The crime club, p.3
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       The Crime Club, p.3

           W. Holt-White
 
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  CHAPTER III

  THE GIRL IN THE PARK

  On the same night the oily quality departed from the swell. It came onto blow, and blew hard until the _Gigantic_ crossed the Mersey's turgidbar.

  It was sufficiently rough to justify a great number of personsremaining in their cabins, but it was hardly sufficiently rough toexcuse a two-days' absence of Captain Melun from the poker table.

  There were some who were fools enough to grumble at Melun's absence,alleging against him that he sought to rob them of that revenge whichthey desired to make.

  But while the rough weather kept Captain Melun below it brought SirPaul Westerham on deck. And those maidens whose beauty was weatherproofrejoiced in the fact that the hitherto unattainable baronet now seemedto court friendly advances.

  But they, poor little dears, did not know what Captain Melun did--theirdreams of endless millions were unspoiled by any knowledge of thelittle paper which Westerham carried in his breast-pocket.

  On the third day, however, there came a complete right-about-face inthe conduct of the two men whose personalities had most impressedthemselves on the ship's company, for while Melun came on deck lookingsullen and morose, the baronet pleaded a slight attack of fever and hidhimself in his state-room. Nor indeed, until with all that serenity onthe bridge and all that shouting on the quay which goes to the berthingof a great liner, did any of the maidens, clamorous for his presence,look upon Westerham's face again.

  The gangway lashed securely to the _Gigantic's_ side, the first to stepaboard were the reporters, anxious and eager-eyed, keen on findingthe miner who was now a baronet and a millionaire. They proposed towire his life-story up to London for the benefit of readers beyondnumber. Hard upon the reporters came the fussy relatives and friends ofpassengers, and amid the general kissings and hand-shakings on deck noone had much thought for any particular individual beyond himself.

  So, without arousing any comment, there stepped from the main entranceto the saloon a tall, spare, clean-shaven man dressed in clerical garb.Even the fact that his face was exceedingly ruddy and that his eyeswere of a peculiar sea-green shade aroused no comment.

  Carrying a little bag in his hand, the apparently athletic curate swepthis way to the head of the gangway, where his fresh and smiling faceinvited confidence from the reporters who hovered there, nervous lestthe baronet should escape them.

  One of them lifted his hat, and stepping forward, asked the tall,youthful parson if he had seen Sir Paul Westerham.

  The parson smiled and said gravely:

  "Yes, I saw him two minutes ago in his state-room."

  There was a stampede on the part of the journalists, and, smilingblandly to himself, Westerham settled his clerical hat firmly on hishead and sped down the gangway.

  In the days he had spent below decks Westerham had mapped out forhimself a sufficiently daring and ingenious plan of campaign to satisfythe most exacting of romantic minds. It was, indeed, with almost boyishzest that he entered on the adventure, and with all the enthusiasm ofan amateur detective had paved the way for slipping up to London, thereto become a lost nonentity.

  He knew better than to take the boat-train. Instead, he went up tothe Adelphi Hotel, where fewer of his fellow-passengers were likelyto congregate than at the North-Western, deposited his bag, andthereafter sauntered out to enjoy a stroll through the crowded streetsof Liverpool.

  At the Adelphi he slept that night, proceeding up to London on thefollowing day.

  He arrived at Euston about one o'clock, and drove straight to Walter's,a small yet comfortable hotel on the north side of the Strand.

  Before going there, however, he had taken the precaution to buy somepassable, if ready-made, clothes, together with a tweed cap, so thatthere was left about him no trace of the clerical disguise which he hadassumed on arriving at Liverpool.

  His presence, indeed, was sufficiently honest and prosperous to warrantnot the slightest inquiry as to his _bona fides_ at the hotel. In anhour he had comfortably settled himself in his new and temporary home,taking a small bedroom and a small sitting-room on the second floor.

  Immediately on taking the room he had written a note to his friend,Lord Dunton, who was practically the only man in the whole of Londonwhom he considered he could trust.

  Dunton called at about five o'clock, and the two men spent a coupleof hours in a quiet corner chuckling over the vivid accounts in thevarious newspapers which told of the mysterious disappearance of theminer baronet from the _Gigantic_.

  Every theory which could be advanced was exploited to the full--murder,suicide, lapse of memory, and accidents of every sort and descriptionwere set forth to account for Sir Paul Westerham's vanishment. Therewere interviews with the captain and purser of the _Gigantic_;interviews with a score of passengers, and, much to Westerham'samusement, numerous bearded portraits of himself in a miner's guise.

