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THOMAS CHARLES BRIDGES
(WRITING AS CHRISTOPHER BECK)

AN ANARCHIST OF VENICE

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RGL e-Book Cover
Based on an old travel poster


Ex Libris

First published in Chums, Cassell & Co., London, 1909?

Reprinted in The Chronicle, Adelaide, Australia, 6 Mar 1909 (this version)

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2021
Version Date: 2021-11-27

Produced by Keith Emmett and Roy Glashan

All content added by RGL is proprietary and protected by copyright.

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I. — [UNTITLED.]

IT was with a white face and sinking heart that Jeff Fraser entered the little post-office in a back street in Venice.

What had his father said? "If the letter doesn't come to-day, Jeff, I'm at the end of my tether. We must have our lodgings and Heaven knows what will become of us."

Jeff was only fifteen, but he had seen enough of the rough side of life to know that for English people there couldn't be anything much worse than to be cast adrift penniless in an Italian town.

"It isn't for myself I care," he thought, as he waited at the counter. "But father's so delicate; it'll kill him. My word, I wish I was behind those English lawyers with a jolly thick stick. I'd smash some of their red tape. Keeping us out of our money like this!"

"The train late you say?" It was the man just before Jeff at the counter who was speaking. A square-built man in well-cut tweeds. He spoke good Italian, but was unmistakably English. Somehow his face, with its square jaw and keen grey eyes, seemed familiar to Jeff.

"Yes, Signor Manley," replied the olive-faced clerk. "It will be an hour before the English letters are distributed."

Manley! Ah, Jeff remembered now. It must be Roger Manley, the celebrated Scotland Yard detective, who had been "borrowed" by the Italian Government to help in reorganising the Italian police. His photograph had been in all the illustrated papers six months previously. And no doubt it was the visit of King Victor Emanuel which had brought him to Venice.

"I'll come back, then, in an hour," said Manley in his quick, sharp tones. "Do not send out any letters which may come for me nor trust them to any messenger."

"I understand, signor," replied the clerk deferentially, then turned to Jeff.

"I heard what you said about the train being late," said the boy in his fluent Italian. "I'll come back, too."

"I hope your letter will come to-night, signor," said the clerk kindly. Jeff had been to the office every day for a fortnight and the good-natured clerks all knew the anxious-faced English boy who spoke their own language so perfectly.

"I hope so, too," said Jeff bravely, and turned away.

"No use going home," thought Jeff. "I'd barely have time to get there and back. I'll just stroll about until seven."

All down the rows of magnificent palaces which border the Grand Canal they were decorating for the king, who had that day arrived in the City of the Lagoon. But in the narrow alleys and lanes there were no flags or flowers. The people who live in the tall rookeries are too poor to show their loyalty in that way.

Jeff strolled aimlessly along under the shadow of the houses. It was a dull evening, but numbers of people were about along the narrow, flagged foot-way which ran between the buildings and the canal, which occupied the centre of the street.

Jeff paid no attention to them. He was too occupied with his own unhappy thoughts. "If I could only get money to take dad back to England I'd soon settle old Hernshaw! I'm certain he's doing us somehow, and we're helpless at this distance from home. I believe that's the real reason why he doesn't answer dad's letters. He's afraid of our turning up and making him shell out."

"If I'd only got someone to talk to about it," muttered the boy. "Dad doesn't know a thing about business. He cares for nothing but his painting, and yet be can't sell his pictures. That chap Manley looked a decent sort. I wonder if I dare ask him about it."

Jeff's musings were interrupted by a loud splash and a shriek of terror. A group of children had been playing on the opposite aide of the canal, and one of them, a girl of ten or twelve, had toppled over into that water.

In an instant a shouting, screaming crowd had gathered on the bank, but not one of them attempted to do anything to help the child. Venetians, like sailors, are not swimmers, and there wasn't a boat in sight.

"They jabber like a lot of monkeys," growled Jeff, as he flung off his coat. He saw a bare brown arm rise appealingly above the dark water, then, taking a short run he dived far out into the canal.

When he rose the girl was gone.

"There, there, signor!" screamed a man on the bank, pointing vehemently. Jeff shook the water from his eyes and swam in the direction indicated.

