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M. MCDONNEL BODKIN

GREASED LIGHTNING

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WITH ILLUSTRATIONS FROM "PEARSON'S WEEKLY"


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First published in Pearson's Weekly, 13 Feb 1897
in the series "The Adventures of Mr. Juggins"
Reprinted in Short Stories, Dec 1917

Collected in: Paul Beck, The Rule of Thumb Detective,
C. Arthur Pearson, London, 1898

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2021
Version Date: 2023-10-25

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"Paul Beck, The Rule of Thumb Detective,"
with "Greased Lightning"


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Illustration

M. McDonnell Bodkin


Irish barrister and author of detective and mystery stories Bodkin was appointed a judge in County Clare and also served as a Nationalist member of Parliament. His native country and years in the courtroom are recalled in the autobiographical Recollections of an Irish Judge (1914).

Bodkin's witty stories, collected in Dora Myrl, the Lady Detective (1900) and Paul Beck, the Rule of Thumb Detective (1898), have been unjustly neglected.

Beck, his first detective (when he first appeared in print in Pearson's Magazine in 1897, he was named "Alfred Juggins"), claims to be not very bright, saying, "I just go by the rule of thumb, and muddle and puzzle out my cases as best I can."

...In The Capture of Paul Beck (1909) he and Dora begin on opposite sides in a case, but in the end they are married. They have a son who solves a crime at his university in Young Beck, a Chip Off the Old Block (1911).

Other Bodkin books are The Quests of Paul Beck (1908), Pigeon Blood Rubies (1915), and Guilty or Not Guilty? (1929).

Encyclopedia of Mystery and Detection, Steinbrunner & Penzler, 1976.



Title


Title


"CAN you run over to Ireland, Mr. Beck?"

"Certainly."

"You couldn't cross by to-night's mail?"

"I could. What must I do when I get there?"

"It's a painful case," said kind-hearted Mr. Warmington, "but I'd best tell you the particulars shortly and let you judge for yourself what's best to be done."

Mr. Warmington was one of the wealthiest and worthiest solicitors in London. He looked it as he stood there toying with his heavy gold guard, with his back to his own fireplace, though it was a sultry evening in early autumn, and there was no fire in the grate.


Illustration

Mr. Warmington was one of the wealthiest
and worthiest solicitors in London.


Like "Lady Jane" of the comic opera, Mr. Warmington was "not pretty, but massive"—six feet two of solid respectable manhood. As a rule he was the heart and soul of good fellowship and good humour. But now a look of uneasiness and perplexity slightly shadowed his broad, benevolent face, like an ineffective cloud on the sun.

"It's a very painful case indeed, Mr. Beck," he repeated, and sipped a glass of rare old port that stood on the chimney-piece beside him as if to mitigate the pain of it.

"You know my brother-in-law, the Honourable Mr. Burton?"

Mr. Beck nodded grimly. He had heard of the Honourable Mr. Burton—not to his advantage.

"Just so. He was always, I am sorry to say, a trouble to his family. My wife—though only a child at the time—remembers some stormy scenes before he went abroad. After our marriage I did what I could for him, but it was very little use. Though then well on in his fifties, he was as wild as a young colt—wild, not vicious, I'm bound to say. Well, 'the devil takes care'—I must not say that—but eight years ago he had the good luck—for him—to marry an heiress, who was young, beautiful, and passionately in love with the elderly scapegrace. He kept straight as a die while she lived, and was terribly cut up when she died about a year ago. She showed her perfect confidence in him by her will, bequeathing to him her whole property, real and personal, 'with perfect confidence,' as she wrote, 'in his loving care for their dear child, Florence.'"

"He plainly meant to go right at first, at any rate; I must say that for him. Within a fortnight after his wife's death he came to me to prepare a deed, 'as tight as they draw them,' he said, assigning his whole property in Wiltshire, a clear five thousand a year and a beautiful house and grounds, to his little daughter, reserving only a moderate yearly allowance from his wife's personal property for himself. 'I cannot trust myself, Warmington,' he said, 'that's the truth of it. If I have money I must splatter it.' You may be sure the deed was stringent as the lawyers could make it, and he signed it without winking.

"He seemed really devoted to the little girl and took her about with him everywhere, even to the theatres. But as luck would have it, my wife—her aunt, you know—thought it would be good for the little one to be with children of her own age for awhile; so last Christmas she had her here for the Christmas-tree, and the pantomime, and all that, with our own youngsters.

