousand pounds."
"But what about your private safe?" persisted Pinto. "A-ha! You didn't know I knew that, did you? As a matter of fact, Ferguson told me——"
"What the devil does Ferguson mean by discussing my business?" said the colonel wrathfully. "What did he tell you?"
"He told me that the package was received and that he had put it with the other in your safe."
"Package!" The colonel's voice was quiet, almost inaudible. "The package was received! When was the package received?"
"Yesterday," said Pinto. "He said it came along and he put it with the other. Now what have you got in——"
But the colonel was walking towards his bedroom with rapid strides. Presently he reappeared with his hat and coat on.
"Come with me, Crewe. We'll go down to the bank," he said. "You stay here, Pinto, and report anything that happens."
When they were on their way he confided to the other:
"I have a little money put aside," he said, "and I'm willing to finance you. You haven't been a bad fellow, Crewe. The only rotten turn you've ever done us is introducing that damned fellow, 'Snow' Gregory, and you didn't even do that, for I had met him before you brought him from Monte—which reminds me. Have you found out anything about him?"
"I have a letter here from Oxford," said Crewe, putting his hand in his pocket. "I hadn't opened my letters when Pinto came. You'll find all the news there, if there is any news."
He handed the envelope to the other and the colonel transferred it to his pocket.
"That'll keep," he said. "What was I talking about? Oh, yes, Gregory. The whole of this business has come about through Gregory. Gregory made Jack o' Judgment, and Jack o' Judgment has ruined us."
He sprang from the taxi at the door of the bank with an agile step, and went straight to the manager's office. Without any preliminary he began:
"What is this package that came for me yesterday, Ferguson?"
The manager looked surprised.
"It was an ordinary package, similar to that which you put in the safe the other day. It was sealed and wrapped and had your name on it. I rather wondered you hadn't brought it yourself, but it was put into your safe in the presence of two clerks."
"I'd like to see it," said the colonel.
Ferguson led the way down the stairs to the vaults and snapped back the lock of Safe 20. As he did so Crewe was conscious of a faint, musty odour.
"I smell something," said the colonel suspiciously.
He reached his hand into the safe and pulled open the long drawer, and as he did so a cloud of sickly-smelling vapour rose from its interior. For the first time Crewe heard Boundary groan. He pulled the drawer out under the light and looked in. There was nothing but a black mass of pulp, out of which glinted and gleamed a dozen pin-points of light.
With a howl of rage the colonel turned the contents upon the stone floor of the vault and raked it over with the end of his walking-stick. The diamonds were intact, and they at least were something; but the greater part of eight hundred thousand dollars was indistinguishable from any other kind of paper that had been treated with one of the most destructive acids known to chemical science.
IN A BOX AT THE ORPHEUM
The colonel wiped his burnt and discoloured hands after he had dropped the last diamond into a medicine bottle which the bank manager happened to have in the room.
"That's something saved from the wreck, at any rate," he said.
He had gone suddenly old, and his mouth trembled, as many a younger mouth had trembled in despair that Colonel Boundary might become a rich man.
"Something saved from the wreck," he repeated slowly.
The manager's grave eyes were fixed on his.
"I'm not blaming you, Ferguson," said the colonel. "It was a plot to ruin me, and it succeeded."
"What do you think happened?" asked the troubled Ferguson.
"The second package was a box filled with a very strong acid," said the colonel. "Probably the box was made of soft metal, through which the acid would eat in a few hours. It was placed in the safe, and in time the corrosive worked through——"
He shrugged his shoulders and left the room without another word.
"Thirty-five years' work that represents, Crewe," he said as they were driving back to the flat; "thirty-five years of risk and thought and organisation, and ended in pulp—stinking pulp—that burns your fingers when you touch it."
He began to whistle and Crewe noticed with curiosity that he chose the "Soldiers' Chorus" from "Faust" for the dirge to his lost fortune.
"Jack o' Judgment!" he said wonderingly. "Jack o' Judgment! Well, he's had his judgment all right, and I'm going to have mine. You needn't tell Pinto what happened this morning. Leave him guessing. He's got a pretty thick bank-roll, and I'll agree to that grand scheme of his for sharing out."
The thought seemed to cheer him, and by the time they reached the flat he was almost jovial.
"Well, what's the news?" asked Pinto eagerly.
"Fine," said the colonel. "Everything is as it should be."
"Stop rotting," growled the other. "What is the news?"
