Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
KNEW a lady once named Denver May—a fine, handsome doll of a woman with china-blue eyes, peach-like cheeks, and hair of gold, which was just getting a little bit old and had taken on a brown lacquer through which the gold shone.
I met her once professionally, I have spoken to her in a friendly way more than once, and the last time I spoke to her a dear friend of hers named Leggatt waited for me in the dark corridor of my hotel at 3 a.m. on a winter morning and tried to knife me with a long Italian stiletto which proved to be a veritable Fraggecci.
He did not intend comforting my dying moments with the knowledge that he it was who had done this thing, for he wore over his face a portion of a lady's silk stocking, in which, with a practised hand, he had cut two eye-holes. I have often wondered whether that stocking was May's, but the speculation is a fairly idle one.
Anyway, Leggatt misjudged the distance, and I gave him two—one to start him falling, and the other, en route, to keep him fallen. I believe I also kicked him a little when he was down, for I am a sportsman, and had no desire to die in a temperance hotel, to which the exigencies of my profession had brought me.
The last time I saw Denver May she was smiling sweetly at a wise old man in a red silk wrap and a white wig. He wasn't smiling. His lined mouth was drooped, and two deep furrows ran down either side of his face. He looked at her over his big glasses and said with almost pathetic sadness:
"As to the woman, she is a dangerous enemy to society. What is known of her?"
I stepped up to the witness-stand and said:
"She is a blackmailer, and because of her many men have committed suicide."
That is all I said, and May smiled at me from the big yellow dock as though I had paid her the most exquisite compliment.
The old man in the white wig shook his head helplessly.
"A danger to society," he repeated. "You, May Clement Schaffer, will be kept in penal servitude for fifteen years."
She went down from the dock with that little smile, but outside in the high, marbled vestibule, Leggatt sat crouched on a seat crying like a child.
I felt very sorry for Leggatt in a way. I realised how lonely he must be without the woman whose fortune he had shared—he on one side of the prison gate and she on the other.
In justice to myself, let it be said that I did my best to put them both on the right side—which is the inside.
But in the case of Leggatt there had been some picturesque and scientific perjury at the preliminary magisterial inquiry, and he had not gone for trial.
And here was Leggatt blubbering like a child. How sad! Did I laugh? I did.
He looked at me with his lamps at danger.
"I'll fix you for this, Tyndall!" he gasped. "You dog—laugh at me!"
Yes, he was sobbing his heart out, just as old Alderman Gollington, of Manchester, had sobbed when the pair of them stripped him of his last dollar on the threat of exposing a sin nearly half a century old; so he had gone sobbing, that old man, to the home they had wrecked, and hanged himself in the wine-cellar.
Mrs. Laurie-Franze, of Philadelphia, had wept with even greater passion when Denver May and her colleague had confronted her with the bundle of letters which meant separation from the husband she loved and the two little children she adored. She had pawned her jewels to satisfy May; she had robbed her husband and placed herself still further in their hands. She came to the end of her possibilities, and May with the cherub face, wanted more, Leggatt backing her up.
To-day Mrs. Laurie-Franze thinks she is a snake-charmer; she gives the attendants little trouble, except now and again, when she is very terrible indeed, and it takes six nurses to get her to the padded ward.
Laugh? I would laugh to see Leggatt in hell!
"I'll fix you," he said again between sniffles.
"I shall be doing a little fixing myself," I said. "Look out for me."
Did he try? I think he did. But a good blackmailer is a specialist. Exponents of laryngotomy are, as a rule, indifferent chiropodists, and criminals, who terrorise by threats are most indifferent assassins. So I found.
He handed me all the lethal equipment he could find. He brought to his assistance a man named Badger—James Badger, commonly called "Talking Jimmy."
What do you do with a beautiful box of chocolates that comes on your birthday addressed in a female hand, a beautiful box of chocolates with crystallised violets a-top?
I took mine to the tiny laboratory at the top of my home, and fed some mice with scraps of the sweet stuff.
And those mice died; they died very quickly. My doctor friends tell me that it is not in the public interest that I should tell you the poison, because it is one which is not very well known except to opticians. It is nothing so common as atropine.
I tied up the rest of the sweets, type-wrote an address, and mailed the box to Leggatt with a card inscribed:
Loving wishes from little Arthur.
but I fancy he did not eat them. That may have been "Talking Jimmy's" idea, for, in addition to being a glib spinner of tales, this James was a murderer, as I know.
And suppose you receive a parcel with a label of a well-known publisher, would you think they were books? I guess you would. But do books say "tick-tick-tick," even when they aren't paid for? I dropped my "books" into a pail of water and sent for the explosive expert from the War Office.
There was no evidence against Leggatt—not a smell of evidence against "Talking Jimmy," the one member of the confederation I had not met.
I sent for Big Bill Brady, and he came sort of sideways, ready to bolt.
"Bill," I said, "I pulled you out of bad trouble last fall, not because I love you or was affected by the tears of the lady who calls herself Mrs. Bill, but just because I was out shark-fishing and hadn't the time to waste on pike."
Bill asked Providence to destroy his eyesight and admitted the truth of my words.
"Now I want you to hop along and find Leggatt—he's the posher—and when you find him I want you to do him up proper."
"Mr. Tyndall," said Bill earnestly, "he's an American and uses fire-weapons; he's got pals that use fire-weapons. I'll do my best for you, but unless I get him—so to speak—tata-tatey, there will be no performance."
There was no performance—not the right kind of performance. The gentlemen employed their "fire-weapons" to such an effect that Bill has been drawing an allowance from me ever since on the score of being "temporarily incapacitated."
This was the position on June 17th when I read an announcement in the Times:
After a short illness at Monte Carlo. George William Leggatt, of Chicago and London.
Upon a distant shore he fell,
Away from home and kin;
We'll never see another lad
So good a friend as him.
The last words from his lips did fall
Upon that summer's day,
And this is what his faint voice said:
"Good-bye, my Denver May!"
American papers, please copy.
The invitation to the Editors of the Poet's Corner of American journalism was affecting. It affected me. A month later I discovered that the distressing news had affected one of whose existence I had been in ignorance.
A man made an appointment with me at my office, and I had the bad luck to keep it.
I always prefer making an appointment with a man, because I know just how to miss it and have plenty of time to invent an oh-cruel-fate lie to explain my absence. I said I'd see this lad at one and a-half, and at one and a-half I was keeping an appointment with a devilled sole, a teeny-weeny bottle of Mumm, and another lady at Boriani's in the Haymarket.
I went back to the office at four o' the clock, and there, sitting glum and stolid before the stove, burning my precious current was the appointee.
I looked at him sternly, then at my watch. I didn't know which to blame most.
"I thought I said half-past one," I remarked.
He looked bewildered.
"I know you did," he stammered. "It's now four o'clock—I was here at half-past one."
"Were you?" I asked incredulously. "Then where the devil was I?"
I waited for his answer, but he offered no solution to the mystery.
He was a tall, thin man when he unwound himself, clean-shaven, with a white scar on his left cheek. He had plastered hair and grey eyes, and under each eye was a puffy little sack.
The impression ho gave me was of supreme and hopeless patience. Here was a man who would sit and jaw to me by the hour about what Maisie said and what he said, and what Maisie's friend Dora said and what he said, and what Harry remarked to him and of the saucy answer he handed back to Harry.
I put my hat down on the table, rang the bell, and my secretary came in.
I was busily writing—"When I ring twice come in and say you've had a 'phone from Buckingham Palace requiring my immediate attendance."
I scribbled the finish and handed it to the girl.
"Order these at once," I said with a we-understand-each-other frown, and she left us.
Then I turned upon the man with the eyes.
"Now," I said, "deliver your address."
I leant back in my padded chair and waited for the worst.
I found myself wondering in the short pause whether it was money or wife which had sent him to me.
"Mr. Tyndall," he said in a measured, monotonous voice, "you have the reputation of being a great detective, though somewhat inconsequent. You are known as an expert criminal investigator, a man of considerable courage, immense resource and extraordinary agility of mind."
I inclined my head. He evidently knew me fairly well. I began to take an interest in this cadaverous man.
"I am warned that you are lazy," he continued, "that you have no apparent gifts of concentration—though this latter report I am not prepared to accept—and that you are not inclined to undertake work save at a figure beyond the reach of the average purse, unless it is beyond the ordinary range of criminal research."
"Some of what you say is true," I replied. "First I should like to hear what work you wish me to perform."
He looked round my office hesitatingly, as if seeking inspiration.
"I hardly know how to begin," he said. "I have told my story to the police at Scotland Yard, and the only result which has so far accrued is that they have had me examined by three police surgeons with a view to ascertaining the state of my mind, and they have decided, with evident reluctance, I must confess, that there is nothing in my mental condition which justifies detention."
He paused and cleared his throat.
"I am a retired banker," he began, "my age is fifty-four, the general condition of my health is good, I am a Wesleyan, and comfortably off; in fact, I am, by most standards, a rich man."
"An excellent start," I said, "though reminiscent of the 'Arabian Nights.'"
"Three months ago," he went on, "I decided, after hearing a lecture at the Royal Society by an eminent philosopher on 'Life Values,' that, successful as I regarded myself, rich, healthy, and possessing the best collection of stamps which any American philatelist in England possesses, I had missed the big things, and, so far from having any cause for pride in my achievements, I had better reason for the bitterest shame.
"For consider—my life was lonely, useless, barren. No child called me father, I could not point to one single action of mine which had made the world a brighter and more beautiful place; there existed no finer monument to my industry than a swollen bank balance and a number of decayed postage stamps.
"It came as a revelation me; it became an obsession—this sense of valueless existence. Two months ago I decided to end my life."
I met his eye; there was no indication of madness. He spoke in a level, almost colourless, voice. The skin was healthy, his pupils of normal size. The hands resting on two bony knees were placid, the thumbs easily held, and neither rigid nor restless. The feet were placed nervously (the right foot rested a little on its outer side, the left foot was square on the ground).
His breathing was regular and deep; there was none of that shallowness and irregularity peculiar to the religious maniac, nor the heavy nasal exhalations which distinguish the homicide. His jaw was too small and too well-shaped for an epileptic. Altogether a normal man.
"I decided to end my life," he went on; "a life which at that particular time I saw only too clearly was futile and unproductive.
"You may be horrified—or rather you would be horrified if you possessed the normal mind and the normal outlook at such a decision. There are a hundred-and-one arguments which you could adduce to demonstrate the absurdity of such an action, but each one of these I could answer to my own satisfaction, and, after all, it is my view which 'counts.'"
"Having decided so much," the man (whose name, by the way, was Charles Delahay) went on, "there was only the question in my mind as to the method by which I should make my exit from a life of which I was heartily ashamed. From any violent means I shrank. Neither the shock of drowning nor the greater and system-racking violence of hydrocyanic acid nor the possible mischances of shooting appealed to me.
"Eventually, after giving the matter a great deal of thought, I hit upon what in my opinion was a method of fulfilling all humanitarian requirements.
"My scheme was to fill a tin can with chloroform and hang it over my bed, to make a tiny puncture in the bottom of the can, and, covering my head with a large, lint-covered cage, retire to rest, allowing the steady downpour from the vessel above to do its deadly work while I slept."
Chloroform so dropped and with so large a surface would volatilise harmlessly, and occasion no greater distress than a disordered palate.
"When I had almost completed my arrangements," Delahay continued; "when, indeed, the very drug was purchased and the tin can suitably perforated, I read a book."
He paused, inviting comment, but I offered none.
It was not the kind of story I had expected, and I was annoyed to find myself getting interested, for I have an extreme distaste for anything which suggests work.
All the time he spoke it was in a monotonous, low, even voice. It did not vary, rise, nor fall, however tragic was the burthen of his narrative.
"I read a book," he continued. "It was called—no, I forget the title, and the author I cannot for the moment recall; I rather think that it was a first novel. The idea of the story may be simply told. It dealt with a committee of men who were self-appointed judges and executioners. They set themselves the task of ridding the world of men who, by their misdeeds, had earned the extreme penalty—and by their clever evasions of the law had succeeded in going immune. It was a bright idea; more, it was a fine idea. In a flash I saw my destiny. To die by my own hand would only mean one other useless thing added to the tale of many acts of uselessness committed in my life. I saw my duty plainly. It was the removal of a man who would be better out of the world than in it.
"In this way I could accomplish both my objects. I would not only secure dissolution for myself, but I would secure it by as painless a method as the combined efforts of science could suggest and the experience of a decade could justify.
"Only one question remained for me to decide. Who was the sinner who deserved death who had so far escaped the punishment of the law?"
This was interesting. I leant forward and looked him straight in the eve.
"I see," I said softly, "you want me to suggest the man. I can give you as complete a list as any man in London. There's the chef at the Falgar who puts garlic in all the dishes. There's the new funny man at the Hippoleum—the forty-ninth ragtime inventor and exponent we have had in London since the season started. Then there's the man who writes long novels that begin in 1860 and finish in heaven—you know the man I mean, William Something or other; he'd be an excellent chap to start on."
Mr. Delahay smiled.
It was the first smile I had seen during the interview.
"No," he said quietly, "I do not think I am likely to practise on any of those gentlemen. Seriously, Mr. Tyndall, I want you to think of all the really bad men in London, that is why I came."
"Before dinner or after?" I asked.
I regarded Mr. Delahay with something like indignation.
"Getting right down to the hard, bed-rock fact and cutting out all that pertains to the Lunacy Act of 1876," I said steadily, "do you seriously suggest that I, a respectable, honest and notorious detective, a member of several clubs, a holder of innumerable free passes into high-class theatres, one who is on nodding terms with princes and on fairly respectful terms with bank managers, do you think," I repeated, speaking with emphasis, "that I should suggest to you subjects for future coroners' inquisitions? I have listened," I went on, "with exemplary and touching patience, and my restraint has helped me to bear with you, but——"
He raised his hand and full-pointed my eloquence. There was a glint of humour in his eye.
