The Art-Music, Literature and Linguistics Forum
February 21, 2024, 05:17:10 am
Welcome, Guest. Please login or register.
Did you miss your activation email?

Login with username, password and session length
News: Here you may discover hundreds of little-known composers, hear thousands of long-forgotten compositions, contribute your own rare recordings, and discuss the Arts, Literature and Linguistics in an erudite and decorous atmosphere full of freedom and delight.
 
  Home Help Search Gallery Staff List Login Register  

Chapter 33

Pages: [1]   Go Down
  Print  
Author Topic: Chapter 33  (Read 192 times)
Admin
Administrator
Level 8
*****

Times thanked: 53
Offline Offline

Posts: 3903


View Profile
« on: March 15, 2023, 10:17:09 am »

CURIOUS passers-by came to the conclusion that the Home Secretary must either be giving an evening party to commence at a later hour, or that he was entertaining the foreign delegates from a particularly restless country who were making London their headquarters for the moment. There were two plain-clothes policemen outside each of those long, low windows abutting almost upon the street, which had been the cause of so much trouble; there were two uniformed policemen at the front door, and, if they had been able to see into the Mews, they would have found another two guarding each of the back entrances. For once, the house in Chestow Square was amply protected.

In the library was an atmosphere of storm. Two men---Colonel Matterson, the Subcommissioner of Scotland Yard, and Sir Humphrey Rossiter, the Home Secretary, both desperately angry, faced each other in significant silence. There were coffee, cigars, cigarettes and liqueurs spread out upon the sideboard. Not a thing had been touched. Neither man was smoking. Sir Humphrey stood on the hearthrug in a characteristic attitude, calmer than his companion but with his mouth set in rigid lines, and a steely look in his eyes. Matterson, with less self-control, was also standing, his face flushed, his hair a little disordered, a dark frown upon his face. Traffic in the square outside was usually negligible towards nightfall, and the silence in the room was all the more noticeable in the absence of any sound from without. It was Matterson who at last resumed a very heated discussion.

“May I take the liberty of asking, Sir Humphrey,” he demanded, “what would be your course of action if I should give orders for the arrest of Lord Edward Keynsham on his arrival?”

“I should look upon such a proceeding,” the Home Secretary replied, “as an act of insubordination on your part. I should at once order your men to release Lord Edward, and if they refused, I should impose upon them the same penalty as I should certainly exact from you. My authority in this matter must not be disputed.”

“Do you realise, sir,” the Subcommissioner proceeded harshly, “that the box which you have in your possession, which Lord Edward is so anxious not to have you open until his arrival, contains, without a doubt, the clue we need to enable us to hunt down the Lombard Street murderers?”

“What it contains is not, for the present, your business,” was the firm rejoinder. “That box is part of the estate of a man for whom I am acting as executor. I intend to accede to Keynsham’s request and open it in his presence. The administration of justice can be in no way affected by a few minutes’ delay.”

“You have forgiven his lordship, then,” Matterson enquired cuttingly, “for putting you through that degrading exhibition at Norwich which brought on your illness?”

“The matter is in abeyance,” Rossiter replied. “I require a fuller statement of his motive.”

“You have forgiven him for your second disappearance, during which your house and the apartment of Mrs. Brandt were burglariously entered and ransacked?”

“My second disappearance was entirely voluntary,” Sir Humphrey explained. “My impression is that Lord Edward, whether rightly or wrongly, acted in good faith with a view to saving my life and the life of Katherine Brandt.”

“The situation is absolutely impossible,” Matterson declared angrily. “Do you realise, sir, that the young man who made his way into this house by means of a stolen key and who shot Pank was in league with Keynsham? Not only that, but the men who brutally murdered Grimmetts’ manager and the liftman in Lombard Street were also members of his gang.”

“I fear that that may be the case,” Sir Humphrey acknowledged calmly. “Nevertheless, I am determined to hear what he has to say.”

“Hear it afterwards, then,” the other begged. “At the present moment, you are under proper and adequate police protection. I take the liberty, Sir Humphrey Rossiter, of saying that it is your duty to open the box and permit us to examine its criminal records before any one else has a chance to tamper with them.”

