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5: We Pay the Aunt an Informal Visit

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« on: November 19, 2023, 07:11:16 am »

I WAS there to the minute. For a while after Drummond had gone, I told myself that I would have nothing more to do with the business, but it was a feeble struggle. The excitement of the thing had got hold of me, and poor old Stevens---my clerk---had never seemed so intolerably prosy and long-winded.

"Splendid," said Drummond as I walked in. "That completes us. Stockton, this is Ted Jerningham, a lad of repulsive morals but distinctly quick on the uptake."

He brought our numbers up to six, and when I look back now and think of the odds against which, in all ignorance, we were pitting ourselves I could almost laugh. And yet I know one thing. Even had Drummond realised what those odds were, it would not have made an iota of difference to him. With him it was always a question of the more the merrier.

"We will now run over the plan of operations," he went on, when I had removed two dogs from a chair and sat down. "I've told these birds what I told you this afternoon, Stockton, so it only remains to discuss to-night. In the first place we've had a stroke of luck which is a good omen. The street running parallel to Ashworth Gardens is called Jersey Street. And the back of Number 13, Jersey Street looks on to the back of 12, Ashworth Gardens. Moreover, the female who owns Number 13, Jersey Street lets rooms, and I have taken those rooms. In fact, I've taken the whole bally house for a week---rent paid in advance---for a party of divinity students who have come up to this maelstrom of vice to see the Mint and Madame Tussaud's and generally be inconceivably naughty.

"Separating the backs of the houses are two brown patches of mud with a low wall in the middle which a child of four could climb with ease. And since there is no moon to-night, there oughtn't to be much difficulty in getting over that wall unseen---should the necessity arise.

"And since the spectacle of four of you dashing down the stairs and out of the old girl's back door might rouse unworthy suspicions in her breast, I have stipulated that we must have the use of a ground floor sitting-room at the back of the house. She doesn't usually let it, but I assured her that the wild distractions of Jersey Street would seriously interfere with our meditations."

"Four?" interrupted Jerningham. "Why four?"

"I'm coming to that," said Drummond. "I want someone with me in Number 12. And since the sport will probably be there, I think it's only fair to let Stockton have it, as this is really his show."

A chorus of assent greeted his remark, and for the life of me I couldn't help laughing. I had formed a mental picture of Drummond's pal of the afternoon with the whin bushes sprouting from his face, and I could see him being my portion for the evening. But the whole tone of the meeting was one of the most serious gravity: it might have been a discussion before a shoot when the principal guest was being given the best position. So I suppressed the laugh and accepted with becoming gratitude.

"Right," said Drummond. "Then that's settled. Now to the next point."

He picked up from his desk a cowl-shaped black mask, and regarded it reminiscently.

"Lucky I kept a few of these: do you remember 'em, you fellows? Stockton wouldn't, of course."

He turned to me.

"Years ago we had an amusing little show rounding up Communists and other unwashed people of that type. We called ourselves the Black Gang, and it was a great sport while it lasted."

"Good Heavens!" I said, staring at him. "I dimly remember reading something about it in the papers. I thought the whole thing was a hoax."

They all laughed.

"That's when we chloroformed your pal MacIver and left him to cool on his own doorstep. Happy days, laddie: happy days. However, taking everything into account, the going at the moment might be worse. And it struck me that these things might come in handy to-night. If we wear our old black gauntlets, and these masks well tucked in round the collar, it will afford us some protection if they start any monkey tricks with that filthy juice of theirs. At any rate there is no harm in having them with us in case of accidents: they don't take up much room and we can easily slip them into our pockets. So it all boils down to this. Stockton and I will deposit you four in Jersey Street, where you will take up a firm position in the back sitting-room. Bearing in mind that you are destined for the Church, and the penchant of landladies for keyholes, you will refrain from your usual conversation. Under no circumstances is Toby to tell any of his stories, nor is Ruff's Guide to be placed in a prominent position on the table when she brings you in your warm milk at ten. Rather should there be an attitude of devotion: possibly a note-book or two in which you are entering up your impressions of the Wallace Collection----"

A struggling mass of men at length grew quiescent in a corner, with Drummond underneath.