"Do not be perturbed, Mr. Tyndall," he said. "I shall not ask you to find subjects for my vengeance—that has been found. I have committed the murder already."
To say that these words shocked me to the very foundation, is but to express in the mildest terms something of the thrill which they produced.
"Let me finish," he said. "For weeks, as I have hinted to you, the question of my victim was one which obsessed me night and day. I had no thought but the ever-present and absorbing problem—who should it be?
"From that moment a new interest came into my life. It made me a brighter, more cheerful man. I rose every morning with the exhilarating sense that the day held an interest for me. I went to bed and slept soundly on the comforting reflection that tomorrow would have its fullness.
"My acquaintance with the underworld was a small one, but by a diligent study of newspaper files I was able to acquire a working knowledge of criminality, and, indeed, I managed to compile, for my private use, a directory of bad men. It is, perhaps, unique. By submitting each man to a test of my own I reduced my list of eligibles to two—one was a man named Leggatt and the other a gentleman of whom you may have heard—James Badger?"
"Talking Jimmy," I said, "a confidence man, a friend of Leggatt's, a murderer and a liar."
Mr. Delahay nodded his head.
"So I gathered from a perusal of American files," he said. "Well, to resume, I reduced my list to these two men; which should it be? I might have killed both, but I foresaw difficulties. I decided on Leggatt."
"I heard he was in Monte Carlo. I made preparations for the journey, closed up my house, and crossed to France."
He lowered his voice impressively.
"The day before I arrived in Monte Carlo Leggatt died as a result of an attack of bronchitis."
"Bronchitis—how did he contract it?" I asked.
Mr. Delahay smiled again.
"That I inquired, curiously enough. It was the result of sleeping out of doors in a biting wind. He was dead. I saw the body, and felt that I had been robbed of my prey. I sought for James Badger. He was in America. I returned to London dispirited, and resumed my old life, but waited for the opportunity to carry my plan into execution on Badger, whose portrait, by the way, I have never seen."
"Nor have I," I answered, "but so far as I can remember his description he is a big florid man inclined to stoutness."
"Now I come to the extraordinary part of my story," said Mr. Delahay after a pause. "Three nights after my return I went to bed as usual at ten o'clock. I read for ten minutes in bed, turned off the light, and fell into a dreamless sleep. I woke at six with a strange feeling of tiredness and restriction. I sat up on the bed and found that I was fully dressed, even to my boots, which were stained with mud; for the night before had been a wet one. Nor was this the only remarkable circumstance."
He paused and turned his solemn eves upon me.
"By the side of my bed, on a chair," he said slowly, "was my revolver. I picked it up. There were six shells in the chambers—three of those shells had been recently discharged. I looked at my hands. They were clean, but on the cuff of my shirt were half a dozen spots of blood."
He paused again, and there was no sound in the office but the sound of our breathing. Mine, I noted, was easy and regular; that of Mr. Delahay was sharp and shrill.
"What do you want me to do?" I asked at last.
"Find the man I killed," he whispered, "and hand me over to justice."
"But perhaps you didn't kill anybody?"
He shook his head.
"Perhaps," I insisted hopelessly—"perhaps you only committed suicide?"
He turned impatiently.
"I tell you I killed a man—a fortnight ago—that night I walked in my sleep. And not only did I kill him, Mr. Tyndall, but with diabolical ingenuity I must have hidden him somewhere. I know this!" He brought his fist, into violent contact with his palm. "I know it, because every second night I go to the place where I have hidden the body and bring back a handful of earth!"
He fumbled in his pocket and brought out an envelope. He shook the contents on to my blotting pad. It was London mould—unmistakable.
"I have been to the police," he went on, speaking rapidly. "They think I am mad. Mr. Tyndall, you've got to get evidence to convict me—here!"
He took from his breast-pocket a number of bank-notes and counted out three hundred pounds.
"This is a preliminary fee," he said.
I took the money mechanically. I always take money mechanically. I am a human machine, and the cogs and levers of the rejecting-money apparatus were left out when I was constructed.
"I want you to watch my house tonight," he said. '"To-night I shall walk—follow me wherever I go. I shall lead you to the spot where my unknown victim is hidden."
"One moment," I said.
I rose from my seat and crossed the room. I unlocked a cupboard and took out a small black card, and Mr. Delahay watched me.
I took a pen, dipped the holder in the inkwell, and allowed two beady drops to fall on the card's dull surface.
"Hold this," I said. "I think I know a way of finding your dead man."
He took the card dubiously.
"Look at the ink. What do you see?" I asked.
"Ink," he replied.
I suppose I looked disappointed.
"Can't you see a strange riverside house, or a bleak cottage on a moor?" I asked.
He shook his head, and I took the card from him with one hand and passed him a sheet of notepaper with the other.
"Now what do you see?" I asked.
"A piece of white paper," he said, gazing at the notepaper steadily.
He wasn't psychic, and I relieved him of the sheet with a sigh and sat at my desk. Just then the secretary entered with the information that my presence was required at Buckingham Palace, and Mr. Delahay rose.
"You know my address," he said. "It was on the letter I wrote to you asking for this appointment. I may expect you to be on duty at, say, eleven?"
I nodded, and thus we parted.
I watched him down the stairs—a grave, deliberately-moving man. No passer-by would think for a moment that behind that sober expression lay a secret such as he possessed.
Five minutes later a taxi dropped me at Scotland Yard. I carried with me to the finger-print department the white paper which Mr. Delahay in the innocence of his heart had handled after I had blackened his fingers with the charcoal slip—the slip of card on which I had dropped ink for his amusement.
Augustus, cheeriest of record-keepers, cheered me with a nod.
Without a word I handed him the digit-stained paper.
"Augustus," said I, "here are certain whorls and lines and marks that pertain to your devilish craft. Whose finger-print is this?"
He took the finger-print and examined it carefully; then he went to a certain drawer, and, taking out a card, compared it. I thought he was a little excited.
"I thought it looked rather like the finger-print we found last night, but it doesn't," he said.
"On the cash box of the Eurasian Stibillini. He was murdered last night in Wind Street."
I whistled. It was vulgar, but I whistled.
"Don't whistle," pleaded Inspector Augustus Samson. "It's unprofessional. And, besides, they've got the murderer."
"What is his name?" I asked quickly.
"Delahay," said Augustus. "They arrested him last night."
"Last night!" I said in a dream. "Why, I've just left him."
Augustus regarded me queerly.
"Have a sleep," he said, and patted me on the shoulder with offensive patronage.
IES I do not mind, always providing that they are intelligent lies. When a man comes to me and says, "Sir, I have murdered a man or a gentleman, I do not know which, and I desire that you shall discover the gentleman I have murdered and bring me to justice," I am justified in believing that he is telling me an unnecessary lie, but a clever one. When I find that a man has given me a name which rightly is not his, I know he has told me a stupid lie.
Now this is a fact: that one Stibillini died on a certain night, and that one Delahay was arrested and charged with the crime.
I have heard men employ lightly the word "hate"; I have employed it so myself. But now I know what hate means. Two men and a woman were involved. A man and a woman loved one another, and the third hated the first and loved the second.
This is how matters stood between the Eurasian, Alexander Stibillini, the English person, Charles Gibbon Delahay, and Miss Millicent Galleon, before a voice in the night, a voice of hate, and of a man half demented with rage, brought Police-Constable Halliwell, of the "Q" Division, to play eavesdropper.
Alexander Stibillini was a wealthy young man; he had something like six millions to his credit in the Bombay branch of the Bank of Calcutta—they were six million rupees, but even in that currency the sum of his fortune was considerable. He was a handsome young man of the ivory and black type, and his finger-nails were marked with a half-moon of purple red. You seldom saw his finger-nails, because he wore gloves, beautiful gloves, by Dennison, of Bond Street, who charged him ten rupees a pair, two of which represented the fair value of the gloves, and the other eight the fair value of Dennison's label.
You might not see the Orientalism expressed in his nails nor in the furnishing of his house, for he had, with rare discretion, placed the contract in the hands of the most artistic of contractors, and had not added so much as a gilt French clock to the scheme of decoration; nor might you detect the strain from his conversation, for he was Oxford all through, and there was no evidence of the chee-chee enunciation whatever, except when he was very excited, and he was wise enough never to get excited.
You might, however, go back to the dark strain if you searched with malignant diligence the parish register of the Doolali English Church—St. James', I think it is.
Here, written in clerkly hand, is the record of a marriage contracted between James Xavier Stibillini (bachelor) and Ra Patima Bawallah. I do not know how the lady obtained her name, but Stibillini was undoubtedly Corporal Stibbings, of the 42nd Regiment, who had started business as a bookmaker in Calcutta, and adopted the romantic patronymic either from some false sense of shame at so questionable a calling or as a concession to the vanity and a bait to the known bastard patriotism of the chee-chee folk.
That was in '63, and far away, and all the movements of Alexander Stibillini's ancestors were restricted by heavy and expensive mausoleums carried out by a Calcutta mason.
Alexander apparently never spoke of his forebears in terms of pride.
Nor did he speak of them in terms of opprobrium. In fact, he never spoke of them at all. He vaguely referred to his "guv'nor" or his "dear old guv'nor," but in such a way that you would never suspect, unless you were one of those interfering devils who searched parish registers, that that "guv'nor" had any reason for concealing his finger-nails.
Mostly he spoke of Jesus College, Oxford, and the awfully good chaps he had met there, such as Lord Grimball, the young Earl of Dymart, the Marquis of Telfort, and other members of an effete and decadent aristocracy. He talked of these very frequently.
He also referred to "black people" and to "natives." He spoke of these with contempt. Yet the real white people never asked Alexander Stibillini to dinner; even the poorest subaltern, up to his neck in debt, would have blushed pinky red if he had been discovered in the act of hobnobbing with this handsome young millionaire.
For by the white man's code Alexander was black—as black as the ace of spades or the nine of clubs. And according to the stupid and insular views held not only by the Raj, but by every variety of white folk sojourning in India, this B.A. of Oxford was liable at any moment to go off the handle and be as black as the sootiest of his progenitors.
There were, of course, white people who came to his dinner; white men, suave, pleasant; men who were one degree removed in the social scale from Alexander himself. They were the "buts" of Anglo-Indian society; the "Very well-to-do, but——" and the "Yes, quite good family, but——" and the "Pleasant, but——"
They filled his board and told him he was a good chap, and borrowed his money with great verve and joviality; but they were no keys for the opening of society's door, or possibly society had hastily changed its lock, and Alexander conquered nothing but a growing and a natural antipathy to expenditure which produced no results.
Then there came to Bombay a new kind of governor—a governor who was dogmatic and freaky, and after the inevitable exchange of courtesies, in the course of which his excellency referred to Bombay as the mother province of India, to the Bombay aristocracy as the salt of the earth, and to the Bombay Press as the most intelligent of all Presses, he sat down to qualify himself as the best-hated man in India.
For although in the first flush of enthusiasm the local gentry, through accredited representatives, had acclaimed him as a very desirable governor with all the latest improvements, and the Press, speaking under stress of great emotion, had asked what Bombay had done to deserve so perfect a creature, there came, first a cold politeness into the leading articles, then a chilly hauteur, and lastly a bitter and unmistakable hostility.
The reason being that his excellency was obsessed with the illusion that Black and White were One Great Brotherhood. He took up Alexander Stibillini and introduced him to people who chafed under the introduction. He did worse. He tried to force the Apollo Bund Yacht Club to accept the nomination of a black man; a real native person, whose antecedents were written in the line of the East.
Whereupon Bombay, official and unofficial, rose in its wrath, discarded all the governor's protégés, cursed the governor grievously, and told him to go to the devil.
But Alexander had profited in the interim. He had been received, he had been dined, and he had met Millicent Galleon and fallen desperately in love with her; had proposed, been rejected, had wept at her feet (that was the native in him), had threatened to kill her sooner than abandon her to another (that was not the white man showing, either), and had been kicked violently from the front door of the girl's house by Charles Gibbon Delahay, a young and handsome planter from Ceylon, who had speculated wisely and well in rubber and tea, was fairly wealthy, and, moreover, the accepted suitor of Millicent Galleon.
This incident had occurred at a dance given by Colonel Galleon, of the 99th Punjab Scouts, to which Alexander had been invited, and he had left the house via the conservatory door—hurriedly.
He stood in the moonlit garden (this scene was described to me), the big palms throwing black shadows around him, and he swore by Shiva, Jah, the God of the Hebrews, by the Prophet, and by other divinities who need not be mentioned, that he would be revenged upon Charles Gibbon Delahay.
"I tell you, Mr. Delahay, you pig. I will kill you—I will ruin you!" he screamed, and, sad to relate, his voice was wholly chee-chee, staccato, shrill and unpleasant.
"I am in love with a gracious lady," said Stibillini. He sat with Michael de Pezena and Augustus Saumarez in his elegant study, and he was nearer white in countenance than ever he had been before. "I know the ways of women, Augustus—they are weak—and one good blow at this swine of a man——"
"You are deplorably deficient in philosophy," said Michael. "Even gracious ladies fight considerably for oppressed lovers, and are apt to be wild cat-like in tenacity of purpose."
"We shall see," said Stibillini.
He came to London soon after the girl, and by that same token soon after the young man. He took a furnished house in Wind Street, Mayfair.
It was a little house, of an old-fashioned Georgian type, with a deep cavern of an area and two steps flanked by wrought-iron torch snuffers. The windows—there were two—of the ground floor front room were, save for the narrow area, flush with the street.
