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Chapter 9 - Chris Kennedy Scores a Try Only

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« on: December 19, 2022, 10:13:04 am »

As soon as Abbershaw had recovered from his first surprise, he turned to Meggie. She was standing just beside him, the others having split up into little groups talking quietly together. ‘Did you come in here this morning,’ he said, ‘after we came in from the garden?’

She nodded, and he saw that she was trembling slightly. ‘Yes,’ she whispered, ‘and—and it was here then, hanging just where it is now. I—I couldn’t help coming in to see. Someone must have put it back—in the night.’

Her voice died away in a sob on the last word, and he laid a hand on her arm.

‘Scared?’ he said.

She met his eyes bravely. ‘I’m glad you’re here too,’ she said simply.

A wave of pleasure swept over Abbershaw, and he coloured, but he did not speak. The gravity of the situation was by no means lost to him. He was the eldest of the party, and, moreover, he knew more about the events of the last twelve hours than probably anyone else in the room. Something told him to keep quiet about his discoveries, however; he realized that they were up against dangerous men. Mr Benjamin Dawlish, as he styled himself, was no ordinary individual, and, at the moment, he was angry.

The main idea now was to get away at all costs; Abbershaw was sure of it.

He had not dreamed that the late Colonel’s extraordinary friends would dare to take this extreme course, but since they had done so, he was not fool enough to think that they would risk the possibility of being overpowered; their forces must be very strong.

Once out of the house he himself could get an immediate inquiry instituted by the highest authorities. If the police could be informed without their captors’ knowledge, so much the better, but the principal problem was escape, and that, in the present circumstances, did not appear to be any too simple.

There was, of course, one way of obtaining freedom; he felt the battered red wallet in his pocket now, but he was loth to take that path, for it meant the escape of what he felt certain was a leader of one of the most skilful criminal organizations in the world. So far he had been working in the dark, and if he gave in now, that darkness would never be lightened. It would mean complete surrender. The mystery would remain a mystery.

He glanced down at Meggie. ‘We’ll lick ’em yet,’ he said.

She laughed at him. ‘Or die in the attempt.’

Abbershaw appeared vastly relieved. ‘That’s how I feel,’ he said.

It was at this moment that Mr. Campion made the entire party one group again by a single fatuous remark. ‘Of course,’ he said affably, ‘I suppose nobody has pinched anything.’

‘I’ve got two bits of soap in my room,’ murmured Prenderby, ‘but I shouldn’t think that’s what the old bird’s after by the look of him. And look here, Wyatt,’ he added suddenly, ‘there’s something damned queer about something else! I suppose you know—’

Abbershaw interposed hastily.

‘The whole thing is a bit queer, Michael,’ he said, fixing the boy with his eyes. Prenderby took the hint, and was silent, but Wyatt turned to him.

‘I’m beyond apologizing,’ he said. ‘The whole business is quite out of my experience. My uncle asked me to bring a party down for this week-end. He had often done so before. I have met Gideon here before, but never exchanged more than half a dozen words with him. As for that Hun, Dawlish, he’s a complete stranger.’

Prenderby, to whom the words had sounded like a reproach, coloured, and what might have been an uncomfortable pause was covered by the sudden return of Chris Kennedy. He was in high good humour. His handsome young face was flushed with excitement, and the others could not banish the suspicion that he was enjoying the situation thoroughly.

‘They have, the blighters!’ he said, bursting into the group. ‘Not a drain of juice in any of the buses. Otherwise they’re all right, though. “Exhibit A” has vanished, by the way—crumbled into dust, I should think—but apart from that they’re all there.’

‘Meet anyone?’ said Martin.

‘Not a soul,’ said Kennedy cheerfully, ‘and little Christopher Robin has an idea. If I asked you for a drink, Petrie, would you give me ginger-beer?’ There was an air of suppressed jubilation in his tone as he spoke.

‘My dear fellow . . .’ Wyatt started forward. ‘I think you’ll find all you want here,’ he said, and led the way to a cupboard set in the panelling of the fire-place. Kennedy stuck his head in it, and came out flushed and triumphant. ‘Two Scotch and a “Three Star” Brandy,’ he said, tucking the bottles under his arm. ‘It’s blasphemy, but there’s no other way. Get to the window, chicks, and Uncle Christopher will now produce the rabbit.’

