The crime club, p.1
The Crime Club, p.1W. Holt-White
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THE CRIME CLUB
"_As for you, sir, leave my house at once_"]
THE CRIME CLUB
_Illustrated by Hermann Heyer_
NEW YORK THE MACAULAY COMPANY 1910
COPYRIGHT, 1910, BY THE MACAULAY COMPANY
THE PREMIER PRESS NEW YORK
I. THE BLACKMAILER 3
II. SIR PAUL WESTERHAM BUYS THE CRIME SYNDICATE 12
III. THE GIRL IN THE PARK 22
IV. THE RED-HAIRED WOMAN 33
V. THE CRIME CLUB 50
VI. DOWNING STREET 61
VII. LADY KATHLEEN'S DOUBTS 76
VIII. SCOTLAND YARD INTERVENES 89
IX. THE HIGHER BURGLARY 104
X. SIR PAUL IN PERIL 120
XI. MURDER MYSTERIOUS 137
XII. THE PRIME MINISTER IS COMPROMISED 153
XIII. THE GAMING HOUSE 168
XIV. LADY KATHLEEN'S MISSION 181
XV. BY ORDER OF THE CZAR 198
XVI. STRANGE HAPPENINGS 216
XVII. MELODRAMA AT TRANT HALL 231
XVIII. AT THE EMPIRE 243
XIX. THE CAPTURE OF LADY KATHLEEN 261
XX. THE FARM ON THE HILL 272
XXI. THE KIDNAPPING OF THE PRIME MINISTER 288
XXII. THE PREMIER'S STORY 301
XXIII. A GRISLY THREAT 310
XXIV. WESTERHAM'S WAY OUT 320
XXV. THE LAST FIGHT 335
THE CRIME CLUB
THE CRIME CLUB
Hearing the sound of lightly-falling footsteps behind him, CaptainMelun ceased his investigations of Sir Paul Westerham's kit-bag andcautiously turned his head.
As he did so, the captain experienced a painful sensation. He felt alittle cold ring of steel pressed against his right temple, and frompast experience, both objective and subjective, he knew that a Coltcartridge was held, so to speak, in leash within five inches of hishead.
It was very still on board the _Gigantic_. The liner rose and felleasily on the long, oily Atlantic swell of the Bay of Biscay. Moreover,there was upon the entire vessel that peace which comes between thepost-prandial exercises, such as deck quoits, of Atlantic passengersand the comparative bustle which arrives with tea-time. In short, thehour was half-past three o'clock.
Captain Melun for several infinitely long seconds was offered anopportunity of enjoying the supreme calm of the liner. But he did notentirely revel in the moments so offered to him.
It was, indeed, with some relief that he heard a distinctly pleasant,though slightly mocking, voice break the accentuated silence and say:
"Don't be alarmed, Captain Melun. I mean you no harm. I am simplypsychologically interested in your movements. The fact that I amattempting to protect the contents of my kit-bag from your attentionsis of comparatively small importance."
The captain drew a little breath of relief, not the less sincerebecause he was conscious that the nozzle of the revolver was withdrawnfrom his temple.
He heard the door of the state-room close softly; then the pleasantvoice spoke again, though with a slightly harder ring in its tones.
"Stand up, Captain Melun," said the voice, "and be seated. I have agood deal to say, and it is not my habit to talk to any man when I findhim on his knees."
Captain Melun rose a little unsteadily and faced about, to find themost disconcerting eyes of Sir Paul Westerham bent full upon him.
Still retaining the revolver in his hand, the baronet seated himselfupon the edge of his bunk and then motioned to Captain Melun to sitdown upon the only available couch.
For a few minutes the two men gazed at each other with curiosity andinterest; and it would have been hard to find a greater contrast inphysique and physiognomy.
Captain Melun had an olive face set with dark, almond-shaped eyesbeneath a pair of oblique and finely-pencilled brows; his nose wasaquiline and assertive, his mouth shrewd and mean and scarcely hiddenby a carefully-trained and very faintly-waxed moustache. He wasexceedingly tall and astonishingly spare in build. Indeed, his wholeaspect suggested a man who brooded over defeated ends. For the rest,his dress was unmistakably associated with that service to which hehad never been a credit and which he had left unwept, unhonoured, andunsung.
