Part 4 out of 6
Merriman read his thoughts and bluffed again.
"Yes and no," he answered. "No one but we two know at present. On
the other hand, we have naturally taken all reasonable precautions.
Hilliard prepared a full statement of the matter which we both
signed, and this he sent to his banker with a request that unless he
claimed it in person before the given date, the banker was to convey
it to Scotland Yard. If anything happens to me here, Hilliard will
go at once to the Yard, and if anything happens to him our document
will be sent there. And in it we have suggested that if either of
us disappear, it will be equivalent to adding murder to the other
It was enough. Mr. Coburn sat, broken and completely cowed. To
Merriman he seemed suddenly to have become an old man. For several
minutes silence reigned, and then at last the other spoke.
"What do you want me to do?" he asked, in a tremulous voice, hardly
louder than a whisper.
Merriman's heart leaped.
"To consider your daughter, Mr. Coburn," he answered promptly.
"All I want is to marry Madeleine, and for her sake I want you to
get out of this thing before the crash comes."
Mr. Coburn once more wiped the drops of sweat from his forehead.
"Good lord!" he cried hoarsely. "Ever since it started I have been
trying to get out of it. I was forced into it against my will and
I would give my soul if I could do as you say and get free. But I
can't - I can't."
He buried his head in his hands and sat motionless, leaning on his
"But your daughter, Mr. Coburn," Merriman persisted. "For her sake
something must be done."
Mr. Coburn shook his clenched fists in the air.
"Damnation take you!" he cried, with a sudden access of rage, "do
you think I care about myself? Do you think I'd sit here and
listen to you talking as you've done if it wasn't for her? I tell
you I'd shoot you as you sit, if I didn't know from my own
observation that she is fond of you. I swear it's the only thing
that has saved you." He rose to his feet and began pacing jerkily
to and fro. "See here," he continued wildly, "go away from here
before I do it. I can't stand any more of you at present. Go now
and come back on Friday night at the same time, and I'll tell you
of my decision. Here's the key," he threw it down on the desk.
"Get out quick before I do for you!"
Merriman was for a moment inclined to stand his ground, but,
realizing that not only had he carried his point as far as he could
have expected, but also that his companion was in so excited a
condition as hardly to be accountable for his actions, he decided
discretion was the better part, and merely saying: "Very well,
Friday night," he unlocked the door and took his leave.
On the whole he was well pleased with his interview. In the first
place, he had by his readiness escaped an imminent personal danger.
What was almost as important, he had broken the ice with Mr. Coburn
about Madeleine, and the former had not only declared that he was
aware of the state of his daughter's feelings, but he had expressed
no objection to the proposed match. Further, an understanding as
to Mr. Coburn's own position had been come to. He had practically
admitted that the syndicate was a felonious conspiracy, and had
stated that he would do almost anything to get out of it. Finally
he had promised a decision on the whole question in three days'
time. Quite a triumph, Merriman thought.
On the other hand he had given the manager a warning of the danger
which the latter might communicate to his fellow-conspirators, with
the result that all of them might escape from the net in which
Hilliard, at any rate, wished to enmesh them. And just to this
extent he had become a co-partner in their crime. And though it
was true that he had escaped from his immediate peril, he had
undoubtedly placed himself and Hilliard in very real danger. It
was by no means impossible that the gang would decide to murder
both of the men whose knowledge threatened them, in the hope of
bluffing the bank manager out of the letter which they would
believe he held. Merriman had invented this letter on the spur
of the moment and he would have felt a good deal happier if he
knew that it really existed. He decided that he would write to
Hilliard immediately and get him to make it a reality.
A great deal, he thought, depended on the character of Coburn. If
he was weak and cowardly he would try to save his own skin and let
the others walk into the net particularly might he do this if he
had suffered at their hands in the way he suggested. On the other
hand, a strong man would undoubtedly consult his fellow-conspirators
and see that a pretty determined fight was made for their liberty
and their source of gain.