"It takes five of us to do it," panted Darrell to me. "And last time the chandelier in the room below fell on Denny's head."

"That being quite clear," pursued Drummond from his place on the floor, "we will pass on. Should you hear shouts as of men in pain from the house opposite; or should you, on glancing through the crack of the blind, see me signalling you will abandon your attitude of devotion and leg it like hell over the wall. Because we may want you damned quick. Wear your masks: Ted to be in 'charge,' and I leave it to you as to what to do once you arrive in Number 12."

"And if we neither hear nor see anything?" asked Jerningham. "How long are we to give you?"

They had resumed their normal positions, and Drummond thoughtfully lit a cigarette.

"I think, old boy," he remarked, "that half-an-hour should be long enough. In fact," he added, rubbing his hands together in anticipation, "I'm not at all certain it won't be twenty-nine minutes too long. Let's get on with it."

We pocketed our masks and gauntlets and went downstairs. There was no turning back for me now: I was definitely committed to go through with it. But I have no hesitation in admitting that our taxi-drive seemed to me the shortest on record. We had two cars, and Drummond stopped them several hundred yards short of our objective. Then leading the way with me we walked in pairs to Jersey Street.

Number 13 was typical of all the houses in the neighbourhood---an ordinary drab London lodging-house of the cheaper type. But the landlady, when she finally emerged, was affability itself. The strong odour of gin that emerged with her showed that the rent had not been wasted, and led us to hope that sleep would shortly overcome her. At the moment it had merely made her thoroughly garrulous, and only the timely advent of an acute attack of hiccoughs stemmed the reminiscences of her girlhood's happy days. But at last she went, and instantly Drummond was at the window peering through a chink in the blind.

"Lower the light, someone, and then come and reconnoitre. There's the house facing you: there's the wall. No lights: I wonder if the birds have flown. No, by Jove! I saw a gleam then from that upstairs window. There it is again."

Sure enough a light was showing in one of the rooms, and I thought I saw a shadow move across the blind. Downstairs all was dark, and after a few moments' inspection Drummond stepped back into the room.

"Come on, Stockton," he said. "We'll go round by the front door. Don't forget I'm an Australian, and you're a pal of mine whom I met unexpectedly in London to-day. And if I pretend to be a little blotto---pugnaciously so---back me up. Ted---half-an-hour; but keep your eye glued on the house in case we want you sooner."

"Right ho! old man. Good luck."

We walked through the hall cautiously, but the door leading to our landlady's quarters was shut. And in three minutes we were striding down Ashworth Gardens. A figure detached itself from the shadows outside the scene of last night's adventure, and glanced at us suspiciously. But Drummond was talking loudly as we passed him of his voyage home, and the man made no effort to detain us.

"One of MacIver's men," he muttered to me as we turned into Number 12. "Now, old man, we're for it. If I can I'm going to walk straight in."

But the front door was bolted, and perforce we had to ring. Once more he started talking in the aggressive way of a man who has had something to drink, and I noticed that the detective was listening.

"I tell you my Aunt Amelia will just be charmed to see you, boy. Any pal of mine is a pal of hers. And I haven't come twelve thousand miles to be told that my father's sister isn't well enough to see Wallie. No, sir---I have not."

The door suddenly opened and a man stood there looking at us angrily.

"What do you want?" he snapped. "Are you aware, sir, that there is an invalid in this house?"

"I'm perfectly well aware of it," said Drummond loudly. "But what I'm not aware of---and what I'm going to be aware of---is how that invalid, who is my aunt, is being treated. I'm not satisfied with the attention she is receiving"---out of the corner, of my eyes I saw the detective drawing closer---"not at all satisfied. And I and my friend here are not going to leave this house until Aunt Amelia tells me that she's being well looked after. There's such a thing as the police, sir, I tell you . . ."

"What on earth are you talking about?" said the man savagely, and I noticed he was looking over our shoulders at the detective, who was now listening openly. "However, you'd better come inside, and I'll consult the doctor in charge."

