The Third Round - H.C. McNeile - ebook

The Third Round ebook

H. C. Mcneile



Professor Goodman gets tragically in avaraet and dies. So many thought, except for Captain Hugh ‘Bulldog’ Drummond. He suspects that something is wrong. It turns out, his latest discovery – a miraculous new formula for manufacturing flawless diamonds at negligible cost. His suspicions are even more awakened when he notices a member of the Metropolitan Diamond Syndicate during the investigation. Subsequently, the detective unravels an ominous conspiracy and begins the race for the real killer.

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With a sigh of pleasure Mr Edward Blackton opened the windows of his balcony and leaned out, staring over the lake. Opposite, the mountains of Savoy rose steeply from the water; away to the left the Dent du Midi raised its crown of snow above the morning haze.

Below him the waters of the lake glittered and scintillated with a thousand fires. A steamer, with much blowing of sirens and reversing of paddle-wheels, had come to rest at a landing-stage hard by, and was taking on board a bevy of tourists, while the gulls circled round shrieking discordantly. For a while he watched them idly, noting the quickness with which the birds swooped and caught the bread as it was thrown into the air, long before it reached the water.

He noted also how nearly all the food was secured by half a dozen of the gulls, whilst the others said a lot but got nothing. And suddenly Mr Edward Blackton smiled.

“Like life, my dear,” he said, slipping his arm round the waist of a girl who had just joined him at the window. “It’s the fool who shouts in this world: the wise man says nothing and acts.”

The girl lit a cigarette thoughtfully, and sat down on the ledge of the balcony. For a while her eyes followed the steamer puffing fussily away with its load of sightseers and its attendant retinue of gulls: then she looked at the man standing beside her. Point by point she took him in: the clear blue eyes under the deep forehead, the aquiline nose, the firm mouth and chin. Calmly, dispassionately she noted the thick brown hair greying a little over the temples, the great depth of chest, and the strong, powerful hands: then she turned and looked once again at the disappearing steamer. But to the man’s surprise she gave a little sigh.

“What is it, my dear?” he said solicitously. “Bored?”

“No, not bored,” she answered. “Whatever may be your failings, mon ami, boring me is not one of them. I was just wondering what it would feel like if you and I were content to go on a paddle-wheel steamer with a Baedeker and a Kodak, and a paper bag full of bananas.”

“We will try tomorrow,” said the man, gravely lighting a cigar.

“It wouldn’t be any good,” laughed the girl. “Just once in a way we should probably love it. I meant I wonder what it would feel like if that was our life.”

Her companion nodded.

“I know, carissima,” he answered gently. “I have sometimes wondered the same thing. I suppose there must be compensations in respectability, otherwise so many people wouldn’t be respectable. But I’m afraid it is one of those things that we shall never know.”

“I think it’s that,” said the girl, waving her hand towards the mountains opposite–“that has caused my mood. It’s all so perfectly lovely: the sky is just so wonderfully blue. And look at that sailing boat.”

She pointed to one of the big lake barges, with its two huge lateen sails, creeping gently along in the centre of the lake. “It’s all so peaceful, and sometimes one wants peace.”

“True,” agreed the man; “one does. It’s just reaction, and we’ve been busy lately.”

He rose and began to pace slowly up and down the balcony. “To be quite honest, I myself have once or twice thought recently that if I could pull off some really big coup–something, I mean, that ran into the millions–I would give things up.”

The girl smiled and shook her head.

“Don’t misunderstand me, my dear,” he went on. “I do not suggest for a moment that we should settle down to a life of toping and ease. We could neither of us exist without employing our brains. But with really big money behind one, we should be in a position to employ our brains a little more legitimately, shall I say, than we are able to at present, and still get all the excitement we require.

“Take Drakshoff: that man controls three of the principal Governments of Europe. The general public don’t know it; the Governments themselves won’t admit it: but it’s true for all that. As you know, that little job I carried out for him in Germany averted a second revolution. He didn’t want one at the time; and so he called me in. And it cost him in all five million pounds. What was that to him?” He shrugged his shoulders contemptuously. “A mere flea-bite–a bagatelle. Why, with that man an odd million or two one way or the other wouldn’t be noticed in his pass-book.”