He had thought of all this when it suddenly flashed into his mind
that Mr. Coburn's presence in the shed at two in the morning in
itself required a lot of explanation. He did not for a moment
believe the aspirin story. The man had looked so shifty while he
was speaking, that even at the time Merriman had decided he was
lying. What then could he have been doing?
He puzzled over the questions but without result. Then it occurred
to him that as he was doing nothing that evening he might as well
ride out again to the clearing and see if any nocturnal activities
Midnight therefore found him once more ensconced behind a group of
shrubs in full view of both the house and the shed. It was again a
perfect night, and again he lay dreaming of the girl who was so near
in body and in spirit, and yet so infinitely far beyond his reach.
Time passed slowly, but the hours wore gradually round until his
watch showed two o'clock. Then, just as he was thinking that he
need hardly wait much longer, he was considerably thrilled to see
Mr. Coburn once more appear at the side door of the house, and in
the same stealthy, secretive way as on the previous night, walk
hurriedly to the shed and let himself in by the office door.
At first Merriman thought of following him again in the hope of
learning the nature of these strange proceedings, but a moment's
thought showed him he must run no risk of discovery. If Coburn
learned that he was being spied on he would at once doubt Merriman's
statement that he knew the syndicate's secret. It would be better,
therefore, to lie low and await events.
But the only other INTERESTING event that happened was that some
fifteen minutes later the manager left the shed, and with the same
show of secrecy returned to his house, disappearing into the side
So intrigued was Merriman by the whole business that he determined
to repeat his visit the following night also. He did so, and once
again witnessed Mr. Coburn's stealthy walk to the shed at two a.m.,
and his equally stealthy return at two-fifteen.
Rack his brains as he would over the problem of these nocturnal
visits, Merriman could think of no explanation. What for three
consecutive nights could bring the manager down to the sawmill? He
could not imagine, but he was clear it was not the pit-prop industry.
If the Girondin had been in he would have once more suspected
smuggling, but she was then at Ferriby. No, it certainly did not
work in with smuggling. Still less did it suggest false note
printing, unless - Merriman's heart beat more quickly as a new idea
entered his mind. Suppose the notes were printed there, at the mill!
Suppose there was a cellar under the engine house, and suppose the
work was done at night? It was true they had not seen signs of a
cellar, but if this surmise was correct it was not likely they would.
At first sight this theory seemed a real advance, but a little
further thought showed it had serious objections. Firstly, it did
not explain Coburn's nightly visits. If the manager had spent some
hours in the works it might have indicated the working of a press,
but what in that way could be done in fifteen minutes? Further,
and this seemed to put the idea quite out of court, if the notes
were being produced at the clearing, why the changing of the lorry
numbers? That would then be a part of the business quite unconnected
with the illicit traffic. After much thought, Merriman had to admit
to himself that here was one more of the series of insoluble puzzles
with which they found themselves faced.
The next night was Friday, and in accordance with the arrangement
made with Mr. Coburn, Merriman once again went out to the clearing,
presenting himself at the works door at two in the morning. Mr.
Coburn at once opened to his knock, and after locking the door, led
the way to his office. There he wasted no time in preliminaries.
"I've thought this over, Merriman," he said, and his manner was
very different from that of the previous interview, "and I'm bound
to say that I've realized that, though interested, your action
towards me has been correct not to say generous. Now I've made up
my mind what to do, and I trust you will see your way to fall in
with my ideas. There is a meeting of the syndicate on Thursday
week. I should have been present in any case, and I have decided
that, whatever may be the result, I will tell them I am going to
break with them. I will give ill-health as my reason for this
step, and fortunately or unfortunately I can do this with truth, as
my heart is seriously diseased. I can easily provide the necessary
doctor's certificates. If they accept my resignation, well and
good - I will emigrate to my brother in South America, and you and
Madeleine can be married. If they decline, well" - Mr. Coburn
shrugged his shoulders - "your embarrassment will be otherwise
He paused. Merriman would have spoken, but Mr. Coburn held up his
hand for silence and went on:
"I confess I have been terribly upset for the last three days to
discover my wisest course, and even now I am far from certain that
my decision is best. I do not want to go back on my former friends,
and on account of Madeleine I cannot go back on you. Therefore, I
cannot warn the others of their danger, but on the other hand I
won't give your life into their hands. For if they knew what I know
now, you and Hilliard would be dead men inside twenty-four hours."
