The Golden Bat - Fred M. White - ebook

The Golden Bat ebook

Fred M White

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Fred M. White’s hobby is to confuse the reader from the very first pages. The same happens in The Golden Bat, from the very first phrases we learn about a real confident man, Lytton Barle. He was the head of the Secret Squad at New Scotland. His friend, Ray, came to London to find a man who stole $ 40,000 from him. Ray joins the Secret Squad. Together, two comrades are going to make noise and punish those responsible.

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Liczba stron: 263

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Contents

One Of The Secret Squad

The Only Girl In The World

The Thatched House

A Clue Of Sorts

Behind The Cases

A Wasted Life

Links In The Chain

A Necessary Precaution

The Gang At Work

A Bit Of A Surprise

The Little Shop At Poplar

A Find

A Pair Of Spectacles

A Sensational Paragraph

The Melchior

Once Aboard The Lugger

In The Kerrhaus

The Broken Shaft

What The Map Showed

The Unexpected Guest

Dragging The Net

Ray Tells His Story

A Busy Afternoon

“Locks, Bolts, And Bars”

Brought Home

The Value Of A Name

I. ONE OF THE SECRET SQUAD

The big clean-shaven man with the florid, humorous face and mobile lips would have passed anywhere for a barrister in prosperous practice, or perhaps, a cabinet minister, well-dressed, assured, and certain of himself, and it was his business to convey that impression, because Lytton Barle was head of the Secret Squad at New Scotland, a position not to be proclaimed on the house-tops. He was seated at a desk in his private room, with a big cigar in his mouth, like some gentleman of leisure, and his younger companion, in his neat, well-cut lounge suit, might have just stepped out of his club in search of a congenial way of passing an idle morning.

“Uncommonly glad to see you back in England again, Ray,” Barle was saying. “And more pleased still to know that you are ready to take a hand at the old game. Tired of New Guinea, what?”

“Well, not exactly that, Harry,” Ray smiled. “I’m looking for Edward Keen, the man who robbed me of something like £40,000, and, like the boy in the advertisement, I shan’t be happy till I find him. But that’s a long story of tropical adventure, and, as the last chapter is rather crude still, I don’t propose to go into it now. A slender clue led me from New Guinea to London, and here I am. Been golfing most of the summer at Hunstanton, and came on here last Monday ready to take up the clue I spoke of in earnest. Then I thought of you and the early days here before the war claimed me. You know how one thing leads to another in criminal investigation. The man I am after is in London, unless I am all out, and if he isn’t a master criminal, I never met one. And I don’t even know him by sight. But for the last three years of the war I was in the military secret service, pottering about South America, thanks to my training here, and I thought if I came back and offered to take on the old job, you might give me an assignment, and in between I could perhaps drop on the thread missing from my tangled skein. Follow me?”

“Excellent,” Lytton Barle cried. “You are the very man I want as second in command of my Secret Squad. Nobody knows you, at least nobody in the clever gang I am after, and you happen to be a gentleman, which is more important than it seems at first blush. The Secret Squad is a new development, not officially attached to the Yard, and yet acting under my instructions. All done by letter and telephone, no calling here, you understand. We are up against the cleverest gang of burglars I ever struck, with big brains behind the scheme, and they know me and my lot too well.”

“What, the lot who cleaned out Lord Barlington’s place at Larchester the other night?” Ray asked. “Got away with everything, and no trace behind. I read all about that.”

“That’s the firm,” Barle said grimly. “Motor car robbery quite up to date. But not exactly in the general way. They haven’t a car of their own, more or less disguised and carrying a sham number plate. They borrow a car from some private garage–old lady who never has her limousine out at night, and so forth–and return it before daylight. Possibly some chauffeur is in their pay and turns a blind eye on things. At any rate, we do know where the Larchester car was borrowed, because the thieves dropped a spare cover on their way back, and we traced it by the number stamped in the rubber. Elderly gentleman in Bolton Gardens, owner and driver under observation. But I am afraid that he is an innocent party.”