He paused and stared over the sunlit lake, while the girl watched him in silence.

“Given money as big as that, and a man can rule the world. Moreover, he can rule it without fear of consequences. He can have all the excitement he requires; he can wield all the power he desires–and have special posses of police to guard him. I’m afraid we don’t have many to guard us.”

The girl laughed and lit another cigarette. “You are right, mon ami, we do not. Hullo! who can that be?” Inside the sitting-room the telephone bell was ringing, and with a slight frown Mr Edward Blackton took off the receiver.

“What is it?” From the other end came the voice of the manager, suitably deferential as befitted a client of such obvious wealth installed in the most palatial suite of the Palace Hotel.

“Two gentlemen are here, Mr Blackton,” said the manager, “who wish to know when they can have the pleasure of seeing you. Their names are Sir Raymond Blantyre and Mr Jabez Leibhaus. They arrived this morning from England by the Simplon Orient express, and they say that their business is most urgent.”

A sudden gleam had come into Mr Blackton’s eyes as he listened, but his voice as he answered was almost bored.

“I shall be pleased to see both gentlemen at eleven o’clock up here. Kindly have champagne and sandwiches sent to my sitting room at that hour.”

He replaced the receiver, and stood for a moment thinking deeply.

“Who was it?” called the girl from the balcony.

“Blantyre and Leibhaus, my dear,” answered the man. “Now, what the deuce can they want with me so urgently?”

“Aren’t they both big diamond men?” said the girl, coming into the room.

“They are,” said Blackton. “In romantic fiction they would be described as two diamond kings. Anyway, it won’t do them any harm to wait for half an hour.”

“How did they find out your address? I thought you had left strict instructions that you were not to be disturbed.”

There was regret in the girl’s voice, and with a faint smile the man tilted back her head and kissed her.

“In our profession, cara mia,” he said gently, “there are times when the strictest instructions have to be disobeyed. Freyder would never have dreamed of worrying me over a little thing, but unless I am much mistaken this isn’t going to be little. It’s going to be big: those two below don’t go chasing half across Europe because they’ve mislaid a collar stud. Why–who knows?–it might prove to be the big coup we were discussing a few minutes ago.”

He kissed her again; then he turned abruptly away and the girl gave a little sigh. For the look had come into those grey-blue eyes that she knew so well: the alert, keen look which meant business.

He crossed the room, and unlocked a heavy leather dispatch-case. From it he took out a biggish book which he laid on the table. Then, having made himself comfortable on the balcony, he lit another cigar, and began to turn over the pages.

It was of the loose-leaf variety, and every page had entries on it in Blackton’s small, neat hand-writing. It was what he called his “Who’s Who”, but it differed from that excellent production in one marked respect. The people in Mr Edward Blackton’s production had not compiled their own notices, which rendered it considerably more truthful even if less complimentary than the orthodox volume.

It was arranged alphabetically, and it contained an astounding wealth of information. In fact in his lighter moments the author was wont to say that when he retired from active life he would publish it, and die in luxury on the large sums paid him to suppress it. Mentioned in it were the names of practically every man and woman possessed of real wealth–as Blackton regarded wealth–in Europe and America.

There were, of course, many omissions, but in the course of years an extraordinary amount of strange and useful information had been collected. In many cases just the bare details of the person were given: these were the uninteresting ones, and consisted of people who passed the test as far as money was concerned but about whom the author had no personal knowledge.

In others, however, the entries were far more human. After the name would be recorded certain details, frequently of a most scurrilous description. And these details had one object and one object only–to assist at the proper time and place in parting the victim from his money.

Not that Mr Edward Blackton was a common blackmailer–far from it. Blackmailing pure and simple was a form of amusement which revolted his feelings as an artist. But to make use of certain privately gained information about a man when dealing with him was a different matter altogether.

It was a great assistance in estimating character when meeting a man for the first time to know that his previous wife had divorced him for carrying on with the housemaid, and that he had then failed to marry the housemaid. Nothing of blackmail in that: just a pointer as to character.