Mr. Coburn spoke simply and with a certain dignity, and Merriman
found himself disposed not only to believe what he had heard, but
even to understand and sympathize with the man in the embarrassing
circumstances in which he found himself. That his difficulties
were of his own making there could be but little doubt, but how
far he had put himself in the power of his associates through
deliberate evil-doing, and how far through mistakes or weakness,
there was of course no way of learning.
At the end of an hour's discussion, Mr. Coburn had agreed at all
costs to sever his connection with the syndicate, to emigrate to
his brother in Chile, and to do his utmost to induce his daughter
to remain in England to marry Merriman. On his side, Merriman
undertook to hold back the lodging of information at Scotland Yard
for one more week, to enable the other's arrangements to be carried
There being nothing to keep him in Bordeaux, Merriman left for
London that day, and the next evening he was closeted with Hilliard
in the latter's rooms, discussing the affair. Hilliard at first
was most unwilling to postpone their visit to the Yard but he
agreed on Merriman's explaining that he had pledged himself to the
So the days, for Merriman heavily weighted with anxiety and suspense,
began slowly to drag by. His fate and the fate of the girl he loved
hung in the balance, and not the least irksome feature of his
position was his own utter impotence. There was nothing that he
could do - no action which would take him out of himself and ease
the tension of his thoughts. As day succeeded day and the silence
remained unbroken, he became more and more upset. At the end of a
week he was almost beside himself with worry and chagrin, so much so
that he gave up attending his office altogether, and was only
restrained from rushing back to Bordeaux by the knowledge that to
force himself once more on Madeleine might be to destroy, once and
for ever, any hopes he might otherwise have had.
It was now four days since the Thursday on which Mr. Coburn had
stated that the meeting of the syndicate was to have been held, and
only three days to the date on which the friends had agreed to tell
their story at Scotland Yard. What if he received no news during
those three days? Would Hilliard agree to a further postponement?
He feared not, and he was racked with anxiety as to whether he
should cross that day to France and seek another interview with Mr.
But, even as he sat with the morning paper in his hand, news was
nearer than he imagined. Listlessly he turned over the sheets,
glancing with but scant attention to the headlines, automatically
running his eyes over the paragraphs. And when he came to one
headed "Mystery of a Taxi-cab," he absent-mindedly began to read
But he had not gone very far when his manner changed. Starting to
his feet, he stared at the column with horror-stricken eyes, while
his face grew pallid and his pipe dropped to the floor from his open
mouth. With the newspaper still tightly grasped in his hand, he ran
three steps at a time down the stairs of his flat, and calling a
taxi, was driven to Scotland Yard.
Almost exactly fifteen hours before Merriman's call at Scotland Yard,
to wit, about eight o'clock on the previous evening, Inspector Willis
of the Criminal Investigation Department was smoking in the
sitting-room of his tiny house in Brixton. George Willis was a tall,
somewhat burly man of five-and-forty, with heavy, clean-shaven,
expressionless features which would have made his face almost stupid,
had it not been redeemed by a pair of the keenest of blue eyes. He
was what is commonly known as a safe man, not exactly brilliant, but
plodding and tenacious to an extraordinary degree. His forte was
slight clues, and he possessed that infinite capacity for taking
pains which made his following up of them approximate to genius. In
short, though a trifle slow, he was already looked on as one of the
most efficient and reliable inspectors of the Yard.
He had had a heavy day, and it was with a sigh of relief that he
picked up the evening paper and stretched himself luxuriously in
his easy-chair. But he was not destined to enjoy a long rest.
Hardly had he settled himself to his satisfaction when the telephone
bell rang. He was wanted back at the Yard immediately.
He swore under his breath, then, calling the news to his wife, he
slipped on his waterproof and left the house. The long spell of
fine weather had at last broken, and the evening was unpleasant,
indeed unusually inclement for mid-September. All day the wind
had been gusty and boisterous, and now a fine drizzle of rain had
set in, which was driven in sheets against the grimy buildings and
whirled in eddies round the street corners. Willis walked quickly
along the shining pavements, and in a few minutes reached his
destination. His chief was waiting for him.
