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Jack O' Judgment
by Edgar Wallace
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"Heaven only knows," said Stafford, "but I'll admit that Jack o' Judgment has been a most useful person so far as we are concerned. We should never have collected Pinto or Selby, or even the colonel, but for Jack. By the way, there is no news of Crewe and the girl."

"I suppose they've reached their destination by now?" she asked.

"Oh, rather," said Stafford; "hours and days ago. Where were they going, by the way?"

She shook her head.

"I'm not going to tell you that."

"You needn't," smiled Stafford. "They've gone to Portugal. It was Pinto's machine and I don't suppose he had any other idea in the world than to get back to his own beloved land. By the way, Pinto looks like getting ten years. To satisfy myself in regard to Crewe, I telegraphed to an Englishman at Finisterre, who is a good friend of mine and who lives in a wild and isolated spot somewhere near the lighthouse, and he sent me back a message to the effect that an aeroplane passed over Finisterre yesterday afternoon soon after lunch time. That must be friend Lollie."

She nodded.

"Do you know, I hope they get away. Is that rather dreadful of me?" she said.

He shook his head.

"No, I don't think so. I believe the chief shares your hope. He has queer views on things, and they irritate me sometimes. For example, he doesn't think that the colonel is dead."

"But I thought you had found the body?"

"He gets over that by saying that it isn't the body," said Stafford with a little laugh of annoyance. "It rather worries you after you have decided that you've rounded up the gang. I still believe that it is the colonel."

She thought a moment.

"I am inclined to agree with Sir Stanley," said she. "It isn't the sort of thing that the colonel would do. Men like Colonel Boundary are never without hope."

Stafford scratched his head.

"Well, if it isn't the colonel, he's gone; and please the pigs, we'll never see him again! There is only the question of rounding up the little people of the gang, and that won't be much trouble."

She put both her hands on his shoulders and looked at him smilingly.

"You're an optimist, dear," she said.

"Who wouldn't be?" he replied cheerfully. "You said that when the gang was wound up we would drop our sad and lonely lives apart and form a little gang of our own."

She laughed and kissed him, and he went back to his office to find that his chief had already arrived and had asked for him. Sir Stanley was reading the morning paper when Stafford came into his room, and his first words brought consternation to the younger man.

"Stafford," he said, "this is not the body of the colonel. I've just been to see it and I'm certain. Now, you've got to send a call out to all stations throughout the country, particularly the south of England, to look for a man, possibly clean-shaven, certainly without moustaches, who will be disguised as a tramp."

"Why a tramp, sir?" asked Stafford with an heroic attempt to preserve an open mind on a subject where he had reached a definite decision.

"Fifteen years ago," replied Sir Stanley, "when the colonel did most of his own dirty work, it was his favourite disguise. Search the casual wards, the common lodging-houses and the prisons. It is just likely that the colonel will commit a small offence, with the object of getting himself three months in gaol—there's no hiding-place like gaol, you know, Stafford. The real danger is that he may not actually tramp or assume the guise of the real low-down loafer. He may have the sense to become a poor but honest workman, travelling third-class from town to town in search of work. Then he will present the greatest difficulty." He saw the look of doubt on the young man's face and laughed.

"You think he's dead, don't you?" he said.

"I'm perfectly sure he is, sir," replied Stafford frankly.

"An optimist to the last," smiled Sir Stanley and dismissed him with a nod.

Later he was to come to Stafford's little bureau and tell him things which he did not know before. Then for the first time Stafford King discovered how closely his lackadaisical chief had followed the developments of the past few months. He learnt for the first time of the big part which Jack o' Judgment had played in the detection of the gang.

