Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is out of copyright in countries with a copyright
period of 70 years or less, after the year of the author's death.
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.
I. — Clench and Cavendish, Financiers
THE clerks in the spacious general offices of Messrs. Clench and Cavendish, Financiers and Company Promoters, of Throgmorton Avenue, were preparing to leave for the night, but in the private sanctum of the partners, there were many signs suggesting that work was not yet at an end.
Jasper Clench, a tall, lean man, with a pale, shrewd face, lit by keen grey eyes, was poring over a private ledger, whilst his partner, Richard Cavendish, was seated at the opposite side of the table, counting the immense pile of bank-notes before him, and making them up into batches of £5,000.
Richard Cavendish presented in appearance a striking contrast to his stern-visaged partner. Cavendish was a trifle short and stout, and possessed a merry, fresh-complexioned countenance, and a pair of twinkling black eyes. He at all times looked sleek and prosperous, from the top of his well-oiled head to the toes of his immaculate patent boots, and it was for this reason that when a client was doubtful about some investment he or she had made with the firm, it was Mr. Cavendish who attended to the reassuring interview.
Cavendish was the owner of a glib tongue, and a manner as sleek and oily as his looks. He could talk the most doubtful would-be investor over to his side, and convince one who had lost heavily by the collapse of one of the firm's companies, that he was taking a pessimistic view of matters, and ought to try again.
Despite Richard Cavendish's powers of oration, however, both partners realised that the time had arrived when London was decidedly too hot for them.
During the last six months the number of dissatisfied clients calling at the offices had unpleasantly increased. The Easy Investment Syndicate, the Cape Diamond Concessions, and the Greshamly Rubber Company—all three concerns, which Clench and Cavendish had floated upon public money—had somehow gone smash, and now clients were becoming far too inquisitive over their "Great Eagle" shares.
Two days ago, an aggressive American client, handling a dog-whip suggestively, had tried by force to gain an entry into the private sanctum; and only yesterday there had been the widow who had openly wept before the clerks and declared that she had been swindled.
The Great Eagle Gold Mining Co. was the last "little affair" with which Messrs. Clench and Cavendish had amused themselves.
A well-known mining engineer—who, by the way, was now very much missing from Britain, and enjoying some of the firm's money upon the Continent—had journeyed to Brazil, where the site of the Great Eagle properties was situated, and he had sent home a glowing report that the ground was positively teeming with the precious metal.
Upon the strength of this, Messrs. Clench and Cavendish had sent out thousands of alluring prospectuses, and filled the pages of the Press with hosts of gripping advertisements, and their energies had not been in vain.
There are always plenty of people in this curious world of ours who are stupid enough to think that by expanding a little capital, they can become millionaires without the slightest trouble to themselves, and the abundance of "fish" Clench and Cavendish's "nets" had caught pleased the swindlers mightily.
They did not trouble that when the crash came many thousands of hard-working men and women would lose their lives' saving—their all! Like all men of their class, they were selfish to the last degree, and they were out for every pound they could rake in.
But now, as we have already said, investors wanted news as to how the Great Eagle Properties were progressing, and the company promoters knew that it was time they discreetly withdrew from the scene of their scoundrelly operations.
Jasper Clench closed the ledger and locked it carefully, and, lighting a cigar, he sat watching his partner until the latter had completed his count of the notes, and had stowed them away in a portmanteau, which stood by his side upon a chair.
"Well?" Clench asked, in the hard voice that was characteristic of him. "You found my calculation was correct?"
Richard Cavendish rubbed his fat hands together, and smiled his suave smile.
"Precisely," he murmured. "The notes total just over two hundred and fifty thousand pounds, and there's a like sum in easily-negotiable securities—altogether half a million, my friend. Half a million to bolt with! It's not so bad!"
Clench nodded; but he did not return the other's smile. Indeed, it was seldom that he troubled to evince any sign of pleasure. He was always the hard, calculating man, whose one thought was the making of money. Mammon was the god he worshiped, and nothing else mattered.
"There will be another ten thousand to add to our haul by the first post to-morrow morning," he said thoughtfully, as he examined the end of his weed to make quite certain it was burning evenly. "That foolish old women at Merton promised to send me a cheque for the shares she wishes to take up, immediately she arrives home to-night. I convinced her that the cheque must be left open, and advised her to send it by registered post. As soon as it comes to hand in the morning, we can cash it, and get along to your yacht."
Cavendish drummed his fingers upon the table and looked doubtful.
"Wouldn't it be almost as well to leave to-night?" he asked slowly. "The yacht could sail by this evening's tide."
Clench made a deprecating gesture with his hands. "And leave old Mrs. Burton's ten thousand behind?" he asked, with something like a sneer in his voice. "Bah, man, where is your nerve?"
"I don't know about nerve!" his partner retorted. "To be too daring is to be foolhardy. The police are paying us far too much attention of late. The big man, whom I spoke of the day before yesterday, was hanging about again to-day, when I went out to lunch."
Clench sat a little more upright in his chair. "You are sure of that?" he asked sharply.
"Yes," Cavendish agreed. "There maybe no harm in him, but to my way of thinking, he looks very like Scotland Yard."
He shuddered perceptibly. "I'm not anxious to see the inside of one of her Majesty's prisons. With all our other coups we have left a loophole through which we could wriggle and clear ourselves; but with this Great Eagle business we could do nothing but return the bulk of the money we have netted, leaving but a most inadequate profit for ourselves, if we wanted to escape doing time for fraud. We planned to make this our last great coup—to leave England with every penny of the public's money—and there's no sense in hanging back to add a paltry ten thousand to the half-million we've already cleared."
"Oh, we shall escape safely enough," the other protested, "and we shall take every sovereign with us. Let me see you lock that bag away in the safe, then we'll leave until the morning. Hark! That is our cab drawing up, now."
Cavendish hesitated, fidgeting with his podgy fingers.
"Then you are going to stick to your original plan?" he asked.
Clench's cold, grey eyes looked back into those of his partner, and his thin lips curled into a sneer of contempt.
"Of course!" he snapped. "You ought to have been a woman. You haven't the pluck to be a man—and a rogue. Put the stuff away, and let us get out into the open air. The atmosphere of this stuffy place makes my head ache."
He watched his partner whilst he took up the portmanteau and placed it within the massive safe, which stood behind the door. When Cavendish had locked the safe, Clench turned to the door leading to the general offices, unlocked it and passed through.
"I'm going next door to buy some cigars," he said, over his shoulder. "I'll see you in the cab."
Richard Cavendish nodded, then stood looking after him wit h clenched hands. The merry light had died from his eyes, and his face was not at the moment a pleasant spectacle to behold. The flabbiness seemed to leave his cheeks, his jaw was harshly set, and his whole aspect was sinister in the extreme.
"You sneering, pig-headed brute!" he snarled, when his partner had passed out of hearing. "You can stay and be nabbed if you're so minded, but you won't have me with you when you are arrested. I've tried to talk sense to you, but you won't listen, so I've got to look after myself. I'm going to take my share to-night, and by morning my yacht will be miles out to sea."
Over the City hung that curious stillness that is always noticeable after about ten o'clock at night and Throgmorton Street was deserted save for the solitary constable, who was steadily pacing along upon his beat, his footsteps scarcely audible by reason of the thick galoshes covering his boots.
The man glanced into Throgmorton Avenue as he drew abreast of it, but the courtway was apparently as empty as the thoroughfare in which he stood, and he passed on indifferently, inwardly counting the hours before he would be off duty and able to seek his bed.
The pad, pad of the constable's footsteps died away into silence, and they had scarcely done so, ere a dark figure emerged from the shadows cast by the buildings in the court. It was a short, stout form, and as the moonlight fell upon the man's face the features of Richard Cavendish were revealed.
Cavendish, who was carrying a gladstone bag, boldly stepped across the court and paused before the door of the building wherein lay the offices rented by his partner and himself. He tried the door, and to his satisfaction he found that it was unlocked, a fact that showed that one of the porters or cleaners was still within the building.
Cautiously, for he had no special desire to be observed, the stout swindler pushed open the door, and glided into the hall, then upon tip-toe he made his way to the door, upon which, even in the semi-gloom, could be read the legend "Clench and Cavendish-Private."
Cavendish took a bunch of keys from his pocket, inserted one in the lock and turned it noiselessly. A moment later he stood within the office, breathing hard in his excitement, the door once again securely fastened behind. He lost no time now in carrying out his object, he whipped out a pocket electric torch, and, keeping the white beam of light low, so that it should not be seen by anyone who might chance to pass the glass door, he guided his footsteps to the safe, wherein lay the gigantic sum with which he had arranged with his scoundrelly partner to decamp upon the morrow.
Yet again, the swindler's bunch of keys was produced, and he placed one in the lock of the safe. There was a soft click, then Cavendish had tugged open the massive door and the contents of the safe lay at his mercy.
He took a grip upon the handles of the portmanteau, and, lifting it out, he placed it upon a chair. Then he picked up his gladstone and stood it upon the table.
At that moment Richard Cavendish had no intention of defrauding his co-swindler. He merely meant to possess himself of his share of their ill-gotten gains, and to sail away with all speed in his yacht, which was lying at anchor off London Bridge. But when he opened the portmanteau, and once again feasted his gaze upon its valuable contents, a sudden gleam of avarice leapt into his eyes, and he was assailed by an overmastering statue carved in stone, although his brain was working quickly. In the darkness his eyes were still glinting greedily, and his lips were compressed temptation.
"Why not take all?" he whispered to himself, staring down in fascination at the rolls of notes and securities. "After all, it is not Clench's money!" It did not occur to him that neither was it his. "He has swindled honest men and women to obtain it, and it would only be a case of the biter bit."
Richard Cavendish put out his electric torch and stood as motionless as a in a thin straight line.
What should he do? he asked himself. He had never liked Clench—indeed, during the last few weeks of their partnership, he Had began to feel that he hated him. Time after time he had been stung to the quick by some sneering remark of his partner's, and—
Richard Cavendish closed the portmanteau with a snap and locked it, and now his mind was made up.
"I'll do it!" he muttered. "I'll take the whole half-million. With a sum like this I need never return to Britain. I can change my name, and live a life of luxury and ease. And when my son grows up, he will never know that his father was once dishonest—a swindler! Somehow I'm glad that—" He shrugged his shoulders impatiently. "At times, I am a sentimental fool!" he rasped. "I mustn't waste time! The farther away from British shores my yacht can be by the morning the better! If Clench overtook me, he would kill me!"
He took up the portmanteau and, staggering beneath its weight, he crossed to the door. He turned the key, passed out, and relocked the door behind him; then without being seen by a living soul, he quitted the building and made his way into Throgmorton Street, where he hailed a passing hansom.
Richard Cavendish had taken the whole coup. Jasper Clench, swindler, had been swindled!
II. — A Dramatic Arrest and a Vow of Bitter Vengeance
THERE was a deep frown upon the brow of Jasper Clench as his cab slowly conveyed him through the dense fog that, with the coming of dawn, had descended upon London like an all-enveloping blanket. That morning he had called at his partner's private house in order that they might journey to the City together as was their custom, but to his surprise he had discovered that Cavendish had left home with his baby son and the child's nurse late upon the preceding night, and had not since returned.
Clench had made endless inquiries of the servants as to the reason for his partner's sudden departure from home, but none of them appeared to know what reason their master could have for his somewhat peculiar action.
It never occurred to Clench for a moment that his fellow-conspirator might have stolen a march upon him, yet he felt curiously worried by what he had ascertained, and a hundred times he had cursed the fog during his journey from suburban Wimbledon to town.
The swindler sighed with relief as the Jehu at last guided his horse into Throgmorton Street, and he lost no time in alighting and paying off the man when the court in which his offices were situated was reached.
As he groped his way through the choking mist into Throgmorton Avenue the company promotor collided violently with a bulky form, and he trust it unceremoniously out of his path.
"Where the deuce are you coming to?" the man queried pugnaciously. "Do yer want all the blessed path?"
Jasper Clench paid no heed, but kept straight on until he disappeared through the doorway of his office-buildings, and the burly man, who might have been a well-to-do tradesman, if one might judge by his general aspect and attire, indulged in a grim smile.
"You seem in a hurry, Mr. Clench," he muttered beneath his breath. "I wonder what has become of your precious partner? I don't think he's passed in yet; still, he may have arrived early."
He turned and whistled softly, and almost instantly the figures of three more men loomed out of the fog. They were all of a similar stamp to the fellow with whom the swindler, Clench, had collided—big, burley, and strong. They, too, might have been men of a hard-working, tradesman class, yet when one looked the second time one was struck by something strangely official in their bearing.
"How long have you been waiting about here, Hemmings?" the first man asked, addressing one of the newcomers.
"Since eight o'clock, sir."
"Ah! Clench has just gone to his office. Have you seen anything of the man Cavendish?"
"No sir, I've kept my eyes skinned, but he hasn't passed me to the best of my knowledge!" The questioner nodded.
"Right!" he answered gruffly. "Keep within hailing distance. If the other beauty don't turn up soon, we will make sure of getting Clench first. Cut away with you. We mustn't be seen together."
The three large men disappeared into the fog once more, and the first man entered the courtyard and took up his stand at a spot whence it was just possible through the mist to observe any person leaving or entering the building wherein Clench and Cavendish carried on their questionable business.
Jasper Clench had stopped to speak to his head clerk. He had made enquiries as to whether his partner had put in an appearance, but it was only to be answered in the negative, he still wore a puzzled frown as he unlocked the door of his private room and passed within.
His first action was to examine the contents of the letter-box, and a cynical twitching of his thin lips proclaimed that he was experiencing a feeling as near to pleasure as he was capable of, as he selected a registered envelope, addressed in a feminine hand. The missive, had, of course, been signed for by one of his clerks and afterwards slipped into his private box.
He ripped the letter free from its covering and saw, as he had expected, that it contained the promised cheque for ten thousand pounds, promised him by his client of Merton, he stowed it carefully away in his pocket and hummed a tune as he turned to his table.
The air, however, ceased with startling abruptness, and the swindler stood staring at the gladstone bag which was in evidence before him. That it was his partner's property he realised at once, for it bore the initials "R.C." upon its side, but what bewildered Clench was that he was sure the bag had not been in the office upon the previous evening.
"Now what the dickens can this mean?" Clench said in a puzzled tone. "The clerks say he has not been in, yet the first think I find—"
He stopped short, uttered a gasping cry, and fairly leapt over to the safe, the door of which was standing a few inches ajar. With shaking hands he wrenched open the massive steel door, then he went reeling backwards, his always pale face the colour of chalk, every drop of blood gone from his lips.
"Gone!" he screamed hoarsely. "Gone!"
Like a drunken man he swayed to his knees before the safe, groping blindly within as though he could not put faith in the evidence of his eyes.
"Gone!" he raved again. "The cur! The dirty, thieving hound! The treacherous scoundrel! He has robbed me—robbed me! I—"
The door opened sharply and the bulky form of the man who had been waiting in the court without stepped quickly into the office. He was followed by his three companions, who stood in the background.
Clench gained his feet, clutching at his temples, and his wild eyes fixed themselves vacantly upon the stern faces of the intruders.
"What—what does this mean?" he asked shakily. "I can see no one this morning. I—"
"You will have to see me, I think, Mr. Jasper Clench," the foremost man snapped grimly. "I am Detective-Inspector Rayner, of Scotland Yard, and I hold a warrant for your arrest upon a charge of fraud!"
Jasper Clench clutched at the edge of the table for support, his knees shaking beneath him, his mouth agape with surprise and horror.
"It's a lie!" he stammered, his voice almost hysterical. "It's a foul lie! I am an honest businessman and—"
"You will have every opportunity of proving it!" Inspector Rayner answered gruffly, as he took a sharp step forward and snapped the handcuffs upon the swindler's trembling wrists. "I don't mind telling you, however, that I wouldn't give a brass farthing for your chance! James Teddington, the engineer sent out to prospect the Great Eagle Mining Properties, has died as a result of an accident in Paris. Before he breathed his last he confessed how you and your partner had bribed him, how he had found not an atom of mineral on your land, but had sent home a false report that the place was a modern Tom Tiddler's ground. Now, I'm telling you no more. I must warn you that anything you say may be taken down in writing and used at your trial in evidence against you!"
"Great heavens, this is terrible—terrible!" Clench moaned. "And to think that my partner has escaped—escaped with every penny of the money we have made together! Curse him, I say! I'll serve my time! I'll—"
"What's that?" Rayner asked sharply, startled out of his official manner. "You said your partner, Cavendish, has gone with the money?"
"Every penny of it!" Jasper Clench laughed horridly, mirthlessly. "Every penny of it!" he raved. "We were to have sailed with our haul in his yacht this morning, but you'll find it weighed anchor last night! Oh, yes, you'll find it gone, right enough! Oh, I pray and hope that you may find the viper—I would serve a double sentence to know that he will suffer as I shall suffer!"
His eyes blazed like living coals with the awful hatred that consumed him.
"Whether he be caught or not!" he cried hoarsely, "I'll be even with him! If I have to serve ten—fifteen years I will not forget! When I come out, I'll hound him down! I'll hound him down, you hear me! And when I find him, I will deal out to him the most bitter vengeance ever devised by the brain of mortal man!"
The Reception at Sir Digby Cranston's.
OUTSIDE the residence of Sir Digby Cranston, in Berkeley Square, an awning had been erected from the gate to the imposing entrance and a strip of carpet ran beneath, reaching to the edge of the pavement. The windows were ablaze with lights, and all through the evening a host of carriages and motor broughams had rolled up to discharge elegantly-cloaked ladies and immaculate debonair men, at whom the loungers who hung about the spot gaped with something very like awe.
Sir Digby Cranston, who was a very wealthy gentleman and a keen and well-known collector of precious stones, was holding a reception to celebrate the return of his only child, Elice, from France, where she had been nobly acting as a Red Cross nurse, and although the evening was as yet young, a vast and distinguished gathering had put in an appearance.
A myriad festooned lights illuminated the spacious reception-room, playing upon the khaki uniforms of the officers, the conventional black coats of the civilians, and the pearly white shoulders of the women. An orchestra, concealed in an alcove behind a cluster of ferns and palms, was playing a dreamy air.
A gentle breeze, scented with the sweet, refreshing odour of roses, was wafted from the direction of the archway forming the entrance to the conservatory, fanning the faces of the guests as they chatted vivaciously together.
Sir Digby, a distinguished-looking man of sixty, attired in faultless evening dress, stood by his daughter's side as she received the fresh arrivals. Elice was a charming girl of twenty-one, simply yet daintily gowned, and it was noticeable that her right arm rested in a sling, venturing too near the firing line to tend the wounded and dying, she had been wounded by a splinter of shell, and she was a girl to be admired, for she had bled for her country.
Sir Digby Cranston's eyes were continuously straying across the room to where a women sat alone, slowly using her fan, the lights lending additional charm and lustre to her fair golden hair.
The nobleman was a widower, and perhaps this was the reason for his obvious fascination where this woman was concerned. To merely say that she was beautiful would be to most inadequately describe her. She was dazzling, there was something about her—personality perhaps—that irresistibly invited attention and held the gaze.
She might have been twenty-five—perhaps a little less, and her complexion was pale and creamy. Her eyes were dark and melting, her lips full and alluringly red, and she made a picture such as surely no artist could faithfully portray. She was attired in some glistening stuff that fell sheerly away from her rounded shoulders; and Sir Digby told himself that he had never seen this women look so charming.
And yet she was not of high birth. She was simply his private secretary, and he knew her as Miss Hammond, from Chicago. Upon many occasions since the girl had come to him with testimonials from an American millionaire, Sir Digby had seriously thought of asking her to be his wife, yet it was possible that he would have suffered with a stroke of apoplexy could he have known her true identity, or have guessed that her glorious masses of hair were merely a skilfully-made wig.
Broadway Kate, the wife of Ezra Q. Maitland, the man who surely could be termed the greatest criminal at large, found it convenient at times to assume male attire, and for this reason she was wont to keep her hair cropped to her well-shaped head, merely adjusting a wig, such as she was now wearing, when appearing as a member of the fair sex.
For many years Kathleen Maitland had been a criminal. When she had first married her husband, Ezra, he had been a successful and straight-forward business man in New York, and they had been supremely happy. Their happiness, too, had increased a hundredfold when they had been blessed with a child—a baby girl.
Olive, their little daughter, had reached the age of four, then misery—misery in a hideous form—had descended upon them like a thunderbolt. Little Olive had fallen ill and died, and this had turned Kate's husband, for the bad.
It had been small swindles and robberies that he had indulged in at first; but soon, confident with success, Maitland had engaged in colossal crimes that had startled the world. Where the man led, the woman had followed, and thus Kate became her husband's partner in crime.
Maitland was possessed of a cool, reasoning brain, and time after time he had outwitted the astute American detective, Fenlock Fawn, who continuously failed to obtain any definite evidence against the master criminal.
New York, Petrograd, Paris, and London had been visited by Maitland in turn, and in each city he had succeeded in hoodwinking the police and detectives until, in the last-named, he crossed the path of Sexton Blake, the famous logician and criminologist of Baker Street.
The alert, clever brain of the master detective had been pitted against that of the master criminal, and upon each occasion, although Maitland's supreme conceit had not allowed him to admit it at first, Sexton Blake had proved that he was the better man, and the criminal had only escaped the clutches of the law by, metaphorically speaking, the skin of his teeth.
Broadway Kate sat abstractedly fanning herself until she heard Sir Digby announce that some private theatricals were about to take place in an adjoining room, then she rose to her feet and carelessly strolled to the archway leading into the conservatory.
Through this she passed and made her way between the long lines of ferns, palms, and rare blossoms until she gained the small garden at the rear of the premises.
She crossed a corner of the miniature lawn, and approached a clump of evergreens. As she reached them a dark form of a man emerged from the shadows.
"It that you, Ezra?" she asked, in a low tone.
"Bet on it!" the man who had met her agreed. "Waal, how are things shaping?"
"Real fine, I guess," Kate replied quickly. "As I thought, the jewels have been on view during the evening!"
Ezra Q. Maitland—the man was he—chuckled softly and pressed his wife's hand in the darkness. "Good girl!" he said appreciatively. "And they will be in the house all night?"
"Yes," Kate informed him. "Old Sir Digby will lock them in his safe, which he considers to be as secure as the Bank of England. You have had made the key of which I gave you the wax impression?" Maitland grinned.
"You bet I have," he drawled. "I wasn't likely to let the grass grow under my feet. Kate, we are in luck! If there's any truth in the rumours I've heard, Sir Digby's collection of sparklers are worth something like two hundred thousand pounds, and even in dealing with that thief, Israel Samuels, we ought to clear seventy or eighty thou."
The woman lit one of her daintily scented cigarettes.
"Have you written to Sammuels?" she asked.
"Yes, I've replied to his note," Maitland answered, "and he's open to to the deal whenever I bring the stuff along. But I mustn't stay. If you were found talking to me out here, it would be difficult to explain my presence. By the way, where is the safe situated?"
"In Sir Digby's study!"
"And the position of that?"
"Over there to the right. You can see the French windows quite plainly from here."
"Good! I shall be right along just before dawn. I suppose they'll keep this poppy show up to well into the early hours of tomorrow morning?" Kate nodded.
"I reckon they are bound to," said she. "I shouldn't come here until well after three!"
"Make it half-past," Maitland said, after a moment's thought. "That will give me time to do the job and make myself scarce before daylight. You will be able to open the windows for me, of course?"
"Good!" Maitland said again, as he turned to depart. "I'll get right along and lie low until the right time! Say!"—he suddenly swung round upon his heel—"give me a kiss, girl! I've not seen you for four whole days!"
Kate held up her lips to his, and just for a moment the master-criminal held her in his arms, then he released her and vanished silently into the gloom. The woman stood staring in the direction he had gone for nearly a quarter of a minute before she moved to retrace her steps to the house.
"How I wish we could start afresh!" she muttered, a catch in her voice. "How happy we could be, just he and I together and—"
She tilted her shoulders and sighed wearily.
"That can never be," she said, "until we have made the tremendous coup we have been planning for so many months—a haul that would keep us in luxury in some distant land for the rest of our lives!"
Maitland at Work.
ONE by one the lights in the windows of Sir Digby Cranston's mansion had been extinguished until the house was enshrouded in darkness, and the strip of garden at the rear was only illuminated by the waning light of the moon.
From a distance came the voice of a clock chiming the half-hour after three, and the sound had scarcely died away ere Ezra Q. Maitland, his coat collar turned up to hide any vestige of white, a mask concealing the upper port ion of h is sinister features, stole along the alleyway which was connected with a garage, and which ran along at the rear of the wall enclosing Sir Digby's garden.
When Maitland reached the nobleman's premises, he paused and listened intently, smiling grimly as, after a second or two, he assured himself that all was silent as the grave.
With a quick, neat spring, he gripped the top of the garden wall with his muscular hands and drew himself up, to afterwards drop noiselessly to the other side. Stealthily he stole over the tiny lawn and darted behind a clump of bushes at the spot where he had previously met his wife.
Crouching down, but out of sight, Maitland lay peering through the bushes. He knew that it was past the time at which he told Kate he would arrive, and he wondered how long she would keep him waiting. He cursed softly as the dew from the grass found its way through his clothes and damped his flesh with its icy touch. The morning was cold for the time of year, and the criminal's wait was to be anything but a pleasant one.
Ten minutes, a quarter of an hour dragged by, and he wished he could smoke a cigar. He took one from his case, but hesitated for the present to light it, fearing its glowing end might be observed by someone from one of the windows.
Maitland lay watching the French windows of Sir Digby's study for another five minutes; then, with an impatient gesture, he placed the cigar between his teeth and felt for a match.
He swore under his breath as he discovered that he had omitted to bring with him his vesta case, and he began rummaging in his pockets in the hopes of finding a stray Inciter.
At last he found one in his vest-pocket, struck it upon his trousers, and applied it to his weed; then he lay puffing at the smoke until a light suddenly sprang up within the study.
The master-criminal gave something like a sigh of relief, and, tossing away the cigar, he rose to his feet, for the windows had opened, and the slender form of his wife emerged on to the lawn. She was attired in a neat travelling costume, and carried a small bag, and it was noticeable that her hair was now of raven black, also her complexion was more ruddy and the curve of her brows had changed.
"Is all quiet?" Maitland asked, as he reached her side.
"Yes," Kate replied. "You can get right along with the job; but you'd better be quick."
"Why are you late?" her husband asked. "I've been fooling around for the last five-and-twenty minutes."
"I am sorry," Kate replied, "but I fell asleep. I had had a tiring day. You'll have to look slick, because the butler is an early riser. He's often about a little before five."
"I reckon I shall be miles away by the time the old fool rubs the sleep from his eyes," the master-criminal grinned reassuringly. "Is it safe to leave these lights going?"
"Yes, I imagine so. No one can see them from the lane at the back."
"Right! Come along. Guess I'll give you a helping hand over the wall before I start work."
Broadway Kate hesitated, her eyes wistful.
"I'll stay with you until you've got the jewels," she said. "We—"
"Say you'll do nothing of the kind, my girl," her husband returned sharply. "There's always a chance of having to make a sudden bolt over jobs like this, and if you were with me you'd be in the way. Besides, I've no wish to let you sample prison life, and you're not taking the risk. Come along, and don't waste any more time."
Kate sighed resignedly, then allowed him to take her arm and gently propel her towards the wall.
Cunning and unscrupulous criminal though he was, Maitland had one redeeming feature—his great love for his wife. He worshipped the ground upon which she walked, and Kate, knowing this, was always ready to obey him without question.
By the wall they paused, and the master rogue spoke quickly to his fair companion.
"I reckon we'll give America a turn again after this Kate," he remarked. "I've been planning that for some time past, and I've arranged with Wang"—he was referring to his Chinese servant and confederate—"to meet at Euston. You will both catch the first possible train to Liverpool and meet me at the Great Central Hotel. Good-bye for the present."
"Good-bye, Ezra!" the women returned, her lip quivering. "Be careful, and, mind, no violence if—"
"Don't worry," he interrupted. "I'll be successful, and the 'sparklers' will be in Samuels's hands before old Sir Digby finds out they are gone!"
He stooped and kissed her, then he assisted her over the wall and cautiously retraced his steps towards the house. Maitland entered the study, the windows of which Kate had, of course, left ajar. Almost at once he espied the safe, which was built into the wall upon the opposite side of the apartment. He lost no time in getting to work. He took from his vest pocket a glittering key, and, with deft fingers, inserted it in the keyhole of the safe.
He pressed it gently, then more firmly, only to finally curse beneath his breath, for the key would not turn.
Maitland drew the key from the lock and took from his pocket a tracing of the original one, which Kate had handed to him together with the wax impression she had managed to secure.
The criminal's eyes keenly studied the formation of wards, then he produced a tiny file and a miniature bottle of oil, for he had detected a slight difference at one point.
He set to work patiently, despite the tiresome task that lay before him. He had to proceed by guesswork, and he knew that if he filed the ward a little too much, there would be no chance of his gaining the haul he was seeking.
Four times he inserted the key in the lock to find that it would not turn, but at the fifth attempt there came a soft clicking sound as the lock of the safe shot backwards, and, with a chuckle of exultation, Ezra Q. Maitland pulled open the heavy door.
To discover the prize for which he was seeking was the work of a moment. No less than seven leathern cases lay within the safe, and, upon making a swift inspection, the American crook found, as he had expected, that they contained Sir Digby's famous collection of precious stones.
He removed the cases, and placed them upon the table, opening the lids in turn. Diamonds, rubies, sapphires, emeralds, and host of other gems were in evidence, and as the rays of the electric lights fell upon them, they glittered and scintillated until Maitland's eyes were dazzled.
He stood for a moment gazing exultantly at his coup, mentally resolving to ask from the fence*, Samuels, five thousand over the price he had originally intended to let it go at. His piercing eyes were glinting like stars through the holes in his mask, and their brilliance vied with that of the heap of stones lying before him.
[* Receiver of stolen goods.]
He roused himself from the spell the magnificence of the jewels had cast over him, and whipped two wash-leather bags from his pocket. He filled them to the brim with the sparkling gems, and concealed them about his person, but even now there was still quite a quarter of the collection left upon the table.
Maitland grabbed up a handful of the stones, meaning to place them in his breast-pocket, but before he could do so, he received one of the greatest and most alarming surprises of his life. The door of the study suddenly opened, to reveal Sir Digby Cranston, attired in a dressing-gown and slippers, carrying a candle in his left hand, a businesslike-looking revolver in his right.
The old nobleman came very near to worshipping his collection of jewels, and he was always nervous and restless, when they were in the house during the night, although he had always believed that his safe—the safe that Maitland had succeeded in opening in less than twenty minutes—was more or less burglar-proof. Upon the present occasion, he had lain awake for just over two hours after he had seen his last guest off, and retired to rest, and he had been obsessed with a strange feeling that his collection of gems was in danger.
He had tried to think that he was allowing himself to be over-imaginative, and stupidly nervous, but at last, unable to court repose, he had decided to journey down to his study to satisfy himself that all was well.
Despite his fears, Sir Digby had scarcely expected to find a burglar at work in the room when he pushed open the study door, and he was almost as surprised at seeing Maitland as was the master-criminal at suddenly being confronted by him.
Sir Digby took a startled step backwards, a cry of alarm bursting from his lips, then, in a glance, realising how matters stood—that he was in danger of losing the greater part of his treasures—he levelled his revolver and pulled upon the trigger.
There were two deafening reports, one following sharply upon the other but it was Ezra Q. Maitland who had shown the most promptitude. Long experience had taught the master-criminal that at such times as these, it was the man who fired first who lived to tell the tale, and he had not hesitated when Sir Digby had flung up his right arm.
Like lightning, Maitland's hand had dropped to his hip, his fingers had gripped upon his weapon, which he had fired almost the instant it was out of his pocket without appearing to take the slightest aim, and Sir Digby's bullet tore its way harmlessly through one of the drawers of a roll-top desk, as the nobleman fell heavily upon his face.
Maitland did not stop to see how badly the old man was injured, not did he trouble about the remainder of the jewels. He spun round upon his heel and rushed madly through the windows, raced across the lawn with the speed of a hare, and gained the garden wall. With an agile spring he was sitting astride it, and as he dropped to the opposite side, he could hear the sounds of excited voices from the house, whilst lights were springing up in the windows.
The criminal cursed at what he considered his ill-luck, then pressing his elbows to his sides, he positively flew up the alleyway, and vanished into the gloom.
And back in the study, Sir Digby Cranston lay inert and still, the blood from and ugly wound upon his temple dyeing the expensive carpet, a dull, ominous red, whilst his daughter Elice, who had just rushed into the room, was upon her knees by his side.
"Help, help, help!" the girl cried wildly, her eyes dilated and filled with horror. "Help, help, murder! My father has been murdered!"
At Baker Street.
TINKER, assistant to Mr. Sexton Blake, the famous detective of Baker Street, yawned and rubbed his eyes, as the clock upon the mantelpiece of the consulting-room chimed the half-hour after four, and he rose from the great easy chair in which he had been reclining, and stretched his arms wearily above his head.
"Well, I'm jiggered!" the young detective muttered, still sleepy and dazed. "I must have dozed off in that chair last night whilst I was sitting up for the guv'nor. Great Scott! Half-past four! Then this means that the guv'nor hasn't been home all night! Pedro, you red-eyed old scoundrel why didn't you wake me?"
Sexton Blake's clever and sagacious bloodhound rose and stretched himself, much as his young master had done, and afterwards squatted upon the hearthrug, and blinked sleepily at the lad. Then he stalked forward and affectionately fawned upon Tinker, who patted his massive head.
"I suppose you're not to blame, Pedro," the lad went on. "I'll bet you were playing at shut-eye before me. What do you want? Some coffee?"
He indicated the coffee pot and Pedro bayed softly. It was seldom he refused anything either of his masters took to eat or drink. Tinker picked up a pair of Indian clubs, removed his coat, and indulged in a little invigorating exercise, whilst the hound watched him with superior indifference.
After a few minutes of this the young detective picked up the pot and vanished to make the promised coffee. When a quarter of an hour had elapsed he returned, poured himself out a cup of the steaming beverage, and gave Pedro his share, with much milk added, in a saucer.
"Now, where the dickens is the guv'nor?" Tinker mused, when both he and Pedro had quenched their thirst. "It's too bad of him to leave me in the lurch like this. Ugh! I feel cramped and sore sitting in that beastly chair all night, and I've got a kink in my giddy neck. It feels as though it's going to walk round the corner. It's no use turning in, now, so I'll wait till Mr. Blake turns up. Now, let me see. What did his note say?"
He drew a slip of paper from his pocket, and perused the hastily pencilled words upon it.
"Just discovered whereabouts of Fenson" (they ran). "I am going with Inspector Martin to arrest. You can sit up for me if you like, as I expect to be home just before midnight:—S.B."
Tinker frowned, and his young face momentarily took on a grave expression.
"Humph!" he grunted. "I'm hanged if I like this. Fenson is a dangerous beast, and wouldn't be taken without a struggle. I hope nothing happened to the guv'nor. Still, nothing can have happened! I should have heard from Scotland Yard before now if he had been injured. I wonder what's kept him."
He replaced the message in his pocket, and sat for a few seconds gazing thoughtfully at Pedro.
"My lad," he said, at length, "you might as well go through that latest trick I've taught you. I don't want you to forget it, and we haven't practised it for several days."
He groped beneath the couch, and brought forth a soldier's helmet and a toy gun, with a result that Pedro put his tail between his legs, and hastily vanished under the table.
"Come here, sir!" Tinker ordered, with mock severity in his tones. "Laziness is a vice—"
He made a quick grab, and, securing the hound's collar, dragged him from his cover.
"Good Pedro, stand up!" he commanded.
Wit h a bored expression upon his doggy countenance, the hound rose upon his hind legs, and his young master clapped the helmet upon his head, and tucked the gun in the crook of his right fore-paw.
"Shoulder arms!" Tinker cried. "Quick march!"
Then, beating time to the refrain, he commenced to sing, whilst Pedro, looking utterly foolish and disgusted, solemnly marched across the room.
"When we're wound up the 'Watch on the Rhine'! How we'll sing, how we'll sing 'Auld Lang Syne'! You and I, Hurray! we'll cry! Everything will—"
The door opened sharply, and Sexton Blake and Detective Inspector Martin, of the C.I.D., stood upon the threshold of the room, regarding the bizarre spectacle in amused surprise.
"Well, I always thought so!" Inspector Martin remarked, "although I didn't like to air my opinion until I was sure. When a young man gets up at a little before five in the morning to qualify for the proprietor of an educated animal show, he needs to interview a brain specialist."
"Oh I'm not potty, sir," Tinker retorted, winking at his master. "I'm merely looking ahead."
"What do you mean?" Martin asked.
"Why, you see, sir," Tinker explained, as he took the helmet and gun from Pedro, and tossed them out of sight beneath the couch, "if the detective's business failed we could go in for a penny gaff. Pedro knows lots of tricks, Mr. Blake would make an excellent wizard and fortune-teller, with a little make-up and the togs, whilst you needn't be idle."
"And what could I do?" Martin suggested, with an air of condescending amusement.
"Why, if you let your hair and whiskers grow, you'd make a jolly fine Wild Man from Borneo!" Tinker answered coolly, "We'd shove you in a cage, and all you'd have to do would be to dance and howl a little and—"
"Be quiet, Tinker!" Sexton Blake ordered sternly, for he had seen that the cheeks of his official colleague had flushed wrathfully. "Suppose you give us some of that coffee I see you have made. We are both tired and worn out."
The famous detective removed his hat and light dust coat, and tossed them aside, then he sank wearily into an easy-chair, and signed to Martin to do the same. Sexton Blake had spoken the truth when he had stated they were both fatigued. His always pale face looked drawn and haggard, and there were dark marks about his eyes, whilst even Inspector Man in had lost some of his ruddiness of complexion, and looked heavy-eyed and worn.
Tinker poured out the required beverage, and handed a cup to both the inspector and his master. As Sexton Blake stretched forth his long, slender hand to take his cup, Tinker saw that his wrist was bandaged. "You are injured, sir!" he said anxiously.
"Only a graze, lad," the detective replied, with a shrug. "How is it you are up so early?"
"I haven't been to bed, guv'nor," Tinker explained. "I was waiting for you to come in, and fell asleep in the chair. I didn't wake till about half an hour ago."
