The Face in the Night - Edgar Wallace - ebook
Kategoria: Sensacja, thriller, horror Język: angielski Rok wydania: 1924

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Edgar Wallace

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About
Chapter 1 - THE MAN FROM THE SOUTH
Chapter 2 - THE QUEEN OF FINLAND'S NECKLACE
Chapter 3 - AUDREY
Chapter 4 - THE HON. LACY
Chapter 5 - SLICK--PHILOSOPHER
Chapter 6 - THE SISTERS

About Wallace:

Richard Horatio Edgar Wallace (April 1, 1875–February 10, 1932) was a prolific British crime writer, journalist and playwright, who wrote 175 novels, 24 plays, and countless articles in newspapers and journals. Over 160 films have been made of his novels, more than any other author. In the 1920s, one of Wallace's publishers claimed that a quarter of all books read in England were written by him. (citation needed) He is most famous today as the co-creator of "King Kong", writing the early screenplay and story for the movie, as well as a short story "King Kong" (1933) credited to him and Draycott Dell. He was known for the J. G. Reeder detective stories, The Four Just Men, the Ringer, and for creating the Green Archer character during his lifetime. Source: Wikipedia

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Chapter 1 THE MAN FROM THE SOUTH

THE fog, which was later to descend upon London, blotting out every landmark, was as yet a grey, misty threat. The light had gone from the sky, and the street-lamps made a blurred showing when the man from the South came unsteadily into Portman Square. In spite of the raw cold he wore no overcoat; his shirt was open at his throat. He walked along, peering up at the doors, and presently he stopped before No. 551 and made a survey of the darkened windows. The corner of his scarred mouth lifted in a sardonic smile.

Strong drink magnifies all dominant emotions. The genial man grows more fond of his fellows, the quarrelsome more bitter. But in the man who harbours a sober grievance, booze brings the red haze that enshrouds murder. And Laker had both the grievance and the medium of magnification.

He would teach this old devil that he couldn't rob men without a come-back. The dirty skinflint who lived on the risk which his betters were taking. Here was Laker, almost penniless, with a long and painful voyage behind him, and the memory of the close call that had come in Cape Town, when his room had been searched by the police. A dog's life—that was what he was living. Why should old Malpas, who had not so long to exist, anyway, live in luxury whilst his best agent roughed it? Laker always felt like this when he was drunk.

He was hardly the type that might be expected to walk boldly up to the front door of 551 Portman Square. His long, unshaven face, the old knife wound that ran diagonally from cheek to point of chin, the low forehead, covered with a ragged fringe of hair, taken in conjunction with his outfit, suggested abject poverty.

He stood for a moment, looking down at his awkward-looking boots, and then, mounting the steps, he tapped slowly at the door. Instantly a voice asked: "Who is that?"

"Laker—that's who!" he said loudly.

A little pause, and the door opened noiselessly and he passed through. There was nobody to receive him, nor did he expect to see a servant. Crossing the bare hall, he walked up the stairs, through an open door and a small lobby into a darkened room. The only light was from a green-shaded lamp on the writing-table, at which an old man sat. Laker stood just inside the room and heard the door close behind him. "Sit down," said the man at the far end of the room. The visitor had no need for guidance: he knew exactly where the chair and table were, three paces from where he stood, and without a word he seated himself. Again that grin of his twisted his face, but his repulsive-looking host could not see this. "When did you come?"

"I came in the Buluwayo. We docked this morning," said Laker. "I want some money, and I want it quick, Malpas!"

"Put down what you have brought, on the table," said the old man harshly. "Return in a quarter of an hour and the money will be waiting for you."

"I want it now," said the other with drunken obstinacy. Malpas turned his hideous face towards the visitor. "There's only one method in this shop," he said gratingly, "and that's mine! Leave it or take it away. You're drunk, Laker, and when you're drunk you're a fool."

"Maybe I am. But I'm not such a fool that I'm going to take the risks I've been taking any more! And you're taking some too, Malpas. You don't know who's living next door to you."

He remembered this item of information, discovered by accident that very morning.

The man he called Malpas drew his padded dressing-gown a little closer around his shoulders, and chuckled.

"I don't know, eh? Don't know that Lacy Marshalt is living next door? Why do you think I'm living here, you fool, if it is not to be next to him?"

The drunkard stared open-mouthed. "Next to him … what for? He's one of the men you're robbing—he's a crook, but you're robbing him! What do you want to get next to him for?"

"That's my business," said the other curtly. "Leave the stuff and go."

"Leave nothing," said Laker, and rose awkwardly to his feet. "And I'm not leaving this place either, till I know all about you, Malpas. I've been thinking things out. You're not what you look. You don't sit at one end of this dark room and keep the likes of me at the other end for nothing. I'm going to have a good look at you, son. And don't move. You can't see the gun in my hand, but you've got my word it's there!"

He took two steps forward, and then something checked him and threw him back. It was a wire, invisible in the darkness, stretched breast-high from wall to wall. Before he could recover his balance, the light went out.

And then there came upon the man a fit of insane fury. With a roar he leaped forward, snapping the wire. A second obstruction, this time a foot from the ground, caught his legs and brought him sprawling.

"Show a light, you old thief!" he screamed as he staggered lo his feet, stool in hand. "You've been robbing me for years—living on me, you old devil! I'm going to squeal, Malpas! You pay or I'll squeal!"

"That's the third time you've threatened me."

The voice was behind him, and he spun round and, in a frenzy of fury, fired. The draped walls muffled the explosion, but in the instant's flash of flame he saw a figue creeping towards the door, and, stark mad with anger, fired again. The reek of burnt cordite hung in that airless room like a veil. "Put on the light; put on the light!" he screamed. And then the door opened and he saw the figure slip through. In a second he was out on the landing, but the old man had disappeared. Where had he gone? There was another door, and he flung himself against it.

"Come out!" he roared. "Come out and face me, you Judas!"

He heard a click behind him. The door of the room whence he had come had closed. A flight of stairs led to another story, and he put one foot on the lower stair and stopped. He was conscious that he was still holding the little leather bag that lie had taken from his pocket when he came into the room, and, realizing that he was going away empty-handed, with his linsiness incomplete, he hammered at the door behind which he guessed his employer was sheltering.