"The news, my lad," said the colonel, "is that I've decided to agree to your unselfish suggestion."
"What's that?" said the unsuspicious Pinto.
"That we should pool and divide."
"Jack o' Judgment's got your money, too!" said Pinto, who cherished no illusions about the colonel's generosity.
"How well he knows me!" said Boundary. "Now, come, Pinto, we're all in this, sink or swim. I told Crewe going down that I intended dividing; didn't I, Crewe?"
"You said something like that," said Crewe cautiously.
"Now we'll pool our money," said the colonel, "and split three ways. I'll make a fair proposition. We'll divide it into four and the man who puts in the most shall take two shares. Is it a bet?"
"I suppose so," said Pinto reluctantly. "What is the truth about your money? Did Jack o' Judgment get it?"
"I hadn't any money," said the colonel blandly. "I've about a thousand pounds hidden away in this room; that is all, if Jack hasn't been in."
He unlocked the safe and made an inspection.
"Yes, a little over a thousand, if anything. How much have you, Crewe?"
"Three thousand," said Crewe.
"That makes four thousand. Now what have you got, Pinto?"
"I've about five thousand," said Pinto, trying to appear unconcerned.
The colonel made a little whistling noise through his teeth.
"Bring fifty," he said. "I'm dead serious, Pinto. Bring fifty!"
"But how can I get it?" demanded the other frantically.
"Get it," said the colonel. "It is highly probable that it will be of no use to any of us. Let us at least have the illusion of being well off."
* * * * *
In greater leisure than either of her three companions in crime were exhibiting, Lollie Marsh was preparing to take her departure to New York. She was packing at leisure in her cosy flat on Tavistock Avenue, stopping now and again to consider the problem of the superfluous article of clothing—a problem which presents itself to all packers.
Between whiles she arrested her labours to think of something else. Kneeling down by the side of her trunk, she would give herself up to long reveries, which ended in a sigh and the resumption of her packing.
By the commonly accepted standards of civilisation she was a wicked woman, but there are degrees of wickedness. She had searched her mind to recall all the qualms she had felt in her long association with the Boundary Gang, and took an unusual pleasure in her strange recollection. She remembered when she had refused to be drawn into the Crotin fraud; she recalled her stormy interview with the colonel when she declined to take a part in the ruining of young Debenham.
But mostly she was glad that she had never gone any farther to carry out the colonel's instructions in regard to Stafford King. Not that she would have succeeded, she told herself with a little smile, but she was glad she had never seriously tried. Her mind switched to Crewe and switched back again. Crewe's was the one face she did not wish to see, the one member of the gang that she put aside from the others and wilfully veiled. Crewe had always been kind to her, always courteous, her champion in all bad times, and yet had never made love to her. She wondered what had brought him down to his present level, and why a man possessed of education, and who at one time, as she knew, had been an officer in a crack regiment, should have fallen so readily under Boundary's influence.
She made a little face and went on with her packing. She did not want to think about Crewe for obvious reasons. Yet, as he had said—— But he hadn't said, she told herself. Very likely he was married, though that fact did not greatly trouble the girl. Such men as these have always a good as well as a bad past, pleasant as well as bitter memories, and possibly he included amongst the former the recollection of a girl whose shoelaces Lollie Marsh was not fit to tie.
She took a delight in torturing herself with pictures of her own humiliation, though she may have counted it to the good that she was capable of feeling humiliated at all. She finished her trunk, squeezed in the last article and locked down the lid. She looked at her wrist watch—it was half-past nine. Stafford King had not asked to see her, and she had the evening free.
She had only spoken the truth when she had told Boundary that the police chief had made no inquiries as to the gang. Stafford King knew human nature rather well, and he would not make the mistake of questioning her. Or perhaps it was because he did not wish to spoil the value of his gifts by fixing a price—the price of treachery.
She wondered what the colonel was doing, and Pinto—and Crewe. She impatiently stamped her foot. She was indulging in the kind of insanity of which hitherto she had shown no symptoms. She looked at her watch again and then remembered the Orpheum. It was a favourite house of hers. She could always get a free box if there was one vacant, and she had spent many of her lonely evenings in that way. She had always declined Pinto's offer to share his own, and of late he had got out of the habit of inviting her.
She dressed and took a taxi to the Orpheum. The booking office clerk knew her, and without asking her desires drew a slip from the ticket rack.
"I can give you Box C to-night, Miss Marsh," he said. "That is the one above the governor's."
The "governor" was Pinto.