He closed the door behind us, and Drummond gave me an imperceptible wink. Then he went on again aggressively:

"How many doctors are there in this house? I saw a man this afternoon with a face like a hearthrug---is he here? And do you all live here? I tell you I'm not satisfied. And until I see my Aunt Amelia . . ."

A door opened and the man whom Drummond had described to me in my office came out into the hall.

"How dare you return here, sir?" he shouted. "You're the insolent, interfering young swine who was here this afternoon, and if you aren't out of this house in two seconds I'll throw you out."

"You'd better try," answered Drummond calmly. "And why don't you let your face out as a grouse moor? I'm your patient's nephew and I want to know what all you ugly-looking swabs are doing in this house?"

With a quick movement he stepped past the man into the room beyond, and I followed him. Three other men were there sitting round a table, and they rose as we entered. Two packed suit-cases lay on the floor waiting to be strapped up, and on the table were five glasses and a half-empty bottle of whisky.

"Five of you," continued Drummond. "I suppose you'll be telling me next that my aunt runs a boys' school. Now then, face fungus, what the hell does it mean?"

"It means that if you continue to make such a row your aunt's death will probably be at your door," answered the other.

"I noticed that you were whispering yourself in the hall," said Drummond. "You're a liar, and a damned bad liar at that. You aren't doctors, any of you."

The men were glancing at one another uneasily, and suddenly the whole beauty of the situation flashed on me. They knew as well as we did that there was a Scotland Yard man outside the house, and the fact was completely tying their hands. Whatever they may have suspected concerning Drummond's alleged relationship, we were, as he had himself remarked, in the sound strategical position of being the lesser liars of the two. Our opponents could do nothing, and the fact that they were utterly nonplussed showed on their faces. And I waited with interest to see what their next move would be. What answer were they going to make to Drummond's definite charge that they were none of them doctors?

They were saved the trouble, and in, to me at any rate, the most unexpected way. In my own mind I was firmly convinced by this time that there was no Miss Simpson, and that even if there was she was no sickly invalid ailing in bed. And yet at that moment there came a weak querulous woman's voice from the landing upstairs.

"Doctor Helias! Doctor Helias, I've been woken up again just as I was going off to sleep. Who is it making that terrible noise downstairs?"

The black-haired man swung round on Drummond.

"Now are you satisfied?" he said savagely. "And if my patient has a relapse and dies, by Heavens! I'll make it hot for you at the inquest."

He strode to the door, and we heard him speaking from the foot of the stairs.

"It's the nephew I told you about, Miss Simpson, who called to see you this afternoon. He seems to be afraid you aren't being properly looked after. Now I must insist on your going back to bed at once."

He went up the stairs, and I glanced at Drummond. His eyes had narrowed as if he too was puzzled, and he told me afterwards that a woman's voice was the last thing he expected to hear. But his voice was perfectly casual as he addressed the room at large.

"Dangerous place London must be. Do you---er---doctors always carry revolvers with you?"

"What the devil are you talking about?" snapped the man who had let us in.

Without a word Drummond pointed to one of the suit-cases, where the butt of an automatic Colt was plainly visible.

"I suppose when your surgical skill fails you merely shoot your patients," went on Drummond affably. "Very kind and merciful of you, I call it."

"Look here," said the other grimly, "we've had about enough of you, young man. You've forced your way into this house: you've insulted us repeatedly, and I'm thinking it's about time you went."

"Are you?" said Drummond. "Then you'd better think all over again."

"Do you mean to say that now you've heard what your aunt has said to Doctor Helias, you still are not satisfied?"

"Never been less so in my life," he replied genially. "This house reeks of crooks like a seaside boarding-house of cabbage at lunch-time. And since we've wakened poor Auntie up between us, I'm going to see her before I go."

"By all manner of means," said Doctor Helias quietly. He was standing in the door, and his voice was genial. "Your aunt would like to see you and your friend. But you must not alarm her or excite her in any way. And incidentally, when your interview is over, I shall await an apology for your grossly insulting remarks."

He stood aside and I followed Drummond into the passage.

"The first door on the left," murmured the doctor. "You will find your aunt in bed."

"For God's sake, keep your eyes skinned, Stockton," whispered Drummond as we went up the stairs. "There is some trap here, or I'll eat my hat."