"Her father brought her up to town from their place in Wiltshire and left her with us; but he would not stay himself.

"Then, I suppose from loneliness, the Bohemian broke loose in him again. He fell into his old ways, went the rounds of the theatres and music-halls, more often behind the scenes than in front of them. In an evil hour—one of the small hours of the morning most likely—he fell in with Miss Trixie Mordant, the liveliest and at the same time the cutest young lady that graces the boards of the 'Empire.' You must know Miss Trixie, her picture in pink tights is on half the hoardings in London.

"Well, I needn't tell you, when a man of sixty or thereabouts falls in love he comes a cropper. The cunning little baggage quickly coaxed him into an offer of marriage, and then stood out for handsome settlements. She put her sharp eye on the Wiltshire property, but he thought he had no power to touch it, and I didn't enlighten him on the subject, you may be sure.

"He was wild with himself for his 'folly' in having assigned it to his daughter, and left himself without the power of proving his devotion to the 'most adorable of her sex,' Miss Trixie. But Miss Trixie consulted solicitors on her own account, Sharkey and Snippit, as sharp a pair of fellows as you'll meet with in the City.

"Then the whole truth came out of course. They were not long, you may be sure, putting my precious brother-in-law up to his legal rights. They are now—I have reason to know—preparing marriage settlements, and making over the whole property to Miss Trixie Mordant, 'in consideration of her marriage with the Hon. Pierce Burton.'"

"Surely the law won't allow that," said Mr. Beck, "after he has given it by deed to his daughter?"

The solicitor smiled with an air of superiority.

"My dear Mr. Beck," he said, "it's not for me to speak disrespectfully of the law, but it does queer things sometimes. You see the deed to little Florry—his daughter, I mean—was what is called a 'voluntary deed.' The law has very little regard for 'voluntary deeds.' 'Natural love and affection' is not a 'valuable consideration' in the eyes of the law. Marriage—even with Miss Trixie Mordant—is a valuable consideration. As the law now stands under an old statute of Queen Elizabeth, if the Wiltshire property is granted to Miss Trixie in consideration of her marriage with the grantor, the deed to poor little Florry is not worth the parchment it's written on."

"That's a mighty roguish law."

"You're not the only one that thinks that, Mr. Beck, though you express your views a little more broadly than a famous law lord did the other day on the same point when he said: 'It was perhaps a startling proposition that one man might honestly sell what was not his and retain the price, and that another, knowing all the circumstances, might honestly help him to rob the owner—a proposition, one would think, puzzling to a lay mind, and to a legal mind not wholly satisfactory.'"

"But surely the man will never strain the law to rob his own child?" cried Mr. Beck.

"I'm not so sure of that. I rather think he will in the long run if he gets the chance. His infatuation is having a tough battle with his conscience. But I'm afraid his conscience is getting the worst of it. The cunning jade plays with him like a salmon with the hook tight in his gills. She has run away to a seaside village in the west of Ireland, and swears she won't as much as look at him until the deed is executed."

"And where is he?"

"Oh, he's in Ireland too, at a place called Rathcool, in the south; cannot bear to have the sea between himself and his charmer, I suppose, though at present they are separated by the breadth of the island. There are letters and telegrams flying between them every day. He won't hold out much longer, I'm afraid."

"What are you going to do about it? You couldn't shut him up in at madhouse, I suppose?"

"I'm afraid not. If every man was locked up that went mad about a woman, there would be more in the asylums than out of them."

"Could you appeal to the young lady's better feelings?"

"She hasn't got any."

"The law, you say, is clear against you?"

"Clear as mud; as it stands."

"Then I don't see any way out."

"Well, I think I do. If luck stands to us we may change the law and checkmate the lady. Now I'm coming to the point of the whole matter. I need not remind you that what I say is in the strictest confidence. Should the other side get the faintest inkling of our little game we might as well throw up our hands."

Mr. Warmington leant towards Mr. Beck and instinctively spoke in a lower tone.

"We have introduced a quiet little Bill in the House of Lords which will repeal the old Act of Queen Elizabeth which allows a man to defeat his own grant, and will make 'voluntary conveyances' absolute against what we call in law a 'purchaser with notice.' The Lord Chancellor himself is lending a hand. The instant our Bill gets the Royal assent the property is safe. The Bill is half-way through the Lords. One of the most popular lawyers in the House will steer it through the Commons. Popularity is everything in a case of the kind. The Lord Chancellor has promised the Royal assent—by deputy, of course—the day after the Bill passes the third reading in the Commons."