"Aw, come out, Malpas! There'll be no trouble. I'm a bit drunk, I guess."

There was no answer.

"I'm sorry, Malpas." He saw something at his feet, and, stooping, picked it up. It was a waxen chin, perfectly modelled and coloured, and it had evidently been held in position by two elastic bands, one of which was broken. The sight of this tickled him and he burst into a yell of laughter.

"Say, Malpas! I've got a part of your face!" he said. "Come out, or I'll take this funny chin of yours to the police. Maybe they'll want to recover the rest of you."

No answer came, and, still chuckling, he went down the stairs and sought to open the front door. There was no handle, and the keyhole was tiny, and, squinting through, he could see nothing.

"Malpas!"

His big voice came echoing down from the empty rooms above, and with a curse he flew up the stairs again. He was half-way to the first landing when something dropped. Looking up, he saw the hateful face above, saw the black weight falling, and strove to avoid it. Another second and he was sliding down the stairs, an inert mass.


Chapter 2 THE QUEEN OF FINLAND'S NECKLACE

THERE was a dance at the American Embassy. The sidewalk was spanned by a striped awning, a strip of red carpet ran down the steps to the kerb, and for an hour glittering limousines had been bringing the distinguished and privileged guests to join the throng already gathered in the none too spacious saloons that form the forty-ninth state of the Union.

When the stream of cars had dried to the merest trickle, a compact, jovial-faced man stepped down from a big machine and walked leisurely past the fringe of sightseers. He nodded genially to the London policeman who kept the passage clear, and passed into the hall.

"Colonel James Bothwell," he said to the footman, and made his slow progress to the saloon.

"Excuse me." A good-looking man in evening dress took his arm affectionately and diverted him towards a small ante-room fitted as a buffet, and at this early hour deserted.

Colonel Bothwell raised his eyebrows in good-natured surprise at this familiarity His attitude seemed to say: You are a perfect stranger to me, probably one of these queerly friendly Americans, so I must tolerate your company. "No," said the stranger gently.

"No?" Colonel Bothwell's eyebrows could not go any higher, so he reversed his facial processes and frowned.

"No—I think not." The grey eyes smiling down into the Colonel's were twinkling with amusement.

"My dear American friend," said the Colonel, trying to disengage his arm. "I really do not understand … you have made a mistake."

The other man shook his head slowly. "I never make mistakes—and I am English, as you very well know, and you are English too, in spite of your caricature of the New England accent. My poor old Slick, it is too bad!"

Slick Smith sighed, but gave no other evidence of his disappointment.

"If an American citizen can't make a friendly call on his own Ambassador without lashin' the bull-pen to fury, why, sump'n's wrong, that's all. See here. Captain, I got an invitation. And if my Ambassador wants to see me I guess that's no business of yours."

Captain Dick Shannon chuckled softly. "He doesn't want to see you. Slick. He'd just hate to see a clever English crook around here with a million dollars' worth of diamonds within reach. He might be glad to see Colonel Kothwell of the 94th Cavalry on a visit to London and anxious to shake him by the hand, but he has no use at all for Slick Smith, Jewel Thief, Confidence Man and Super-Opportunist. Have a drink with me before you go?"

Slick sighed again. "Grape juice," he said laconically, and indicated the bottle which was otherwise labelled. "And you're wrong if you think I'm here on business. That's a fact. Captain. Curiosity is my vice, and I was curious to see Queen Riena's diamond necklace. Maybe it's the last time I'll see it. Go easy with that water, George—whisky can't swim."

He stared gloomily at the glass in his hand before he swallowed its contents at a gulp.

"But in a way I'm glad you spotted me. I got the invitation through a friend. Knowing what I know, my coming here was the act of one who imagines he is being followed by black dogs and poisoned by his spiritual adviser. But I'm curious. And I'm cursed with the detective instinct. You've heard of them nuts, Jekyll and Hyde? That's me. Every man's got his dreams, Shannon. Even a busy.*"

[* A "busy" or "busy fellow" is, in the argot of the underworld, is a policman.]

"Even a busy," agreed Dick Shannon.

"Some men dream about the way they'd spend a million," Slick went on pensively. "Some men dream of how they'd save a girl from starvation and worse, and be a brother to her until she got to love him … you know! Between jobs I dream of how I would unravel deadly mysteries. Like Stormer—the busy thief-taker that gave me away to you. They've got something on me."

It was perfectly true that Shannon had had his first intimation of Slick's character from that famous agency.

"Do we meet now as brother detectives?" he asked, "or are we just plain busy and… ?"

"Say 'thief—don't worry about my feelings," begged Slick. "Yes, I'm a busy tonight."

"And the Queen's diamonds?"

Slick drew a long breath.

"They're marked," he said. "I'm curious to know how they'll take 'em. There's a clever gang working the job—you won't expect me to give names, will you? If you do you've got a shock coming."

"Are they in the Embassy?" asked Dick quickly.

"I don't know. That's what I came to see. I'm not one of these professionals who take no interest in the game. I'm like a doctor—I like to see other people's operations; you can learn things that you'd never guess if you had nothing to study but your own work."

Shannon thought for a moment. "Wait here—and keep your hands off the silver," he said, and, leaving the indignant Slick, he hurried into the crowded room, pushing his way through the throng until he came to a clear space where the Ambassador stood talking to a tall, tired-looking woman, whose protection was the main reason for his being at the Embassy ball. From her neck hung a scintillating chain that flashed and glimmered with her every languid movement. Turning to survey the guests, he presently singled out a monocled young man engaged in an animated conversation with one of the secretaries of the Embassy, and, catching his eye, he brought him to his side. .

"Steel, Slick Smith is here, and he tells me that there will I if an attempt made to 'pull away' the Queen's necklace. You are not to allow her out of your sight. Get an Embassy man to verify the list of guests, and bring any to me that can't be accounted for."

He went back to Slick and found him taking his third free drink.

"Listen, Slick. Why did you come here, if you knew the robbery was planned for tonight? If you are not in it, you'd be suspected right away."