On the morning of the 24th of August, P.-C. Halliwell, of the "Q" Division, was walking through Wind Street. The time was 1 a.m., and the street was deserted and silent. The lighting of Wind Street was very poor, considering the aristocratic character of the neighbourhood, but the officer thought he saw somebody standing in the doorway of No. 77 (Stibillini's house). As if confirming this, immediately afterwards he heard a door slam, but whether it was the door of No. 77 or not he could not swear. He did not regard the circumstance as unusual. He went on, as was his practice, trying each door, and throwing the light of his lantern over the fastenings of the windows of the houses, till at last he came abreast of No. 77.
Here he paused, and with reason.
The blinds of the front room were drawn down, and the room itself was illuminated. Though the night was cold, both windows were open a little, and he had no difficulty in discovering that there were two men in the room, and that they were engaged in a violent quarrel. One of the voices he recognised as Stibillini's.
He had seen Stibillini on more occasions than one, and the millionaire had spoken to him.
Instinctively the officer halted at the window and listened. The Eurasian's voice was shrill and excited.
"I will not stand your threats any longer," he said.
After a little pause the other spoke.
It was a deep, low voice, not unmusical.
"You must give up all thought of Miss Galleon," he said.
"You are mad," cried Stibillini; "you are mad with jealousy! I respect and admire the lady too much to pursue her with attentions which are unwelcome. Why do you persecute me, Mr. Delahay?"
Another little pause.
"I will not only persecute you, you Eurasian dog, but I will kill you with this revolver if you do not swear that you will give up all thoughts of her...."
The listening "cop" was young and keen. He had never been engaged in a case of any importance, and he was anxious for advancement. To this end he spent much of his spare time in the schools, and not the least of his accomplishments was a knowledge of shorthand.
Delahay's voice ended abruptly, and there was a longer pause.
The constable whipped his notebook out, and, taking advantage of the silence, transcribed all that he had heard. He wondered as he wrote what the men were doing in that interval of silence. Then the voice of Delahay was heard again.
"...thoughts of her," it repeated in the same low, passionate tone. "You will sign this paper undertaking to return to India within a week or I will kill you."
"I shall do nothing of the sort."
"You will, by God!" said the voice.
"I will not. Put your revolver down. I am not afraid."
The policeman closed his book with a snap, and, stepping to the door of No. 77, knocked.
The door was opened almost immediately by Stibillini.
A dim light burnt in the hall, and by its rays the constable saw what he thought to be marks of an earlier struggle upon the Eurasian's person. His collar was unfastened, his dress-shirt crumpled, his hair awry.
"Anything wrong, sir?" asked the P.-C.
Stibillini laughed nervously, almost hysterically. He was terribly agitated, and the hand extended towards the policeman was shaking.
"Nothing—nothing, policeman," he said. He dropped a sovereign in the constable's hand. "Merely a little argument between two—two friends."
The policeman stood hesitating on the doorstop.
"You're sure everything is all right, sir?" he asked. "I've overheard certain threats——"
"It is all right. Good night, constable," interrupted Stibillini abruptly.
As the officer turned the door was closed.
P.-C. Halliwell waited for some time before the window, but he heard no more. He surmised that the men had gone to another room.
At 4.10 the constable reported the circumstances to the inspector, and was snubbed for his pains.
"Don't take too much notice of what you see and hear in Mayfair between 1 and 2 a.m.," said his superior, "or you'll make yourself unpopular, constable."
Half an hour later Halliwell was making his slow way through Half-Moon Street when he heard a police whistle blown, and running in the direction he overtook another constable, and was overtaken in turn by a fire-engine.
In Wind Street a little crowd stood surveying No. 77 with helpless interest, for No. 77, from basement to roof, was a mass of flames.
Later the firemen discovered the body of Alexander Stibillini dead, with a bullet wound through his head, and at 11 o'clock in the forenoon Charles Gibbon Delahay was arrested at his hotel in Piccadilly.
This much of the story I have told you because it is easy telling. I have clipped paragraphs from newspapers and pasted them together, except the description of Stibillini, which I acquired and elaborated from his whilom friends.
I had left Scotland Yard something confused. If my client Delahay was under arrest for the murder, how did he come to see me? And if he saw me after his arrest, how is it he did not know that Stibillini was his victim?
I went into the club to get some food and was hailed by Cummings. I didn't want to see Cummings; in fact, I think it is a mistake to allow solicitors to be members of literary clubs.
"I want you, Tyndall," he said, and remembering that he was a solicitor, his emotion was almost human.
"I am shooting in Scotland!" I snarled, but he was horribly serious, and it was about the Stibillini murder. I came back from Scotland instantly.
Down in the smoking-room he told me the story.
"Young Delahay is my client, and his father was a dear friend of mine," he said, speaking a little tremulously.
"Young Delahay!" I repeated. "How old is he?"
"Twenty-four," said Cummings.
That settled my Mr. Delahay.
"And it's horribly black against him," he went on, after he had outlined the case. "He can't account for his movements on the night. He admits he loathed Stibillini, and there is the policeman's evidence."
"Did he ever go to No. 77, Wind Street?"
"Never!" said Cummings vehemently. "He has sworn that he was never in the place in his life."
I interviewed the young man in his cell at Bow Street. A nice, clean-looking citizen, lean, and tanned by the Indian sun. He struck me as being as honest as the usual run of men. Outside I saw the gracious lady, and she was white and tense.
"It isn't true—it isn't true!" she wailed, clinging to Cummings' arm. "Gibby couldn't have done it!"
The solicitor comforted her with the conventional phrases of his craft, and whilst he was thus engaged I slipped back to the cells. The inspector in charge was a decent man, and gave me an opportunity of a private talk with Delahay, to which I was in no sense entitled.
"Tell me exactly what happened last night?" I asked.
Delahay ran his fingers through his hair.
"It sounds horribly improbable," he said slowly, "and you can believe it or not, as you wish. At 11 o'clock I received a note handed in by a special messenger, whom I did not see. The porter saw it was a rough-looking man in a new suit of clothes. He just left the letter and departed. The porter can confirm that."
"That may be used as evidence against you. The prosecution will say that it came from Stibillini, asking you to No. 77, and the policeman's evidence will support this. You say you haven't the letter?"
"I destroyed it," confessed the young man. "It was an extraordinary note. It was signed by a man I knew in India rather well, and was to the effect that he was in pretty bad trouble. I was under some obligation to him, and he asked me to keep his letter a secret. Yes, that is it—he asked me to destroy the note."
"I see," I said. "And you went?"
"Yes, I left the hotel at 11.30. He had given an address in South London. I took a street car to Brixton, and after a few inquiries I came to the road he addressed his letter from. To my surprise the house was empty. I had previously destroyed the letter, but I had taken a careful note of the address. It was No. 45, Beckenhall Road. The hour was late. I could not knock up people to discover whether I had mistaken the number, and I decided that it was a stupid hoax. It was nearly 2 before I reached the hotel."
"Again by street car?"
"Yes; there's an all-night service."
"Did you keep the tram-car ticket?"
Delahay shook his head with a rueful little smile.
"I seem to have kept nothing that would establish my innocence," he said.
"Did you know your friend's writing?"
"No, not very well. He never had occasion to write. It wasn't he; anyway, Cummings has cabled to India. Reynolds—that was the chap's name—is still in Meerut."
It was very interesting.
I left Bow Street and made my way to the hotel where he had been staying.
Yes, the hall-porter remembered a man.
"I noticed him because he wore a pretty evident suit of new clothing," said the urbane guardian.
"And had a new valise outside the door?" I suggested.
The hall-porter raised his eyebrows in astonishment.
"Yes, sir," he said. "I noticed that he had a new handbag or something of the sort."
"And was pretty anxious to get away—looked as if he were pressed for time?"
"That's right, sir," he said eagerly; "pulling out his watch all the time."
It was sufficient.
I went to the burnt-out scene of the tragedy, stopping on my way to buy a fair-sized magnet and dispatch two wires.
The police-sergeant in charge was inclined to be officious, but I showed him my Scotland Yard permit.
I devoted my attention to an examination of the room in which the fire had occurred.
"What is this?" I asked, turning over a heat-twisted entanglement of springs.
"That's a clock," said the sergeant. "Isn't it rum what a mess fire makes of things?"
There were rummer things, but I did not urge them.
I began to probe amongst the charred chaos on the floor, using my magnet as a probe. I attracted many objects, but by-and-by I found what I was looking for—two tiny nails, headless and blackened. A diligent search of an hour's duration revealed three more.
I returned to my flat at 5 o'clock to find a telegram waiting for me. It was from the captain of the Allermy liner, City of Bangor, and was handed in at Queenstown.
THE MAN YOU REQUIRE HAS LEFT THE SHIP, AND IS PROCEEDING TO LONDON.
Simple, wasn't it?
I do not give the full sworn statement of George Henry Smith because it is full of legal verbiage, but I tell you this—that a man in a brand-new suit of clothes with a brand-new valise who calls at a hotel at 11 o'clock and is fidgety over the time has a train to catch. There's an 11.30 emigrant train pulls out of Euston on Thursdays, and on the night of the murder somebody was very anxious to get that man out of England.
Here is a portion of George Henry Smith's statement:
"I am an out-of-work plasterer. On October 4th, ten days before I sailed for Canada, I was penniless and destitute. I was sleeping on a seat on the Thames Embankment when I noticed a gentleman walking slowly along. He was speaking to the men. To everyone, he gave something, a copper or a shilling or so. By-and-by he came to me.
"'What are you doing here?' he asked, and I replied that I was out of work.
"The moment I spoke he seemed to brighten.
"'You've the voice I want,' he said, and gave me a sovereign. He told me to get a new suit of clothes and come to his house in Wind Street. He was particular about the time. I went next night at 12.30. He was waiting to open the door to me. He told me he had sent his servants away. Then he told me what he wanted me for. It appears that he was going in for some theatricals. He was having a quarrel with a gentleman in the play, and he asked me to play the part of the gentleman. I'm not much of a scholar, but what there was to learn wasn't much.
"For two nights he coached me—how I'd got to raise my voice here and drop it there, and on the third night he made me speak my part into a phonograph. I spoke it about ten times before he was satisfied. On the thirteenth he told me he'd arranged my passage to Canada—a place I wanted to go to. I was to call at Wind Street at 10.30, and he'd give me a letter to deliver and fifty pounds.
"I got the letter and the money, but he made me wait till the very last minute."
So much for George Henry Smith.
I knew it was a phonograph long before I had seen the ruins of it in the burnt house or discovered the "needles" with my magnet, for did not the excellent P.-C. Halliwell in his notes tell us how there was a pause in the conversation, and how the voice of the stranger had begun all over again?
The Eurasian, who would hate the cold, had left his windows open for the policeman to hear. Moreover, he it was who had watched the constable from the shadow of the door, and when he was within distance had entered the house to set the phonograph in motion.
Stibillini shot himself because he was consumed with love and hatred, and by his suicide he hoped to encompass the death of the man who had found the happiness denied to him.
That was the native in him.
"What on earth made you say your name was Delahay?"
My client faced me in my office, and I am bound to confess that he was exceedingly apologetic.
"I saw the name in a newspaper," he said persistently. "I didn't want to give my own name."
"What is your own name?" I asked wearily.
"Coss," he said eagerly; "Felix Ferdinand Coss."
He looked wistfully at me and took an envelope from his pocket and poured the contents on his palm.
"Somewhere in London," he said bitterly, "lies a man I have killed; here is the very dust from his grave. Who is that man?"
"It wasn't Stibillini, that I'll swear," I said, preparing to leave the office. "I rather fancy the man whose death you will be responsible for is——"
I looked at him for a long time.
"Yourself," said I.
"What do you mean?" he asked, and his face went yellow.
"Wait and see," said I.
I have an idea that the phrase is not original.
Y Mr. Coss—heaven knows that I do not believe it is his real name—visited me this morning in his quiet, noiseless, hoping-for-the-best fashion, and asked for information.
He came to my office and knocked, and thinking he was a small bottle of burgundy and a chump chop which I had invited to lunch from a near-by restaurant, I said, "Come in."
"I'm afraid I'm a nuisance," said Mr. Coss.
He was very deferential for a self-confessed murderer who shot people in his sleep and hadn't sufficient acumen to make a note on his shirt cuff as to the identity of his victim.
"I'm afraid I'm a nuisance," he repeated, and sat down.
I said nothing. I do not think that he was very much afraid.
"You have no news?" he asked.
"I have no news," I answered. "I can only imagine that you dreamt the whole thing."
He shook his head.
"I do not pay £300 to detectives to investigate dreams," he said. "I have told you that I am absolutely certain that in my sleep I visit the spot where the man is buried."
"You have told me that so often that I sometimes believe it," I replied.
He was monstrously earnest as he leant over toward me.
"Why do you not shadow me?" he asked seriously. "Watch my house and follow me when I go out?"
I permitted myself the pleasure of smiling.
"Friend," said I, "you have been watched every time you have left your house. Whether you were awake or asleep when you went to the new musical comedy at the Jollity last night, I do not know—for myself I confess, that I was asleep before it was half-way through."
Surprise for Mr. Coss; surprise slightly tinctured with chagrin.
"I was awake, of course," he said. "But I returned—"
"You returned to your house at 11.38," I said, speaking from, memory. "You put on the hall light and went to your sitting-room on the first floor; at 1.25 you emerged from your house—"
"Did I?" he asked in surprise.
"You did," said I.
"But," protested Mr. Coss, "I was in bed and asleep at that time."
I looked at him.
"Did you undress in the dark?" I asked.
"No," he said. "Why do you ask?"
"Because from the moment you went in at 11.38 to the moment you came out at 1.25 your bedroom light was unlit."