"Have you a good house?"
The youth shook his head.
"We're not having the houses we had when Miss White was here," he said. "What's become of her, miss?"
"I don't know," said Lollie shortly.
She had to pass to the back of Pinto's box to reach the little staircase which led to the box above. She thought she heard voices, and stopping at the door, listened. Perhaps Crewe had come down or the colonel. But it was not Crewe's voice she heard. The door was slightly ajar, and the man who was talking was evidently on the point of departure, because she glimpsed his hand upon the handle and his voice was so distinct that he must have been quite near her.
"——three o'clock in the morning. You can't miss the aerodrome. It is a mile out of Bromley on the main road and on the right. You will see three red lamps burning in a triangle."
The aerodrome! She put her hand to her mouth to suppress an exclamation. Pinto was talking, but his voice was a mumble.
"Very good," said the strange voice. "I can carry three or four passengers if you like. There's plenty of room—of course, if you're by yourself, so much the better. I shall expect you at three o'clock. The weather's beautiful."
The door opened and she crouched against the wall so that the opening door hid her, and heard Pinto call the man back by name.
"Cartwright!" she repeated. "Cartwright. A mile out of Bromley on the main road. Three lamps in a red triangle!"
She was going to slip up the stairs, but the door had closed on Cartwright, and making a swift decision she passed the box and came again into the vestibule of the theatre. Presently she saw the man appear. She guessed it was he by the smile on his face, and when he said "Good night" to the attendant at the barrier she recognised his voice. She followed him but let him get outside the theatre before she spoke to him. Then suddenly she laid her hand on his arm: "Mr. Cartwright!"
He looked round into her smiling face in surprise, taking off his hat.
"That is my name," he said with a smile. "I don't remember——"
"Oh, I'm a friend of Mr. Silva," she said. "I've heard a lot about you."
"Oh, indeed?" said he.
He was a little puzzled because he thought that the projected flight was a dead secret; and she guessed his thoughts.
"You won't tell Mr. Silva I told you? He begged me not to repeat it to anybody, even to you. But he's leaving to-morrow morning, isn't he?"
"I know an awful lot," she said, and then: "Won't you come and have supper with me? I'm starving!"
Cartwright hesitated. He had not expected so charming a diversion, and really there was no reason why he should not accept the invitation. He was not due at Bromley until early in the morning, and the girl was young and pretty and a friend of his employer. It was she who hailed the taxi and they drove to a select little restaurant at the back of Shaftesbury Avenue.
"You're not seeing Pinto—I mean Mr. Silva—again to-night, are you?" she asked.
"No, I'm not seeing him until—well, until I see him," he smiled again.
"Well, I want to tell you something."
He thought she was charmingly embarrassed, and in truth she was, to invent the story she had to tell.
"You know why Mr. Silva is leaving England in such a hurry?"
He nodded. She wished she knew too, or had the slightest inkling of the yarn which Pinto had spun. And then the man enlightened her.
"Political," he said.
"Exactly; political," she said easily. "But you will realise that it is not necessarily he himself who is making this flight."
"I did understand that he was making the flight himself," said the aviator in surprise.
"But"—she was desperate now—"has he never told you of the other gentleman who was coming, the other political person who really must go to Portugal at once?"
"No, he certainly did not," said Cartwright; "he told me distinctly that he was going himself."
The girl leaned back in her chair, baffled, but thoughtful.
"Oh, of course, he told you that," she said with a knowing smile. "You see, there are some things he is not allowed to tell you. But do not be surprised if you have two passengers instead of one."
"I shan't be surprised, I shall be pleased. The machine will carry half a dozen," said Cartwright readily, "but I certainly thought——"
"Wait till you see him," said the girl, waving a warning finger with mock solemnity.
He found her a cheerful companion through the meal, but there were certain intervals of abstraction in her cheerfulness, intervals when she was thinking very rapidly and reconstructing the plan which Pinto had made. So he was one of the rats who were deserting the sinking ship and leaving the Colonel and Crewe to face the music. And Crewe—that was the thought uppermost in her mind.
When she parted from the pilot she had only one thought—to warn the colonel of Pinto's treachery—and Crewe. And somehow Crewe seemed to bulk most importantly at that moment.