“I have every sympathy with you, Matterson,” Sir Humphrey said, “and for that reason I am not going to lose my temper again. I look upon Lord Edward Keynsham, notwithstanding the grave suspicion which he has drawn upon himself by his recent behaviour and by his association with criminals, as a man whom we must take seriously into account. If he has nothing illuminating to say, in other words, if he fails to justify himself, he must take his place with the others. He will gain nothing by making me wait. On the other hand, there has always been an unexplained mystery about this business, and that unexplained mystery may be better solved if I wait for his coming.”

“Apart from the official point of view,” Matterson persisted, “you are Mrs. Brandt’s executor. She has expressed her wish to have the box opened at once.”

“She has countermanded it this afternoon. I had a telephone message from her almost at the same moment as I received Keynsham’s despatch, begging me to wait for his arrival, when she herself would be present.”

Matterson clenched his hands.

“Do you realise this, sir?” he demanded. “It would be perfectly possible for Keynsham to produce a small bomb in this room, wreck that box for ever and destroy every record it contains.”

“It might be possible, but he won’t do it,” was the bland reply. “In any case, you and your men should be sufficiently alert to stop any action of that sort.”

The Subcommissioner’s expression was for a moment darker even than before. Twice his lips parted and he was on the point of fatal speech. Twice he restrained himself.

“May I ask whether Lord Edward fixed any hour for his arrival?” he enquired.

“No exact hour. The telegram was handed in at Folkestone. He had had to make a forced descent somewhere near Lympington. I understand that he is coming on by car.”

Again the two men relapsed into silence. Matterson, notwithstanding his military career, or perhaps because of it, possessed a strictly official mind, and the present situation was intolerable to him. Sir Humphrey, who should have been a miracle of correctness, to whom the etiquette of the profession should have been sacred, was plainly inclined to temporise with what could be nothing less than criminal conspiracy. All because of the man’s sister, Matterson told himself savagely! A Home Secretary influenced by a woman! The thing was indecent. . . .

There came at last the sound of a car stopping outside, voices, footsteps in the hall. The door was opened and closed. Detective-Inspector Pank, with his arm in a sling, approached. There was a gleam of excitement even in his pale blue eyes.

“Lord Edward Keynsham and the lady are here, sir,” he announced.

“You can show them in,” Sir Humphrey directed.

“Be careful that they are alone,” Matterson added curtly. “Keep a guard on all the doors and, unless Sir Humphrey has any objection, I should like you to remain, Pank. You can use your right arm?”

“Perfectly well, sir. I trust, however, there will be no necessity. Lord Edward does not look very aggressive.”

“Don’t forget, Matterson,” Sir Humphrey pointed out, as Pank left the room, “that this is our one chance of receiving a reasonable explanation of everything that has happened. That’s my bargain with Keynsham, and I think it’s worth waiting for. The contents of that box, however surprising they may be, might tell us nothing without an interpreter.”

The door was thrown open. Lord Edward entered, and by his side Katherine Brandt. Sir Humphrey gave a little start. Even Colonel Matterson forgot for a moment his fury. Keynsham’s forehead was bandaged, he was still in his flying clothes, and he walked with the help of a heavy stick. He was paler than any one in London had ever seen him before, but his voice, when he spoke, anxious though it was, was full and strong.

“You got my message, Humphrey? What about it?”

“I have waited,” Rossiter replied.

“Thank God!” was the fervent exclamation.

“You will have a good deal to explain to-day, you know, Edward,” the Home Secretary continued. “I am not guaranteeing you any protection or any immunity. All that I am offering you is freedom of speech. You know Matterson? Here he is, with half the fighting force of Scotland Yard surrounding us. We have been led a pretty dance by some one and he wants to get his own back. Katherine, do let me offer you a chair.”

“It would be much more to the point if you offered Lord Edward one,” she begged. “He has come straight up from the south coast after crashing near Folkestone, and he would not even wait to be bandaged. I had to do it in the car. Do be humane and give him something to drink.”

“Sit down, by all means,” Sir Humphrey invited. “Here’s your drink, Edward,” he went on, mixing a stiff whisky and soda. “We will give you five minutes to pull yourself together.”

Keynsham lingered for a moment, leaning heavily on the stick which he grasped with his left hand, his right on the back of the chair to which Sir Humphrey had pointed. He had the appearance of a man who had met with a more than ordinary accident. His eyes seemed to have receded further into his head, the knuckles of the hand which gripped his stick showed white, his lips parted slowly and falteringly.