"Ah, Willis," the great man greeted him, "I'm glad you weren't out.
A case has been reported which I want you to take over; a suspected
murder; man found dead in a taxi at King's Cross."
"Yes, sir," Willis answered unemotionally. "Any details forward?"
"None, except that the man is dead and that they're holding the
taxi at the station. I have asked Dr. Horton to come round, and
you had both better get over there as quickly as possible."
"Yes, sir," Willis replied again, and quickly left the room.
His preparations were simple. He had only to arrange for a couple
of plain clothes men and a photographer with a flashlight apparatus
to accompany him, and to bring from his room a handbag containing
his notebook and a few other necessary articles. He met the police
doctor in the corridor and, the others being already in waiting,
the five men immediately left the great building and took a car to
"What's the case, inspector, do you know?" Dr. Horton inquired as
they slipped deftly through the traffic.
"The Chief said suspected murder; man found dead in a taxi at King's
Cross. He had no details."
"How was it done?"
"Don't know, sir. Chief didn't say."
After a few brief observations on the inclemency of the weather,
conversation waned between the two men, and they followed the
example of their companions, and sat watching with a depressed air
the rain-swept streets and the hurrying foot passengers on the wet
pavements. All five were annoyed at being called out, as all were
tired and had been looking forward to an evening of relaxation at
They made a quick run, reaching the station in a very few minutes.
There a constable identified the inspector.
"They've taken the taxi round to the carrier's yard at the west
side of the station, sir," he said to Willis. "If you'll follow
me, I'll show you the way."
The officer led them to an enclosed and partially roofed area at
the back of the parcels office, where the vans from the shops
unloaded their traffic. In a corner under the roof and surrounded
by a little knot of men stood a taxi-cab. As Willis and his
companions approached, a sergeant of police separated himself from
the others and came forward.
"We have touched nothing, sir," he announced. "When we found the
man was dead we didn't even move the body."
"Quite right, sergeant. It's murder, I suppose?"
"Looks like it, sir. The man was shot."
"Shot? Anything known of the murderer?"
"Not much, I'm afraid, sir. He got clear away in Tottenham Court
Road, as far as I can understand it. But you'll hear what the
driver has to say."
Again the Inspector nodded, as he stepped up to the vehicle.
"Here's Dr. Newman," the sergeant continued, indicating an
exceedingly dapper and well-groomed little man with medico written
all over him. "He was the nearest medical man we could get."
Willis turned courteously to the other.
"An unpleasant evening to be called out, doctor," he remarked.
"The man's dead, I understand? Was he dead when you arrived?"
"Yes, but only a very little time. The body was quite warm."
"And the cause of death?"
"Seeing that I could do nothing, I did not move the body until you
Scotland Yard gentlemen had seen it, and therefore I cannot say
professionally. But there is a small hole in the side of the coat
over the heart." The doctor spoke with a slightly consequential air.
"A bullet wound?"
"A bullet wound unquestionably."
Inspector Willis picked up an acetylene bicycle lamp which one of
the men had procured and directed its beam into the cab.
The corpse lay in the back corner seat on the driver's side, the
head lolling back sideways against the cushions and crushing into
a shapeless mass the gray Homburg hat. The mouth and eyes were
open and the features twisted as if from sudden pain. The face
was long and oval, the hair and eyes dark, and there was a tiny
black mustache with waxed ends. A khaki colored waterproof, open
in front, revealed a gray tweed suit, across the waistcoat of
which shone a gold watch chain. Tan shoes covered the feet. On
the left side of the body just over the heart was a little round
hole in the waterproof coat Willis stooped and smelled the cloth.
"No blackening and no smell of burned powder," he thought. "He
must have been shot from outside the cab." But he found it hard
to understand how such a shot could have been fired from the
populous streets of London. The hole also seemed too far round
towards the back of the body to suggest that the bullet had come
in through the open window. The point was puzzling, but Willis
pulled himself up sharply with the reminder that he must not begin
theorizing until he had learned all the facts.