"He had an office under the colonel's flat," said Sir Stanley. "Apparently it was bought with no other object than to provide our friend with an opportunity of spying on the colonel. He discoloured the wall, brought in his own workmen and in the colonel's absence—he was driven from the occupation of the room by the smell—he installed microphones. With the aid of these he was able to listen to all the conversation downstairs and sometimes to chime in. It was Jack o' Judgment who—well, perhaps I'd better not tell you that, because officially, I am not supposed to know it. At any rate, Stafford," he said more seriously, "we have seen the smashing of one of the most iniquitous, villainous gangs that ever existed. God knows how many broken hearts there are in England to-day, how many poor souls who have been brought to a suicide's grave through the machinations of Colonel Boundary and his tools. I do not think there has been a more immoral force in existence in our time, and I hope we shall never see its like again. You sent out the message?" he asked at parting.

"Yes, sir. I warned all stations and all chief constables."

"Good!" said Sir Stanley, and his last words were: "Don't forget—Boundary is not dead!"



CHAPTER XXXIX

JACK O' JUDGMENT REVEALED

A stoutish, grey-haired man descended from a third-class carriage at Chatham Station and inquired of a porter the way to the dockyard. He carried a lot of carpenter's tools in a straw bag and smoked a short clay pipe. The porter looked at the man with his white, stubby beard critically.

"Trying to get a job, mate?" he asked.

"Why, yes," said the man.

"How old might you be?" demanded the porter.

"Sixty-four," said the other, and the porter shook his head.

"You won't get work easy. They're not very keen on us old 'uns," he said. "Why don't you try at Markham's, the builders in the High Street? They're short of men. I saw a notice outside their yard only this morning."

The workman thanked the porter, shouldered his basket and tramped down the High Street. He was respectably dressed, and policemen on the look-out for suspicious tramps did not give him a second glance. He spent the greater part of the day walking from yard to yard, everywhere receiving the same answer. Late in the afternoon he had better luck. A small firm of ship repairers were in want of a jobbing carpenter and put him to work at once.

It was many years since Colonel Boundary had wielded a saw, but he made a good showing. After two hours' work, however, his back was aching and his hands were sore. He was glad when the yard bell announced the hour for knocking off. He had yet to find lodgings, but this did not worry him. He was careful to avoid the cheaper kind of lodging-house, and went to one which catered for the artisan, where he could get a room of his own and a clean bed. He paid a deposit, washed himself and left his tools, then went out in search of some refreshment.

At seven o'clock the next morning he was back at the yard. He thought several times during the day that he would have to throw the work up. His back ached furiously, his arms were like lead. But he persevered, and again another day drew to a close. By the third day he had got his muscles into play and found the work easy. He was asked by the foreman if he would care to go into the country to work at a house that the head of the firm was building, but he declined. He wanted to remain in the town where there were crowds. At the end of the week came his great chance. He had been sent down to the docks to do some repairs on a small steamer and had pleased the skipper, who was himself an elderly man, by the ability he had shown.

"You're worth twice as much as some of these darned young 'uns," grumbled the old man. "Are you married?"

"No," said the other.

"Got any kids?"

Boundary shook his head.

"Why don't you sign on with me?" asked the skipper. "I want a carpenter bad."

"Where are you going?" asked Boundary, breathing more quickly.

"We're going to Valparaiso first, then we're going to work down the coast, round the Horn to San Francisco and maybe we'll get a cargo across to China."

"I'll think it over," said the colonel.

That night he called on the captain and told him that he had made up his mind to go.

"Good!" said the skipper, "but you'll have to sign on to-night. I'm leaving to-morrow by the first tide."

The colonel nodded, not daring to speak. Here was luck, the greatest in the world. Nobody would suspect a carpenter, taken from a local firm and shipped with the captain's goodwill. At seven o'clock the next morning he was standing on the deck of the Arabelle Sands, watching the low coast-line slipping past. The ship was to make one call at Falmouth and two days later she reached that port. Boundary went ashore to buy some wood and a few tools that he found he needed, and pulled back to the ship in the afternoon. In the evening he accompanied the captain ashore.

"We shan't leave till to-morrow at twelve," said the captain. "You might as well spend a night on solid earth whilst you can. It will be a long time before you smell dirt again."