“You are sure that you have not opened the box?” he asked, uttering every word as though he feared to part with it.

Sir Humphrey pointed to a green baize-covered receptacle which looked like a portable radio, and which stood upon a table close at hand.

“I have not,” he declared. “More than once I have asked myself, Keynsham, why I should have shown you this consideration. Matterson here is furious with me. Anyhow, I have done it. There is the box unopened. In five minutes, I am going to examine its contents.”

Keynsham sank into his chair.

“Five minutes will be quite long enough,” he muttered, swallowing half the contents of his tumbler. “Only the second crash I have ever had in my life. The worst of luck too. I ran into a fog just this side of the Channel. However, I’m here in time. Thank God for that!”

“For your own sake or for ours?” Matterson asked coldly.

“For every one’s,” was the curt reply. . . .

The minutes ticked on. Presently Sir Humphrey rose quite calmly to his feet.

“The five minutes,” he announced, “have expired.”

Keynsham dragged his chair to the table and sat down opposite to the box. Sir Humphrey lifted off its green baize cover, disclosing a strongly made coffer of oak with brass corners. On the top of it was stamped in gilt letters

THE KEYNSHAM TRUST

From a groove underneath the handle Rossiter drew out a key.

“I am now,” he said, fitting the key in the lock, “about to open the box.”

For a moment he paused and glanced quickly around. Matterson and Pank were standing: one on each side of Keynsham in an attitude of intense watchfulness. Outside was silence. In the hall a policeman coughed. There was no sign whatever of any impending disturbance. Rossiter turned the key with firm fingers and pushed back the heavy lid. Every one leaned a little forward. Katherine Brandt was nervously clasping and unclasping her hands. Keynsham, though his face was still unusually pale, was fast recovering his composure. . . . Lying on the top of the box was a large calf-bound volume, also stamped in gold letters THE KEYNSHAM TRUST. Underneath it were seven bulky packets of green American bank notes. Sir Humphrey picked one up and turned it over in amazement. The bills were of the largest domination he had ever seen.

“Good God,” he exclaimed, “I have never seen so much money in my life!”

“Don’t bother about the notes,” Keynsham begged impatiently. “I can tell you all about those in a few words. There are seven packets there, with a million dollars in each. They are a special reserve fund of the Keynsham Trust. It was money we could find no profitable use for, so we locked it away for an emergency.”

“And what, might one ask,” Sir Humphrey demanded, “is the Keynsham Trust?”

Lord Edward finished the contents of the tumbler of whisky and soda, and leaned forward.

“The Keynsham Trust,” he explained, “is the largest illicit business that has ever been known in the history of the world. It was started after the war as a collateral branch of the firm of Hamilton, Topps & Company, later Hamilton, Topps & Keynsham. In England and throughout Europe, that firm, as you may know, does a large and admirably correct business. In the United States of America, we have made some forty million dollars in the industry commonly known as bootlegging.”

There was blank silence---an utter and profound silence. Sir Humphrey held his head. Matterson metaphorically kicked himself. Pank groaned audibly.

“The commencement of the affair was really very simple,” Keynsham continued. “After the war, some of us who still had the fever of excitement in our veins, and the craving for adventure still throbbing in our pulses, happened to come together in New York. To be exact, there was the Marquis de Lusigny, Sam Clowes, a New Yorker named Bowman, and myself. We were all broke and wanted money, but we also wanted adventure. We have had all we wanted of both. De Lusigny possessed the largest vineyards in the southwest of France, and half a dozen steamers, but no ready cash. My firm, which I had just joined, had all the capital that was needed to start with, also a few steamers and a magnificent reputation, with an established business in fruits from South America and the West Indies. We had advantages which none of the others who followed in the same line ever had. We made them look like amateurs. Where other people could land a thousand cases and often have to give away half of them, we landed hundreds of thousands almost without molestation. We landed them in Canada, we landed them in Florida, we landed them in New York itself, in New Jersey and all down the coast. I don’t want to make too long a story of this, but on account of our wonderful facilities and because we were not afraid to fight when fighting was necessary, we flourished whilst our competitors, one by one, faded away. When we took stock a year ago, each one of us was worth something like two million pounds sterling.”