"Fenson led us a dance!" Sexton Blake said. "We found him in an opium den down East, but he fought like a madman when we attempted to arrest him, managed to break free, and eventually gained the roofs. He had a revolver, and we couldn't get near him for some time. He gave us the slip altogether once, but, quite be chance, we got upon his track again, and he is now safely under lock and key. Hallo!"—as the telephone bell rang sharply and insistently—"whoever can be ringing up at this hour?"
Tinker crossed to the instrument, and took down the receiver.
"Hallo!" he said. "That is Sir Digby Cranston's house at Berkeley Square? Yes; these are Mr. Blake's room. He's in, but he's been upon a case all night, and—"
"What is the trouble, lad?" Sexton Blake asked, rising from his chair, his weariness leaving him as if by magic. "Sir Digby Cranston is a friend of mine. What has happened?"
Tinker swung round from the telephone, his face evincing the keenest excitement.
"It's Sir Digby's collection of jewels, guv'nor!" he announced quickly. "Nearly all the stones have been stolen, and Sir Digby, who surprised the burglar, has been badly wounded!" Sexton Blake elevated his eyebrows and whistled softly.
"Let me speak!" he said, taking the receiver. "Ah, that is Miss Elice, is it not? Yes, I am Sexton Blake. When did the robbery occur?"
For several minutes the detective conversed with Sir Digby Cranston's daughter, who was at the other end of the wire, and ere he had finished, Inspector Martin was standing listening eagerly by his colleague's side. Curiously enough, like his friend, the Scotland Yard man seemed to have forgotten his fatigue, now that there was work to do.
"What has really happened, Blake!" Martin asked, as the detective hung up the receiver. "The man has got clear away?"
"Yes," Sexton Blake replied. "Sir Digby held a reception last night to celebrate the homecoming of his daughter, who has been acting as a Red Cross nurse at the front, and his renowned collection of precious stones were on view during the evening. He couldn't sleep when he went to bed, and had a presentiment that his jewels were in danger. He went downstairs just to satisfy himself that all was well, and upon entering the room in which his safe is situated, he found a masked man bending over the cases which had contained the gems, and which were standing upon the table.
"Sir Digby tried to fire, but the burglar managed to shoot first, and bolted with the best part of the collection!"
"Are you going to take up the case?" the official asked eagerly.
Sexton Blake nodded as he lit a cigar.
"Yes," he agreed. "As you may have heard me tell Tinker, Sir Digby is a personal friend of mine, so, tired though I admit I am, I cannot well refuse. Besides, this is no ordinary robbery. The Digby collection must be worth something like a couple of hundred thousand pounds! I have inspected it, so I know."
"Phew!" Martin ejaculated. "Do they know of the robbery at the Yard!"
"Yes; Detective-sergeant Jones is already upon the scene of the crime."
"Oh, is he!" Martin snorted. "That's the man who, quite by a fluke, got ahead of me in the Mortlake forgery business. Got ahead of me, mind you, his chief, and coolly took all the credit! I haven't liked the beggar since!"
"Naturally not!" Sexton Blake responded drily, and we wondered just what son of a "fluke" had enabled his friend's subordinate to score. "Are you coming along to Berkeley Square?"
"Of course I am!" Martin answered. "I'm longing to dress Mr. High-and mighty Jones down!" he added aggressively. He grinned viciously. "Won't he be pleased when I turn up!"
"Suppose we leave off discussing this person with whom you seem to be riled!" Sexton Blake suggested mildly as he slipped into his dust-coat and donned his hat. "Minutes may count if we are to run the thief to earth and regain the jewels."
"Do I come with you, sir?" Tinker asked eagerly, as his master and the Scotland Yard man moved towards the door.
"No, my lad, not at present!" Sexton Blake returned. "But later there is a chance we may require both you and Pedro. If we do, I shall telephone, so don't go out upon any account."
Sir Digby's Story.
ELICE CRANSTON bent over her father as he stirred uneasily and awoke from the troubled sleep in which he had lain since the departure of his medical man.
The baronet was lying in his bed, and the ugly wound in his shoulder had been dressed after the bullet fired by Ezra Q. Maitland had been extracted. The old man's face was ghastly, his lips were bloodless, and his eyes unnaturally bright with the agitation that was obsessing him. The doctor had looked grave when he had made his examination, but he had given it as his opinion that with careful nursing Sir Digby would recover in due time.
The nobleman had refused to be warned as to allowing himself to become excited, and he had insisted upon telling his daughter what had happened in the study, requesting her to at once communicate with his friend, the great private investigator of Baker Street.
"I wonder how much longer Sexton Blake will be?" the baronet asked petulantly. "You—you said that he was up when you 'phoned, Elice?"
"Yes dad," the girl replied, laying her cool white hand upon his feverish brow. "He promised to come here at once and he cannot be a great while. Ah, hark! There is someone upon the stairs now."
There came a tap on the door, and in response to the girl's order to "come in" the butler appeared.
"Mr. Sexton Blake and Detective-Inspector Martin have arrived. Miss Elice," the servant announced. "Shall I show them up?"
"Yes, yes!" Sir Digby exclaimed eagerly, before the girl could reply. "Let them come to me at once!"
"Dad, you must really keep calm," Elice insisted, with the gentle tone of authority in her sweet voice that her training as a nurse had gifted her with. "All the jewels in the world are not worth your life, and you know what Doctor Tilling said."
"Hang Tilling!" the baronet snapped, raising himself painfully upon his pillows, despite the restraining hand his daughter put out. "I want to sit up, Elice, so that I may tell Blake what has occurred! Confound you, sir!"—this to the butler&mdash "Haven't I told you to show 'em up immediately!"
The man, who was a very old retainer, looked troubled, and glanced towards his young mistress. Elice inclined her head to show he was to obey, for she knew that the longer her father was kept waiting to see the famous criminologist to whom he wished to pin his faith, the worse his condition would become.
The butler disappeared, and presently returned to announce:
"Mr. Sexton Blake and Detective-Inspector Martin!"
Sir Digby turned so quickly that he jarred his wounded shoulder, and his face twitched with pain. He forgot his agony the next moment, however, as Sexton Blake and the burly red-faced official from the Yard entered the room and approached the bedside.
"I am glad that you have come, Mr. Blake," Elice said, as she gave the detective her hand. "Father is most anxious that you should take up his case!" Sexton Blake smiled into the girlish face.
"I don't think there will be any difficulty in that, Miss Elice," said he. "Fortunately, I am enabled to commence my investigations very soon after the crime has taken place, which often simplifies matters. With luck, I may pick up a clue that will enable my colleagues and myself to quickly get upon the track of the burglar. But let me introduce you to Detective-Inspector Martin, of Scotland Yard."
Formal greetings having been exchanged, Sexton Blake and Martin drew chairs near the bed.
"Do you feel able to give me the details of the case that are available, Sir Digby?" the private detective asked.
"Yes, yes, Blake!" Sir Digby returned quickly. "I've been badly injured, but, by James, if I were dying, I think I would use my last breath in doing all possible to help you get on the scoundrel's track! Three-quarters of my beautiful collection gone-stolen by this villain, who—"
"Do not distress yourself, Sir Digby," Blake interrupted soothingly, for a flush of colour had sprung into the old man's ashen cheeks, and he was shaking with intense agitation. "You may rely upon the best efforts of both Martin and I, and there can be no good purpose gained in your upsetting yourself. At what time did you come downstairs and find the burglar in your study?"
"Let me see! At about half-past four, I suppose it would be. I had a strange feeling that all was not well, and, just to satisfy myself, I rose and secured a revolver and candle, making my way downstairs. You can judge of the shock I received when I saw the masked man in the room. I threw up my weapon to fire at him, but he was took quick forme. He fired first, and I remembered no more until I found my daughter and Tilling—my doctor—stooping over me. I was in bed, and Tilling had dressed my wound. Mr. Blake, at all costs, whatever else you have to shelve, I implore you to leave no stone unturned to get my treasures back! I will compensate you for any loss you may sustain, pay any fee that—"
Sexton Blake held up his hand sharply.
"We are personal friends, Sir Digby," he reminded the nobleman quietly. "The question of fees need not be entered into—at least until the case is brought to a conclusion. What is the value of the stones that are missing?"
"I cannot accurately say, for I have not been well enough to check the part of the collection the scoundrel left behind him. Quite three-quarters of the collection have been taken, however, and I should imagine the thief's haul is a little less than one hundred and fifty thousand pounds in value."
"I see. Would it be possible for you to obtain me a detailed list of the stones that are missing?"
"Inspector Jones has already requested that," Sir Digby answered, "and I have promised to let him have it, although I had quite forgotten until now. Do you think you could compile the necessary particulars, Elice?" The girl looked doubtful.
"I doubt whether I could, dad," she replied. "You see, Mr. Blake—" turning to the detective—"I have been away from home practically since the outbreak of the war. Doubtlessly you have added to the collection during my absence, father."
"Yes," Sir Digby admitted, frowning. "And I have also exchanged and disposed of a certain number of stones. However, Miss Hammond could lay her hands upon the necessary lists and would be able to assist you, Elice."
"I wonder where Miss Hammond is?" Elice said thoughtfully. "It has just truck me that I have not seen her since the alarm was given."
"Humph! She must be a heavy sleeper then," the wounded nobleman grunted. "The shots that were fired roused the whole household, did they not?" Elice inclined her head.
"Yes," she agreed. "It is indeed strange that Miss Hammond was not awakened."
"May I inquire who this Miss Hammond may be?" Sexton Blake queried.
"My secretary—an American girl of remarkable beauty and intelligence, Blake," Sir Digby answered. "You had better awaken her, Elice. She will not mind being disturbed under the circumstances." The girl rose to her feet and moved towards the door.
"I think," Sexton Blake suggested, "that, with your permission, Sir Digby, we will take a look at the study. I presume the jewels were locked in your safe before you retired?"
"Yes. The safe was opened with a duplicate key. It was left in the lock."
"Indeed! It would almost seem, then, that some person in the house was in league with the thief." "Yes; although for the life of me. I can't think whom it could be. All my servants have been with me for years, and I have every confidence in their honesty."
"Have you the key to hand?"
"No; but Mr. Jones, of Scotland Yard, has it. He is downstairs still, I expect. Oh, how I wish I had hidden my collection in this room! But, there, it is of no use repining now!"
The baronet sank back feebly upon his pillows, and Sexton Blake and Martin followed Elice from the room, as she beckoned them.
"I will take you to the study, gentlemen," she said.
The two detectives followed the girl down the imposing, thickly-carpeted staircase, and she quickly led them to the room in which Sir Digby Cranston had so dramatically surprised Maitland some two hours ago.
An alert-eyed young man, with a drooping moustache of a sandy hue, a fresh complexion, and square, determined chin, turned from the safe which he had been examining. He was quietly dressed in a dark grey suit, and there was little of the detective about him, although Martin, had he been inclined to admit the truth, could have told you that Detective-sergeant Jones was one of the ablest young officials at the Yard.
A constable stood respectfully in the background, watching his superior, and he drew himself up and saluted smartly as Martin swaggered in behind Sexton Blake. Elice whispered a word of excuse to the latter and left them.
"Hullo, Jones!" the worthy official growled. "So you've been put on this case."
Jones nodded coolly.
"Yes, sir," he answered. "The assistant commissioner sent for me as soon as we received the news of the robbery, and I came straight away here."
"Humph! Have you discovered anything of value?"
"Not a great deal, at present. The robbery was well planned. The burglar came prepared with a duplicate key."
"May I see it?" Sexton Blake requested.
Jones produced the article in question, and Sexton Blake took it between his long, white fingers. He scrutinised it closely, noting that one of the wards had been recently oiled and filed.
"Depend upon it, he had an accomplice in the house," Martin said. "It's a rotten old safe, anyway. If the fellow had not secured a duplicate of the key, he wouldn't have had much trouble with it. Fancy keeping jewels to the value of two hundred thousand pounds in a thing like this, Blake?"
"It is certainly unwise, my friend," Sexton Blake admitted, as he sank to his knees before the safe and examined it closely.
"Unwise! I call it sheer idiocy!" Martin growled. "Some people fairly ask to be robbed, and we chaps at the Yard get all the trouble. Why, in the hands of a cracksman who knows his work, that safe would be as easily opened as would an ordinary sardine tin! What're you looking for? Finger-prints?"
Behind his chiefs back. Mr. Jones smiled. It struck him that what Sexton Blake was doing was rather obvious. The Baker Street detective had produced his lens and was going over every inch of the polished steel door and its brass fittings.
"I am afraid you'll be disappointed in that direction, Mr. Blake," Jones said. "I've already searched for impressions, and there's not a ghost of one!"
Sexton Blake paid no heed to him until he had made a thorough inspection of the door through his lens. Then he rose, smoothed the creases from his knees, and shook his head. "Not a sign of an impression," he said. "The man escaped through these windows, I take it?"
"Yes," Jones replied. "They were open when I arrived. Save for removing the jewels that were left behind, Miss Cranston had thoughtfully left the room just as it appeared when she rushed in to find here father upon the floor. She thought he was dead at first, for the front of his dressing gown was stained with blood, as also was the carpet."
Sexton Blake glanced keenly round him.
"And you have touched nothing since?" he queried.
"I have disturbed nothing, although I have, of course, made a thorough examination," the Scotland Yard man returned.
Sexton Blake backed towards the door, and, as was his custom, he made a survey of his surroundings, nothing escaping his keen grey eyes. He saw the dark, wet stain upon the carpet, which told him the spot at which Sir Digby Cranston had fallen when he had been wounded, and in his mind's-eye he imagined how the room had appeared when Elice had first entered.
He pictured the inert form of the nobleman lying stretched at full length upon the floor, the jewels scatted about the table, the safe yawning open, and the windows ajar. He stepped over to the gas-heating stove and stood before the massive fireplace, but there was nothing in or behind it—not even a scrap of paper—that would serve as a clue.
"Have you been in the garden as yet?" he asked, addressing Jones.
"I have taken a look round," the sergeant replied, "and I have found little save that I know the exact spot where our man scaled the wall. A brick had been dislodged and lay on the mould of the flower-bed beneath."
"A flower-bed is directly beneath the wall, then? There are surely some traces of footprints there?"
"Yes. I have the measurements here," Jones answered, as he drew a notebook from his pocket. "There was a women in the business, I imagine."
"How do you know?" Martin asked eagerly.
"There are two sets of impressions at the foot of the wall," the detective-sergeant explained. "One set were made by a women. You can tell by the shape of the heel," Martin sniffed.
"Of coure you can!" he snapped. "I don't need to be instructed as to how to distinmguish the footprints made by a man from those of a woman."
"I was not suggesting such a thing, sir," Jones retorted calmly. "I merely explained how I was fairly certain a women was in the case. I say fairly certain, because even the elongated heel isn't always a proof that the marks were made by a member of the fair sex. I was once taken in very successfully by a crook who purposely wore ladies' shoes when at work."
"That's nothing to do with the matter in hand," Martin returned. "We've got to catch the man who stole Sir Digby Cranston's jewels, and whilst we are listening to your experiences as a detective, he's gaining a longer start of us. When you are as old as I and—"
"Let us get into the garden and investigate," Sexton Blake cut in, and his manner was impatient, for he had no wish to listen to a passage of arms between the rival officials. "We shall learn more there than is possible here, I think."
He stepped to the windows, released the catch, and a moment later stood on the strip of path that divided the house from the miniature lawn.
Sexton Blake moved slowly over the grass, his eyes scanning the ground, but he saw nothing to interest him until he stepped behind the bushes, in the cover of which Ezra Q. Maitland had lain in wait for his wife.
At once the detective saw that the grass was crushed and flattened, and he knew that someone had crouched at the spot for a considerable time. He sank to his knees, and beneath his lowered lids his eyes were steely and bright as he picked up the stump of a match which had been partly burnt.
"Our man believed in living in style, my friend," Sexton Blake said, looking up at Martin, who was standing over him, with Detective Jones by his side.
"How do you know?" the official asked, with a frown of puzzlement.
"Because this match enables me to deduce that he was recently frequented one of the most expensive and select hotels in the West End of London," Sexton Blake answered quietly.
"Oh, draw it mild!" the worthy official grinned. "How the deuce can you tell that from the stump of a match?"
"In this particular instance, quite easily," the Baker Street detective replied. "Take a look at it. It is not an ordinary match by any means!"
The Scotland Yard man took the charred fragment of wood from his colleague. Sexton Blake had been correct in stating that it was not an ordinary lucifer. It was broad and flat in shape, and stamped in the centre were the letters "R.H."
"I don't see that it affords us much information," Jones who was looking over his superior's shoulder, said indifferently.
"On the contrary," Sexton Blake objected, "it tells me that it was once in one of the match-stands in the American or buffet bar of the Royal Hotel in the Strand. These matches are peculiar to the institution in question, they being specially made for the proprietor, who has a mania for the initials signifying his hotel to appear on practically every article in use there. The glasses, the crockery-ware, the table-linen and cutlery all bear the initials 'R.H.' in some form or another.
"It is a habit of mine to notice facts that would escape, or only momentarily impress the average person. It is fairly safe to assume that our man, when taking a drink at one of the bars, discovered he was without matches, and took several from one of the stands before passing through to his rooms or making for the street. He must have been a resident at the hotel, otherwise he could not purchase refreshment at either of the bars."
"The reasoning is sound enough," Martin admitted, "But, after all, it does not identify the man who stole the jewels. Indeed, there is every reason for it to be possible that it was not he who dropped this fragment of match."
"On the contrary, I do not think that there is much doubt about the lucifer having once been in the possession of the cracksman," Sexton Blake returned, with quiet conviction, as he took the scrap of wood from Martin's hand and carefully stowed it away in his wallet. "Look at the grass and note how it has been pressed down behind these bushes. The fact seems to indicate that the man lay here for some good while, possibly watching for the house to be wrapped in darkness before he made his attempt to steal Sir Digby's treasures."
"Or he may have been waiting for his accomplice," Detective Jones put in.
"You are, of course, referring to the woman whom you have deduced went over the wall with the man?" he said.
"We will take a look at the footprints later," Sexton Blake answered. "For the present, there may be more to be found here. Phew!"
"What have you dropped on?" Martin asked, stooping eagerly forward, for Sexton Blake had given a long, low whistle. "This," Blake answered, holding up a partly-smoked cigar, which he had just unearthed from beneath the bushes.
"It's an Indian brand!" Martin said, as he took the find between his finger and thumb and sniffed at it.
"Precisely! It is a Trincomalee!"
"What!" Martin started. "The kind smoked by Ezra Q. Maitland?" he ejaculatedmvoluntarily. "Jove, Blake do you think—"
"We must not jump to conclusions," the Baker Street detective protested, with a deprecatory gesture of his hands. "Trincomalees are certainly the brand of cigars smoked by Maitland and are very rare in England, but the finding of this butt here does not necessarily proclaim that the American was the burglar."
"As with the match," Jones said, "the cigar may not have been smoked by the criminal, although there's indication that it was."
"I fancy I follow the direction in which your thoughts are running," Sexton Blake said. "The cigar was thrown away almost immediately after it was ignited, which might mean that our man, supposing he was the smoker, saw that the time for him to act had arrived, necessitating his tossing the weed away."
"That's just what I was deducing, Mr. Blake. Do you think that Maitland has cropped up again in his affair? By James! It's more than likely when one comes to think of it! He's been quiet for a long while now, and Sir Digby Cranston's jewels would mean a haul that even Maitland would consider worth going for! The woman might have been his wife, eh?"
"It is more than likely," Blake agreed. "But let us prove the theory to be an actual fact before we rely upon it. Perhaps you'll lead us to the spot where the man and women scaled the wall?" Jones nodded.
"This way, gentlemen!" said he.
He started off across the lawn, and presently paused before the wall that cut off the garden from the lane at the rear. He indicated with his foot a brick that lay in the soft mould of the flower-bed beneath, and pointed to the cavity it had recently filled.
Sexton Blake sank to his knees, quite heedless that the ground was damp with the dew that had fallen during the night. His brows were drawn together, his lips compressed, as he studied the footprints that were in evidence in the soft earth. As Jones had said, they appeared to have been made by a man and a woman, for one set was very small and dainty, whilst the heels of the person responsible for them had sunk deeply into the ground.
Blake rose and drew himself to the top of the wall with a quick, neat spring. He glanced from side to side, then once again dropped to earth and stood by his companions.
"Hallo!" Martin said at that moment. "What's wrong with Miss Cranston? She seems upset about something!"
Sexton Blake and Jones swung round in the direction in which he was looking. Elice had just emerged from the study windows and was hastening towards them in a manner that suggested something out of the common had occurred.
Her breath was coming a little sharply, and her cheeks were flushed with excitement, as she reached the three men.
"It's Miss Hammond, gentlemen," the girl answered quickly. "She has completely disappeared, and her bed has not been slept in!"
Sexton Blake's eyes glinted as instinctively he darted another glance at the impressions in the mould of the flower-bed. "I would suggest that you allow us to see her room," he said. Then, meaningly, "We have ascertained that a women was mixed up in the robbery, Miss Cranston."
Elice, caught her breath and her eyes opened wide with astonishment.
"But, Mr. Blake," she protested, "you cannot think that my father's secretary had any connection with the man who committed the theft of the jewels?" The detective tilted his shoulders.
"We know that a woman, for some reason, climbed over the wall into the lane at the rear of the garden," the detective said, non-commitally. "Also, the duplicate key could not have been obtained by the burglar, without assistance from an accomplice in the house."
"But Sadie Hammond could have had no hand in the crime, Mr Blake!" Elice cried. "She came to my father with references from an American millionaire, and was one of the nicest of girls. We were very great friends, and I cannot for a moment believe her to be dishonest."
"Yet her sudden disappearance is peculiar, to say the least of it, Miss Cranston," Sexton Blake persisted. "With your permission, we shall take a survey of her apartment without delay."
"Of course, if you think it necessary, I will take you to her room."
"I believe it to be most necessary. Were the references from this—er—millionaire ever confirmed?"
"You mean did my father correspond with him to ascertain whether the testimonials were genuine?"
"I am almost sure that he did not, Mr. Blake. Dad was always a trifle lax in business matters."
"Exactly. I should not be surprised if these references proved to be forged, but we will cast no further doubts upon Miss Sadie Hammond's honesty until we have had an opportunity of searching her room. You said she was, as her name implies, an American, if I recollect rightly?"
"That is so. She hailed from Chicago."
Sexton Blake seemed thoughtful as he and his companions followed the girl back to the house and up to the first floor. Elice led them along a corridor, and paused before a door at the far end. Throwing this open, she displayed to view a tastefully-furnished bedroom.
One glance at the bed sufficed to tell the detectives that Elice had been right in stating that it had not been slept in. Sexton Blake ran his eyes over various pieces of furniture the room contained, and moved over to the dressing-table.
His eyes narrowed as he stood for a moment regarding the array of articles dear to the feminine heart which stood there. Bottles of perfume, a tiny jar of face cream, a box of rice powder, a tube of lip-salve, and an expensive box of assorted chocolates lay about in disorder.
Sexton Blake took up the stump of a tiny cigarette, but upon examination it proved to be a "My Darling" State Express, a brand that is specially sold for ladies and which could be purchased at any good-class tobacconists. Blake was about to turn away when he caught sight of a quantity of hairpins lying in an ornamental glass tray, and at once he was struck by the fact that they were of two distinct kinds.
Quite a dozen were composed of tortoise-shell, and were of an amber colour, whilst there were three of the ordinary black wire description. Blake turned to Elice.
"Your father's secretary was a blonde," he said.
It was a statement rather than a question.
"Yes, Mr. Blake. Her hair was very beautiful, and of a fair golden hue."
"Can you remember ever seeing here with her hair undressed? I mean, with it falling about her shoulders?"
"No," Elice replied slowly, after a pause. "Never to the best of my recollection."
"I rather thought not, Miss Elice," Sexton Blake said, a trifle drily. "Had you done so, you might have detected that what you believed to be tresses of natural and exceptional beauty were nothing more than a skilfully-made wig."
"A—a wig!" Elice gasped. "Why do you think that?"
"Because," Sexton Blake returned quietly, although there was suppressed excitement in his keen, grey eyes, "there is, in my mind, but little doubt that Sadie Hammond was merely an alias for Kathleen Mait and, or 'Broadway Kate,' as she is known by the police of nearly every civilised country in the world, one of the cleverest and cunning female criminals of the twentieth century."
"Broadway Kate!" Elice seemed astounded, bewildered. "The wife of the man who attempted to steal the Great Belgian Relief Fund!" she said tensely.
"The same," Sexton Blake admitted.
"But what makes you so sure, Blake?" Martin asked eagerly. "You said just now, when you found the end of a Trincomalee cigar in the garden, that we could not be sure that it had belonged to Ezra Q. Maitland, although—"
"And since then," Blake replied, "I have secured a clue that has made me practically certain of the identities of the thieves. Let us put two and two together. We know that the secretary, who is known as Sadie Hammond, is of American origin. So is Broadway Kate. Secondly, the secretary came to Sir Digby, who, by the way, is a renowned collector of precious stones, with references that might quite easily have been forged.
"We must note that Miss Hammond would know that the jewels would be kept in the house all last night, for they were to be on view at the reception, and naturally could not be sent to the bank until this morning. Miss Hammond, in her position as private secretary to Sir Digby, would doubtless have frequent opportunities of taking a wax impression of the key of her employer's safe.
"Now, although Miss Hammond would be tired and would need rest after the whirl of a reception last night, her bed has not been slept in, and she has mysteriously disappeared. A burglary occurs, and we discover footprints at the foot of the garden-wall which show that a man and a woman have stood there. A brick is dislodged, which practically proves that they scaled the wall, and thus escaped from the premises.
"Behind a clump of bushes, where some person has obviously lain in wait for some time, we find the stump of a cigar, which, upon examination, proves to be a Trincomalee, a brand that is always smoked by Ezra Q. Maitland, but otherwise seldom found in Britain.
"The cigar had scarcely been lighted before it was tossed aside, seeming to suggest that the smoker had only just commenced it when he found that the time for him to be active had arrived. Therefore, it would appear that it was the cracksman to whom the cigar belonged. What is more likely than that Miss Hammond, who was his accomplice, appeared from the study windows before he had an opportunity of taking more than a few whiffs at the weed? She possibly would open the windows for him to enter and commit the burglary. I noticed that they showed no signs of having been forced.
"Now the Trincomalee cigar suggests Maitland, but it is hardly sufficient proof to lay the crime at his door without some further definite indication to that effect. We have the clue we need here. I refer to these hairpins.
"Miss Cranston tells us that Sadie Hammond was a blonde, which these amber-coloured hairpins at once suggested to my mind. If she were a fair woman, why on earth should she need black hairpins? Do you begin to see what I am aiming at?"
Martin rubbed at his chin and looked puzzled.
"I'm afraid I don't quite understand what—" he began. "By Jove! Yes, I do! We know that Broadway Kate keeps her own hair, which is dark, cropped short to her head, so that she may easily assume the character of a man, and when she appears as a member of her true sex, she wear a wig! She was known as a blonde as Sadie Hammond, but before she left here—-'
"Precisely—she changed her wig for a dark one, by way of disguise, so that she should not be easily traced," Sexton Blake concluded.
"She took the light-coloured pins from her fair wig," Jones put in, his manner evincing the keenest interest in the private detective's methods, "and used ordinary dark ones to pin the hair of a black wig into place, leaving two behind her."
"Exactly!" Sexton Blake agreed. "It is Ezra Q. Maitland and his beautiful yet criminal wife whom we have to seek. When we find them, we shall regain your father's jewels, Miss Elice. I think it would be as well for you to go to him and set his mind at rest by imparting to him that we are hot upon the track."
"And now we are off to the Royal Hotel in the Strand, Mr. Blake," Sergeant Jones suggested.
Sexton Blake inclined his head as he took out his cigar-case.
"Yes," he said. "We shall inquire for a guest who knocked up the night-porter just after dawn, presuming that Maitland returned there immediately after he had fled from here. With luck, we shall clap the darbies on his wrists before an hour has passed." And Inspector Martin grinned in his beard as he jingled the handcuffs that always reposed in his tail-pocket.
At the Royal Hotel.
IT was just after six-thirty that a taxi-cab, in which were seated Sexton Blake, Detective-inspector Martin, and his subordinate, Jones, dashed up to the imposing entrance of the Royal Hotel, which is near Charing Cross Station, and one of the most exclusive and expensive institutions of its kind to be found in the great world of London.
Almost before the cab had drawn up Sexton Blake had alighted, and he was quickly followed by his companions. The Baker Street detective paid the chauffeur, tipping him liberally; then the detectives mounted the steps leadmg to the hotel's entrance-hall.
A sleepy-looking porter was languidly cleaning the brass plate upon the doors. He paused in his work, and stared heavily at the early visitors.
"We wish to see the manager, my man," Inspector Martin said pompously. "Is he about?"
The porter scratched his head, and slowly a grin appeared upon his usually expressionless countenance.
"Lor' no sire!" he answered. "'E ain't in the 'abit if staying hup all night!"
"Don't try to be funny, my good fellow!" Martin snapped. "It doesn't suit you! You will have to rouse rum, if he is not yet up!"
The porter grinned again, in a manner that irritated the short-tempered Scotland Yard official to no little degree.
"You may be right sir," he said; "But, then again, you might be wrong, an' if you was to arsk me, I should say you was wrong, by long chalks! Why, bless me, he'd sack me on the spot if I disturbed him at this 'ere h-hour in the mornin'!"
Sexton Blake pushed his way forward. He drew half-a-crown from his pocket and slipped it into the man's ready palm.
"We wish to see the manager upon a very important matter," said the detective. "But, firstly, you may be able to give us some information. For how long have you been upon duty?"
"I ain't long come, sir."
"Can you tell me if any of your guests have entered here since you arrived?"
"No sir. They ain't astir so early as this."
"We have reason to believe otherwise, at least, where one of your patrons is concerned. Has the night-porter left?"
"I don't think so, sir. I haven't noticed him go out."
"Can you get into touch with him should he be still upon the premises?"
"Yes sir. If you'll wait half a minute I'll see if 'e's still about."
Sexton Blake nodded.
"Please do so at once," he ordered, in that quiet tone of authority that was at times characteristic of him, and which seldom the highest or lowest found possible to dispute. "The matter is urgent."
The porter touched his cap and disappeared. He quickly returned with a sturdy man of middle-age at his heels.
"This 'ere's the night-porter, sir," the former announced. "This is the gen'lman who give me half a dollar an' wants ter know things, Bill."
Sexton Blake took the obvious hint, and a similar tip found its way into the night-porter's pocket. "I want to know if one of your gentlemen knocked you up soon after daylight, my man?" the detective said.
"There was one—yes, sir," the man informed him. "But how you should know that, beats me, there being no one about when I lets him in!"
"It doesn't matter how I know of the arrival," Sexton Blake returned. "Who was this man?"
"A Mr. Charles Blenkarn, sir."
"An American gentleman?"
The porter looked still more surprised.
"Yus," he agreed. "He came in all of a fluster like, and guessed and reckoned at me like one o'clock. He gave me a couple of bob, sir, an' said as how he was sorry he had troubled me. I didn't know him, but I looked up his name in the visitors' book, found everything was all right, an' let him through."
"Thank you! Was his wife with him?"
"No, sir. He ain't got one, to my knowledge. Anyway, there was only his name entered in the book against the number of his room."
"You did not see a lady waiting outside, for instance?"
"No, sir. If you remember, I said as how there was no one about when I lets him in. Howsomever, his wife might have been waiting outside out of sight somewhere, for he didn't stay in his room long."
"He went out again, then!" Sexton Blake exclaimed sharply.
"Yes, sir. Arter about ten minutes, just as I was 'aving a do—I mean shovin' me legs up and restin' 'em, down comes his nibs again. 'Hi'm, sorry, porter, I guess; he says, 'but I reckon I've got to trouble you again,' he says, 'I've an appointment that I must keep at half-past six.' 'You're an early bird, sir' I says, as I opens the doors for him. 'You bet, porter,' he says, grinnin' all over his face. 'An I say, 'I've caught the worm! 'Good-mornin, an' I guess I'm much obliged to yer,' he says. An' with that he hops down the steps and fairly scoots down the Strand."
"We must see the manager immediately, my man," Blake said, turning to the other porter.
"But what'll he say, sir?" the fellow asked, hesitating.
"I expect he'll say a good deal when he knows the truth," Sexton Blake answered a little grimly. "Take this card up to him. He will understand when he sees it."
The porter took the slip of pastecard, and started as he read the name engraved upon it. "You're the great detective, sir!" he exclaimed, in an awed voice.
"I am a detective—yes; and these gentlemen are representatives of Scotland Yard. Please hurry! We have little time to spare."
Without more ado the fellow took his departure, and a few minutes later he reappeared, and requested the three detectives to step into the entrance-hall. He showed them into a small but comfortably furnished office, situated near the cloak-room, informing them that Mr. Raymond, the manager, would be with them in a few moments.
It was, however, quite a quarter of an hour before that gentleman put in an appearance, and Martin and Jones had been fidgeting with impatience although Sexton Blake had seemed careless of the time that was passing. He had been sitting languidly in an easy-chair, the lids drawn low over his eyes, drumming the tips of his long, nervous fingers together as was his custom when deep in thought.
Mr. Raymond proved to be a dapper little man, with a monocle and neatly waxed moustache. It was a habit of his never to appear in public unless he was well-groomed and sprucely attired, and although he had been agitated and exceedingly ill-at-ease when he had been informed that detectives were seeking information as to one of his guests, he had stopped to shave and folly dress before leaving his bedroom.
"You are Mr. Sexton Blake?" he asked, as the famous detective rose and formally bowed.
"That is my name," the latter agreed. "These gentlemen are Detectives Martin and Jones, of the C.I. D.. We have been inquiring about the doings of one of your residents—a Mr. Charles Blenkarn."
"So I have been informed," Raymond answered, tugging at his moustache, and looking worried. "I—er—trust, gentlemen, that there is no serious reason for your seeking him?" Sexton Blake lifted his shoulders expressively.
"I wish I could answer in the negative, Mr. Raymond," said he. "But I cannot; for the simple reason the man you know as Blenkarn is in reality one of the most badly 'wanted' men in London at this moment."
"Good heavens!" The little manager let out the exclamation explosively, and he seemed to grow limp as he lowered himself into a chair. "Who—who is he?" he queried weakly.
"He is Ezra Q. Maitland," Sexton Blake replied quietly. "A man who, you will possibly be aware, is being sought by the police of well-nigh every civilised country, save, of course Germany and Austria, for whom he has in the past worked as a spy."
Raymond gasped, and mopped his brow with a daintily scented handkerchief.
"The villain!" he cried, recovering himself. "To—to think that he has had the audacity to come to the Royal! Mr. Blake, I beg—I beseech that you will not make this matter public—It will ruin our reputation for all time!"
"You may rest assured that we shall hush the matter up, as we have done when he has been discovered at other select hotels," Blake answered reassuringly. "I take it that you will assist us in all your power to enable us to get upon his track?"
"With pleasure I will!" the little man exclaimed jumping up like a jack-in-the-box. "I trust that you may catch him, gentlemen! I hope he may get a life-sentence!" he added feelingly. "What can I do for you?"
"Allow us to search his room."
The manager started towards the door, but paused as he reached the threshold. "There could not possibly be any mistake?" he queried doubtfully.
"None whatever," Sexton Blake assured him. "You have heard that he knocked up the night porter just after dawn, stayed in his room for a short time, and then hastened out again?"
"He had just returned from committing a robbery involving something like one hundred and fifty thousand pounds. He has probably taken his departure for good, meaning, perhaps, to leave the country before, as he believed, the crime could be traced to him. Indeed, I believe it to be most likely!"
"Phew! He's made a haul this time!" Raymond breathed excitedly. "Follow me, gentlemen. I'll—I really beg your pardon, Mr. Melson. Did I hurt you?"
The last portion of his remarks had been caused by reason of his stumbling over a stooping figure, as he had hurried from the office. The man whom he had addressed as Mr. Melson had been bending to tie up his shoe-lace, and had been just a little to the left of the door, so that he had not been visible to the four men until they had stepped from the office.
"It's quite all right, Raymond," Mr. Melson said; and Sexton Blake darted a keen glance at him as he noticed that his voice contained the slightest trace of a nasal twang. "I guess it was my fault for stopping just by your office. I had no idea you were in there, though. You are about early."
"Yes; and you, too, sir," Raymond replied. "An early stroll, perhaps?"
"Yes; I haven't been able to sleep very well. Touch of neuralgia, I reckon. Good-morning, Raymond!"
Sexton Blake paused for the fraction of a moment to stare after the tall, gaunt figure of the man whom the manager had addressed as Melson, for the detective knew that he had lied when he had said that he had not been aware that the manager was in his office.
The excitable little gentleman had been speaking in a high-pitched, almost shrill voice, by reason of the disturbing news Blake and his companions had brought him, and unless Mr. Melson was stone deaf he must have known that the office was occupied.
When he had first emerged from the room and seen the manager stumble over the stooping figure, Sexton Blake had asked himself if Melson had been playing the eavesdropper, and as the latter's unmistakable twang had fallen upon his ears, the detective had momentarily asked himself if this man were Maitland—if, after all, Charles Blenkarn was not their man?
But a glance at Melson's lined careworn face removed all doubt from Sexton Blake's mind. Melson's eyes were grey, whilst Maitland's were of a jet, piercing black in hue. As he followed the manager up the long, wide staircase leading to the first floor, Sexton Blake put Melson from his thoughts, thinking that perhaps he had merely sought to overhear what was being said in the manager's office out of mere inquisitiveness, but the detective would have been surprised could he have seen Mr. Melson's expression as he gained the street, and heard the words he uttered.
"By heavens!" he had muttered, rubbing calculatingly at his chin. "Then I was not mistaken! The man is Maitland without a doubt, and these people are seeking to arrest him. If I could only save him, it would be the opening with him that I have planned. With his fine brain to work the scheme I have in mind—"
"I'll do it, I reckon!" he murmured. "I'll order my car and follow them. If there's the ghost of a chance—"
Meanwhile, Sexton Blake, Martin and Jones had followed the debonair little manager to the room that "Mr. Charles Blenkarn" had occupied. As Sexton Blake had half-expected, the apartment was in the wildest disorder, showing every sign of its recent occupant having made a hurried departure.
Drawers were pulled open to their fullest extent, articles of clothing lay in confusion upon the floor, whilst in the grate was a heap of ashes, suggesting that a quantity of letters, or other documents, had been hastily burnt.
"A Trincomalee," he said meaningly.