In the immense ramifications of Mr Blackton’s activities it was of course impossible for him to keep all these details in his head. And so little by little the book had grown until it now comprised over three hundred pages. Information obtained first-hand or from absolutely certain sources was entered in red; items not quite so reliable in black. And under Sir Raymond Blantyre’s name the entry was in red.

“Blantyre, Raymond. Born 1858. Vice-President Metropolitan Diamond SYndicate. Married daughter of John Perkins, wool merchant in London. Knighted 1904. Something shady about him in South Africa–probably I.D.B. Races a lot. Wife a snob. Living up to the limit of his income. 5.13.”

Mr Blackton laid the book on his knee and looked thoughtfully over the lake. The last three figures showed that the entry had been made in May 1913, and if he was living up to the limit of his income then, he must have had to retrench considerably now. And wives who are snobs dislike that particularly.

He picked up the book again and turned up the dossier of his other visitor, to find nothing of interest. Mr Leibhaus had only bare details after his name, with the solitary piece of information that he, too, was a Vice- President of the Metropolitan Diamond Syndicate.

He closed the book and relocked it in the dispatch-case; then he glanced at his watch.

“I think, my dear,” he said, turning to the girl, “that our interview had better be apparently private. Could you make yourself comfortable in your bedroom, so that you will be able to hear everything and give me your opinion afterwards?” He opened the door for her and she passed through. “I confess,” he continued, “that I’m a little puzzled. I cannot think what they want to see me about so urgently.”

But there was no trace of it on his face as five minutes later his two visitors were ushered in by the sub-manager.

“See that the sandwiches and champagne are sent at once, please,” he remarked, and the hotel official bustled away.

“We shall be undisturbed, gentlemen,” he said, “after the waiter brings the tray. Until then we might enjoy the view over the lake. It is rare, I am told, that one can see the Dent du Midi quite so clearly.”

The three men strolled into the balcony and leaned out. And it struck that exceptionally quick observer of human nature, Mr Blackton, that both his visitors were a little nervous. Sir Raymond Blantyre especially was not at his ease, answering the casual remarks of his host at random. He was a short, stocky little man with a white moustache and a gold-rimmed eyeglass, which he had an irritating ha bit of taking in and out of his eye, and he gave a sigh of relief as the door finally closed behind the waiter..

“Now perhaps we can come to business, Count–er–I beg your pardon, Mr Blackton.”

“The mistake is a natural one,” said his host suavely. “Shall we go inside the room to avoid the risk of being overheard?”

“I had better begin at the beginning,” said Sir Raymond, waving away his host’s offer of champagne. “And when I’ve finished, you will see, I have no doubt, our reasons for disturbing you in this way. Nothing short of the desperate position in which we find ourselves would have induced us to seek you out after what Mr Freyder told my friend Leibhaus. But the situation is so desperate that we had no alternative.”

Mr Blackton’s face remained quite expressionless, and the other, after a pause, went on: “Doubtless you know who we are, Mr Blackton. I am the President of the Metropolitan Diamond Syndicate and Mr Leibhaus is the senior Vice-President. In the event of my absence at any time, he deputises for me. I mention these facts to emphasise the point that we are the heads of that combine, and that you are therefore dealing with the absolute principals, and not with subordinates.

“Now, I may further mention that although the Metropolitan is our particular syndicate, we are both of us considerably interested in other diamond enterprises. In fact our entire fortune is bound up irretrievably in the diamond industry–as are the fortunes of several other men, for whom, Mr Blackton, I am authorised to speak.

“So that I am in a position to say that not only am I here as representative of the Metropolitan Syndicate, but I am here as representative of the whole diamond industry and the enormous capital locked up in that industry.”

“You make yourself perfectly clear, Sir Raymond,” said Mr Blackton quietly. His face was as mask like as ever, but he wondered more and more what could be coming.

Sir Raymond took out his eyeglass and polished it; then he took a sip of the champagne which, despite his refusal, his host had poured out for him.

“That being so, Mr Blackton, and my position in the matter being fully understood, I will come to the object of our visit. One day about a fortnight ago I was dining at the house of a certain Professor Goodman. You may perhaps have heard of him by name? No?