Sir Paul rivalled the captain in inches. Indeed, he must haveovertopped him by half a head. He was spare, too, as Melun was, but hiswas the leanness of a man who has been worn fine by activity. His hairwas undeniably red in tint, and his face had that pronounced ruddinesspossessed only by red-haired folk. His nose was inelegantly short andemphasised the length of his upper lip, which was, however, covered, asindeed were both his face and chin, with a short, crisp auburn beard.
Strong though it was, his face, under the covering of its beard, wouldhave lacked both distinction and power but for the amazing eyes. These,beneath brows which were rather beetling for so young a man, were ofa shade which can only be described as of duck's-egg green. They gavethe man an aspect of superhuman coldness and at times an air of almostsuperhuman cruelty. They were the eyes of a man who could look unmovedupon a sea of troubles or survey with untouched heart a panorama ofundeserved suffering.
Sir Paul was, in fact, no uncommon man. Leaving a wild youth behindhim, he had for ten years which followed his landing in the UnitedStates pursued the hard and humble and most exacting calling of minerin the West. Life he had always held cheap, not only as it touchedothers, but as it touched himself. He had learnt a hard lesson in theschool of life, and taking it hardly had become a hard man. So inured,indeed, had he become both to suffering and to danger that, when atlength a greedy lawyer had tracked him down, he had at first resentedbitterly and blasphemously the fate which made him the richest man onearth.
For his uncle, from whom he inherited the baronetcy, had been a richman when he died; and for five years his well-invested fortune had lainin the hands of able men, slowly accumulating still greater wealth,which a crowd of secondary relatives had striven to prove did notbelong to the vanished and scapegrace nephew.
At first the fact that he was the undisputed owner of quite as manymillions as would have justified an American plutocrat in being jealoushad annoyed the new baronet more than he could tell.
Week after week the lawyer, mindful of his fees, had pleaded with thenew baronet to return to England and enter into possession of his own.Week after week Westerham had hesitated to return, for, in spite of thehardships which he had undergone, there lived with him still sufficientof the old life to tell him that the possession of millions wouldentail the labour of a social treadmill which he not only dreaded butdespised.
There had, however, come to him quite by chance a motive for returning.On thinking it over he had come to the concl
Utterly cut off from the world as he had been, the names which mean somuch in Society in London, Paris, Vienna, and even in New York, hadbeen lost to him. The faces of the great men of those great cities wereto him as a closed book. The faces of their womenkind were as dreamswhich he had long since forgotten. But there was a dream in the kit-bag.
Even Westerham's roystering had not been ill-spent. His knowledgeof the world, which, after all, means a certain cognisance of theevil that men do, had taught him that Captain Melun was not a man toperpetrate a common theft.
Long years spent in a land peopled practically by Ishmaelites hadtaught him deep distrust of the stranger--particularly distrust of thestranger who would be friendly.
So, many hours had not passed on board the _Gigantic_ before the shrewdinquiries that followed on his suspicions had laid bare before him, asfar as could be unfolded, the history of Captain Melun.
The captain, it seemed, moved in the best society in London and NewYork; none the less, he was not liked. There was no actual chargeagainst him, but there appeared to have been bound up in his career inAmerica a number of unpleasant episodes. The record of the episodes wasvague, but that suspicion of them was justified lay in the fact thatwhereas Captain Melun had landed in the States poor he was leaving themenriched. And to lend colour to this justification was the captain'sexceedingly unfortunate reputation as a card-player.
Now Westerham, if truth must be told, loved play, and high play. Inthe old days he had not cared for what stakes he played against men solong as they were honest men; but now he resented as an insult to hisgood sense the suggestion that he should play, despite the resources athis command, for high stakes against a man who, by some subtle means,seldom, if ever, lost.