I thought he sniffed, but I may have been mistaken. Yet there was triumph in his eyes.
"My bedroom is at the back of the house," he said gently, "and could not be visible from the road."
"I was watching the back of the house," said I with great amiability.
He hunched his shoulders, as a man does who is in no mood for trivialities.
"Where did I go?" he demanded.
Yes, he demanded the information with assurance, for he had paid a fee of £300, and expected to get some of it back in small talk.
"You went along the road for three hundred yards or so," I said; "once you looked round and saw nothing but a weary and belated hawker pushing a barrow and singing a merry stave or two. At the corner of Highcloud Road you stopped and looked back, as though seeking somebody, then you turned and walked slowly back to the house. You said 'Good-night' to a policeman whom you met half-way back, and re-entered your house at ten minutes before two. Am I right, sir?"
Evidently yes, for he looked down his nose.
"Which were you?" he asked, with a faint suspicion of a sneer. "The hawker or the policeman?"
I returned blandly, "I was the wheelbarrow."
He got up on his feet, a little of the dogged look which I had often noted upon his features.
"All I know," he said emphatically, "is this: somewhere and somehow I have killed a man—I am not a lunatic—I am not a criminal, as you know."
"You have taken my finger-prints," he went on, "without associating me with either class; whatever your suspicions may be as to my bona fides, you know that my money is genuine, and even an eccentric man does not give away £300 to demonstrate the fact that he is suffering from hallucinations."
I agreed cordially, and the timely arrival of Chump Chop, Esq., accompanied by that red-faced waiter from the "George" (I'm sure that that man drinks), was a pretty opportunity for putting my client out.
"Leave everything to me," I said. "I promise you that you shall hang within six weeks."
What a promise—and what a prophecy!
That afternoon I went over the circumstances and put them in order.
1. Arrival of Coss, who calls himself Delahay, who says he has murdered a man whilst he (Coss) was walking in his sleep.
2. He has, he tells me, adopted the name of Delahay on the spur of the moment, having seen the name in a newspaper. It happens that a Delahay has been arrested that day on a charge of murder. Neither Delahay nor Coss is guilty of the crime, as I might have known, and the name was probably given to stimulate my interest in the case.
3. Coss says he walks in his sleep, and periodically visits the scene of the crime, yet so far he has been no nearer the supposed scene, than one thousand yards from his house.
I went up to the Yard in the afternoon to see the Chief, and he was admirably hospitable.
"It is an interesting case," he said with a twinkle in his eye, "but I'm afraid we cannot hang your client unless he produces the body—by the way, do we know him?"
I shook my head.
"You haven't that pleasure," I said, "unless he has met you in his sleep and given you dream finger-prints."
The Chief tapped the blotting-pad absently.
"Very queer," he said. "I wonder if he has killed somebody—or is the whole thing a fake?"
I could offer no view, and rose to go.
"By the way," he said suddenly, "do you know Denver May and her pal Leggatt?"
"I know the lady very well," I replied. "May is doing fifteen years for blackmail, and Leggatt went to Monte Carlo, wrote some damned bad poetry, and died—American papers, please copy."
"Oh, yes, he died," the Chief observed. "I remember seeing the absurd obituary in the Times. But May is out."
"She is out," said the Chief grimly. "A Cabinet Minister's wife went prison-visiting and saw May gilding the angels in the chapel at Aylesbury, spoke to her, and May did her piece—the victim-of-another-or-too-young-to-know-right-from-wrong. Terribly sympathetic woman, Lady Sybil—anyway, May is out, being wept over at this moment by the Society for Putting the Police in their Place."
Excellent man, the Chief, with a sense of mordant humour—or a mordant sense of humour—whichever way you like to have it.
So May was about and Leggatt was dead.
Query: Would it be better that Leggatt was about and May was dead? I asked myself this on my way to the Lambs' Club, and was still asking the question when Charlie Pieds said savagely, "Two no-trumps, and for the love of Mike wake up that damn split!"
Me being the "split."
And I thought how antiquated these journalists are! Here was Charles, a wide man, an associate of criminals, Cabinet Ministers, and aviators, who should know that "split" was as obsolete a term to apply to a detective as is the word "tec," or "nark," either. Now, May knows that a detective is a "busy," or a "busy fellow," and that a policeman is a "flattie."
May—who hates me with a black and deadly hatred—May whom I sent with her baby face to fifteen years of hell—out—!
"I called for a spade," said Charles wearily, "and you gave me the ace of diamonds! Really, even for a policeman, you're dense!"
Leggatt hated me, too. How he sobbed in the big marble hall of the Old Bailey when May was sentenced! He would have given his soul for her—Leggatt was dead!
I left the Lambs' Club a ruined man. Once I had a reputation as a player of auction bridge, but now, as I descended the stairs, the very club waiters seemed to be whispering to one another, "There goes the man that led away from an ace-queen suit."
The Embankment was dark and cool, and free from sauntering pedestrians. It was distracting, too, by reason of the advertisements that blazed on the Surrey shore.
I found myself walking towards Blackfriars Bridge, with matters ordered in my mind.
Coss must be dismissed—if necessary I must hand back so much of his three hundred pounds as was left. I hated to do it—oh, heavens, how I hate to give money back to people! But there was no help for it.
I am not avaricious, nor am I a spendthrift forever needing financial assistance, but I know what I can do with money, and how much good, solid, back-aching work the possession of money can help one avoid.
I reached Cleopatra's Needle, and so did the man who had been watching the Lambs' Club and had followed me along the Embankment. On each side of the Obelisk there are steps leading down to the water, and after a moment's hesitation I turned into the recess and took a couple of steps down the granite stairway. Below I could hear the lapping of the black waters as they rose and chug-chugged against the lowermost step.
Then, at a moment which I deemed expedient, I turned and flashed an electric pocket-lamp upon the man who crouched behind me ready for a spring.
"Hello!" said I. "Who are you?"
His face was all lop-sided with fear and anxiety. He was paralysed with fright at my discovery.
"Who are you?" I asked again, and tapped with the muzzle of my revolver against his waistcoat button a till it rested in the region of his stomach.
"I'm—I'm nobody, sir," his teeth chattered through his shaking lips. "I—I just happened to see you go in—here—thought you were going to suicide,"
"Liar and thief," said I, without heat. "You came to do me in."
"If I drop dead this minute—" began Mr. Nobody.
"You will if you don't keep your hands away from your pocket," I said.
I caught him by the arm and pushed him on to the pavement.
I did not know him; I had never met him before in all my life. He was an under-developed man of twenty-eight, poorly dressed, his shoes were dropping from his feet, a dirty blue scarf about his neck.
Here are my notes:
Height, 5' 5".
Eyes, blue—small (incipient cataract in right eye).
Nose, No. 15.
Mouth, No. 17.
Name, William Smith.
"I give you my word, sir," he protested as a taxi whirled us to my office, "if I never git orf this seat—"
"Oh, shut it!" said I.
In my office I looked him over.
"Ever been in prison?" I asked.
"If the Lord was to—" he began.
What a horribly monotonous devil he was.
Yes, he had been in prison; "three carpets and a stretch," he admitted, "with a bashing thrown in," he added on persuasion.
He had had the supreme distinction of having been tried for murder.
"But," said he, trembling with pride, "they couldn't prove I struck the fatal blow, to wit, Mary Ann Slowser, the deceased."
You observe he was versed in the terminology of the law, though somewhat hazed in its proper application.
I found him a whisky and soda, started my electric stove for his comfort—it was a coldish kind of night—and sat down to get my facts.
"Now, I tell you, Bill," said I, before we got started, "for Bill I suppose your name is?"
He nodded vigorously.
"If I was struck blind this minute, governor," he said conventionally, "my name is Bill."
"That you will be blind I do not doubt," I said, "for you have, unless I am mistaken, an ominous thickening of the right iris—you don't see well?"
"No, sir," he said, with all the absurd pride in infirmity which characterises the lower order, "I don't."
"Tell me first who sent you out to cosh me, William?"
Bill was considerably agitated.
"Mr.—I don't know your name—if—"
I stopped him.
"We will take it for granted," I said, "that in the event of your lying, you express the hope that you will be dead, blind, stiff, dumb, pink, blue, paralysed, and immortally damned, but do not waste time in oaths, for I am a busy man, a Wesleyan Methodist and a policeman. Who sent you?"
"Nobody," said Bill.
"Who sent you?"
"Nobody," said Bill.
"Come over here."
He got up and walked to where I stood.
"Who sent you?"
"Nobody," said Bill.
I feigned to hit him with my left. He was considerably astonished, and lay on his back on the floor for quite a time, addressing remarks to his gods.
"Get up," said I.
"Not me," said Bill.
"Get up," said I persuasively, "or I'll kick you to death."
I don't suppose I should have kicked him to death because I should have known where to stop. Anyway, Bill got up.
"Who sent you?"
"A party," said Bill, touching his ear with his hand and examining his hand disapprovingly at intervals.
"What sort of party, you paltry fellow?" I asked.
Bill saw it was business meant and nothing else.
"Lock me up," he suggested, and was on the point of weeping—"lock me up—send for a policeman, an' I'll give you in charge."
"Who was the party? Man or woman?" I asked—do you marvel at my patience?
I laid my hand with some difficulty upon his shoulder. He didn't want my hand there, and backed into a corner.
"Listen, Bill," said I, kindliness itself, "tell me the yarn and I'll give you a sovereign; keep it to yourself and I'll throw you out of the window. And if you start yelling I'll kill you. You are a burglar, Bill, and a murderer, Bill, and everybody will say, 'Serve you right.'"
He wasn't all fool.
"I'll split," he said after a while. "You're a bit too thick, you are, Mr. Tynedale—you ain't allowed to do this by lore, you know."
"Blow the lore," said I.
He had been approached by a man who knew his antecedents and had been promised £150 "in golden pounds" if he "did up" a certain, obnoxious person, to wit, me. Fifty pounds in cash down, remainder to be left at a certain public-house in Lambeth, with the mysterious words, "Bill's rent money." Employer unknown to Bill, about the same-sized man as himself, but stouter, spoke with a foreign accent which Bill thought was French, but since Bill regards all languages as French that aren't English, and France as the only country which may be truly described as "foreign" (Germany only being a political catch-word), this opinion was of doubtful value.
Employer met employed by appointment on Hungerford Footbridge, and handed Bill a type-written list of my appointments for the next two days. I took the somewhat grimy list and examined it.
Tvpewritten on a slip of common typewriting paper, with a "monarch" visible. Finger-marks—Bill's, obviously. Name of public house where employer would arrive with the words "Bills rent money," the "Little Roebuck Arms," in South Esher Street. All these facts were duly noted on my pad.
"You understand. Mr. Tynedale," said Bill, and I stopped him right there.
"Who told you my name?" I asked.
"The party," said Bill.
"Did he call me Tynedale?"
"Of course that mightn't be your name," he said, "but no offence is meant—you see, sir, I wasn't goin' to do you in reely. My idea or plan, so to speak, was to put you to sleep comfortable, and then leave you—do you understand me rightly?"
I understood him very rightly.
I went to a drawer in my bureau and took out a sovereign and handed it over, and Bill thanked me kindly.
"I bear no malice," he said at parting.
"But I do," I replied, "so you'd better get out whilst you're alive."
Bill got out.
Who would employ a "Bill" to do me up?
Denver May might—so might Leggatt if he were not sleeping the sleep under a Christian symbol in Monte Carlo—others there were who would be glad to see me out of the way.
I went to bed that night, and for the first time for many years I locked the bedroom door. It was curious that I should have done so. And I took the key out and examined it. Excellent! There were oil marks on the ward. I went to the outer door of the flat and examined the key of that. Oil marks also. "God bless the unknown benefactor who had performed this little act of kindness," said I as I closed the door again. I rang for my valet, and he came in his pyjamas, blinking sleepily.
"Did a man call to-day to see about the locks?" I asked.
"He called this evening, sir," said servitor. "He brought a letter from the estate office—I watched him very carefully, sir—have you lost anything?"
"Nothing," said I.
The lock of his room had not been touched.
"I'm afraid you'll have bad news to-night," said I.
He was startled.
"Indeed, sir!" said he.
"You will hear that your brother has had a bad accident," I said.
"I have no brother," he said with a smile. "I have only a sister and an uncle."
"Your sister will be dangerously ill—does she live in London?"
He shook his head.
"Then I'm afraid," said I, "that it is your uncle or nothing."
I had hardly spoken the words when the telephone bell rang insistently. Henry went to the study to answer it, and came back with a face on which concern, wonder and suspicion ran neck and neck.
"My uncle's house has been burnt, sir," he said. "Did you hear anything about it?"
I shook my head.
"They want you to come at once, I suppose?" I suggested. "Your aunt is burnt and your uncle is delirious?"
"Did you hear, sir?"
"Hop it, Henry," I said irritably.
He dressed himself in a hurry and left. Turning out the lights I watched the street. There was a convenient taxi which he hailed—nay, it almost hailed him. I watched it disappear round the corner, and I knew that Henry would not come back that night, however much he might want to.
I waited a while in my bedroom, pulled down the blinds, and busied myself with my wardrobe.
"They," whoever "they" might be, had got Henry away; they had fixed my lock and the lock of the front door so that they could come in just when they wanted; it only remained for me to give them a welcome.
I waited for an hour, sitting in my felt boots behind the door of the valet's room, which commanded a view of the hall door and my own bedroom door, but there was no sound. But I am a patient man, and an hour or so is nothing to the hunter after big game.
Three o'clock struck and nothing doing. Four o'clock boomed, and still no sign. Five o'clock and light. There was nothing to hope for in the way of excitement. I came out from my place of concealment, the hammer of my revolver up, for others might easily play the game of waiting with equal patience.
