Roy Glashan's Library
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ANONYMOUS

AFTER BUSINESS HOURS

Cover Image

RGL e-Book Cover 2016



First published in Answers, the Amalgamated Press, London, December 30, 1911
Reprinted under syndication, e.g. in
The Taranaki Daily News, New Zealand, New Zealand, March 23, 1912 (this version)

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2016
Version Date: 2016-11-28
Produced by Roy Glashan

The text of this book is in the public domain in Australia.
All original content added by RGL is protected by copyright.

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SEXTON BLAKE'S private room was in darkness. Rain and sleet beat against the deep-balconied window in fierce gusts.

Baker Street at midnight was deserted save for the police and an occasional passer-by.

Hark! Something had fallen on the tiny balcony. It grated a little on the cement, and then caught in the ironwork. Someone was climbing up. A gasp—a clutch at the rail—a struggling effort—and a man stood outside the window in the driving sleet and rain.

Still Sexton Blake's private room remained in darkness. The rope was quickly hauled up, and the man crouched low for a short breathing-space. Then he stood erect.

He shook the casement gently before inserting a thin-bladed knife. The catch flew back with a snap. The blind was deftly raised, and the man was inside. He closed the window behind him, re-lowered the blind, and stood listening intently. Still Sexton Blake's private room was in darkness.

The intruder produced a dark-lantern and flashed a disc of light around the room. For a few moments it rested on a large safe, and the sight elicited a chuckle of satisfaction.

Then the disc of light passed on to a large writing-table—to the edge of it—then it crept back—back and up, travelling slowly, until—clatter!

The lantern had fallen to the floor, and there was a quick indrawing of breath—a muffled shriek—from the man who had held it. At the same moment there was the click of a switch.

Sexton Blake's private room was no longer in darkness. The glare of the electric light revealed Sexton Blake himself seated behind the table, his keen eyes twinkling with satisfaction. One of his sinewy hands held a revolver.

"After business hours," he remarked genially. "Still, very pleased to see you, Mr. Richard Arblater."

"Great heavens!" ejaculated the other. "You know me?"

"Looks like it," responded the detective. "Put up your hands!" he added sharply.

"I am not armed," said Arblater sullenly.

"I am glad of that. Now, suppose you sit down. I would not think of bolting if I were you."

Richard Arblater dropped into a chair with a groan. He was soaking wet and shaking with cold.

"Yes," he said, "I'm done! I suppose you are Sexton Blake. Though how you knew gets over me."

"It is my business to know things," returned the detective drily. "Yet I must say that it puzzles one to account for Dick Arblater, only released on ticket-of-leave a week ago, being so eager to get back to Dartmoor again."

The other looked up quickly. He was a young man, not yet thirty, but his crisp, curly hair was touched with grey at the temples, and there were deep lines about his eyes.

"Jeer on, you infernal blackmailer!" he cried. "I'll best you yet!"

Sexton Blake's smile died away, and he regarded the speaker curiously.

"Blackmailer, eh?" he returned, with no trace of anger. "That's something new. So Mr. Freeman Clyde put it that way, did he?"

Arblater started. Then he gave a reckless laugh.

"You're too many for me!" re cried. "Next, perhaps, you'll be telling me what I came here fore."

"That is very simple," answered Sexton Blake, coolly. "You came for the letters young Montrose received from your—"

Dick Arblater sprang to his feet.

"If you so much as mention her name, I'll set about you, revolver and all!" he cried fiercely. "Yes, I did come for those letters, and I'll have them vet, you blackmailing scoundrel!"

Sexton Blake's face hardened, and his fingers twitched, though the revolver lay untouched.

"I have a fairly good temper," he said slowly; "but you must control that tongue of yours. What did you want the letters for? Going into the blackmailing business on you own account?"

Without a word the young man suddenly flung himself upon the detective. His hands reached desperately for Blake's throat, but they never touched it. In a flash the sinewy hands seized his wrists in grasps of iron, and, almost with the same movement, a pair of handcuffs snapped on. Then the resistless hands glided up and caught Dick Arblater by the shoulders. He was as a baby in the hold of Sexton Blake, who rose and forced him back into the chair he had quitted.

"Sit you there, you hot-headed young fool!" he said, still good-humouredly. "I'll take the darbies off again when you have cooled down."

Arblater breathed heavily, and eyed his conqueror with impotent rage.

Sexton Blake resumed his seat at the table.

"You have not told me what you proposed doing with those letters—if you got them." remarked Blake.

"Take them to my sister, if you want to know." said Dick Arblater hoarsely, "and rest her mind—"

His voice broke as he spoke.

Sexton Blake looked at him steadily.

"By heaven, I half believe you mean it!" he cried.

"I'll make you believe it before I finish," returned the young man grimly. "I'm the underdog just now, but curse you!" he burst out suddenly. "How long are you going to keep me here fooling about? Hand me over to a policeman, and have done with it!"

"All in good time." replied the detective, composedly. "I have a few questions to ask first. How did you become acquainted with Mr. Freeman Clyde?"

"He came to me this morning. He had heard of my release—and he told me things."

"So I perceive. For instance, he told you that Sexton Blake, in addition to his work of criminal investigator, dabbled in blackmailing and possessed letters written to your sister, Lady Harrowby, before she married Sir John—harmless schoolgirl letters; yet indiscreet enough to lead to serious trouble between her and her husband, should they ever come into his hand."