He began poking about amid the heap of ashes in the grate, then a sharp exclamation left his lips, and he gained his feet, a charred scrap of paper held between his finger and thumb.
Inspector Martin and Jones stepped eagerly to his side as he moved over to the table and smoothed the scrap of paper out upon it. Two corners of the paper, which was of the cheapest variety of note, were burnt away; but, in spite of this, it was at once plain to the detectives that it had once been a letter, for a number of ill-formed, misspelt words were still discernible upon its surface.
This was how Sexton Blake's find appeared as he laid it upon the table and perused it:
Sextons Blake's eyes were very bright and hard as he turned quickly to his colleagues.
"This is the most valuable clue we have discovered!" he said, with unwonted enthusiasm in his voice.
"But why?" Martin asked, his brows going up in surprise. "It only tells us that somebody was sorry because he was not in when Maitland called upon him—or that is how I take it. Then it goes on to say that the writer got something—a note, by the look of it—and that he can do the deal if the stuff is brought to him."
"Yes; and the stuff referred to means, of course, the jewels."
"Of course; but there's no address or signature showing, and possibly neither ever appeared on the letter, so we don't know who wrote it, or from whence it came," Martin objected. "We are no better off than we were before we found it." Sexton Blake laughed silently, and moved towards the door.
"Where are you off to?" Man in asked, glaring at his friend, for he detested anything that mystified him, and he could not understand Blake's obvious exultation.
"I am going to the shop in Cleever's Rents, a slum just off the Minories, where a gentleman named Israel Samuels ostensibly sells second-hand clothes," the private detective returned calmly. "But I must first make a call in Villiers Street."
"Samuels, the fence!" Martin and Jones cried together.
"Samuels, the man we have always thought to be a fence," Sexton Blake corrected. "We have never proved it, you know, although I fancy his race is nearly run."
"You think that Maitland has gone to him to dispose of the jewels?" Martin jerked. "But how do you know? There's nothing on the letter to show that it comes from him, and—"
"There I must differ from you," Sexton Blake interrupted. "There are a dozen indications to definitely prove that Israel Samuels was the writer of this message to Maitland. Only a few days ago I secured a specimen of his handwriting from a reformed crook, and you may rely that I took the trouble to carefully study it. The shaky writing, the twist of the e's the formation of the't's and the r's are unmistakable—even the spelling of the words is characteristic of the man! We may arrive too late to arrest Maitland, but at all events we shall regain the Digby Collection, or the part of it that has been stolen. I must go to Villiers Street whilst you get off post-haste to the Yard for a search warrant."
"Why are you going to Villiers Street?" Martin asked
"Because," Sexton Blake said, with the ghost of a smile playing about his lips as he drew a handsome diamond ring from his finger, "I require a disguise, and I am going to call on a friend of mine there who always keeps a variety in readiness for me. Impersonating a crook who I am almost certain has done business with Samuels, I shall go to his shop on the pretence of selling this ring, which, of course, he will think I have come by, by dishonest means. You will be waiting near at hand, and should I find that Samuels has someone in his shop-parlour, I shall take it to be Maitland and immediately arrest him. I shall telephone Tinker, and, in a good disguise, he will be hanging around by the shop door. As soon as he sees me clap the handcuffs on old Samuels, he will signal to you. You will then enter the shop at once to assist me with Maitland. It may not be an easy matter to secure him, for he will be desperate, and will possibly fire free unless I am too quick for him. You had better bring two or three plainclothes men with you, in case the inhabitants of Cleever's Rents attempt to effect a rescue of our prisoners. I happen to know that they are not in love with law and order."
Martin nodded, and his chin went forward aggressively as he felt his biceps.
"Won't pay 'em to interfere with us!" he grinned. "I haven't been in a scrap for a long time, and I believe a shindy would do me good! We'll have friend Samuels this time if we have to ransack the old blackguard's shop from cellar to attic! He's worried me for years, and now that we've got something tangible to go on, I'll lay him by the heels or resign my position—go into the country and grow cabbages!"
CLEEVER'S RENTS is not one of the nicest localities in the metropolis. Far from it, many would say, when they took in its cracked and broken windows, stuffed with rags or paper, its garbage-littered gutters, its poverty-stricken aspect, and its narrow dimensions.
Upon either side, tall, gaunt-looking houses tower up towards the strip of sky that is visible between them, many of them sheltering a family in every room. Pinched-faced, ill-clad children of all ages seem to play continuously on the steps, in the puddles and gutters, save when a Council school officer takes it into his head to risk that part of his person getting broken by paying a visit to the slum.
There is a gin-palace standing upon the corner, which always seems to be doing a brisk trade, and at night the sickly light from its windows is the only illumination Cleever's Rents receives or requires, for the inhabitants detest too much light for many reasons, and the two lampposts that are in evidence have been rendered hors de combat long since.
It was to this part of the globe that Ezra Q. Maitland had wended his way after he made his hurried exit from the Royal Hotel, and now, with his soft hat pulled well over his eyes, and his coat collar turned up, he was pausing before a dingy shop which stood exactly opposite the public-house.
Over this establishment, which was outwardly a wardrobe dealer's, known to the Cleever's Rents residents as an "ole clo'" shop, was the faded and weather-beaten inscription—"I. Samuels."
Save for the ancient articles of wearing appeal in the dirty window, there was nothing to indicate the nature of Mr. Samuels's calling; but he was known by half the criminals in London—also by Scotland Yard, although its members had never been able to secure any definite charge against him—to be one of the most adroit fences and benevolent old crooks who ever drew breath.
The shop was open, despite the fact that the hour was not quite seven o'clock, for long experience had taught Mr. Samuels that it was often at an exceedingly early hour that his numerous "friends" desired to do a deal with him.
After a quick, furtive glance about him, Ezra Q. Maitland tried the door, found it unlocked, and pushed it open, He stepped into the close, fusty atmosphere beyond conscious as he did so that an electric bell was buzzing somewhere in the rear of the premises.
The master criminal had not long to wait for the appearance of the man with whom he had come to do business. A tattered curtain concealing the entrance to the shop-parlour was thrust aside, and the wizened countenance of old Israel Samuels peered out.
He was very old, ugly and unclean. He possessed a parchment-like skin, a hooked nose, and evil, beady eyes. A skull-cap was upon his head, concealing to an extent its baldness, whilst he was attired in a disreputable red dressing-gown, over the front of which streamed his matted grey beard.
"And what can I do for you, my tear?" the old reprobate queried, regarding Maitland with a half suspicious look as he tottered forward and stood behind the counter, rubbing his bony hands. "It'th a pleathant mornin' to be sure, ain't it?"
Maitland's reply was to take a step forward, pushing back his hat and turning down his coat collar; then, in a trice, the neat black beard and moustache that had concealed his features were whipped away, and his sinister eyes were looking into those of the Jew.
"Holy smoke! If it ain't tear Mithter Maitland!" the old man exclaimed, throwing up his dirty hands. "Vell, vell, vell, thith ith a pleathure, to be sure! Come you in, my tear, and ve vill do bith'nith with ourselves together!"
"Get right along, and don't talk so much," Maitland advised shortly. "My time is limited, I guess."
The old man chuckled cacklingly, seeming in no way offended by his client's manner.
"Come in—come in, my tear," he muttered, lifting the flap of the counter and standing aside for Maitland to pass through.
The master-criminal followed him through into the shop-parlour, where there was an overpowering odour of kippers, which caused the refined soul of the Yankee crook to positively revolt within him.
His hands had dropped carelessly into his jacket-pocket as he had followed the old fence into the room, for none knew better than Maitland how handy it was at times to be lighting on the draw when visiting such a place as this.
Not that he was by any means afraid of the decrepit Samuels; but the old man knew the nature of the business upon which he had come, knew that he probably carried a vast quantity of jewels upon his person, and Maitland did not trust him.
Samuels had been expecting his visit, and he was quite capable, if it suited his purpose, to employ one or more of the ruffians of his acquaintance to be at hand to treacherously attack and rob him—Maitland—of his ill-gotten gains.
However, a sharp survey of the stuffy little parlour, with its worn and broken furniture and array of unhealthy-looking wax flowers, convinced Maitland that he and the Jew were quite alone, so he dropped his long frame into an easy-chair standing near the table and watched Samuels from the corners of his eyes as he, too, seated himself.
"Vell, my tear?" the fence asked eagerly. "You've got them?"
Maitland nodded leisurely as he carefully lit one of his strong Indian cigars.
"Bet on it," the master-crook answered, in a drawling tone. "Say. I told you I was after jewels to a value well over a hundred thou, and I ain't a man to boast without cause as a rule."
"You haf them vith you?"
"Of course. Think I've come here for the pleasure of just sittin' and looking at a crooked-beaked old scoundrel like you?" the Yankee queried. "Say, I guess you'll open your eyes when you know what the stuff really is. Now that the job's over, I guess I've no objection to letting you into the know. It's the Digby collection that I've lifted; or, rather, three-quarters of it!"
"The Digby collection!" The old Hebrew's jaw dropped in blank surprise. "My vord!" he gasped. "How in the name of all that'th vonderful did you do it, my tear?"
"I reckon that's got nothing to do with you, my friend," Maitland retorted. "Suffice it for you that I've got the 'shiners' here, and the sooner I've exchanged 'em for banknotes the better I shall be pleased. Take a look at 'em!"
He had taken the two wash-leather bags from his pocket, and now, with a quick twist of his hands, he had emptied their contents upon the newspaper that lay upon the table to serve as a cloth.
The unset jewels went rolling over the table, Maitland scooping them together so that they did not fall upon the floor. Even in the dim light of the little parlour they shone and blazed with a myriad lights, and old Samuels caught in his breath with admiration, while his wizened face depicted innate greed.
Without a word, he screwed a powerful magnifying-glass into one of his evil old eyes, and for the next ten minutes he was poring over the master-criminal's haul, picking up stone after stone in his fingers and submitting it to an exhaustive scrutiny.
"Say," Maitland drawled at length. "Suppose you hustle some. I reckon I don't feel too secure here."
"Vhy?" Israel Samuels queried sharply. "You haf not been followed?"
"No; I reckon not. But I've a good reason for wishing to get to the other side of the Herring Pond without much delay. I've had an uneasy feeling yesterday. A man who is staying at the hotel I have been using opened the door of my room when I was taking off my disguise for a snooze. It ain't like me to be careless, but I guess I'd omitted to lock the door. He apologised, and said he had made a mistake; but whether that was gospel or no, I can't say. He may have looked into my room on purpose, although I don't think so, for I made inquiries and found that his name was Melson, that he hailed from America, and was reported to be a millionaire and a well-known Wall Street man, which seems harmless enough. However, let's get going!"
Old Israel Samuels slowly removed the glass from his eye, drew up his sloping shoulders until they well-nigh touched his ears, and he rubbed his skinny hands until the joints cracked.
"Of course, my tear," he lisped. "I can give you something for the stuff as a speculation; but I fear it vill not be a great deal."
"Why not?" Maitland asked sharply, his eyes snapping.
"Vell, you see the jewels are tho well known and so eathily trathable, my tear," old Samuels answered. "I should haf to keep them monthth yearth, before I dare dispoth of them; elth haf to cut them about, vitch vould lessen them in value!"
"Well, what do you say to eighty-five thousand pounds?" the criminal asked.
"Eighty-five thousand pounds."
"Eighty-five thouthand, grandmother!" the fence repeated scornfully. "My tear Mithter Maitland, you ought to know better, indeed you ought. I can only gif you thirty-thouthand, and then I consider I am being moth generous!"
"See here!" Maitland hissed fiercely, his piercing eyes glinting dangerously. "Don't you try any tea-garden tricks with me, you avaricious old skeleton! I'll make it eighty thou, not a penny less!"
Old Samuels shook his head vigorously.
"I tell you it can't be done, my tear," he protested. "Look at the risk I run."
Maitland rose to his feet and began slowly putting the jewels back into the bags.
"Vhat'th the game?" the Jew asked, a trifle anxiously.
Maitland made a deprecating gesture.
"I reckon I'm takin' 'em elsewhere," he said determinedly.
"Stay a minute, my tear. Suppoth ve thay thirty-five—look here, forty thouthand pounds paid on the nail!"
"Go to the dickens!" Maitland said politely. "You have heard my price!"
"Vell, as you're an old friend of mine, ve'll stretch a point and thay thixty thouthand, half to be paid now and half next veek."
Maitland pointed to one of his eyes.
"I calc'late there's not a sign there," he drawled.
"A sign of vhat?"
"Green! Do you get me? You might move sudden, like!" The Jew threw up his hands in horror.
"My tear Mithter Maitland," he gasped, "I vouldn't do thuch a thing! Now, if you'll take my termth—Hark! Vhat's that! There is somevone in the thop!"
For a moment the two men stood rigid. Maitland had laid the bags upon the table, and his fingers were gripping upon the serviceable automatic that reposed in his jacket-pocket. "Who can it be?" he asked tensely.
"Anybody at 'ome?" a hoarse voice asked from the other side of the faded curtain.
"Comin', comin'," the Jew cackled. "It'th alright, I think," he said to Maitland. "Stop here a moment and I'll thee who it ith—" He tottered towards the door, pushed aside the curtain, and emerged into the shop to peer from beneath his shaggy brows at the rough-looking man who stood before the counter. The latter was attired in a pair of patched corduroys, a ragged coat, and a cap of a loud, check pattern, drawn forward over his eyes. A scarf was about his neck, knotted beneath his right ear; he was unshaven and flushed of countenance. He was clutching hold of the counter as though for support, and it seemed that, although the day was so young, he had been inbibing more than was good for him.
"'Allo, me ole cock-spadger!" the man said with a leer. "Ow're yer—hie!—fluffing it? Why, it must be four year since I saw yer dirty face larst!"
He lurched forward over the counter and tried to shake the fence by the hand. Old Samuels peered at him keenly, then he gave a sharp exclamation. "Toby Grimes!" he ejaculated quickly. "I thought you were still in—"
"'Ush!" Mr. Grimes protested with a shudder. "Don't mention me 'otel at Portland, Sammy, cos I got fed hup wi' it! I 'ad ter complain to the manager, I did! Cos why? Cos the place was so expensive! Did they play billyards? No!—hie—but they used ter play shove-'apenny on the tables, an' I lorst me pore old dad's forshun like wildfire! Nah, I'm agoin' ter tell yer this—"
"Vhat d'you vant?" Samuels asked impatiently. "Haf you come here to do buthnith, or only to vaste my time, ain't it?"
"I've come ter do a deal, me lad!" Grimes said, suddenly losing his balance, sprawling forward over the counter and embracing old Samuels lovingly about the neck. "'Ere—" he drew himself up with drunken dignity—"don't you get a-talkin' ter me like that 'ere, cos I won't 'ave it. Many's the deal we've done together, an' now, arter me first day on ticket-o'-leave, I've brought yer something thet'll make yer eyes hopen!"
He dived his fingers into his vest-pocket and drew forth a valuable diamond ring.
"Vhere did yer get it!" Samuels asked sharply.
"Wot's that got ter do wi' you?" the other asked aggressively. '"Ere, gimme a fiver for it?"
"Put it avay, you fool!" the fence urged. "Don't flash it about in the thop! There's somevone outside now, and—"
"Hoh, it's halright. It's only me son, 'Arry. Nice feller—hie!—is 'Arry! Ever met him?"
"No, and don't vant! I'll gif you two pounds for that ring, Grimes, my tear."
"Let's come inter the parler an' talk it hover mate. We—"
"No, no! Come back! There is an acquaintance of mine in there already!" the fence protested quickly, as he grabbed at the other's sleeve.
"Then in that case, my friend," the man whom Israel Samuels had taken for an old associate snapped in a low tone, "I am going to chance arresting you, for I imagine I know who your friend is! Quick, Tinker! Get a hold on him!"
The old Hebrew uttered a gasping cry and went tottering back, staring dully at the handcuffs which Sexton Blake—the reader has guessed at Grimes's true identity—had snapped upon his wrists.
Simultaneously with the clinking of the steel, the door had been dashed open, and Tinker, well disguised and attired in a suit of rags, had entered and sprung over the counter. He gripped the fence by his fettered wrists, bent him backwards, and clapped his hands over his mouth so that he could not cry out to alarm the man in the shop-parlour.
With the speed of an arrow released from a bow, Sexton Blake was round the counter. He thrust the curtain aside and entered just as Maitland was re-adjusting his disguise.
A sharp cry of surprise and dismay burst from Maitland's lips. With his left hand he made a grab at the two bags of jewels, which lay upon the table, whilst he whipped his revolver out of his pocket with his right.
"Who the deuce are you?" he snarled, swinging up his weapon. "Stand back! or, by heaven, I'll let daylight into you! Ah! a plague upon you!"
Sexton Blake had known that the position was desperate, and not for the fraction of a second had he hesitated. He had drawn his automatic as he darted from the shop to the parlour, and as he had seen Maitland's arm go up, he had sent his weapon whizzing through the air.
His aim had proved remarkably true. The heavy butt of the revolver had struck the master-criminals knuckles, and, with a snarl of pain and rage, he had involuntarily released his hold upon his shooting iron. It went clattering to the table, and Maitland let fall the jewels as Blake hurled himself at his throat.
Locked in each other's arms, the two men went swaying across the room, stumbled over a chair, and crashed to the floor. They rolled over and over, Maitland cursing savagely, Sexton Blake preserving a grim silence.
The master-criminal fought like a madman, every evil passion in him roused, for he believed that he was the victim of some traitorous trick of the fence Samuels. He never for a moment thought that this rough-looking man, with the apparently drink-blotched face, was his arch-foe Sexton Blake.
Crash! Blake's bunched fist thudded into Maitland's face, landing fully between his eyes with a force that caused the American's senses to reel. In a flash his arms were pinned to the ground, and his opponent was kneeling upon his chest.
"Who the tarnation thunder arc you?" the criminal rasped, glaring up vindictively into the face of the man above him. "What's your game?"
"My game is to arrest you, Ezra Q. Maitland," Sexton Blake said grimly, "and to regain Sir Digby Cranston's jewels!" A great cry escaped the master-criminal, and he seemed scarcely to believe the evidence of his senses as the well-known voice fell upon his ears. "Sexton Blake!" he breathed hoarsely. "Sexton Blake!"
"Very much at your service!" the detective snapped. "Your hands please! Thank you!"
Click! Maitland suddenly found his wrists drawn upwards and jerked together; then next instant, one of the fetters was snapped home. He struggled fiercely, desperately, managing to drag one hand away, and at that moment there was a loud commotion from the shop.
Old Samuels had suddenly fastened his yellow teeth into Tinker's palm, and the lad had let out a yell and released his hold of the Jew. With surprising agility and strength, considering his age, the fence had flung the surprised lad from him and made a rush for the shop-parlour.
In old Samuel's brain was but one idea. If only he could assist Maitland to escape with the jewels he would be safe, for no evidence of any value could be brought against him. He was far too artful to allow of any stolen property to remain on his premises once he had bought it. He was in the habit of having it removed at once to a private house in Streatham, where he was known by another name and very seldom allowed himself to be seen.
As the old man disappeared through the doorway, Inspector Martin, Jones, and a couple of plain-clothes C.I.D. men dashed into the shop, but they only found Tinker, who was hurriedly picking himself up, in view.
Old Samuels raised his arms above his head as he saw Blake and the Yankee crook struggling upon the floor; then, putting forth all his strength, the fence brought his manacled hands crashing down upon the back of Sexton Blake's unprotected head.
The steel fetters added to the effect of the blow, and for a moment red lights danced before the famous detective's eyes. He went reeling sideways, and Maitland, swift to take his opportunity, flung off the enemy and leapt to his feet.
"The jewels! Take the jewels!" old Samuels screeched. But Maitland was not such a fool as to delay for even an unnecessary second now that he had a chance to make a bid for freedom.
He knew that were he captured the police would hand him over to the military authorities, when he would be court-martialled and, without doubt, sentence of death as a spy would be passed upon him. He went across the room like a flash of lightning, to collide, as he reached the threshold, with Detective-sergeant Jones.
Thud! Maitland's fists crashed fairly and squarely into the unfortunate Scotland Yard man's mouth, and he collapsed in a huddled heap. Inspector Martin, who was close upon his heels, pitched over his inert form before he could pull up, and fell sprawling to his hands and knees.
Sexton Blake jumped to his feet, although his head was singing dizzily. He made a mad leap for Maitland, but quick as thought the criminal seized one of the plain-clothes men, swung him around, and sent him staggering into the private detective.
Partly owing to his dizziness, partly because of the impact with which the Scotland Yard man's body collided with his own, Sexton Blake lost his balance and fell heavily.
All was confusion and pandemonium! Martin caught sight of old Samuels and clutched at his legs, bringing him down with a run. Maitland had only one man to contend with before he was able to quit the parlour, and he aimed a swinging blow straight for the point of his jaw.
The plain-clothes man, however, ducked neatly and attempted to wind his arms about the crook's body, but Maitland was just the fraction of a second too quick for him. He took a step backwards, sprang forward again, and seized the detective in a vice-like hold.
At that moment Tinker appeared in the doorway, and Maitland's piercing eyes blazed like living coals with hatred and excitement. With the strength of a Hercules, he swung the Scotland Yard man above his head and sent him hurtling through the air straight for Sexton Blake's assistant's chest.
Nimbly, Tinker dodged aside, but it was impossible for him to entirely escape the flying body of the detective. The latter's heavy boots came into violent contact with the lad's head, and Tinker staggered backwards.
By an effort he kept his balance, but the Scotland Yard man was dashed heavily against the counter. It was a crazy structure, and it could not stand such rough usage and keep it equilibrium. It heeled over and fell with a cloud of dust that set Tinker, the official, and the criminal coughing.
Tinker flung himself at Maitland just as Sexton Blake, who had picked himself up, came rushing from the parlour, but, with a speed born of desperation, Maitland raised his foot and savagely kicked Tinker below the belt.
The lad collapsed like a stone, all the breath knocked out of him, and before he could save himself, Sexton Blake had stumbled over him and fallen again.
Maitland did not wait to see what the result of his treacherous attack upon the young detective had been, he fairly jumped across the shop, flung open the door, and dashed into the street, slamming it to behind him.
He pressed his elbows to his sides, and flew round the corner by the gin-palace, to find himself in the Minories. He heard the shouts of his pursuers in the rear as he came abreast of a handsome car, and realised that the man who was sitting in the driver's seat was calling to him.
"Quick! in with you!"
So surprised was Maitland that he momentarily stopped as he heard the words. They had come from the individual seated in the car, the engine of which was throbbing as though in readiness for the motor to be sent pulsing forward at the shortest notice.
In a flash the criminal recognised the person at the wheel as Mr. Melson, the reported millionaire, the man who had looked into his room at the Royal Hotel, and seen him undisguised.
"Hurry, you fool!" the man from America cried, leaning forward from his seat. "I know you are Maitland, but I want to save you from arrest!"
For the space of a couple of seconds the criminal hesitated, scarcely realising that he heard aright. Then he had sprung into the tonneau of the car, and Melson had sent it humming forward.
Maitland hardly knew why he had obeyed this man. For all he knew he might be a detective, and was now determined to drive him to the nearest police-station. The master crook was half inclined to spring out again, despite the speed the car was gathering, but something told him to lie low and trust to luck that his unexpected ally was genuinely anxious to help him elude his pursuers.
Inspector Martin, Tinker, Jones and Sexton Blake swung round the comer into the Minories as the car dashed onwards towards Tower Hill.
"Where is he!" Martin gasped, pulling up so suddenly that Tinker trod upon his heels. "He—he's vanished!"
"He's hiding in a doorway!" Sexton Blake panted; and, although he saw the car as it throbbed onwards, rapidly disappearing round a bend in the road, he little dreamed of the strange rescuer who had come to his arch-foe's aid. "Come along, Martin! We'll have him yet! He cannot have got far away!"
But, despite the little party of detectives searching exhaustively for upwards of an hour, no trace of Maitland could they find, and at length they were forced to give up the task, admitting themselves for the time being baffled, mystified, nonplussed!
It was not to be long, however, before Sexton Blake and the man who had sworn to sooner or later take his life, were again to come to grips!
The sun was blazing down from a perfectly cloudless sky, and it was nearly noon as Mr. Melson's long, grey touring car pulled up before the Magnificent Hotel, upon the front at that ever gay and vivacious seaside resort of the Kentish coast—Margate.
The sea was as calm as a mill-pond, hosts of happy, laughing children played upon the sands and paddled their sun-tanned little feet in the foam, whilst farther out bathing was in full swing.
It was hard to believe that not very far away thousands of men were fighting and dying, suffering and bleeding in a stupendous and deadly conflict, such as history had never known in the past, and, please God, will never know again.
At the popular pleasure haunt things seemed to be progressing much the same as usual, save that there was a curious and significant absence of young civilians of the male sex. Every young fellow between the ages of nineteen and twenty-five or so was in khaki, with but very few exceptions. Soldiers were everywhere, looking cheerful enough, for they were proud of wearing the King's uniform, and if, in a few weeks or months, they were to be crushed and slain by the great German war machine, they didn't let the thought trouble them now. With the true British spirit, they lived only for the present, entertaining and making happy their sweethearts or amusing their wives and children as the case might be.
Mr. Melson alighted from his car and turned to Maitland, who was now seated carelessly in one of the back seats. Only a moustache now disguised the astute Yankee's features, for his false beard had been torn away in the great struggle he had made for freedom in the stuffy little shop in the East End of London, but he seemed to feel fairly secure as he slowly puffed at one of his favourite smokes and gazed idly about him.
"Why the tarnation thunder have you come to this mad-headed place?" the criminal asked, looking upon the animated scene about him with a sneer curling his lips.
"It's as safe as anywhere else, I guess," Mr. Melson answered, with a lifting of his shoulders. "You'd better come into the hotel. I am going to engage rooms for us. I've already told you that I want to speak to you in strict privacy, and the sooner I've got what I want to tell you off my chest the better I shall feel. I calc'late we are going to do business together, my friend."
"Really?" Maitland raised his brows, and his manner displayed no particular gratitude for the service his companion had rendered him. "Waal I guess I'm on if there's enough money in the stunt! Say, do you think we shall be traced? Blake is a 'cute card, and if he tumbled that I was in this car he'd move heaven and earth but what he'd find it!"
Melson laughed softly, and shook his head.
"Sexton Blake may be fiendishly clever, but I don't think he'll find this car very easily," he said, with conviction. "I changed the number plate before we were more than eight miles out of London. It was a false number that was on the car when I picked you up in the Minories!"
"You are real smart for an amateur!" Maitland said, nodding approvingly.
"Perhaps I am not such an amateur as you appear to imagine," Melson answered in a curious tone.
Ezra Q. Maitland studied his companion's features from beneath his lowered lids. The criminal took in the extreme pallor of the reputed millionaire's clean-shaven face, saw the deep lines that so strongly marked it, noted the deep-set, cold grey eyes. And the crook wondered. Somehow, he could not help thinking that Melson was a man who had suffered—suffered deeply and bitterly, and Maitland asked himself what could be the man's object in wishing to gain his co-operation. Was it some great crime he was planning? Some stupendous robbery or swindle that—
"Say, I guess you'll know me in the future Maitland," Mr. Melson drawled cynically.
The Yankee started, and roused himself.
"I beg your pardon!" he said. "But you interest me. And, by the way, suppose you drop using my real name? It's not too healthy for me, I guess, to have it shouted about. Call me Kerney—Luke O. Kerney; that will meet the case, I think."
"Suppose we get into the hotel and see about a meal?" Melson suggested. "We can give orders for it to be served in a private room, and can talk after we've disposed of it."
"Right-oh!" Maitland answered. "But, say, what of this stunt you want me to participate in? Is it likely to keep me in England long—for more than a few days?"
"Yes," Mr. Melson returned, with conviction. "Possibly you will be working for me for several weeks."
"That's if it's worth my while, I reckon," Maitland reminded him coolly.
"It will be worth your while, my calculating friend," the other stated reassuringly. "I don't care what the job costs me, for I reckon I've got the dollars. Ten, fifteen, twenty thousand pounds, it's all he same to me, as long as I gain my ends."
Maitland licked the ashes from his cigar, and nodded.
"Very well, then," he said. "I guess I'll get one of the hotel attendants to sent a wire to my wife and servant. They are at Liverpool now, awaiting me, but I'll instruct them to meet me at a rendezvous in London."
"All right; but you'd better be careful how you word the message."
"You bet. We always arrange the next name we are to pass under long before we move from one place to another. It is more convenient. My better half is known at the Great Central Hotel—the place where she is staying—as Mrs. Kerney, and it will be in that name that I shall send the message. Let's get right along."
It was some half an hour later that Maitland and the mysterious Mr. Melson, from the States, having despatched an excellent luncheon, were sipping their liqueurs and smoking their cigars in the private sitting-room thay had engaged at the Magnificent.
Maitland turned from the window, whence he had been lazily surveying the shimmering sea, and his keen eyes met those of his companion.
"Suppose," he drawled, as he toyed with the little glass of Crème de Menthe before him, "you tell me just how the wind blows?" Mr. Melson leant forward, regarding Maitland through the blue smoke of his cigar.
"Do you recollect the Great Eagle Gold Mining Swindle that startled the whole of the United Kingdom some twenty years ago?" he asked slowly. Maitland puckered his brow.
"I can't say that I do," he answered. "Why, I couldn't have been more than about fifteen then, I guess, and such things didn't trouble me."
"No, I suppose not," Melson returned. "Then it will be necessary for me to give you a rough outline of the manner in which a partner and I engineered that and other coups of a questionable character and planned to bolt with a sum of half a million pounds sterling!"
The master-criminal's eyebrows elevated, and he grinned.
"Say," he exclaimed enthusiastically, "you're some genius, I guess!"
Melson shrugged wearily, and displayed no enthusiasm.
"I have often regretted since that I did not keep honest," he replied quietly. "By heavens, I have been repaid for going wrong-repaid a hundredfold! Listen! I am going to tell you a story of the past—a story that will explain to you why I am a man with an obsession—one who lives for but one object—to be bitterly revenged upon a fiend who betrayed me!
"Twenty years ago a man named Richard Cavendish and I—I was known than as Jasper Clench—were in business together as financiers and company promoters, in Throgmorton Avenue, London.
"We never played the game honestly. From the commencement of things we swindled, but we both were clever, and for years the police could not succeed in gaining any evidence against us condemning enough to warrant our arrest. We saw to that, and always we managed to keep clear of the law ourselves, although more than once our agents made slips and paid the penalty.
"There were scandals—black scandals—in connection with our names; but—well, you are a man of the world, and you will know how easily the British public forgets and how simple is the inexperienced person with money to invest.
"Well, matters went real strong for many years until the affair of the Great Eagle Mining Swindle. Both Cavendish and I felt that we had gone a little too far, so we realised on every available asset, to find that we were jointly worth £500,000, with which we meant to bolt.
"It was arranged that we should quietly get away in my partner's yacht, taking with us the whole of our resources in notes and easily negotiable securities. The whole of our wealth was hoarded together and placed in a portmanteau upon the day previous to that which we were to set sail.
"Cavendish wanted to get away that night, I remember, but my accursed greed urged me to wait for a large amount that was to arrive from a silly old woman upon the following morning. We came to words over this particular bit of business, but in the end, as was always the case, my will predominated over that of my partner, and, after locking the portmanteau in the office safe, we left for the day, agreeing to meet upon the next morning.
"I recollect that it was terribly foggy on the morning fixed for our hurried departure, and I was half frantic with impatience, as my cab crawled towards the office. When I arrived there, however, I found that the payment I had been expecting from my client had arrived by registered post, and my good humour was restored.
"I wondered what was detaining my partner Cavendish, for he was not in evidence, and my clerk told me that he had not as yet been to the office. I was about to settle down to wait for him, when I caught sight of a gladstone bag bearing his initials. I stared at it, for I knew that it had not been in the office when we had parted upon the previous evening. A moment later, I saw that the safe door was standing ajar, and upon darting over to it, and flinging it open, I found that the portmanteau—the bag containing our hoard of half a million—had vanished!"
"Cavendish had stolen a march upon you?" Maitland suggested; and he could not suppress a smile, for the cunning piece of treachery appealed to him.
"Yes!" Melson rasped, his grey eyes suddenly flashing with badly suppressed fury. "The cur had come to the office during the night, opened the safe with his key, and made off with my share of the plunder as well as his own!
"I think for the moment I went mad! The next thing I realised, was that plain-clothes men had burst into the office, and that a pair of handcuffs had been clapped upon my wrists.
"I wildly demanded an explanation, for I could not see how any real proof that the Great Eagle business was a swindle could have been obtained! But, my heart sank like lead, when I heard that the engineer whom we had sent out to survey, and report upon the property had died in Paris, making, prior to breathing his last, a full confession that he had been bribed by us to say that the worthless Great Eagle mines were an Eldorado!"
"And Cavendish?" Maitland asked.
"He got clear away, the hound!" Mr. Melson—it will be easier to call him by his assumed name—cried, his hands clenching, his lips snarling down uglily. "He showed the authorities a clean pair of heels, and doubtless lived the life of luxury and indulgence, whilst I—I ate out my heart in prison—worked in the quarries until my hands were scarred and bleeding! Oh, yes, there's not much question about the viper having enjoyed himself! I can picture him spending money like water in some distant land, where he would pose as a self-made millionaire!
"During those long, sleepless nights in Portland, I was wont to lay, and picture him eating of the choicest foods, drinking of the most expensive wines that his treacherously gained money could purchase! By perdition! How I've suffered! But I'll be revenged! I'll be revenged!
"I got ten years, but gained a remission of my sentence owing to good conduct. I have submitted to the insults of the warder—men who were not fit to lace my shoes—without a murmur, because I knew that each day I was spared in that awful place meant that I was nearer to getting even with Richard Cavendish!"
"When I was released, I sought my wife and child. I had a little money hidden away. I had kept it as a reserve fund, foreseeing the possibility of our plans going wrong! It was just over a thousand pounds, so that I engineered my search without much difficulty!
"You can judge of my feelings when I, at last, found that my poor wife had died. She had never dreamed that I was anything but an honest business man, and, from what I gathered, she had never been well since she received the shock occasioned her by the news of my arrest!
"But, it was not that that really killed her, Maitland! She had died of slow starvation, for the luck had gone against her! Indirectly, it was Richard Cavendish who was responsible for my darling's death! She did not suspect that either Cavendish or I were crooked, although it had been arranged that she, and my daughter, together with my partner's wife, were to meet us to accompany us upon the yacht. The two women thought that it was merely a long pleasure trip that we had promised ourselves, after a period of strenuous work!"
"Am I wandering? Perhaps, lam. I know that my troubles are of little interest to you. Let it suffice that, at last, I found the hovel in the slums where my poor wife had breathed her last. She had obtained work as a seamtress, and day and night she had worked to provide food and a home—such as it was—for our baby girl. She had at length fallen ill, but had still attempted to slave to protect the little one from the agonies of starvation, although she had, I realise, cared little for herself.
"She had got behind with her work, and fine after fine had been imposed upon her by the avaricious grab-all for whom she had worked. Since my return from America, I have made a point of searching for him, and bringing him to ruin. With my wealth it was quite easy, and I paid him back in his own coin, grinding him down as he had ground my wife, for I am not a man to easily forget or forgive!
"He is now a drink-sodden wreck of humanity, begging for coppers in the gutter, holding horses heads for the price of a drink!" He laughed harshly, and tossed his cigar into the grate; he had ruined it, for in his intense emotion he had crumpled it in his hand. "But that has really nothing to do with my story. Let me return to the time—it would be from eleven to twenty years ago—when I stepped from prison to again enter the free world.
"I have told you that I found my wife had died. I began to search for my little daughter. At last, I discovered that she had been taken in and cared for by a woman who had lived in the same house as my wife. It was some considerable time before I traced her, for she had been forced to change her quarters, owing to difficulty in paying rent. Out of pure good-heartedness, this woman had, for the time being, adopted my child. I gave her fifty pounds when I took little Violet away, and since then I have seen that she has been free from want.
"I went to America, taking my little daughter with me. She was then ten years of age, and has since blossomed into a very beautiful woman. I made money, Maitland! I always had a good headpiece on me, and I found it almost as easy to pile up the dollars by fair means as by foul! I started on very little capital, but by sheer hard work, and honest, though sharp dealing, I soon began to amass a fortune!"
"My luck never deserted me! Everything I touched seemed to turn to gold. I toiled every day and night to increase my wealth, ruthlessly crushing all my weaker opponents. Always there was my goal in the eye of my brain. My revenge upon the man who had betrayed me—the black-hearted hound to whom indirectly the death of my wife was due!
"In seven years I found that I was a millionaire several times over, but even then I did not stop in my rush for fortune! I continued to slave for money; it was my god, and nothing else—save my one great determination, to get even with Richard Cavendish-entered my mind!"
"And, now that you have come to England?" Maitland asked. "You have found this man?"
"Yes," Melson answered, in a hard tone. "My agents found him at Newmarket a month ago. From what lean gather, he has repented of his old life, and has been returning anonymously the amounts out of which we swindled out clients twenty years ago. He has had a phenomenal run of luck on the Turf. He races straight enough, it is pure good fortune when he wins, and very seldom that he comes a cropper.
"He owns a number of thoroughbreds, and time after time, his stable had brought off tremendous coups. By the way, you may have heard of him. He has changed his name to Riverton!"
"Gee!" he ejaculated. "Do you mean he is John Riveton, the owner of the winner of the Two Thousand Guineas?"
"Then he is a rich man, from all accounts."
"No; on the contrary. I believe he is comparatively poor, for every available pound has been used to pay back our former dupes." Maitland's lips curled into a sneer.
"The fool!" he muttered. "Say, what are your plans for vengeance. After all, I reckon it ought to be easy for you to give him a dose of what you have been through. A few words to the police, and he would be arrested, would he not?"
"Of course, but that, my friend, is to come later. Bah! Do you think it would satisfy me only to know that he was in prison, and undergoing misery and humiliation such as I have endured? No! The viper shall be repaid a hundred fold. I intend to strike at him through his son!"
"He has a son, then?"
"Yes, and it is where he is concerned that I require the help of a man like you. I believe you are rather a clever forger?" Mail land laughed softly.
"You pay me a compliment," he drawled. "But what has my skill in penmanship to do with your proposed revenge?"
"I will tell you," Melson replied. He had grown more calm now, and was lighting a fresh cigar. "Laurence Riverton, the son, is employed as a cashier in Fisher's Banking Syndicate, in Fleet Street. He has, by some means, discovered the truth about his father's past life, and has refused to touch a penny of his money, until every amount due to the people who were once our clients has been paid.
