Advice Limited - E. Phillips Oppenheim - ebook

Advice Limited ebook

E. Phillips Oppenheim

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The long boat train which had only a few minutes before started from Dover Pier Station on its way to Victoria came to an unexpected halt alongside the almost deserted platform of the Town Station. Habitual travellers, who knew the irregularity of such a proceeding, let down the windows and leaned out from their places. There was little to be seen, however, and nothing to be learnt from the various attendants. About a dozen station officials and a few other men who looked like officials in mufti were forming a sort of a ring around one of the vans in the rear of the train from which a number of heavy, iron clamped cases were being unloaded. The proceedings were entirely unusual. Curious questions and comments flashed backwards and forwards amongst the passengers. The train attendants, however, knew nothing of what was transpiring.

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Contents

I. THIRTY-NINE WOODEN BOXES

II. AN OLYMPIAN DEBACLE

III. BROKEN ENGAGEMENTS

IV. TOO MANY DUKES

V. THE RITZ HOTEL CONFERENCE

VI. BETWEEN THE EIGHTH GREEN AND THE NINTH TEE

VII. HELP FOR MR. GOLDMAN

VIII. THE LONELY MAN

IX. A FAMILY MISUNDERSTANDING

X. THE LISTENING LADY

XI. A GIFT FROM THE GODS

I. THIRTY-NINE WOODEN BOXES

THE long boat train which had only a few minutes before started from Dover Pier Station on its way to Victoria came to an unexpected halt alongside the almost deserted platform of the Town Station. Habitual travellers, who knew the irregularity of such a proceeding, let down the windows and leaned out from their places. There was little to be seen, however, and nothing to be learnt from the various attendants. About a dozen station officials and a few other men who looked like officials in mufti were forming a sort of a ring around one of the vans in the rear of the train from which a number of heavy, iron clamped cases were being unloaded. The proceedings were entirely unusual. Curious questions and comments flashed backwards and forwards amongst the passengers. The train attendants, however, knew nothing of what was transpiring.

John Woolston, for fifteen years superintendent of Pullman cars upon the boat trains, badgered from all directions by questions as to what was going on, confided to his underling that he had no intention of answering another enquiry of any sort. He changed his mind, however, when the most beautiful woman from amongst his regular patrons leaned out of the coupe which according to custom he had reserved specially for her use.

“What is this delay, Woolston?” she asked pathetically. “And what are those funny looking boxes there thrown out onto the platform?”

The man stepped inside the coupe and removed his cap. Except for one mad English Duke, who sometimes had lapses of memory and therefore was not altogether to be relied upon, this was the most profitable of all his regular passengers.

“To tell your ladyship the truth,” he confided, “I’ll guarantee there’s not one of us on the train – unless maybe the guard – who knows what is going on. I can tell you what the boxes are, though. They’re made specially down in Tooley Street and they’re used for transporting gold.”

The lady pushed back the veil she was wearing and looked at him through wide opened eyes.

“But my good man,” she protested, speaking very musically but with a slight foreign accent, “who on earth in their senses would unload bar gold on the platform of Dover Town Station?”

The man’s wrinkled face betrayed his own bewilderment.

“All I can say, your ladyship,” he pointed out, “is that they’re doing it. The cases came off the boat, the French guard left us and the Bank of England men took over the job. They were placed in the usual van and here we are barely started on the journey, and half-an-hour late already, when on go the brakes and out come them boxes. If I hear anything later, your ladyship, I will let you know.”

“Do,” she begged. “It seems such an odd thing to happen.”

“Your ladyship’s car will be at Victoria as usual?” he asked.

She nodded.

“And my maid will see the things through the Customs,” she said. “I shall hurry away. You might see that I have an intelligent porter. I shall only take my dressing case with me.”

The man, resuming his cap, passed on his way. Clara, Baroness Linz, shook out from the long holder the remains of the cigarette which she had been smoking and looked curiously out of the window. Her eyes were fixed upon the silent group of men standing almost in a circle around the pile of boxes. Every few seconds a porter with one on his shoulder hurried off, escorted as far as the subway by a custodian who was evidently some sort of an official. She yawned and rang the bell.

“Some tea,” she ordered of the attendant.