Having gazed at the gruesome sight until he had impressed its every
detail on his memory, he turned to his assistant. "Get ahead with
your flashlight, Kirby," he ordered. "Take views from all the
angles you can. The constable will give you a hand. Meantime,
sergeant, give me an idea of the case. What does the driver say?"
"He's here, sir," the officer returned, pointing to a small, slight
individual in a leather coat and cap, with a sallow, frightened
face and pathetic, dog-like eyes which fixed themselves questioningly
on Willis's face as the sergeant led their owner forward.
"You might tell me what you know, driver."
The man shifted nervously from one foot to the other.
"It was this way, sir," he began. He spoke earnestly, and to Willis,
who was accustomed to sizing up rapidly those with whom he dealt,
he seemed a sincere and honest man. "I was driving down Piccadilly
from Hyde Park Corner looking out for a fare, and when I gets just
by the end of Bond Street two men hails me. One was this here man
what's dead, the other was a big, tall gent. I pulls in to the curb,
and they gets in, and the tall gent he says 'King's Cross.' I starts
off by Piccadilly Circus and Shaftesbury Avenue, but when I gets into
Tottenham Court Road about the corner of Great Russell Street, one
of them says through the tube, 'Let me down here at the corner of
Great Russell Street,' he sez. I pulls over to the curb, and the
tall gent he gets out and stands on the curb and speaks in to the
other one. Then I shall follow by the three o'clock tomorrow,' he
sez, and he shuts the door and gives me a bob and sez, 'That's for
yourself,' he sez, 'and my friend will square up at the station,' he
sez. I came on here, and when this here man opens the door," he
indicated a porter standing by, "why, the man's dead. And that's
all I knows about it."
The statement was made directly and convincingly, and Willis frowned
as he thought that such apparently simple cases proved frequently
to be the most baffling in the end. In his slow, careful way he
went over in his mind what he had heard, and then began to try for
"At what time did you pick up the men?" he inquired.
"About half past seven, or maybe twenty to eight"
"Did you see where they were coming from?"
"No, sir. They were standing on the curb, and the tall one he holds
up his hand for me to pull over."
"Would you know the tall man again?"
The driver shook his head.
"I don't know as I should, sir. You see, it was raining, and he had
his collar up round his neck and his hat pulled down over his eyes,
so as I couldn't right see his face."
"Describe him as best you can."
"He was a tall man, longer than what you are, and broad too. A big
man, I should call him."
"How was he dressed?"
"He had a waterproof, khaki color - about the color of your own -
with the collar up round his neck."
"His hat was a soft felt, dark, either brown or green, I couldn't
rightly say, with the brim turned down in front."
"And his face? Man alive, you must have seen his face when he gave
you the shilling."
The driver stared helplessly. Then he answered:
"I couldn't be sure about his face, not with the way he had his
collar up and his hat pulled down. It was raining and blowing
"Did the other man reply when the tall one spoke into the cab?"
"Didn't hear no reply at all, sir."
Inspector Willis thought for a moment and then started on another
"Did you hear a shot?" he asked sharply.
"I heard it, sir, right enough, but I didn't think it was a shot
at the time, and I didn't think it was in my cab. It was just when
we were passing the Apollo Theater, and there was a big block of
cars setting people down, and I thought it was a burst tire.
'There's somebody's tire gone to glory,' I sez to myself, but I
give it no more thought, for it takes you to be awake to drive up
Shaftesbury Avenue when the theaters are starting."
"You said you didn't think the shot was in your cab; why do you
think so now?"
"It was the only sound like a shot, sir, and if the man has been
shot, it would have been then."
Willis nodded shortly. There was something puzzling here. If the
shot had been fired by the other occupant of the cab, as the man's
evidence seemed to indicate, there would certainly have been powder
blackening on the coat. If not, and if the bullet had entered from
without, the other passenger would surely have stopped the car and
called a policeman. Presently he saw that some corroborative
evidence might exist. If the bullet came from without the left-hand
window must have been down, as there was no hole in the glass. In
this case the wind, which was blowing from the north-west, would
infallibly have driven in the rain, and drops would still show on
the cushions. He must look for them without delay.