What should she do? It was her sense of loyalty which brought the colonel first to her mind. She must warn him. She went into a Tube station telephone box and rang through but received no answer. Her quest for Crewe had as little result. She drove off to the flat, thinking that possibly the telephone might be out of order or that they would have returned by the time she reached there, but there was no answer to her ring. She went out again into the street in despair and walked slowly towards Regent Street. Then she saw two people ahead of her, and recognised the swing of the colonel's shoulders. She broke into a run and overtook them. The colonel swung round as she uttered his name and peered at her.
"Lollie!" he said in surprise, and he looked past her as though seeking some police shadow.
"I have something important to tell you," she said. "Let us go up here."
They turned into a deserted side street, and rapidly she told her story.
"So Pinto's getting out, is he?" said the colonel thoughtfully. "Well, it is no more than I expected. An aeroplane, too? Well, that's enterprising. I thought of something of the sort, but there's nowhere I could go, except to America."
He dropped his head on to his chest and was considering something.
"Thank you, Lollie," he said simply. "I'm glad that you didn't go with Selby—you would never have got to the Continent alive."
He said this in an ordinary conversational tone, and the girl gasped. She did not ask him for an explanation and he offered none. Crewe, standing in the background, looked at the man with something like bewilderment.
"And now I think you'd better make a real getaway, and not trust to the police," said the colonel. "Maybe with the best intentions in the world, Stafford King can't save you if I happen to be jugged. And you too, Crewe," he turned to the other.
"So Pinto is going, eh?" he bit his nether lip, "and that is why he promised to bring the fifty thousand to-morrow morning. Well, somehow I don't think Pinto will go," he spoke deliberately. "I don't think Pinto will go."
"It is too dangerous for you to stop him——" began Crewe.
"I shall not try to stop him," said the other; "there's somebody besides myself on Pinto's track, and that somebody is going to pull him down."
"But why don't you escape, colonel?" she urged. "There is the aeroplane waiting at Bromley. We could easily persuade the man that Pinto had sent us."
He shook his head.
"You take your own advice," he said, "and clear out to-night. Get her away, Crewe. Don't worry about the police. You've got twenty-four hours in hand. This is Pinto's night," he said between his teeth. "Pinto—the dirty hound!"
Slowly they paced the street together in silence. When they came to the end the colonel turned.
"I want to shake hands with you, Lollie. I shook hands with you once before, intending to send you to a very quick decease. You're carrying your money with you, aren't you, Crewe?"
"Yes," said the other.
"Good!" responded the colonel. "Now get away."
He took no other farewell but turned abruptly and left them. Crewe was following him, but the girl caught his arm.
"Don't go," she said in a low voice. "Don't you know the colonel better?"
"I hate leaving him like this," he said.
"So do I," said the girl quietly. "I've still got some decent feeling left. We're all in this together. We're all crooks, as bad as we can possibly be, and if he's used us we've been willing tools. What is your Christian name?" she asked.
He looked at her in surprise.
"Jack," he said. "What a weird question to ask!"
"Isn't it?" she said with a laugh but a little catch in her throat. "Only we're to be comrades and stick to one another, and I hate calling you by your surname, so I'm going to call you Jack."
It was his turn to be amused. They walked in the opposite direction to that which the colonel had taken.
"You're very quiet," she said after a while.
"Aren't I?" he laughed.
"Have I offended you?" she asked quickly. "Was it wrong to call you Jack? Oh, yes, somebody else must have called you Jack."
"No, no, it isn't that," he said, "but I haven't been called by my Christian name for years and years," he said wearily, "and somehow it seems to span all the bad times and take me back to the—the——"
"The 'Jack' days?" she suggested, and he nodded.
Then after another period of silence.
"This is a queer ending to it all, isn't it?" he said, and her heart skipped a beat.
"Ending?" she whispered. "No, no, not ending! It may be the beginning of a new life. I haven't got religious," she added quickly, "and I'm not getting sentimental. All my past life doesn't come up in front of me as it does in the story-books. Only I've just faith that there's something better in life than I've ever found."
"I should think there is," said Crewe. "It couldn't be much worse, could it?"
"I haven't been bad," she said—"not bad like you probably think I have."
"I never thought you were bad," he said. "You were just a victim like the rest of them. You were only a kid when you started working for the colonel, weren't you?"
"Well, there's a chance for you, Lollie. Your passage is booked and all that sort of thing—have you sufficient money?"
"I've plenty of money," she said.
"Fine!" He dropped his hand lightly on her shoulder. "There's a big, big chance for you, my girl."
"And for you?" she asked.