"That certainly occurred to me," said the man. "Hence my feeling of disquiet. That's a new word I learnt last week."

From where they stood, the main doorway of the saloon was visible. People were still arriving, and, as he looked, a big-framed man of middle age came in, and with him a girl of such remarkable beauty that even the hardened Slick stared. They were gone out of sight before Dick Shannon could observe them closely.

"That's a good-looker. Martin Eiton isn't here, either. That girl goes about a whole lot with Lacy."

"Lacy?"

"The Honourable Lacy Marshalt. He's a millionaire—one of the tough sort that started life in a rough house and is always ready for another. You know the lady, Captain?"

Dick nodded. Most people knew Dora Eiton. She was one of the smart people you saw at first nights, or met in the ultra-fashionable supper clubs. Lacy Marshalt he did not know save by repute.

"She's a good-looker," said Slick again, wagging his head admiringly. "Lord! What a good-looker! If she were a wife of mine she wouldn't run around with Lacy. No, sir. But they do that sort of thing in London."

"And in New York and Chicago, and in Paris, Madrid and Bagdad," said Shannon. "Now, Percy!"

"You want me to go? Well, you've spoilt my evening, Captain, I came here for information and guidance. I'd never liave climbed into a white shirt if I'd guessed you were here."

Dick escorted him to the door and waited until the man's hired car had driven away. Then he returned to the ballroom to watch and wait. A guest strolling negligently into an unfrequented passage of the Embassy saw a man sitting reading, pipe in mouth.

"Sorry," said the intruder. "I seem to have lost my way."

"I think you have," said the reader coolly, and the guest, a perfectly honest and innocent rambler, retired hastily, wondering why the watcher should have planted his chair beneath the switchboard from which all the lights in the house were controlled. Shannon was taking no risks.

At one o'clock, to his great relief. Her Majesty of Finland made her departure for the hotel in Buckingham Gate, where she was staying incognito. Dick Shannon stood, bareheaded, in the fog till the rear lights had gone out of sight. On the seat by the driver was an armed detective—he had no fear that majesty would not reach its bedroom safely.

"That lets you out. Shannon, eh?"

The smiling Ambassador received his report with as much relief as the detective had felt.

"I heard an attempt was to be made, through my own detectives," he said; "but then, one always hears such stories in connection with every function of this character."

Dick Shannon drove his long touring car back to Scotland Yard, and he drove at a snail's pace, for the fog was very thick, and the way intersected with confusing cross-roads. Twice he found himself on the sidewalk; in Victoria Street he all but collided with a bus that was weatherbound and stationary.

He crawled past Westminster Abbey, and, guided by the booming notes of Big Ben, navigated himself to the Embankment and through the archway of Scotland Yard.

"Get somebody to garage my car," he instructed the policeman on duty. "I shall walk home—it's safer."

"The inspector was asking for you, sir—he's gone down the Embankment."

"A pleasant night for a walk," smiled Dick, wiping his smarting eyes.

"T. P. are searching for the body of a man who was thrown into the river tonight," was the startling rejoinder.

"Thrown—you mean jumped?"

"No, sir, thrown. A Thames police patrol was rowing under the Embankment wall when the fog was a little thinner than it is now, and they saw the man lifted up to the parapet and pushed over. The sergeant in charge blew his whistle, but none of our men was near, and the chap, whoever it was who did the throwing, got away—they're dragging for the body now. Just this side of the Needle. The inspector asked me to tell you this if you came in."

Dick Shannon did not hesitate. The lure of his comfortable quarters and the cheery fire was a lure no longer. He groped his way across the broad Embankment, and, with the long parapet to guide him, went quickly along the riverside. The fog was black now, and the mournful hoot of the river tugs had ceased as their baffled captains gave up the struggle.

Near the obelisk that records the past glories of Egypt, he found a little knot of men standing, and, recognizing him at close quarters, the uniformed inspector advanced a pace to meet him.

"It is a murder case—T. P. have just recovered the body."

"Drowned?"

"No, sir: the man was clubbed to death before he was thrown into the water. If you'll come down to the steps you'll see him."

"What time did this happen?"

"At nine o'clock tonight—or rather, last night. It is nearly two now."

Shannon descended the shallow steps which lead to the water on either side of the obelisk. The bow of a row-boat came out of the fog and swung round so that the Thing which lay huddled in the stern was visible in the light of the pocket lamps.

"I've made a rough search," said the sergeant of the patrol. "There's nothing in his pockets, but he ought to be easy to identify—there's an old knife wound across his chin."

"Humph!" said Dick Shannon, looking. "We'll make another search later."

He went back to headquarters with the inspector, and the entrance hall, which he had left silent and deserted, was now bustling with life. For in his absence news had come through which set Scotland Yard humming, and brought from their beds every reserve detective within the Metropolitan Area.

The Queen of Finland's car had been held up in the darkest part of The Mall, the detective had been shot down, and Her Majesty's diamond chain had passed into the fog. Nor was it to be found again until a certain girl, at that moment dreaming uneasily about chickens, came to the glare and sorrow of the great city to visit the sister who hated her.


Chapter 3 AUDREY

"PETER and Paul fetched four shillin's each," reported old Mrs. Graffitt, peering near-sightedly at the coins as she laid them on the table. "Harriet, Martha, Jenny, Elizabeth Queenie and Holga——"

"Olga," corrected the girl sitting at the table, pencil in hand. "Let us be respectful, even to hens."

"They fetched half a crown each from Mr. Gribs the butcher. It's unchristian to call hens by name, anyhow."

Audrey Bedford made a rapid calculation.

"With the furniture that makes thirty-seven pounds ten shillings," she said, "which will about pay the hen-feed man and your wages, and leave me enough to get to London."

"If I had my rights," said Mrs. Graffitt, sniffing tearfully, "I'd get more than my wages. I've looked after you ever since before your poor dear mother died, obliging you as no other mortal woman would. And now I'm cast aside without a home, and I've got to live with my eldest son."

"You're lucky to have an eldest son," said Audrey, unmoved.

"If you gave me a pound for luck … ?"