Of all the company in the room, Matterson seemed to be the most bewildered.

“I don’t understand,” he confessed. “I had an idea of something of this sort once or twice, but I put it out of my head because, after all, it is no crime in this country to supply a thirsty neighbour with drink. Why were you prepared to go to the lengths even of murder to prevent Sir Humphrey opening this box? You must have known that its contents were perfectly safe in his hands and that the money would be properly distributed.”

“We had no anxiety about the money,” Keynsham replied slowly. “What we feared was that Sir Humphrey Rossiter would consider it his duty as Brandt’s executor to examine the contents of this book.”

He drew the volume a little nearer towards him. No one moved. No one spoke.

“On the whole,” Keynsham went on, “ours was a company of honourable men. In an evil moment, and when we were all worked to death, we let in a newcomer whom we all grew to hate as much as he seemed to hate us. To him had been allotted the post of clerk to the organisation. He kept an abstract of the accounts, which you will find here, and he kept it with marvellous precision. He kept also a history of our day-by-day doings. I am not going to attempt to excuse any of our actions. I’m not sure that I consider any apologia necessary. Twice we suffered, and suffered badly, from informers. They were men whom we had invited to join us, men whom we thought our friends. We held a meeting to decide how to deal with this danger. There were seven of us then. We were all, in a sense, strangers, brought together by circumstances, chiefly by the war. We trusted one another, but we had trusted others and been deceived almost to the point of ruin. We decided at that meeting to fight our battles as others fought them---to defend ourselves when we were attacked. That we have done. It was impossible to hold together by entirely peaceful methods. When we were struck at, we retaliated. When we had to fight, we fought.”

The light of understanding flashed into Rossiter’s eyes.

“Stop!” he insisted.

Keynsham looked questioningly at him.

“Take your hand away from that book,” Sir Humphrey enjoined.

“Humphrey,” the other pleaded, “that book is better back in my possession. Let it go at that, I beg of you.”

“Take your hand away.”

Very slowly and very reluctantly Keynsham obeyed. The Home Secretary, with a deft movement, shut down the lid of the box, produced the key and locked it.

“Gentlemen,” he begged, “I shall ask you to excuse me for three minutes.”

He crossed the room towards the writing desk. The eyes of all of them followed him, but curiously enough, as they thought afterwards, no one asked a question. Sir Humphrey deliberately adjusted his monocle, drew out a sheet of paper and wrote a few rapid lines. These he enclosed in an envelope which he addressed and sealed. He turned to the table and handed the letter across to Pank.

“Inspector,” he said, “can I trust you to see that this is delivered at once?”

“Certainly, sir,” was the prompt reply.

Sir Humphrey glanced at his watch.

“You have several cars outside. May I take it that it will be delivered within ten minutes?”

Pank looked at the address.

“I can guarantee it, sir.”

Sir Humphrey nodded, returned to his place at the table and unlocked the box.

“Now you can go on with your story, Edward,” he invited. “Tell us what you were going to say about this book.”

“Just this,” Keynsham proceeded. “At the meeting I have spoken of, it was decided that the best means of keeping us all together, and of guarding against any one of us turning informer against the others, was to place on record in this book of the organisation the deeds or misdeeds, whichever you choose to call them, of each of its members. They are recorded there. To us, who lived out in the thick of it all, they were, as we knew, just part of the job. To the ordinary human being who did not understand the conditions, they would amount to a series of confessions. To an English Cabinet Minister, controlling the policy of his country, they would present an entirely different aspect: they would probably seem to him to contain absolute and vital information of which it was his duty to make use. That is why, when there appeared to be a chance of this book falling into the hands of the Home Secretary, the organisation of the Keynsham Trust have striven by every means they could think of to prevent it.”

“The matter,” the Home Secretary pronounced calmly, “begins to present a more rational aspect.”

“Sir,” Keynsham begged passionately, “I am short of words and breath to-night, but I implore you, for your own sake and for ours, to hand that book over to me as head of the trust. It does not form part of Mrs. Brandt’s estate. It is not part of your duty as Mrs. Brandt’s executor to look inside it. That it is in that box at all, is simply a devilish act of malice on the part of a dead man.”

Sir Humphrey picked up the book. He turned over the pages carelessly. The sense of strain seemed to have passed from his tone and manner.