"It's a race, then, between your Bill and their deed for a five thousand a year stake?"

"Exactly."

"But I don't see where I come in."

"I want you to run over to Mount Eagle, where Miss Trixie hangs out, and keep a sharp eye on her till the business is through. You see, it's like this. Sharkey and Snippit are as sharp as scissors and shut as tight. We cannot tell what they know or don't know. But they are in constant communication with Miss Trixie. Now, if you go to Ireland you may be able to tap the wire at that end. Miss Trixie is as loose and lively as they are close."

"Can't see it. Seems to me that your game is to keep your own secret, not to catch theirs."

"Both, my dear Mr. Beck, both. I do trust you won't refuse to help us. Expense is no object, you know. We just want you to—— Oh! come in."

It was the knock of a very little hand, and the parlour door opening slowly showed a pretty little seven-year-old girl. The gold curls fell over her shoulders like a mane. The blue eyes sparkled roguishly, and the rosy cheeks laughed with dimples.

At the sight of the stranger she turned to run. But Mr. Warmington called out to her kindly: "Come here, Flossy."

"This is our client," he said to Mr. Beck, as the little lady came shyly across the room. "Come here, Flossy, and shake hands with Mr. Beck; he's going to be a very good friend of yours."

Mr. Beck dearly loved children. Some instinct told the little blue-eyed fairy that fact in a moment. She climbed up on his knee and pouted her rosy lips for a kiss.


Illustration

She climbed up on his knee and pouted her rosy lips for a kiss.


"Thank you," she said—her notions of friendship were limited—"is it a doll? I have seven children and one black boy, and no mammy for them. I have no mammy myself, you know. She went down dead in a hole in the ground into heaven. But pappy will always take care of me."

Mr. Warmington smiled grimly at this, while Mr. Beck patted the tangle of gold curls with a big, strong, clumsy-looking hand that was gentler than a woman's in its touch.

"That will do, Floss," said Mr. Warmington, "don't bother Mr. Beck any more. Take some of those grapes and biscuits off the table, my pet, and then run away and play; shut the door after you."

She turned at the door with a reminding finger raised for Mr. Beck. "Mind, a mammy doll," she said; and, sure enough, a mammy doll arrived next day from Burlington Arcade addressed to "Miss Florence Burton."

The door closed on the white dress and blue sash and tangle of gold curls.

"I'll go," said Mr. Beck abruptly, "though I don't see yet that I can be of much use. Still, I'd like to do the dainty little lady a good turn if I could."

"The other lady's address," said Mr. Warmington delightedly, "is Grand Royal Hotel, Mount Eagle, County Clare. The hotel is about two and a half miles outside the little town, and close to the sea."

"Well, I'm off. I have three-quarters of an hour to catch the 'Limited Lightning.' My address from tomorrow is 'Jerome Blood-Smith, Grand Royal Hotel, Mount Eagle.' Let me hear by wire when you've anything to tell. I'll do the same."

* * * * *

MISS TRIXIE MORDANT felt particularly dull after the first few days of her voluntary exile in County Clare.


Illustration

Miss Trixie Mordant.


The passionate appeals of her middle-aged adorer were monotonously dismal. "I'm jiggered if five thousand a year would pay for this kind of thing as a permanence," was Miss Trixie's unromantic comment, as she rolled the eight-page letter in a ball and flung it under the grate. "After marriage we'll see," and she smiled, dreamily reminiscent of small-hour suppers with male admirers at the Criterion. But in a moment she grew more impatient than ever at the tantalising thought. She had coiled herself up in a big chair in the drawing-room, and gazed with disparaging eyes out over the Atlantic that stretched blue and broad to the horizon's rim.

Nothing to do and no one to talk to; that was her trouble. There were several clergymen staying at the hotel, and a middle-aged British tourist, with one prim wife and three prim daughters. The festive Trixie, with her "bloomer" costume and diamond-framed bicycle, was cold-shouldered and shuddered at on all sides.

"If I only had somebody to laugh with me at these mugs, I could stand it," she muttered disconsolately.