"My agents report that father and son are, in every other way, the best of friends. Laurence takes a deal of interest in horses, and is at his father's stables pretty well every week-end. He is said to be a good horseman, and has, I believe, ridden several of his father's candidates in over-the-sticks events."
"I think I'm beginning to see daylight," Maitland said. "You want me to work some hanky-panky business that will get Master Laurence into the deuce of a shindy at the bank?"
"Precisely," Melson agreed. "Look here!"
He drew from his pocket a cheque, and handed it to the master-criminal.
Maitland laid it upon the table before him, and studied it with narrowed eyes. He pursed his lips, then very grimly he smiled. The cheque was for seven thousand pounds, and had apparently been made out by someone who was inexperienced in penning such documents.
"By Columbus!" Maitland ejaculated, as he handed it back across the table. "I calc'late there's possibilities in that slip of paper. It would be the easiest thing in the world to add a 'ty' to the word seven, and slip in an extra nought over the dot signifying to seventy thousand pounds!"
"Exactly. That was my idea," Henry Melson said, with a hard little smile playing about the corners of his thin-lipped mouth. "You know whom the drawer is, of course?"
"I reckon so. He is a big bookmaker in Bond Street, and rumoured to be the straightest man of his kind in the United Kingdom. Say, what was the matter with him, I wonder, when he signed and passed that cheque?"
Melson smiled coldly.
"He had dined rather well with me," he said. "He has had a splendid time over the recent Irish racing, and was in high spirits. This cheque he paid to me was practically the only amount he had to pay over Long Lady, the outsider that won at forty to one the other day. He told me he had done remarkably well since the racing in England had been cut down, and the Irish meetings have become so popular. We went back to his office after our lunch, and he gave orders to a girl in to draw me a cheque in settlement of my winnings.
"She, I imagine, was a new addition to his staff, and seems a bit slow and dull. Perhaps she had been rather hurriedly taken on to replace some young fellow who has enlisted. Anyway, she was an amateur at cheque writing. Charles McDonald is reported to be a careless individual in business matters; but I reckon he would have spotted the opportunity this cheque held out to a crook if it had not been for the mood he was in, and the fumes of the champagne that were in his brain.
"He handed it me with a flourish, not ever troubling to cross it, and after a few minutes conversation I left him.
"It was not until I arrived at my hotel that I noticed the lax manner in which the cheque had been made out, and simultaneously realised that it was drawn upon the bank in which the son of my enemy is employed.
"In a flash, the germ ofa plot entered my brain, and I have been trying to puzzle out some way of altering this cheque, so that the swindle should appear to have been committed by young Riverton. There are many chances of getting at him, for to watch the man I so deeply hate, I have set up a neighbouring establishment at Newmarket, where I have a string of racehorses, although there I am not known as Melson. I race in the name of O'Mega—Cyrus O'Mega. I have frequently changed my name, in order that my old partner, should he encounter me and suspect my identity, would find it impossible to prove whom I really was.
"I have altered greatly, and I do not think Cavendish would know me, should he run into me unexpectedly I have managed to scrape up an acquaintance with his son, and the young man generally pays me a visit when he is at Newmarket to see his father. I think now you have the full details of the position, and understand at what I am aiming. Can you devise some scheme by which my great end can be attained?"
"I guess so," the criminal answered. "But before we talk of that, I reckon there's one thing—or, rather, two—that I'd like to know. The first is how did you cotton that I was whom I am? Secondly, how much do I make out of this business, providing I am successful in bringing about what you desire?"
"I will reply to the second question first," Melson returned. "I don't care what my vengeance costs me! I will guarantee you ten thousand pounds if Laurence Riverton is disgraced and arrested. Will that be satisfactory?"
"Waal, you are a rich man," he said insinuatingly. "Another five thousand wouldn't break you."
"We clinch it at that!" Henry Melson agreed, with such readiness, that the American crook inwardly reproached himself for not asking more. "Fifteen thousand pounds shall be yours upon the day young Riverton is in the hands of the police, and I will pay all expenses in connection with the matter. Now, as to how I discovered your identity; it was really by chance."
"I had seen you upon several occasions at the American bar at the Royal, and from the first your figure seemed familiar to me. It was, however, quite by a fluke that I entered your room and saw you undisguised. I knew you in a moment then, for I had seen you in Wall Street at the time when you startled New York by the coup you made over cornering wheat. You sailed very near the wind, then, my friend," Maitland nodded.
"Correct," said he. "It was mighty near to swindling, and Fenlock Fawn's fingers itched to get busy with his handcuffs; but I was just within the law, and I could afford to chuckle up my sleeve. I am going to my room to think. Of course, I will accept the commission you wish to entrust to me."
"There is one last word," Melson said. "I am determined to take no risks in this matter. You must carry out whatever plot you conceive entirely alone and upon your own responsibility. I have had just over eight years' experience of prison life, and—" he shuddered—"I would sooner blow out my brains than pass beyond those bleak, grey walls a second time."
The Experiments of Ezra Q. Maitland.
>MR. AND MRS. LUKE O. VERNEY had been for two days at De Feyer's Private Hotel and Boarding House in Bayswater, and it is fairly safe to say that since their arrival they had formed the topic of most of the conversation during meal-times at that cheaply, yet excellently managed institution.
They were looked upon as something of a mystery, and accused of possessing customs and manners that stout and garrulous Mrs. De Feyer, the worthy lady who acted as their hostess, described as "'aughty."
It did not suit the good woman's ideas and tastes when the very American Luke O. Kerney had calculated he and his wife would partake of their meals in the privacy of their sitting-room. Unless her guests were willing to sit at the long table in the harshly furnished dining-room, over which she was wont to preside, Mrs. De Feyer usually got it into her head that they had something to hide.
In the present instance, the landlady was perfectly correct, and could she have seen what was taking place in the quarters of her newly-arrived guests, her suspicions would have been increased a hundred-fold.
Ezra Q. Maitland had decided that it was as well to shift his quarters several times after his narrow escape from Sexton Blake. He had therefore, after wiring his wife at Liverpool, altering their arrangements, gone from the Magnificent Hotel at Margate to another at Broadstairs, where, under the name of Robson, he had spent the night.
Thence he had taken train to London and met his wife at a restaurant in Charing Cross Road, and from there they had journeyed to Bayswater, and engaged rooms at Mrs. De Feyer's third-rate hotel.
The master-criminal and his wife had just finished lunch, but they were not resting and chatting over their coffee, as Mrs. De Feyer was picturing as she discussed them at length with her other paying guests.
The dishes and cutlery had been pushed to one side of the table, and the cloth had been rolled back. The door was securely locked, and Maitland, who had removed his coat and rolled up his sleeves, seemed to be deeply interested in a curious experiment he was making.
Before him upon the table was an array of bottles, all neatly labelled, and containing liquids of various colours. He had just poured ten drops of a green fluid into a cup that was quarter-filled with water.
Broadway Kate who was now disguised by a wig of a rich, bronze-brown hue, was holding a second bottle in readiness for Maitland to use, and she seemed as deeply engrossed in the experiment as was her husband.
The Yankee carefully recorked the bottle he was holding, and placed it beside the others, then he took the bottle from his wife and slowly and carefully measured out ten drops from that, his thin lips moving as he counted. The liquid in the cup had taken on a pale green colour, but now a remarkable change took place, as the criminal added the chemical from the vessel he was handling. The latter liquid was colourless, but it had the effect of turning the contents of the cup to a bluish-black shade, similar to that of ordinary writing ink.
"Now for the acid," Maitland ordered; and Kate took up a small paper packet and tipped its contents—a greyish powder—in to the cup.
Maitland patiently stirred the liquid with a glass rod until the powder had dissolved. Then he seated himself, lit a cigar, and, taking out his watch, sat smoking for precisely ten minutes. At the end of that time, he rose, and shifted the smoke to the extreme corner of his mouth. "It ought to be O.K. now, girl," he said. "We'll test it."
Kate handed him a pen, provided with a new steel nib. Maitland carefully wiped it with his pocket-handkerchief, as though to make certain that it was perfectly clean, and that no covering of grease was upon its surface. He dipped the nib into the inklike concoction in the cup, and, drawing a sheet of notepaper towards him, he scrawled upon it a few meaningless lines.
"He waited for them to dry, then produced from his pocket-book the cheque which the bookmaker, Charles McDonald, had given a few days previously to Mr. Henry Melson. The criminal carried it, together with the sheet of note, over to the window and scrutinised both long and earnestly.
"Too dark," he said at length. "Just a dash of blue, and the shade will be identical."
It was to a bottle holding a liquid of a bright blue colour that he went. He drew the cork and let fall five drops into the cup. He stirred it well, and, after cleansing the nib with scrupulous care, again made a test of the liquid. When it had dried, and he had once more compared it with the ink upon the cheque, he chuckled with satisfaction. "Exact!" he commented. "Now let us see if the vanishing trick works all right."
He blew out a wreath of smoke, and lay the cheque upon one side. He held the sheet of notepaper between his fingers and thumb, and, seating himself, sat with his eyes fixed upon it. It was noticeable that the first impressions that Maitland had made had become very, very faint. From a blackish-blue they had changed to a light brown hue; in a few minutes they were yellow, and a little latter they had faded away altogether.
A similar thing happened with the scrawling lines that the astute crook had more recently penned upon the paper. When, after roughly about twenty minutes, they had completely vanished from the surface of the paper, the criminal began to puff hard at his cigar, until its end was glowing fiercely.
He took the weed from between his teeth, and for the space often to fifteen seconds he held it directly beneath the spot upon the sheet of notepaper at which had recently appeared the ink lines.
When he finally replaced his cigar in his mouth and turned the paper in his hand, Broadway Kate, who had been intently watching his procedure, gave an exclamation of approval, for the impressions were again in evidence, outlined as plainly as they had first appeared.
"I thought I hadn't forgotten how to make the stuff, Kate," her husband drawled. "Do you remember the fraud we worked in Petrograd with it? We netted a cool five thousand dollars then, and the secret is going to bring us many times that amount on this occasion. It was a good speculation when I bought the secret of this particular invisible ink from that chap in the Bowery, and I reckon its infallible."
"It will resist all tests to discover it once it has faded?" Kate said.
"Yes, except, of course, the test of heating. But let me get to work on the cheque. Humph!" He picked it up and examined it. "The writing's not hard to copy."
The criminal drew up his chair to the table, and using an ordinary pen and ink, he covered a sheet of paper with repetitions of the letters "ty" and the nought sign. From time to time his keen glance darted towards the cheque, and thence back to his efforts upon the paper.
Finally, he seemed to be satisfied, and changing the pen and ink in favour of his new nib and the concoction in the tea-cup, he placed the cheque directly before him, and slowly set to work.
He deftly added the letters "ty" after the word seven, and joined the "y" up with the word thousand. A moment later an additional nought had found its way amid the figures and Ezra Q. Maitland grinned down in evil exultation at his handiwork.
The master-criminal did not stir until the additions he had made in the specially prepared ink had entirely faded away, leaving the cheque as it had originally appeared—for seven thousand pounds; then with great precision he folded it and replaced it in his wallet.
"It's a cinch!" he declared with conviction.
The Big Cheque.
FLEET STREET at twelve-thirty on a Saturday morning!
True, not quite such a busy Fleet Street as it is to be seen on any other week-day, for many of the publishing offices are closed until Monday morning. Your editors, subs, artists, authors, and even certain classes of printers are prone to take somewhat long week-ends. But all the same, signs of busy life meet the eye upon every side.
Newspaper-boys on cycles dash hither and thither, others on foot rush to and fro, their glaring placards fluttering before them. Men and girls hurry this way and that along the wide pavements, all eager to complete their business for the day and seek their respective pleasures. Pleasures? Well, not in every case, strictly speaking, for many of them are going to put in an afternoon's war work, making munitions or packing them, striving to get recruits for Lord Kitchener's ever-increasing army, or brightening the lot of some crushed and mangled hero from the battlefield.
In the true sense of the word the first two tasks cannot be termed pleasures, yet, if such a contradictory statement can be excused, they are little else, for to engage in the slightest effort towards crushing the German barbarians must fill the breast of any true patriotic man or woman with a feeling of pride and satisfaction.
In half an hour the doors of Messrs. Fisher's Bank would close for the day. Laurence Riverton, cashier, sighed with relief as he glanced up at the clock and realised the fact.
In many ways office life did not suit him, yet for reasons that have previously been explained, he had refused to lead a life of idleness and independence, and energetically stuck to his post in Messrs. Fishers' Banking Syndicate, Limited, where he had been engaged for several years.
Immediately upon the outbreak of war, Laurence had offered himself for a soldier, fired with enthusiasm, and eager to fight for his country and king. But the luck had not been with him. A slight tendency to eye-trouble had stood in his way.
It was nothing really serious, and did not necessitate his wearing glasses, save when he was engaged with his ledgers, yet it would have barred him from accurate shooting, and the medical man who had examined him had regretfully shook his head as he looked upon the young fellow's stalwart lithe-limbed form.
Laurence Riverton was a picture of British manhood. He must have stood six feet in his socks, and was proportionately broad. He was fair-haired and handsome, possessed of regular, clear-cut features that spoke of distinction, and a pair of large, frank blue eyes.
He was a man made for an open-air life, and inwardly he heartily detested the stuffy banking premises, where from nine-thirty in the morning till four in the afternoon he received and paid out every description of money—notes, gold, silver and copper, until he became cynical and indifferent where even the most colossal sums were concerned.
The young cashier's thoughts were far away as he sat upon his stool, momentarily idle. Without knowing that he did so, he stared unseeingly at the bald patch upon the crown of a fellow-cashier's head; then unconsciously his eyes wandered up the row of black-coated men who stood or sat in their places before the long counter, busily taking or paying-out money as the case might be.
Right at the rear of the long room, Mr. Septimus Fisher, the managing-director of the bank, was fussily dressing-down a long-suffering office youth for surreptitiously reading a periodical with a highly-coloured cover, upon which some Buffalo-Bill-like person was cooling shooting a Redskin whilst he flourished a bowie-knife in the snarling visage of another.
Mr. Fisher did not believe in boys reading literature of the thrilling order. He had strange ideas, and was wont to dub all boys' books as penny-dreadfuls. Certainly, he had just cause in the present instance, for that illustration was truly a "shocker"; but Septimus Fisher tarred all youths' periodicals with the same brush, and this was not the only direction in which he was narrow-minded.
He was a "kill-joy," nothing more or less. If he had had his way, picture-palaces, music-halls and theatres would have ceased to exist, whilst clubs and taverns would have been burnt to the ground. He believed that to even read the racing news meant that one was upon the direct road to ruin, and he termed football a dangerous and uncivilised game.
War he held as horribly sinful and barbarous, and he was always the prime mover in a "peace-at-any-price" campaign. He was the author of many letters to the Press, giving reasons why we should love the enemy, forgetting that the ruthless shelling of Scarborough, the air raids upon undefended towns, the atrocities in France and Belgium, and a hundred-and, one other dastardly actions had for ever made the bullying Power across the North Sea a nation to be looked upon with contempt and loathing.
To look at Mr. Septimus Fisher was to realise the true character of the man. He was thin to emaciation; his face was sallow and sour in expression, the eyes narrow and mean, the mouth drawn down at the corners in a look of perpetual misery, possibly occasioned because all men were not as he. His iron-grey, mutton-chop whiskers were the emblem of fussiness, as was his old-fashioned polo collar, with the austere black bow tucked precisely beneath the wings. He was short of stature, wizened of frame, cheaply dressed, and innocent of any kind of jewellery.
Laurence Riverton turned to hide a smile of contemptuous amusement, as the shrill of his employed rating the unfortunate boy brought the cashier back to his surroundings.
With a start, he realised that a customer was standing before the counter directly in front of him, and almost simultaneously became aware that the man was smoking a very strong cigar.
"I'll take it short," the latter said coolly, as he pushed a cheque across the counter to the young man.
Laurence took up the cheque; then his brows went up, used though he was to paying out large amounts, for the cheque was for no less a sum than seventy thousand pounds.
Just for a moment the young cashier stared at the pink slip of paper; then, as he saw the signature—"Charles McDonald" in bold round-hand characters—he pulled open his drawer and took out a sheaf of rustling notes.
He had never cashed a cheque for so large an amount before upon the signature of this particular client, yet he had frequently dealt with far larger ones which had been paid through another bank, and he knew that Charles McDonald, the well-known, self-advertised bookmaker of Bond Street, frequently paid out colossal sums in winnings to his numerous clients.
"Guess I've touched lucky," the man upon the other side of the counter drawled, and Laurence did not notice the anxious look that for an instant was in his piercing eyes.
The cashier nodded and smiled.
"You have indeed, sir," he agreed; then he turned and whispered to the man next to him. "There's a very big cheque here from Charles McDonald," he said. "I suppose it is all right to cash it, or would you see the guv'nor first, just as a matter of form?"
"I shouldn't trouble old Fisher this morning," the other cashier grinned. "He's in the most ratty mood you could possibly imagine. He nearly bit my head off when I went into his private room just now. Anything's all right from McDonald. He's eccentric, you know."
"All right," Laurence said. "I shall have to get you to lend me some notes to make up the amount, if you don't mind, Smithson."
"How much will you require?"
"Ten for a thousand, if you've got them," Laurence answered, making a quick calculation. "Thanks!" as he took the notes and pushed an I.O.U. towards his colleague. "I'm much obliged!" He quickly took the numbers and pushed roll after roll over the counter towards the man who had presented the cheque. "I think you will find that correct, sir," he said.
The American—such Laurence had taken him to be, by reason of his speech and twang—nodded, and leisurely began counting the notes.
The cashier had an opportunity of studying him whilst he was thus engaged, and realised that he looked just the sort of individual to have dealings with the Bond Street commission agent.
He was attired in a suit of quietly sporting design, and a handsome gold tiepin was just visible beneath his brown beard. His moustache was elaborately curled at the ends, and in every way he was debonair and well-groomed. His cheeks were ruddy, as though he were accustomed to spend much of his time in the open air, and there was just that touch of "horse" about him that must essentially cling to the habitual race-goer.
"That's O K, I guess," he drawled, as he stowed the notes away in his breast pockets. "Gee! But it's the first time I've ever hit Charlie up like this! He's generally had all the luck. Say, do you know him?"
"A little," Laurence answered. "He is always a good sportsman, and doesn't seem to mind paying out any amount."
"That's because he's always on the right side in the end, sonny," the American chuckled, one of his lids drooping. "It's the bookie who always comes out on top, never you fear! Waal, good-day to you! I guess I'll go and make a hole in this boodle! I can afford to!"
He nodded affably, turned upon his heel and strolled from the bank, whilst Laurence Riverton, after cancelling the cheque without again glancing at it, placed it in his drawer with the others he had that morning taken and cashed, afterwards entering the amount in his ledger.
He little dreamed of the manner in which the Yankee's pulses had raced whilst he had apparently chatted so calmly. He was not aware that already three characters upon this cheque had shown a face-value of seventy thousand pounds were slowly fading from sight, not could he foresee the dark clouds that were swiftly gathering and hanging over him, or guess that he had ever been confronted by one of the most unscrupulous criminals the world had ever known—Ezra Q. Maitland, blackguard, gentleman, thief, swindler, and scoundrel in general by instinct.
It was three o'clock. The City was beginning to grow deserted, and the majority of the business houses had disgorged their stream's of workers, who had wended their way towards tram, tube, or 'bus.
Fleet Street had grown strangely quiet, although in certain newspaper offices, where work hardly ever ceases, the machines were still thudding busily away.
An hour and a half ago, Laurence Riverton and the other clerks employed at Fisher's Bank had taken their departure, and the door had been securely closed by the night watchman, whose duty it was to make his appearance on Saturdays at a little before closing-time, to remain upon the premises over the week-end.
Yet the managing-director of the firm was still in his private room, poring over a private ledger.
"Well, well!" Septimus Fisher muttered, as he closed the book with a snap, rose, and locked it in his safe. "The war doesn't seem to affect us so much as one might imagine! Our profits are good and have appreciably increased this month. Humph! Now what about this holiday question? It's scandalous that they should expect holidays at such times as these! Yet—" he smiled a thin smile, and rubbed his bony hands—"it's just as well that my clerks do have vacations, for it gives someone else a chance of constantly going through their books, which is often a check upon their honesty. Now, let me see!"
He re-adjusted his spectacles, and drew a memorandum book towards him.
"Humph, humph!" he sniffed. "Castle goes away this week, and will not return for a fortnight. Then Edwards takes three weeks. Bah! It's awful to think what dead money all these stupid customs—this ridiculous laziness—costs the bank! Edwards draws six pounds per week, which means that every year we pay him eighteen pounds for lazing about at some seaside resort for a matter of twenty-one days! Ah, Lane resumes his duties on Monday morning! I trust that he will return to work full of new vigour and conscientiousnes; but I doubt if he will—I very much doubt if he will! Then there is Riverton; he goes after Edwards. Now, that reminds me!"
He closed the book, and took a letter from one of the pigeon-holes in his desk. It was addressed from the Riverton Training Stables, Newmarket, to Laurence Riverton, Esq., 45, Park Road, Forest Hill, and ran:
Dear Mr. Laurence,
If you can get away from town this Saturday afternoon and can come to the stables, it will, I venture to think, be to your advantage. We are trying Serious Symons with his stable companions, Octopus, Wuffy, and The Luck, and it will be a trial that will do your eyes a bit of good! Of course, you already know the certainty both your dad and I consider Serious Symons to be for the Gold Cup race, which the Ascot authorities have agreed to be run at Newmarket this year, on account of the war. Barring accidents, I cannot see anything to beat him, and if you will allow me to take the liberty of advising you, I would urge you to chance a substantial bet on him.
Trusting you will turn up I remain, yours very sincerely,
Jack Haynes, (Trainer).
The letter was a fortnight old, and it must have been a curious idea of right and wrong that had prompted the head of Fisher's Banking Syndicate to keep it in his desk, it not being his property, and having come into his possession quite by accident upon the morning it had been received by his cashier.
Laurence Riverton had been suffering from a bad cold and whilst in the presence of his employer on the morning that the letter had been delivered at his home, he had suddenly and violently sneezed.
Quite naturally, he had whipped out his handkerchief, and, unnoticed by him, the letter had fallen from his pocket to the ground. The mean, little eyes of Septimus Fisher had seen it instantly; but he was always anxious to take opportunities of spying upon his clerks, so he had held his peace, and when Laurence had quitted his room, he had picked up the epistle and perused it.
As he had realised that it was from a trainer of racehorses, Septimus Fisher's face had gone black with astonishment, for he had heard, despite his abhorrence of sport, of the famous racehorse owner, John Riverton, but until now had had no inkling that the latter was the father of his cashier, Laurence Riverton.
The old hypocrite had tried to tell himself that he was pained and shocked to learn that Laurence was even interested in the running of thoroughbreds, but, in reality, it was a feeling of suspicion—a mean, unreasoning suspicion as to the honesty of his cashier—that had been predominant in his narrow mind.
If a man put so much as a modest "shilling each way" upon the chance of a racer, Septimus Fisher at once determined that he was going to the bad or that he was already a confirmed rogue. Like most persons of his class, Fisher had never taken the trouble to go to a racecourse to study the many phases of life that are always to be seen there.
Had he done so he would have known that the rogues and crooks of the Turf are very much in the minority. True, there are a class of men—ay, and women, too—who make their living by tricking and "rooking" others in racing matters, yet to one of this order there are a thousand others who follow racing because they love horses, perhaps betting a little for the mere fun of the thing, or, on the other hand, never risking so much as a sovereign, even when it is their own candidate who is running.
Fisher only looked upon the black side of things. He was for ever picturing honest men becoming thieves because they betted madly and ruthlessly, and he saw a ruined home, a starving wife and children, in every harmless navvy reading a sporting edition of a newspaper.
Therefore, it was only natural that he should look upon Laurence Riverton with the gravest and blackest suspicion now that he had discovered that he took pleasure in things connected with thoroughbreds.
Even as he folded the letter and stowed it carefully away in his desk, he told himself that it would be evidence against his clerk should Riverton at some future time fall to temptation and rob the bank.
The day was Saturday, and, as usual, the cashiers and other clerks left at about one-thirty. Mr. Septimus Fisher went to the strong-room immediately the last man was off the premises and the porter had closed the doors upon him.
Fisher had opened the door of the strong-room with his private key, then he had gone through Laurence Riverton's cash, checking it by his books. It was not out by so much as a penny-piece, and for the time being the old kill-joy's suspicions were proved groundless, although it must not be thought for one moment that they were entirely removed or lulled.
He made up his mind there and then that he would keep a constant watch upon his sportively inclined employee. And today he meant to repeat the examination he had made a fortnight previously.
He rose from his desk, took his keys from his pocket, and left his private room, locking the door behind him.
He passed along a corridor, and paused before a heavy iron door at the far end. This he unlocked, displaying a flight of stone steps leading down to the vaults below the bank.
He switched on the electric lights, for the place was dark and gloomy, then he descended the steps until he reached the flagged floor below. He turned to the left and reached the door of the strong-room, which was fined with a combination lock in addition to one of ordinary make.
He placed a huge key in the latter, and turned it, next manipulating the combination and tugging open the massive door. He stepped within the strong-room. Again his fingers touched a switch and the place was flooded with light.
Upon a long shelf that ran along one side of the wall, were twelve articles that looked like shallow boxes. The were in reality the drawers which fitted into the counter before the cashiers as they sat in the long room above attending to the requirements of Messrs. Fisher's clients.
At the close of the day the drawers were removed from the counter, and a lid specially made to fit over them adjusted and locked. They were then carried to the strong-room, and the keys were given into the charge of Mr. Fisher.
The old banker went straight to the drawer marked with a figure eight, unlocked and removed the lid from it. Then, drawing a stool up to the shelf, he began going through Laurence Riverton's cash and notes, checking the amounts of each batch or bag with the entries in a small ledger that was also in the drawer.
They proved perfectly correct, and Fisher took up a bundle of cheques secured by an elastic band. He released them, and laid them upon the shelf, and one by one he checked them with Laurence Riverton's booking.
Presently Mr. Fisher's eyebrows contracted sharply, and spidery lines appeared upon his dome-shaped brow. He drew a long breath, and for a second or two sat staring from the entry book to a cheque drawn upon the account of Charles McDonald for the sum of seven thousand pounds.
Of a sudden he jumped to his feet with a husky cry, his thin face twitching, his eyes bolting from his head.
"What!" he almost screamed. "No, no! I must have made a mistake!"
He began to feverishly recount the gold and notes, losing his reckoning more than once, and beginning his check again. At length, as the last batch of five-pound notes fell from his hand, he clutched at his temples wildly, and seemed for a moment incoherent.
"Sixty-three thousand pounds!" he spluttered, as he at length recovered himself. "Sixty-three thousand pound short in his money! Taken to back this horse that his father's trainer recommends to him! Oh, I know! I am a fool! I am familiar with human nature! The scoundrel! The thief! But I'll make an example of him! I'll—I'll—"
He snatched up the ledger and Charles McDonald's cheque, and went rushing towards the door, forgetting that he had left the lid of the cash drawer standing by the wall. He quitted the strong-room and locked the door with trembling fingers, then he went pelting up to the ground floor. At the top of the stairs he met the watchman, who looked at him in askance.
"Is anything wrong, sir!" the man asked respectfully.
"Wrong! Wrong!" Septimus Fisher waved his hands helplessly in the air. "It's more than wrong!" he groaned. "The bank has been robbed—robbed of sixty-three thousand pounds!"
"Good gracious, sir! You—you can't mean it, sir!" the watchman gasped. "When? How? Who could have done it, sir?"
"I know the identity of the culprit, my good fellow!" Septimus Fisher said, with almost a trace of grim satisfaction in his high-pitched, querulous voice. "The thief is one of my own cashiers. It was Mr. Riverton! There can be nothing gained by keeping the matter secret, for it will all come out in the papers after his arrest! Get on to the police at once. Try Snow Hill! I should think that would be the nearest station. Make sure you are in communication with the officer in charge, and put him through to my private room!"
"Very good, sir," said the excited watchman; and he hastened to the nearest instrument, whilst old Fisher disappeared into his sanctum.
Once alone, Septimus Fisher sank limply down in the chair before his desk and clasped his head in his hands. He was not used to experiencing excitement, and his head was aching madly. His brain was in a whirl, and as yet he could scarcely credit the evidence of his senses.
He sat with nervously twitching hands and blanched, scared face. He kept looking from the cheque for seven thousand pounds to the entry in the book for ten times that amount, with the air of a man who was trying to convince himself that he was not the victim of a hallucination—that his imagination was not playing him a sinister trick.
"Ah!" Septimus Fisher grabbed at the receiver of the telephone which stood upon his desk by his side as the bell whirred noisily.
He clapped it to his ear, and found himself in touch with the official in charge of Snow Hill Station.
"Is that Mr. Fisher!" came the query.
"Yes, yes!" Fisher returned. "You are Snow Hill police-station?"
"Yes; your watchman has just rang us up and says that your bank has been robbed of a large amount. We—"
"Quite right! Quite right!" the banker agreed, in his petulant tones. "One of my cashiers has falsified his books to the extent of sixty-three thousand pounds!"
"Ah! Then it is really a case of embezzlement?"
"Yes, on a gigantic scale. The scoundrel has evidently fallen to sudden temptation. He required the money to bet with to—to—er—back a certain horse! I happen to know it!"
"I see. When did you discover this deficiency in his accounts?"
"To-day, sir. To-day that ever is! He is now doubtless at—er—Tattersalls place at Newmarket or Epsom or somewhere—" Septimus Fisher's knowledge of racing matters was somewhat hazy—"ruthlessly betting with the money he has stolen. He has entered against a cheque for seven thousand the figures seventy thousand. He received and paid out the cheque to-day."
"You have, of course, made certain that the difference between the amount of the cheque and the entry is not a slip of the pen?"
"Of course I have!" Fisher snapped irritably. "I have been through his cash in hand twice!"
"And the name of this cashier, Mr. Fisher?"
"Laurence Riverton. He is the son of a Mr. John Riverton, of Newmarket, sir. A man who helps to blacken the world by running racehorses, sir! If I had my way—"
"I have made full notes of your information, sir," the official at the other end of the wire cut in, somewhat hastily. "It is a matter for Scotland Yard, with whom I will at once get into communication. You should hear from them within half an hour of my informing them of the facts of the case. You will be at the bank, sir, for some time?"
"Then very good, Mr. Fisher, I expect one of our men from the C.I.D. will join you in an hour, at the outside. I do not anticipate that we shall have much difficulty in running this man Riverton to earth!"
"I hope not, sir—I hope not!" Septimus Fisher grated. "He deserves ten years, and I hope that he gets it!"
And, with this charitable wish, he rang off, and again fell to glaring at the cheque drawn by M. Charles McDonald in favour of Henry Melson for the sum of seven thousand pounds.
Sexton Blake Incredulous
"MY dear Martin, almost from the first you ought to have known that the man was innocent."
Sexton Blake settled himself more comfortably in the roomy easy chair in the recess by the fireplace, tossed away the end of a cigarette and placed the tips of his long, nervous fingers together. He was regarding his colleague, Detective-Inspector Martin, from beneath drooping lids, and his attitude was languid, almost listless.
Three days had elapsed since the raid upon the shop of the fence Israel Samuels, and that benevolent old villain was now cooling his heels in a police-cell, with the prospect of a long spell of enforced confinement before him, during which he could think over his many sins.
Sir Digby Cranston had been overjoyed to recover his jewels, and according to a telephone message from his daughter that Tinker had taken that morning, the baronet was already beginning to show signs of making a wonderful recovery. If the truth be told, the old nobleman loved his jewels almost to the extent of worship, and their recovery had acted upon him as a tonic, doing him far more good than the skill and labours of half the specialists in Harley Street.
Sexton Blake and Martin had but one regret where the case was concerned—the complete escape of the master criminal from the States. Ezra Q. Maitland had vanished as though the earth had opened and swallowed him up, and although half the detectives of the C.I.D. were seeking him, not the vestige of a clue could any of them find as to his whereabouts.
Sexton Blake and Tinker had also been busily engaged in attempting to pick up their old enemy's trail, but they, like the Scotland Yard men, had for the time being failed. The detective had thought of the car he had seen vanishing in the distance when he had entered the Minories with Martin and the others, and upon consideration it had struck him that Maitland might have been able to escape in it, although he had been certain that it was not the crook who had sat at the steering wheel.
But, unfortunately, the car had been too far away for any of Maitland's pursuers to be able to make out the number, even if at the moment they had taken the trouble to try to note it, so Blake had no means of tracing the vehicle.
Inspector Martin lit his pipe and stared through the smoke at his friend. The latter had that morning put him upon the right track in a murder case that had been troubling the worthy official for the past three weeks, and he had called to inform Sexton Blake that a successful arrest had been duly carried out.
"Don't see how you knew Garner wasn't the man, Blake," the Scotland Yard man growled. "We found the piece of blue serge upon the nail in the dentist's gate, and there was a spot of blood upon it. Gamer was the last man to be seen leaving the murdered man's house, and upon searching his rooms, we found the coat with the piece of material missing. We know now that he was the victim of circumstances, but even you must admit that the evidence was mighty black against him, at any rate, from the first appearance of things."
Sexton Blake nodded slowly and drummed his fingers together.
"Of course," he admitted, "unless one was very observant. Now, to be candid, Martin, you are really not quite observant enough."
The official sniffed and shrugged his broad shoulders slightly.
"I'm as observant as most men," he protested. "I don't go about with my eyes shut."
Sexton Blake indulged in one of his rare smiles.
"I never insinuated such a thing," he objected. "You look, you see, yet you do not observe. As a test, shut your eyes and tell me how many pictures there are upon the walls of this room."
"No looking!" Tinker grinned, glancing up from some work he was doing at his desk by the window.
"Well, I'll be hanged if I'm going to fool about over this matter!" Martin growled, with a good-humoured grin. "I don't know, for I've never counted 'em."
"Precisely. You don't know because you have never taken the trouble to observe," Sexton Blake answered. "You have been in this consulting room some hundreds of times, and you must have seen the pictures, yet you cannot say how many there are, because you have not been observant enough to count them. Now, that is where we differ, my friend. There are nine. I know, because I have observed. There are twenty stairs leading from the hall and five from the hall down to Mrs. Bardell's sacred domains. I know these details for a similar reason. Now, with the Streatham murder case there was quite a lot that would have escaped the eye of the ordinary individual.
"The dentist was stabbed by a left-handed man. The position and nature of the wound proved that. Then again the piece of serge cloth that was adhering to the nail in the gate was soaked with rain. Upon the night in question we had in London a short, sharp shower, but the rain had entirely ceased by eleven o'clock, and there was no further downfall until several days later. Yet, the hands of the clock upon the mantel in the murdered man's consulting-room, which had been damaged in the struggle that ensued and stopped, pointed to a quarter before two.
"I took particular care to ascertain from the policeman, who had been upon the beat running past the house, at what time the rain had stopped in Streatham upon the night in question. After a little thought, he told me that it must have ceased well before midnight, as it did in the neighbourhood of Baker Street.
"Obviously, then, the man Garner had passed out of the house and left a portion of his coat behind long before the dentist had been stabbed, otherwise the piece of material would not have been saturated with rain. A little investigation proved, too, that Garner was not accustomed to using his left hand in preference to his right. The trace of blood upon the piece of serge looked ugly at first, then, in a flash, the explanation came to me, proving ridiculously simple. Garner had had a tooth drawn, and, of course, the blood had come from his lacerated gums. You followed how I traced the real culprit, and—Hullo, the 'phone again. See what it is, my lad."
Tinker obediently rose from his seat and crossed to the instrument.
"Hullo!" he said, as he clapped the receiver to his ear. "Yes, this is Mr. Blake's rooms. Scotland Yard? Right. Yes, old—I mean Mr. Martin is here, Sir Henry."
The Inspector jumped up like a parched pea from a shovel. "The Chief Commissioner?" he asked quickly.
"Yes, Sir Henry Fairfax, sir. He's excited about something, the silly old josser!"
"S-s-sh!" Martin hissed warningly. "He'll hear you! Gimme the receiver! Hullo, Sir Henry. Yes. Martin speaking. I beg your pardon. No, I can't hear very well!"
"Tell the dear old thing to shout, sir," Tinker advised; and Martin turned a crimson, threatening face towards his tormentor as he hastily clapped his hand over the mouthpiece of the instrument. "His dulcet tones-"
"If you don't shut up, I'll break your silly head!" Martin snarled darkly. "Mr. Blake, throw him downstairs or something. He's-'
"Keep quiet, Tinker," Sexton Blake ordered. "Don't interrupt. The matter may be urgent."
Martin removed his hand from the mouthpiece. Then for the next few moments he was carrying on a conversation with his superior. Finally, he rang off and turned excitedly to Sexton Blake.
"There's been a big embezzlement at Fisher's banking house, in Fleet Street," he said. "Sir Henry knew that I was likely to be here, so rang up in the hopes of catching me. He wants me to go along to the bank at once. He seemed glad I was here."
"Of course," Tinker murmured, with a glance of awed admiration towards the official.
Martin did not deign to reply verbally. He attempted to quell Tinker with a look of contempt that ought to have made him collapse then and there. It only made him grin, however. "Do they know who is responsible for the theft?" Sexton Blake asked, as he reached for his cigar-case and took out a weed. Martin nodded.
"Yes," he returned. "A cashier in the bank's employ has entered a cheque in his ledger as seventy thousand pounds, and it is really only for seven thousand."
"And he is sixty-three thousand short in his cash in hand?" Sexton Blake queried, making a swift mental calculation. "Yes," Martin agreed. "Not a small amount, is it?"
"Hardly," Blake said a little grimly. "What is the culprit's name?"
"What!" Sexton Blake sat upright in his chair, and the newly-lighted cigar fell from his hand. "Did you say his name was Riverton?"
"Yes," Martin said again, and he regarded his friend curiously, for it was seldom that Sexton Blake was wont to show much animation.
"Do you know his Christian name?" the private detective asked sharply.
"It is Laurence. He is the son of John Riverton, a racing man, of Newmarket. From what I can hear, the son has got into a mess over horses?"
"Fiddlesticks!" Sexton Blake snapped, with an impatient gesture of his hands. "It's impossible!"
"I only know what I've heard," Martin protested, with a careless raising of his brows.