‘What are you going to do with that stuff?’ said Watt, who was not an admirer of the athletic type. ‘Fill yourself up with it and run amok?’

Kennedy grinned at him over his shoulder; he was already half out of the room. ‘No fear!’ he said, pausing with his hand on the door-handle. ‘But the Salmson is. Watch the garage. Keep your eyes upon the performance, ladies and gentlemen. This trick cannot be repeated.’

The somewhat bewildered little group regarded him doubtfully.

‘I’m afraid I don’t follow you even now,’ said Martin, still coldly. ‘I’m probably infernally thick, but I don’t get your drift.’

Michael Prenderby suddenly lifted his head. ‘Good Lord!’ he said. ‘I do believe you might do it. What a stunt!’

‘That’s what I thought,’ said Kennedy.

He went out, and they heard him racing down the corridor.

Abbershaw turned to Michael. ‘What’s the idea?’ he said.

Prenderby grinned. ‘He’s going to use the booze as juice,’ he said. ‘Rather an idea, don’t you think? A car like that ought to run on pure spirit, I suppose. Let’s watch him.’

He led the way to the windows and the others followed him. By craning their necks they could just see the doors of the barn, both of which stood open. For some minutes nothing happened, and Martin Watt was just beginning to assure himself that his first impression of Kennedy’s ideas in general was going to be justified when a terrific back-fire sounded from the garage.

‘Good heavens!’ said Abbershaw. ‘He’s going to do it.’

Someone began to laugh.

‘What a pack of fools they’ll look,’ said Prenderby.

Another small explosion sounded from the garage, and the next moment the little car appeared in a cloud of blue smoke, with Mr. Kennedy at the wheel. It was moving slowly but triumphantly, and emitting a stream of back-fires like a machine-gun.

‘Isn’t he marvellous?’ Anne Edgeware clasped her hands as she spoke, and even Martin Watt admitted grudgingly that ‘the lad had initiative’. Kennedy waved to them, and they saw his face flushed and excited as a child’s. As he changed gear the car jerked forward and set off down the drive at an uneven but ever-increasing pace.

‘That’ll show ’em,’ said Prenderby with a chuckle.

‘They haven’t even tried to stop him,’ said little Jeanne Dacre.

At that moment Mr. Kennedy changed into top gear with a roar, and immediately there was a sharp report, followed by a second, which seemed to come from a window above their heads. Instantly, even as they watched it, the Salmson swerved violently, skidded drunkenly across the drive and turned over, pitching its occupant out upon the grass beside the path.

‘Good God!’

Michael Prenderby’s voice was hoarse in the silence.

Martin Watt spoke quickly. ‘Dawlish’s gun. They’ve got him. The Hun was in earnest. Come on, you fellows.’

He thrust open the window and leapt out upon the lawn, the men following him.

Chris Kennedy was already picking himself up when they reached him. He was very white, and his left hand grasped his other wrist, from which the blood was streaming. ‘They got my near-side front wheel and my driving arm,’ he gasped, as they came up. ‘There’s a bloke somewhere about who can shoot like hell.’

He swayed a little on the last word, and smiled valiantly. ‘Do you mind if we get in?’ he murmured. ‘This thing is turning me sick.’

They got him back to the house and into the room where they had all been standing. As they crossed the lawn, Abbershaw, glancing up at the second-floor windows, fancied he saw a heavy expressionless face peering out at them from behind the dark curtains.

The rescue party was considerably subdued. They were beginning to believe in the sincerity of Mr Benjamin Dawlish’s remarks.

Kennedy collapsed into a chair, and, after saving him from the tender ministrations of Anne Edgeware, Abbershaw was just about to set out in search of warm water and a dress shirt to tear up as a bandage, when there was a discreet tap on the door and a man-servant entered bearing a complete surgical outfit together with antiseptic bandages and hot water.

‘With Mr Gideon’s compliments,’ he said gravely, and went out.