Then her eye wandered from the sea in front to the tennis ground on the left, and at a glance she knew that Fate had been kind and her prayer was answered.

A young man dressed in the extreme of the fashion—where the "masher" verges into the music-hall artiste—lounged across the ground, carelessly swinging a tennis racquet. His "blazer" blazed hot crimson and yellow in the hot sunshine; a little round straw hat with a rainbow ribbon was perched on the top of his flaxen head. His straw-coloured moustache drooped heavily over a heavy mouth, and his round face wore a look of supercilious inanity. Miss Trixie's heart warmed to him at once as to a kindred spirit. In five minutes she, too, strolled out on the ground in a close-fitting bodice and skimp skirts of cream-coloured serge, finished off with little tan shoes and open-work silk stockings. She was quite fluttered at first when she found a young man on the ground, and glanced at him—oh, so bashfully!—from under her long lashes when he dared to speak to her.

But in two minutes they were in the midst of a lively single of tennis; in two hours they were "Trix" and "Jer," as if they had known each other all their lives; in two days the young "masher" was over head and ears in love with the lively young lady, and followed her about everywhere like a big dog.

"He is just my sort," she wrote to her special friend, Miss Myrtle Montmorency, of the Liberty Music Hall. "Togs first-rate, free of his coin, green as they grow them, and gone a regular cropper on your humble. We are having a real high old time of it. You should see how we shock the mugs in this place; a railway accident ain't in it."

So Miss Trixie led her young man about on a string. He asked nothing better than to be allowed to fetch and carry for her. They played tennis and rode bicycles all day, or "mashed" as she artlessly termed it, "all along the briny." There was something comical, and, at the same time, almost pitiful in the complete enslavement of this stout young man, with his inane pretensions to knowingness and his big round eyes full of appealing calf-love, by this fascinating syren of the music-halls.


Illustration

His big round eyes full of appealing calf-love.


That lively young lady was planning a sea-bathing expedition, " la Boulogne," as she wrote Miss Myrtle of the "Lib."

"The bathing-boxes are the difficulty, my dear. The gentlemen don't use boxes here, or costumes for that matter. It's too awfully shocking. But I will pull my plan off, you'll see, even if I have to lend Jer a pair of my own—oh, fie I don't mention-'ems—for the occasion. It will just give the old tabbies here fits."

"But I say you must," said Miss Trixie to her companion, who was feebly remonstrating as they sat close together all by themselves on the couch in the hotel drawing-room. "I'll manage the costume. Oh! bother you—come in."

It was a telegram for Miss Mordant. A monosyllable escaped from her rosy lips as she read it. Then she pettishly tore the pink paper into pieces and flung the fragments into the "turf-bucket" of polished mahogany that stood empty by the empty fireplace.

"Now what have I done?" she cried repentantly the next moment, "and old Sharkey specially warned me to be careful. Pick up the bits for me, Jer, like a dear love."

Mr. Jerome Blood-Smith instantly buried himself—head and shoulders—in the "turf-bucket." He quietly slipped an old telegram of his own from his pocket, and under cover of the bucket, tore it to pieces in his big hands before he rescued the fragments of Miss Trixie's.


Illustration

Mr. Jerome Blood-Smith instantly buried himself in the "turf-bucket."


She took the bits he gave her, lit a match, and burnt them to the smallest morsel in the empty grate.

Half an hour afterwards Mr. Jerome Blood-Smith, in his bedroom, with the door locked, made a puzzle map of bits of pink paper on his dressing-table, and this is what he read there:—


JUST DISCOVERED CHILD'S FRIENDS PUTTING BILL THROUGH PARLIAMENT TO SECURE HER IN PROPERTY. HOPE TO PUT SPOKE IN THEIR WHEEL YET. MUST HURRY UP WITH DEED. IS THE OLD MAN WILLING?—SHARKEY.


As he finished reading he saw with the corner of his eye through the window Miss Trixie on her diamond-framed bicycle sailing down the lawn in front of the hotel.

In a moment he was out and after her, making his machine fly. He drew abreast about a quarter of a mile from the post-office.

"On for a spin?" he said, as he crept up to her side—she was going a good twelve miles an hour.

"When I've sent a wire. It was important, and I could not trust it to the hotel duffers."

"Why didn't you ask me?"

"Couldn't find you. Thought you were gone to your little bed. It's all right now, anyway."

She slipped off dexterously behind her machine at the post-office and stepped up to the telegraph counter.