"There is no chance for me at all," he said simply. "They'll take me and they'll take Pinto and last of all they'll take the colonel. It is written," he added philosophically. "Why—why, what is the matter?"
She stood stock-still and was holding on to his arm with both hands.
"You mustn't say that, you mustn't say that!" she said brokenly. "It isn't finished for you, Jack. There's a chance to get out, and the colonel has told you there's a chance. He meant it. He knows much more than we do. If you've got murder on your soul, or something worse; if you feel that you're altogether so bad that there isn't a chance for you, that there's no goodness in your life which can be expanded, why, just wait and take what's coming. But for God's sake know your mind, and if you feel that in another land, with—with someone who loves you by your side——"
Her voice broke.
"Why, Lollie," he said very gently. "You don't mean——?"
"I'm just as shameless as I've ever been" she said, "but I'm not proposing to marry you, I'm not asking for anything save your friendship and your comradeship. I think people can love one another without—marrying and all that sort of thing; but do you—will you——"
"Will I go?" he asked.
"I'll go anywhere with that prospect in sight," and he slipped his arm round her shoulders, and, bending, kissed her on the cheek.
THE FALL OF PINTO
Whilst Pinto was putting the finishing touches to his scheme of flight, the colonel paced his room, whistling the "Soldiers' Chorus" jerkily. He was restless and nervous, and rendered all the more irritable by the disappearance of his servant, a minor member of the gang, who had been a participant in every act of villainy, and who had been in charge of the arrangements for the abduction of Maisie White. Twice in the course of the evening he wandered through the hall, opened the outer door, and looked out on to the landing.
On the first occasion there was nothing to see, but on the second it was only by the narrowest margin of time that he failed to detect a dark figure moving noiselessly up the stairs and disappearing on to the second landing. The man above heard the door open and close again, and stood watching. Then, when no sound reached him, he moved to the door of Pinto's flat, opened it, deposited the suit-case which he was carrying in the hall, and closed the door softly behind him.
He was within for about a quarter of an hour, then he reappeared, and still carrying his suit-case, passed swiftly down the stairs and out into the street. The clock struck half-past nine as he disappeared, and a quarter of an hour later Stafford King received by special messenger a communication which gave him something to think about. He read it through twice, then called up the First Commissioner and gave him the gist of the communication.
"That's the third time we've had this sort of message," he said.
"The others have proved right," said the Commissioner's voice, "why shouldn't this?"
"But it seems incredible," said Stafford in perplexity. "We've been watching these people for years and we've never found them with the goods."
"I should certainly act on it, King, if I were you," said the Commissioner. "Let me know what happens. Of course, you may make a mistake, but you must take a chance on that."
Pinto had a lot of business to do at the theatre that night. For a week he had not banked the theatre's takings, but had converted them into paper money, and now he took from his safe the last penny he could carry. It was half-past eleven when he came to his Club, where supper had been prepared for him. He paid the bill from notes he had taken from the bank that day. Presently the waiter came back.
"I beg your pardon, sir, but the cashier says that this note is a wrong 'un."
"A wrong 'un?" said Pinto in surprise, and took it in his hand.
There was no doubt whatever that the man was right. It was the most obvious forgery he had ever handled.
"Then I've been sold," he smiled; "here's another."
He took the second note and examined it. That also was bad, as he could tell at a glance. In the tail pocket of his dress-coat he had the money he had taken from the theatre and was able to settle the bill. He was worried on the journey back to the flat. He had drawn a hundred pounds from the bank that morning in five-pound notes. He remembered putting them into his pocket-book and had no occasion to disturb them since. It was unlikely that the bank would have given him such obvious forgeries. He was stepping from the taxi when the awful truth dawned on him. The notes had been planted, the forgeries substituted for the good paper! He was putting his hand in his pocket, intending to take out the money and push it down the nearest drain, when he was gripped.
"Sorry and all that," said a voice.
He turned round shaking like an aspen.
"Stafford King," he said dully.
"Stafford King it is. I have a warrant for your arrest, Silva, on a charge of forging and uttering. Bring him up to his rooms."
The colonel heard the noise on the stairs and came to the door. He stood, a silent spectator, watching with unmoved face the procession as it passed up to the floor above.
"I want your key," said Stafford, and humbly the Portuguese handed it to him.
Stafford opened the door and snapped on the light.
"Bring him in," he said to the detective who held Pinto. "What room is this?"
"My dining-room," said Pinto faintly.
Stafford entered the room, turning on the light as he did so.
"Hullo, Pinto," he said.