  Then, over a whisky-and-soda, Westerham briefly outlined to Dunton theadventure with Melun in his cabin and of his voluntary disappearance.

  "The only thing that troubles me," Westerham concluded, "is whether youwill stand by and see me through. It is practically impossible for meto achieve what I consider necessary unless I have at least one friendwho will keep his mouth shut tight."

  "My dear fellow," said Dunton, earnestly, "I assure you that if thisis your whim I see no reason why I should not do my best not only tohumour it but to help it. By Jove!" he added, "but it's a ripping goodidea!"

  For Lord Dunton, who was very light-haired, very blue-eyed, and veryvapid, had in his composition a great tendency to what he called "aripping good lark."

  And so the two men arranged the matter between them.

  They dined together very quietly in a little restaurant in Soho, wherenobody who knew Dunton was likely to meet them, and where the cooking,if unpretentious, was at least good.

  Afterwards Westerham went back to Dunton's rooms in Ryder Street, wherethey talked far into the night. They sat together, indeed, until pasttwo o'clock, so that even the polite porter at Walter's raised hiseyebrows at Westerham with some disapprobation when he finally returnedto his hotel.

  Next morning Dunton called early, and together the two men went up tothe baronet's solicitors in Lincoln's Inn. There they had a long andnot wholly placid interview with Mr. Victor Hantell, a somewhat elderlygentleman with pronounced views on the law and the propriety of abidingstrictly by it.

  In answer to all his objections, however, the baronet had one extremelyawkward reply:

  Did or did not the lawyer wish to remain entrusted with the care of hisvast estates and fortune?

  So after a couple of hours' talk matters were arranged to Westerham'sway of thinking.

  A hundred thousand pounds were to be paid into Lord Dunton's accountin order that Westerham might be able to draw such sums of money ashe required without any knowledge in any quarter of the fact that thebaronet himself was dealing with the bank.

  Mr. Hantell, moreover, was pledged to complete and absolute secrecy,so that with the exception of the lawyer and Dunton no one knew ofWesterham's arrival in London.

  The only tinge of humour that was introduced into the debate onWesterham's affairs was when, from time to time, a sleek andgrave-mannered senior clerk entered quietly and placed on Mr. Hantell'sdesk a card that bore the name of some great London newspaper; for thenewspapers had discovered quickly enough who Sir Paul's lawyers were.But they sought information in vain.

  The few matters of moment that required to be settled having beendealt with, Westerham and Dunton went to lunch, and at lunch Westerhamunfolded his further schemes to his friend.

  They acted upon them without delay, and that afternoon Westerhamsecured more than luxurious rooms in Bruton Street in the name of JamesRobinson. It should be mentioned that at Walter's Hotel Westerham wasknown by the same simple title.

  "In fact," said Westerham to his friend, laughing, as they afterwardssat over a whisky-and-soda at Long's, "I seem to be setting out tolead a double life
on a somewhat splendid scale. Where, of course, itwill land me, and into what difficulties it will plunge me, naturallyI cannot tell, but it is really comforting to reflect that, no matterwhat caprice I may indulge in, I have at least sufficient money behindme to provide a complete excuse.

  "You see," he went on a trifle more gravely, "I rely so much upon myintuition that I feel perfectly justified in regarding Melun with thevery gravest suspicion. If I do my country no other service, I may atleast be able to unmask what I am certain is a gang of internationalcriminals, and, at the worst, I shall have plenty of fun for my money."

  The main reason for his peculiar mode of disappearing Westerham kept tohimself. He said nothing to Dunton of the girl with the steadfast eyes.

  And there he was wrong, for the difficulties--the very serious anddangerous difficulties--into which he was afterwards plunged would havebeen far more easily surmounted had he taken his friend into his fullconfidence.

  Melun, in obedience to his instructions, had called at Walter's Hotelon the second day following the arrival of the _Gigantic_, but havingno use for him then, and desiring to see a little of London before heproceeded to investigate the mysteries of Melun's life, Westerham toldthe urbane, if somewhat sinister, captain that he did not require hispresence. Westerham, indeed, informed Melun pretty curtly that he wouldsend for him when he needed him.