"Whose luck? Not mine, you dear old humbug," laughed the girl. "Mrs. Graffitt, don't be silly! You've been living on this property like a—a fighting cat! Poultry farming doesn't pay and never will pay when your chief of staff has a private sale for the eggs. I was working it out the other day, and I reckoned that you've had forty pounds' worth of eggs a year."

"Nobody have ever said I was a thief," quavered the old woman, her hands trembling. "I've looked after you since you were a bit of a girl, and it's very hard to be told that you're a thief." She wept gulpily into her handkerchief.

"Don't cry," said Audrey; "the cottage is damp enough."

"Where will you be going, miss?" Mrs. Graffitt tactfully passed over the question of her honesty.

"I don't know; London, perhaps."

"Got any relations there, miss?"

Perhaps, at this the last moment, the late owner of Beak Farm would be a little communicative. The Bedfords always were closer than oysters.

"Never you mind. Get me a cup of tea and then come for your wages."

"London's a horruble place." Mrs. Graffitt shook her head. "Murders and suicides and robberies and what-nots. Why. they robbed a real queen the other night!"

"Goodness!" said Audrey mechanically. She was wondering what had happened to six other chickens that Mrs. Graffitt had not reported upon.

"Robbed her of hundreds of thousan's' worth of diamonds," she said impressively. "You ought to read the papers more—you miss life."

"And talking of robbery," said Audrey gently, "what happened to Myrtle and Primrose and Gwen and Bertha——"

"Oh, them?" For a second even Mrs. Graffitt was confused. "Didn't I give you the money? It must have slipped through a hole in my pocket. I've lost it."

"Don't bother," said Audrey. "I'll send for the village policeman—he's a wonderful searcher."

Mrs. Graffitt found the money almost immediately.

The old woman shuffled into the low-roofed kitchen and Audrey looked around the familiar room. The chair on which her mother had sat, her hard face turned to the blackened fireplace, Audrey had burnt. One charred leg still showed in the fire.

No, there was nothing here of tender memory. It was a room of drudgery and repression. She had never known her father, and Mrs. Bedford had never spoken of him. He had been a bad lot, and through his wickedness had forced a woman of gentle birth to submit to the hard life that had been hers.

"Is he dead, Mother?" the child had asked.

"I hope so," was the uncompromising reply.

Dora had never asked such inconvenient questions, but then she was older, nearer in sympathy to the woman, shared her merciless nature and her prejudices.

Mrs. Graffitt had brought her tea and counted her money before she wailed her farewell.

"I'll have to kiss you before I go," she sobbed.

"I'll give you an extra shilling not to," said Audrey hastily, and Mrs. Graffitt took the shilling.

It was all over. Audrey passed through the December wreckage of the garden, opened a gate, and, taking a short cut to the churchyard, found the grave and stood silently before it, her hands clasped.

"Good-bye," she said evenly and, dry-eyed, went back to the house.

The end and the beginning. She was not sorry; she was not very glad. Her box of books had already gone to the station and was booked through to the parcels office at Victoria.

As to the future—she was fairly well educated, had read much, thought much, and was acquainted with the rudiments of shorthand—self-taught in the long winter evenings, when Mrs. Graffitt thought, and said, that she would be better employed with a knitting-needle.

"There's tons of time," growled the village omnibus driver as he threw her bag into the dark and smelly interior. "If it wasn't for these jiggering motor-cars I'd cut it finer. But you've got to drive careful in these days."

A prophetic saying.

The girl was stepping into the bus after her bag when the stranger appeared. He looked like a lawyer's middle-aged clerk, having just that lack of sartorial finish.

"Excuse me. Miss Bedford. My name is Willitt. Can I have a few words with you this evening when you return?"

"I am not returning," she said. "Do I owe you anything?"

Audrey always asked that question of polite strangers. Usually they said "yes", for Mrs. Graffitt had the habit which was locally known as "chalking up".

"No, miss. Not coming back? Could I have your address? I wanted to see you on a—well, an important matter."

He was obviously agitated.

"I can't give you my address, I'm afraid. Give me yours and I will write to you."

He carefully blacked out the description of the business printed on the card, and substituted his own address.

"Now then!" called the aggrieved driver. "If you wait any longer you'll miss that train."

She jumped into the bus and banged the door tight.

It was at the corner of Ledbury Lane that the accident happened. Coming out on to the main road, Dick Shannon took the corner a little too sharply, and the back wheels of his long car performed a graceful skid. The bump that followed was less graceful. The back of the car struck the Fontwell village omnibus just as it was drawing abreast of the car, neatly sliced off the back wheel and robbed that ancient vehicle of such dignity as weather and wear had left to it.

There was a solitary passenger, and she had reached the muddy road before Dick, hat in hand, had reached her, alarm and penitence on his good-looking face.

"I'm most awfully sorry. You're not hurt, I hope?"

He thought she was seventeen, although she was two years older. She was cheaply dressed; her long coat was unmistakably renovated. Even the necklet of fur about her throat was shabby and worn. These facts he did not notice. He looked down into a face that seemed flawless. The curve of eyebrows or set of eyes perhaps, the perfect mouth maybe, or else it was the texture and colouring of the skin… . He dreaded that she should speak, and that, in the crude enunciation of the peasant, he should lose the illusion of the princess.

"Thank you—I was a little scared. I shan't catch my train." She looked ruefully at the stricken wheel.

The voice dispelled his fears. The ragged princess was a lady.

"Are you going to Barnham Junction? I am passing there," he said. "And anyway, if I hadn't been going that way, I must go to send relief for this poor lad."

The driver of the bus, to whom he was referring in such compassionate terms, had climbed down from his perch, his grey beard glittering with rain, his rheumy eye gleaming malevolently.

"Why don't you look where you're going?" He wheeaed the phrases proper to such an occasion. "Want all the road, dang ye?"

Dick unstrapped his coat and felt for his pocket-book.

"Jehu," he said, "here is my card, a Treasury bill and my profound apologies."

"My name's Herbert Jiles," said the driver suspiciously; he took the card and the money.

"Jehu is a fanciful name," said Dick, "and refers to the son of Nimshi, who 'driveth furiously'."

"I was nearly walking," said the indignant Mr. Jiles. "It was you as was driving furiously."