Pinto could only look.
The table was littered with copper-plates and ink rollers. There was a thick pad of counterfeit money on one corner of the table, held down by a paper weight; little bottles of acids were scattered about, and near the table was a small lever press, so small that a man might carry it in a corner of his handbag.
"I think I have got you, Pinto," said Stafford King, and Pinto Silva nodded before he fell limply into the arms of his captor.
* * * * *
Maisie White had gone to bed early and the bell rang three times before she awoke. She slipped into a dressing-gown, and, going to the window, leaned out. She looked down upon the upturned face of a girl and in spite of the distance and the darkness of the night, recognised her. The man who stood in the background, however, she could not for the moment place. Nevertheless, she did not hesitate to go downstairs.
"Is that Miss White?" asked the girl.
"Yes. It is Lollie Marsh, isn't it? Won't you come in?"
Lollie was hesitant.
"Yes," she said after awhile and they went upstairs together. "I'm very sorry I disturbed you, Miss White, but it is a matter which can't very well wait. You know that Mr. Stafford King has been kind to me?"
Maisie nodded. She was looking at the girl with interest and was surprised to note how pretty she was. She could not forget what Lollie Marsh had done for her that dreadful night at the nursing home, and if the truth be told, she had inspired the assistance which Stafford had been giving the girl.
"Mr. King has booked my passage to America, as you probably know," Lollie went on, "but at the last moment I have been obliged to change my plans."
"I'm sorry to hear that," said the girl. "I was hoping that you'd get away before——"
"I am hoping to get away before," Lollie smiled faintly. "But you see, one has to be very quick, because things are moving at such a rapid rate. They arrested Pinto to-night—we only just heard of it."
"Arrested Silva?" said the girl in surprise. "That is news to me. What is the charge?"
"I didn't quite understand what the charge was. I know he's arrested," said Lollie. "The colonel has advised me to get out as quickly as I can. And there's a big chance for me, Miss White. I'm going to be married!"
She blurted the words out, and Maisie stared at her. Somehow she had never thought of Lollie Marsh as a person who would get married, and it was amazing to see the confusion and shyness in which her confession had thrown her.
"I congratulate you with all my heart," said Maisie. "Who is the fortunate man?"
"I can't tell you. Yes, I will," said the girl. "I'll trust you. I'm marrying Jack Crewe."
"Crewe? I remember. Mr. King spoke about him. But isn't he one of the—isn't he a friend of the colonel?"
"Yes, but we're going away to-night. That is why I came to see you."
Maisie White clasped the girl's hands in hers.
"You yourself are facing a great happiness and a beautiful life," pleaded Lollie, her eyes filling with tears. "Can't you feel some sympathy with me? For I want love and happiness and security more even than you, because you have never known anything of the dreadful apprehensions and uncertainties such as I have passed through. And I want you to help me in this. I'm not going to ask you to influence Mr. King to do anything but his duty. But I want just a chance for Jack."
Maisie shook her head.
"I don't know that I can promise that," she said. "Mr. King has always spoken of your friend as one of the least dangerous of the gang. When are you leaving?"
"To-night? But how?"
"That's a secret."
"But it is a secret I won't reveal," smiled Maisie.
"By aeroplane," said Lollie after a moment's hesitation, and told the story of Pinto's preparation.
"You'd better not tell me where you're going," warned Maisie, but she didn't stop Lollie in time. "Well, I wish you luck and I'll do my best for you." She stopped and kissed the girl.
"There's one warning I want to give you, Miss White," said Lollie as she stood in the doorway. "The colonel is a desperate man and I don't think somehow that he's coming through this with his life. He's been a good friend of mine up to a point and according to his lights, but you've been good and Mr. King has been more than good. Beware of the colonel now that you have him at bay! That is all!"
Then she was gone.
A USE FOR OLD FILMS
They brought Pinto Silva into the magistrate's court at Bow Street the following morning in a condition of collapse. The man was dazed by his misfortune, incapable of answering the questions which were put to him, or even of instructing the exasperated solicitor who had been with him for an hour.
By the solicitor's side was a grey-faced, shrunken man, whose clothes did not seem to fit him and who at the end of the proceedings whispered something into the lawyer's ear. But the application which was made for bail was rejected. The evidence was too damning, and the knowledge that the prisoner was not English and that it would be impossible to extradite him if he managed to make his escape to certain countries, all helped to influence the magistrate in his refusal.