The hall was clear. I opened the front door, the corridor was clear. I heard a step upon the stairs and stood ready.
It was Henry, my valet, dishevelled and weary; full of woe, a gramophone record of the Book of Lamentations.
"Out to Sevenoaks this here taxi drove me, sir," he said bitterly, "full lick through the Old Kent Road—Lewisham—me trying to open the doors—sort of locked they were—and the windows. When I got there he unlocks the door, I gets out, he bangs the door, hops on his seat and drives away!"
"Make me some coffee," I said, "and don't gas so much, dear Henry."
I was distressed to hear the native Bermondsey of him sounding through the enamel of the Belgravian servants' hall.
He clanked about in the kitchen, damning everybody and everything, forgetful of his incendiarised uncle and his poor burnt aunt.
I wrote a note to the Chief, asking for an interview.
I opened the window of the study for a little fresh air—they would scarcely shoot in broad daylight, even if they could. Happily, there was no fear of this, for the wall opposite is a blank one, being the end wall of the new Elysium Hotel.
I looked out on the birth of day and sniffed the sweet fresh air. Looking along the wall of the flats my line of vision was obstructed by the service lift which fed my kitchen and the kitchens of all the misters and missuses of our block.
What could be easier, thought I, than for the malicious minded to effect an entrance by that same service lift? There was a little balcony to the kitchen from whence Henry was wont to take in supplies and hurl down abuse upon the suppliers. A man could gain the window of my bedroom easily enough, up the lift, on to the balcony, and along the parapet. Fortunately the lift squeaked and clanked most appallingly. They might grease the runners—
By the Lord High Advocate, somebody had greased the runners!
I could see it from where I stood. The two posts of the lift literally ran with fat, and I do not doubt that the hoisting apparatus had been similarly treated.
I brought my head back into the room, and found Henry waiting with a steaming cup of coffee.
Why had they not made the attempt?
Perhaps they had. Perhaps they had entered the room and found it empty and had departed without attempting to search the flat. There would be no difficulty. I slept with my window open.
I put down the cup and went to my bedroom. The blinds were down, and I switched on the light. I can pull a gun as quick as any man—and I did.
Lying on my bed was a man—none other than my friend William Smith, the giver of the information.
I put up my revolver, there was no need to fire.
William Smith was already dead—had been dead some hours, shot through the heart, I gathered.
A dirty trick to play on me.
"Of course," said the Chief, "they counted on your suspicions being aroused, and knew that you would be out of the room. They probably knew exactly where you were—clever devils."
Clever indeed! I know they were clever because I felt such an ass.
OOR William Smith! With your records of "stretches" and "laggings," of "carpets" and "bashings," with your infernally glib oaths, into the dark you have gone with a bullet through the left ventricle of your heart, slain by some person or persons unknown—a fact testified by twelve owl-like representatives of your fellow-countrymen.
Poor William Smith! You had relatives, too, a rusty-black sister, red-nosed with weeping, a tatterdemalion brother, holder of horses' heads when horses abounded, now a watcher of motor-lorries what time the lorry driver drinks his pint of ale.
All attested to William's qualities as a brother and a man.
"All," I say, for there was also an aunt. God knows that there is none of us so poor in relatives that we do not possess an aunt.
Aunt last saw deceased alive at eight o'clock on the fatal evening. Deceased had a sovereign which, it was necessary that he should explain to impeccable aunt, was honestly come by. They had two half-quarterns of whisky, and Elf said, "I must be getting on."
Alas! poor William Smith! His name was Elf, moreover—such are the mysteries revealed in death—his name was not even "Smith," but "Migger."
I gave my evidence, and, acting on instructions, I lied. For though I admitted that I knew "Migger," alias Smith, that I had met him and had given him a sovereign (the change was in his pocket when found), I did not state the peculiar circumstances under which we had met.
Nor did I disclose the fact that tucked in the dead man's waistcoat, as he lay upon my bed, was a typewritten note which ran:
Look out, Tyndall. The same for yours as soon as convenient.
The verdict was, as I have suggested, one of murder against some person or persons unknown.
With its insatiable passion for riders, the jury had added the evident fact that the carrying of firearms by unauthorised persons should be stopped.
I stood in the dingy court with a loaded Browning in each hip pocket, and heartily subscribed to those sentiments.
With me was my client, Mr. Coss, somewhat disappointed, as you may guess, for having heard (as he told me) that I had at last discovered the relic of a murder he had hastened joyfully in the hope that I had at last associated him with a crime.
We walked back to the West together.
"Where could I see you to-night?" he asked.
I quizzed him.
"You always ask me that question?" I said.
He looked at me steadily.
"Isn't it natural?" he asked.
"Very natural, and very proper," said I, "only when the late William Smith, or Elf Migger, as the case may be, attempted to assassinate me on the Thames Embankment, and when I had persuaded him to give me a little information as to the cause of his sudden uncharity, and the name or names of his employers, he handed me a typewritten slip, giving a full list of all my engagements, and exactly where I should be at certain hours."
"But," Mr. Coss broke in, hastily for him, "I am not the only person who knows your plans."
"You were the only person who knew I was going to the National Gallery at 1 p.m.; to a matinée of 'Peter Pan' at 3 p.m.; to the Lambs' Club at 5.30 p.m.," said I, "because I never had the slightest intention of going to any of those places, except the club, and only gave them to you because I did not wish to be found."
"H'm," said Mr. Coss. It seemed the only thing to say under the circumstances.
We went up to my office—I invited him up.
"Some time ago," said I, "you came to me with the information that you had decided, weary of life, to end it."
"You told me that you were induced, through the reading of a book, to change your plans, to choose the worst man in the world and kill him, taking your chance with the law!"
"That you could not decide as to whom you would slay, though you sought diligently for the name of enemies of society, and that at last you hit upon two men, both of whom were associates of Denver May."
"That is so," he said. Then, quickly, "Who is Denver May?"
"These two men," said I, ignoring the question, "were friends of that arch-blackmailer, or blackmailess. One was a man named Leggatt and the other a gentleman named Talking Jimmy!"
He nodded again.
"Jimmy, neither you nor I have seen," I went on. "He has made one or two artistic attempts to put me amongst the glorious memories of the past, but I have not consciously seen him." He nodded. "But Leggatt went to Monte Carlo and died of pneumonia?"
"That is so," he agreed. "I found his grave, and felt hurt that I had been thwarted of my prey."
"I sympathise with you," said I, "whilst I deprecate the melodramatic language you employ. Leggatt, then is dead. Talking Jimmy is in—"
"America," said Mr. Coss promptly.
"Talking Jimmy, the confidence man and spinner of wonderful tales, is in America; Denver May is living at 182, Panton Street as Madame Fournier—"
He looked at me sharply.
"I thought Denver May was in gaol," he said, "doing fifteen years."
"My friend," said I patiently, "a certain big-wig saw May gilding the angels in a Catholic chapel at Aylesbury and was moved to tears; she described the scene to her husband, and he was moved to tears: there may have been a cabinet council where everybody wept together, but certain it is that angel-gilding May is free."
"H'm," said Mr. Coss again. Then, "Well, what is the end of all this?"
"We were nearing the end," said I, "when the man whom I shall call Bill Smith, because the name somehow fitted him, was killed because certain people thought he had betrayed them. We were very near the end indeed."
He did not move in his chair; not a movement of hand or eye betrayed his emotion—if he felt emotion. When he spoke it was in that peculiarly monotonous tone which I knew so well.
"This brings us no nearer to the discovery of my victim, at any rate," he said. "I have paid you £300 as an earnest of my bona fides. I have asked you to track me down, to unravel the mystery of my assassination. The man I killed when I walked in my sleep—and buried. Here!"
He directed his hand into his pocket and produced a familiar envelope; shook out the too familiar dust.
"Last night," he said impressively, "when you were engaged elsewhere, I walked to the grave of my victim—here is a bundle of earth—"
What could I say?
"From this night onward your place will be watched," said I briskly, and his face brightened; "wherever you go, I will follow; to-night we clear up the mystery of the dream-murder. Allons!"
That afternoon I called on Madame Fournier at 182, Panton Street. Madame occupied a suite on the second floor, and I was admitted by a trim little waiting-maid with a sad face.
"My girl," said I, in my heartiest, man-of-forty manner, "I wish to see your mistress."
The sad girl shook her white-capped head.
"She is lying down, sir," she said.
"Nevertheless, I will see her," said I. "What is your name?"
"Mary, sir," said the girl.
"Mary McCarthy," said the girl, big-eyed and innocent.
I grinned mirthfully.
"I like to keep track of your names," I said, "because the last time we met your hair was dark and your name was Golding, Henrietta Golding, and you were undergoing nine months for passing counterfeit coin."
"Damn!" said the little lady. "Come in, Mr. Tyndall—you make my neck ache."
Madame Fournier was not lying down; she was sitting up, and writing vigorously. She wore a dressing-jacket of old lace and a boudoir cap which was at once ravishing and expensive.
"Come in, Tyndall," she said with a smile, and put down her cigarette. "Won't you have a drink?"
"Tea," said I, "and only one lump of arsenic, if you please."
She smiled again.
"You amuse me," she said, "as if I didn't know that the whole of this house, back and front, wasn't watched by a young army of busy fellows. I'll bet there's somebody on the roof."
"You've won," said I.
She rang the bell, and the waiting-maid came in.
"Two cups of tea," she said, "and no cyanide for Mr. Tyndall—he's dieting."
"Well, May," said I, "and how did Aylesbury agree with you?"
She looked pretty straight at me with those china blue eyes of hers, and let out a long whiff of smoke before she answered.
"Fine," she said at last, but with no enthusiasm, "but somewhat dull."
I saw the red go up to her cheekbones, and guessed the black rage in her heart.
"Do you know what it means?" she asked, "prison for a woman like me with a certain sense of refinement, a love for pretty things, and a craving for ease?"
"I can guess," said I. "It is rather lamentable, is it not, that in this fine body of yours lives a cruel and as remorseless a spirit as it has been my lot to encounter—that side by side with this delicacy runs a ruthlessness and a cunning beyond understanding?"
She nodded sulkily, then burst into a peal of laughter.
It did one good to hear May laugh, so sweet and soft it was; to see the two straight rows of white teeth, the red lips, the splendid curve of her throat as she flung her head back.
She had blackmailed men till in a frenzy they had hanged themselves; she had driven one woman into a lunatic asylum; and here she was, the gilder of angels, the mover to tears, a free woman and laughing.
"You are so funny," she said, wiping her eyes with a ha'porth of silvery cobweb (so it seemed), "especially when you get on to the psychological track—now, what do you want?"
She was business-like and alert. She sat up in the high-backed chair at her desk and pulled greedily at her cigarette.
What I had to say could wait, for the maid brought in the tea and favoured me with a smile.
"You know Henrietta, obviously," said May. "Stay and have tea with us, dear," she said.
"Thanks—no," said the maid decidedly. "Tyndall gives me the creeps."
"He gives us all the creeps," said May ruefully, but I am not easily flattered.
"What is it you want?" asked May when the girl was gone.
"I want Leggatt," I said.
"Leggatt is dead," she answered.
"Yet you are not in mourning."
She shrugged her pretty shoulders.
"One has no time for mourning," she said.
"You are not even in mourning for William Smith?" I suggested, and she looked blank. I did not trouble to explain.
"May," said I, after a little pause. "I have come to plead for a man—yes, for a man," her start of surprise was not affected. "Years ago when you first started on your downward career, a man saw you and fell in love with you. A good man, too, who was attached to the police in Denver City."
"Who was he?" she asked with a natural interest.
"You never met him—he worshipped at a distance," I said. "He couldn't believe that you were bad, and when he found out it broke his heart. Oh, you heart-breaker!"
I shook my finger waggishly, but May was serious-minded.
"When you came to Europe he was here; it was his duty, as he conceived it, to thwart you in your various exploits. It was part of his duty to go into the box at the Old Bailey and say the words which sent you to penal servitude—yet in his heart of hearts he loved you."
She looked at me, rose slowly from her chair and came over to me.
"You?" she whispered.
I said nothing.
"You!" she whispered again, half to herself. "My God!"
So we stood, looking at each other, staring into one another's souls, seeking what comfort we could find. Denver May and John Tyndall, detective.
She put up her hands and covered her face. The diamond that sparkled on the third finger of her left hand was the last gift of old Snow Taggett, whom she hounded to a miserable death.
"Go away, will you?" she said suddenly.
Her face was white—even her lips had lost their colour.
I went to the door and opened it.
"One moment," she said. "When I was released from Aylesbury somebody sent me three hundred pounds in notes—was it you?"
"Guilty," said I, and closed the door softly behind me.
Ah, well! Allow me this diversion. I know a Cabinet Minister who chews tobacco, and a judge of the Appeal Court who plays baccarat. Grant me something of romance and a memory fragrant as violets. For who cares in what muck-soil a flower grows. God help us all!
I went down to Scotland Yard to see the Chief, but he was out. Superintendent Boscombe was in, and saw me at once.
"I think you'll have to take May again," I said. "She's been writing to old Lord Veralash—I saw an envelope addressed to him on her desk this afternoon, and a half-finished letter heavily underlined."
"That's bad," said Boscombe. "I suppose there's no use in watching pillar boxes for that sort of correspondence?"
I shook my head.
"G.P.O. or nothing," said I, knowing my May. "I suppose you keep one of your young gentlemen permanently employed keeping tag of her movements?"
"I keep two," said the superintendent. "How many do you think I ought to have?"
"Two hundred," said I.
Now for Talking Jimmy.
For Jimmy is in London—that I'll take as many oaths to as the late William Smith would have taken. Jimmy the Talker, the plausible, the splendidly gab-gifted.