Mr. Jerome Blood-Smith stood at the open door, dutifully holding the bicycles.

The telegraph instrument in the office was one of the old-fashioned affairs that conscientiously taps out its messages. Amongst his manifold accomplishments in another condition of life, Mr. Jerome Blood-Smith had learnt to interpret these telegraph taps. This is what they told him now:—


TO SHARKEY AND SNIPPIT, SOLICITORS, LONDON.

SEND ON DEED AT ONCE. OLD MAN HAS CONSENTED TO EXECUTE.—MORDANT."


The innocent masher's face was full only of blank bovine admiration when she came skipping out of the office, her wire dispatched. She laughed outright at his moon-calf look; her gay spirits quite came back to her, and she made as though she would kick the little straw hat from his head—a feat she could have accomplished with great ease if so minded.

"Hallo! Softy," she cried, "if you stand like that with your flycatcher open, the people will mistake your mouth for the letter-box."

As they went down the slope together on their bicycles Mr. Blood-Smith suddenly remembered. "By Jove!" he said, "I want to send a wire too, if you don't mind. Back-pedal, Trix, I'll be with you in a minute."

"All right," she laughed back to him; "give her my love, dear, and say I'm not jealous."

He wheeled sharp round on the face of the slope—a ticklish feat—and flew back to the post-office. He scribbled five words to Warmington: "Bill blown upon. Look alive."

"Just looks like a chap that would do a little bit of stamped paper at ninety-five per cent," was the comment of the telegraph clerk, reading the message, while the masher sped back along the road in the wake of Miss Trixie.


MEANWHILE the big game for 5,000 a year was being played out eagerly, yet warily, in London. "The Voluntary Conveyances Bill" had slipped quietly through all its stages in the House of Lords. It was set down amid a miscellaneous collection of other unopposed Bills on the order paper of the House of Commons on the very Monday that Mr. Blood-Smith's wire dropped like a bombshell into Mr. Warmington's office.

No wonder the kind-hearted solicitor was in a very fever of anxiety.

"It's all right, my dear sir," said Sir Robert Ridley, Q.C., M.P., the popular Queen's counsel in charge of the Bill, as they walked up and down the inner lobby after the Speaker had gone to his tea. "Our friend, Mr. What's-his-name—Beck—has got hold of some mare's nest. They haven't an inkling of our little game. You'll see, we'll slip the Bill through to-night, and then goodbye to Miss Trixie Mordant."

"Order! Order!" said the Speaker, as the minute hand and hour hand came together at twelve on the clock under the gallery that marks the seat of the Prince of Wales. The member speaking for the moment dropped into his seat as though he had been shot.

"The Clerk will now proceed to read the Orders of the day," the Speaker went on in clear, resonant voice. The time had come for the consideration of unopposed business, the most interesting, curious, comical of all times in the House of Commons. For now the utterance of the vague formula, "I object," by any member can block any business at any stage.

There was a small attendance on this particular night. But every man there—Bill promoters and Bill blockers alike—was on the alert. You might tell at a glance the difference between them by the eagerness on one set of faces and the doggedness on the other. A man's love for his fad is beyond all other loves. To the private member his private Bill is more than fortune, home, or wife or children. It is part of his being; flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone. He handles it with tenderest affection in the House. He guards it from the pitiless blocker with the fluttering ineffectual care with which the mother bird guards its young from the weasel. The proudest man will humble himself to kiss the dust under the feet of his bitterest foe in the faint vain hope of advancing his beloved Bill a single stage on its career to the glorious climax of an Act of Parliament.

To-night some champion blockers were off guard, and several Bills got forward a stage, to the delight of their chaperones.

Then there was a turn in the tide of fortune.


Illustration

Then there was a turn in the tide of fortune.


"The Religious Opinions Persecution Bill."

"I object."

"The Fruit Identification Bill."

"I object."

"The Mussels Scalps (Scotland) Bill."

"I object."

"The Perambulators Regulation Bill."

"I object."

"The Cats' Meat Adulteration Bill."

"I object."

So the monotonous litany ran.

"The Crossing-sweepers' Remuneration Bill."

The member in charge—one of the brightest, keenest, most cynical in the House of Commons—nervously raised his hat, as form prescribes, in moving the Second Reading.

"The question is," sang out the Speaker, "that this Bill be now read a second time."