But there was no sign of anything out of the ordinary as we entered the room. A shaded lamp was beside the bed, and the invalid was in shadow. But even in the dim light one could see that she was a frail old lady, with the ravages of pain and disease on her face.

"My nephew," she said in a gentle voice. "My brother Harry's boy! Well, well---how time does pass. Come here, nephew, and let me see what you've grown into."

With an emaciated hand she held up the electric lamp so that its rays fell on Drummond. And the next instant the lamp had crashed to the floor. I bent quickly and picked it up, and as I did so the light for a moment shone on her face. And I could have sworn that the look in her eyes during that brief instant was one of sheer, stark terror. . . . So vivid was the impression that I stared at her in amazement. True, the look was gone at once, but I knew I had not been mistaken. The sight of Drummond's face had terrified the woman in the bed. Why? Crooked or not crooked, it seemed unaccountable.

"I'm so weak," she said apologetically. "Thank you, sir---thank you." She was speaking to me, as if she realised that I was staring at her curiously. "It was quite a shock to me to see my nephew grown into such a big man. I should never have known him, but that's only natural. You must come again when I'm better, nephew, and tell me all about your poor dear father."

"I certainly will, Aunt Amelia," said Drummond thoughtfully.

"Harry was always a little wild, but such a dear lovable boy," went on the old lady. "You're not very like him, nephew."

"So I've been told," murmured Drummond, and I saw his mouth beginning to twitch. "I'm much more like my mother. She'd just about have been the same age as you, Auntie, if she'd been alive. You remember her, don't you---Jenny Douglas that was, from Cirencester?"

"It's a long time ago, nephew."

"But my father always said that you two were such friends!"

For a moment the woman hesitated, and from downstairs came the sound of an electric bell rung twice.

"Why, of course," she said, "I remember her well."

"Then you must have a darned good memory, Auntie," said Drummond grimly. "It was conceivable that you might have had a brother called Harry who went to Australia, though I did happen to invent him. But by no possible stretch of imagination could you have had a sister-in-law called Jenny Douglas from Cirencester, for I've just invented her too."

"Look out, Drummond," I shouted, and he swung round. Stealing across the floor towards us was the black-haired Doctor Helias with a piece of gas-piping in his hand, and behind him were three of the others.

And then like a flash it happened. It was the men we were watching; we'd forgotten the invalid in bed. I had a momentary glimpse of bedclothes being hurled off, and a woman fully dressed springing at Drummond from behind. In her hand was something that gleamed, and suddenly the overpowering smell of ammonia filled the room. But it was Drummond who got it straight in the face. In an instant he was helpless from the fumes, lurching and staggering about blindly, and even as I sprang forward to help him I heard the woman's voice----

"Put him out, you fool, and do it quick."

And the black-haired man put him out easily and scientifically. He was obviously an expert, for he didn't appear to use much force. He just applied his piece of piping to the base of Drummond's skull, and it was over. He went down as if he was pole-axed and lay still.

"My God!" I muttered, "you've killed him."

And that was my last remark for some hours. The three men who applied themselves to me were also experts in their line, and I estimated it at half-a-minute before I was gagged and trussed up, and thrown into a corner. But I was still able to hear and see.

"You damned fool," said the woman to the man called Doctor Helias. "Why didn't you tell me it was him?"

She was pointing at Drummond, and he stared at her in surprise.

"What do you mean?" he answered. "I don't know who he is any more than you do. Isn't he the nephew?"

She gave a short laugh.

"No more than I am. And you can take it from me I know him only too well. He suspected, of course: that's why I rang."

She flung the water pistol which had contained the ammonia on to a table, and going to the cupboard took out a hat.

"Put 'em both below, and for Heaven's sake get a move on. Is he dead?" Once again she pointed at Drummond, and the big man shook his head. "If I'd known he was coming I'd have been out of this house four hours ago. Mon Dieu! Helias---you have bungled this show."

"But I don't understand," stammered the other.

"Throw 'em below," she stormed at him. "With your brain you wouldn't understand anything."