"What is the use of going over it all?" said Arblater wearily. He was worn out with cold and hunger, and felt somewhat like a mouse between the claws of a cat.

"Did Clyde tell you how I got hold of the letters?" asked Sexton Blake.

"I forget," he replied impatiently. "I know it was in some dirty, underhanded fashion."

Sexton Blake leaned back and laughed, whilst Dick Arblater writhed in silent fury. Suddenly the detective checked himself.

"Put out your hands!" he said authoritatively.

Arblater mechanically obeyed. The handcuffs were unlocked and tossed on the table, where they fell with a metallic jingle. Then Sexton Blake produced a letter from a drawer and handed it across.

"Read!" he said laconically.

The young man took it wearily and glanced at the writing.

"Evie's!" he ejaculated.

Sexton Blake nodded.

"From your sister, to me," he observed, "dated, as you see, a month ago."

Dick Arblater read, and, as he read, his face first burned and then grew deathly pale. It was a piteous letter, begging, imploring Sexton Blake to release her from the thrall of a villain—an unscrupulous blackmailer, in the person of one Freeman Clyde. The writer was unable to come to Baker Street, but no personal interview could have made plainer the devouring terror, the heartrending suspense and fear which the letter revealed.

Dick Arblater handed back the letter with a shaking hand.

"I—I don't understand," he faltered. "Freeman Clyde—"

"Is the blackmailer, not I. He held the letters, and has been extorting money from Lady Harrowby. I set to work, but it was not until last night—or I suppose I must say the night before last— that I managed to get the letters out of his possession. It is true I did it in what he would call a 'dirty, underhanded fashion,' but one has to adapt one's methods to circumstances in my profession.

"Hearing of your whereabouts," he continued. "Clyde determined to use you as a catspaw, and, if possible, recover the letters before I could place them in your sister's hands. She is, as you probably know—and he certainly does—lying ill at her home in Somersetshire. Thus I am unable to post them to her, as they might fall into the wrong hands—Sir John's, for instance. Clyde evidently preached you up an ingenious yarn—that I was the real blackmailer, and so on. You willingly consented to try and get the letters back, thinking that thereby you would be doing your sister a service. Fortunately, one of my agents saw you and Clyde in consultation, and even caught scraps of your talk. Hence I waited up to receive you tonight."

Arblater struck his forehead.

"What a fool I have been!" he exclaimed. "Yet he seemed—"

Sexton Blake smiled.

"Oh, Freeman Clyde is plausible enough!" he interposed. "By the way, how was he to get the letters from you? One would presume that you would have either destroyed them, or taken them direct to your sister."

Dick Arblater looked somewhat shamefaced.

"Oh! he put it that he was a private detective, engaged by Evie to recover the letters, and that he would like to restore them personally!"

Sexton Blake threw back his head, and laughed.

"Good!" said he. "Well, I am not so selfish. What do you say to taking them back to her yourself, my boy?"

"I?" gasped Dick Arblater, his eyes lighting up. Sexton Blake went to the safe and unlocked it. Then, swinging back the heavy door he produced a packet securely tied and sealed. He turned and handed it to Arblater.

"That is what you came for?" said the detective.

Dick Arblater took the packet dazedly.

"You're not fooling me?" he said.

Sexton Blake laughed heartily. "Not a bit of it," he replied. "I think we met to-night under a mutual misunderstanding. I took you for a heartless young rip who would not hesitate to sacrifice even his own sister for monetary gain; and you—well, you have not hesitated to say what you thought of me. We were both somewhat mistaken, it seems. Well, you can put your sister's mind at rest now. I guess it will do her more good than all the doctor's stuff she may be taking."

Arblater's face clouded once more.

"Somersetshire's a far cry," said he, with an uneasy laugh, "and I have no money. I reckon those letters will have to lie in that safe a little longer, unless you take them down yourself."

"Nonsense!" returned the detective. "Look here, you can act as my agent. I frequently engage far less reputable ones, I can assure you. It is impossible for me to leave town just now. I'll send you off to Harrowby Chase at once—or, rather, as soon as you have fed and rested. Lady Harrowby won't object to my charging an extra fiver for expenses, I am sure."

Dick Arblater leapt to his feet.

"Done with you!" he cried. "By Jove! Blake you are a trump to trust me like this, in spite of all I have said and done to-night, to say nothing of—"

Dick Arbiter checked himself suddenly, and buried his face in his hands.

"It's no use, Blake!" he cried brokenly. "Sir John is dead against me since—since that happened. He won't let me into the house."

Sexton Blake laid his hand on the young fellow's shoulder.

"Nonsense, my dear fellow," he said kindly. "Not admit you to see your sister when she is ill! I know Sir John Harrowby better than that. And, as for your little slip at the bank—oh, yes, I know all about it—that is paid for and done with, or will be when your ticket has expired. When Lady Harrowby knows of the little present you are bringing her, she won't grudge you a couple of hundred to start you in Canada or Australia. I'll forego my fee, at any rate, if that will help."

"By Jove, Blake!" he exclaimed, with a smile, though there were tears in her eyes, "you are making me out a bit of a blackmailer, after all! But I swear you shall never regret, so far as I am concerned!" And Richard Arblater kept his word.


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is in the Australian public domain.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.