"I object."

The voice came from a member whom every man in the House knew to be an object of supreme contempt to the mover of the Bill. His time had come.

But the fond parent made one desperate effort to protect his offspring.

"With the permission of the House," he said, "I would venture to appeal to the kindness and consideration of my honourable friend and entreat him not to persist in his opposition. The Bill is supported on all sides of the House. Without injury to any interest it would confer a great boon, not merely on a most deserving though humble class of public servants, but on the public at large. If my honourable friend would kindly——"

"I object."

"Oh, d——n you!"

The exclamation was audible all over the House. The Speaker alone was judiciously deaf to it. "Order! Order!" he shouted, quelling the uproarious laughter.

"The Voluntary Conveyances Bill."

Mr. Ridley, Q.C., raised his hat.

"The question is that this Bill be now read a second time. As many as are of that opinion will say 'aye'; the contrary 'no.' I declare the 'ayes' have it."

No one had said "aye" or "no" on the question.

"When?" asked the Speaker.

"Now, sir," answered Mr. Ridley.

The Bill had passed safe into the Committee stage.

The Sergeant-at-Arms came pacing up the floor of the House. He lifted the huge gilt mace from its place on the table, and set it on two hooks below.

The Speaker, in beehive, horsehair wig, and black silk gown and tights, skipped out of his great carved chair; and the Chairman of Committee, in plain evening dress, slipped into his humbler seat beside the clerks.

The House of Commons was in Committee.

"The question is that clause one stands part of the Bill," gabbled the Chairman. "As many as are of that opinion say 'aye,' the contrary 'no.' I declare the 'ayes' have it. The question is that clause two stands part of the Bill," and so on to the end.

The Bill had gone through Committee stage without a hitch.

Mr. Warmington, in one of the seats under the gallery, was radiantly exultant.

Again the transformation scene was re-enacted. The Speaker slipped back into his chair. Close behind the Sergeant-at-Arms, as he came up the floor to shift the mace to the table, Mr. Hardy, Q.C., walked hastily, with an open note in his hand, and dropped into a seat almost directly under Mr. Ridley.

The Speaker rose to put the final motion that would send the Bill safe through the House.

"The question is that this Bill be now read a third time."

"I object!" came short and sharp as a pistol-shot from Mr. Hardy, Q.C.

"Perhaps my honourable and learned friend——"

Mr. Ridley began.

"I object!" sharper, if possible, than before.

"If my honourable and learned friend would only——"

"Order! Order!" broke in the Speaker. "The Bicycle Suppression Bill. The question is," &c., &c.

The Voluntary Conveyances Bill was effectively blocked for that night.

"What the devil did you do that for?" said Mr. Ridley to his friend Mr. Hardy a few minutes afterwards, as they walked down the floor of the House together, while the policeman's stentorian cry "Who goes home?" rang through the building.

"Oh, Sharkey wrote to ask me. Couldn't well refuse, you know. Gives me heaps of business. Very near not getting his note in time though. Another second and you were clean through."

"Worse luck. Have you seen this Bill at all?"

"Not I."

"Here's a copy. 'Twon't take you a moment to glance your eye over it."

"Short and sweet. It seems all right. The law about voluntary deeds wants straightening badly. I wonder what old Sharkey meant by asking me to block it."

"I can tell you," and in a few words he told him the whole story.

Mr. Hardy whistled apologetically. "Very sorry, old man," he said. "Beastly shame of Sharkey to get me to do his dirty work. It shan't occur again, I promise you."

"Thanks. But I'm afraid your repentance comes too late. You have done it once too often. Old Sharkey is not likely to give us a second chance."

* * * * *

NEXT morning, away in Mount Eagle, Miss Trixie Mordant was up early and restless. She was at the telegraph office before it opened, with the inevitable Mr. Jerome Blood-Smith, of course, dancing attendance on his enchantress.

This is the message that was ticked out to the "fair large ears" of the attentive masher, as he stood holding the bicycles at the door of the telegraph office while Miss Trixie waited inside:—


ALL SERENE. BILL BLOCKED LAST NIGHT. SNIPPIT STARTS BY THE MORNING MAIL FOR RATHCOOL WITH DEED ENGROSSED FOR EXECUTION. —SHARKEY.