Long before it was brought the train, with its snake-like bend, had glided away from the station. The Baroness rose to her feet and, leaning over one of the inlaid panels of the car, studied with some interest a map of the south-eastern corner of Kent.

Through the grim falling darkness the boat train, flaring with lights, spitting flame and vomiting smoke from the funnels of both its engines, tore through the countryside on its rush to London. Almost parallel with it but continually veering eastwards a motor van, built after the style of the modern armoured car, travelling also at great speed, was cleaving the same blackness of the winter night increased by the grey mists rolling inland from the river. The latter came at last to a stretch where the shroud of vapour was less dense and the chauffeur gave vent to a grunt of relief. With his left hand firmly upon the wheel of the formidable vehicle he was driving he fumbled in his right hand pocket for pipe and tobacco. Larson, the trusted official of the Bank of England, who was seated by his side with a revolver bulging in his overcoat pocket frowned disapprovingly.

“This is the rottenest bit of road we’ve got to tackle, Jim,” he reminded his companion. “Not a house for four miles and that filthy canal within a few yards all the way. I’d wait to smoke till we get this beastly job over. I never did care for it and I’m liking it less every moment.”

The driver, holding his pipe between two fingers, opened his pouch dexterously with his thumb and another finger.

“All very well for you, Mr. Larson, sir,” he mumbled. “You don’t care about tobacco. I do. Gawd!”

The sandy haired little man gave a start which would have been comical but for the fact that it was the start of death. The pipe fell on to the dashboard and out into the road. He himself lay crumpled over the wheel. His companion, though his movements seemed swift enough, never reached the revolver towards which his fingers were groping. The observation window behind had been broken with a crash and he felt the cold, menacing pressure of metal into his side, almost at the same time as two deafening reports reached him from the interior of the vehicle.

“Take hold of that wheel and stop the car,” a harsh voice ordered. “Put your foot on the clutch. Lean over for the footbrake. Keep the car on the road, I tell you, or you’ll get what he got.”

Larson had plenty of courage of the ordinary sort but there was another gun pressing into the small of his back by this time and it was obvious that he was in a hopeless position. He leaned over the limp body of the driver and brought the car almost to a standstill, a great fear all the time chilling his blood and setting his hand shaking. This was no ordinary hold-up.

“You fellows,” he faltered, “you’ve got us cold. What’s it – mean?”

He fell over – dead – with a roar like the roar of a cannon in his ears and the smell of gunpowder in his nostrils. A man who had apparently been lurking in the shadows of the hedge boarded the car, took the wheel and drew in to the side of the road. The door of the van slammed. From invisible places three or four other figures stole into sight.

“Not a light for over a mile either way,” one of them declared.

“Get at these two,” was the savage order from the man who still stood with his revolver in his hand. “Strip them both and fling them into the canal. We want their clothes – Buddy and I. The rest of you can tramp it to where the car is waiting. We meet at the Orchard Inn by Pender’s Creek. Get me?”

There was a muttered assent. The speaker, who appeared to be in charge of these amiable proceedings, was all the time throwing off his coat and waistcoat. In a darkness which was almost complete, with rapid breathing and clumsy fingers, the little group of men went on with their grisly task. Ten minutes had barely passed before the car was once more on its way. Even the stains of blood, which were scanty, were wiped from the seat. The man who had boarded the car drove with one hand and held the flask which he had found in the leather pocket of the door to his lips.

“Not too much of that,” a voice from behind snarled. “You can swim in it when we’re through with this job.”

An arm stretched through the aperture leading to the back of the car. The flask went spinning over the hedge into the darkness and fell in the muddy waters of the canal. After that, except for the roar of the engine as it picked up speed, there was silence. Except that the company was more brilliant than usual the Porchester House charity dinner for which Clara Linz had hurried home differed very little from most functions of its sort. The young Baroness had the air, however, of enjoying herself extremely. She had chosen to wear a gown of dark violet colour which seemed to bring out marvellous lights from her uncannily beautiful eyes and she was easily the most admired woman in the room. The Duchess of Porchester, who was senior hostess, looked more than once across the floor with a sigh of regret.