“Well, he is, I understand, one of the foremost chemists of the day. He and I have not got much in common, but my wife and his became acquainted during the war, and we still occasionally dine with one another. There were six of us at dinner–our four selves, his daughter, and an extraordinarily inane young man with an eyeglass–who, I gathered, was engaged to the daughter.

“It was during dinner that my attention was caught by a rather peculiar ornament that the daughter was wearing. It looked to me like a piece of ordinary cut glass mounted in a claw of gold, and she was using it as a brooch. The piece of glass was about the size of a large marble, and it scintillated so brilliantly as she moved that I could not help noticing it.

“I may say that it struck me as a distinctly vulgar ornament–the sort of thing that a housemaid might be expected to wear when she was out. It surprised me, since the Goodmans are the last people one would expect to allow such a thing. And, of course, I should have said nothing about it had not the vapid youth opposite noticed me. ‘Looking at the monkey nut?’ he said, or something equally foolish. ‘Pretty sound bit of work on the part of the old paternal parent.’

“Professor Goodman looked up and smiled, and the girl took it off and handed it to me. ‘What do you think of it, Sir Raymond?’ she asked. ‘I put it on especially for your benefit tonight.’

“I glanced at it, and to my amazement I found that it was a perfectly flawless diamond, worth certainly ten to twelve thousand pounds, and possibly more. I suppose my surprise must have been obvious, because they all began to laugh. ‘Well, what is your verdict, Blantyre?’ said the Professor.

“‘I will be perfectly frank,’ I answered. ‘I cannot understand how you can have placed such a really wonderful stone in such an unworthy setting.’ And then the Professor laughed still more. ‘What would you say was the value of that stone?’ he inquired.

“‘I should be delighted to give Miss Goodman a cheque for ten thousand pounds for it here and now,’ I said.

“And then he really roared with laughter. ‘What about it, Brenda?’ he cried. ‘Do you know what that stone cost me, Blantyre? Five pounds ten shillings and sixpence and two burnt fingers.’”

Blackton leaned forward in his chair and stared at the speaker. “Well–what then?” he said quietly.

Sir Raymond mopped his forehead and took another sip of champagne. “You’ve guessed it, Mr Blackton. It was false–or when I say false, it was not false in the sense that Tecla pearls are false. But it had been made by a chemical process in Professor Goodman’s laboratory. Otherwise it was indistinguishable from the genuine article: in fact”–in his agitation he thumped the table with his fist–“it was the genuine article!”

Blackton carefully lit another cigar. “And what did you do?” he inquired. “I presume that you have tested the matter fully since.”

“Of course,” answered the other. “I will tell you exactly what has happened. That evening after dinner I sat on talking with the Professor. Somewhat naturally I allowed no hint of my agitation to show on my face.

“As you probably know, Mr Blackton, artificial diamonds have been manufactured in the past–real diamonds indistinguishable from those found in nature. But they have been small, and their cost has been greater when made artificially than if they had been found. And so the process has never been economically worth while. But this was altogether different.

“If what Professor Goodman told me was the truth–if he had indeed manufactured that diamond for five pounds in his laboratory, we were confronted with the possibility of an appalling crisis. And since he was the last person to tell a stupid and gratuitous lie, you may imagine my feelings.

“I need hardly point out to you that the whole diamond market is an artificial one. The output of stones from the mines has to be limited to prevent a slump–to keep prices up. And what would happen if the market was swamped with stones worth a king’s ransom each as prices go today and costing a fiver to produce was too impossible to contemplate. It meant, of course, absolute ruin to me and others in my position–to say nothing of hundreds of big jewellers and dealers.

“I pointed this out to Professor Goodman, but,”–and once again Sir Raymond mopped his forehead–“would you believe it, the wretched man seemed completely uninterested. All he was concerned about was his miserable chemistry. ‘A unique discovery, my dear Blantyre,’ he remarked complacently. ‘And two years ago I bet Professor–’ I forget the fool’s name, but, at any rate, he had bet this Professor a fiver that he’d do it.”

Sir Raymond rose and walked up and down the room in his agitation.

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