"Of course," Sexton Blake admitted, as he picked up his cigar. "But, you see, I happen to know young Riverton personally, and I should be ready to stake my reputation that he is not the kind of man to turn thief! He is a member of one of my clubs, and is as straight as a die! He is far too sensible to back a horse for more than he could afford!"
"Well, he's the money short, anyway," Martin answered. "He's an amateur criminal, and ought to be fairly easily found. I suppose I'd better say good-bye and get along to the bank at once. Hullo, what's on?" as Blake rose and flung off his dressing-gown.
"I am coming with you, with your permission," the Baker Street detective answered quietly.
"Surely there's no need. The matter is simple enough, although there's a good deal at stake. I'll guarantee I'll have him clapped in a cell within twenty-four hours, Blake."
"That," Sexton Blake answered, "is just what I wish to avoid, if it is at all possible."
"That I don't believe Riverton stole the money," the private detective returned, with conviction.
"To me, it seems rather obvious that he did," Inspector Martin objected. "You will think so, too, when you know the full facts of the case, as I have heard them from Sir Henry Fairfax. Each cashier at the bank removes at the end of the day his drawer containing the money he has received. He is provided with a special lid, which fits upon the top of the drawer and is locked. The key is then handed over to Mr. Septimus Fisher, the head of the bank, and he returns it when the cashier comes the next morning—or rather Monday morning in this case—so that the man may make up his accounts before the bank is opened some half hour later.
"Mr. Fisher was for some reason suspicious of Laurence Riverton, and went through his books and money in hand. He discovered the deficiency and at once communicated with Snow Hill Police Station, whence the Yard learnt the news."
Sexton Blake was thoughtful for a moment, a deep line between his eyes. "What made Mr. Septimus Fisher suspicious of his employee?" he asked. "I don't know," Martin replied. "You still intend to come?"
"Yes," Sexton Blake replied. "I shall not believe that young Riverton has turned crook until I definitely prove it for myself. If I find that I have been mistaken in him, I will never consider that I am a judge of human character again. Tinker, my jacket and hat. You had better come along too. You have been indoors a good deal of late and a blow in the car will do you no harm."
A few minutes later Sexton Blake's great, grey car was standing before the house in readiness to start, and at a sign from his master Tinker climbed into the driver's seat.
Martin and Blake took their places and the lad threw in the clutch, sending the car humming forward.
When they reached Fleet Street they were not long in espying the palatial building in which the firm of Fisher carried on their business, and Tinker brought the car smartly to a standstill in the kerb.
"Wait here, lad," Sexton Blake ordered, as he alighted followed by the Scotland Yard official. "Should I want you, I will let you know."
He mounted the steps with the Inspector, and the latter tugged with official vigour at the bell, the doors being tightly closed. It was not long before the detective's summons was answered by a constable, and he saluted respectfully and stood upon one side as he recognised Inspector Martin.
"Anyone about?" Martin asked gruffly.
"Yes, sir. Detective-sergeant Hemmings is with Mr. Fisher in his private room."
"Lead the way," Martin commanded, with a curt nod. "Mustn't lose any time."
The man saluted again and swung round upon his heels. He led his superior and Sexton Blake to Septimus Fisher's sanctum, where that gentleman was closeted with a broad-shouldered individual, whose appearance at once suggested the official detective force.
"Detective-Inspector Martin and Mr. Sexton Blake," the constable announced, for the famous private investigator was well-known to him.
Septimus Fisher looked a trifle surprised as he heard the name of the latter detective.
"This is entirely a matter for the police, Mr. Blake," he said fussily. "I cannot see my way to incur the directors unnecessary expense in this unfortunate matter."
Sexton Blake looked at the little, shrivelled-up banker much in the manner of one who is studying a newly-discovered curiosity. At first glance, the detective knew the kind of man he had to deal with, taking in the mean, squinting eyes, the sour, jaundiced face, and the general appearances that betokened a suspicious nature.
"I beg your pardon," he murmured, with a raising of his brows.
"I said that I could not allow of there being any unnecessary expenditure over this audacious theft," the little banker repeated irritably. "However cheaply you worked, my fellow-directors would consider your fees superfluous and unwarranted."
"Exactly," Sexton Blake agreed, and there was a suggestion of sarcasm in his voice, "I quite realise what you mean, Mr. Fisher. I shall, however, neither charge nor expect any remuneration for what I do here. Your director's pockets will be no lighter by reason of my taking an interest in this case. I am working upon behalf of Mr. Laurence Riverton!"
"What! You have seen him!" the banker shouted excitedly.
Sexton Blake shook his head.
"Why, no," he returned, "yet all the same it will be upon his behalf that I shall work. He is a friend of mine and I am anxious to prove his innocence of the crime that has been laid at his door," Septimus Fisher laughed spitefully. "You will indeed be a clever man to do that!" he sneered.
Sexton Blake tilted his shoulders and the lids drooped almost sleepily over his eyes.
"I have been called clever in the past," he said indifferently, "and perhaps I shall live up to my reputation in the present instance. However, I will leave that for others to judge after I have cleared up the case. Why did you deem it necessary to check your cashier's accounts?"
The banker flushed confusedly, for the question had been fired at him with a suddenness that had taken him off his guard. "I had—er—grown suspicious that his habits were scarcely those that a young man in his position should cultivate," he answered, "My chief gave me to understand that Riverton had got into a mess through betting," Martin put in. "Is that correct, Mr. Fisher?"
"You do not know for certain?"
"We must be in possession of the plain facts of the matter," Martin said gruffly, and his eyes were fixed keenly on the banker's face. "If you will answer our questions straightforwardly—"
"I—er—will, of course, do so," Septimus Fisher interrupted. "I will admit that I do not know definitely that Riverton is in any trouble over his indiscretions in the direction of horse racing, yet—" "Yet you know that he has been indiscreet?" Sexton Blake put in, in a hard voice. Septimus Fisher turned upon him almost fiercely. "Any man who goes racing is indiscreet, sir!" he snapped, with feeling.
"I do not agree with you," Sexton Blake objected bluntly. "The running of thoroughbreds is the finest sport a Britisher could follow, and it is only the betting when it is carried to extremes that is harmful. There are blackguards upon the Turf as there are in every other walk of life, but, there are also thousands of straight, honest men who make a legitimate living out of breeding and racing."
"We shall never agree, sir!" Fisher retorted sharply.
"Possibly not," the detective answered carelessly. "We are both allowed to have our own opinions. I do not wish to argue the matter, and merely wanted to point out to you that because a man is a judge of a horse and is interested in Turf matters it does not necessarily signify that he is a villain. We may assume, I suppose, that you know Mr. Riverton's father to be an owner of racehorses?"
"I am aware of that fact now, but the younger Riverton was never honest enough to inform me of his father's Turf connection. I only discovered that my cashier was interested in racing by reading this letter a fortnight ago. You will see that it suggests he should make a bet upon some horse that is shortly running, or has already run, at Newmarket."
"It is to run next week," Sexton Blake said, as he perused the epistle the banker had handed him.
"What is it?" Martin asked, with ill-suppressed eagerness, for he knew that Riverton's stable was always bringing off "good things" and wondered whether the letter contained a tip.
"It is Serious Symons for the Gold Cup."
"Do Riverton's say it'll get there?" Martin suggested, craning his neck and trying to read the letter over his friend's shoulder. "Of course—" he had caught the indignant glance that Septimus Fisher was levelling at him—"if it wins and young Riverton has backed it, he might want to refund the money he is short of now."
"How did this letter come into your possession, Mr. Fisher?" Blake asked casually, as he handed it over to his colleague.
"It fell by accident from his pocket whilst he was conversing with me in this room."
The detective made no comment, but his eyes had grown cold as he turned away.
"With your permission, we'll take a glance at the cash in Riverton's till and his books, Mr. Fisher," Martin suggested. "I have the cheque and the ledger in which his cash is entered here."
"You have verified the amount of money all told in the till of the accused, Hemmings?" Martin asked, turning to his subordinate.
"I think we'll just check the amount, as a matter of form," Sexton Blake said. "It would be just as well, you know."
"All right," Martin answered. "We'd like to do as Mr. Blake suggests, sir—" turning to the banker. The detectives were conducted by the guide to the strong room and shown the till, which still stood open upon the shelf with its fellows.
Sexton Blake and Martin went through the contents and agreed upon the amount, then the former picked up a slip of paper.
"I see that it was necessary for Mr. Riverton to borrow ten thousand pound notes from someone named Smithson," he commented. "What exactly does that mean?"
"Oh, merely a matter of one cashier obliging the other," the banker explained. "Riverton, I suppose, ran short ofa thousand pound notes, and gave Smithson—the cashier who sits next him—an I.O.U. until they made up their accounts on Monday morning—or rather, when they ought to have made up their accounts. It is my firm believe that Riverton never will return to the bank!"
"Can we verify this I.O.U. business?" Martin queried. Fisher nodded.
"I can unlock Smithson's till, and doubtless we shall find the I.O.U." he said.
This was done, and the slip of paper Laurence Riverton had handed his fellow-clerk was brought to light and examined. "It would be utterly impossible for anyone to tamper with Riverton's money whilst he was absent for a few moment from the counter?" Blake asked.
"Practically so. It is a strict rule of the bank that a cashier must lock his till should he leave his place for the shortest period. Besides, Riverton would check the amount of money he had in hand with the entries in his ledger before he placed the lid upon the till and locked it. Had he have been such a serious amount short and had had no hand in the deficiency himself, he would naturally have reported the affair to me immediately."
"I follow you, Mr. Fisher. No one could gave got at the money after the till was locked?"
"No one! All the keys and locks of these tills are of a different pattern and there are no duplicates. Only one key exists to each lock and these are given into my charge at the close of each day."
Sexton Blake was silent for a moment. He began to sort the various articles in Laurence Riverton's till, and presently came to an A.B.C.
"Mr. Riverton has gone to Newmarket," he said suddenly.
"How do you know?" Martin jerked.
Sexton Blake pointed to the figures "2.13" that appeared on the cover of the railway guide.
"There is a train from Liverpool Street for Newmarket at that time," said he. "He has evidently gone down to see his father."
"He may not have written that memorandum to-day," Septimus Fisher objected.
"He did," Sexton Blake assured him. "Look at the ink. It is quite bright, which proves that the figures have been recently penned. Had the note been made yesterday or before the ink would have had time to become dull and faded slightly. We shall now examine his book and the cheque about which there is the question, if you will permit us, Mr. Fisher."
The banker inclined his head in agreement. "Come up to my office," he said.
The little party quitted the strong room—after Fisher had relocked the tills. He also secured the strong-room door and set the combination; then, in company with the detectives, he made his way to his private room. He stepped over to his desk, indicated an open book which lay there and produced the cheque for seven thousand pounds. Sexton Blake's eyes narrowed as he saw the name of the drawer.
"Charles Macdonald," he murmured. "Of course, the big commission agent of Bond Street."
"The same, Mr. Blake," the banker admitted.
The detective ran his fingers down the entries in Laurence Riverton's ledger until he came to the name McDonald. He saw that the figures "£70,000:0:0" had been boldly entered against it in the cash columns.
"Strange," he muttered. "I must admit that at first sight matters look black for young Riverton. However, there are several points that are against his being the thief. For instance, if he had robbed the bank of this amount, does it not strike you that it would be little short of madness for him to go to his father's place in Newmarket?"
"He may have relied upon the deficiency in his cash not being discovered until Monday, Blake," Martin suggested.
"Yes, that is so. Now, I wonder why it was necessary for him to borrow from his fellow cashier, Smithson?"
"It was a bit cool if he actually borrowed the money to increase his haul," Inspector Martin remarked.
"Decidedly cool," Sexton Blake returned a little drily. "Do you know Mr. Henry Melson, the man to whom the cheque is made out, Mr. Fisher?"
"No; I have never heard of him before. But that is not at all extraordinary. Mr. McDonald deals with all classes of people, and is always putting on new clients."
"Exactly. I suppose he would take a bet from anyone, provided no money was sent before the race?"
"If he knew they were good for the amount they were staking."
"Precisely. I wonder if it would be possible to get into touch with the man Smithson?"
Fisher thought for a moment.
"It so happens that it would," he answered. "He is a hardworking man and has a large family, so he is not averse to adding to his income. He sometimes takes work home, and he has an arrangement with a call-office near at hand, in case I wish to ring him up."
"Ah, that is indeed fortunate—that is, if he will be in to-day!"
"I imagine he will," Fisher stated. "He took home a good deal of work, I know. If you will excuse me, gentlemen, I will endeavour to get into communication with him."
He sat before his desk and drew the telephone towards him. He gave a number, and after some little delay, whilst the cashier was fetched from his house, he was put into touch with him.
"May I speak?" Sexton Blake queried, after Septimus Fisher had explained what had occurred at the bank. "Thank you! I am a detective, Mr. Smithson. Can you tell me why it was necessary for Mr. Riverton to borrow ten thousand-pound notes from you this morning?"
"Yes," came the reply. "He required them to make up the amount of a large cheque he was cashing."
"Do you know who drew the cheque?"
"Yes. It was one of our largest customers, a Mr. Charles McDonald."
"Do you know the amount of the cheque?"
"No; but it was a large one. Mr. Riverton mentioned that it was a big amount, and asked my advice as to whether he should speak to Mr. Fisher before dealing with it. I said I thought there was no need, as Mr. McDonald deals in large sums and is a trifle eccentric."
"Thank you! That is all I wish to know. Good-bye!"
Sexton Blake replaced the receiver and turned to the others.
"We shall search for Mr. Riverton at Newmarket," he said. "Will there be any objection to our taking charge of this cheque, Mr. Fisher?"
"No; so long as you take care of it, and return it in due course."
"I will be personally responsible for it," Sexton Blake answered. "Have you noticed, by the way, anything peculiar about it?"
"Yes; it is very carelessly made out. These blanks that appear between the words and figures show the utmost inexperience."
"Just so. Indeed, a moderately clever forger could easily alter this cheque so that it read as though it had been made out for seventy thousand instead of seven thousand pounds."
"Why, yes, it would be quite easy! But that has not been done, so there seems little to be gained in putting the point forward."
Sexton Blake scrutinised the cheque for along moment, holding it close to his eyes at several different angles.
"It does not appear to have been 'faked; certainly," he answered, as he folded it and put it away in pocket-book.
"You wish, I take it, to charge Riverton with his embezzlement?" Inspector Martin queried, when they stood upon the steps of the bank.
"Yes!" old Fisher snapped, his thin face setting harshly. "I shall show the villain no mercy! The law must take its course. Good-day, gentlemen! I sincerely hope that you will find him and place him under arrest before many hours have passed."
"I, too, hope that we find him without delay," Sexton Blake returned. "We shall then possibly learn that what precise mode of trickery has been employed to swindle both him and you."
"I fear I don't understand, Mr. Blake," Septimus Fisher returned cynically. "The man is a thief The case is most clear. All men in his position who follow the pernicious so-called sport known as horse-racing must sooner or later overstep the mark!"
Sexton Blake shook his head at him reprovingly
"We must not get upon that subject again, Mr. Fisher," he said quietly, "or we shall not get to Newmarket to-day. I would like to say a word in your ear before we part. If you are so fully convinced that our finest sport is sinful, why do you increase the profits of your bank by accepting and using the money of one of the largest bookmakers in the United Kingdom? It is scarcely practicing what you preach, you know. There is one other thing. When another person's property comes by accident into your hands, the most honourable course would be to return it to him. I am referring to the letter Laurence Riverton dropped in your office. It was not over honest to read it, you must admit. I wish you good-day, sir!"
And with that the detective strolled down the steps and gained the car, leaving the little wizened banker positively speechless with indignation.
"My word, Blake, but you riled him!" Martin chuckled, as Tinker started the car.
"He deserves to hear a little broad-minded speaking, my friend," Sexton Blake answered calmly, as he lit a cigar. "The man is a hypocrite—an out-an-out hypocrite! There is no other description to fit him!"
Laurence Riverton'a Love.
NO one at Newmarket dreamed of questioning whether Mr. Cyrus O'Mega, the gentleman who had recently bought up a well-appointed racing stable and a palatial mansion attached, was an American, and precisely what he seemed—a wealthy man whose sole object was to follow the sport he loved.
His manner and little eccentricities of speech seemed to proclaim his nationality without a shadow of a doubt; and had any of the "lads" employed by him been told that he was in reality a Britisher, that in London he was known under the alias of Henry Melson, that Cyrus O'Mega was merely another alias, and that his true identity was Jasper Clench, ex-convict and swindler, they would not have believed their informant.
Indeed, they might have questioned his veracity in a manner that was far more forcible than polite, for Mr. O'Mega had always proved, despite a tendency to sternness, that he was fair and just to the last degree.
There was not a lad in the stables, too, who would not have risked his very life for his employer's charming daughter. Violet O'Mega—as they knew her here at Newmarket—was as gentle and kind as she was dainty and beautiful, always ready to listen to the troubles of others, or to lend a helping hand to those in need. In addition to this, she was a born horsewoman, and could sit the most troublesome steed as though it were part of herself, a fact that speedily earned her the admiration of all the stable hands.
The O'Mega stables were situated in a valley upon the heath, at no great distance from the famous race-course. Usually there were from ten to a dozen thoroughbreds in training here, and, though he was practically a new-comer to the Turf, Mr. Cyrus O'Mega's candidates had already won for him several good races. At the moment, Cyanin, a smart three-year old, which the reputed millionaire had recently purchased, was considered something of a "good thing" for the Gold Cup, to be decided upon the following Tuesday, although "the heads" admitted that it would find Serious Symons, a racer trained at Riverton's stables, very hard to beat.
There had already been quite a lot of betting at the London clubs upon the forthcoming event, for now that racing had been so curtailed owing to the war, an occasional meeting at headquarters was thought quite a lot of. Cyanin and Serious Symons were to-day quoted as co-favourites at four to one, and considered by many keen judges to be wonderfully evenly matched.
The weather, if the present conditions lasted, promised to be excellent for the meeting, which commenced upon the following Tuesday.
All day long the sun had been shining radiantly, and the heath looked gloriously fresh and green. It was drawing towards late afternoon and a gentle breeze had sprung up—a breeze that was deliciously scented with the smell of the rolling turf, and was at once refreshing and invigorating.
The lads had completed their work for the day, and the stable-yard was deserted as Henry Melson sauntered down the steps of his house, crossed to the great gates and entered. He was accompanied by Ezra Q. Maitland, although now the master-criminal appeared strikingly different to the brown-bearded, sportively-dressed man who had visited Fisher's Bank that morning.
He had gone back to his character of Luke O. Kerney, from America, and appeared as he had done in the De Feyer Boarding House at Bayswater.
His guise was a truly marvellous piece of work, and Maitland was soon to thank his lucky stars that he had taken so much trouble with it. But more of this anon.
He looked to be about sixty years of age. A grey wig covered his own dark hair, and was secured in place so skilfully with spirit gum that the keenest pair of eyes could not detected that it was not natural. A beard and moustache of the same hue adorned his pale face, and even his eyebrows now possessed a whitish tinge, whilst their slant had completely altered. To complete the metamorphosis, a pair of tinted spectacles concealed Maitland's eyes. This was an old trick of his, and one that he had found very, very useful in the past.
"Thank goodness, we can talk here!" Henry Melson said, as he lit a cigar and proffered his case to Maitland. "It was impossible to say anything before my daughter, and I have been burning to know how the business went off."
"It worked like a charm, I reckon," Maitland grinned. "I walked into the bank and held my cigar beneath the spots of the cheque that I had treated with the invisible ink. The additions making it read as seventy thousand came up all right, and young Riverton paid out the amount in notes with hardly a murmur."
"He did make some demur, then?"
"Yes, but nothing to speak of. He had to borrow from the cashier next him and asked if he should go and see the manager, the cheque being for so large an amount to cash forthwith. The other advised him not to, however, and he paid me out."
"He didn't mention the amount to the other clerk?"
"No, fortunately. I kept cool and counted the notes before I left the bank, but once I was outside I hailed a taxi and told him to drive like the dickens to Charing Cross. I got another taxi there, and went to Westminster Bridge, then in a third cab went back to my hotel at Bayswater. You see, I meant covering my tracks all Sir Garnet!"
"You are a clever villain, my friend," Henry Melson said. "You have the notes with you?"
"Yes. I guess I understood that young Riverton would be paying you a visit this evening."
"He is almost bound to do so. He never visits his father's stable without looking us up. I reckon—" he smiled in a very sinister manner—"my daughter attracts him."
"Gee!" Maitland chuckled. "Quite melodramatic! The son who is to be ruined to pay off an old score against the father in love with the daughter of the man who has betrayed him! Really, I guess it's real extra!"
"The position is assuredly a trifle complicated," Henry Melson agreed. "But I do not think Violet cares a rap for him. Riverton will possibly be in time for tea. If such is the case, you should get your opportunity easily enough. I will suggest that you and he go to the bath-room to wash your hands. He is almost sure to remove his coat, and you know when to do then. Hush! Here comes my daughter!"
Maitland turned to see a slim, girlish form entering the stable-yard.
Violet Melson was not unlike her father, yet her face lacked the pallor and stem expression that was always apparent upon his.
Her hair was auburn chestnut, which Joshua Reynolds loved to paint, with eyebrows to match; mouth just a little trifle large, yet as sweet and expressive as her dark hazel eyes.
Her complexion and figure were eloquent of youth and health, and when she spoke her voice was full of that music that womanly refinement and delicacy combine to give, albeit it held a trace—the very slightest trace—of a twang that long years spent in America had irresistibly gifted it with.
"Poppa, do you remember your promise?" the girl said, as she reached the side of the two men. "You said you would take me right along to see Cyanin. I haven't had a chance of looking him over since he was cured of that touch of coughing."
Henry Melson's expression softened as he smiled into the beautiful, eager face. "Of course I remember, little girl," he said tenderly. "You would like to see him now?" Violet nodded.
"I should so much," she answered. "I do hope that he will win."
"I guess he'll be somewhere there at the finish, Vi," the millionaire said, with conviction. "The cough was nothing. In fact, I believe it only existed in my trainer's imagination. Joe Sparks is a good fellow, but just a wee bit pessimistic. Care to take a peep at the colt, Kerney?"
"Bet on it, Mr. Melson," Maitland drawled. "If—"
"Hush!" the American warned. "Not that name here. Kerney. Try to remember the other."
A troubled look sprang into his daughter's beautiful eyes.
"Why is it necessary to pass under a false name here, dad?" she asked impulsively. "You have always put me off when I have asked you to explain and—"
"My dear child," the ex-swindler protested, "heaps of people race under a nom-de-plume. I—" he hesitated momentarily whilst his brain worked quickly for an excuse—"I do a great deal of business with people who are not in agreement with horse-racing, and I am anxious that they should not know that I have anything to do with it. You must be careful not to disclose my secret to anyone. Mr. Kerney knew me in America, and, as he met me here some days ago quite be chance, I had to let him into the know, I guess."
"Oh, I reckon you can rely upon my discretion," Maitland remarked, with a light laugh. "Is this the stable he's in?"
"Yes," Melson said as he took a key from his pocket and unlocked the door. "This way. Isn't he a beauty?"
"He's more than that!" Maitland exclaimed, genuine admiration in his tones. "It's got to be a real good horse that'll beat him. I guess I'll chance a pony on him, anyway."
"Back him each way and you are on a dead certainty, Kerney," Harry Melson said, with quiet assurance. "He's bound to get in the first three barring a serious spill, or some such unforeseen accident. Ah, Cyanin, you cute old card, I believe you know you could beat everything in the race if it suited you!"
He was stroking the thoroughbred's velvety nose, and the beautiful creature seemed to greatly appreciate the caress.
He was indeed a splendid colt, bright-eyed and alert in appearance. Every curve of his glossy body spoke of enormous speed and breeding, whilst his temper seemed to be good, and there was nothing of the "rogue" about him.
Violet moved forward and laid her hand upon his long, slimly-made neck.
"You dear," she said softly. "I am sure you are going to win for us."
"I'll spend my winnings on a new gown for you if he does," Henry Melson said. "I wonder who that is in the yard?" he said, his head raised sharply in a listening attitude. "My I come in?" said a voice from without, and Violet exclaimed with a curious eagerness: "I believe it is Mr. Riverton!"
She proved to be right, for a moment later the figure of the young cashier from Fisher's Banking Syndicate was framed in the doorway. His eyes lighted up, just for an instant, as he saw that Violet was present.
"Come in, Riverton, my boy!" Henry Melson bade cordially, although he had averted his head to hide the hatred in his eyes. "It'll give you a chance of seeing Cyanin. You can hedge, so that you don't lose over the money you've put of your father's horse for the Gold Cup next Tuesday."
Laurence Riverton laughed good-naturedly as he came forward and shook hands with Violet and her father.
"As a matter of fact," said he, "I haven't so far put a penny on Serious Symons, my dad's candidate, although I think he'll win."
"You think he'll beat Cyanin?" Maitland asked carelessly.
"It will be a close thing between them, sir," Laurence answered, with a non-committal shrug of his shoulders.
"You must let me introduce you to my friend, Laurence," Henry Melson said. "I had forgotten you had not met before. This is Mr. Luke O. Kerney, from the States. Mr. Kerney—Mr. Riverton, the son of a neighbouring owner.
"I am very pleased to meet you, Mr. Kerney," Laurence responded formally, as he extended his hand, although for some strange reason he at once took an instinctive dislike to the American. "Will you be here for the meeting next week?"
"I guess so, unless I get some urgent cable that will make it necessary to sail by Monday's boat to New York," Maitland replied. "So your dad owns Serious Symons, the co-favourite with Cyanin?"
"Yes. Apart from the other horses' chances, the race will be a rattling good one to watch," Laurence said. "My father is as keen on the chance of his horse as Mr. O'Mega is about his, and he has just cause. To my way of thinking, there's not a pin to choose between the two. They will fight it out to an exciting finish."
"We must get back to the house," Melson said at that moment. "It is long past tea-time. Of course, you will stop, Riverton?"
"Well, really, I feel almost ashamed to," the young man laughed. "I declare I am forever walking in at tea-time."
"Oh, nonsense!" the millionaire protested. "Why, we only see you on Saturdays. Take Violet along, will you? But what about your horse? Did you ride over?"
"Yes. May I leave him in the stable?"
"Certainly. Bring him in and put him in that empty stall there. There are some oats going begging, and he can amuse himself.
"I won't detain you for more than a few seconds," Riverton exclaimed, as he hastened from the stable.
He returned almost at once, leading a superb black gelding. He made the animal comfortable in the stall Henry Melson had indicated, then the little party walked towards the house, Laurence and Violet some little distance ahead of the two elder men.
If the truth be told, Laurence Riverton looked forward to the few hours he was able to spend in the society of the slender girl by his side. From their first meeting he and Violet had been irresistibly drawn to each other, and Laurence found himself desiring wealth as he had never wanted it before.
Although he tried to hide his feelings, he was passionately in love with the girl. Her pure, sweet face, with its great, dark eyes and wistful mouth maddened him until he found tender words—eloquent, earnest words that would have told her of his love—upon the very tip of his tongue, and it was only by exercising all the will-power at his command that he had prevented himself opening his heart to her and clasping her in his arms.
Laurence had heard rumour that the man he knew as Cyrus O'Mega was a millionaire, or something very like one, and he told himself that for the time being at least Violet was not for him—a poorly-paid cashier in a city bank.
True, had he been so disposed, he could have altered his sphere of life almost immediately by accepting the allowance his father, John Riverton, had offered him. But Laurence had made a solemn vow—a vow that he meant to keep at all costs.
When he had returned from Harrow after a few months at the renowned college, he had quite by accident discovered that his real name was Cavendish. He had been idly searching through the drawers of an old writing-desk, had touched a spring that disclosed a secret cavity beyond one of the pigeon-holes, and brought to light documents that had proved without the least doubt that his father was the swindler Richard Cavendish, the man who had fled from London twenty years ago with half a million pounds out of which he had defrauded the misguided persons who had entrusted to him their investments.
A strong code of honour had always been one of Laurence's most cherished possessions, and immediately he had confronted his father with his knowledge. Then the old man had broken down, and, little by little, the lad heard the black story of the past.
He had learnt how his father, when he had been a partner in the firm of Clench & Cavendish, had treacherously betrayed his co-swindler and decamped with the whole of the haul they had made. He heard of the two long years that his father had spent in Buenos Aires in reckless extravagance and self-indulgence, then how, with a little capital, he had returned to the land of his birth, and, by pure luck, made money upon the turf.
He heard of the death of his mother, and how her decease had changed his father—made of him a saddened, chastened man. He was told of the great resolve Richard Cavendish had made to refund every penny to his former dupes, or, in the event of their having died, to their nearest relatives.
Fortune had seemed to be with Richard Cavendish in the desire to make reparation that obsessed him. In whatever direction in turf matters he speculated, he came out on top with but very few exceptions, and year after year the men and women who had been swindled by Clench & Cavendish received anonymously a portion of the money they had lost.
"I had hoped you would never know, lad," the ex-swindler had said. "But now that you've discovered my secret I have told you the whole truth. Heaven knows I am repentant, and I am doing my utmost to right the many wrongs I have done my fellow-beings!"
Laurence had felt sorry for his father, for he had known that he was sincere in every word he uttered. Yet from that day the young man had refused to touch a penny of his father's money, and had given out his intention of working for himself until the last portion of the amount out of which his father had defrauded his clients had been returned. He had steadfastly kept his word. He had not gone back to Harrow, but by the influence of the headmaster he had secured a position as junior clerk in Fisher's Bank. He had worked energetically until he gained his present position as cashier.
It was probable that he would soon be handing in his resignation to his employers, he thought, as he walked by the side of the girl he worshipped. He knew nothing of the sinister plot against him, and had no presentiment of what was shortly to transpire. If his father's horse, Serious Symons, won the Gold Cup, Richard Cavendish—or John Riverton, as he was now known—would be in a position to make his last repayment and would also be in pocket by a very large amount.
The prodigal swindler had pinned his faith to his candidate for the important event at Newmarket upon the following Tuesday, and had backed Serious Symons for many thousands of pounds several days ago, securing a long price about him. Laurence and his father had that day engaged in a long conversation, and the young man had agreed to throw up his position in the bank and once again live with his father in the event of the "certainty" coming off.
If Serious Symons did win, the young man intended to go straight to Violet and lay his heart at her feet, for then he would be in a position to offer her a home and luxuries such as she had been accustomed to. None but herself knew what the result of the big race would mean to him. Often he had dared to believe that he had seen the light of love shining in Violet's eyes when she had been conversing with him; he believed that she cared, and—
"How preoccupied you are, Mr. Riverton!" the girl said, suddenly breaking the silence that had fallen between them, and smiling up at him archly. "One might be forgiven for thinking you were shouldering the troubles of the world, or—
"Or?" he prompted, recovering himself with a start.
"That you were in love," she said innocently. "I have heard that when a man is in that condition he is as silent as an owl."
"Do I look like an owl?" Laurence queried, smiling.
"But, after all, perhaps, I am very much in love," he finished, and his voice in spite of the stern hand he was keeping upon himself. A flush of pink sprang into the girl's cheeks, and she veiled her eyes with her long lashes as she turned her head aside. "Here we are at the house!" she said, with the air of one who wishes to change an embarrassing subject. "Will you unlatch the gate? The catch is stiff!"
"Guess I could do with a wash, O'Mega," Ezra Q. Maitland said, when they had entered an expensively furnished room, in which tea was laid. "Don't trouble to call a servant! I reckon the bathroom will suit me, and I know where to find it."
Henry Melson nodded.
"Sure you would not like some warm water? There will be none there," he answered.
"No; don't trouble," Maitland drawled. "What do you say, Mr. Riverton, to keeping me company? A rinse will do us real good, I reckon."
"Yes, I'll come with you," Laurence answered. "It is hot to-day, and a wash will refresh us, if we may be excused."
He glanced at Violet, and she inclined her head. Then the two men wended their way to the first floor, where Maitland pushed open a door.
He waved his hand towards the washstand-basin.
"After you!" he said politely. "Guess I'll get a cigarette going for a moment. I'm partial to a smoke before a meal."
Laurence Riverton unsuspectingly removed his coat, and hung it upon a hook behind the door. He turned on the tap, and partly filled the basin, and a second later he had buried his face in the cool, refreshing water.
Like lightning Maitland acted. He whipped from his pocket a roll of crisp bank-notes, and deftly thrust them into the breast-pocket of his victim's jacket. When Laurence removed his face from the basin, it was to find Maitland seated upon the edge of the bath, carelessly making smoke-rings and watching them slowly travel towards the ceiling.
When some few minutes had elapsed, and the master criminal and the cashier were taking their places at the tea-table, Henry Melson darted a questioning look at his cunning and unscrupulous ally. It was to see Maitland incline his head, and just for a fleeting moment Henry Melson's face wore an expression of fiendish triumph, and his eyes blazed like living coals.
The last step towards ruining the son of the man who had betrayed him twenty-years ago had been successfully taken.
A Dramatic Arrest and a Condemning Find.
THE big, grey horse reared, then pawed the ground impatiently, as his mistress pulled him up and, shading her eyes, gazed towards the sinking sun. Like a blazing fireball, it was slowly disappearing behind a belt of trees, casting a dull red glow over the distant hills. It was a glorious sight, and when seen on the silent, lonely heath was enthralling—almost awe-inspiring.
Laurence Riverton turned in his saddle and looked back to where the girl sat upright upon her horse. She caught his glance, roused herself from her reverie, and galloped to his side.
"Isn't the sunset splendid?" she said in admiration.
Laurence nodded, although inwardly he was longing to tell her that there was that before his eyes infinitely more beautiful than the glare of the dying sun. "You like England, Miss O'Mega?" he asked.
"It is wonderful!" Violet Melson returned. "So peaceful, so quiet—especially here upon the green heath. I don't think I ever wish to go back to America."
Again Laurence inclined his head. Then for a moment silence fell between them as they rode onwards.
After tea had been taken at Henry Melson's house, Violet had expressed her intention to ride to a distant cottage to take a parcel of delicacies to an old dame who was ill, and Laurence had jumped at the chance to accompanying her, pointing out that the girl would have to pass his father's stable upon her journey. Violet had seemed pleased that she was to have Laurence's company, and the young man's heart had pumped madly as he had helped her into her saddle and they had ridden from the stable-yard.
He was experiencing a feeling of regret now because they were rapidly nearing the Riverton stables. He was racking his brains for an excuse to accompany her to her destination, and afterwards ride back with her, but so far he had failed to find words in which to put the suggestion forward.
As it was to happen, Violet Melson was never to complete her intended journey.
A bird fluttered noisily from a clump of bushes as the thud of the horses' hoofs alarmed it, and Violet's steed swerved badly and reared. The girl kept her seat with the ease of an experienced equestrian, and brought her whip down smartly upon the animal's flank.
The chastisement only seemed to madden him, and he went careering forward, to pull up suddenly, with his hoofs planted hard to the ground. Then the brute appeared to do his utmost to unseat his rider. He flung up his head, trying to strike the girl in the face, but Violet drew back sharply, tightening her rein. Next the horse arched his back, then flung up his hind-legs, and lastly reverted to his rearing tactics.
It was all to no avail. Violet sat in her saddle as though she was strapped there, moving her supple body to suit the ever-changing attitudes of the horse. She did not use her whip again until the animal's temper had exhausted itself; then she flicked him several times, and sent him prancing forward.
Laurence Riverton galloped after her, a great anxiety in his heart; but he could do nothing save watch, and as he saw the horse begin to quieten down he heaved a sigh of relief.
"He is a high-spirited brute, Miss O'Mega," the young bank clerk said, as he rode to her side. "I don't know whether it is quite safe for you to ride him."
"Oh, Satan is harmless enough!" Violet returned, stroking the horse's neck. "He gets out of hands at times, but—" She broke off, listening intently "What is that?" she asked.
Laurence Riverton raised his head, and he, too, listened for a moment.
"An aeroplane, I think," he said. "Yes; look! There it is—right over those trees! You can just see it—a speck in the clouds."
They both reined in their horses, and the girl sat gazing upwards, her hand raised to shade her eyes. "It is coming this way," she said. "It's not a German machine, I suppose?" she added, with a laugh.
"I don't expect so," Laurence answered. "We should have heard some distant firing, if such were the case. Jove, but it is travelling! Look! It is getting quite distinct now!"
He was right, the aircraft was speedily approaching them, and now the roar of her engine could be plainly heard. Louder and louder the noise grew, and soon they were able to make out the shape of her. "A British biplane," Laurence said. "She must be making sixty to seventy miles an hour!"
They sat motionless, their eyes upon the oncoming aircraft. It was making a bee-line for them, and would pass, unless the pilot altered the course, directly over their heads. It was flying quite low, and could not have been more than seven or eight hundred feet above the ground.
The roar of the engine became a reverberating din as the aeroplane sailed above them. It was a fine sight to see, and Riverton sat fascinated until—
A startled cry came from Violet, and the young man swung round. The girl's horse had been frightened, for the second time within the last quarter of an hour. The crackling hum of the engine of the biplane had struck terror into the sensitive animal's breast, and it had suddenly swung round and dashed away across the heath.
Laurence brought round his horse like lightning, and went speeding away after the girl, for he had realised that a terrible danger menaced her, in spite of her skill as a horsewoman.
The aeroplane was rapidly disappearing, the sound of its engine growing fainter and fainter in the distance, but the mischief had been done. Satan had got the bit between his teeth, and was well nigh wrenching the girl's slim arms out of their sockets as he tore madly onwards, and all her efforts to slacken his pace were worse than useless.
The horse was making straight for a stone wall dividing two fields, and upon the opposite side was a quarry, open, and from forty to fifty feet deep. It lay just behind, in the centre of the wall, and, as the stone was valuable, the owners kept it open, and work went on there now and again. The wall, which was all loose, rough stones, was there to warn people who did not know the country of the danger, and to remind those who did of the quarry's existence.
The maddened horse was heading straight for the very worst part of the wall, just as the spot where the quarry lay upon the opposite side. It would at the pace it was making, take the wall at a leap, and it was resisting all efforts of the girl to turn it in its wild career.
Laurence Riverton's head began to swim, and his mouth grew parched. He drove his spurs into his horse until the unfortunate animal whinnied and fairly bounded into the air.
"To your left!" he yelled hoarsely. "To your left, for Heaven's sake!"
He might have shouted to the dead for all the good his warning did. The girl was powerless to stay the foam-flecked animal beneath her or to swerve him, and, with white, set face and starting eyes, she realised that unless a miracle happened she was doomed.