“And you want me to take this on, eh? Nothing I should like better. Any special features about the robbery? Odd little incidents that I attach much importance to? You know my peculiarities in that direction. If so, please put me wise.”

“All right, Monsieur Dupuin,” Barle laughed. “The Edgar Allan Poe model is not a bad one after all. Now, let me see. Um, yes. Do you know anything about tropical butterflies?”

“As it happens, I do,” Ray explained. “It was in the last year of the war that I met the great authority on foreign entomology at San Salvador. Man named Moon–John Everard Moon. It was in the leading hotel there, and I was in disguise as a sort of prosperous peon farmer on the spree, regular Spanish-American dog. Moon was out there after a sort of mythical bug called the Golden Bat. Was searching the whole continent for it. Only one of the species ever captured, and thats in some private English home. Wonderful insect, as big as a hawk, and all powdered with gold dust and a peacock blue on the edges of the wings. I was told that the natives in the forest worshipped it, though none of them had ever seen the moth. Sort of fetish, you understand. Why are you asking?”

“Well,” Barle said, drily, “the insect you mean was not quite unique because Lord Barlington had one in a glass case on the wall in his library. Not that he valued it in the least, sort of trophy brought home by some globe-trotting relative. But it was a Golden Bat all right, and it was stolen by those burglars, though why they wanted it beats me. Sheer curiosity, perhaps.”

Ray drew a long, deep breath. His eyes gleamed oddly.

“Mr. Barle,” he said, earnestly, “you have given me a clue worth its weight in diamonds. And some unthinking folk prate of what they call trifles! Trifles, by gad! With any luck, I am going to get my money back and lay your gang by the heels at the same time. All I ask is a free hand here. Give me an introduction to the superintendent of police at Shepperton or in that district and leave the rest to me. Call your men off, and let me have the run of my intellectual teeth for a month, and if I fail then count me out altogether.”

Lytton Barle was wise in his generation, and knew whom to trust and the psychological time to trust him. Moreover, he had known Ray in the past, and had a profound respect for his methods.

“Then be it so,” he agreed. “I’ll get Shepperton on the phone and make that all right for you. Good luck.”

Ray drifted out thoughtfully on to the Embankment. The product of Harrow and Trinity College, Cambridge, born with a fair competency, and possessed of the true adventurous mind plus a subtle intellect, he had drifted almost unconsciously into the paths of criminal diplomacy. To him languages came almost naturally, and two years’ training at Scotland Yard gave him all the groundwork he asked to know. Then the war came, and with it his big chance. The South American Republics became his hunting ground, and there he remained during the years following Armageddon. And there in Brazil he stumbled on a fortune, and lost it again in circumstances which will be seen all in good time. And when the hour came for the thief who robbed him to render his account, Ray swore that the reckoning should be a stern one. Now fate was throwing a searchlight across the dim path.

But there had been another lure this perfect summer in the shape of a few months’ golf at Hunstanton, which lure had not been altogether unconnected with the eternal feminine. But just as Ray began to regard his dreams, as not entirely visionary, the lady in the case had mysteriously vanished from the Norfolk coast without a sign, and Ray had been looking for her ever since. And three days before he had caught sight of her crossing Regent-street.

Had he been the average man, he would have spoken to her there and then. Being Harry Ray, diplomat and hunter of criminals, he did nothing of the sort. He followed the slim, graceful figure home, and saw her safely into Silverdale Mansions, which is not far from the Marble Arch, and a tip to the discreet porter in the vestibule did the rest. Ray strolled away in an exulting mood and a wild excitement which was not visible on his calmly immobile features.

“Well, I’m hanged,” he murmured to himself. “Actually under the same roof as the man Keen, a member of his household! The plot thickens. And now to get in touch with the fellow.”

A little later Ray turned into the United Universities Club, and proceeded to consult the telephone directory. He found the name of Edward Keen both in Silverdale Mansions and in a block of offices in a court leading off Lombard-street. In the telephone booth he took up the receiver and called up the latter number.