"Help will come from Barnham," said Dick. "Now, young lady, can you trust yourself alone with me in this car of Juggernaut?"

"I think so," she smiled, and, rescuing her bag from the bus, jumped in at his side.

"London is also my destination," said Dick, "but I won't suggest that you come all the way with me, though it would save you a train fare."

She did not answer. He had a feeling that she was being prim, but presently she cleared away that impression.

"I think I will go by train: my sister may come to meet me at the station."

There was no very great confidence in her tone.

"Do you live hereabouts?"

"At Fontwell," she said. "I had a cottage there. It used to be mother's, until she died. Have you ever tried to live on eggs?"

Dick was startled.

"Not entirely," he said. "They are extremely nutritive, I understand, but——"

"I don't mean eat them; I mean, have you ever tried to get a living by poultry-farming?"

He shook his head.

"Well, don't," she said emphatically. "Hens are not what they used to be. Mrs. Graffatt—she kept house for me and absorbed my profits—says that a great change has come over hens since the war. She isn't sure whether it's Bolshevism or Spanish influenza."

He laughed. "So you've given it up?"

She nodded several times.

"I can't say that I've sold the old home; it was sold by bits in the shape of mortgages. That sounds pathetic, doesn't it? Well, it isn't! The old home is ugly and full of odd comers that bumped your head, and smells of a hundred generations of owners who never took baths, except when the roof leaked. And the drainage system goes back to the days of the Early Britons, and none of the windows fit. My sympathies are entirely with the grasping mortgagee—poor soul!"

"You're lucky to have a nice sister to meet you at the station," he said. He was thinking of her as seventeen or perhaps a little younger, and his manner was a trifle paternal.

"I suppose I am," she said without enthusiasm. "This is the beginning of Barnham, isn't it?"

"This is the beginning of Barnham," he agreed, and a few minutes later, brought the machine before the station entrance.

He got down after her, carrying her pitiably light baggage to the platform, and insisted upon waiting until the train came in.

"Your sister lives in London, of course?"

"Yes: in Curzon Street."

It was queer that she should have told him that. Nobody in the county was even aware that she had a sister.

Dick did not show his surprise.

"Is she … " It was a delicate question. "Is she—er—working there?"

"Oh, no. She is Mrs. Martin Eiton."

She wondered at herself as she said the words.

"The devil she is!" he was startled into saying.

The train was signalled at that moment, and he hurried off to get her some magazines for the journey.

"It is Awfully kind of you, Mr.——? My name is Audrey Bedford."

"I shall remember that," he smiled. "I've a wonderful memory for names. Mine is Jackson."

He stood watching the train until the dull red of the tail-lamps swung round a curve out of sight. Then he went slowly back to his car and drove to the police station to notify his accident.

Mrs. Martin Eiton, and that was her sister! If he had given her his real name, and she had gone to Curzon Street and told pretty Dora Eiton that she had passed the time of day with Captain Richard Shannon, the harmonies of the bijou house in Curzon Street might very well have been disturbed.

And with good reason. Dora Eiton was the one crook in London that Dick Shannon was aching to trap.


Chapter 4 THE HON. LACY

LACY MARSHALT was once a Senator of the Legislative Council of South Africa, therefore he was by courtesy called "Honourable"—a fact which was, to Mr. Tonger, his gentleman, a source of considerable amusement.

He came out of his bathroom one drear morning, simply attired in trousers and silk singlet, under which the great body muscles showed plainly. Thus, he had less the appearance of a legislator than what his name had stood for in South Africa—the soldier of fortune who had won at least this guerdon of success, a palatial home in Portman Square.

He stood for a long time staring moodily down into the square. Rain had followed the fog as a matter of course; it always rained in England—doleful, continuously, like a melancholic woman. He thought longingly of his sun-washed home at Muizenburg, the broad, league-long beach and the blue seas of False Bay, the spread of his vineyard running up to the slopes of Constantia… .

He turned his head back to the bedroom with a jerk. Somebody was tapping softly on the door.

"Come in!"

The door opened and his old valet sidled in with his sly smile.

"Got the mail," he said unceremoniously, and put a handful of letters on the little writing-table.

"Say 'sir'," growled Lacy. "You're getting out of the habit again."

Tonger twisted one side of his face in a grin. "I'll have to get into it again," he said easily.

"You'd better: I can get a hundred valets in London for a quarter of what I pay you—younger men and twenty times as efficient," threatened his master.

"I dare say, but they wouldn't do what I do for you," he said; "and you couldn't trust 'em. You can't buy loyalty. I read that in a book the other day." 'Lacy Marshalt had chosen one letter from the others, a letter enclosed in a pique-blue envelope and addressed in an illiterate hand. He tore it open and read:

"O.I. Breaking Sown"

There was no signature.

The big man grunted something and tossed the letter to the valet.

"Send him twenty pounds," he said.

Tonger read the scrap of paper without the slightest hesitation.

"Breaking down?" he mused. "H'm! Can he swim?"

Lacy looked round sharply.

"What do you mean?" he demanded. "Of course he can swim—or could. Swim like a seal. Why?"

"Nothing."

Lacy Marshalt looked at him long and hard.

"I think you're getting soft sometimes. Take a look at that envelope. It has the Matjesfontein postmark. So had the last. Why does he write from there, a hundred miles and more from Cape Town?"

"A blind maybe," suggested Tonger. He put the scrap of paper in his waistcoat pocket. "Why don't you winter in the Cape, baas?" he asked.

"Because I choose to winter in England."

Marshalt was putting on his shirt as he spoke, and something in his tone riveted the man's attention.

"I'll tell you something, Lacy: hate's fear!"

The other stared at him.

"Hate's fear? What do you mean?"

"I mean that you can't hate a man without fearing him. It's the fear that turns dislike into hate. Cut out the fear and it's … well, anything—contempt, anything you like. But it can't be hate."

Marshalt had resumed his dressing.

"Read that in a book, too?" he asked, before the glass,

"That's out of my own nut," said Tonger, taking up a waistcoat and giving it a perfunctory snick with a whisk brush. "Here, Lacy, who's the fellow that lives next door? I've meant to ask you that. Malpas or some such name. I was talking to a copper last night, and he said that it's believed that he's crazy. He lives alone, has no servants and does all his own housework. There's about six sets of flats in the building, but he won't let any of them. Owns the whole shoot. Who is he?"