Nearer and nearer to the wall Satan drew, and Laurence Riverton rode as he had never ridden before. His horse was almost as frenzied as the girl's but he was still well under Riverton's control. At all costs he must reach her and drag her from the saddle, even at the cost of a broken limb. If she went over the wall, and hurtled into the depths of the quarry—
Laurence shuddered, and, if it were possible, his face grew even more ghastly than it had been before he had pictured what was likely to happen.
Again and again he spurred his horse, and to his joy he found that he was gaining upon Satan and his terrified rider.
Crack! crack! crack! His whip went up, and descended three times with the rapidity of lightning, and his horse reared with the pain, but somehow it found itself urged forward, and now it was almost at the heels of the uncontrollable Satan.
The wall was but a dozen feet away! Laurence Riverton set his teeth, and again his spurs were driven home. With a last burst of speed, his horse shot forward, and now the two animals were travelling neck and neck.
Laurence's lips moved in a silent prayer to Providence to watch over them as he leant sideways in his saddle.
"Take your feet from the stirrups!" he shouted; and almost at once the girl understood and obeyed.
Just what happened then, Violet hardly knew. She felt herself gripped about the waist; then she was positively hauled from the saddle.
Laurence had taken a hold upon her slim form with both arms, and jerked her from her seat in the very nick of time. He saw the wall before them, and flung himself from the back of his own steed, endeavouring to hold the girl so that she should fall upon him. He had no thought for himself and was ready to sacrifice his life so long as she was not injured.
There was a terrific thud as the bodies of the girl and the man came to earth, rolled over, and violently struck the stonework.
Almost simultaneously the air was rent by a shrill whinny of terror as Satan went soaring over the wall and saw the yawning quarry beneath him. He went crashing downwards, whilst Laurence's horse, unable to stop in its wild pace, collided with the crumbling stonework of the wall, sending a portion of it rattling down into the quarry.
The poor creature collapsed in a heap, but staggered to three legs, as Laurence Riverton, blood upon his ashen face, reeled up. One of the horse's forelegs was badly broken, and Laurence shuddered at the sight, dazed, sick, and giddy though he was.
Fortunately he was able to put the animal out of its misery with very little delay, for he was carrying a revolver—a habit he had attained since being attacked by a party of Apaches when upon a tour in Paris.
There was a sharp report and a dull thud, and Laurence Riverton's horse was mercifully disposed of. The young man tried to return the weapon to his hip-pocket, but his strength gave out, he swayed, swung round upon his heels, and pitched to the ground by the still form of the girl he secretly loved.
"Laurence! Laurence, lad! What has happened?"
Riverton looked up feebly to find his father bending over him.
John Riverton, alias Richard Cavendish, had altered greatly in the twenty years that had passed since he had fled from England with his ill-gotten gains. He was bearded now, and his hair was quite white; whilst, like his ex-partner, his face was deeply lined with care and suffering. Just now he was grey, to the lips, his eyes burning with anxiety.
"Laurence, speak to us!" he said. And now the young man became aware that Jack Haynes, his father's trainer, was also kneeling by his side.
The bank clerk raised himself weakly upon his elbow, becoming conscious as he did so that he was terribly stiff and sore. His eyes fell upon the form of his horse, then travelled to the spot where Violet Melson lay upon the grass, the trainer's coat propped beneath her head.
In a flash memory returned to him, and, stifling a groan, he gained his legs.
"Violet—Miss O'Mega!" he said. "She—she is not badly injured?"
"She don't appear to be, Mister Laurence," the trainer said reassuringly. "She got a nasty knock on the head and is stunned, but there are no bones broken."
"Thank Heaven!" Laurence breathed, as he knelt beside the girl and gently stroked her hair from her damp forehead. "How did you find me?"
"Haynes had been for a walk and passed this way, Laurence," John Riverton explained. "He examined you both to see if he could do anything for you, and, finding he couldn't, he came and informed me of what had taken place. You've had a nasty spill, by the look of things."
"Yes," Laurence said grimly. "It was only by inches that I managed to snatch Miss O'Mega from certain death. Her horse was frightened by the noise of an aeroplane that passed overhead; he got the bit between his teeth and went like a rocket straight for the quarry wall. I only snatched Miss O'Mega from her saddle in the nick of time!"
"The horse went over the quarry?" John Riverton asked, in a hushed voice.
"Yes!" Laurence shuddered. "Thank Heaven, he went over riderless!" he said earnestly. "We had better see if he is quite head, or lying maimed and injured. We must climb down and put a bullet through his head, poor beast, if he has not given up the ghost. You poor old Dick!" he said, stooping for a moment as he passed his dead horse; and a lump had risen in his throat. "I had to shoot him, father. He collided with the wall and broke his leg!"
He jumped, and clutching the edge of the quarry wall, drew himself up. For a moment he sat astride it, then carefully he lowered himself to the narrow strip of ground that divided it from the frowning quarry upon the other side.
A glance downwards speedily convinced him that Satan was no more. He was lying with his head doubled up in a gruesome manner beneath him, and there was not an iota of doubt that his neck was broken.
Laurence rejoined the others, and told then what he had seen. He crossed again to the side of the unconscious girl, stooped, and tenderly lifted her in his arms.
"We must take her home and let Mrs. Lee attend to her, dad," he said, referring to his father's housekeeper. "I can carry her, dad. She is no weight to speak of, and we are not far from home."
The little party started away over the heath, Laurence Riverton tenderly bearing the girl. A wisp of her luxuriant hair was brushing against his face as her head lay upon his shoulder, and Laurence longed to press his lips to hers. He refrained from doing so, however, not wishing to cause comment upon the part of his father and the trainer.
When the Riverton stables were reached and Violet had been carried into the drawing-room of the house, which, like that of Henry Melson, was attached to the stables, Laurence gently deposited her upon the couch and arranged a cushion beneath her head, whilst he rang the bell and summoned the housekeeper.
Mrs. Lee proved to be a motherly sort of person, and she was quickly endeavouring to bring the girl to her senses. John Riverton stood over the couch, regarding Violet's pale face intently for a while, and presently he drew his son aside.
"You said she was Miss O'Mega," said he. "Is she a relation to the American Cyrus O'Mega, our neighbour whom you visit?"
"Yes. His daughter," Laurence replied.
John Riverton frowned and passed his hand across his wrinkled brow.
"Somewhere I seem to have seen her before," he said slowly, with the air of a man who was trying to recall some long-forgotten incident in his past life.
"Perhaps you have encountered her upon the heath, dad?" Laurence suggested. "She rides a good deal, and is fond of the open air."
The elder man shook his head.
"I don't imagine so," he said, after a moment's pause. "Perhaps, after all, I am mistaken, or it is merely a chance resemblance—to By Heavens, I know now! She is like Clench—Jasper Clench, my old partner!"
Laurence Riverton started.
"Impossible!" he cried, almost indignantly.
"It is not impossible! It is true!" the elder Riverton persisted, moving quickly towards the coach and gazing down long and earnestly at the unconscious girl. "And yet—and yet Perhaps it is merely a trick of my imagination!"
The housekeeper was looking at him curiously, for the one-time swindler was trembling with agitation. He turned away and moved towards the door. Laurence followed him, and, once in the hall, his father said:
"I am going to smoke a cigar in the open air, lad. Whether or no I am imagining that yonder girl features are like those of the man I betrayed, the shock has unnerved me. Laurence, you love her?"
The young man caught his breath and started with surprise.
"Yes," he said, his voice full of emotion.
"I knew it," John Riverton answered quickly, laying his hand upon his son's broad shoulder. "I knew it from the manner in which you looked at her when she was lying unconscious upon the heath. Why do you persist in leading your humdrum existence—you cannot call it life—boxed up in that bank? Why not throw it up at once and live with me here?"
"You know the decision I have made, dad," Laurence answered firmly. "Until every penny is paid back—"
"I know lad," the old man interrupted. "But within a few days I shall be able to refund the last instalment to them all and be a rich man into the bargain."
"If Serious Symons wins," his son reminded him.
"If he wins!" John Riverton laughed enthusiastically. "Can he lose?" he asked. "He is trained to the minute, and there is nothing to beat him. With your help here at the stables, we can be even more prosperous. You will be in a position to make the girl you love your wife, if she'll accept you, and—"
"I shall not speak until Serious Symons has won, dad, and my future is assured," Laurence protested, although at the moment he did not really comprehend the strength of his love, nor foresee how forthcoming events were to loosen his tongue. "I do not wish to dishearten you, but there are other horses in the race, one of them practically on a level with your candidate in form and class."
"You mean Cyanin?" John Riverton asked; then, eagerly: "You have seen him?"
"Yes, to-day. He is a gentleman, there can be no doubt of that, and whatever beats him will go close."
"It will be Serious Symons," the elder Riverton said, with conviction. "He beat Cyanin when he was a two-year old, and will beat him again."
"I am not so certain," Laurence objected. "I wish, dad, you had not risked quite so much on his chance. But let us hope for the best. The dye is cast now, for better or worse."
"For better or worse," John Riverton repeated. "Let us hope it is for the former. It means much to both you and me."
He passed along the hall, opened the front door, and strolled down the steps, taking out his cigar-case. Laurence turned back to the room, but a glance showed him that Violet was still in an unconscious condition, and the young man followed his father out of doors.
As he joined him, and the two men moved leisurely down the drive, the gate at the far end was opened sharply to admit of a burly individual, who walked with a noticeable swagger, and a tall, lean gentleman, very quietly dressed and pale of face.
"I wonder who they can be?" John Riverton said, removing his cigar from between his teeth and stopping to gaze at the intruders. "I do not know them."
"Can they have heard of the accident by the quarry and have come to inquire after Miss O'Mega and myself?" Laurence suggested. "They may be the owners, or—"
He did not finish his sentence, but stood waiting until to the men drew nearer. Suddenly he gave an amazed exclamation. "Why, it is Sexton Blake!" he said.
"The great detective!" John Riverton cried. "Good heavens!" His hands clenched, and beads of perspiration started to his brow. "Can it mean that after all these years No, no! It is absurd! I covered my movements too thoroughly for that! What can they want?"
"Sexton Blake and his companion—Detective-Inspector Martin—pulled up as they reached the two men.
"Mr. Laurence Riverton?" Inspector Martin asked officially, although he knew well enough that the younger of the two men was he, for Sexton Blake had had no option but to admit the identity of his friend.
"That is my name," Laurence said, his eyes widening. "But you have the advantage of me. Mr. Blake, I am glad to see you."
He held out his hand, and without hesitation the detective gripped it. "Allow me to introduce you to my father."
Sexton Blake bowed formally, whilst Inspector Martin looked awkward and ill-at-ease.
"What has brought you to this part of the globe. Blake?" Laurence Riverton asked.
The detective, for once in his life, seemed momentarily at a loss for words.
"We are here upon very unpleasant business, Mr. Riverton," he answered at length. "This is an official friend of mine. Detective-Inspector Martin, of Scotland Yard."
He was watching the cashier's face closely as he spoke, but saw there only an expression of growing bewilderment. "There has been either a gigantic swindle or an embezzlement at your bank."
"Good heavens!" the young fellow gasped. "It—it is not in connection with anything I have dealt with?"
"Unfortunately for you, sir, it is," Inspector Martin said gruffly. "We require to know why you entered a cheque, drawn in favour of a Mr. Henry Melson by the commission agent Charles McDonald, for seven thousand pounds as seventy thousand—just ten times as much?"
"What!" Laurence Riverton reeled back as though he had received a blow in the face. "I—I don't understand!" he gasped, passing his tongue across his dry lips. "The—the cheque was for seventy thousand pounds!" Martin turned to Sexton Blake. "Perhaps you will show it him, Blake?" he suggested.
The detective produced his wallet, and took from it the slip of paper in question, holding it so that the young Riverton could see it.
The cashier seemed paralysed for a few seconds, and he stood with dilated eyes, staring stupidly at the cheque. He tried to snatch at it; but Martin struck up his hand. "What, in the name of Heaven, does this mean?" Laurence asked hoarsely. "It—it cannot be the same cheque."
"It is the same," Martin said coldly. "You must know, sir, what this means?"
Laurence uttered a great cry, and the blood rushed into his cheeks. "Do you dare to insinuate," he blazed indignantly, "that I—I have robbed the bank?"
"You are certainly sixty-three thousand pounds short in your cash," Martin retorted grimly. "We have checked it with Mr. Fisher and know."
"Oh, this is preposterous!" Laurence cried. "Mr. Blake, you do not believe that I am a thief? I—"
"I do not as yet know what to believe, or think, Riverton," the Baker Street detective answered, with a helpless gesture. "I have known you for some years, and always found you to be a man of honour. Yet there are many matters you must clear up before you can remove the charge that has been laid upon your shoulders. Personally, I believe that a fraud has been skilfully planned and engineered, and you are the victim of it. Are you willing to swear on oath that when you cashed this cheque it was for seventy thousand pounds?"
"I do swear it, Blake!" Laurence cried, in ringing tones.
"You could not have made a mistake. For instance, your mind was not preoccupied with other matters at the time this cheque was presented?"
"No; not to any extent, anyway. But, I am sure—I am positive—that it was for seventy thousand pounds! Why, I made a remark to one of my fellow cashiers because it was for such a large amount. It is most unusual for a cheque running into five figures to be left open."
"Of course. That was what at once struck me. Mr. Fisher, however, seemed to think little of the matter, declaring that Charles McDonald was a most eccentric man."
"That is so, and it was for that reason that I did not speak to Mr. Fisher before dealing with the matter. Good Providence! I can hardly believe my eyes! The cheque I cashed was for seventy thousand. I would say so if I were upon my deathbed, and it is utterly ridiculous to entertain the idea of a mistake. I have never over or under paid a cheque that has been presented in the past. I am more than certain that I should not make such a blunder as to multiply thousands of pounds by ten!"
"Laurence, there must have been some hideous error made by Mr. Fisher," John Riverton said, in a voice that was unsteady. "My boy, surely if you exercise your mind you can think of something that will explain—"
"I can't, dad!" the cashier protested, almost wildly. "Now that I look at it, and study it, it is the identical cheque that I cashed this morning for seventy thousand! I know, because I noticed then the splash of red ink on the back. You see it is there."
He clutched at his temples.
"Am I going mad?" he panted. "Did I really make this awful blunder?"
He lowered his hands, allowing them to slowly sink down his chest until they fell limply by his sides. As his right hand was passing over the spot in his jacket where there was fitted an inside pocket, there came a peculiar rustling sound, and Inspector Martin's eyes suddenly glinted.
Just for a second or two the Scotland Yard man stood tense, then his body swayed forward, he sprang at Laurence, and secured his arms in a vice-like hold.
The young man struggled frantically to break free, but strong though he was, he found himself at a disadvantage. "What is the meaning of this outrage?" he gasped, ceasing to struggle. "Let me go!"
Martin did no such thing. It it were possible, his grip tightened for a moment, then Laurence found himself swung backwards over the burly official's crooked knee, and Martin's hand was groping in his inside breast-pocket.
With a quick jerk, the official had wrenched out a handful of crackling banknotes, and he let Laurence go so suddenly that the young man stumbled and all but fell to the ground.
Next moment Martin had let out a shout of triumph, and was flourishing his find before Sexton Blake's eyes.
"A portion of the stolen notes!" he jerked excitedly.
LAURENCE RIVERTON came reeling forward, his eyes blazing dangerously, his fists clenched. "You fool!" he hissed between his teeth. "You blundering fool, you are mad!"
"I think not, my young friend," the Scotland Yardman retorted gruffly. "We took a note of the numbers of the notes that had been paid out on the cheque you have falsely entered, and these are a portion of them."
"You lie!" Laurence blazed. "But—but—" He caught in his breath with a sobbing sound, and his jaw dropped blankly. "Those notes are not mine," he cried wildly. "I have not possessed such an amount in my life. They are for thousands of pounds."
"I quite believe they are not yours," Martin said, with an attempt at grim humour. "I expect Mr. Fisher will endorse your opinion. You must consider yourself under arrest upon a charge of embezzling sixty-three thousand pounds from your employers. I would warn you that anything you say may be taken and used at your trial in evidence against you."
"But I have no knowledge of how the notes came in my pocket!" Laurence said thickly. "I vow I am telling you the truth. Someone must have put them there."
Sexton Blake was lighting a cigar, and his eyes were very bright and keen. He was searchingly studying the young man's face through the smoke of his weed, and the detective somehow felt that Laurence's dazed, almost frantic astonishment was genuine.
What did it mean? the detective asked himself. Was it possible that Laurence Riverton was the victim of a deep-laid, subtle plot? He had experienced such cases in the past. And&mdash:
"There are five thousand pounds here," Inspector Martin said. "What have you done with the balance?"
"I tell you that I have never had it in my possession!" Laurence cried. "When I cashed this cheque, it presented a face value ten times more than now. In some remarkable manner it has changed—the figures and lettering have altered. I have no way of telling how these notes came upon my person, and I have no knowledge of the whereabouts of the missing fifty-eight thousand pounds. I solemnly pledge you my word, as a man of honour, that I am telling you the truth! lam mystified, baffled! My head is swimming, and I can hardly believe the evidence of my eyes!"
"Let me see the notes, Martin," Sexton Blake requested.
The Scotland Yard man handed them over. There were five of them, each for a thousand pounds face value.
The Baker Street detective slowly inspected each note in turn, turning them, and also examining their backs. When he came to the last note, he suddenly raised it close to his eyes, and pursed his lips.
"An oily thumb mark," he said. "It appears to have been made quite recently. Mr. Riverton, you will have no objection to showing me your thumbs?"
Laurence obeyed instantly, and the detective minutely examined the under portions.
"The mark was certainly not made by you," he said, with assurance. "Tell me, what was the man like who presented the cheque, and in whose name the cheque was made out?" The cashier described him as accurately as his memory would allow. "He was an American, I think," he said, in conclusion.
"An American!" Sexton Blake looked thoughtful. "I have heard his name somewhere just recently," he murmured. "Melson-Melson! I wonder where it could have been? I may keep this marked note, Martin and the cheque, for the time being?"
"Certainly, Blake!" the inspector agreed.
"Good!" Sexton Blake answered. "I have a theory that I want to test with the cheque, and there is just a chance that this thumb mark may be repeated in my collection at Baker Street. Like the name of Melson, the impression seems strangely familiar to me, yet for the moment I cannot recall where I have experienced it in the past."
"This is a terrible affair, gentleman!" John Riverton said, his face drawn and anxious. "Will it be necessary for my son to accompany you, inspector?"
"Yes," Martin said, with a lifting of his shoulders. "The evidence against him is too damning to allow of anything else."
"By Jove! But I'll not be put to this indignity!" Laurence Riverton rasped, losing his head a little. "If you dare to lay a finger upon me, it will not go well with you."
"Laurence, my boy, I beseech you to be calm!" the elder Riverton pleaded. "It is useless to resist the law."
"I am innocent, and I won't be treated like a felon!" Laurence blazed "Stand back, you cur, or—"
Martin hurled his huge body forward, and his handcuffs were swinging in his hands. There was a sharp smacking sound, and with something very like an oath, the burly official went reeling backwards, blood streaming from his mouth.
"Don't be a fool, Riverton!" Sexton Blake advised sharply. "You are—"
His voice was drowned by an angry roar from Martin, as he again sprang at his intended prisoner. There was a short, quick scuffle as the two men closed. Next moment they had thudded to the ground, and were rolling over and over upon the gravel of the drive.
Laurence Riverton fought like a madman. The amazing charge that had so suddenly been brought against him had for the time being made him very near a madman, and he was not responsible for his actions. He struck blow after blow at his adversary until Martin suddenly got a hold upon his wrists and clicked on the fetters.
Roughly, Martin jerked the young man to his feet, and turned an anything but friendly look at Sexton Blake, who had not troubled to take any part in the arrest. Martin's expression plainly meant, "Why did you not come to my assistance?" but Sexton Blake purposely ignored it.
In spite of the apparently indisputable proof that young Riverton had committed a theft on a gigantic scale, Sexton Blake still adhered to the opinion he had voiced when he had first heard of the embezzlement over the telephone at Baker Street.
"You'll get it hot for this, my young spitfire!" Martin snarled to his prisoner, as he wiped the blood from his face. "It would have paid your to come quietly in the first place."
"I am sorry, officer!" Laurence Riverton answered, with almost a tone of weariness in his voice. "The shock of this fearful accusation had turned my brain. I again tell you that Ah, don't let her see these handcuffs!"
He had tried to turn away, and pull Martin after him; but he was too late.
Violet Melson had emerged from the house, upon the arm of old Mrs Lee. She was tremulous and weak from the recent accident, and had only just regained her senses; but when she saw the man who had saved her from death, she seemed to obtain new strength, and hurried down the steps.
"Laurence," the girl said, unconsciously using his Christian name for the first time. "I want to thank you for saving my life. Mrs Lee has told me all that happened, and—"
She stopped dead, and her eyes grew startled as she saw the shining wristlets the young man wore.
"Oh, what does this mean?" she asked, catching her breath. "Laurence—Mr. Riverton, why are you handcuffed?" Laurence was silent for a moment, his eyes lowered, his cheeks flushed with shame. Then he raised his head sharply and his gaze was frank and fearless as he looked into the face of the girl he loved.
"I am the victim of a foul conspiracy, Miss O'Mega," he said, in a low voice. "I am accused of an enormous embezzlement, and circumstantial evidence is black against me, but I want you to believe that I am innocent!"
He held out his manacled hands supplicatingly, and after a moment's hesitation the girl impulsively took them in hers. Her hazel eyes were suddenly filled with tears, and even at that critical moment Laurence was capable of feeling a thrill of joy, for he knew that she cared.
"Laurence, I do believe you guiltless of this charge!" she breathed, her fingers tightening upon his.
"Heaven bless you for those words, darling!" the young man said huskily. "Oh, you cannot realise how much this assurance means to me. Violet, it is wrong of me to speak now, but I cannot longer keep silent. I love you, dear, love you better than life itself! May I come to you when I have been proved innocent and released?"
Just for a few seconds—seconds that seemed like an eternity to the wrongfully accused man—the girl was silent, a flush of pink stealing into her cheeks, her long lashes drooping over her eyes, then she somehow found herself quietly sobbing upon his breast, her arms wound about his neck.
"I love you, too, Laurence!" The words were spoken so low that the young man was forced to bend his head to hear. "You have saved my life, and I am ready to place it in your keeping!"
With a choking lump in his throat, Laurence pressed his lips to hers. He tried to speak, but his heart was too full to allow of words. He was supremely happy, yet the black shadow of suspicion—the shadow of a false and terrible charge—was hanging over him, marring the bright future that would otherwise have been his.
"Come along, sir," Inspector Martin urged officially. "I can allow you no longer!"
"You shall not go, Laurence!" Violet cried passionately, as she released her arms from about his neck and swung round, facing the Scotland Yard official. "Give them your word that you will not attempt to leave the country! My father is rich and will make himself responsible for any amount, if—"
"It is useless, dearest!" Laurence protested gently. "The law must take its cause! I am sure that right must conquer wrong in the end, and in due course I shall be freed! Mr. Blake, your are silent. You do not believe that I have turned dishonest?"
"No!" Sexton Blake answered readily. "I have thought you innocent from the first, and I am going to leave no stone unturned to prove you so!"
Laurence gave a cry of mingled joy and gratitude.
"You will work for me—use your skill on my behalf—"
The detective inclined his head, and he did not appear to see the little smile of contemptuous amusement that was playing about his official colleague's lips. "I have given you my word," Sexton Blake said simply.
And Laurence Riverton felt that a great weight had been lifted from his mind. He again turned to Violet. "Good-bye, dear heart!" he said, in a subdued, shaking voice.
It was some three-quarters of an hour later that the door of Henry Melson's study was burst open and his daughter, looking ill and haggard, entered and flung herself at his knees, to burst into a paroxysm of grief.
"Gracious, child, what is wrong?" the millionaire asked, in surprise, as he caressingly stroked the bowed head.
"It is Laurence, dad—Mr. Riverton—he has been arrested!" Violet sobbed. "He saved my life! Satan took fright near Wellstread Quarry, and was going straight for the wall. Laurence snatched me from my saddle in the very nick of time—risked his life to save me!"
"Heavens!" the old man whispered tensely. "And—and then?"
"I was unconscious from a blow on the head I sustained in the fall from my horse, and Laurence carried me to his house! When I recovered, I found him in charge of a detective, accused of embezzlement! They have taken him to prison, and—and I think my heart is broken! I love him so!"
A hoarse exclamation burst from the lips of Henry Melson, and he stared down dully at the grief-wracked girl.
"You—you love him!" he choked aghast. "Oh, my heavens! What have I done?"
Identifying the Thumb Impression.
SEXTON BLAKE was once again at Baker Street.
An hour had elapsed since his return from Newmarket, and Inspector Martin had departed with his prisoner. Laurence Riverton was now in a cell at Bow Street, charged with the gigantic embezzlement of sixty-three thousand pounds from his employers; but during the journey up to Liverpool Street, Sexton Blake had further questioned the accused young man, and it had been with the light of new hope in his eyes that Laurence had taken leave of the famous detective.
Like many others before him, he had been impressed by the quiet assurance of the great criminologist, and Sexton Blake had undertaken to do all in his power to prove that the young cashier was the victim ofa carefully thought out conspiracy—a mean yet cunning plot to ruin him and for ever blight his life.
Sexton Blake had removed his jacket, and now he was attired in his well-worn dressing-gown. He had drawn a chair up to the table, and the wallet containing the thumbed banknote and the fatal cheque was before him.
Tinker was standing by his master's side, his young face bright and eager, for he was never happier than when watching Sexton Blake at work.
"You really think Laurence Riverton is innocent, guv'nor?" Tinker asked, as he laid a reference-book upon the table near the hand of his friend and employer.
"My dear lad," Sexton Blake answered protestingly, "you surely heard what I said to the elder Mr. Riverton when he got through on a trunk call just now?"
"Of course, sir, but—"
"By this time, lad, you ought to know me well enough to realise that I never raise false hopes."
"I know, sir, but Well, this case beats me up till now," the assistant said frankly. "There's no getting away from the figures and words on the cheque, and the notes that were found in his pocket—"
"I am aware of all that," Sexton Blake cut in, a little drily. "Yet I am also aware that Laurence Riverton spoke the truth when he said he had no knowledge of how the notes came into his possession. It was also true that when the cheque was presented this morning it read as being made out for seventy thousand pounds."
"But, how, sir?"
"The letters and the extra nought needed were added."
Tinker scratched his head and looked badly puzzled. "Then where are they now?" he asked.
"They have disappeared. They were meant to disappear."
"They have disappeared? They were meant to—My aunt! I get you, guv'nor!" the lad cried. "Invisible ink!"
"Yes," Sexton Blake agreed. "Something like that, I fancy. We will put to the test in a few moments. Ah, you have brought the book of thumb impressions. Let us see if—" His voice trailed off into thoughtful silence as he took the marked bank-note from his wallet. He spread it upon the table. "The powder, Tinker," he ordered.
The lad seemed to know what was required, for he immediately went to a shelf and took from it a small tin box, placing it in the hand the detective stretched out for it.
Sexton Blake removed the lid, displaying a powder within, not unlike black pepper. He shook a little of this over the spot upon the note where the impression of the oily thumb was faintly visible, making quite certain that it was entirely covered.
For the space of a minute Sexton Blake sat patiently waiting. Then he shook the powder back into the box and pushed it aside.
The result of his experiment was the desired one. The mark had now turned to an intense black, and was clearly outlined upon the surface of the paper. Blake sat for a few moments intently studying it. Afterwards he began to turn the pages of the reference book.
Upon every page was a series of thumb and finger impressions, most of them made by notorious criminals whom the detective at some time in the past had been instrumental in clamping in gaol.
They were numbered, and from an index at the foot of each page it was possible for Blake to ascertain the identity of the man to whom a certain mark belonged. Time after time it has been definitely proved that a thumb-mark cannot lie, and this harmless-looking book was, metaphorically speaking, worth its weight in gold to such a man as its present owner.
At first the lad had been eager and expectant, but as he saw his master turn page after page until he had almost reached the end of the book Tinker began to think that after all the mark upon the bank-note, which had promised to be a valuable clue, was to prove no help to them.
The last page! Even Blake was beginning to lose hope. Then, as he came almost to the last impression in his collection, he started and caught his breath sharply. "You got it, sir?" Tinker asked excitedly.
Sexton Blake did not at once reply. He sat with his eyes fixed upon the book, unconsciously showing the excitement that was inwardly gripping him by biting his underlip until the blood was drawn. Then he leapt to his feet, and his fingers sought a switch that would supply him with extra light.
Sexton Blake sank into his chair again, bending eagerly forward over his desk. He was holding the banknote near his eyes, and again and again he compared it with the impression in the reference-book. Finally, he very deliberately placed the note back in the wallet and took out the cheque. He resorted to the box of black powder once again, and slowly and carefully covered its face with the chemical.
He made sure that not a fraction of an inch of the slip of paper was left uncovered, and took out his watch. It seemed as though he might be afraid that his eagerness might prompt him to dust the powder from the cheque before sufficient time for it to take effect had lapsed. When a minute had ticked away, Blake emptied the powder back into the box and discovered that quite a number of finger and thumb impressions were in evidence.
At once he recognised the mark of Laurence Riverton's thumb, repeated three times. The cashier had, of course, handled the cheque when he had cashed it.
There were five more marks, not counting those made by fingers, and for the next two minutes the detective was carefully comparing them with the mark that interested him in his book.
The result was—nil! Sexton Blake, however, was quite patient and undaunted by his lack of success.
Once more the powder came into use and upon this occasion it was the back of the cheque that was treated.
Again the jerking out of the timepiece; again the long minute's wait, in which the only sound that broke the stillness of the consulting-room was the ticking of the watch and the breathing of the man and the lad.
After what seemed an eternity to Tinker, who was always keenly interested in his master's methods, Sexton Blake returned the powder to the tin again, replacing the lid, and signalled to the lad to return it to its place upon the shelf.
It was characteristic of the ever-methodical Blake that he made no attempt, in spite of the tremendous excitement that was obsessing him, to look at whatever marks might have been brought to light upon the cheque, until he had seen his assistant remove the article which he had used and now wished to dispence with.
The detective's lids were raised sharply, and his eyes were very keen as he at length looked to see the result of his labours.
As upon the face of the cheque, there were a number of marks, and almost immediately Sexton Blake gave a little exclamation of satisfaction.
The impression he had found upon the bank-note was repeated on the back of the cheque, although in the latter case it was very, very faint.
And he had an identical mark in his book of reference, made by the thumb of one of the most notorious criminals of the twentieth century.
Sexton Blake looked up at his assistant, and smiled slightly as he saw the tense, expectant look on the young detective's face.
"We are up against Maitland again, my lad," he said, very quietly.
"What!" Tinker fairly shouted the word. "You're not joking, guv'nor?"
"I have never been more in earnest, Tinker," Sexton Blake returned. "Ezra Q. Maitland is in this plot against young Riverton, although, why—" he made a helpless gesture with his hands—"it is, at present, absolutely impossible to imagine! Yet, be that as it may, it was Maitland who was responsible for the great swindle that was worked at the expense of Fisher's Bank this morning, for the impression of his thumb appears both upon the thousand-pound note that was found in young Riverton's pocket and upon the cheque.
"Maitland has handled both, yet whether it was actually he who cashed the cheque, whether Henry Melson is a new alias of his, and whether he personally put the five notes in his victim's jacket-pocket, we have yet to find out. By the way, look up the name of Melson, will you?"
Tinker crossed to a bookshelf, and took down a thick, red-bound volume bearing the letter "M." He swiftly turned the pages and read aloud:
"Melson, the Right Hon. Sinclair. Member of—"
Sexton Blake held up his hand.
"I know the desription by heart, lad," he said. "Said to be upon the verge of bankruptcy, in the hands of money lenders, etc., etc. It would not be that young man, the Melson we want, should Henry Melson not merely be an assumed name of our old enemy. There is only one entry?"
"Humph! Put the book away. Tinker. It can tell us nothing. By the way, does the name strike you as familiar?"
"I can't say it does, guv'nor," he answered at last.
Sexton Blake frowned and looked puzzled. He sat for a few moments slowly stroking his clean-shaven chin. "It is most annoying," he muttered presently. "It is unlike me to forget, yet I feel, that I have heard this name within the last few days, and cannot recall when and where. However, it will come to me sooner or later. We shall now go to the laboratory."
"You are going to test the cheque, sir?"
"Yes; for signs of invisible ink having been used upon it. There seems to be no other deduction to arrive at. We know that Maitland is in this, which makes me doubly convinced upon the point of young Riverton's blamelessness in the matter. What else, then, could be the explanation? He is an experienced bank clerk, who can boast that he has never made a mistake even in a few pence in cashing cheques for his employer's customers. It is, therefore, a million to one against his first error being for many thousands of pounds. Besides, he specially noted the cheque, because it was for such a large amount, and made mention of it to the man seated next him at the bank counter.
"There is no doubt that the cheque really did bear a face value of seventy thousand pounds when it was handed to Riverton to be cashed this morning. Therefore, additions which have since faded away were then in evidence upon its surface. Let us try what we can do in the laboratory."
A few minutes later Sexton Blake and Tinker were standing before the long, marble shelf that ran down one side of the detective's well-appointed experimenting-room.
The cheque was upon the slab before them, Blake was bending over it, applying some colourless fluid from a tiny bottle, and Tinker was at hand to give him any assistance he might require.
Chemical after chemical the detective used, pausing from time to time to examine the cheque through a powerful microscope. It was all to no purpose, however, and at the end of three-quarters of an hour Sexton Blake had to admit failure.
Abstractedly he helped Tinker put the various bottles away, and returned to the consulting-room. Here he dropped into his favourite chair, slowly drew out his cigar case and lit up.
For several minutes Sexton Blake sat haunched up in his chair, the tips of his fingers pressed together, the lids drooping over his eyes, until a person who he did not know him might have been forgiven for thinking he was dozing.
Tinker, who knew that his master was thinking deeply, quietly seated himself, and took up a book to read. He had hardly settled down, however, before his master roused himself, and sharply gained his legs.
"It has come to me, Tinker," he said quickly. "I know now where I have encountered the name of Melson. It was in the Royal Hotel, in the Strand, when we were upon the track of Maitland. When we came out of the manager's office, he stumbled over one of his guests, who was apparently adjusting his shoelace just outside the door. It struck me then that the man was listening. Somehow, I now feel more certain of it."
"Do you think he's in with Maitland, sir?"
"I will not go so far as that," Blake answered. "However, I think it might be worth our while to look Mr. Melson up."
"You will go to the Royal Hotel?"
"Yes; I shall question the manager, Mr Raymond." A smile played about the corners of his lips. "When he learns that I am seeking information about another of his guests, he will begin to think that his beloved hotel is being turned into a high-class thieves' kitchen. Come along, my lad. We'll not trouble about the car. We can get a taxi at the end of Baker Street, I expect."
Sexton Blake sat in the private office of Mr. Raymond, manager of the Royal Hotel, Strand. An attendant had shown him in, and gone in search of his spruce little master. The detective had not long to wait. The manager presently hurried in, an anxious look upon his pink and white face. "Good evening, Mr. Blake," he jerked. "If you have come about the man Blenkarn, or Maitland, we—"
"No; it is not about him that I wish to see you, Mr. Raymond," the detective said. "Do you remember that when we were here before—I mean the Scotland Yard men and I—you spoke to one of your guests who had stopped to tie up his shoelace outside this office door?"
"Er—yes. I remember the incident faintly. Yes, it was Mr. Melson. But—"
"A Mr. Henry Melson?"
"Yes. He has left the hotel now. Surely, you cannot want him, though, Mr. Blake?"
"I may want him very urgently, although whether or no it will be quite in the way that you mean, I cannot at present say," the detective rejoined. "What do you know of him?"
"He is an American millionaire, if all the reports I have heard are true. A man well known on Wall Street, and well connected in the States."
"Do you know anything else regarding him?"
"No; except that I hope for more guests like him. There's no doubt about his being possessed of pots of money. He mayor may not be the millionaire the rumour says he is, but he must be fabulously wealthy. He has drank of the very best wine we have in our cellars, and never ordered cigars less than two shillings apiece."
"And he has paid for these expensive items?" Sexton Blake suggested, smiling.
"Of a certainty. He left here somewhat suddenly, but sent a cheque in settlement of his bill, requesting that his luggage should be sent on. That, by the way, reminds me. We have omitted to enclose a photograph belonging to him."
"No; of his daughter. A very charming girl, Mr. Blake—a very charming girl."
"From where did he write for his luggage?"
"From Newmarket. Doubtless he has gone there for the racing next week. We were instructed to send his luggage to the cloakroom at Newmarket Station, to be called for."
"Just so. He gave you no address there?"
"Could you tell me if you have ever seen this Mr. Melson and the man you now know to have been Maitland in conversation?"
"Never. I do not think they knew each other."
"Thank you, Mr. Raymond," Blake said. "I am much obliged for your kindness in so readily giving me this information. By the way, could I see the photo of Mr. Melson's daughter? I do not know that it will be of any advantage to me, but I have a fancy to see it."
"I have it in my desk," Raymond said. "Excuse me for one moment."
He turned to his roll-top desk and opened it, it having been closed for the night. He took a photo of the cabinet order from one of the drawers, turned, and handed it to the detective.
Sexton Blake took the picture in his hands, then ever so slightly he started, and a deep frown appeared upon his brow—a frown of mingled surprise and puzzlement.
Mystery or mysteries! The girlish face depicted in the photograph was that of Violet O'Mega, the girl for whom Laurence Riverton had that day declared his love!
The Interview with Laurence Riverton
SIR HENRY FAIRFAX, Chief Commissioner of Police, looked more than usually serious as he faced Sexton Blake, who had just been shown in to him.
At all times Sir Henry's position was no sinecure, and of late there had been a great number of involved cases, with a public outcry when certain of them had not been cleared up satisfactorily. This was apart from the extra worry and work caused by the great war; and now there was this latest crime at Fisher's Bank. Although circumstantial evidence was so black against Laurence Riverton, the case was enshrouded in mystery, and Sir Henry was in grave doubt as to whether the balance of the sixty-three thousand pounds that were missing would ever be recovered.
If Laurence Riverton was indeed the victim of a plot against him, Sir Henry realised that someone had made a tremendous haul with every possibility in favour of keeping it. If, on the other hand, Riverton had embezzled the money, an obstinate nature would urge him to keep silent as to its whereabouts. And the chief commissioner dreaded the tongue of Septimus Fisher, the bank's managing-director, if the money were not regained. Sir Henry had heard of Mr. Fisher in the past.