"Take 'em downstairs," snarled Helias to the others. He was glaring sullenly at the woman, but he was evidently too afraid of her to resent her insults. "Hurry, curse you."

And at that moment the fifth man dashed into the room.

"Men coming across the wall at the back," he said breathlessly. "Listen: they're getting in now."

From below came the sound of a window opening, and muttered voices.

"Police?" whispered the woman tensely.

"Don't know: couldn't see."

"How many?"

"Three or four."

"Out with the light. Whoever they are---do 'em down one by one as they come into the room. But no noise."

And then ensued the most agonising minute I have ever spent in my life. Helpless, unable to do anything to warn them, I lay in the corner. It was Ted Jerningham, of course, and the others---I knew that, and they were walking straight into a trap. The room was dark: the door was open, and outlined against the light from the passage I could see the huge form of Doctor Helias crouching in readiness. Dimly I saw the others waiting behind him, and then the woman moved forward and joined them. But before she did so I had seen her stand on a chair and remove the bulb from the central electric light.

The steps on the stairs came nearer, and now the shadow of the two leaders fell on the wall. There was a click as the switch was turned on---and then, when nothing happened they both sprang into the room. For a moment they were clearly visible against the light, and even I gave a momentary start at their appearance. In the excitement of the past few minutes I had forgotten about the black masks, and they looked like two monstrous spectres from another world. The woman gave a little scream, and then the other two came through the door.

Thud! Thud! Swiftly Helias' arm rose and fell with that deadly piece of piping in his hand, and the two last arrivals pitched forward on the floor without a sound.

"At him, Peter." It was Jerningham's voice muffled by the covering over his face, and I saw the two of them spring at the doctor.

But it was hopeless from the start. Two to five: the odds were impossible, especially when one of the five was a man with the strength of three. It may have been half-a-minute, but it certainly wasn't more before the bunch of struggling men straightened up, and two more unconscious and black-cowled figures lay motionless.

With a feeling of sick despair I watched the woman put back the bulb and flood the room with light. What an ignominious conclusion to the night's work. And what was going to happen now? We were utterly powerless, and our captors were not overburdened with scruples.

Already Helias had taken off the masks, and was staring at the unconscious men on the floor with a savage scowl.

"What's all this damned tomfoolery?" he muttered. "Who are these young fools, and why are they rigged up like that?"

And then something made me look at the woman. She was leaning against the table, and in her eyes was something of that same look of terror that I had seen before.

"Kill them. Kill them all: now---at once."

Her voice was harsh and metallic, and the others stared at her in amazement.

"Impossible, Madame," said Helias sharply. "It would be an act of inconceivable folly."

She turned on him furiously.

"It would be an act of inconceivable folly not to. I tell you they are more dangerous far, these men, than all the police of England."

"Well, they are not particularly dangerous at the moment," said the other soothingly. "Think, Madame: reflect for a moment. We have difficulties already, severe enough in all conscience. And are we to add to those difficulties by murdering six young fools in cold blood?"

"I tell you, I know these men," she stormed. "And that one"---she pointed to Drummond---"is the devil himself."

"I can't help it, Madame," returned the doctor firmly. "I have no scruples as you know, but I am not a fool. And to kill these men or any of them would be the act of a fool. We have to get away at once: there is no possible method of disposing of the bodies. Sooner or later they are bound to be discovered in this house, and a hue and cry will start, which is the last thing we want. Pitch them into the cellar below and leave them there, by all means. But no unnecessary killing."

For a moment I thought she was going to continue the argument: then with a little shrug of her shoulders she turned away.

"Perhaps you're right," she remarked. "But, mon Dieu! I would sooner have seen all Scotland Yard here than that man."

"Who is he?" said Helias curiously.

"His name is Drummond," answered the woman. "Get on with it, and put them below."

And from the darkness of the cellar where they pitched us I listened to the sounds of their departure. How long it was before the last footstep ceased above I don't know, but at length the house was silent. The stertorous breathing of the unconscious men around me was the only sound, and after a while I fell into an uneasy doze.

I woke with a start. Outside a wagon was rumbling past, but it was not that which had disturbed me: it was something nearer at hand.