“That 0057?” he asked. “Mr. Keen? Quite so. May I speak to him for a moment? No, he doesn’t know my name. It is not exactly a matter of business. I have a message for him.”

“He’s very busy just now,” the voice at the other end of the wire said. “Hold on a moment, and I’ll put you through.”

Ray waited for quite a little time. Then a response came in a cold, metallic tone, a suggestion of something like suspicion.

“Yes, I am Mr. Keen. What can I do for you?”

“My name is Ray, Harry Ray, speaking from the United Universities Club. I am deeply interested in tropical butterflies, especially Brazilian ones. Only as an amateur, please understand. I was in Brazil for two years, and know something about the subject. Also I have made a close study of all Mr. John Everard Moon’s works on the science. Is he not an intimate friend of yours?”

There was quite a pause before any response came.

“I certainly look after his affairs when he is on his frequent travels,” the voice said. “As a matter of fact, Mr. Moon is in Brazil at the present moment, collecting matter for his next book. I am also an enthusiast on butterflies, and my exhibits are only second to those of my distinguished friend. Almost complete.”

“With the exception of a Golden Bat,” Ray murmured.

He paused, for an exclamation of surprise came from the other end of the wire, and it came sharp, staccato, and rather hoarse.

“What, do you mean to say you are on the track of one?”

“I believe so. I shouldn’t have troubled you but for the fact that your name is so frequently mentioned in Mr. Moon’s works as an Anglo-Brazilian, whose assistance was most valuable, but when I heard yesterday that a friend was shortly arriving home from Brazil with what sounded like a Golden Bat for me, I ventured to ring you up. Perhaps one of these early days we might meet and have a chat over the matter, I could call at Silverdale Mansions, and–”

“Yes, yes, Mr. Ray. I am leaving for Manchester shortly, and shall not be back before Friday evening at about half-past 7. Suppose you look round at about that hour, and have a mouthful of dinner with me? I may be a bit late, but you won’t mind waiting?”

“Excellent!” Ray cried, and he meant it in a way that the man at the other end of the wire little realised. “I’ll be there. Good-bye.”

So far everything had fallen out splendidly. Moreover, Ray had two valuable days in which to lay the train which he hoped and believed would lead to the exposing of a great conspiracy and a set of daring robberies which for months had baffled the shrewdest brains in Scotland Yard. By the merest accident Ray had lighted on a clue which possessed a double thread–to get even with the mysterious individual who had robbed him of those Brazilian diamonds and force him to disgorge, and to link the scoundrel in question with the alarming burglaries which were setting the police by the ears. Moreover, there was nobody in London who knew more of the secret past of Mr. Edward Keen than himself. And now they were going to meet, face to face, in circumstances that should be utterly disarming, so far as any suspicions on Keen’s part were concerned.

It was, therefore, with an easy mind that Ray set out on Friday night to keep his appointment. He was nearly half an hour early for Keen’s little dinner, but that was all part of the programme. He would be at Silverdale Mansions before Keen’s cab left Euston station. He did not give his name to the manservant who admitted him, but merely stated that he was expected. As he entered the drawing-room a girl seated before the fire rose and came forward.

“Harry!” she gasped, “Harry! Really you?”

Ray took both her hands in his and held them fast.

“Yes, Angela,” he said. “Darling, tell me all about it.”

II. THE ONLY GIRL IN THE WORLD

They were alone together in the warm intimacy of that perfectly-appointed room, and alone in the world, so far as they two were concerned. Ray placed the girl’s hands on his shoulders, and smiled down masterfully into her eyes. Then he took the white face in his grip, and kissed her lingeringly on the trembling lips.

“There,” he murmured, “now you understand. You belonged to me from the first, Angela, and I think you knew it. And so you really thought that you could run away from me like that!”

“But you don’t understand,” the girl murmured. “When I was staying with those friends in Hunstanton, and you came into my life––”

“And we fell in love with one another, darling.”

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