It was with these things in his mind--a mind active and of greatintelligence, a mind moreover sharpened by adversity--that he lookedstonily at Captain Melun.
It had almost become second nature for Westerham to draw a gun upon aman whom he had caught apparently intent on theft. Swiftly, however, itcame to him that a man in Melun's position was not likely to be engagedin theft. There sprang into his brain the notion that Melun was simplysearching through his belongings with the idea of blackmail.
It almost made Westerham laugh to think that any man should attempt toblackmail him. He had nothing to disguise, nothing to hide.
Indeed, as he sat easily on the edge of his bunk looking at the dark,disconcerted face before him, Westerham had half a mind to throw hisweapon aside and to tell Melun to go his way in peace. Then therecame to him a certain recollection, and the blood crept into his faceso that it seemed to burn, and his sinister eyes gleamed beneath hisbrows, bright and green and dangerous.
His control over himself was, however, perfect, and still in the soft,smooth voice, which long absence in the West had not robbed of itsinitial and birth-given refinement, he asked:
"What did you find?"
Captain Melun did not even blink his heavy-lidded eyes.
"Nothing," he said.
"Yet," rejoined Westerham, almost meditatively, "you must have beenhere at least five minutes before I arrived."
"I tell you," said Melun, almost earnestly, "that I found nothing."
"That is to say," said Westerham, "nothing which you could turn to yourown good account."
Melun smiled a sour yet demure little smile.
"Precisely," he said evenly.
"Permit me," said the baronet, just as quietly, "to inform you thatyou are a liar. If you will be good enough to turn over the bundle ofsocks which you will find in the right-hand corner of the kit-bag as itfaces you now, I think you will be able to hand me something that is ofinterest to us both."
"I was not aware that I could," replied Captain Melun with a touch ofsarcasm in his voice.
Westerham picked up again the six-shooter which he had laid carelesslyat his side.
"Have a look," he said, and his voice was gently persuasive.
Just a flicker of vindictiveness crept into Melun's eyes, and under thesuasion of firearms he turned again to the bag.
After a few moments Westerham, now schooled to infinite placidity,inquired for the second time if he had found anything.
"Only a few papers," said Captain Melun, crossly.
"Pardon me," said the baronet, "if I am not mistaken you have foundonly one paper. Be kind enough to hand it to me."
The captain turned about, and with a carefully-manicured hand offeredWesterham a slip of paper which had evidently been torn from someEnglish periodical.
Westerham took it and looked at it casually, though the muscles on hisclosed jaws stood out in a manner that was not wholly pleasant to lookupon. It was, however, with unfathomable eyes that he surveyed thescrap of paper before him. It revealed the portrait of a girl with anastonishingly quiet face. Her cheeks were round and soft, and her chinwas round and soft too, but her mouth, a little full and pronounced,was distinctly sad and set. A pair of large dark eyes looked out uponthe world unwaveringly and serenely, if a little sorrowfully, beneatha pair of finely-pencilled, level brows, which formed, as it were, alittle bar of inflexible resolve. A mass of dark hair was coiled uponthe girl's head after the manner of early Victorian heroines. It was aface at once striking and wistful in its splendour.
The piece of paper had been torn with a jagged edge across the girl'sthroat, so that the inscription which would have borne her name waslacking.
Westerham looked up from the picture to Melun.
"You," he said simply, "go everywhere and know everybody. Therefore Ifeel confident that you will be able to tell me the name of this girl.That is all I ask you--at present."
Captain Melun laughed and then checked his laughter.
"The lady," he said, "is Lady Kathleen Carfax, the only child of theEarl of Penshurst, who is, as even you are probably aware"--there was acovert sneer in his tones--"Prime Minister of England."
"So!" murmured Westerham, and he nodded his head.
"Yes," said Captain Melun, "and if it is of any interest to you to knowit, I propose to marry Lady Kathleen."
"Indeed," said Westerham.
He folded the paper and placed it carefully in his breast-pocket.
"You must forgive my being rude," he added, "but I should not now beon my way to England if I had not every intention of marrying the ladymyself."
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