Ah, ha! Jimmy, watch me!
And Leggatt, the dead man of Monte Carlo. Decently interred vide my Mr. Coss, the wept and the sung, though the song were the veriest doggerel of an obituary inserted by a respectable journal at so much a line.
What of this Leggatt? If he is in hell—for where else could he be, the blackmailing, murderous dog—if he walks on the hot side of the Styx, then I am a grievously mistaken man.
My Mr. Coss returned to his suburban house at 9.30 on the night I saw May.
He came in a taxi-cabriolet, and argued with the driver as to the fallibility of the taximeter. Paid under protest. Cab dismissed. (No. 98,711, L.C. 14,713.) Coss goes to his door, looking neither right nor left. Enters, closes door. Light in the hall three seconds later. Light in sitting-room twenty seconds later. (He was, of course, scanning the letters which he had found in the letter-box.) Light out in dining-room at 9.53. Light on in back bedroom 9.55, Light out in back bedroom 10.27.
So far so good.
Mr. Coss, inscrutable and innocent murderer, we may suppose is tucked away between linen sheets in his striped pyjamas.
Three hours are supposed to elapse.
At one-thirty as the clock was striking the front door opens and Mr. Coss comes out, closing the door behind him.
An alert detective, watching him from the opposite side of the road, noted most of these happenings.
Looking neither to the right nor to the left, Mr. Coss strode quickly in the direction of Kensington.
The detective followed at his heels. With unerring instinct, as it seemed, the first man made his way toward Notting Hill.
He turned into Ladbroke Grove—at this end a broad sedate thoroughfare of large houses. His pursuer thought for a moment that the "sleeper" had taken Notting Dale for his objective, but in this he was mistaken, for he suddenly stopped in his stride, turned and passed through the gate of an empty house.
It was an old house, the detective could see this even by so scanty a light as a street lamp afforded. The garden was rank with weeds, the stucco broken from the damp walls, showing the naked brick beneath.
From the gate the detective watched Mr. Coss as he slowly mounted the six limestone steps which led up to the doorway. From his waistcoat pocket the elder man took a key, slipped it into the lock and turned it. The front door swung open and the man passed through.
The watching detective followed noiselessly. The door had been left ajar, but the watcher made no attempt to follow. Instead he returned to the garden gate, whistling a little tune thoughtfully.
It was a quarter of an hour before the door opened again and Mr. Coss came out. It is a remarkable fact that he did not attempt to shut the door behind him.
A splendid opportunity this for the watcher, if he desired a leisurely examination.
But did he? No.
Coss stepped briskly down the path and came to where the detective stood at the gate. The light from a street lamp nearly shone upon the detective's face, and Mr. Coss, the sleepwalker, the sub-conscious dreamer, became suddenly very much awake.
"Why—why!" he stammered, "I thought you were Tyndall!"
The tall man who had shadowed him shook his head.
"No, Jimmy," he said regretfully. "I am only a commonplace, detective chief-inspector."
"My name is Coss," said the other loudly.
"Your name is Badger—commonly known as 'Talking Jimmy.' Goin' quietly?"
Jimmy said nothing, but reached quickly for his gun. Then somebody hit him with a slug on the head, and that shook him up a little.
Whilst he was wondering in a dazed way whether it would be etiquette for him to lie down and nurse himself, the door of the house was flung open violently and a man came running out, pursued, it would seem, by half the metropolitan police force.
He took the steps in one leap. Then from nowhere in particular a man appeared and tackled him. A big man, who gripped the fugitive Leggatt by the throat and shook him considerably.
"It's all right, Tyndall," gasped Leggatt. "I'll go quietly!"
Like a fool I thought I had him beat, and released my hold. As I did so a fountain of fire zipped up at me, and a bullet perforated the brim of my hat. He shot twice at the police before he leapt the wall and disappeared.
I interviewed Jimmy in the cells.
"Mr. Tyndall, I am anxious to know for future guidance," he said intelligently, "in what way I erred. I gave you the best story I have ever invented in order to bait you to Leggatt. You had never seen me in your life. Will you, as a brother brush, offer a struggling artist a few hints on construction?"
I smiled; the appreciation of this maker of fiction was very flattering.
"With pleasure," I replied, "and I will group the main observations under headings.
"1. Leggatt dies at Monte Carlo in June. No man goes to Monte Carlo in June unless he is mad. The hotels are closed, the streets are like a furnace.
"2. He dies of bronchitis 'from sleeping out in a cold wind.' Cold winds in June!
"I am charging you with conspiracy, Jimmy," I went on. "I may even charge you with the murder of one William Smith."
"State's evidence for mine," said Jimmy promptly. "Produce your stenographer, and I'll give you the synopsis of a thrilling serial."
And this he did, to Leggatt's embarrassment. He did not mention Denver May, for which I was a little grateful, but he said a lot about Leggatt. Leggatt, who had died in Monte Carlo to allay my suspicions, who had come to life again—well, I guessed his plan by the big grave he had dug in the kitchen of the empty house.
A clever plan wasn't it?
As for Leggatt he is free for the moment, but I am coming along.
Continental papers, please copy.
HERE was a man named Talking Jimmy, who, in conjunction with one Leggatt, shot and killed a poor devil of a convict named William Smith.
They shot him and they brought him in a cab to my flat—they and their confederates—and, having wilfully aroused my suspicions and lured away my servant—I assisted in the luring—they brought the body of William Smith on the service lift to my flat. There they laid him on my bed, and there I discovered him.
That Jimmy did the shooting, we know, because poor William Smith was killed by shots from revolvers of two different calibres, and it is also known that he was killed at King's Wharf, Lambeth, whither he had gone to meet his employers.
There was a man, I say, named Talking Jimmy, and you will observe that I italicise the word "was" because Jimmy is no longer with us, having died at Pentonville Gaol.
He died talking.
I saw him two days before his execution, and he sat at one end of a long table and I sat at the other, and he talked most of the time.
"And to think," he said, "that I paid you three hundred pounds or a trifle over fifteen hundred dollars to hang me!"
He laughed, and I think he was genuinely amused.
On one matter he sought information. Would he be hanged in his own clothing or in the sorry convict garb he wore?
I assured him that he would wear the clothes he wore at the trial, and he seemed relieved.
I stood for a long time in the governor's room wondering whether it was my duty to give him away and let the Law take its course, for I guessed that he was going to die as his sometime friends Lew Sillet and Ferdie Ross and Big Jack Cutler had died in the Tombs Prison, and as I knew the whole of that gang had died or were prepared to die.
In the end I left him to go out in his own way.
They brought his clothes at six o'clock the next morning, and he dressed himself, talking to the warders. He knelt by his bed, and they let him remain there for a quarter of an hour, and all the time he was talking to himself and they thought he was praying. He may have been, but it was not like Jimmy. Then he suddenly fell backward on the cell floor, and before they could get a doctor, the hangman with his oiled straps had been cheated. Jimmy was dead.
Cyanide of potassium was the poison—cyanide moulded into the shape of a coat button and coloured to match.
Jimmy had wrenched the dope from his coat without difficulty, and that was the end of him.
I read the story in an evening paper. In a way it spoilt a prophecy of mine, but, after all, what is a prophecy more or less?
Leggatt had gone—out of England, I had every reason to believe. Denver May, whom I saw on the day of Jimmy's passing, offered me no clue to his whereabouts. She was milder in manner than I ever remember her.
"Jimmy's gone," was all the reply she vouchsafed. "You know where he is—let Leggatt go."
I shook my head. I spend my life shaking my head to absurd suggestions.
"Would I let you go, May, if I had the chance of taking you?" I asked.
She smiled faintly. "I do not think so," she said. "But then you will never have the chance of taking me, so why discuss what you would do?"
I confess my heart beat a little faster at her words, and she laughed at me with her eyes.
"You're quite red in the face, Mr. Tyndall," she said mockingly. "Surely the prospect of missing the humble addition to your bag doesn't worry you?"
She knew that that was not it.
"I'm out of the business for good," she said quietly. "I've sent away Henrietta, and I'm earning my living by writing—not the old kind of writing," she added with an attempt at facetiousness. "And I only ask one favour from you."
"What is that?" I asked cautiously. And she laughed again.
"What a man!" she cried, appealing to the ceiling. "You should say it is granted before you ask it."
I smiled, but did not comply with the suggestion.
"I don't want you ever to remind me of the past," she said, and laid her hand upon my shoulder as she looked me straight in the eye. "I ask you that. I do not seriously ask you to spare Leggatt. He must take his chance. But you must not expect me to betray him. He loves me, and people do not betray those whom they love unless they are police officers."
I think she saw I was hurt, for she gripped my arm with both her hands and looked up into my face.
"I didn't mean that," she said impulsively. "It was a rotten thing to say. I shouldn't like you if you didn't do your duty. Ah, dearie—" She bit her lip and stepped back, rosy with confusion.
"Some day God shall judge us both," said I, and I took her—this blackmailer—took her in my arms and held her tight for the space of a minute.
I did not kiss her. I just released her and went away, and I never saw her again for seven months.
Leggatt was on the Continent, and Leggatt wanted catching. Everybody wanted to catch him, and everybody tried to catch him except me. I am not a lazy man, but I do not like being bothered, and nothing bothers me so much as work.
Leggatt by profession is a train robber and bank smasher, and when the French Government sent me some interesting particulars concerning repeated robberies of bullion on various trains and invited me across, I was not feeling well.
My symptoms were weariness whenever I approached anything bearing the faintest resemblance to duty, boredom in the presence of a client, however highly placed, and the only relief I found was auction bridge taken steadily from 3 p.m. to 3 a.m., with intervals for food.
So that when I heard that the Government of France had invited Bolsover to come to Europe to take up the case I said "Vive la République!" and would have given the Chicago detective a clear field but for the fact that M. Levine pointedly referred to my contract with the Government and demanded as politely as possible what the devil I thought I was drawing fifteen hundred francs a month for?
Curiously enough I never realised till long after the visit of Bolsover, until I knew "dead" Leggatt was alive, that he was the gentleman who was lifting bullion and filling in his spare time with visits to England.
Bolsover had been on his track for months before I went after him.
Everybody knows and respects Bolsover. Everybody else knows Tyndall. Tyndall, moreover, is a modest and lazy man and inconsequent. Everybody—the same "everybody" who knows and respects Bolsover—complains bitterly about the inconsequence of Tyndall.
Now Bolsover is another kind of man. He is the man who tracked down the Denver Dynamitards. He is the man who unveiled the corruption of the San Dominico police department. He is the most brilliant detective in the United States of America. Examine his photograph. You can never hope to examine him, for if he meets you professionally he will be disguised. He is always disguised—sometimes as a Tough, sometimes as a Bluff. If you see a cable car behaving in an eccentric manner on the street, examine it closely. It is probably Bolsover. If you hear the pulsating drone of a monoplane in the dark hours of the night and a despairing shriek, have no fear for the safety of pretty Nina Valleacci, carried by force from her palatial home in Versailles by the emissaries of the B——k H——d, for somewhere in the whirling Gnome engine, hidden by chance in one of the flat sausage-like cylinders, is a lithe form with flashing eyes and .48-Colt automatic. It is Bolsover! And so forth and so on.
Bolsover in private life is an unpretentious man—at least, he would be if he were ever in private life. He wears a low collar, a low Derby hat, and a pair of low shoes. 'Lo, 'Lo! Bolsover, are you there?
His face is calm, immobile, impassive. His lips are tightly pressed on a cigar, and his hand is lightly pressed on his bank roll. He speaks in monosyllables, such as "Yes!"—"No!"—"Ha!"—"Gee!"—"Hell!"
This is the impression I have about Bolsover, and I have gained it rather from an erratic perusal of admiring journals than from any knowledge of the man.
It was in the summer, at a time when the patience of the French Government was all but exhausted, that Bolsover in the flesh was pointed out to me. It was at Ascot, and I was explaining to a Scotland Yard man why I hate work, when he said with a sudden start:
"Hello! there's Bolsover!"
I looked round for the horse. I had no idea it was running.
Bolsover had dressed for Ascot because he had learnt in his sleuth-like way that Ascot was a dressy function. Ordinary people wore frock or morning coats, glossy silk hats, and trousers of a dark grey stripe super-impressed upon a much darker grey. The daring ones wore spats of snowy whiteness, the gay ones wore carnations in their buttonholes. Bolsover wore a check suit which conveyed the illusion you were looking through a grating. He had a white straw hat with the red ribbon of his college. He had a home-made tie that said: "I'm a-coming!" very loudly. His yellow boots contrasted prettily with the verdant splendours of the lawn.
One of the stewards came to me and asked me if I could get Bolsover away to some quiet arbour, where naught broke the shaded silence but the drip, drip, drip of the soda water syphon.
"Why me?" I asked indignantly. "I've done nothing."
"He's frightening the horses," said the steward urgently. "And, moreover, the American ambassador has spoken to the Prince about it. If you want to avert an international incident and earn a Bath or a Garter or a pair of ball-bearing braces, now is your opp. Go where glory waits you."
Glory was waiting for me at the far end of the paddock. He was looking at the horses and the horses were looking at him. Bolsover was calm, but the high-spirited thoroughbreds were sweating, except one that is owned by a bookmaker, and he seemed to be laughing.
"Yes," admitted the detective, "I am Bolsover. I have come on business. I can say no more. My mouth is closed by the etiquette of my profession. I can give you a page—allowing for the pictures—but I cannot tell you why I am here, except that I am anxious to meet my brother sleuth, Tyndall."
He had the eyes of a faithful hound, and these he fixed on me.
"They say this Tyndall cuts some ice? Say, he's the gay insouciant? Now I want to meet him. But you want my story. Take this."