The captain's idea of a pleasant evening was to sit in the bar-parlour of the Sun Inn and drink interminable hot rums. He had fixed up a room for himself at the inn and offered Boundary a share, but the colonel preferred to sleep alone. He secured lodgings in the town, and making an excuse to the captain returned to his room early. He had purchased all the newspapers he could find and he wanted to study them quietly. It was with unusual relish that he read the account of an inquest on himself. There was no breath of suspicion that he was not dead.

"Old Dan Boundary has tricked them all. Clever old Dan Boundary!"

He chuckled at the thought. He had deceived all those clever men at Scotland Yard—Sir Stanley Belcom, Stafford King, Jack o' Judgment! Yes, he had deceived Jack o' Judgment and that seemed the least believable part of the affair. All the rest of the gang were captured or fugitives. He wondered whether Lollie Marsh and Crewe had reached Portugal and what they were doing there and how long their money would last and how they would earn more. He had his own money well secured. He had managed to get together quite a respectable sum, for there were other banks than the Victoria and City—odd accounts in assumed names which he had drawn upon on the very day of his supposed death.

There was a tap at the door.

"Come in," said Boundary, thinking it was the landlady.

He was in the middle of the room as he spoke, and he went back step by step as the visitor entered. His tongue clave to the roof of his mouth, his eyes were starting out of his head.

"You! You!" he croaked.

"Little Jack o' Judgment," said the mask mockingly. "Poor old Jack! Come to take farewell of the colonel before he goes to foreign parts!"

"Stop!" cried Boundary hoarsely. "I know you, damn you! I know you!"

He pulled back the curtains and glared out of the window. There was no need to ask any further questions. The house was surrounded. He swung round again at his tormentor and faced the white mask in a blind fury of rage.

"You're clever, aren't you?" he said. "Cleverer than all the police! But you weren't clever enough to save your son from death!"

The masked figure reeled back.

"Ah, that's got you! Little Jack o' Judgment!" mocked the colonel. "That's got you where it hurts you most, hasn't it? Your only son, too! And he went to the devil all the faster because of me—me—me!" He struck his breast with his clenched fist. "You can't bring him back to life, can you? That's one I've got against you."

"No," said Jack o' Judgment in a low voice. "I cannot bring him back to life, but I can destroy the man who destroyed him, who blighted his young life, who taught him vicious practices, who sapped his vitality with drugs——"

"That's a lie!" said the colonel. "Crewe picked him up at Monte Carlo, when he was on his beam-ends."

"Who sent him to Monte Carlo?" asked the other. "Who was the gambler who brought him down, and received the wreck he had made with the pretence that he had never met him before? It was you, Boundary?"

The colonel nodded.

"I was a fool to deny it. I pretended to Crewe that I hadn't met him before. Yes, it was I, and I glory in it. You think you're going to pinch me, now, and put me where I belong—on the scaffold maybe. But you can never wipe that memory out of your mind, that you had a son who died in the gutter, that you're a childless old man who has no son to follow you!"

"I can't wipe that out!" said Jack o' Judgment. "O, God! I can't wipe that out!"

He raised his hand to his masked face as though to hide the picture which Boundary conjured up.

"But I can wipe you out," he said fiercely, "and I've given my life, my career, my reputation, all that I hold dear to get you! I've smashed your schemes, I've ruined you, even if I've ruined myself. They're waiting for you downstairs, Boundary. I told them to be here at this very minute. Stafford King——"

"You'll never see me taken," said Boundary.

Two shots rang out together, and the colonel sprawled back over the bed—dead.

Propped against the wall was Jack o' Judgment, and the hand that gripped his breast dripped red. They heard the shots outside and Stafford King was the first to enter the room. One glance at the colonel was sufficient, and then he turned to the figure who had slipped to the floor and was sitting with his back propped against the wall.

"Good God!" said Stafford. "Jack o' Judgment!"

"Poor old Jack!" said the mocking voice.

Stafford's arm was about his shoulder, and he laid the head gently back upon his bent knee. He lifted the mask gently and the light of the oil lamp which swung from the ceiling fell upon the white face.

"Sir Stanley Belcom! Sir Stanley!" he softly whispered.