"You are working upon the bank case, Mr. Blake?" Sir Henry suggested, as he indicated a chair.
"Exactly," Sexton Blake agreed. "Has any further statement been made by Laurence Riverton?"
"No," Sir Henry replied. "All the indignation he showed when he was formally charged has vanished. He seems dazed, almost in a state of collapse."
"An innocent man would be."
"You still think he is innocent—that he is the scapegoat of some clever swindler."
"I think he is the dupe of Ezra Q. Maitland," Sexton Blake replied calmly.
"What!" Sir Henry leapt from his chair. "Good heavens, you don't say that man is in this?" he cried excitedly. "He has certainly handled both the cheque and one of the banknotes that were found in young Riverton's pocket," the Baker Street detective answered.
Sir Henry sat back in his chair, his lips parted, his eyes fixed half incredulously upon his companion's pale face. "Just why have you called here?" he queried at length. "I want an order to interview Laurence Riverton alone?"
"Quite alone?" he asked.
"Yes; without even a gaoler present:'
"Really, that would be a trifle unusual, Mr. Blake," the commissioner objected hesitatingly.
"Yet I think it might be most necessary in clearing up the case," Sexton Blake answered. "I want Riverton to place his whole confidence in me. There may be some black page in his past—some indiscretion, shall we call it?—that he has atoned for and tried to forget—which is at the bottom of the conspiracy against him."
"You mean that he may have done someone a bad turn and they have sought to be revenged upon him by making him appear a thief?"
"Something like that—yes. You will give me the necessary letter?"
The commissioner frowned, hesitated for a second or two, then pulled a sheet of official-looking notepaper towards him. For the next few moments the silence was only broken by the scratching of his pen as he wrote and signed the order the private detective had requested.
"You will let me know as soon as you discover anything definite about Maitland?" he asked, as he pushed the letter across the table.
"Yes, Sir Henry," Blake agreed. "I will wish you good-night—and many thanks!"
The detective was very thoughtful as he left Scotland Yard. As he emerged on to the embankment he espied a disengaged taxi, and raised his hand sharply. The vehicle pulled into the kerb, and the detective instructed the chauffeur to take him to Bow Street.
When he arrived there and presented the commissioner's letter to the superintendent in charge, that official looked astonished. He read the letter through twice, but made no comment upon it. He called a constable, and whispered a few words to him, showing him the order from Scotland Yard.
Almost at once the man beckoned Sexton Blake to follow him, and it was only a few seconds later that the detective found himself being ushered into the cell in which Laurence Riverton was imprisoned.
He sat there on a wooden bench, his face between his hands, and he did not attempt to look up until the clang of the door roused him.
"Mr. Blake!" he gasped, as he recognised his visitor. "You—you have discovered that I—"
"I have not definitely cleared you," Sexton Blake interrupted kindly, for he anticipated what the young man had been about to say. "But I have proof that a clever and unscrupulous criminal is mixed up in the affair. Now I want you to answer a few questions, placing your whole confidence in me."
"You may rely that I will do so, Mr. Blake."
"Good? We are quite alone; you will see that the door has been closed, and there is not even a gaoler within hearing, for I came armed with a special permit from the Chief Commissioner of Police. Tell me, who is the girl who was present at your arrest?" A flush of pink sprang into the cashier's ashen cheeks.
"A Miss Violet O'Mega. Blake, I was a cur to speak as I did to her, but the words were out of my mouth before I could suppress them. She is the daughter of Mr. Cyrus, a neighbour of my father's. He is the owner of Cyanin, the co-favourite with my father's candidate for the big race at Newmarket next Tuesday."
"Have you ever had reason to doubt that O'Mega was really her name?"
"Great heavens, no!" Laurence cried, almost indignantly. "Why do you ask such an extraordinary question?"
"Because," Sexton Blake said quietly, "she and her father passed under another name when they stayed at the Royal Hotel in London."
"But Oh, you must be mistaken! Why should Mr. O'Mega wish to change his name?"
"That is just what I am anxious to find out. It will surprise you, perhaps, when I tell you that Mr. Cyrus O'Mega was known as Henry Melson at the Royal."
"As Henry Melson!" Laurence Riverton rose unsteadily from his bench, to regard Sexton Blake almost stupidly, like one who doubts the accuracy of his hearing. "As Henry Melson," he repeated—"the name of the man to whom the cheque was made out!"
"The same. What do you make of that?"
"I—I do not understand! There must be some grave error somewhere!"
"There is no mistake. A photo of the Miss Melson who stayed at the Royal was inadvertently left behind when their luggage was sent on to Newmarket Station—to Newmarket, mark you. The picture was that of the girl whose life you saved this afternoon—Miss Violet O'Mega!"
Laurence Riverton sank back to his seat, his hands shaking as he let them drop between his knees.
"What can it mean?" he muttered dully. "What can it mean?"
"What kind of man is the person you know as Cyrus O'Mega?" was Sexton Blake's next question. "An elderly gentleman—about sixty, I should think."
"He was nothing like the man who cashed the cheque?"
"No, certainly not! The person to whom I paid out seventy thousand pounds this morning was apparently quite a young man, with a neat brown beard and moustache. Mr. O'Mega is grey, and his face is lined—lined deeply, as though from the stress of a hard business life. Mr. Blake, there is some deep mystery here, which I am beginning to fear will never be explained away."
"Perhaps the mystery is even deeper than you can as yet understand," Sexton Blake answered. "I told you that a notorious criminal was mixed up in the case. He is a master of crime—an expert evil-doer—an arch-fiend, of whom the world would be well rid. I refer to Ezra Q. Maitland, the man who has thrice attempted to betray Great Britain to Germany, the scoundrel who all but got clear away with an enormous sum raised for the relief of the suffering Belgians."
"Maitland!" Laurence cried. "How do you know?"
"It was he who was responsible for the thumb impression on the note found upon you," Sexton Blake explained, "and upon closer investigation, I discovered that the impression was repeated upon the cheque."
"This—this ought to be enough to clear me!" Laurence exclaimed eagerly.
"It will go a long way towards doing so, but we must have more substantial proof," Sexton Blake said. "Have you ever come into contact with Maitland in the past? I mean in such a manner that he would wish to do you a bad turn?"
"Never to my knowledge, unless he was passing under an alias!" the cashier declared. "But, there, so far as I know I haven't an enemy in the world."
"Are you positive of that?"
"Why yes. I have always led a straight, decent life, and treated my fellow men honestly, as I would have had them treat me."
"There is no incident connected with your past that would cause some person or persons a desire for vengeance against you? Remember, we are quite alone, and you promised to give me your whole confidence." Laurence slowly shook his head.
"There is nothing I can call to mind," he began. "I wonde'—" he had started—"I wonder? No, no; it cannot be!"
"Of what were you thinking?" the detective asked quickly.
"Of—of my father; but I cannot tell you of that. It is a secret—a secret he has kept closely guarded for years."
"Do you mean that in the past he has committed some act that he wishes to keep from the knowledge of the world?"
"Yes," he answered, in a low tone, after a while.
"Why not be perfectly frank with me?" Sexton Blake asked. "Remember, I am not an official detective, and anything that passes between us here will go no further without your permission."
"You mean that? You mean that you will give your word of honour that whatever I tell you—even if I confess that my father had once committed a great crime—it will remain a secret for all time in your breast?"
Sexton Blake inclined his head.
"My lips would be sealed," he said. "You have my word of honour as a gentleman."
"Then you shall know all," Laurence Riverton said, with a swift making up of his mind. "My name is not really Riverton. It is Cavendish. My father was the Richard Cavendish, of the firm of Clench and Cavendish, who absconded twenty years ago with a sum of half a million pounds. He had swindled thousands of hard-working men and women out of their life's savings—their all. But I swear that he has repented of his sin! Mr. Blake, have I done wrong in telling you this? Will you feel it your duty to communicate with the police, and—"
Sexton Blake drew himself up, with an indignant look in his eyes.
"I have given you my word," he said coldly.
"I am sorry," Laurence pleaded flushing. "But, you see, my father was never arrested, and although he has atoned for the past and paid back nearly every penny of the money out of which he has defrauded those who once trusted him, a word to the police and he would pay the penalty for his dishonesty."
"He has repented then, and is making good?"
"Yes. To give him his due, he stints himself to make reparation every day of his life. As you doubtless are aware, he has had wonderful luck upon the Turf, and has won large sums of money by backing his own candidates. Believe me, Mr. Blake, every possible penny of his winnings has been spent to right the great wrong he done years ago. After each big win he has anonymously despatched an instalment of money he owes his old clients, until now only a comparatively small sum remains to be sent. If Serious Symons wins the Gold Cup on Tuesday, my father will be in a position to send the last payment to his former dupes."
"I faintly remember the case," Sexton Blake said, after a little thought. "Can you give me any further particulars of it?"
"Yes. You will doubtless recollect, when I recall the fact to your mind, that Jasper Clench, my father's partner, was arrested and sentenced to ten years' penal servitude."
"Yes; it all comes back to me," Sexton Blake agreed. "I was a mere lad then, but even in my school-days I studied crime and the ways of criminals. Did not your rather escape with the whole of the money and leave Jasper Clench to bear the brunt of matters? I seem to remember that Clench made a dramatic outburst at his trial."
"You are right, Clench swore that he would be revenged upon my father, if he had to wait a lifetime. But, after his release from Portland, he completely disappeared, and has never been heard of since. Has he suddenly become active, and is my present predicament the outcome of his vengeance?"
"Your father did not know where he went?"
"No; he simply vanished. The earth might have opened and swallowed him up."
Sexton Blake lapsed into silence, and he did not rouse himself until a gaoler knocked upon the door, to intimate that the time Sir Henry Fairfax had allowed for the interview had elapsed, The detective rose to his feet.
"There are two more questions," said he. "Can you remember any time during to-day—that is, since you left the bank—when anyone could have placed those five-thousand-pound notes in your pocket?"
"I cannot say that I do," Laurence answered helplessly.
"For instance, you did not remove your coat for any purpose, and leave it out of your sight. Perhaps whilst you were doing something to one of your father's horses?"
Laurence Riverton puckered his brow and thought for a long moment. Presently he brought his hand sharply down upon his knee.
"By Jove! I've got it!" he cried. Yet'—his face fell—"it could not have happened then."
"When I went to the bathroom to rinse my hands with a friend of Mr. O'Mega's—a Mr. Luke O. Kerney—"
"An American!" Sexton Blake exclaimed, with a trace of suppressed excitement in his usually level accents.
"Yes; I should take him to be one from his drawl and way of expressing himself.
"You removed you coat to wash?"
"Yes; I hung it behind the door, and turned my back whilst I filled the basin and rinsed my hands."
"And this man Kerney was behind you? He would have had an opportunity of slipping the notes into your pocket?"
"He would certainly have had a chance of doing so, but what good would it have done him? He could have no grudge against me. I will vow I have never met him in the past!"
"Be that as it may," Blake said. "It will be necessary to ascertain more definite information about Mr. Luke O. Kerney, I think. Now cast your thoughts back. Did you here this man Kerney speak of a motor?"
"Yes. But why do you ask?"
"Because the impression upon the bank-note was caused by an oily thumb. That at once suggested a car or motorcycle to my mind."
"By heavens!" Laurence exclaimed, and now he was trembling with excitement. "Mr. Blake, I believe you are on the right track! Luke O. Kerney arrived at Mr. O'Mega's stables at Newmarket in a car, and he mentioned that upon the road he had had a slight breakdown. It was nothing serious, and he was able to put it right himself.
"We have hit upon the correct solution of the oily thumb-mark, I imagine, Riverton," Sexton Blake said. "He would be almost sure to get his hands smeared with oil whilst repairing the part of the mechanism of the car that had gone wrong. He evidently did not properly cleanse his thumb, thus we get the impression of it when he hurriedly placed the notes in your pocket!"
"Then you think that Kerney did it?"
"I do," Sexton Blake answered grimly. "I also think that he is Ezra Q. Maitland. A thumb impression never lies! The rule has been proved over and over again, and there has never been an exception. Do you recollect—"
"Time's up, sir!" the gaoler said, drumming again upon the door.
"Do you recollect any peculiarity that was marked in both the man who presented the cheque and this Mr. Luke O. Kerney?" the detective queried taking no notice of the interruption.
"No; I cannot bring myself to think they were one and the same man, if that is what you mean, Mr. Blake, although they were both Americans."
"You did not observe any striking mannerism about the man who brought the cheque to your bank?"
"No; save that he appeared to be a vigorous smoker."
"In what way?"
"I doubt if the fact is worth recording," Laurence said. "He was smoking a very strong cigar, and I noticed that he had puffed at it until the end was glowing redly—fiercely. But there, there can be nothing in that!"
"On the contrary," Blake returned, his eyes gleaming and hard in expression. "I believe you have supplied me with the most important clue towards proving your innocence!"
"But how—" Laurence began.
"I will not further raise your hopes until I am sure," Sexton Blake said, with a gesture of his hand. "I am going home to make a further experiment with the cheque you cashed. If the theory I have arrived at proves correct, I will lose no time in letting you know!"
And with that Laurence Riverton had to be content.
Violet Melson Calls.
"MISS O'MEGA is awaiting you in the consulting-room, sir."
Sexton Blake was met by Tinker with this information as he entered his house at Baker Street with his latchkey. The detective elevated his brows, produced his watch, and glanced at it.
"Then Miss O'Mega looks like spending the night in London, Tinker," he said. "There is no train back to Newmarket to-night."
"She must have been waiting quite an hour guv'nor. I think she has booked up to stay at the Royal, in the Strand. She asked to be allowed to use our 'phone, and go on to the manager. She said she must see you before she went away."
Sexton Blake mounted the stairs and entered his consulting-room. As he appeared, the slightly built girl who had been seated by the window rose, and took a timid step forward.
Violet Melson looked very different to the girl who had defiantly disputed Inspector Martin's authority that afternoon. Her distinctly pretty face was white and drawn, and there were dark marks about her eyes, suggestive of bitter tears.
"You may get to bed, Tinker," Sexton Blake said.
The girl did not seat herself when Sexton Blake drew forward his most comfortable chair, in preference to the one she had been occupying upon his entry. She stood fidgeting with her gloves, seemingly nervous and ill at ease, although Sexton Blake was smiling reassuringly.
"Mr. Blake," she said quickly, with much the suddenness of a nervous person taking a plunge into cold water, "forgive me for staying until such a late hour, but I could not go away until I had interviewed you."
"You had much better sit down, Miss O'Mega," Sexton Blake insisted; and this time the girl obeyed him unhesitatingly. "You have called upon behalf of Mr. Laurence Riverton?"
"Yes," Violet answered, a proud little smile upon her lips. "I love him. I will declare it to all the world in defiance of the hideous charge that has been made against him. I have come to you because—because—" her voice broke pathetically—"you said to-day that you thought him innocent, and because I believe I can trust you with a secret."
Sexton Blake bowed.
"You may rest assured of my discretion, Miss O'Mega," he said.
Violet Melson hesitated, her little hands clasping and unclasping nervously as they lay in her lap. "Mr. Blake," she said suddenly, "I do not trust my father's friend!"
"You are referring to Mr. Luke O. Kerney," the detective murmured, with the air of one who is not asking a question, but stating a fact.
"Why, yes," Violet admitted, in surprise. "But I—I don't understand how you read my thoughts, for that is what you must have done. I had no idea that you knew, or had ever heard of Mr. Kerney—"
"I am not quite sure whether I know him or not," Sexton Blake returned enigmatically "I have, however, heard of him within the last hour. Why do you mistrust him?"
Violet bit her lip, and seemed momentarily at a loss for words.
"I really hardly know," she said at length, "save that I witnessed a strange scene between him and my father soon after I had returned, and—and—"
"Soon after you returned home and told your father of Mr. Riverton's arrest?" Sexton Blake prompted.
"Yes, yes," Violet exclaimed eagerly, clutching at the words. "It was soon after I returned home. Mr. Kerney was handling a great number of bank-notes. Under the circumstances, I thought the fact of his being in possession of so many was significant."
"How many notes would you consider he had?"
"I could not say with any certainty," the girl answered, "but there were three to four thick rolls."
"Is that all you came here to tell me, Miss O'Mega," the detective asked, his lids drooping over his eyes, although he was in reality keenly studying his fair visitor's expression.
"Yes, Mr. Blake," Violet answered, after a distinct pause. "I—I thought that what I had seen might put you upon the right track. I have no reason for suspecting Mr. Kerney other than his having so many notes upon his person. Yet—yet—"
She lapsed into silence, and her eyes fell as she plucked at the lace upon her sleeve.
"You are sure that this is all you intended to communicate to me?" Sexton Blake queried quietly.
"I—I— Of course I am sure, Mr. Blake."
"Miss O'Mega, you are not," Sexton Blake said gently, but very firmly. He had leant forward in his chair, and now his eyes were fully open and looking into those of the girl in a manner that seemed to penetrate to her very soul.
"Really," she protested feebly, "I guess you must let me know my own mind best."
"Like many other women who have been in trouble, you do not know your own mind, Miss O'Mega," the detective persisted. "Please hear me out, and forgive the liberty I take in differing with you. You came here fully intending to place confidence in me—to unburden your soul to all that was worrying you. You have altered your mind at the last moment. Why?"
Violet stared back into the handsome, clever face of the man opposite her. Her lips were quivering, and she looked very effeminate and miserable at the moment.
"Why not tell me everything?" the detective murmured, a curiously tender note in his voice. "It would be for the best in the end."
A sob shook the girl's fail form. She seemed to shrink, and her shoulders shook convulsively, as she was overcome by a fit of heart-broken weeping.
Sexton Blake remained silent, knowing that the outburst would do much to steady her nerves and leave her quiet and confident.
"Mr. Blake," she said suddenly, looking up, and drying her eyes, "I hesitated to tell you all I had seen, because I think that my father is involved in this terrible business. I impulsively made up my mind that I would come to you and tell you all, but at the last moment my courage failed me. You—you will promise that my father shall come to no harm by reason of the information I am about to impart to you, either directly or indirectly?"
"I have already given you my word that my discretion may be counted upon," Sexton Blake said simply.
"I hate to think such a thing," she said, "but, somehow, I cannot help believing that my father knows a great deal about what has happened to-day. I have told you that I saw Mr. Kerney with a great number of bank-notes in his hand. I entered the room unheard by either him or my father, for I was wearing a pair of light shoes, and the carpet of the drawing-room, in which they were seated, is very thick, rendering one's footsteps almost noiseless.
"I paused upon entering, for my father and his friend seemed to be engaged in a quarrel. Their voices were raised, and upon the face of Mr. Kerney was an expression that I can hardly describe. It was fiendish, should I say?" She shuddered. "It was the face of a criminal—a would-be murderer! He had removed the coloured spectacles he is in the habit of wearing, and his eyes were blazing with passion.
"I heard my father say 'I forbid you to use the fifty-eight thousand pounds you have over. You ought to have used more of them, and let them be secured by the police!
"Then Mr. Kerney said something about it being quite safe to change them in France, as French notes bear no numbers."
"You are sure that he said that?" Sexton Blake asked sharply, his lids, which had been drooping again as he leant back in his chair, fingers tip to tip, going up quickly.
"Yes, those were his words. I am sure. My father began to reply, and I caught the words: 'We must arrange for the police to find them! Then Mr. Kerney turned in his chair, saw that I was present, and kicked my father upon the shin so violently that he gave a cry of pain.
"Mr. Blake, what can it all mean? Upon no account must my father suffer, even if he is connected with this foul plot against the man I love! Yet I would have you get to the bottom of the mystery and clear Laurence Riverton."
"You have noticed nothing strange in your father's manner of late?" Sexton Blake suggested.
"Well, no—that is, nothing stranger than usual. He was always a strange man, and I believe there was a time when he had to work hard for a very meagre living. I have very little recollection of my father in my childhood. He was away from home for many years, and was not by my poor mother's bedside when she passed away in poverty, in the East End of London. My father is not an American, as is generally supposed. He is a Britisher; but long years in New York have caused him to cultivate many Americanisms which are misleading in the direction of his nationality.
"I seem to dimly remember him when I was quite a baby—a little atom that could just toddle about. Then he vanished out of my life, and as I grew older and asked my mother about him, she used to cry and say that he was abroad, working hard to provide a home for us later on.
"My mother seemed to grow poorer, and we nearly starved. In fact, we should have done so had it not been for the kindness of a neighbour little better off than we. One morning I crept to my mother's squalid bed, to find her hand was cold and curiously stiff.
"I was but a child, and at first I did not know that Death had laid his grisly finger upon our little home. I tried to rouse my mother; then, growing frightened, I called for the women who lived in the room beneath the garret we occupied. They told me my mother was dead.
"I was taken away by the neighbour who had been my mother's friend, and the years dragged by. Then my father found me, and shortly afterwards we sailed for America. At first we lived cheaply, but soon we moved into a much larger house, and my father began to heap expensive luxuries upon me."
"I know now and understand that he made money by working hard upon a little capital he had brought out from England. He was called 'The Gloved Millionaire' before very long, and—"
"Why was he given that nickname?" Sexton Blake asked.
"Because it was a habit of his always to wear gloves, even when he dined."
"Do you know why?"
"Yes. He had been doing very rough work before his return to England, and his hands were scarred and the nails broken."
Ah! Sexton Blake allowed the exclamation to softly escape his lips, and sank back in his chair. "Please proceed," said he.
"There is little more to tell, Mr. Blake," Violet said. "My father grew tremendously rich, until he practically retired from active business, leaving his affairs in the hands of a competent manager.
"We came to England, and a few months ago my father suddenly bought up a racing stable and house at Newmarket, expressing his intention of breeding and training thoroughbreds."
"Do you know your father's reason for calling himself O'Mega at Newmarket and Melson in London?" Sexton Blake asked.
"You—you know of that?" Violet had started. "I—I had no inkling that—"
"It is my business to know things, my dear young lady," Sexton Blake murmured. He smiled. "If you are anxious to keep your identity secret you should be careful not to leave photographs behind when you move from one place to another."
"Did I leave my photo somewhere?"
"Yes; at the Royal, where your father was known as Henry Melson."
"Melson is our name—or so I have always understood. My father took the stables in the name of Cyrus O'Mega for business reasons, I believe."
"Did he explain the change of name away by hinting at business reasons to you?"
Sexton Blake was silent for several minutes. His brows were drawn together, his lips compressed into a thin straight line. It was evident that he was thinking deeply. He seemed oblivious of the presence of the girl.
"Mr. Blake—" Violet had leant forward, and her hand was resting timidly upon his sleeve—"you will prove Laurence Riverton innocent?" she pleaded.
Sexton Blake looked up with something very like a start.
"I promise you I will," he said simply. "You would perhaps like to stay and see an experiment?"
"I do not understand."
"If you will kindly turn the tap connected with the gas heating-stove, I will show you what I mean. It is just by your hand there."
The girl manipulated the tap, and, stooping, Blake struck a match and ignited the fire. He then turned to his safe, unlocked it, and took from one of the drawers the cheque signed by Charles McDonald for seven thousand pounds.
He waited until the asbestos balls had began to glow redly, then he knelt by the stove and held the cheque before the bars.
After a few seconds had elapsed, Sexton Blake removed the cheque from before the fire and examined it. Cool and unemotional man though he was, he gave a shout of triumph then, for the letters "ty" had appeared at the end of the word seven, and an extra nought was now apparent amidst the figures, making the cheque read "seventy thousand pounds."
Sexton Blake was never given to being theatrical, but it was with something of a flourish that he handed the pink slip of paper to the watching girl.
"You see!" he exclaimed—"You see!"
Violet drew a quick breath as her eyes took in the metamorphosis that was apparent in the cheque.
"It has changed—it has altered!" she cried. "It is now for the amount that Laurence declared it was for when he cashed it this morning. Mr. Blake, what does this mean? My brain is whirling with the stress of all this mystery!"
"The explanation is simple enough, Miss Melson," Sexton Blake returned, a little grimly. "The cheque was forged to represent it as being an order to pay out just ten times as much as it was originally made out for. It was treated with invisible ink, which would only appear upon heat being applied! Your fiancee gave me the clue quite by chance to-night when he mentioned that the man who cashed the cheque was a very vigorous smoker, and that he had puffed his cigar until its end was glowing fiercely.
"Of course, he stood holding the cigar beneath the spots upon the cheque where the invisible additions had been made. Thus, when he handed the cheque over the counter, the added 'ty' and the nought sign had been brought out, and Laurence Riverton naturally cashed it for seventy thousand, instead of seven thousand pounds. When he put the cheque in his drawer, after having entered it, the 'faked' lettering and nought sign slowly faded away."
"But what is this?" Violet cried, and her voice was hoarse and tremulous with emotion. "This cheque is made payable to—to my father!"
"Yes," Sexton Blake answered slowly. "I fear he is very deeply implicated in the plot against your lover. I am sorry to give you this shock, Miss Melson, but I think it better that you should know the truth at once. You, however, have an assurance that no word of mine shall bring your father harm?"
Sexton Blake's All-night Sitting.
IT was two o'clock in the morning as Sexton Blake, carrying a lamp, ascended the stairs and entered his consulting-room.
The detective's clothes were covered with dust, and his face was smeared with it. But then he had been engaged in a very unclean job in a very unclean place—the cellars beneath the house.
It was there that Sexton Blake kept file upon file of old newspapers, dating back for the matter of some twenty to twenty-one years. He had been searching for a record of the trial of Jasper Clench, which had taken place so many years ago, and the newspaper page protruding from his jacket-pocket proclaimed that he had been successful in securing what he sought.
Sexton Blake turned out the lamp and placed it upon the sideboard. He then brushed his clothes, passed into his dressing-room, and indulged in a refreshing wash.
When he returned to his consulting-room, he had removed his coat and vest, and he donned his dressing-gown and sank into his favourite chair.
Very slowly and methodically the detective filled and lit his oldest and blackest pipe, then he settled down to think out the complicated case in connection with Fisher's Banking House.
An almost startling theory had come to Sexton Blake after his interviews that evening. Mr. Raymond, the manager of the Royal Hotel, had convinced him—even before his conversation with the girl whom two hours ago he had seen safely to her hotel—that Henry Melson and Cyrus O'Mega were one and the same man. The photo of Henry Melson's daughter was the picture of Miss O'Mega. There had been no doubt about that, and later Violet herself had admitted that her father raced under the non-de-plume of O'Mega, and that Henry Melson was the name she believed to be really his.
Henry Melson was the man to whom the cheque was made payable. Then how, if Melson was not implicated in the plot against Laurence Riverton, had the cheque got into the hands of Maitland, and been cashed for ten times its real value? It appeared to Sexton Blake that Henry Melson must have known Maitland when they had both been staying at the Royal Hotel, and had later coerced him into committing the swindle upon the bank in such a manner that it would look as though Laurence Riverton was guilty of a tremendous embezzlement.
That this had been Maitland's intention, there was no shadow of a doubt. Otherwise the master-criminal would hardly have parted with five thousand pounds and taken the trouble to place the notes in his dupe's pocket.
Mr. Melson, Sexton Blake was certain, had been listening outside the door of Raymond's office when he—Blake—and the Scotland Yard men had been discussing Maitland. Was it possible that Melson had helped Maitland to escape them, in order that he might participate in the plot that was being hatched against the young cashier at Fisher's Bank?
Sexton Blake remembered the car that he had seen humming away up the Minories when Maitland had given them the slip after the raid upon the shop of the fence Israel Samuels; and he wondered if, after all, the criminal had been concealed in the vehicle—if it had been Henry Melson who sat at the wheel?
Presuming that Henry Melson and Maitland had conspired together to ruin young Riverton, what was the object of the millionaire? Obviously he wished to pay off some grudge of the past—to be bitterly revenged. Yet it could not be against the younger Riverton personally that Melson was seeking vengeance. Who, then? Why, the elder Riverton. It was logic, based upon Sexton Blake's principle that two and two always made four; not sometimes, but all the time.
Violet Melson had said that her father had been known in America as "The Gloved Millionaire" because he had worn gloves, even at meals, to hide the disfiguring scars that were in evidence upon his hands. When she had asked her mother for her father, she had been told that he was abroad. "Abroad," the detective shrewdly suspected, meant "prison." That would account for Henry Melson's scarred hand and broken nails when he had suddenly returned to claim his child. Then what other deduction could be arrived at than that Henry Melson was in reality Jasper Clench, the ex-partner of Laurence Riverton's father?
Every deduction pointed to this being the case. In the twenty-year-old newspaper report, Sexton Blake had read of the wild outburst of Clench when he had been sentenced, how he had sworn that before he died he would seek out the man who had betrayed him and make him suffer as he was to suffer.
The attempted ruination of Laurence Riverton's life was the form that vengeance had taken. Jasper Clench had sought out his old partner, and had tried to strike at him through his son.
Sexton Blake had thought over the story Violet Melson had told him, and the fact of Melson's friend—Kerney—being in possession of so many banknotes, together with the conversation the girl had overheard, seemed to almost prove that he was Maitland. The detective had warned the girl upon leaving her to say nothing of what she had told him to her father, and had reiterated his promise that no hurt should come to him.
There was but one course open now—to go down to Newmarket in a disguise and keep an eye upon this Mr. Luke O. Kerney until he gave some indication that he was indeed the master-criminal.
Sexton Blake placed his pipe upon the mantel, and lit a cigar carelessly, so that it burnt all down one side. The hours dragged by, and at length the grey light of dawn streamed through the Venetian blinds, displaying Sexton Blake haunched up in his chair, the front of his dressing-gown snowed with ash. His face was expressionless as that of a Sphinx, his eyes half-closed, an observer might have thought that he was asleep.
Eight o'clock struck upon the marble clock on the mantel, and the door opened sharply.
Pedro bounded in, and fawned upon his master, but he suddenly desisted, sneezed badly, and bolted from the room again, his tail between his legs. The smoke-laden atmosphere of that room was too much for him.
Tinker, who had followed the hound in, stood gazing at the huddled figure of his master.
"You've not been to bed guv'nor," he said reproachfully. "You'll be knocking yourself up if you go on like this."
"I have been thinking, lad," Sexton Blake said, rising and placing his hand affectionately upon his assistant's shoulder. "But don't you worry about me. I will sleep later on to make up for any all-night sitting. Pull up the blinds."
Tinker obeyed, and Sexton Blake waved his hand towards a chair. He gave the lad a full account of his deductions, much to Tinker's interest and surprise.
"Then you think this chap Kerney is Maitland, sir?" the assistant asked excitedly.
"Yes. Fate appears to have once again willed that he shall cross my path," Sexton Blake answered.
"And you'll arrest him at once, sir?" Tinker asked. "We must get a warrant and—"
"We must make certain of his identity first, Tinker," his master interrupted. "We shall go down to Newmarket by the first train this morning, and Pedro will accompany us."
"You and I will take it in turns to hand about the O'Mega, or Melson stables, in a suitable disguise, until we have proved that Kerney is our man. Hurry up, my lad, and order breakfast. We have no time to lose. Now that Maitland—if the man is he—has carried out his plot and has a sum of fifty-eight thousand pounds in his hands, he might clear out of Newmarket, and England, without a moment's notice to his co-conspirator!"
The Capture of Blake.
"MY heavens, Maitland, I have got to steel my heart to go with this business!" Henry Melson passed his hand wearily across his brows as he uttered the words.
He was seated in his study, in company with Ezra Q. Maitland, who was smoking a cigar and slowly sipping at a brandy and soda he had just mixed himself from the tantalus and syphon upon the sideboard.
The crook stared curiously at his companion. Henry Melson looked ill and haggard, his cheeks seemed to have grown sunken, and he appeared strangely old and careworn.
"What the tarnation thunder is the matter with you?" the master criminal queried, as he flicked the ashes from his cigar.
"What you suggested has happened," Melson said huskily.
"You mean?" Maitland asked, with a raising of his brows.
"That my girl has given her heart to the son of the man who betrayed me," Henry Melson answered. "I have said nothing to you before. I knew on Saturday, and this is Monday, but I've been trying to forget—trying to put my little girl's tear-stained face from the eye of my brain—trying to forget the agonised tone of her voice when she told me of his arrest!"
"Don't be a bigger fool than you can help," he said callously. "I reckon the gal will soon forget him when he's breaking stones in chokee!"
"Silence!" Henry Melson cried, his eyes blazing. "How can you speak so lightly under the circumstances! Violet is an impressionable girl. She will never put him out of her mind!"
"Waal, let her keep him in it!" the Yankee drawled. "Do you mean to say you will go back now? Think of how you have suffered! Think of the sneers and gibes of the warders who used to bring you your skilly! Think of the coarse work that tore your hands! Think—"
"Enough!" Henry Melson rasped, drawing a long, quivering breath. "I am never likely to forget the past. You are right, perhaps. I will go on with my great vengeance! You have wired for your servant?"
"Yes. What's the time now? My watch has stopped."
"Just six o'clock," Henry Melson answered, looking at his timepiece.
"Then the yellow villain will be here before long, I guess," Maitland answered. "I instructed him to catch the first train after receipt of my wire."
"And you think he will manage to get into the stable and leave no trace of foul play having been employed?"
"I reckon I'm sure of it. Wang is as cunning as a wagon-load of monkeys, and as agile as anyone of them. I put a code word in my wire that he will understand, and he'll bring with him some deadly poison that leaves no trace."
Henry Melson nodded slowly, his eyes narrowing. At the moment his pale face was transformed into that of a fiend. His eyes were gleaming with hatred, his lips snarling from his teeth.
"Good!" he muttered. "It will be the last blow for Richard Cavendish before his finds himself in the hands of the police. If Serious Symons won the Gold Cup, his great aim would be accomplished, for he would be able to send the last of the money to those we defrauded. I have got into touch with one of our former victims, and I have learnt from him that only one further payment remains to be made to refund all that he invested in our companies. But the horse shall not win, and Richard Cavendish shall eat out his heart in prison, knowing that he is still in the debt of the fools who trusted him. Hark! There is someone outside now, I guess!"
He was right. Footsteps were heard in the corridor, and there came a tap upon the door. In response to Henry Melson's command to "come in" a footman entered. "A person to see Mr. Kerney," he said, with a haughty sniff.
The next moment he was gasping with indignation, for the caller—a thin evil-looking Chinaman, attired in European clothes, had unceremoniously pushed him aside and shuffled into the room.
He was Wang, Ezra Q. Maitland's Oriental servant and accomplice, a scoundrel to his finger-tips, perhaps even a little more callous and unscrupulous than his notorious master.
"You may go, Giles," Henry Melson said, making a gesture to the servant, who was favouring the Chinaman with a supercilious stare.
The door closed behind the man, and Wang shuffled forward to bow low before his master.
"What orldels?" he piped, in his thin voice.
"You have brought the stuff? You understood the wire?"
"Yes, most illustrious one," the Chinaman agreed. "Wang quite allee lightee undelstand. Bling lots of poisons—all vely, vely deadly."
"You slit-eyed scoundrel!" Maitland grinned. "I believe you like messing with those beastly drugs of yours. Say, it's a horse—a racehorse—we want put out of the way."
Wang smiled in a curiously sinister manner.
"The vely thingee!" he piped, displaying a tiny phial. "A little of this on a needle, a scratch, and gee-gee tulnee upee his toes qulite allee lightee!"
"Then listen here," Maitland ordered, plucking at his sleeve and drawing him near. "I guess I'll give you your instructions. The job's got to be worked to-night!"
Eleven o'clock had struck, and not a light showed in the Riverton Training Stables, with the exception of the faint glimmer of the lamps placed above the stalls of the horses, whilst, so far as could be seen through the trees, the ex-swindler's house was also in darkness.
Yet towards the wall surrounding the extensive stable-yard crept the figure of a man. It was a lean, diminutive figure, almost apish in shape and movement as it glided through the gloom.
Something trailed down the man's back. It was a greasy pigtail, which had somehow escaped from the large cap that was drawn over its owner's head, previously securing it in a coil.
Wang—the marauder was he—glanced about him furtively as he crouched in the shadow of the wall; but alert-eyed though he was, he did not perceive the dark shape that suddenly darted out of sight behind a clump of bushes.
The night was not an ideal one for the purpose, for although the sky was cloudy and threatening from time to time the clouds would pass from the face of the moon and the countryside was flooded with its sickly, yellow light.
The Chinaman remained where he had crouched for fully half a minute. Then, as he heard no sound from the opposite side of the wall, he straightened his skinny body, made a quick leap, and clutched at the top of the brickwork.
The next moment he was scaling the wall, and had dropped upon the other side to again wait for a few seconds in silence, listening.
There was a faint rustling from the direction of the adjacent bushes, and the form that had been concealed behind them again appeared.
The man had evidently been shadowing the Chinaman, for he now went slowly towards the spot at which the former had climbed the wall.
The shadower was a typical specimen of the tout and hanger-on, so frequently to be met with in the neighbourhood of racing stables. He was attired in a very shabby suit of loud checks, with a dilapidated cap to match, pulled low over his eyes. A gaudily-tinted scarf was wound about his neck and knotted under his left ear, whilst cracked and patched leggings adorned his lower limbs.
His face was unshaven and tanned, and even the keenest observer would have failed to recognise him for whom he really was.
Sexton Blake never did things by halves, and this latest disguise of his was one of the most skilful pieces of work in the direction of the art of make-up that he had accomplished for some time past.
The detective, with Tinker and Pedro, had journeyed to Newmarket upon the proceeding day and put up at a small inn there, where he was well known to the proprietor—a fact that enabled him to enter and leave in various disguises, if he found it necessary.
Most of the day he had been watching the Melson—or O'Mega—stables, but he had not, as yet, caught a glimpse of the man who was known as Luke O. Kerney. Sexton Blake had been about to turn his steps towards his inn as dusk commenced to fall, when a thing had happened that had caused him to change his plans.
He had seen a Chinaman enter the house, and in a flash he had realised the man's identity, although he had been some hundred yards away and unable to see his features. Instinct had told Sexton Blake that the caller was Wang, Maitland's accomplice and servant, and he knew that he was without question, upon the right track.
He had lain hidden behind a rise in the ground, his eyes glued upon the house. For two hours he must have waited, then his vigil had been rewarded by his seeing the lean, shuffling figure of the Chinaman slip from the gates opening into the drive.
Sexton Blake had decided to follow the Oriental, although he counted him as very small fry as compared with his villainous master. Blake was, however, pleased now that he had taken the course he had adopted for, he reasoned that some very sinister motive was in Wang's mind now that he knew his quarry's destination.