He cleared his throat.
"I was born in Hertford in 1868. My father was a blacksmith. My mother was a granddaughter of Elmina Potterfew, the nightingale of Wabush. At an early age I displayed a singular aptitude for criminal research, and I well remember—"
"Cut it out, dear lad," I said. "I am not on a space job. I'm on the pay-roll."
In a few words I explained the position, leading him to the road outside. He was an alert enough person, knew his Leggatt well, and was prepared to take advice. He would have given me a list of his successes, but I took him by the hand.
"Mr. Bolsover," I said, "we part here. Which is your cab, by the way?"
He indicated a yellow taxi, and I led him toward it.
Opening the door, I assisted him to enter.
"Farewell," he said sombrely, "we shall meet again."
"I'm afraid we shall," I replied.
In the excess of his emotion he could only utter one of his famous monosyllables. I watched the yellow cab out of sight and went back to the paddock.
Recalling the events of that Ascot, I am somewhat muddled in my mind as to what really happened. I have so often told the story of how I shook hands with Bolsover that I am beginning to believe it myself. I distinctly remember, however, that every time he started in to tell me something about himself I handed him a galley proof of my own biography.
Bolsover's indecent curiosity had brought him to England—to London—to Ascot. He wanted to see his rival. He wanted to know the worst. I picture a disgruntled Bolsover disguised as a free lunch bar lying in wait for his English competitor. Had he disguised himself as a bridge-marker at the Lambs' Club, he would have in all human probability run down his prey between two and four any fine morning.
I did not see Bolsover again for a few months. He was a fantastic memory. My whole impression was of a strangely unreal person clad like a three-card merchant, wandering awkwardly on the exclusive lawn, elbowing American duchesses and royal personages with the careless insolence of a Pullman porter.
He was in France when I went after Leggatt in December, but with great ingenuity I avoided him. He sought one who called himself Pierre Lacroix, a notorious connoisseur in bullion, a lifter of gold in bulk, an anæsthetist of no small quality, shooter of obdurate bullion guards, and an impersonator of railway officials.
Up and down France, from Lille to Narbonne, from Bordeaux to the Haute Savoie—it was a chase of the Everlasting Elsewhere. My search was less energetic.
I searched the best hotels in Paris and stayed a week in each. I searched the Bal Tabarin. I searched Montmartre from 1 a.m. to 4 a.m. I searched the restaurants from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. I searched the theatres, but never once did I glimpse the heavy face of Mr. Leggatt, alias Pierre Lacroix. And the bullion cars were rifled at irregular intervals.
I had been down to Chamonix for the winter sports, and had got rather badly knocked about through the overturning of a bob-sleigh on the Long Run. The unfortunate "skipper" had misjudged the pace coming round the hairpin corner, and instead of allowing that the sleigh was going at the rate of sixty miles an hour, he had judged it to be moving at about 1964.3 miles an hour, and, shutting his eyes, switched over the helm, and muttering "Save the women and children" had left the rest to Providence.
Yet let us not judge the steerman harshly, nor echo nor endorse nor yet condone the savage strictures of his three companions on the sleigh. These coarse men knew nothing of the temperamental structure of this highly-strung man.
It is a fact in his favour that prior to starting on the run he had received a telegram delivered by a devil of a chasseur, who had climbed the mountain-side to deliver it. But of this his companions were not aware.
They called him fool, dolt, chump, jay, ass, pin-head, pie-brain, lobster. They cried, "Oh!" "Ah!" and "Shame!"
They denounced, execrated, stigmatised, vituperated, abused, scolded, rated, railed, jawed, thundered at the silent form hidden in the snow. But I lay wan and still and motionless.
But I was not dead. I was waiting for the ambulance men to come along to protect me.
The new skip of the "bob" was a London doctor, and he spoke to me the following morning.
"You must give up bob-sleighing for seven years," he said. "In seven years a man renews himself, and at the end of that time you ought to have a new set of brains."
So I left Chamonix and went down—so I told everyone—to Monte Carlo, where a wanderer doesn't have to do a lot of thinking.
Ramdan—that was the doctor's name—came to see me off at the station, and so did the other members of the crew, some of whom could walk quite nicely with the aid of crutches.
"Where are you going next year?" he asked in a friendly way. "St. Moritz or Engelberg or Davos?"
"I haven't made up my mind yet," I said. "Probably to Davos."
"Let us know when you've decided," he said, "and we'll go somewhere else."
"Don't you want me?" I asked reproachfully.
"Not alive," he said. "Not unless you're on a dog-lead."
My electric train gaby-ed* down the mountain out of hearing. I didn't hear what else he said because I put my fingers in my ears, and he didn't hear what I said because I didn't say anything until I was safely out of hearing. Then I called him a heartless hound, and other harsh words. He was a big man and played forward for Guy's, and I was intensely and passionately desirous that he should not play forward with this guy.
* Sic. Possibly a typographical error for "swayed".
I worked a leisurely way across country till I struck the main Lyons-Mediterranean route, and, deliberately missing one train, I induced the chef de gare to an unimportant station to "flag" the Côte d'Azure. It is a train whereon millionaires and men of genius travel, an edition de luxe of the Empire express. Any lesser train was, I felt, unworthy of my quality.
The long thin conductor of the wagon-lit snarled respectfully, but let me go to bed in an empty compartment. He was a talkative man, I found, and informed me that the compartment had been specially reserved at Lyons. For whom do you imagine?
For the great Tyndall!
For the chiefest of detectives; for the thug-catcher, the bullionist, the sleuth!
He had missed the train at Lyons, said the conductor with a smile. My faith! but the reputation of Tyndall was world-wide! He had probably been searching a little game of baccarat.
"And it was important, you perceive, m'sieur," said the conductor, "that the detective should have come, because here on this—" he stopped suddenly.
"You are carrying bullion," I finished. "It is deplorable. It is monstrous."
He made me cosy, and I settled down for the night with the disquieting sense that I had not been a success as a winter sportsman. Thinking matters over, I decided that any sport which one had to do oneself was a bore. Golf was a bore, bridge was a bore, ski-ing was a painful bore. Yes, the only game worth while was the race-track, where all one had to do was to pay away money at intervals.
Thus ruminating, my mind went back to Ascot, and by easy stages to Bolsover. Shutting my eyes, I could see his somewhat shapeless face, his mottled complexion, his heavy black fringe-like moustache, clipped straightly at each end. I could hear his indescribable—
I must have been dozing, but that had wakened me.
"That" was a stinging "pang!" close to my ear, and was unmistakably a pistol shot.
I switched on the light and was out of my bunk in one motion. I thrust my feet into slippers, pulled on my dressing-gown, and from under my pillow took a small-calibre Browning.
Then I jumped out of my compartment into the narrow gangway.
It was deserted, but the door of the adjoining sleeping apartment was open, and I stepped in, and after a moment's hesitation felt for the switch.
I found it, and pulled down the tiny lever.
Lying half-dressed on the bunk was a man, his shirt splattered with blood, one dangling hand hanging limply over the side of the bed. I looked at his face.
It was Bolsover.
He was breathing. Moreover, he was not seriously injured. The bullet had clipped a piece from his left shoulder, skimmed the head between the parietal and temporal bones, and splintered the rosewood panelling beneath the window. He had been shot by a man who had been kneeling on the floor. (Open valise on the floor, contents disarranged). Bolsover had reached for the switch and the man had fired upward.
I rang the bell which called the attendant, and so stood, one foot and half my body in the gangway, till the wagon-lit porter came hurrying along buttoning his coat.
He took in the situation in a glance, and swore with reliable appropriateness.
"I will signal the train to stop at the next station," he said in French. "This is very unfortunate—very unfortunate."
"Do you know him?" I asked.
He looked at me pityingly.
"Knew him!" he exclaimed. "My faith! Knew M'sieur Bolsover!" He laid his hand on the prostrate man's heart. "I know him," he corrected himself, like the pedant he was. "He is engaged in tracking down the men who stole the bullion from the Lyons-Mediterranean last month. Ah, the brave fellow!" The tears came into his eyes.
"Can you not search the train for a doctor?" I urged.
He shook his head. "There is a doctor of music in the next car," he said, "and of the German—dense. No, m'sieur, we can do no more than watch our friend. Hélas! cut off in the prime of manhood."
I looked up at the conductor, black-moustached, big-faced, heavy-jawed, yet withal so tender a man in this, his moment.
"If the grand Tyndall was here!" he said mournfully. "You see, m'sieur, it is thus. The train carries two million francs. It is in a safe—impenetrable—in the next compartment."
He indicated another door which led through a diminutive wash-place into another berth. I opened the door. The adjoining sleeper was in darkness. I turned on the light. There stood the safe.
The seats had been removed to make way for it, the ordinary door leading into the corridor masked with sheet steel. The safe rested on two large lumber balks, probably to distribute the strain on the floor of the compartment.
The safe was untouched.
I returned to Bolsover, followed by the sentimental conductor. The wounded man was breathing heavily. I turned to the conductor.
"You are not the same conductor we had last night," I said.
"Hélas! no," he said sorrowfully. "That good man was taken ill at Lyons, m'sieur!"
Well he might display such agitation, for I had stuck the business end of a Browning pistol in that section of his anatomy which hovers everlastingly between diaphragm and pancreas.
"Elevate the digits, Leggatt," I said with linguistic freedom. "We will now search for the real conductor whom you have doped."
Into the empyrean aimlessly went his rude large hands.
"This is monstrous, m'sieur," he said. "I am known to the Government—to M'sieur Bolsover—to M'sieur Tyndall."
"True," I said, "for I am Tyndall."
And the remarkable thing is, that I am! But you would never have recognised me with the beard I grew at Chamonix.
No, I hadn't seen Bolsover for months, but I had written and wired to him every day, and he had written to me. A nice man, Bolsover, though somewhat talkative. I have asked him not to wire me again when I am winter-sporting. A telegram handed to a man just at the moment when he is starting on a five-kilometre trip down the most dangerous bobsleigh run in France is apt to upset him. Especially when it runs:
PICK UP CÔTE D'AZURE LEAVING LYONS TUESDAY, CARRYING TWO MILLION BULLION. PIERRE LACROIX WILL BE ON TRAIN DISGUISED AS CONDUCTOR. I AM IN CHARGE OF BULLION.—BOLSOVER.
"Well, you've got me proper," said Mr. Leggatt. (We were taking him to Lyons by the Rapide.) "But for those damned whiskers and eyeglasses I should have known you and shot you. I've been waiting for you. What about May?" he asked suddenly.
I did not attempt to enlighten him and he continued:
"She's going straight, she says," he grinned. "Gee! what women will do when they're in love!"
He looked knowingly at me, but I wasn't to be drawn.
"I suppose you know she's crazy about you?"
"Leggatt," I said softly, "if you talk to me any more about May I shall cut away the top button of your coat."
His face went livid, and his manacled hands went up unobtrusively to the button.
"Leave me that!" he whispered.
I nodded, and we didn't talk about May any more.
WIRL and splash of water under your keel, whirl of wheel under your sleeping berth, hum of bonneted engine and icy-cold wind in your face—all to one end, to "get there."
I have got there often enough, and tasted the fruit spread for me by fate. Fruit bitter, of disappointment; fruit sweet, of achievement; fruit wooden, labelled neatly.
There's death for a man at some journeys' endings, cold cell and Dartmoor for others, freedom from terror, haven for weariness, and a quick-formed queue for panic for yet others.
That's all in a man's life who does police work; hard, heartbreaking, but good fun.
Leggatt on his way to Devil's Island sends me a letter asking for my intervention on his behalf and offering as some inducement new and interesting details concerning Denver May—crime unrecorded and unpunished. "Which you can easily prove. I think you might regard this as state evidence," says he; "and that it should count in my favour."
Yes, he opens his mouth wide enough; leaves May to the mercy of the police and the cold world. And May, you must remember, was his best friend. He had wept for her when she was sentenced—tears are ready and cheap to some eyes. I feel, for my own part, that I could not weep and live.
May is in the country, has a little house in Tellborough, a small cathedral town, and without making herself a nuisance with her good works, is doing no mischief save to caterpillars and snails which invade her garden. When she came out of Aylesbury an anonymous friend, who was an admirer of her talents, sent her three hundred pounds. As soon as she learnt who had sent the money she returned it with a little note to the effect that she was "provided for."
In other words May lived upon her nefarious gains.
Fillington, a young and ambitious detective-inspector, newly promoted and eager for further promotion, came to me one day and was remarkably familiar, going so far on the path to my disregard as to call me "Tyndall" without the prefix which custom and respect dictate.
A tall young man with small brown eyes and a black little moustache, somewhat ruddy of face too, which added nothing to his charms.
"You know a woman called Denver May," he said, in the pseudo cross-examination style which is so popular with young police officers.
"She is a blackmailer," he explained unnecessarily; "and she is a convict on licence."
"Her sentence was remitted," I corrected.
"Well," said the excellent Fillington, "I have discovered that she is living in a little country town—"
"In Tellborough, Kent," I put in; "where she is called Madame Fournier—yes."
He was disappointed. "Oh, you know that, do you? Well, I tell you what I've done, Tyndall. I've written to the vicar of Tellborough putting him in possession of all the facts regarding this woman."
"But why?" I asked. "Surely it is enough that the local police know?"
He smiled. "The fact is," he confessed, "I went down to Tellborough on my own to see her. I thought she might be able to give me a wrinkle or two about some people I want to get hold of very badly, so I hopped along. And will you believe me,"—his head swayed from side to side with emphasis—"she treated me as though I was dirt! Showed me out, in fact."
I nodded slowly.
"I see," I said; "and so you were considerably snubbed—"
"She made me feel such a fool," explained Fillington.