“Beautiful handwriting,” he remarked.

“Cecil’s,” Katherine confided, with a shiver. “He used to spend hours writing in it.”

Keynsham’s features seemed to tighten. There was a sullen fire in his eyes. For a moment he had the look of a wounded animal about to spring.

“Sir Humphrey,” he implored, “let the book alone.”

Rossiter ignored him. In turning over the pages he had stopped at a printed headline consisting of three words

Roll of Honour

The first name upon the list was the name of Lord Edward Keynsham, and underneath in Keynsham’s own handwriting was one brief and terrible sentence.

I confess that on January the tenth, 1920, I killed Jake Grogan on Pinder’s Wharf, New Jersey.
Signed: Keynsham.


Rossiter started a little as he read. Involuntarily he glanced across the room. Keynsham was sitting back in his chair with folded arms. He had done his best. The worst had happened. Rossiter continued to read.

Armand de Lusigny.
I confess that in a fight at the corner of 122nd Street and 3rd Avenue in Chicago I killed the Chilean, Initos, whose body was found at that spot.
Signed: Armand de Lusigny.

Richard Van Pleyden.
I confess that I killed Rawson who turned informer against us and tried to remove our stores from Merrilees on the Canadian frontier.
Signed: Richard Van Pleyden.

Cecil Brandt.
I confess that I killed Commissioner Dane who, after having accepted a hundred thousand dollars in bribes from us, threatened to withdraw police protection unless we made him a partner in the Syndicate.
Signed: Cecil Brandt.

William Meadows.
I confess that in a fight on 4th Avenue in March 1922 I killed Michael O’Corrigan and wounded a man whose name I never knew, so that he died in hospital.
Signed: Will Meadows.

Samuel Clowes.
I killed Tony Burke on Pinder’s Wharf in February 1923 and he got what was coming to him!
Signed: Samuel Clowes.


Sir Humphrey closed the book.

“A very ingenious, though not altogether original idea,” he remarked. “You have here the signed confession by each one of the members of your syndicate of certain misdemeanours against the law. I presume your idea was that this made it impossible for any one of them to turn informer?”

“But possible enough,” Keynsham rejoined bitterly, “for the one who went out before to sell the rest of us. You know now why Brandt went cheerfully to the scaffold. That was the sort of man he was!”

“I think,” Matterson said, taking a step forward----

Sir Humphrey held out his hand.

“Wait!” he enjoined. “There is no hurry. This matter needs consideration.”

He reopened the volume and studied once more the whole six entries.

“Now, supposing you tell me about this little affair of yours, Keynsham,” he suggested. “You simply say here that you killed Jake Grogan, whoever he may have been. Tell us about it.”

“There’s not much to tell,” was the bitter reply. “Grogan was one of the old-fashioned type of bootleggers, and he tried to clear us out with hired gunmen. We came up against one another, one night whilst we were landing a cargo. We tried, as we always did, to fight our own way, which didn’t include firearms, but it was useless. They were all armed to the teeth. Grogan had two shots at me and missed me by a hair’s breadth. After that I shot at him and I held my gun straighter.”

“I see,” Sir Humphrey murmured. “And now what about this affair of Mr. Samuel Clowes? He seems to have been rather pleased with himself.”

“He had reason to be. Tony Burke was what they call a ‘go-betweener.’ He took bribes from us and gave information to the police at the same time. We had him up and charged him with it. When Sam killed him, he had a knife in his hand which was within an inch or two of De Lusigny’s back.”

“And De Lusigny’s little affair? What about that?”

“Initos started the fight---we didn’t,” Keynsham declared. “We offered him a friendly arrangement. He accepted it, then he ambushed a few of us and challenged us to fight it out with his cutthroats. He had three shots at De Lusingy---he can’t use his left arm even now---and De Lusigny killed him.”

Sir Humphrey nodded.

“There’s another man here,” he remarked with a grimace, “whose muscles I have cause to remember---Van Pleyden. He seemed to me rather a brutal sort of person.”

“He’s one of the kindest-hearted men alive normally,” Keynsham replied. “Rawson was one of our own men who double-crossed us. He brought a trolley load of detectives down to our wharf and we lost one of the only shipments that ever went wrong. Rawson was carrying a gun and tried to get at me---for fear of what might be coming to him afterwards, I suppose. Van Pleyden shot him and had to swim across the harbour to get away.”