Suddenly he felt himself clutched by the legs. The girl had risen beneath him and seized him with a drowning grip.

The boy struggled furiously to free himself. It was impossible. The girl was drowning herself and him too.

"A rope!" he yelled. And then he went under and was dragged far down into the cold depths.

His lungs were bursting when at last his feet struck the oozy bottom and with a frantic kick he forced himself upwards.

The shock tore him free from the girl, but as he once more got his head up and took a long, gasping breath she rose beside him, and this time he got her by the hair and struck out for the bank.

A dozen eager hands were stretched, and Jeff and the girl, who was now quite unconscious, were lugged up on to dry land.

"Oh, the brave English boy! Viva the English boy!" screamed the crowd hysterically and then a wild-eyed, brown-faced man burst through them, and, to Jeff's intense disgust, flung his arms round him and kissed him on both cheeks.

"Chuck it!" cried Jeff, struggling violently.

"It is Bianca's father," cried the crowd.

Jeff, in Italian, declared it was nothing and begged them to let him go. But he was not to get off so easily. Bianca's father, whose name, it appeared, was Pietro Satolli, vowed that Bianca's rescuer could not go home through the streets, dripping as he was. He would catch his death of cold. If the signor would condescend to wear a suit of his son Luigi, he should have it at once. The house was near by.

So Jeff, who was beginning to shiver for it was winter and the evening was chilly and threatening rain, allowed himself to be persuaded and was taken up many flight of stairs to a bare little flat, and presently found himself arrayed in Luigi's Sunday suit. Glancing at himself in a scrap of looking-glass he couldn't help laughing.

"I don't believe dad'll know me. I'm the very image of an Italian kid," he said.

"Now I must get back," he told Satolli. But Pietro would not hear of it The signor would do him the honor of taking a little supper with him. It would be nothing: just an omelette and a bottle of Chianti.

Jeff smiled rather grimly. For the past three days he and his father had lived on bread and butter. They could afford nothing else.

"Don't know whether it's beastly selfish of me, but I'll take the chance of a square meal," thought Jeff.

Pietro, all smiles, marched him down the stairs, a little way up the street and ushered him into an odd little restaurant, where a four-course dinner was advertised at ten pence.

"I take you here, signor," he explained, "because my wife is busy with the little Bianca. Besides, the patron is a friend of mine. He will cook me an omelette of the finest. Does the signor prefer the omelette with herbs or with mushrooms, or shall it be any other dish—an English chop or rosbif?"

"Anything you like, Satolli," replied Jeff, who was hungry enough to have eaten a house.

"If you will seat yourself here, signor, I will find the patron and ask him to give us a dish fit to celebrate the signor's great bravery. I will see it cooked myself."

The place was very empty. It was a little early for the evening meal. The seat which Jeff had been given was in the far corner to the right of the door, and nearest to the charcoal stove. The table was hidden from the one next it by a wooden partition about six feet high.

"This is jolly comfy," said Jeff to himself. "Only wish poor old dad was here to enjoy it." He lay back sleepily.

Steps echoed on the bare boards. Jeff, thinking it was Pietro, looked up. But it was not. Two men were seating themselves at the next table, on the far side of the partition.

"Good. We are early and the place is empty," said one. He spoke in German, a language which Jeff, who had been all over the Continent with his father, knew as well as he did Italian.

They began to talk in low guttural whispers. Jeff was paying no particular attention when all of a sudden the name of Roger Manley caught his ear and something about "hired minion of a despot."

"Couple of silly Anarchists," thought Jeff. "Italy's stiff with 'em."

All the same, his attention was roused, and he listened. He had liked the look of the detective. If these chaps were planning to murder him or anything of that sort it would be just as well to find out.

"Is all ready?" asked one man.

"All. The room is on the third floor. Two of the brothers will be present."

"And both armed?"

"Both. If one misses his mark the other will not."

There was an ugly chuckle. "Then the deed is as good as done. Bresei shall be avenged. To-morrow there will be one despot the less. All Europe will ring with our achievement."

"Oh, will it?" thought Jeff. "I say, this is jolly serious. There's bombs in this, or something equally beastly."