Lacy Marshalt growled over his shoulder:

"You seem to know all about it: why ask me?"

Tonger was rubbing his nose absent-mindedly. "Suppose it's him?" he asked, and his master spun round.

"Suppose you get out of here, you gossiping old fool!" Tonger, in no wise disconcerted by the magnate's ferocity, laid the waistcoat on the back of a chair.

"That private detective you sent for the other day is waiting," he said, and Lacy cursed him.

"Why didn't you tell me?" he snarled. "You're getting useless, Tonger. One of these days I'll fire you out—and take that grin off your face! Ask him to come up."

The shabby-looking man who was ushered in smiled deferentially at his employer.

"You can go, Tonger," growled Marshalt.

Tonger went leisurely.

"Well?"

"I traced her," said the agent, and, unfolding his pocket-book, took out a snapshot photograph, handing it to the millionaire.

"It is she," he nodded; "but it wasn't difficult to find her once you knew the village. Who is she?"

"Audrey Bedford."

"Bedford? You're sure?" asked the other quickly; "Does her mother live there?"

"Her mother's dead—five years ago," said the agent.

"Is there another daughter?"

The agent shook his head.

"So far as I can discover, she's the only child. I got a picture of her mother. It was taken at a church fair in 1913, one of a group."

This was the flat parcel he was carrying, and the paper about which he now unfolded. Lacy Marshalt carried the picture to the light… .

"That is she!" He pointed to a figure.

"God, how wonderful! When I saw the girl I had a feeling … an instinct."

He cut short the sentence.

"You know her, then, sir?"

"No!" The answer was brusque almost to rudeness. "What is she doing? Living alone?"

"She was practically. She had an old woman in the house who assisted her with a poultry farm. She left for London yesterday. From what they tell me in the village, she is broke and had to sell up."

The millionaire stood in his favourite attitude by the window, staring at nothing, his strong, harsh face expressionless. How wonderful! "Hate is fear," whispered the echo of Tonger's voice—he shook off the reminder with a roll of his broad shoulders.

"A pretty girl, eh?"

"Lovely, I thought," said the detective. "I'm not much of a judge, but she seemed to me to be out of the ordinary."

Lacy grunted his agreement. "Yes … out of the ordinary."

"I got into a bit of trouble at Fontwell—I don't think anything will come of it, but you ought to know in case it comes back to you." The man showed some signs of discomfort. "We private detectives find we work much better if we give people the idea that we're the regular goods. I had to pretend I was looking for a chicken thief—down at the Crown Inn they thought I was a Yard man."

"There's not much harm in that, Mr. Willitt," said the other with his frosty smile.

"Not as a rule," said Willitt, "only, by a bit of bad luck, Captain Shannon happened to stop at the inn to change a tyre."

"Who's Shannon?"

"If you don't know him, don't look for him," said Willitt. "He's the biggest thing they've got at the Yard. The new Executive Commissioner. Up till now the Commissioners have been office men without even the power of arrest. They brought Shannon from the Indian Intelligence because there have been a few scandals lately—bribery cases. He gave me particular hell for describing myself as a regular. And his tongue … Gee! That fellow can sting at a mile!"

"He didn't discover what you were inquiring about—the girl?"

The agent shook his head.

"No. That's about the only thing he didn't discover. You'd think he had all his mind occupied with the Queen of Finland's necklaces, wouldn't you?"

Apparently Lacy did not hear him speak. His mind was concentrated upon the girl and the possibilities that followed.

"You allowed her to go without getting her address? That was pretty feeble. Go down and get it. Then follow her up and scrape an acquaintance. You can be a business man on the look out for investment—lend her money—all that she requires—but do it in a way that doesn't frighten her."

He took from his pocket-case half a dozen notes, crushed them into a ball and tossed them into the outstretched hand. "Bring her here to dinner one night." he said softly. "You can be called away on the 'phone."

Willitt looked hard at him and shook his head in a halfhearted fashion.

"I don't know … that's not my line … "

"I want to talk to her—tell her something she doesn't know. There's five hundred for you."

The private detective blinked quickly. "Five hundred? I'll see … "

Left alone, Lacy went back to the window and his contemplation of the reeking square.

"Hate is fear!"

It was his boast that he had never feared. Ruthless, remorseless, he had walked over a pavement of human hearts to his goal, and he was not afraid. There were women in three continents who cursed his name and memory. Bitter-hearted men who brooded vengeance by night and day. He did not fear. His hatred of Dan Torrington was … just hate.

So he comforted himself, but deep down in the secret places of his soul the words of the old valet burnt and could not be dimmed—"Hate is Fear."


Chapter 5 SLICK--PHILOSOPHER

"IT IS nothing," said Shannon, surveying the battered mudguard.

"Had a collision?" asked Steel, his assistant, interested.

"Yes—a very pleasant one. In fact, the best ever!" They went into the narrow passage that was the approach to Dick Shannon's apartment.

"No, I haven't been waiting long," said Steel, as Dick unlocked the door of his sitting-room. "I knew you would come back here. Did you see the Bognor man?"

"Yes—he split… after a little persuasion. Steel, do you know anything about the girl Eiton's relations?"

"I didn't even know that she had any," said the other.. "Perhaps Slick knows. I've told him to be here at six."

"I wonder if she got to town all right?"

"Who?" asked the other in surprise, and the Commissioner was for the moment embarrassed.

"I was thinking of … somebody," he said awkwardly, and hanged the subject. "Has the body been identified?" he asked. .

Steel shook his head.

"The man was from abroad, probably South Africa," he said. "He was wearing veltshoen, a native-made boot, very popular amongst the Boers, and the tobacco in his pouch is undoubtedly Magaliesberg, There's no other tobacco like it. He may have been in England some weeks, but, on the other hand, it is likely that he has just landed. The Buluwayo and Balmoral Castle arrived last week, and in all probability he came on one of those ships. In fact, they are the only two that have come from South Africa in the past fortnight. Did the Bognor man know anything about the Queen's jewels?"