He paused to ask the driver one more question, whether he could
identify the voice which told him through the speaking tube to stop
with that of the man who had given him the shilling. The man
answering affirmatively, Willis turned to one of the plain clothes
"You have heard this driver's statement, Jones," he said. "You
might get away at once and see the men who were on point duty both
at the corner of Great Russell Street where the tall man got out,
and in Piccadilly, where both got in. Try the hotels thereabouts,
the Albemarle and any others you can think of. If you can get any
information follow it up and keep me advised at the Yard of your
The man hurried away and Willis moved over once more to the taxi.
The assistant had by this time finished his flashlight photographs,
and the inspector, picking up the bicycle lamp, looked again into
the interior. A moment's examination showed him there were no
raindrops on the cushions, but his search nevertheless was not
unproductive. Looking more carefully this time than previously,
he noticed on the floor of the cab a dark object almost hidden
beneath the seat. He drew it out. It was a piece of thick black
cloth about a yard square.
Considerably mystified, he held it up by two corners, and then his
puzzle became solved. In the cloth were two small holes, and round
one of them the fabric was charred and bore the characteristic smell
of burned powder. It was clear what had been done. With the object
doubtless of hiding the flash as well as of muffling the report, the
murderer had covered his weapon with a double thickness of heavy
cloth. No doubt it had admirably achieved its purpose, and Willis
seized it eagerly in the hope that it might furnish him with a clue
as to its owner.
He folded it and set it aside for further examination, turning back
to the body. Under his direction it was lifted out, placed on an
ambulance stretcher provided by the railwaymen, and taken to a
disused office close by. There the clothes were removed and, while
the doctors busied themselves with the remains, Willis went through
the pockets and arranged their contents on one of the desks.
The clothes themselves revealed but little information. The
waterproof and shoes, it is true, bore the makers' labels, but
both these articles were the ready-made products of large firms,
and inquiry at their premises would be unlikely to lead to any
result. None of the garments bore any name or identifiable mark.
Willis then occupied himself the contents of the pockets. Besides
the gold watch and chain, bunch of keys, knife, cigarette case,
loose coins and other small objects which a man such as the deceased
might reasonably be expected to carry, there were two to which the
inspector turned with some hope of help.
The first was a folded sheet of paper which proved to be a
receipted hotel bill. It showed that a Mr. Coburn and another had
stayed in the Peveril Hotel in Russell Square during the previous
four days. When Willis saw it he gave a grunt of satisfaction.
It would doubtless offer a ready means to learn the identity of the
deceased, as well possibly as of the other, in whom Willis was
already even more interested. Moreover, so good a clue must be
worked without delay. He called over the second plain clothes man.
"Take this bill to the Peveril, Matthews," he ordered. "Find out
if the dead man is this Coburn, and if possible get on the track of
his companion. If I don't get anything better here I shall follow
you round, but keep the Yard advised of your movements in any case."
Before the man left Willis examined the second object. It was a
pocket-book, but it proved rather disappointing. It contained two
five pound Bank of England notes, nine one pound and three ten
shilling Treasury notes, the return half of a third-class railway
ticket from Hull to King's Cross, a Great Northern cloakroom ticket,
a few visiting cards inscribed "Mr. Francis Coburn," and lastly,
the photograph by Cramer of Regent Sweet of a pretty girl of about
Willis mentally noted the three possible clues these articles
seemed to suggest; inquiries in Hull, the discovery of the girl
through Messrs. Cramer, and third and most important, luggage or a
parcel in some Great Northern cloakroom, which on recovery might
afford him help. The presence of the money also seemed important,
as this showed that the motive for the murder had not been robbery.
Having made a parcel of the clothes for transport to the Yard,
reduced to writing the statements of the driver and of the porter
who had made the discovery, and arranged with the doctors as to
the disposal of the body, Willis closed and locked the taxi, and
sent it in charge of a constable to Scotland Yard. Then with the
cloakroom ticket he went round to see if he could find the office
which had issued it.