He got close to the corner of the partition and listened with all his ears. They began to talk again and Jeff's blood ran cold as he gradually picked up the details.

These two ruffians were members of a band who had hired rooms in a house overlooking the Grand Canal. Next day, as Jeff already knew King Victor Emanuel was to proceed in state down the great waterway to open a new dock. When he passed the house the Anarchists were to be ready with two pyroxolene bombs, which they meant to hurl at the royal gondola. Even if they missed the gondola the terrific force of the explosion was bound to destroy everything within many yards. The whole suite would be wiped out, including Lord Lamerton, a British Cabinet Minister, and, of course, Roger Manley.

"You unutterable brutes," muttered Jeff in horror and disgust. "Thank goodness I've heard you. If I don't put Manley on your track jolly quick I'm a Dutchman."

"I must get a squint at you," he continued, and very cautiously clambered on to his chair, and peeped over the top of partition.

There they sat with their heads close together, and crack-brain scoundrels who were cheerfully preparing to hurl a great kingdom into mourning and brutally destroy scores of innocent lives.

One was a man of nearly sixty, tall, thin, wiry, and white-haired; the other a black-browed, scowling fellow of middle height. His broad shoulders and huge muscular brown hands showed that he possessed enormous physical strength.

Jeff got down as quietly as he had got up. He had forgotten all about his supper. His one idea was to get out without being seen. These men were desperate. His life would he nothing if they even imagined he had overheard their plot.

But there was no cover. What was he to do? And at any moment Pietro might come back and then, of course, the Anarchists must see him and know they had been overheard.

Jeff set his teeth. "I've got to make a bolt for it," he said to himself. "Wonder if they'll chivy me. That long brute looks as if he could run."

Hardly daring to breathe and with his heart thumping like a hammer, Jeff set his chair cautiously aside, and quietly as a cat stole to the edge of the partition.


II. — PLUNGED INTO THE CANAL.

THE crash of two overturned chairs reached Jeff's ears as he tore out of the door of the restaurant and slammed it violently behind him.

He was many yards up the street before he heard the thud of footsteps in pursuit.

It had begun to rain—a thick, cold drizzle—and the pavement was almost clear. Head down, Jeff ran with all his might in the direction of the post-office. He might not be safe even there, but it was his only chance of finding Roger Manley and warning him of the Anarchists' scoundrelly plan.

"Stop thief!" came a shout behind him.

"So that's your game," thought Jeff. "By Jove! though I'm in this beastly Italian rig, they'll never believe me if I say I'm English."

"Stop thief!" The cry echoed up the narrow street. A man sprang out of an entrance and made a grab at Jeff. The boy dodged under his outstretched arm and was gone.

The street ahead was clear. Jeff spurted for all he was worth, and, to his intense relief the shouts died behind him.

"I've got the legs of you," he muttered exultantly. "What price your beastly bombs now?"

A bright light gleamed in the distance. It was on the other side of the street. Then Jeff remembered with a sudden shock that, in getting the girl out, he had crossed, the canal. The water was now between him and his goal.

"And the nearest bridge a quarter of a mile away!" he groaned.

He thought of jumping in and swimming across. But a moment's reflection showed this would be pure foolishness. The Anarchists could be on him long before he could clamber up the perpendicular bank.

"Got to stick it out—that's all," muttered the boy. "They can't cross either—that's one good thing."

Slackening a little, for the pace he had been keeping was too good to last, he made for the bridge. As he ran, the sound of pursuit died away, and when he turned across the arch and glanced back not a soul was in sight along the dimly-lit alley.

"Lost 'em this time!" he cried aloud. "I guess there'll be ructions to-night when Manley gets on the warpath. And, by Jove! I can ask him now to help us against that beastly lawyer, old Hernshaw."

Feeling very pleased with himself, Jeff, who was a bit blown by his hard run, jogged along at a steady trot back down the opposite side of the canal towards the post-office. He kept a wary eye on the farther bank, but saw no sign of the Anarchist gentlemen.

"Expect they've given up and gone home. The skunks will have all they can do to hook it before Manley's after them. Hullo, what luck!" as he caught sight of a smart-looking back in the distance dressed in clothes of an unmistakably English cut. "There is Manley himself. Just going into the post-office."