"Peter! Algy!"

It was Ted Jerningham's voice, and I gave two strangled grunts by way of reply.

"Who's there?"

Once more I grunted, and after a pause I heard him say, "I'm going to strike a match."

The feeble light flickered up and he gave a gasp of astonishment. Sprawling over the floor just where they had been thrown lay the others, and as the match spluttered and went out Algy Longworth groaned and turned over.

"Holy smoke!" came his voice plaintively: "have I been passed over by a motor bus or have I not?"

It was Drummond himself who had taken it worst. The cowls had broken the force of the blows in the case of the others, whilst I had come off almost scot free. But Drummond, poor devil, was in a really bad way. His face was burnt and scalded by the ammonia, and the slightest movement of his head hurt him intolerably. In fact it was a distinctly pessimistic party that assembled upstairs at half-past six in the morning. We none of us asked anything better than to go home to bed---none of us, that is, save the most damaged one. Drummond wouldn't hear of it.

"We're here now," he said doggedly, "and even if my neck is broken, which is more than likely by the feel of it, we're going to see if we can find any clue to put us on the track of that bunch. For if it takes me five years, I'll get even with that damned gorse bush."

"I think the lady disliked us more than he did," I remarked. "Especially you. She went so far as to suggest killing the lot of us."

"The devil she did," grunted Drummond.

"She knew you. She knew your name. I think she knew all of you fellows by sight, but she certainly knew Drummond."

"The devil she did," he grunted again, and stared at me thoughtfully out of the one eye that still functioned. "You're certain of that?"

"Absolutely. You remember she dropped the lamp in her agitation when she first saw your face. I saw the look in her eyes as I picked it up: it was terror."

And now they were all staring at me.

"Why," I went on, "she alluded to you as the devil himself."

"Good Lord!" said Drummond softly, "it can't be. . . . Surely, it can't be . . ."

"There's no reason why it shouldn't," said Jerningham. "It's big enough for them to handle."

"We're talking of things unknown to you, Stockton," explained Drummond. "But in view of what you saw and heard, it may be that a very extraordinary thing has taken place. . . . Confound my neck! . . ."

He rubbed it gently, and then went on again.

"As far as I know there is only one woman in the world who is likely to regard me as the devil himself, and be kind enough to suggest killing me. And if it is her . . . Great Scott! boys---what stupendous luck."

"Marvellous!" I ejaculated. "She must love you to distraction."

But he was beyond my mild sarcasm.

"If it's her---then Helias . . . oh! my sainted aunt! don't tell me that old gorse bush was Carl Peterson."

"I don't know anything about Carl Peterson," I said. "But it was old gorse bush, as you call him, who flatly refused to kill you and us as well. Moreover, he didn't know you."

"Then gorse bush wasn't Carl. But the woman. . . . Ye Gods! I wonder. Just think of the humour of it, if it really was Irma. Not knowing it was me, she thought I possibly was the genuine article---the real Australian nephew. She made herself up into a passable imitation of Aunt Amelia, kept the light away from her face, and trusted to luck. Then she recognised me, and saw at once that I was as big a fraud as she was, and that the game was up."

"I don't know your pals, as I said before," I put in, "but that's exactly what did happen."

"If I'm right, Stockton, you'll know 'em soon enough. And furthermore, if I'm right my debt of gratitude to you for putting me in the way of this little show will be increased a thousandfold."

His voice was almost solemn, and I began to laugh.

"Mrs. Drummond's debt of gratitude will wilt a bit when she sees your face," I said. "Don't you think you'd better get home and have it attended to?"

"Not on your life," he remarked. "My face can wait: examining this house can't. So let us, with due care as befits five blinking cripples, see what we can find. Then a bottle of Elliman's embrocation and bed."

"Damnation!" roared a furious voice from the door. "What the devil are you doing here again?"

"MacIver's little twitter," said Drummond. "I would know that fairy voice anywhere."

He rose cautiously and turned round.

"Mac, we have all taken it in the neck, not only metaphorically but literally. Any sudden movement produces on the spot an immediate desire for death. So be gentle with us, and kind and forbearing. Otherwise you will see the heartrending spectacle of six men bursting into tears."