The rooms were all shut for the night, but an official from the
stationmaster's office went round with him, and after a brief
search they found the article for which the ticket was a voucher.
It was a small suitcase, locked, and Willis brought it away with
him, intending to open it at his leisure. His work at the station
being by this time complete, he returned to the Yard, carrying the
suitcase. There, though it was growing late, he forced the lock,
and sat down to examine the contents. But from them he received no
help. The bag contained just the articles which a man in
middle-class circumstances would naturally carry on a week or a
fortnight's trip - a suit of clothes, clean linen, toilet appliances,
and such like. Nowhere could Willis find anything of interest.
Telephone messages, meanwhile, had come in from the two plain
clothes men. Jones reported that he had interviewed all the
constables who had been on point duty at the places in question,
but without result. Nor could any of the staffs of the neighboring
hotels or restaurants assist him.
The call from the Peveril conveyed slightly more information. The
manageress, so Matthews said, had been most courteous and had sent
for several members of her staff in the hope that some of them
might be able to answer his questions. But the sum total of the
knowledge he had gained was not great. In the first place, it was
evident that the deceased was Mr. Coburn himself. It appeared that
he was accompanied by a Miss Coburn, whom the manageress believed
to be his daughter. He had been heard addressing her as Madeleine.
The two had arrived in time for dinner five days previously,
registering "F. Coburn and Miss Coburn," and had left about eleven
on the morning of the murder. On each of the four days of their
stay they had been out a good deal, but they had left and returned
at different hours, and, therefore, appeared not to have spent
their time together. They seemed, however, on very affectionate
terms. No address had been left to which letters might be
forwarded, and it was not known where the two visitors had intended
to go when they left. Neither the manageress nor any of the staff
had seen anyone resembling the tall man.
Inspector Willis was considerably disappointed by the news. He had
hoped that Mr. Coburn's fellow-guest would have been the murderer,
and that he would have left some trace from which his identity could
have been ascertained. However, the daughter's information would
no doubt be valuable, and his next care must be to find her and
learn her story.
She might of course save him the trouble by herself coming forward.
She would be almost certain to see an account of the murder in the
papers, and even if not, her father's disappearance would inevitably
lead her to communicate with the police.
But Willis could not depend on this. She might, for example, have
left the previous day on a voyage, and a considerable time might
elapse before she learned of the tragedy. No; he would have to
trace her as if she herself were the assassin.
He looked at his watch and was surprised to learn that it was after
one o'clock. Nothing more could be done that night, and with a sigh
of relief he turned his steps homewards.
Next morning he was back at the Yard by eight o'clock. His first
care was to re-examine the taxi by daylight for some mark or article
left by its recent occupants. He was extraordinarily thorough and
painstaking, scrutinizing every inch of the floor and cushions, and
trying the door handles and window straps for finger marks, but
without success. He went over once again the clothes the dead man
was wearing as well as those in the suitcase, took prints from the
dead man's fingers, and began to get things in order for the inquest.
Next, he saw Dr. Horton, and learned that Mr. Coburn had been killed
by a bullet from an exceedingly small automatic pistol, one evidently
selected to make the minimum of noise and flash, and from which a
long carry was not required.
When the details were complete he thought it would not be too early
to call at the Peveril and begin the search for Miss Coburn. He
therefore sent for a taxi, and a few minutes later was seated in the
office of the manageress. She repeated what Matthews had already
told him, and he personally interviewed the various servants with
whom the Coburns had come in contact. He also searched the rooms
they had occupied, examined with a mirror the blotting paper on a
table at which the young lady had been seen to write, and
interrogated an elderly lady visitor with whom she had made
But he learned nothing. The girl had vanished completely, and he
could see no way in which he might be able to trace her.
He sat down in the lounge and gave himself up to thought. And then
suddenly an idea flashed into his mind. He started, sat for a
moment rigid, then gave a little gasp.
"Lord!" he muttered. "But I'm a blamed idiot. How in Hades did
I miss that?"