"Mr. Manley," he shouted. But evidently the detective did not hear.

"Mr. M—!" The shout ended in a choking gurgle as a hand, which was more like a steel vice than human flesh and blood, flashed out from a deeply receded doorway and fell upon Jeff's neck.

"Got him, Prisco," growled a hoarse voice in German, and Jeff, struggling vainly, was picked up bodily and borne swiftly away down what seemed to be a tunnel of masonry running at right angles under the houses.

The strangling grip on his neck made it impossible to utter a word, and as his struggles were no more to the man who carried him than those of a mouse to a cat, Jeff lay quiet.

The footsteps echoed hollow; the air struck chill and damp and with a strong odor of rotting wood. Jeff could feel they were dropping down a steep slope.

As he got over the first shock of his capture he began to look about him. He knew he was in a precious tight place.

Evidently the Anarchists had fathomed his intention, and, finding some means of crossing the canal, had lain in wait and cut him off. What would they do? Jeff's heart beat painfully as he remembered stories of the fate of Anarchist spies.

The man—he was the black-browed ruffian—carrying him stopped. They were in the mouth of an arch of slimy, dripping stone. Out beyond was grey water, hissing under the streaming raindrops. A chill breeze whipped the surface into ripples. A dingy gondola waited at the steps.

"A handkerchief," growled Blackbrows. Next moment Jeff felt an unclean rag tight across his face. He was flung down into the bottom of the gondola with a brutal force that knocked the breath out of him. Before he could move both Anarchists were on him and while one held him the other tied him tight.

Jeff fought desperately but uselessly. Presently he lay helpless, bound hand and foot across the rough ribs of the long, lean craft.

Blackbrows stepped to the stem and his burly figure was outlined against the fading grey twilight as he swung the great pivoted oar and the gondola passed silently out from shore.

The rain splashed upon Jeff's upturned face, but he never noticed it. The boy had all the pluck of a clean-bred young Englishman, but he could not hide from himself that he was afraid—horribly afraid. A fight is one thing, to lie bound and helpless in the bottom of a boat while a couple of the most ruthless fanatics in Europe carry you away across the grey lagoon is another.

Jeff knew that he was absolutely beyond reach of help. No one could possibly know where he was.

The deadly silence of the two men was perhaps the worst of it all. Neither spoke a word. They were like two demons of the underworld who were bearing him away to sea. He could have borne it better if they had spoken—even if they cursed or abused him.

On ploughed the gondola. The little waves lapped under the prow. That and the creaking of the long oar in its socket were the only sounds that broke the utter stillness.

What would they do with him? To Jeff there were only two alternatives. Either they were taking him to some lonely island—there are many in the lagoons—where they would maroon him, or—his throat grew dry as he considered how much more likely—they meant to dump him overboard with a brick round his neck and sink him in the cold depths of the dark waters.

On and on, Jeff thought that by this time they must be almost out of sight of the city.

And then at last the grey man in the bows spoke.

"This will do."

Blackbrows dropped the oar and stepped down from the stem. He seized Jeff by the legs. The other took him by the shoulders.

Jeff made a final fierce struggle. The Anarchists paid no more attention to his efforts than if he had been a kitten.

Once twice they swung him, then he was flying through the air. He dropped with a loud splash and the cold waters closed over him.

* * * * *

"HE lives, Luigi. Rub hard, my son!"

These words, in a voice which seemed vaguely familiar, came dimly to Jeff's ears. He opened his eyes. Faint, sick, and half choked, he was again lying in the bottom of a gondola face downwards, while a pair of hard hands rubbed his back and ribs till they glowed again.

"Steady on. You'll take the skin off," muttered Jeff feebly.

A chuckle of delight. "He is alive. The signor speaks. Roll him up warm, Luigi."

A rough rug was wrapped round Jeff; he was lifted and placed in a sitting position. A cheery, brown face confronted him. Jeff thought he had never seen anything more pleasant in all his life.

"You, Pietro!" he gasped.

"Yes, signor. It is I."

"But how did you come here?"