"What on earth has happened to your face?" demanded the detective.

"Aunt Amelia sprayed it with ammonia from point-blank range," said Drummond. "A darned unfriendly act I think you'll agree. And then a nasty man covered with black hair took advantage of my helpless condition to sand-bag me. Mac, my lad, in the course of a long and blameless career I've never been so badly stung as I was last night."

"What do you mean by Aunt Amelia?" growled the other.

"The official occupant of this house, Mac."

"Miss Simpson. Where is she?"

"I know not. But somehow I feel that the sweet woman I interviewed in bed last night was not Miss Amelia." Then with a sudden change of tone---"Have you found the communication between the two houses?"

"How do you know there is one?"

"Because I'm not a damned fool," said Drummond. "It was principally to find it that I came here."

He glanced at the detective's suspicious face and began to laugh.

"Lord! man: it's obvious. That fellow the other night was dead, so how did the body disappear? It couldn't have gone out by the window in broad daylight, and unless your men were liars or asleep it couldn't have gone out by the door. So there must have been some way of communication."

"I found it by accident a few minutes ago from the next house," said MacIver. "It opens into the bedroom above."

"I thought it must," said Drummond. "And I wouldn't be surprised if dear Aunt Amelia's bed was up against the opening."

"There was a woman here, was there?"

"There was." For a moment or two Drummond hesitated. "Look here, MacIver," he said slowly, "we've had one or two amusing little episodes together in the past, and I'm going to tell you something. After they knocked me out last night, Mr. Stockton, who was only bound and gagged, heard one or two very strange things. This woman who was here masquerading as Miss Simpson evidently knew me. She further evinced a strong wish to have me killed then and there. Now who can she have been? MacIver, I believe---and mark you, there is nothing inherently improbable in it---I believe that once more we are up against Peterson. He wasn't here; but the girl---his mistress---was. I may be wrong, but here and now I'd take an even pony on it."

"Perhaps you're right," acknowledged the other. "We've heard nothing of the gentleman for two or three years."

"And if we are, MacIver," continued Drummond gravely, "this whole show, serious as it is at the moment, becomes ten times more so."

"If only I could begin to understand it," said the detective angrily. "The whole thing seems so utterly disconnected and pointless."

"And it will probably remain so until we reach the end, if we ever do reach the end," said Drummond. "One thing is pretty clear: this house was evidently the headquarters of that part of the gang which lived in London."

"I'm getting into touch with Miss Simpson at once," said MacIver.

Drummond nodded.

"She may or may not be perfectly innocent."

"And two of my fellows are searching this house now," went on the detective. "But damn it, Captain Drummond, I'm defeated---absolutely defeated. If whoever is running this show wanted to get away with Gaunt's secret---why all this? Why didn't they go at once? Why waste time?"

He swung round as one of his men came into the room. He was carrying in his arms a metal tank of about four gallons capacity, which was evidently intended to be strapped to a man's back. To the bottom was attached a length of rubber tubing, at the end of which was fixed a long brass nozzle with a little tap attached. On one side of the tank a small pump was placed, and we crowded round to examine it as he placed it on the table.

"Two or three more of them in the cellar below, sir," said the man.

"Pretty clear what they are intended for," said Drummond gravely. "It's nothing more nor less than a glorified fruit sprayer. And with that liquid of theirs inside . . ."

"There is this too that I found," went on the man. "I'd like you to come yourself, sir, and see. There was blood on the walls and on the floor---and this----"

From his pocket he took a handkerchief, and it was stained an ominous red. It was quite dry, and MacIver opened it out and laid it beside the tank.

"Hullo!" he muttered, "what's this mean?"

Scrawled over part of the material were some red letters. The ink used had been blood: the pen might have been the writer's finger.

3 P   7 A N T

A smear completed it: evidently he'd collapsed or been interrupted.

"I found it in a crack in the wall, sir," said the man. "It had been pushed in hard."

MacIver's eyes had narrowed, and without a word he pointed to the corner of the handkerchief. Clearly visible through the blood were two small black letters. And the letters were R.G.

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