“I cannot imagine,” she complained, “why Clara should have chosen a place at Felix Blondel’s table. Sir Felix is all very well in his way, of course, but he always seems to me so hopelessly mute.”

“A man cannot very well be a successful banker and remain a human being,” her neighbour observed.

“Clara always has a purpose in everything she does,” the man on her other side remarked. “Felix Blondel may have some secret attraction that none of us others have ever been able to discover. In any case bankers are rather the fashion this season. Everyone loves to talk about money – especially those of us who haven’t any.”

“Blondel is not exactly a banker, is he?” another of the guests pointed out. “He buys and sells specie. Deals in the real stuff, you know, not in notes and oblong strips of paper. Sits in his office with a million pounds’ worth of gold ingots in the cellar underneath him.”

“Anyhow,” the Duchess observed, “Clara seems to have succeeded in making him talk. Perhaps he will bring out his chequebook before the evening’s over….”

Clara had certainly succeeded in making Felix Blondel talk. He was a small pink and white man, the quintessence of neatness in his attire, speech and general deportment. To- night, however, he seemed to be letting himself go. With the air of a man upon whom the gods have showered their gifts he leaned towards his neighbour with unmistakable empressement. “I suppose you are right, Baroness,” he admitted. “There is a great deal of romance attached to a business such as ours. We are merchants, it is true, but we are operating behind the barterer in mere commodities. We are dealing in the sinews of the world– with what makes commerce possible, in fact.”

“You express so well what I was trying to say myself,” Clara murmured. “By-the-by,” she added, after a moment’s pause, “is it true that there has been a great robbery of gold this afternoon? I heard the boys calling out but I never read the evening paper.” Blondel’s expression changed. There was a more serious light in his eyes although his tone was casual enough.

“There is a report of something of the sort,” he acknowledged thoughtfully. “Personally I am inclined to think that the whole thing must be greatly exaggerated. There has not been a successful theft of gold in transit during my recollection.”

A man opposite him leaned across the table.

“I believe there has been a robbery,” he intervened, “and quite a serious one. A shipment from France to England which seems to have been stolen from under the very noses of the custodians. You are not interested, I hope, Blondel?”

The banker shook his head in a superior fashion. “We are not direct buyers of gold at present,” he confided. “We would rather sell if there were anything doing. And I would fill your house with silver, Lord Ragley, if you would give me my price! No. The gold was consigned to the Bank of England.”

“Do tell us some more about it,” Clara begged. “I thought gold bars were such heavy, clumsy things.” She shut up her vanity case with a click and smiled invitingly at her neighbour. The little pink and white man shivered with delight.

“I wish I knew more, Baroness,” he regretted. “It seems the gold was landed and handed over to messengers from the Bank of England. That lets the senders out, of course. The boxes were packed in the special van of the boat train and then, to everyone’s surprise, the train stopped at Dover Town Station and the boxes were all unloaded. What became of them from that moment no one can even guess. Presumably they were handed over to someone else, but to whom and in what manner not a soul seems to know.”

“I was on the train,” Clara sighed. “I wish I had known about it. I am so good at spotting thieves and there were a strange-looking lot of men on the platform.”

“Bank of England guards, I suppose, and probably the men who took over,” Blondel remarked. “I expect you know all about such things, Sir Felix. Tell me, why do you think the boxes were taken out of the train at Dover Town Station?” Sir Felix shook his head.

“Baroness,” he assured her, “there is a limit to the scraps of information which have come my way. I cannot imagine any possible reason why the gold should have been changed. To-morrow I expect the whole story will be told. The evening papers are not much to go by.”

Lord Ragley, who was the Duchess’ second son, rose from the table as the newly arrived orchestra started its dance music. He bowed across to Clara.

“Will you honour me, Baroness?” he begged. She assented with a smile, but quitted her seat with reluctance.

For several days after her journey from Dover and the dinner party at Porchester House Clara Linz occupied herself in making various excursions of an apparently indeterminate nature in the neighbourhood of London. Afterwards she established herself in the small salon of her queerly situated London house and, refusing all invitations, sat down to wait. Her window commanded a view of Adelphi Terrace and the river. The house itself, though dingy, was neat, with a green front door and the smallest brass plate in London, upon which was inscribed

ADVICE LIMITED

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