Colonel Boundary did not speak to the man in the dock or as much as look at him. He got out of court after the proceedings had terminated, the cynosure of every policeman's eye, and drove back to his apartments. He had not heard from Crewe or Lollie that morning and he guessed that the two had left by aeroplane. So he was alone, he thought, and the very knowledge had the effect of stiffening him.
He could go through the remainder of his papers at his leisure, without fear of interruption. The lesser members of the gang had been controlled by Selby or Crewe, and they would not approach him directly, but he did not doubt that there were a score of little men waiting to jump into the witness box the moment he was caught, but he had by no means given up hope of escaping.
For days he had carried in his pocket the means of disguise, a safety razor, scissors and a small bottle of anatto solution to darken his face.
Despite his sixty-one years, he was a healthy and virile man, capable of undergoing hardships if the necessity arose, but, above all, he had a plan and an alternative plan.
He finished the destruction of his correspondence, and then began to search his pocket for any stray letters which he might have put away absent-mindedly. In making this search he came upon a long, white envelope addressed to Crewe, and wondered how it had come into his possession. Then he remembered that Crewe had handed him a letter.
He looked at the postmark.
This was the report of the agents whom Crewe had sent down to discover the names of the men who had left Balliol in a certain year. "Snow" Gregory, who had been found shot in the streets of London, was a Balliol man who had left Oxford in that year. It was certain that it was a relative of "Snow" Gregory who was called Jack o' Judgment and who had taken upon himself the task of avenging the man's death.
What was "Snow" Gregory's real name? If he could find that, he might find Jack o' Judgment.
Slowly, as though with a sense that the great discovery was imminent, he tore open the letter and pulled out the three foolscap pages, which, with a covering note, constituted the contents. There were two lists of names of graduates who had passed out in the year which, if "Snow" Gregory spoke the truth in a moment of unusual confidence, was the year of his leaving.
The colonel's finger traced the lines one by one and he finished the first list without discovering a name which was familiar. He was half way through the second list when he stopped and his finger jumped. For fully three minutes he sat glaring at the paper open-mouthed. Then:
"Merciful God!" he whispered.
He sat there for the greater part of an hour, his chin on his hand, his eyes glued to the name. And all the time his active mind was running back through the years, piecing together the evidence which enabled him to identify, without any shadow of doubt, Jack o' Judgment.
He rose and went to his bookcase and took down volume after volume. They were mostly reference books, and for some time he searched in vain. Then he found a Year Book which gave him the data he wanted, and he brought it back to the table and scribbled a few notes. These he read through and carefully burnt.
He finished his labours with a bright look in his eye and strutted into his bedroom ten years younger in appearance than he had been that afternoon. He put out all the lights and sat for a little while in the shadow of the curtain, watching the street from the open window. At the corner of the block a Salvation Army meeting was in progress, and he was surprised that he had not noticed the fact, although this practice of the Salvationists holding meetings near his flat had before now driven him to utter distraction.
Very keenly he scrutinised the street for some sign of a lurking figure, and once saw a man walk past under the light of a street lamp and melt into the shadow of a doorway on the opposite side of the road. He went into his bedroom and brought back a pair of night glasses, and focused them upon the figure.
He chuckled and went out of the flat into the street, turning southward.
He did not go far, however, before he stopped and looked back, and his patience was rewarded by the sight of a figure crossing the road and entering the building he had just left. The colonel gave him time, and then retraced his steps. He took off his boots in the vestibule and went upstairs quietly. He was half-way up when he heard the soft thud of his own door closing, and grinned again. He gave the intruder time to get inside before he too inserted his key, and turning it without a sound, came into the darkened hall. There was a light in his room, and he heard the sound of a drawer being pulled open. Then he gripped the handle, and, flinging the door open, stepped in. The man who was looking through the desk sprang up in affright.
As Boundary had suspected, it was his former butler, the man who had deserted him the day before without a word. He was a big, heavy-jowled man of powerful build, and the momentary look of fright melted to a leer at the sight of the colonel's face.
"Well, Tom," said Boundary pleasantly, "come back for the pickings?"
"Something like that, guv'nor," said the other. "You don't blame me?"
"I've been pretty good to you, Tom," said the colonel.
"Ugh! I don't know that I've anything to thank you for."
Here was a man who a month before would have cringed at the colonel's upraised finger!
"Oh, don't you, Tom?" said Boundary softly. "Come, come, that's not very grateful."
"What have I got to be grateful to you for?" demanded the man.