"At the minute you left I came back into the room. I saw Prisco and Sarto chase you. I called Luigi and we two followed. Alas! in the darkness and the rain we missed you. By good luck, Luigi knew where those men kept their gondola. We took another and followed. But they had a long start and we dared not go too near. They carry pistols, which kill a long way off, do those men. Happily, in the darkness they did not see us. We marked where you sank. Luigi dived and found you. That is all."

"By Jove! you are a good chap!" cried Jeff warmly. "And you, too, Luigi!"

Pietro's face glowed. "It is happiness to serve the brave English signor," he replied.

"You've done a jolly sight more than serve and save me, Pietro. If I'm not mistaken you've saved the life of your king and no end of other people into the bargain," And Jeff quickly told what he had overheard in the restaurant.

Pietro was too amazed to speak.

"The first thing we've got to do," went on Jeff, "is to find Roger Manley, the English detective. He'll know how to sit on the schemes of those two fiends."

"I know where he lives," cried Luigi.

"Then the sooner we're there the better," exclaimed Jeff.


III. — THE THANKS OF A KING.

ABOUT five the following afternoon there came a sharp tap at the door of Mr. Fraser's dingy fourth floor lodgings, and Roger Manley came briskly in.

"How did it work?" cried Jeff eagerly.

"Like a charm. We've nabbed 'em every one, including your two friends, Sarto and Prisco," replied Manley with a note of triumph in his strong voice. "Best haul for years. Mr. Fraser, you've every reason to be proud of your son."

The invalid's face lighted up. "I am, Mr. Manley."

"Jeffrey," said Manley, "I want you. Put on your hat and come at once."

"What for?" asked Jeff, obeying.

"Never you mind, my lad," said the detective mysteriously.

A beautifully appointed gondola was in waiting with a gondolier in black and gold livery.

"I say you do do yourself well, Mr. Manley," laughed Jeff, as he took his seat on a velvet cushion.

Manley only smiled. The gondola moved swiftly down the canal, entered the Grand Canal, and finally stopped at the foot of a flight of magnificent marble steps.

"Where are you taking me to?" enquired Jeff uneasily, as he eyed a huge pair of open bronze doors and a row of powdered footmen.

"Don't worry. It's all right," Manley assured him.

"Take your word for it," muttered Jeff. "But it's all a little too gorgeous for me." They went up a richly carpeted staircase into a great hall. A magnificent personage in a green and gold uniform stood at the head, cordially shook hands with Manley and exchanged a few words with him in a whisper.

"Quite ready now," Jeff caught.

The personage led them across the hall, and, opening a door, showed them into a small but exquisitely appointed room. A little man in a suit of quiet tweeds sat at a desk, writing.

He rose, and Jeff was conscious that the small man had black hair, piercing black eyes and an air of quiet dignity.

"Your Majesty," said the person in uniform. "I have the honor to present to you Mr. Manley and Mr. Jeffrey Fraser."

Then Jeff realised that he was in the presence of King Victor Emanuel himself.

The King was shaking his hand; he was thanking him warmly.

Utterly confused for the moment, the simple kindness of the monarch put the lad at his ease in a very short time, and Jeff found himself telling the whole story quite simply and easily.

"You see it was Pietro did more than I, sir," he ended up.

"Pietro did well, and he is not forgotten," said the King in English. "But you, my boy, did better. I shudder to think what would have happened but for your pluck and presence of mind."

The King turned to the desk and took up two small morocco cases, "This is our Italian medal for saving life," he said as he pinned it on Jeff's coat. It is for saving the little Bianca. And this"—as he took from the other case a most magnificent gold watch and chain with his own monogram in jewels on the back—"is a little personal present from myself. I hope you will live long to wear both."

Jeff, quite overwhelmed, muttered his thanks and the interview was over.

But a fresh surprise was in store for him.

When he got home he found his father in a state of delighted excitement. "Jeff," he cried, "I've got an order for a dozen of my Venetian pictures. And two English illustrated papers have wired for sketches. What's more, Manley says he'll tackle Hernshaw for us. Jeff, our bad times are over. We're going to start afresh."


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is out of copyright in countries with a copyright
period of 70 years or less, after the year of the author's death.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.