  The next five days were spent by Westerham very quietly. The bestof tailors that Dunton could recommend were hard at work buildinginnumerable suits for Mr. James Robinson, whose magnificent motor carwas at least a guarantee of the soundness of his banking account.

  When he had possessed himself of such clothes as he required in orderto live as James Robinson, Esq., of Bruton Street, plain Mr. Robinson,of Walter's Hotel, informed the proprietor there that he was goinginto the country, and for two days Westerham lived in his new quarters.

  Then he made excuses to the correct, soft-footed, and soft-spoken valetwith whom Dunton had provided him, and went back to live at Walter's.

  As a matter of fact he rather preferred the existence which he was ableto follow when he wore cheaper clothes and walked a humbler path oflife.

  It was not without distinctly good reason that he set himselfsystematically to explore London--not the London commonly known to theaverage sight-seer, but the London of the obscure Londoner,--the Londonof distant suburbs, the London of mean streets, the London of the docksand slums and of wastes of respectable spaces.

  In the course of his peregrinations Westerham found himself one nightat about the hour of ten wandering in a particularly ill-lit and remotecorner of Hyde Park.

  He was walking lightly over the wet grass with almost silent feet.Indeed, as he swung gently forward, his mind was far away on the softprairie land that he seemed to have left years and years before. Sooccupied was he with his thoughts that he came near to walking into acouple engaged in a heated controversy beneath a tree.

  When, however, he beheld them, he came to a sudden standstill, all hissenses alive, his quick intuition telling him he was in the presence ofsome matter of moment.

  He did not like the look of the thick-set greasy man who faced thegirl. Westerham could read a man's character as easily from his backas he could from his face, and he had instantly a great distrust of thefat man's aspect.

  The girl he could not see, but it was with some unaccountable notion ofdoing her a service, and not with the remotest idea of eavesdropping,that he stepped softly and silently to the further side of a tree trunk.

  Then he heard the girl's voice saying in low, quiet, earnest accents:

  "Why will you not let us rest? Why do you pursue us in this way? Surelyit is inhuman to adopt these methods. You know what you want, and youhave practically the power of obtaining it. Is it fair to drag me to aplace like this and insult me in this way?"

  The man mumbled something which Westerham could not catch.

  Then he heard the girl utter a little cry.

  "Look!" she exclaimed eagerly. "Look! I will make you an offer. Freeus from this horrible nightmare, give me your word that you will notpersecute us further, and I will give you these."

  Westerham heard the rustle of draperies, and was conscious that thegirl reached out her hands. The man took something from her. His headwas bent over the object, whatever it might be, long and earnestly.

  Then he heard a thick voice, with a distinctly Semitic lisp, say,"They are beautiful, very beautiful. But what are they to us? You thinkthey are worth a hundred thousand pounds, eh? Suppose they are--what ofthat? Do you think a hundred thousand pounds can close our lips? Do youthink a hundred thousand pounds can save your father? Bah!"

  The man chuckled thickly.

  "But they are very pretty baubles," he went on, "and seeing you offerthem to me, I see no reason why I should not keep them."

  "Ah!" cried the girl. "Then you will be silent?"

  "Silent!" exclaimed the man, "Silent, for this much! Not us! Why, it'sridiculous."

  "Then give them back to me," said the girl, quietly, with a quaver inher voice. "Give them back to me. Would you rob me?"

  "I am not robbing you," answered the man, sullenly. "I am taking whatyou offered me. I shall not give them back. It is impossible for youto make me. You would cry out, would you? What good would that do? Cryout, call a policeman--do what you like--what will it mean for youexcept exposure? What will it mean for your father except ruin? Givethem back? Not I! I----"

  But his speech ended suddenly at this point, for Westerham, alwaysquick to action, took quick action now.

  Moving round the trunk of the tree, he caught the man deftly by thecollar of his coat, kicked his heels from under him, and brought himwith a heavy crash to the ground.

  The man lay still.

  In a second Westerham was on his knees beside the prostrate figure.With swift fingers he searched the man's clothing and found a mass ofjewels in the breast-pocket of the man's outer coat.

  In a twinkling he had them out, and, rising to his feet, he held aheavy string of diamonds towards the girl.

  "Madam," he cried, "permit me to befriend you. I do not know who youare, but--"

  His voice trailed away into a little gasp. For the frightened facethat stared at him with starting eyes was the face of the girl in thepicture.

  In this strange manner did Westerham meet Lady Kathleen Carfax.

 
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