"Grateful that you're alive, Tom," said the colonel, and the servant's face went hard.
"None of that, colonel," he snarled; "you can't afford to talk 'fresh' with me. I know a great deal more about you than you suppose. You think I've got no brains."
"I know you have brains, Tom," said the colonel, "but you can't use 'em."
"Can't I, eh? I haven't been looking after you for four or five years and doing your dirty work, colonel, without picking up a little intelligence—and a little information! You'd look comic if they put me in the witness box!"
He was gaining courage at the very mildness of the man of whom he once stood in terror.
"So you've come for the pickings?" said the colonel, ignoring his threat. "Well, help yourself."
He went to the sideboard, poured himself out a little whisky and sat down by the window to watch the man search. Tom pulled open another drawer and closed it again.
"Now look here, colonel," he said, "I haven't made so much money out of this business as you have. Things are pretty bad with me, and I think the least you can do is to give me something to remember you by."
The colonel did not answer. Apparently his thoughts were wandering.
"Tom," he said after awhile, "do you remember three months ago I bought a lot of old cinema films?"
"Yes, I remember," said the man, surprised at the change of subject. "What's that to do with it?"
"There were about ten boxes, weren't there?"
"A dozen, more likely," said the man impatiently. "Now look here, colonel——"
"Wait a moment, Tom. I'll discuss your share when you've given me a little help. Meeting you here—by the way, I saw you out of the window, skulking on the other side of the street—has given me an idea. Where did you put those films?"
The man grinned.
"Are you starting a cinema, colonel?"
"Something like that," replied Boundary; "it was the Salvation Army that gave me the idea really. Do you hear what an infernal noise that drum makes?"
The man made a gesture of impatience.
"What is it you want?" he asked. "If you want the films, I put them in my pantry, underneath the silver cupboard. I suppose, now that the partnership's broken up, you don't object to me taking the silver? I might be starting a little house on my own."
"Certainly, certainly, you can take the silver," said the colonel genially. "Bring me the films."
The man was half-way out of the room when he turned round.
"No tricks, mind you," he said, "no doing funny business when my back's turned."
"I shall not move from the chair, Tom. You don't seem to trust me."
The ex-valet made two journeys before he deposited a dozen shallow tin boxes on the desk.
"There they are," he said, "now tell me what's the game."
"First of all," said the colonel, "were you serious when you suggested that you knew something about me that would be worth a lot to the police? There goes that drum again, Tom. Do you know what use that drum is to me?"
"I don't know," growled the man. "Of course I meant what I said—and what's this stuff about the drum?"
"Why, the people in the street can hear nothing when that's going," said the colonel softly.
He put his hand in the inside of his coat, as though searching for a pocket-book, and so quick was he that the man, leaning over the table, did not see the weapon that killed him. Three times the colonel fired and the man slid in an inert heap to the ground.
"Might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb, Tom," said the colonel, replacing the weapon; and turning the body over, he took the scarf-pin from his own tie and fastened it in that of the dead man. Then he took his watch and chain from his pocket and slipped it in the waistcoat of the other. He had a signet ring on his little finger and this he transferred to the finger of the limp figure.
Then he began opening the boxes of old films and twined their contents about the floor, pinning them to the curtains, twining them about the legs of the chairs, all the time whistling the "Soldiers' Chorus." He found a candle in the butler's pantry and planted it with a steady hand in the heap of celluloid coils. This he lighted with great care and went out, closing the door softly behind him. Half an hour later, Albemarle Place was blocked with fire engines and a dozen hoses were playing in vain upon the roaring furnace behind the gutted walls of Colonel Dan Boundary's residence.
* * * * *
Stafford King was an early caller at Doughty Street, and Maisie knew, both by the unusual hour of the visit and by the gravity of the visitor, that something extraordinary had happened.
"Well, Maisie," he said, "there's the end of the Boundary Gang—the colonel is dead."
"Dead?" she said, open-eyed.
"We don't know what happened, but the theory is that he shot himself and set light to the house. The body was found in the ruins, and I was able to identify some of the jewellery—you remember the police had it when he was arrested, and we kept a special note of it for future reference."
She heaved a long sigh.
"That's over, at last; it is the end of a nightmare," she said, "a horrible, horrible nightmare. I wonder——"
"What do you wonder?"
"I wonder if this is also the end of Jack o' Judgment?" she asked. "Or whether he will continue working to bring to justice those people whom the law cannot touch."