Kennedy smiled weakly. ‘Curse their dirty politeness,’ he said, and bowed his head over his injured wrist.

Abbershaw removed his coat and went over to the tray which the man had brought. ‘Hullo!’ he said. ‘There’s a note. Read it, Wyatt, will you, while I get on with this. These are Whitby’s things, I suppose. It almost looks as if he was expecting trouble.’

Wyatt took the slip of paper off the tray and read the message aloud in his clear even voice.

We are not joking. No one leaves this house until we have what we want.

‘There’s no signature,’ he added, and handed the note to Prenderby, who looked at it curiously. ‘Looks as if they have lost something,’ he said. ‘What the devil is it? We can’t help ’em much till we know what it is.’

No one spoke for a moment.

‘Yes, that’s true,’ said Martin Watt at last, ‘and the only thing we know about it is that it isn’t an egg.’

There was a faint titter of laughter at this, but it soon died down; the party was beginning to realize the seriousness of their position.

‘It must be something pretty fishy, anyway,’ said Chris Kennedy, still white with the pain of his wound which Abbershaw was now bandaging. ‘Else why don’t they describe it so that we can all have a hunt round? Look here, let’s go to them and tell them that we don’t know what their infernal property is. They can search us if they like, and when they find we haven’t got it they can let us go, and by God, when they do I’ll raise hell!’

‘It is precisely for that reason that I’m not inclined to endorse that suggestion, Kennedy,’ said Abbershaw without looking up from the bandage he was winding. ‘Our friends upstairs are very determined, and they’re not likely to risk a possible visit from the police before they have got what they want and have had reasonable time to make a good getaway.’

Martin Watt raised his hand. ‘One moment,’ he said, ‘let us do a spot of neat detective work. What the German gentleman with no manners has lost must be very small. “And why, my dear Sherlock?” you ask. Because, my little Watsons, when our obliging young comrade, Campion, offered them an egg wrapped up in a table napkin they thought they’d holed in one. It isn’t the Black Dudley diamonds, I suppose, Petrie?’

‘There aren’t any,’ said Wyatt shortly. ‘Damn it all!’ he burst out with a sudden violence. ‘I never felt so helpless in my life.’

‘If only we had a few guns,’ mourned Chris Kennedy, whose wound even had not slaked his thirst for a scrap. ‘Then we might make an attempt to rush ’em. But unarmed against birds who shoot like that we shouldn’t have an earthly.’

‘It’s not such a bad thing for you that we’re not armed, my lad,’ said Abbershaw, straightening his shoulders and stepping back from the table. ‘You don’t want too much excitement with an arm like that. You’ve lost enough blood already. If I were you, I’d try and get a spot of sleep. What’s your opinion, Prenderby?’

‘Oh, sleep, by all means,’ said Michael, grinning, ‘if he can get it, which doesn’t seem likely.’

They were all standing round the patient on the hearth-rug, with their backs to the fire-place, and for the moment Kennedy was the centre of interest.

Hardly were the words out of Prenderby’s mouth when they were suddenly and startlingly confirmed by an hysterical scream from Anne Edgeware. ‘He’s gone!’ she said wildly, as they turned to her. Her dark eyes were dilated with fear, and every trace of her usual sophisticated and slightly blasé manner had disappeared.

‘He was standing here—just beside me. He spoke to me a second ago. He couldn’t have got past me to the door—I was directly in his way. He’s just vanished. Oh, God—I’m going potty! I think—I . . .’ She screamed again.

‘My dear girl!’ Abbershaw moved to her side. ‘What’s the matter? Who’s vanished?’

The girl looked at him in stupid amazement. ‘He went from my side just as if he had disappeared into the air,’ she repeated. ‘I was just talking to him—I turned away to look at Chris for a moment—I heard a sort of thud, and when I turned round he’d gone.’

She began to cry noisily.

‘Yes, but who? Who?’ said Wyatt impatiently. ‘Who has vanished?’

Anne peered at him through her tears. ‘Why, Albert!’ she said, and burst into louder sobbing. ‘Albert Campion. They’ve got him because he made fun of them!’

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