Sexton Blake stood with his ear pressed against the wall, and he heard the faint sound of the Chinaman's dragging footsteps as he moved across the yard towards the stables.
The detective waited until the sound ceased, then made his way round to the gates. There was a flash of light as Sexton Blake whipped out his pocket-torch and examined the massive padlock with which they were secured. Next moment the torch was back in his pocket, and he was holding a bunch of skeleton keys between his fingers.
Quickly the detective set to work. He meant to enter silently by the gates, for he dared not scale the wall for fear of alarming the wily Chinese and giving him a chance to slip away in the gloom. Had he mounted to the top of the wall, his figure would have been silhouetted against the sky, and it was a hundred to one on the marauder seeing him and taking fright.
Besides, Sexton Blake had a whim for catching Maitland's servant red-handed, and—
Click! Blake had found the key to fit the lock, and one of the gates swung slowly inwards as he gently pressed upon it. With the stealth of a cat, the detective entered the stable-yard and darted to the wall, to press himself flat against it.
He heard a slight sound from the direction of the stable-door, and saw Wang's form darkly outlined against it. Only his arms seemed to be moving, and Sexton Blake immediately knew what he was doing. He was attempting to pick the lock.
Tensely, the detective waited until he saw the door move inwards and the Chinaman glide through. Then Sexton Blake ran noiselessly across the yard, crouched down by the door, and peered cautiously into the stable.
He heard the horses stirring uneasily, although they were not making sufficient noise to arouse the stable lads, who slept in the rooms provided for them in the upper portion of the building. It was the light from a dark lantern held by Wang that was causing them to be restless, for the Chinaman was going from stall to stall, examining the occupants.
Wang stopped before a handsome-looking thoroughbred, and the watching detective knew that it was Serious Symons, John Riverton's candidate for the Newmarket Gold Cup, he having recently seen a photo of the horse in one of the illustrated papers, and noted the splash of white upon its forehead.
He saw Wang take something from his pocket. Had he been nearer, he would have been able to discern that it was a tiny phial, and a packet of ordinary needles. The Chinaman uncorked the phial, drew out one of the tiny steel instruments, and dipped the point in the greenish liquid in the miniature bottle. Then he passed the dark shade over his lantern.
Sexton Blake knew that the time had come to act. He leapt up and steeled himself for a spring that would land him at the back of the doper; and at the moment he had no inkling of the danger he himself was in.
A few seconds before, a man had come tearing towards the stables, his elbows pressed to his sides, his breath coming pantingly between his teeth. He had seen the gates standing ajar and had cautiously entered the yard to almost at once observe the crouching form of the detective by the stable door.
Ezra Q. Maitland—the newcomer was he—had pulled up quickly and watched, knowing by the stature of the bent form that it did not belong to his accomplice, Wang.
The master-criminal began to creep forward, his fingers gripping hard upon a life-preserver that lay in his jacket pocket. Nearer and nearer Maitland drew; and now the heavy weapon was swung above his head.
At the very moment when Blake rose and poised his body to hurl himself forward, Maitland's foot kicked against a stone, and Sexton Blake swung round on his heels.
He flung up his arms to protect himself, but he—was the fraction of a second too late. The life-preserver descended with a sickening thud upon his temple, and he collapsed like a log at the master-criminal's feet.
A startled gasp came from inside the stable; and Wang, dropping the bottle of poison and the needle, darted towards the door, whipping out an ugly-looking knife.
A word from Maitland, however, reassured him, although his slit-like eyes were full of surprise at seeing his master. He put the knife away and shuffled into the yard.
"Whoee thlis?" he asked, in a whisper, as he caught sight of the detective's still form upon the cobblestones.
"I reckon I don't know, yet," Maitland returned quickly, in the same low tone. "You haven't killed the horse?"
"Noee!" Wang answered. "Me goo back and doee it now!"
"You'll be doing nothing of the kind!" Maitland hissed sharply.
"But youl orldels, mastel, were to—"
"Don't argue!" Maitland snapped. "I came here to stop you injuring the brute. I am playing a game of my own and I guess I want him to win! I was only in the nick of time, for I couldn't give old Melson the slip before. Here! come right along! Let's get away before someone hears us and gives the alarm!"
He turned to dart from the yard, then paused, and stopped over the unconscious detective.
"I wonder whom he can be?" he muttered, removing Sexton Blake's cap. "By Columbus! A wig! Here, cast your glim this way for a moment!"
The yellow beam from the Chinaman's lantern shot out as he slipped back the slide and played upon the drawn face of the detective, from whose head Maitland had snatched a sandy wig.
The master criminal peered down at his victim, then a low cry burst from his lips, and, snatching out his handkerchief, he rubbed vigorously at Sexton Blake's face, removing some of the grease paint from the skin.
"Perdition!" Maitland muttered, his hands shaking as he drew back. "It's Sexton Blake!"
"Sexton Blake!" Wang recoiled, as though he had been shot, and so startled was he was he all but dropped his lantern.
"S-s-s-h! You fool!" Maitland snarled, recovering himself by a great effort. Let us get away from here slick. Catch hold of his legs!"
But Wang's formidable knife was out, glinting wickedly in the gloom.
"Why not killee him right nowee?" he asked callously. "Dead men tellee no tales, and—"
"Do as I order you, you yellow scum!" Maitland blazed. "By heavens he shan'n't die quickly. Besides, if his death were reported in the papers, your mistress would know that you or I killed him. I reckon Kate's against murder, and perhaps that's a good thing for me. Hustle, some, will ye?"
The Chinaman replaced his knife and seized Blake's legs, whilst the master criminal got hold upon him beneath the armpits. They stealthily carried their burden from the stable yard and quickly made away from the Riverton buildings.
"Whele takee him?" Wang asked, pausing after they had covered some distance and were out of sight of the stables.
"To the quarry over there!" Maitland said, pointing across the heath to where could be seen the wall that surrounded the dangerous cavity. "We will leave him there! It's odds against his being found before he starves to death, but that's his look-out. Sometimes the quarry isn't worked for weeks. On the other hand, some of the stone might be required and workmen go there to-morrow."
"You notee think that?" Wang said, with an evil smile.
"I don't," Maitland answered callously, "otherwise I should find some other means of disposing of the spying hound, for if he were at liberty I should stand a poor chance of keeping away from the Tower of London's shooting range."y/p>
They were silent until they arrived at the quarry wall; then Maitland ordered: "Over with you!"
Wang let fall the detective's feet and nimbly scaled the wall. Maitland was soon astride it; and, dragging Sexton Blake's limp body over, he handed it down to the Chinaman, who stood upon the quarry's edge.
Some five minutes later they had succeeded in scrambling down the treacherous side, and Maitland shuddered as his eyes fell upon the dead Satan—the horse that had so nearly carried Violet Melson to a swift and terrible doom.
"Look!" he said, pointing to the quarry's side. "There is a working there. Bring him to it."
They carried Sexton Blake over the yawning cavity in the rocky earth to find that it went back into the side of the quarry to extent of some six feet.
"Put him right inside and go and find some rope," the master-criminal ordered. "There ought to be some over by those trucks and things."
Wang dropped the detective roughly into the cavern-like hole; and, turning upon his heels, made his way in the direction indicated. Maitland glanced after him a trifle anxiously, for Sexton Blake had stirred uneasily, and it seemed that he was about to regain his senses.
Long before the detective opened his eyes, however, the Chinaman had found a length of stout cord and the detective had been bound hand and foot.
"So, my friend," the criminal hissed, as Sexton Blake's lids flickered and he looked up feebly and blinked in the glare of Wang's lantern, "you're conscious again. Say, look at me, and I guess you'll cotton on to what's happened!"
The detective stared up dazedly, his mind for the time being a blank. His head was aching horribly, and he was experiencing a sensation for all the world as though two keen-bladed knives were being driven through his temples.
Maitland knelt beside him and stuck his hate-distorted face near that of his enemy. He was not wearing his spectacles now, and his true features seemed to peer out nakedly from behind his disguise.
"Maitland!" Sexton Blake said, memory returning to him with almost overwhelming suddenness. "So we meet again!"
"Yes, you cur!" the criminal snarled, striking his arch-foe a brutal blow between the eyes that caused his brain to reel again. "We meet again, but under very pleasant circumstances—for me! Do you know what is going to happen to you?"
Sexton Blake shrugged as well as he was able, and his air was almost that of weariness.
"I suppose that is rather obvious," he said. "You have brought me here to murder me, It is what I should expect from you."
"You happen to be wrong!" Maitland sneered. "We could have put your light out in Riverton's stable yard if we had been so minded. But I've a fancy to give you a sporting chance, Sexton Blake."
"Indeed!" the detective murmured, with a raising of his brows and his manner as coo! as though he had been discussing the chances of a fine day upon the morrow in some society lady's drawing-room. "You appear to have developed a sudden vein of kindness. Why?"
"Because it's long odds against your chance coming off, you clever, cunning fiend!" Maitland snarled, his passion suddenly returning to him. "We are going to leave you here on the chance of your being found! Do you get me?"
"I think so," the detective answered simply. "If no one comes to the quarry I shall die of starvation."
"I thought there was some good reason on your part for not putting me out of the way expeditiously," Sexton Blake retorted. "That explains the sudden trait of humanity," he added, with a sneer curling his finely chiselled lips. "But why not leave me to take my sporting chance? You can do no good by stopping here to talk of my possible end."
"You're a cool card, Sexton Blake," Maitland said. "By James, I can always admire you, in many ways. What a pile of money we should have squeezed from this gullible world of ours if we had worked together, instead of against each other."
"That would have been out of the question," Sexton Blake answered. "Even if I were dishonest, I should hardly care to associate with a contemptible spy and would-be murderer!"
"Bah! Don't goad me too far!" Maitland rasped, his hands clenching. "I guess I'd better leave you, or I might take a fancy into my head to kill you outright. But listen to my plans before I go! It will be pleasant when you are slowly starving, to think that I have netted a fortune."
"There was no need for you to trouble about Serious Symons to-night. I never intended him to be injured, although I agreed with Melson—"
"With Clench," Sexton Blake corrected coolly. Maitland started violently.
"You—you know whom he realty is?" he gasped. "But, after all, I am not surprised. I'll admit you are clever, I guess."
"As I was saying, I never meant Serious Symons to be 'got at' because I calc'late it's to my advantage for him to win. When he has done so he'll bring John Riverton many thousands of pounds, and I mean to lay my hands on some of them. I've already got a haul—"
"Fifty-eight thousand from Fisher's bank, to be precise," Sexton Blake said, with the air of a man stating a known fact; and he smiled slightly as he saw Maitland start again. "But go on; I am really interested."
"I reckoned you would be!" the criminal grinned. "To know that you are beaten and your man's getting away with fortune ought to please you! Waal, I guess John Riverton's got to part up when Serious Symons gets home! As you know whom Melson is, you have possible been clever enough to find out the identity of John Riverton. But I guess I'll tell you, if you haven't. He is Richard Cavendish, a swindler who escaped from England twenty years ago with half a million sterling, and he's never been arrested."
"I calc'late I'm going to touch him for something like twenty-thousand; and, with that added to the other, I sha'n't have to trouble society again by preying on it. If he don't pay up and smile, you can guess what'll happen. He'll do about ten years, unless the judge happens to be in a sympathetic frame of mind, which ain't likely. He signed to Wang, who roughly forced a knotted handkerchief into the detectives mouth, to serve as a gag. With a mocking smile, Maitland turned away. "Good-night, Sexton Blake!" he sneered. "Good-night; and pleasant dreams to you!"
RACING again, and Newmarket woke into life!
In the "ring" all was bustle and excitement, the race for the Gold Cup being the next upon the card to be decided.
Well-dressed men were seeking to know the odds, brazen voiced book-makers were shouting them. Money was swiftly changing hands, and the tick-tack men were experiencing one of the busiest moments of their day.
In the cheaper enclosures the noise was even more deafening. The smaller punters were betting rapidly, favouring little else save Cyanin, Serious Symons, and a member of the "dark" order called Claudian, about whom there were mysterious whispers. He was a four-year old, and was said to have run well in Ireland, when he had finished fourth to a famous crack in a big event.
The war seemed to make but little difference to the attendance, save that upon every side it was possible to see a khaki uniform.
Line upon line of spectators pressed forward to the rails as the horses to contest the Gold Cup were paraded. There were a dozen in all, and the race promised to be an interesting event. Although, upon public form, Serious Symons and Cyanin seemed to hold the rest of the field safe, the rest were good horses, one and all, who had run well in the past; and more than one seasoned backer chanced a bit on an outsider.
The horses looked a handsome lot as they passed the stand, the gorgeous silks of the jockeys and the glossy coats of their mounts shimmering in the soft warm sunshine. It was a glorious day for racing, bright and sunny, yet cool, owing to the gentle breeze that was blowing across the heath.
Three to one was obtained about both Cyanin and Serious Symons, and every bookmaker had been mentioning the latter, although since the morning there had been conflicting rumours afloat concerning him.
Some had said that he was too ill to run, others that he was dead. There had been a whisper going round that he had been "got at;" but no one had seemed to know the real facts of the case. Even the "heads" in the "ring" had appeared ignorant concerning the truth.
When Jack Haynes, Riverton's trainer, had been approached regarding the colt, he had been very reticent. He had smiled enigmatically and vouchsafed no definite information. In his heart, however, was a fierce anger, for that morning he had found the lock of the stable door picked and the fragments of the bottle of poison that had fallen from Wang's hands upon the ground.
A favourite collie had sniffed at the green fluid in a portion of the broken glass and died with a promptitude that was almost uncanny. Still, Jack Haynes was a man who believed in letting the public go hang when they wanted information about horses in his care, although he never misled anyone. He had, therefore, kept his own counsel as to what had precisely happened.
The bookmakers had been careful, and kept Serious Symons co-favourite with Cyanin. Their caution, as they had now discovered, was warranted; for at the last moment Serious Symons had been brought into the paddock and he was now the foremost in the parade.
Up in the stand, Henry Melson had smiled grimly as he had listened to the gossip concerning his one-time partner's horse, and he did not happen to be looking when the animal passed the stand. Someone shouted: "There he is, as fit and well as can be! There's Serious Symons. Who said—" Melson turned swiftly, and his glasses went up to his eyes.
"By heavens!" he cried, swinging round on Maitland, who was by his side, in company with Violet. "What does this mean? Wang has—"
"Hush!" Maitland hissed warningly. "What are you talking about?"
"The—the horse!" Henry Melson faltered pointing to the colt as it broke into a canter and left its fellows behind. "Look! It's with the others!"
"Great pip! Yes!" Maitland ejaculated, turning his head aside to hide the little grin that would come to his lips. "The yellow scoundrel! He—But,don't say any more now! People are looking this way! By James, Mel—O'Mega, Wang shall suffer for this!"
Henry Melson stood staring after the horse, his glasses held in shaking hands. He was dumbfounded; for that morning the master-criminal's oriental servant had sworn that Serious Symons had fallen dead in his stall, when scratched with a needle which had been dipped into the deadly poison he had brought with him from London.
"The careless idiot must have killed the wrong horse!" Maitland whispered in the elder man's ear; and there was splendidly feigned anger in his voice. "The fool! I'll make him smart when I get at him. I'll tan his yellow hide, I guess!"
Henry Melson lowered his glasses, his face very harsh, his eyes unnaturally bright.
"May it fall and break its neck a yard in front of the post!" he breathed. "But—"he shrugged—"even if it beats Cyanin, I still have another weapon to use against the cur who—"
He broke off and lapsed into silence, eagerly waiting for the cry that would tell him that the race had started.
Things began to get busy now and the bookmakers in the cheaper enclosures were doing an even more rapid business, although the betting had been brisk for the last twenty minutes.
In this noisy and more animated crowd a young man, with a baby moustache, of which he seemed excessively proud, was strolling aimlessly about. He was immaculately attired, and his stockings were of a delicate pale blue, whilst he cultivated a really splendid creation in neckwear.
More than once his "knut-like" appearance had caused a disgusted Tommy to intimate aloud that he would look better in khaki, but Tinker, assistant to Mr. Sexton Blake—the "knut-like" look was a very good disguise—paid little heed, for he knew well enough that he hand his master has worked ceaselessly in the interests of Great Britain since the outbreak of the war.
If the truth be told, Tinker was a trifle preoccupied. He was wondering why his master had not returned to the inn upon the preceding night, and feared some harm had befallen him. The lad knew how dangerous was the work of his master and himself, when pitted against the master-criminal from America, the man who had sworn to one day take their lives?
"'Ere y'are, me young sportsman!" a bookie yelled, as Tinker paused to study the prices scrawled upon the slate. "What's yer fancy?"
"Serious Symons," Tinker answered, rousing himself and fishing out two half-crowns.
"Fifteen bob to a dollar the Solemn Bloke!" the penciller said to his clerk. "An' as good as fifteen silver shillin's in yer pocket, mate!"
"Glad you think so," Tinker murmured; and passed on, after taking his ticket.
"Three ter one Cyanin! Three ter one Serious Symons! Eights Claudian! Ten the Rook! 'Ere, walk up, ladies an' gents! Ten ter one bar two!"
The bookmakers were shouting against each other now, all eager to lay the odds.
One unfortunate penciller was suffering from a cold, and had almost lost his voice. He believed, however, in the motto "Business as Usual" and was doing his best to attract attention to himself, much to the amusement of his competitors, who were chaffing him unmercifully.
"Say, George!" a loud-voiced bookmaker jeered. "If yer stands there wheezing much longer, you'll take root!"
"Well, if I does take root," the afflicted one squeaked, "I 'opes I don't grow into a thing like you!"
"'Ere, watcher mean, yer red-nosed welsher!" the other snarled.
"If yer calls me a welsher ag'in, yer worm, I'll put me fist against yer heye!" the man with the cold retorted angrily. "Can't a cove shout if he likes wi'out—" But the little exchange of compliments was stopped by the magic roar that went up from a thousand throats.
A dead silence after the thunderous outburst—a silence that was impressive and could almost be felt. Those who carried glasses had them glued to their eyes, watching to see how the horses had got away.
Up in the stand John Riverton was anxiously watching for his colours. It meant so much to him if Serious Symons won. He would be able to repay the last of the money to his swindled clients of years ago and know that his one great object in life was accomplished to the full.
The first mile covered at a hard pace and the field beginning to tail off. There were soon only five horses seriously contesting the race, the others having dropped hopelessly behind, one by one.
Serious Symons was near the rails and coming along swiftly, yet steadily. Cyanin was a little in the rear, but he was moving well and his jockey seemed to be nursing him.
The other three who were near consisted of the "dark" horse, Claudian, a big, slashing five-year-old called Tressady, and a smart chestnut colt named the Hope.
Ah! Claudian had had enough of it and was swiftly falling behind. A green jacket grew more and more in the rear and the Hope was accounted for. Tressady's jockey was using his whip, but it was useless. As many a keen judge had predicted, the race was really to rest between Serious Symons and Cyanin, the favourites.
Only a furlong to go. Cyanin was running well, and so far his jockey had found no cause to force his pace. Serious Symons was still hugging the rails, and a howl went up as, for a moment, it looked as though Cyanin was attempting to "bore" him.
On, on flew the two thoroughbreds, their long necks stretched out as though they could scent the winning post. Fred Brown, on the Serious One, had his whip out now and was using it, causing his mount to fairly jump forward.
Cyanin was badly in the rear for the space of a second or two, but his rider followed the other jockey's tactics and Cyanin, too, bounded forward until the two horses were racing neck and neck.
All was wild confusion. Their names were both being yelled with equal persistency upon every side, until suddenly Fred Brown again urged his horse to a last supreme effort.
Serious Symons was a length ahead, two, three, and
"Serious Symons! Serious Symons w-i-n-s!"
The shout developed into a din, echoing and re-echoing over the heath, then Serious Symons shot past the post, a winner by four lengths, and cheer upon cheer went up from those who had entrusted him with their money.
And up in the stand Henry Melson was muttering a savage curse, whilst his ex-partner was almost delirious with joy, forgetting for the time being the black shadow that was hanging over his son, the one being in the world for whom he cared.
"Thank Heaven!" was John Riverton's muttered comment. "At last I can fully repay and look the world in the face again!"
Tinker ceased his restless pacing, and pausing before the window, stared out into the quaint, hedge-bordered lane in which his inn was situated.
The lad looked anxious and worried. Upon his return from the races, which he had visited purely to kill time, it was to find that Sexton Blake had not returned; and Tinker was beginning to have grave fears as to his master's safety.
The lad turned from the window with an impatient gesture, and sank down in a chair. Pedro, who realised by instinct that something was troubling his young master, solemnly stalked over to him and pushed his cold muzzle into his hand.
"I wonder where your master is, old chap?" Tinker muttered, caressing one of the faithful hound's enormous ears. "It's unlike him to go off like this without leaving some word for me. I'm beginning to fear the worst! My aunt! But if that brute's killed my guv'nor, I'll never rest until I've put the rope about his neck!"
Tinker's hands clenched savagely, and his young face took on a hard, determined expression. He tried to put the thought from his mind, but somehow it refused to go.
Time after time Ezra Q. Maitland and his scoundrelly servant, Wang, had come within an ace of sending Sexton Blake to his last account, employing the most fiendish means to attain their end. Tinker remembered how Maitland had all but succeeded in suffocating his arch-enemy after the clearing up of the case of the Belgian Relief Fund, he remembered how Wang's devilish pet had stabbed Sexton Blake in Rome, and—
"We'll try to find him, Pedro!" Tinker exclaimed, suddenly rising to his feet. "I can stand this suspense no longer. If I spoil some plan of the guv'nor's by appearing on the scene at the wrong moment, I'll chance the wigging he'll give me. Come, lad. Find your master."
Pedro bayed softly and capered joyously towards the door, as Tinker snatched up one of the detective's caps and moved across the room.
When they had passed down the lane and stood outside the inn, Tinker stooped and pressed the cap to his muzzle.
"Good Pedro! Find!" he ordered. "Seek your master!"
The hound whined wistfully; then, after quickly sniffing round in a circle he raised his head and gave tongue. The next moment he was tugging upon the leash Tinker had affixed to his collar, anxious to be off upon the scent of the man he loved so dearly.
Down the lane went the hound, Tinker breaking into a trot to keep pace with him. The scent was many hours old, but, it being that of Sexton Blake, and so well known to the dog, he had little difficulty in following it.
Now and again he hesitated, but it was never for long, and, as always, he picked up the scent again and pushed onwards until Tinker found himself traversing the heath.
Soon he knew that Pedro was making for the O'Mega stables, but when he arrived there he abruptly turned and made off in another direction.
Straight for the neighbouring establishment, owned by John Riverton, Pedro made, and passed through the gates into the stable-yard.
He passed a couple of lads who were standing talking together, and for a moment they were too surprised to resent the intrusion.
"Here, old sport, what's the game?" one of the stable lads asked, seizing Tinker by the arm and earning a warning growl from the dog that made him jump back a pace with undignified haste. "Taking the dog for an airing in our stable, or merely come ter look at the gee-gees?"
Tinker turned a serious face towards the speaker, so serious, in fact, that the stable hand almost immediately changed his tone, for he was a decent enough young fellow at heart. "What's the trouble, mate?" he asked.
In a few sentences Tinker explained whom he was, and the reason for Pedro having led him into the yard. "By jingo! So you're Sexton Blake's assistant, eh?" the stable lad exclaimed. "Well, then you can bet it was your guv'nor who stopped Serious Symons being killed last night. You heard that some cur tried to 'get at' him?" Tinker nodded.
"It was true, right enough," the stable hand said. "We found a bottle of poison smashed on the stable floor, and when one of the trainer's dogs sniffed at it, he pegged out quicker than greased lightning."
"I am afraid something has happened to my guv'nor," Tinker said, gulping at the lump that would rise in his throat. "Will you let me have a free hand and allow the dog to go where he likes!"
"Betcher life, mate, if it'll 'elp you," the other replied.
Tinker thanked him and allowed Pedro to move forward. The hound had been tugging vigorously upon the leash, and as soon as he was given his head he moved to the stable door; but there, after sniffing round for a while, he came to a dead stop.
Again and again Tinker tried to make him pick up the scent, but always with the same result. Pedro would nose the ground for a second or two, then squat upon his haunches and look up wistfully into his young master's face.
"I think I can reason out what it means," the lad said huskily at last. "The guv'nor was drugged or knocked over the head and carried from here. That is why the scent ends."
Dejectedly he left the stable and wandered aimlessly over the heath. There was a great, gnawing terror at his heart—an agony of dread. Who had attacked Sexton Blake and carried him away? If it were Maitland, Tinker felt that there was little hope of his ever seeing his master again alive.
Unconsciously he wandered on, until he almost collided with the wall shutting in the Wellstread quarry. He pulled up sharply, rousing himself from his reverie, and lent upon the wall, not noticing that Pedro was excitedly sniffing at the grass at the spot where Sexton Blake's legs had dragged when Wang had dropped them to scale the wall on the previous night.
Then suddenly Tinker missed his companion. He called to the hound, but received no response. He whistled shrilly, but still Pedro did not come.
For fully a minute the lad stood waiting, wondering where the dog had gone. Then Pedro came tearing madly round the wall, fawned upon him, and turned, and disappeared the way he had come.
Tinker followed him, to find that he had paused, and was looking back as though intimating that he wished his young master to follow. A sudden hope flashed into Tinker's brain, for the hound was evidently wild with excitement and wanted him to descend the quarry.
Pedro had squeezed his way through a broken part of the stonework, and was baying incessantly from the opposite side of the wall.
Like one possessed, Tinker scaled the wall, and Pedro bayed again as he appeared. The hound began scrambling down the precipitous side of the quarry, and Tinker, beginning to feel certain of what his show of eagerness signified, speedily, yet more cautiously, followed him.
When they reached the bottom of the pit, Pedro bounded away to the opposite side and disappeared into a cavity which workmen had made in the stone. The lad sprinted after him and whipped out his electric-torch. He flashed its rays into the dark-hole, and a whoop of joy left his lips. "Guv'nor!" he cried. "Dear old guv'nor! So we've found you, after all!"
The lad's eyes were moist as he tugged at the knots of his master's bonds. He was well-nigh frantic with relief, for Sexton Blake was conscious, and, save for the ugly bruise upon his temple, he seemed little the worse for his adventure.
The last knot was loosened and Sexton Blake struggled free of his bonds. He tried to rise, but it was only to fall back helplessly, for his limbs were numbed and useless.
"Thanks, lad!" Sexton Blake murmured, as he snatched the gag from his mouth. "That's right, rub my legs! I'll be all right in a moment, but the circulation stopped for a while. I have been here all night!"
"What has happened, sir?" the lad asked quickly. "It—it was Maitland?"
"Yes, Tinker," the famous detective answered, a trifle ruefully. "It was Maitland again. He took me unawares and stunned me. But I'll tell you all about it later. Our first step must be to arrest him."
"You know where he is, then, guv'nor?"
"I imagine I shall find him," Sexton Blake replied, his eyes glinting grimly. "He rather foolishly informed me of his plans, which he intended carrying out whilst I slowly starved to death—a thing that you have prevented. You have saved my life again!" He laid his hand upon his assistant's shoulder. "You're a good lad, Tinker," he said simply.
And that was all the praise that the young detective needed. He understood.
A Surprise for Maitland.
JOHN RIVERTON'S brows contracted as he read the name upon the slip of pasteboard his butler had just handed him. "Luke O'Kerney." he muttered. "I have never met him in the past, so far as I can recollect.
"He says his business is most important, sir," that servant said. "He said it was imperative that he saw you to-night, and at once."
John Riverton's frown deepened.
"I suppose you'd better show him in," he said. "He possibly represents some charity, and after my big win to-day—" He waved his hand.
"Show him in here, James," he said. "I may as well see him and get it over, I suppose."
The servant bowed and departed. He returned a moment later to usher Ezra Q. Maitland into the room.
The master criminal bowed as the door closed behind the servant, and there was a confident little smile on his lips.
"Good-evening, Mr. Riverton," he drawled, coolly helping himself to a cigar from a box standing upon the table. "I am glad that you decided to see me."
"Please state your business, Mr.—er—Kerney," John Riverton answered coldly. "My time is limited."
"So is mine, I guess," Maitland returned, nodding. "Still, I don't anticipate that I shall keep you long Mr.—er—Richard Cavendish!"
A strangled cry broke from the prodigal swindler, and he reeled to his feet. His jaw was dropping badly, and he was trembling like a delicate leaf in a breeze.
"You—you have made some mistake!" he faltered, licking his parched lips. "My—name—is—not Cavendish, but—"
"No; somehow it don't look like it, does it!" Maitland grinned sarcastically, as he allowed his long body to sink into a luxurious chair. "Bah! Quit on it! I know you well enough! You are Richard Cavendish, ex-swindler, ex-thief—a man who ought to have done penal servitude, but hasn't!"
"You fiend! You cur! I'll kill you!" the one-time swindler raved wildly, suddenly clutching at the poker and darting across the room towards his visitor. "I'll—"
"Stand back!" Maitland was steadily covering him with a revolver. "Say, I'm reckoned a mighty good shot," he drawled, "so I advise you to keep calm. Put that poker down. You hear me!"
"Who are you?" Cavendish asked hoarsely, allowing the heavy implement to drop from his nerveless fingers. "How do you know me? Why have you come here, and what do you want with me?"
"As to who I am," Maitland answered, "you have my card. I guess Kerney ain't my real name, but that doesn't matter. It need not concern you how I've tumbled to your identity. Suffice it for you that I know it, and am ready to give you away to the police unless you fall in with my demands."
"Then it's blackmail you're after?" the racehorse owner asked with a sneer.
"Precisely," Maitland answered coolly. "You might have known it from the first. To-day you have won many thousands of pounds. I am going to relieve you of exactly twenty-five of them."
"And that," said a deadly level voice, as the door was suddenly flung open, "is just where you are wrong, Ezra Q. Maitland!"
The master-criminal leapt to his feet with a dismayed oath, and his hand holding the revolver went up sharply.
There was a deafening report from the doorway, and Sexton Blake, who had entered with Tinker, cast aside his smoking weapon and leapt forward. Maitland gave a scream of pain, and his revolver clattered to the floor.
Sexton Blake had known that it was no time to hesitate when dealing with Maitland, especially when that astute crook held a shooting-iron. He had fired rapidly as soon as he had seen the weapon in the master-criminal's hand, and his bullet had grazed his fingers.
There was a short, sharp scuffle as the two men closed, then Sexton Blake treated his arch-foe to a neat back-heel and they thudded to the floor. Tinker, who had sprung to his master's aid, did the rest. There was a click, and the lad had snapped a pair of handcuffs upon Ezra Q. Maitland's wrists. "Better search him, my lad," Sexton Blake ordered coolly.
"There are notes here for thousands, sir!" Tinker cried excitedly, as he snatched roll after roll from the snarling criminal's pockets. "And a cheque for fifteen thousand pounds signed by Henry Melson!"
"Ah, the little haul from Fisher's bank, and the price of his black treachery," Sexton Blake said quietly, as he took the note and the cheque from his assistant's hand. "This, I think, we will destroy at once. You'd better 'phone for the police, Tinker."
The detective deliberately tore the cheque in halves, then taking a vesta case from his pocket, he took out a match, struck it, and applied it to the two portions of the cheque which he had placed together.
Whilst Tinker stepped over to the instrument, which was fitted up in one corner of the room, Sexton Blake watched the cheque slowly burn, finally crumpling the ashes in his hand.
"This is the end of me, Mr. Blake," John Riverton—or Richard Cavendish, as it may now be better to call him—said brokenly. "You were listening outside the door. You heard whom I really am?"
"Yes," Sexton Blake answered; "but your secret is safe with me."
"But not with me!" Ezra Q. Maitland laughed harshly, as he struggled up upon his elbow. "Give me my freedom, and I'll keep my mouth shut. Otherwise, Sexton Blake, your precious swindling friend shall see the inside of a prison. Do you get me?" Sexton Blake turned his back upon him without reply, and drew Richard Cavendish aside.
"You will have to leave England at the earliest possible moment," he said. "I cannot agree to his terms, but I have given my word that it shall be through no action of mine should you eventually suffer for your past misdeeds. You understand?"
"Yes, Heaven bless you!" John Riverton muttered. "And—and my boy?"
"I can prove him innocent immediately," Sexton Blake returned, with quiet assurance.
Twenty minutes later an inspector and a constable had driven from Newmarket Police Station, and Maitland was led away. He turned as he reached the door.
"I guess I'll keep mum till the morning, Sexton Blake," he drawled. "You might find you've made a mistake and get me released by them."
"I might; but I very much doubt it," Sexton Blake retorted coldly.
The telephone-bell rang sharply, and John Riverton moved over to it and took down the receiver. He listened for a moment to what was being said at the other end of the wire then the receiver fell from his hand, and he staggered back, with working face and twitching hands.
"I see it all!" he cried. "O'Mega, my neighbour, is Jasper Clench! Oh, I have been blind not to realise it before! Mr. Blake, I have just been speaking to him. He is dying—lying upon his deathbed."
"His deathbed!" Sexton Blake exclaimed sharply. "I don't understand!"
"He has fallen from his horse, and his spine is injured," Richard Cavendish explained breathlessly. "The 'phone is fitted up by his bedside, and he is quite conscious, he has been speaking to me. He has told me that he was responsible for the false accusation against my son. He asks me to forgive; but I—I can't! He—"
"You must!" Sexton Blake interrupted firmly. "Come, if he is indeed dying, we must not lose a moment. Don't let him go to his last account without your assurance that you will forgive him fully. Remember the past—the treacherous action you took against him."
Just for a moment Richard Cavendish hesitated, then he made for the door. "You are right!" he said. "You are coming, too?"
"Yes," Sexton Blake answered simply.
Henry Melson, otherwise Jasper Clench, looked up feebly as there came a tap upon the door of his bedroom. He was lying upon his back in his bed, his body wracked with pain. He had been riding into the town when his horse, taking fright at a recklessly driven car, had thrown him awkwardly. The doctor, who was with Violet by the bedside, looked grave. He had given it as his opinion that Jasper Clench had but a few hours to live, unless something akin to a miracle happened.
Violet, who had been sobbing quietly and holding her father's hand, rose and opened the door.
She found a servant without, who had brought Richard Cavendish, Sexton Blake, and Tinker up to the sick-room.
The girl beckoned them, and they entered.
The eyes of the two men who had been partners in crime twenty years ago met in a long gaze, then Jasper Clench lowered his, with a dry, repentant sob. Richard Cavendish crossed to the bed, sank down besides it, and took the hand of his one-time partner.
"I tried to ruin your boy, Richard," Jasper Clench said huskily, "but I want to make reparation. I employed the criminal, Maitland, to—"
"I know, Jasper," Cavendish interrupted gently. "Mr. Blake has told me everything as we drove over. You must try to forget—and live."
"Can you forgive me, Richard?" Jasper Clench asked, in a broken voice.
"If you can forgive me, Jasper," Cavendish replied, as he pressed the supposedly dying man's fingers. For a few moments Cavendish remained kneeling by the bedside. Then a thing happened that put a dramatic end to the touching scene.
A servant came rushing up the stairs, and burst into his room without the ceremony of knocking. "Which of you gentlemen is Mr. Sexton Blake?" he asked excitedly, looking from one to another. "I am he," the detective answered, stepping forward. "What is wrong?"
"It's a message from the police-station, sir!" the man panted. "One of the policemen who had your prisoner—what's his name?—Maitland, has just arrived at the station with a broken arm.
"And Maitland?" Sexton Blake asked, grasping the man by he sleeve. "He—"
"Has bolted with the car, sir!" the man finished. "He snapped the chain of his handcuffs, flung the policeman into the road, and knocked the inspector senseless with a blow from a heavy spanner that must have been lying in the bottom of the car.
"Tell the police I will be at the station as soon as I can get over," Sexton Blake answered; and the man took his departure.
"You'll come at once, sir, won't you?" Tinker asked, for his master seemed in no way inclined to hurry himself.
"There is plenty of time, Tinker," Sexton Blake answered, with a significant glance at Richard Cavendish. "Perhaps, if he gets away, it will be for the best, after all. Now that he's got a start, there's not much likelihood of catching him. He'll abandon the car a few miles away and change his disguise in some way. But we shall meet again ere long."
"It seems a shame to let the beast go, sir!" Tinker protested. "And yet—" in his turn he looked towards the swindler, who had made every reparation in his power, but had never paid the penalty of the law—"I think I understand."
TWO months had elapsed, and the summer was drawing to its close. Yet the sun was shining brightly, and the roses in Jasper Clench's garden at Newmarket were still in bloom.
The millionaire had not died. A specialist had advised an operation and it had been successfully performed, dragging the ex-company promotor from the very jaws of death.
On this bright, warm day in September, Clench was seated in an invalid-chair upon the verandah of the magnificent house attached to his racing stables.
Richard Cavendish, who had been reading to him from a sporting paper, was seated by his side. The two men were watching the figures of a man and a girl as they wended their way, hand in hand, amid the rose-bushes.
They were Laurence Cavendish and Violet Clench, and they were whispering together as they walked—whispering of the love that was in their hearts.
The release of Laurence Riverton had taken place within twenty-four hours of Ezra Q. Maitland's daring escape from the police, for the evidence that Sexton Blake had laid before Sir Henry Fairfax, of Scotland Yard, had conclusively proved the young man's innocence.
The detective had demonstrated to the Commissioner how the invisible ink upon the cheque was brought to light by heating, and there had been the fifty-eight thousand pounds in notes—notes bearing numbers coinciding with those missing from Fisher's Bank—which Blake had taken from Maitland to substantiate his plea upon Laurence Riverton's behalf, to say nothing of the tell-tale thumb marks upon the banknote and the cheque.
"What do you say, Cavendish, to allowing your horses to be trained with mine here?" Jasper Clench asked, suddenly looking round at his companion. "Don't you think it would be a good idea?"
"I think it should work well," he answered. Then with a smile: "We should be partners again, Jasper."
Jasper Clench allowed his eyes to wander to the stalwart form of the young man whom he had once tried to bring to ruin, and from him to the slim, girlish figure by his side. "Yes, partners again," he murmured. "Partners like our children, Cavendish. They are partners in a great and wonderful love."
"Heaven bless them!" Richard Cavendish said earnestly. And he, too, sat watching the lovers until they disappeared amongst the roses.
Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is out of copyright in countries with a copyright
period of 70 years or less, after the year of the author's death.
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.