"Hooray!" shouted the irrepressible Miss Trixie when these tickings in the form of written words on pink paper were handed to her politely by the clerk. But when she danced to the door, waving the pink paper triumphantly, she caught a back view of Mr. Jerome Blood-Smith, head well over the handles of his bicycle, flying up the hill back to the hotel.

"My eye!" she exclaimed in amazement, "what's come to that softy? Did a wopse sting my precious pet, just as I was in humour to tickle him up, too? Five thousand a year and a castle, all to my own cheek. It's simply scrumptious. Won't I make the duchesses of the county sit up. I must have a down-hill scorch all by my own little self to work it off, or I'll bust."


MEANWHILE Mr. Beck, for he was Mr. Beck again in spite of the peach-blossom complexion and the amber-coloured moustache, was strangely occupied in his locked bedroom. There was a time-table open beside him, and a big railway map of Ireland spread out on the quilt of his bed, at which he was busy with a pair of compasses and blue pencil.

After a brief study of the time-table, he turned to the map and marked a spot on the Southern Trunk Railway where the high road runs over it on a bridge at the head of the steepest gradient on the line. Then he consulted the time-table again. The spot he marked was almost midway between two stations on the main line.


Illustration

He marked a spot on the Southern Trunk Railway.


The third next station further on was the "Rathcool and Knockcrany junction," which branched off thirty miles of narrow gauge, ending at Rathcool. The Lightning Express train would pass the point he marked at about eight o'clock p.m. The local train that met it at the junction was the last that night. The earliest train next day was timed to start at thirty-five past two p.m., and arrive at five past four at Rathcool.

Then Mr. Beck measured the distance carefully with his compass between the blue spot he had marked out on the map and Mount Eagle, in the County of Clare, and ticked the miles off on the scale.

"A little over a hundred," he muttered. "There is time enough to do it. But it's deuced risky work and dead against the law. Well, I've helped the law so often in my day that it must make allowance this once. Besides, the job is Mr. Blood-Smith's, not Mr. Beck's, and it is the last, the very last, chance of helping the little lady. So here goes."

His mind made up, he lost no time in preparation. He thrust himself into a thin, plain, dark-coloured cycling suit in which the great muscles of his legs and arms rolled and swelled. He fished out a strong bicycle bag, fitted with straps to be carried on the handle-bar and packed in a very singular fashion. The two tin cans which held the oil for his bicycle lamp and the lubricating oil for the bearings were Mr. Beck's sole baggage on his projected expedition. These two greasy cans, both quite full, he wrapped up carefully in a couple of Mr. Blood-Smith's large, handsome silk handkerchiefs and crammed into the bag.

Quietly and quickly the bag was fitted to the bars, and Mr. Beck slipped into the saddle at the hotel door and was off at a good steady twelve miles an hour. A strong head wind blew out of the south-east. But he bent his head and shoulders against it and butted his way stubbornly along. "It blows dead against the train, anyhow," he said to himself as he pushed his way through the wind, "that's one comfort. Every little helps in the job I've got before me."


ALL day long on his high-geared machine Mr. Beck pushed on at the same steady, unchanging, untiring pace. Only once, when well over half of his journey was accomplished, he stopped at a wayside "shebeen" for a crust of bread and a pint of stout.

Evening began to close in. His cyclometer marked eighty-four miles already covered. Looking at his watch, of which he could hardly distinguish the figures in the gathering dusk, Mr. Beck found he had still over two hours left. "In good time," he muttered, and slackened speed a little, for the head wind all day was stiff and persistent. But ten minutes later he felt that jarring vibration under him with which all riders of pneumatic tyres are unhappily familiar. He slipped off at once behind his machine. It was a bad puncture; the tyre of the back wheel quite flat and flabby.

To ride it further was impossible; to repair it in the growing darkness was not less so. He was still a good twelve miles from his journey's end. The accident seemed fatal. But Mr. Beck was equal to the occasion. He took a pair of strong forceps from his tool-bag and then perched the machine on its saddle with wheels in the air and felt for the neck of the back wheel valve. There was no nice fitting needed to wrench off the nut. The ready forceps caught it like a pair of iron fingers and twisted it off in an instant.

The inner-tubes of Mr. Beck's bicycle were not like the rest of men's. They were of what is known as the "butted" variety, with the ends closed and detached like a long sausage, and he always carried a spare tube in his bag. No need now to loosen chain or wheel or to find the puncture or to patch it. The injured tube came quietly out and the sound tube went in, and the pump did the rest.