Sir Stanley turned his head and opened his eyes. The old look of good-humour shone.

"Poor old Jack o' Judgment!" he mimicked. "This is going to be a first-class scandal, Stafford. For the sake of the service you ought to hush it up."

"But nobody need know, sir," said Stafford. "You can explain to the Home Secretary——"

Sir Stanley shook his head.

"I'm going to see a greater Home Secretary than ever lived in Whitehall," he said slowly. "I'm finished, Stafford. Strip this mummery from me, if you can."

With shaking hands Stafford King tore off the black cloak and flung it under the bed.

"Now," said Sir Stanley weakly, "you can introduce me to the provincial police as the head of our department and you can keep my secret, Stafford—if you will."

Stafford laid his hand upon Sir Stanley's.

"I told my solicitor," Sir Stanley spoke with difficulty, "to give you a letter in case—in case anything happened. I know I haven't played the game by the department. I ought to have resigned years ago when I found what had happened to my poor boy. I was Chief of Police in one of the provinces of India at the time, but they wouldn't let me go. I came to Scotland Yard and was promoted—no, I haven't played the game with the department. And yet perhaps I have."

He did not speak for some time.

His breathing was growing fainter and fainter, and when Stafford asked him, he said he was in no pain.

"I had to deceive you," he said after awhile. "I had to pretend that Jack o' Judgment called on me too. That was to take suspicion from your—Miss White," he smiled. "No, I haven't played the game. I stood for the law, and yet—I broke that gang, which the law could not touch. Yes, I broke them! I broke them!" he whispered. "If Boundary hadn't known me I should have been gone before you came and resigned to-morrow," he said, "but he must have discovered the boy's name. I wonder he hadn't tried before. I smashed them, didn't I, Stafford? It cost me thousands. I have committed almost every kind of crime—I burgled the diamondsmiths', but you must give me your word you will never tell. Phillopolis must suffer. They must all be punished."

Stafford had sent the police from the room, but the police-surgeon would not be denied. He had the sense to see that nothing could be done for the dying man, however, and that a change of position would probably hasten the end. He, too, went and left them alone.

"Stafford, I have quite a lot of money," said the First Commissioner; "it is yours. There's a will ... yours...."

Then he ceased to speak and Stafford thought that the end had come but did not dare move in case he were mistaken. After five minutes the man in his arms stirred slightly and his voice sounded strangely clear and strong.

"Gregory, my boy, good old Gregory! Father's here, old man!"

His voice died away to a rumble and then to a murmur.

The tears were running down Stafford's face. He sensed all the tragedy, all the loneliness of this man who had offered so cheerful a face to the world. Then Sir Stanley struggled to draw himself to his feet, and Stafford held him.

"Gently, sir, gently," he said, "you're only hurting yourself."

The dying man laughed. It was a little shrill chuckle of merriment and Stafford's blood ran cold.

"Here I am, poor old Jack o' Judgment! Little old Jack o' Judgment! Give me the lives you took and the hopes you've blasted. Give them to Jack ... Jack o' Judgment!"

They were his last words.

* * * * *

A year later First Commissioner Sir Stafford King received a letter from South America. It contained nothing but the photograph of a very good-looking man, and a singularly pretty woman, who held in her lap a very tiny baby.

"Here is the last of the Boundary Gang," said Sir Stafford to Maisie. "It is the one happy ending that has emerged from so much misery and evil."

"Why, it is Lollie Marsh!"

"Lollie Crewe, I think her name is now," said Stafford. "It was queer how Sir Stanley recognised the only human members of the gang."

"Then they got away after all?" said the girl. "I've often wondered what happened at that aerodrome."

Stafford laughed.

"Oh, yes," he said drily, "they got away. They left at twenty minutes past three, after a long argument with the aviator, a man named Cartwright."

"How do you know?" she asked.

"Sir Stanley and I watched them go off," said Stafford.

He looked at the photograph again and shook his head.

"There were times when the Judgment of Jack was very merciful," he said soberly.

THE END



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THE END

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