"You were made to feel so foolish that in the end you thought you would give May away—is that it?"
He deprecated the suggestion. He had acted in the public interest, and now he had come for approval.
Ah, well, my young Inspector Fillington, you must go through with your trouble. It was not in the public interest that you should have accepted large sums of money from a street bookmaker of Canning Town, though bookmakers' money is as good as anybody else's. A prying super-detective employed by Government may look upon your transaction with a lenient or a severe eye, taking all circumstances into consideration.
I did not omit the name of young Inspector Fillington from my "confidential," and he was broken in a month, was out of the police force in a year, and will write pamphlets concerning his grievances which nobody will read.
Nobody doubts that our worthy vicar of Tellborough was shocked. He raised his white hands to the level of his gleaming glasses and said, "This is very terrible, my dear," but "my dear" was flustered, though in a harder and a colder and a more practical way. If the vicar's wife knew, Tellborough knew, from Gibley Abbey to the slums by the brickfield.
Somebody wrote "blackmailer" on May's door; a lout threw a brick through a window. There was talk of further violence, but May came out on to the lawn one summer's evening, all Tellborough looking on, and did some trick shooting with her Smith-Wesson—and the deputation never called.
Her grocer and butcher refused to serve her, her baker followed suit. They had conscientious scruples, they told admiring friends. May got her goods from the stores in London—they had no scruples of any kind whatsoever.
People called on her. Young George Wilberfort came at ten o'clock one night with his coat collar turned up. May opened the door; her servants had yielded to conscience and departed, and new servants (French, and consequently without shame) were already en-route.
"What do you want?" asked May.
"A whisky-and-soda, my dear," said George, with desperate gaiety; "and a bit of a chat."
"I'm all alone in the house," said May.
"So much the better," said Lothario junior.
May hit him across the mouth with the flat of her hand and closed the door on him.
A young man, hurt in his vanity and struck by a woman, can make a bad enemy. George was the son of a landed proprietor and a gentleman by Act of Parliament. He joined the band of the conscientious, saying nothing to anybody about his evening adventure. The branch of the Wilberforts is an easy one to trace. Three generations ago it broke stones by the roadside on the male side, washed linen publicly on the female side. So it lacked the bit of breed that makes lying and all wrong-doing hateful.
The chief sent for me one day and handed me a warrant.
"You can go down to Tellborough," he said, "and take into custody an old friend of yours."
"May it is," said the chief. "She's back at the old game."
I took the bundle of letters he gave me.
"What's the matter with you, Tyndall?" he asked quietly; "your hand is shaking and your face is as bleak as a Sunday in town?"
"Dyspepsia," I said. It seemed the least romantic thing to say.
There were seven letters; they were all addressed to George Wilberfort, Esq. Two were sent to The Hall, Tellborough, and the remainder to his flat in Piccadilly.
They were all typewritten and subscribed "May." Moreover, the envelopes bore the mark of Tellborough post office.
The letters demanded money—two hundred, three hundred, and five hundred pounds—on the threat of exposure.
"Typewritten?" I protested, "bit flimsy, isn't it?"
"Good enough," said the chief. "Go down and investigate, and when you think it is expedient, make the arrest."
I went out of Scotland Yard a criminal.
A taxi carried me to Cockspur Street to the Wagon Lit. I booked one single ticket to Yokohama via the Trans-Siberian Railway. Then I went back to my flat. My man was on his holiday; there was nothing to do but to write him a note enclosing him twenty-five pounds in lieu of notice. There were no letters to destroy. Certain records were in the safe at my office. I enclosed the key with a brief note to the chief and left that on my table also.
Then I took a revolver from the drawer of my desk, dropped in three cartridges, and slipped the weapon into my pocket.
From thence to my bank. I am one of those improvident people who dabble not in securities. My cash is always available cash, and there was nine thousand six hundred pounds to my credit.
I drew it all, with the exception of a hundred to meet floating cheques, and with some ninety odd notes for a hundred pounds in the inside pocket of my coat I caught the earliest available train for Tellborough.
May was in the garden when I arrived, and her French maid was a little dubious as to whether she should admit me. Eventually May came upon the scene. All my life I shall remember her as she looked that morning. She wore a blue dress—the blue of her eyes. It was cut in the fashion of the moment, all looped drapery, which in spite of its apparent vagueness, gave her figure gracious and definite shape. You saw a V of white breast, the whiter because of a creamy froth edging to the triangular cut. Her face was more aesthetic than ever I have seen it. She was paler and thinner of face, almost ethereal.
"Do I?" she said lightly, when I told her she was looking ill. "My dear Mr. Tyndall, isn't the very sight of you calculated to bring pallor to the guilty cheek?"
"How guilty are you, May?" I asked.
"As guilty as hell," said May, with a gesture of weariness. "But I thought we were never going to discuss these matters?"
"We were never going to talk of the past," said I. "But it's the present."
"The present!" She frowned at me in wonder.
"The present," I repeated.
She sank down into a chair and folded her hands on her lap.
"Exactly what do you mean?" she asked.
I told her, read portions of the letters and showed her my warrant.
She was like death now.
"So I shall have to go back to that horrible place," she said, speaking her thoughts aloud. "After all—all I have done." She smiled pathetically. "I suppose there is no use in my saying that I didn't write those letters; that I have never written a blackmailing letter in my life, that I never approached a single individual save one, to warn him, that was Lord Liverton."
I said nothing; it was too incredible.
"Leggatt is my husband," she said quietly. "I have been the veriest figurehead in the whole business, a willing figurehead, because one takes on the moral aspect of those in ascendancy. As to these letters, I did not write them. Perhaps you will believe that."
And she told me all about Master George Wilberfort and his gallantry.
I listened, and was silent long after she had finished. I never doubted that May was the prime mover and Leggatt—he died en-route to Cayenne, by the way—and dead Talking Jimmy were her willing instruments. One always credits a bad woman with superlative powers of evil, as one endows a good woman with virtues most impossible. Disillusionment in either case is painful. I spoke at last.
"May," I said, "Fate is all against you, and here am I, a police officer, sent to do duty."
"You must do it," she said, and once again the wistful smile trembled on her face, balanced with tears. "I suppose you don't want to handcuff me?"
She faced me, her hands behind her, her head thrown back.
"What is your name?" she asked suddenly.
"You know my name, May."
"But your Christian name?"
"John Tyndall," said I.
The little smile again.
"Is there anybody in the wide world," she asked, "bold enough to call you Jack?"
"Once there was," I said; she must have known that I meant my mother.
She inclined her head.
"Well, I'm going to call you Jack," she said. "That is the privilege of a criminal—to take outrageous liberties with the names of their captors. You shall be Jack to me," she said in a voice tremulous with tears.
"Sit down." I laid my hand on her shoulder and pushed her into a chair. I produced my wad of notes, and laid on the top the fat little bundle of railway coupons which would carry her to Japan.
"Put those in your bag," said I. "Collect your personal belongings and catch the next train to London."
She stared in bewilderment.
"It's all right," I smiled. "I'll take you as far as Calais and leave you."
She picked up the railway tickets and fingered them absently. Then she counted the notes very carefully and methodically.
"What will happen to you?" she asked quietly,
"People will be very annoyed," I said with a laugh.
"Show me your ticket to Calais," she demanded imperiously, and I produced it.
"A single ticket?"
Her eyes met mine in a questioning look.
"Yes—I can get another there," I said hastily.
"A single ticket—I see."
She nodded, picked up the notes from her lap and handed them back to me.
"I counted them to see the monetary value of your love," she said. "I gather that it is exactly all you have in the world."
I couldn't deny it.
"And a single ticket," she went on.
"And a revolver in your hip pocket to use the moment my train is out of sight because—because," she faltered on her speech, "because you have failed to do your duty."
She rose from the chair and resumed her old attitude.
"That is it," she said slowly. "I knew a man like you—he was my father. He went to his death as you would, for a woman unworthy to lace his shoes—as you would. No—no—no—no! Jack Tyndall!"
She shook her head, laughing now, laughing with sobs between.
Then she came forward with two quick steps and put her hands on my shoulder, and they slid and slid till they were round my neck—tighter and tighter her head pressed to my breast, and there she lay sobbing till I thought she would never stop.
My God, it was wonderful!
Only one chance for it.
Solemn promises from May to do nothing till I gave her permission, hurried journey back to town, cyclonic burst into Chief's office, and he, poor man, somewhat perturbed by the vision of an empty-handed detective for empty-handed I was, as I explained.
"I am perfectly satisfied that these three letters to Wilberfort are fakes," and I gave him a description of the young gentleman's rebuff.
"Very possible," he said. "Very, very possible; but the warrant was issued on sworn information and must be executed."
"Except," said I promptly, "when, as provided by paragraph 8 of the Act of 1848, objection is taken to the information."
"Go along and see the magistrate who issued it," said the Chief. "Get him to grant a stay, and don't come slinging your Acts of Parliament at my head, I beg you."
There was no difficulty about the stay: to make sure I called on Lord Charles in Downing Street. The Premier had secured May's release, and it was up to him to prove he wasn't an ass. I told him so.
"Quite right," he said. "A very sweet woman," he said at parting. "I can never believe that a girl with a face like that could be utterly bad."
After all, is Charles such an ass as people think?
That night when Mr. George Wilberfort went forth in his hired electric brougham to the Jollity Theatre I called on him. His servant let me in, and informed me that he would go and fetch his master if necessary. I told him it was not necessary—not at all. Far from it. I would wait until his master returned. What dog am I that I should drag him from his proper pleasures? I would wait in the ornate smoking-room, divan'd and orientalised with the orientalism which is neither Turkish, Moorish, Chinese, nor Byzantine, but in the main—Earl's Court.
Shaded lamps from a fake mosaic ceiling; thick Turkey rugs from Axminster under foot; the luxury and lack of ventilation peculiar to the planning young blood with a sneaking desire for the harem, and possessed of sufficient money to get the home together.
I sent the man out with a spoof message to Scotland Yard.
He went importantly, and brought back, in his face, something of the mysteriousness of his brief environment.
"Inspector Boscombe says 'All right,'" said the man furtively, as if the walls themselves had ears.
All right it was indeed.
I sat for three hours in the little smoking room, consuming cigarettes till the atmosphere was blue.
At the end of the time enter Mr. George Wilberfort, a flushed island of joy, entirely surrounded by chorus girls.
"Hel-lo!" said he, and paused, conscious of the fact that his guests demanded humour. "And who the devil are you?"
"My name is Tyndall," said I, "and I shall, perhaps, take you into custody on a charge of conspiracy and perjury."
One girl laughed because she thought the joke was on Wilberfort—she laughed, and stopped short in her laugh because she saw George Wilberfort's face.
"Go into the drawing-room," said I to the girls. "You'll find supper laid—Mr. Wilberfort may be with you in ten minutes."
They went—on tip-toe.
"What will my father say?" croaked the boy. "Good God! What will all the chaps say?"
"What made you do it?" I asked.
"How did you find out?" he countered. "You're Tyndall the detective, aren't you? How long have you been here?"
"All the evening," I said gravely. He jerked his head up and down despairingly.
"Of course, then you've found 'em." he said. "I was a fool—what an ass I've been—keeping the rough drafts of the letters in my flat! I typed 'em at the governor's office, and a devilish hard job it was, too, one finger at a time, and not knowing where any of the letters were. I got a chap to post 'em for me—did he give me away?"
I shook my head.
"It was a rotten thing to do," he said apologetically; "but you see she made me very wild. I'm an awfully proud chap, really, and she got me on the raw—as a man of the world you'll understand."
He appealed to me, then dropped his face in his hands, sitting on the edge of his downiest divan.
"Still, I can't understand how you could have found the drafts," he said suddenly. "Did you force the lock or anything?"
"Look and see," I said, and I followed him to his bedroom.
He had a big oak bureau that did tricks: it was such a bureau as is supplied by ingenious cabinet makers to the young aristocracy, and was the best of its kind I have ever seen or examined. It had electric cigar lighters and patent cigarette cases concealed in unexpected positions. It could be a desk or a clothes press, and was generally both.
Wilberfort drew out a drawer, touched a spring, and lo! one of the sides was hollow. And there was the evidence of his guilt in eight quarto sheets.
"You didn't take 'em away, then?" he asked in some surprise.
"No," said I.
"Why?" he asked.
"Because," I answered, as I folded the papers and put them in my pocket, "I couldn't find them."
No, though I ransacked the whole of the flat.
I left him with a word of comfort, and carried away a written statement signed by him to the effect that it was all a joke played upon him by a friend.
There would be no prosecution, I knew—I left him to the comfort of the chorus girls.
Whirr and thud of bonneted engine for me—trains move too smoothly, if faster, for a man carrying good news.
May saw me at three o'clock in the morning, and she saw all that I had to tell her in my face.
We sat talking through the night, till the sun came up and tipped the high trees with bronze-gold, till the birds began their shrill and jerky chatter; till the nodding flowers lifted their heads to the first slant gleams of gold that the sentinel trees let pass.
"I shall use your ticket," said May at last. "I can leave England the day after to-morrow."
"I shall buy a little house in a suburb of Tokio," she said. "And perhaps in a few years' time you will be coming to Japan and will call and see me—I shall be an old woman in a few years," she smiled.
"Look for a man with long white whiskers," said I. "That will be me—in a few years' time."
I left her before the town of Tellborough was sufficiently wide-awake to be scandalised.
I did not see May off, but she wired me from Moscow some days later, and I went to see the Chief.
"Leave of absence, Mr. Tyndall," said he. "Wherever are you going? Not to Japan?"
"To Japan," said I.
"To Japan," said he. "Why, you told me the other day that you weren't going to Japan for years."
"It seems years," I replied, "since I said that."
Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page