Mr. Beck managed the job with a quickness and dexterity one would never have expected from his thick, clumsy-looking fingers. Five minutes after the first warning he was on the bicycle again, with the black lines of the double hedgerows of the lonely road racing past him through the twilight.

At last! He could just distinguish the steep slope as the road rose abruptly and leapt over the railway. He dropped off at the foot, lifted the bicycle over the wooden railings, and stood it carefully in the shadow of the bridge wall. He took the bag from the handle-bars and walked with it down to the rails. A few stars showed tremulous through the haze. A faint metallic gleam came from the rails that stretched, two threads of light, away into the darkness.


Illustration

A faint metallic gleam came from the rails.


Mr. Beck took one of the silk handkerchiefs from the bag and shook out the folds. He drew the cork of one of the oil-cans with his teeth, soaked the silk as full as it could hold, then bending down over the near rail he began smearing the smooth metal thickly with the oil. So he worked steadily and swiftly for over a hundred yards down the steep gradient until one can of oil was exhausted. He crossed the line and came up mopping and daubing the other rail from the other can in the same plentiful fashion. Then he took his stand right between the rails at the head of the gradient under the bridge, with the cool night wind sweeping past him. There was a curious expression on his face—anxious, expectant, and amused.

"I hope I am safe here," he muttered, "right in the track of the mail train. We'll soon see."

Almost as he spoke there came right before him a steady, white star, distant and low. The wind was blowing almost straight down the line. For a little he heard no other sound than its moaning. The star all the time grew bigger and brighter. Then came a curious vibration in the air and the roar and rattle of the mail train; low at first, it grew and grew like a strong tide of sound forcing itself against the wind. Under a full head of steam the engine of the Lightning Express, with the long train trailing behind in the darkness, came thundering up the incline, slacking speed a little, like a horse out of breath, as it climbed towards the top.

Then all of a sudden the wheels struck oil. There was an instant change in the roar of the train; the rough jar and rattle died out of it. But the acquired momentum still forced the huge weight forward, the wheels sliding like a horse's hoofs on slimy pavement, and taking no grip on the greased metal. The engine came on slowly and more slowly until it was within twenty yards of where Mr. Beck stood at the end of the greased slope. It wavered, stood still for one long second, and then began silently and slowly at first to slip back down the slope, gaining speed as it went. The wheels slid helplessly on the oiled steel. The engine, like a wounded monster, shrieked horribly through the still night. Far away, down at the foot of the long gradient, the train came at last to a dead halt. The sound of the opening and shutting of many doors and the babble of excited voices struggled faintly up against the wind to the listening Mr. Beck. He waited till he heard the guard come almost right up to where he stood laying crackers along the line. Then he knew the train was safe for the night; so he drew his bicycle from its shelter with an easy mind, and with the wind at his back went sailing away swiftly and smoothly along the road he came, which stretched, a faint grey streak, into the night.


NEXT day, at half-past three o'clock, while Mr. Snippit, with the deed in his black calfskin bag, was still a long five miles from Rathcool and was vigorously cursing the go-as-you-please light railway, a very curious performance was in progress in the House of Lords.

The little Lord Chancellor, with cocked hat perched on his huge beehive wig, was seated on the broad, scarlet woolsack. Two other lords, resplendent in scarlet and ermine, were beside him. This "combination company" represented the absent Majesty of England. There were a number of other performers in a variety of costumes. But most remarkable of all was a very tall man wearing a bob wig of particularly white horse-hair, a long black gown, and a face of preternatural solemnity. A shorter man was reading a list of Bills which had passed through the storms of Lords and Commons, and were now sailing peacefully into port. As each title was read the tall man jerked himself half round, like an automaton on springs, bowed to the empty throne, and, with the metallic twang of a phonograph, uttered the magic formula that converts a Bill into an Act of Parliament.

"The Voluntary Conveyance Bill," read the short man.

"La Reine le veut," jerked out the tall man.

In that second the Bill was an Act, an integral part of the law of the land, and the rights of little Miss Florence Burton secure.


ALL that afternoon, at Mount Eagle, Miss Trixie Mordant and Mr. Jerome Blood-Smith waited eagerly expectant of telegrams. It was well on in the evening when two pink envelopes arrived together at last.

There was but one word in each message.

Her word was "LOST"—and his "WON."


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
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