"Nothing. He said that Eiton had quarrelled with him some time ago, and they did no business together. Mainly the talk was, as is usual in these cases, parable and metaphor. You can never get a thief to call a spade a spade."

He stood looking down at the table deep in thought, and then:

"I suppose her sister did meet her?"

Steel blinked.

"Whose sister, sir?" he asked, and this time Dick Shannon laughed.

"It is certain she did," he said, continuing his train of thought. "At any rate, she'd stop her coming to Curzon Street, and would shepherd her off to some hotel."

A light dawned upon Steel.

"I see, you're talking about Eiton?"

"I'm talking about Eiton … " agreed Captain Shannon, "and another. But the other won't interest you. You're having the house watched?"

"Eiton's? Yes. We've had to go very carefully, because Eiton's a shrewd fellow."

Dick bit his lip.

"Nothing will happen before a quarter to nine tonight, unless I'm greatly mistaken. At that hour the Queen of Finland's necklace will leave Curzon Street, and I personally will follow it to its destination, because I'm most anxious to meet the fifth member of the gang, who, I guess, is a foreigner."

"And then?" asked Steel when he paused.

"Then I shall take Dora Eiton with the goods. And that's just what I've been waiting for for a long time."

"Why not Bunny?" asked Steel, and Dick smiled.

"Bunny's got plenty of courage: I'll give him credit for that; but not that kind of courage. It requires valour of an unimaginative kind to walk through London with stolen property in your pocket and the knowledge that half the police in town are looking for you. That isn't Bunny! No, his wife will do the trick."

He looked at his watch impatiently, then took up a timetable from his writing-desk.

"Are you going away?" asked Steel in surprise.

"No," impatiently, "I am seeing what time her train arrives."

He turned the leaves and presently ran his finger down a column, then looked at his watch again as though he had forgotten what he had already seen.

"She arrived half an hour ago. I wonder—" Steel was wondering too. He had never seen Dick Shannon in that mood before. But any explanation was denied by the arrival of Mr. Slick Smith. He came without diffidence, a very self-possessed, neatly dressed man, whose unlined face, twinkling eye and expensive cigar advertised his peace with the world. He nodded to Steel, and received a sympathetic grin in reply. Not until he had taken his departure did Dick come to the point.

"I sent for you, Slick, to ask your advice. The robbery came off all right."

"So I see by the morning newspapers," said Slick, "though I do not place too great a credence in the morning press. Personally, I prefer the afternoon variety; they haven't time to think up trimmings, and you get your news without dilution."

"Eiton was in it, you know."

Slick raised his eyebrows.

"You surprise me," he said politely. "Dear me! Mr. Eiton? He is the last person in the world one would suspect of larcenous proceedings."

"Let's cut out the persiflage and get right down to cases," said Dick, pushing the decanter towards his visitor. "What do you know about Mrs. Eiton?"

"A most charming lady! A most de—lightful lady! Though it would be an exaggeration to describe her soul as of the white virginal variety. I don't mind confessing that, when I think about souls at all, I prefer them delicately tinted, rose du barri, eau de nil—anything but lemon."

"What was she before she married?"

Slick shrugged his shoulders.

"Gossip and scandal are loathsome to me." he said reluctantly. "All I know about her is that she was a good woman but a bad actress. I think she must have married Eiton to reform him. So many of our best women do that sort of thing."

"And has she?" asked Shannon sarcastically.

Again Mr. Smith shrugged.

"I heard the other day that he was strong for prohibition. Is that reform? It must be, I suppose."

He poured out a liberal portion of whisky and sent the seltzer sizzling into the glass.

"You can't say anything in favour of booze, however clever you may be. You may say: 'Oh, but I'm a moderate drinker: why should my allowance be curtailed because that horrible grocery man gets drunk and beats his wife?' To which I reply: There are fifty thousand babies in England under the age of six months. Babies who would welcome with infantile joy a nice, bright razor to play with. And you might give them each the razor. Captain, and not more than one in fifty thousand would cut his or her young throat. Must we then deny the other forty-nine thousand and odd the joy and happiness of playing with a hair-mower because one fool baby cut his young head off? Yes, sir, we must. Common sense tells us that what happened to one might just as well happen to the fifty thousand. Do I speak words of wisdom? I do. Thank you—your very good health."

He smacked his lips in critical appreciation. "Liqueur, and at least twenty years old. Would that all whisky was like that—there would be fewer suicides."

Dick was watching him closely, well aware that he was delicately shifting the conversation into another channel. "Has she a sister?"

Mr. Smith finished the remainder of his glass. "If she has," he said, "God help her!"


Chapter 6 THE SISTERS

AUDREY spent a quarter of an hour waiting on Victoria station, alternately making short excursions in search of Dora and studying the new bills, which were given up to the Robbery of the Queen of Finland and the new clues that had accumulated during the day. Twenty minutes passed, and Dora had not appeared. Mrs. Graffitt had an exasperating habit of forgetting to post letters, and she remembered she had entrusted the announcement of her plans to the old woman.

Her stock of spare cash was too small to rise to a taxi, and she sought information from a policeman whose knowledge of bus routes was evidently encyclopaedic. After waiting for some minutes in the drizzle she found one that was bound for Park Lane, from which thoroughfare Curzon Street runs. London was a place of mystery to her; but by diligent searching she at last found the little house and rang the visitors' bell. A short delay, and the door was opened by a smart maidservant, who looked askance at the shabby visitor.

"Mrs. Martin Eiton is engaged. Have you come from Seville's?"

"No, I've come from Sussex," said the girl with a faint smile. "Will you tell Mrs. Eiton that it is her sister?"

The maid looked a little dubious, but ushered her into a small, chilly sitting-room and went out, closing the door. Evidently she was not expected, thought Audrey, and the uneasiness with which she had approached the visit was intensified. Their correspondence had been negligible. Dora was never greatly interested either in her mother or what she magniloquently described to her friends as "the farm"; and when the younger girl had in her desperation written for assistance, there had come, after a long interval, a five-pound note and a plain intimation that Mrs. Martin Eiton had neither the means nor the inclination for philanthropy.