“This fellow Meadows, I suppose,” Sir Humphrey enquired, his expression hardening, “is one of the two who committed the Lombard Street Murders?”

“We have no excuse to offer for that,” Keynsham admitted, “nor any explanation. A cold-blooded killing we never encouraged or permitted. Personally, I think it was done in a fit of nerves. Meadows had been terrified from the moment he signed that book.”

Matterson could restrain himself no longer. The Scotland Yard fever was in his eyes.

“Sir Humphrey,” he pointed out, “of course, the whole thing is clear enough now. This book of confessions would be worth its weight in gold to the New York police. You had better give it into our charge at once and we will take the necessary steps.”

Sir Humphrey shook his head.

“I don’t think so, Matterson,” he said firmly.

The Subcommissioner stared at him in amazement.

“But these men are confessed criminals,” he argued. “They broke the civil law of the country they were living in and they broke the criminal law by their killings!”

“They were engaged, no doubt,” Sir Humphrey admitted, “in a hazardous and illegal enterprise, but, after all, their deeds of violence seem to have been committed either against informers, who are the scum of the earth, or against others who were engaged in the same form of law-breaking.”

Matterson’s voice shook with passion.

“Sir Humphrey Rossiter,” he said sternly, “you have been shielding these people for personal reasons too long. I am forced to remind you, sir, that you should be the one person responsible for the due observance of the law. Remember that you are Home Secretary of this country.”

Sir Humphrey turned towards the fire and thrust the book into the middle of the flames.

“I’m nothing of the sort, Matterson,” he confided. “I resigned a quarter of an hour ago.”

---

Then they all left, and once more Sir Humphrey was alone in his study. Detective Inspector Pank had hurried back to his lodgings and settled down to write a love letter to Amy. Colonel Matterson had gone furiously to his club, tormented by the bald and ugly fact that the thunderbolt which he had come so near to launching had fizzled out in his hand, and that all these weeks of mortification and nervous anxiety had gone for nothing. The departure of Keynsham and Katherine Brandt had been just a little sheepish. Keynsham for one moment had looked his friend searchingly in the face, but he realised that the latter had reached the limit of his endurance.

“You are a great man, Humphrey,” he said simply. “If only we had dared to trust you before!”

Katherine had scarcely been so happy in her parting.

“I must look after him to-night,” she faltered. “You will never understand what a marvellous thing you have done!”

But Sir Humphrey, watching them both leave the room, thought that he understood very well indeed.

---

Chestow Square seemed to have relapsed into its usual state of calm. Policemen, detectives, watchmen of every description had departed. Parkins came into the library, cleared away and set out the whisky and soda by his master’s side.

“Is there anything more you require to-night, sir?” was his stereotyped question.

“Nothing, thank you.”

Sir Humphrey helped himself to a whisky and soda, selected a pipe from a rack, filled and lit it. He stretched himself out, enjoying the warmth of the fire. He was in a sense dazed, when he tried to think of what had happened. No longer Home Secretary. No longer a Cabinet Minister. Very soon, in all probability, not even a Member of Parliament. Odd how one’s ambitions could fade away in a moment of crisis. There was nothing else he could have done, he told himself. He had destroyed the record of criminal actions committed by a band of adventurers, under the leadership of an Englishman, in a friendly country, actions which were brought to his notice in a foully malicious manner by a dead man. Terrible! The worst of it was, he thought, with a faint smile, as he pushed the tobacco farther down into his pipe, he would probably have done the same thing at any time during his career! It was just the evil chance of a lifetime that the problem should have been put up to him.

There was the sound of a car stopping outside. He listened and glanced at his watch. It was still only twelve o’clock. Very likely Carthew had heard the news. The door was opened. Parkins appeared and behind him a very brilliant vision.

“Lady Louise Keynsham,” he announced.

THE END

Report Spam   Logged

Share on Facebook Share on Twitter


Pages: [1]   Go Up
  Print  
 
Jump to:  

Powered by EzPortal
Bookmark this site! | Upgrade This Forum
SMF For Free - Create your own Forum


Powered by SMF | SMF © 2016, Simple Machines
Privacy Policy