Dora had gone on to the stage at an early age, and had made, a few weeks before her mother's death, what had all the appearance of a good marriage. In the eyes of that hard, unbending woman, Dora could do no wrong, and even her systematic neglect never altered the older woman's affection, but seemed rather to increase its volume. Day and night, year in and year out, Dora had been the model held before her sister. Dora was successful; that, in Mrs. Bedford's eyes, excused all shortcomings. She had been successful even as an actress; her name had appeared large on the bills of touring companies; her photograph had appeared even in the London papers. By what means she had secured her fame and founded her independence, Mrs. Bedford did not know and cared less.

The door opened suddenly and a girl came in. She was taller and fairer than her sister, and in some ways as beautiful, though her mouth was straighter and the eyes lacked Audrey's ready humour.

"My dear girl, where on earth have you come from?" she asked in consternation.

She offered a limp, jewelled hand, and, stooping, pecked the girl's cold cheek.

"Didn't you get my letter, Dora?"

Dora Eiton shook her head. "No, I had no letter. You've grown, child. You were a gawky kid when I saw you last."

"One does grow," admitted Audrey gravely. "I've sold the cottage."

The elder girl's eyes opened: "But why on earth have you done that?"

"It sold itself," said Audrey. "In other words, I pawned it bit by bit until there was nothing of it left; so I disposed of the chickens—probably the only eggless chickens in the country, and worth a whole lot of money as biological curiosities."

"And you've come here?" There was no mistaking the unwelcome in Dora's tone. "That is very awkward! I can't possibly put you up here, and I don't think it was particularly kind of you, Audrey, to sell the farm. Dear mother died there, and that in itself should have made the place sacred to you."

"All things associated with mother are sacred to me," said Audrey quietly, "but I hardly think it is necessary to starve myself to death to prove my love for mother. I don't want very much from you, Dora—just a place to sleep for a week, until I ran find something to do."

Dora was pacing the little room, her hands behind her, her brows knit in a frown. She wore an afternoon frock, the value of which would have kept Audrey in comfort for a month; her diamond ear-rings, the double rope of pearls about her neck, were worth a small fortune.

"I've some people here to tea," she said, "and I'm having a dinner-party tonight. I don't know what on earth to do with you, Audrey. You can't come to dinner in that kit."

She looked contemptuously at the girl's uncomely wardrobe.

"You had better go to an hotel. There are plenty of cheap places in Bloomsbury. Then make yourself smart and come and see me on Monday."

"It will cost money to make me smart on Monday or Tuesday or any other day in the week," said Audrey calmly, "and two nights at a third-rate hotel will exhaust my supplies."

Dora clicked her lips.

"It's really too bad of you, dropping down from the clouds like this," she said irritably. "I haven't the slightest idea what I can do. Just wait—I'll see Martin."

She flung out of the room, leaving behind her a faint I fragrance of quelques fleurs, and Audrey Bedford's lips curled into a faint smile. She was not sorry for herself. Dora had behaved as she had expected her to behave. She waited for a long time; it was nearly half an hour before the door-handle turned again and her sister came in. Some magical transformation had occurred, for Dora was almost genial, though her good-humour sounded a little unreal.

"Martin says you must stay," she said. "Come up with me."

She led the way up the narrow stairs, past an entry behind which there was the sound of laughter and talk, and on the second floor stopped and opened a door, switching on the light. Audrey guessed that it was the second-best bedroom in the house, and reserved for the principal partakers of the Eiton hospitality.

"You have no friends in London, have you, old girl?" asked Dora carelessly.

She stood watching in the doorway while the girl put down her bag.

"None," said Audrey. "This is a pretty bedroom, Dora."

"Yes, isn't it? Anybody know you've come up?"

"Mrs. Graffitt knows I've come to town, but she doesn't know where."

She had expected her sister to leave her as soon as she had been shown into the room, but Dora lingered in the doorway, having apparently something to say.

"I'm afraid I've been rather a brute to you, Audrey," she said, laying her hand on the girl's arm. "But you're going to lie a good, sweet angel and forgive me, aren't you? I know you will, because you promised mother you would do anything for me, darling, didn't you?"

For a second Audrey was touched.

"You know that I would," she said.

"Some day I'll tell you all my secrets," Dora went on. "I ran tell you because you're the one person in the world I can trust. Mother used to say that you were so obstinate that the devil couldn't get you to speak if you didn't want to."

Audrey's eyes twinkled in the ghost of a smile.

"Dear mother was never flattering," she said dryly.

She had loved her mother, but had lived too near to her petty tyrannies and her gross favouritism for love to wear the beautifying veil of tenderness. Dora patted her arm and rose briskly.

"The people are going now. I want you to come down and meet Mr. Stanford and Martin. You've never seen Martin?"

"I've seen his photograph," said Audrey.

"He's a good-looker," said Dora carelessly. "You'll probably fall in love with him—'Bunny' will certainly fall in love with you. He has a weakness for new faces." She turned at the door. "I'm going to trust you, Audrey," she said, and there was an undercurrent of menace in her voice. "Curzon Street has its little skeletons as well as the farm."

"You may say what you like about the farm," said Audrey, her lips twitching, "but the word 'skeleton' can never be applied to those chickens! They ate me to ruin!"

Dora came back to the drawing-room, and the two occupants searched her face.

"Where is she?" asked the taller of the men.

"I've put her in the spare bedroom," said Dora.

Mr. Eiton stroked his smooth, black moustache.

"I'm not sure in my mind whether she ought to be here just now. Give her the money and send her to an hotel."

Dora laughed.

"You've been arguing all afternoon as to how we shall get the stuff to Pierre. Neither of you men want to take the risk of being found with the Queen of Finland's necklace——"

"Not so loud, you fool!" said Martin Eiton between his teeth. "Open the window and advertise it, will you?"

"Listen!" commanded Big Bill Stanford. "Go on, Dora. I guess what you say is right enough. It may be a lifer to the man caught with that stuff—but Pierre has got to have it tonight. Who'll take the necklace?"

"Who? Why, my dear little sister!" said Dora coolly. "That girl was born to be useful!"