He sprang to his feet and hurried out of the lounge.
A PROMISING CLUE
The consideration which had thus suddenly occurred to Inspector
Willis was the extraordinary importance of the fact that the tall
traveller had spoken through the tube to the driver. He marveled
how he could have overlooked its significance. To speak through a
taxi tube one must hold up the mouthpiece, and that mouthpiece is
usually made of vulcanite or some similar substance. What better
surface, Willis thought delightedly but anxiously, could be found
for recording finger-prints? If only the tall man had made the
blunder of omitting to wear gloves, he would have left evidence
which might hang him! And he, Willis, like the cursed imbecile
that he was, had missed the point! Goodness only knew if he was
not already too late. If so, he thought grimly, it was all u.p.
with his career at the Yard.
He ran to the telephone. A call to the Yard advised him that the
taxi driver, on being informed he was no longer required, had left
with his vehicle. He rapidly rang up the man's employers, asking
them to stop the cab directly they came in touch with it, then
hurrying out of the hotel, he hailed a taxi and drove to the rank
on which the man was stationed.
His luck was in. There were seven vehicles on the stand, and his
man, having but recently arrived, had only worked up to the middle
of the queue. The sweat was standing in large drops on Inspector
Willis's brow as he eagerly asked had the tube been touched since
leaving Scotland Yard, and his relief when he found he was still in
time was overwhelming. Rather unsteadily he entered the vehicle
and ordered the driver to return to the Yard.
On arrival he was not long in making his test. Sending for his
finger-print apparatus, he carefully powdered the vulcanite
mouthpiece, and he could scarcely suppress a cry of satisfaction
when he saw shaping themselves before his eyes three of the clearest
prints he had ever had the good fortune to come across. On one
side of the mouthpiece was the mark of a right thumb, and on the
other those of a first and second finger.
"Lord!" he muttered to himself, "that was a near thing. If I had
missed it, I could have left the Yard for good and all. It's the
first thing the Chief would have asked about"
His delight was unbounded. Here was as perfect and definite
evidence as he could have wished for. If he could find the man
whose fingers fitted the marks, that would be the end of his case.
He left the courtyard intending to return to the Peveril and resume
the tracing of Miss Coburn, but before he reached the door of the
great building he was stopped. A gentleman had called to see him
on urgent business connected with the case.
It was Merriman - Merriman almost incoherent with excitement and
distress. He still carried the newspaper in his hand, which had
so much upset him. Willis pulled forward a chair, invited the other
to be seated, and took the paper. The paragraph was quite short,
"MYSTERY OF A TAXI-CAB
"A tragedy which recalls the well-known detective novel The Mystery
of the Hansom Cab occurred last evening in one of the most populous
thoroughfares in London. It appears that about eight o'clock two
men engaged a taxi in Piccadilly to take them to King's Cross. Near
the Oxford Street end of Tottenham Court Road the driver was ordered
to stop. One of the men alighted, bade good-night to his companion,
and told the driver to proceed to King's Cross, where his friend
would settle up. On reaching the station there was no sign of the
friend, and a search revealed him lying dead in the taxi with a
bullet wound in his heart. From papers found on the body the
deceased is believed to be a Mr. Francis Coburn, but his residence
has not yet been ascertained."
Inspector Willis laid down the paper and turned to his visitor.
"You are interested in the case, sir?" he inquired.
"I knew him, I think," Merriman stammered. "At least I know
someone of the name. I - "
Willis glanced keenly at the newcomer. Here was a man who must,
judging by his agitation, have been pretty closely connected with
Francis Coburn. Suspicious of everyone, the detective recognized
that there might be more here than met the eye. He drew out his
"I am glad you called, sir," he said pleasantly. "We shall be very
pleased to get any information you can give us. What was your
His quiet, conversational manner calmed the other.
"Rather tall," he answered anxiously, "with a long pale face, and
small, black, pointed mustache."
"I'm afraid, sir, that's the man. I think if you don't mind you
had better see if you can identify him."
"I want to," Merriman cried, leaping to his feet "I must know at
Willis rose also.
"Then come this way."
They drove quickly across town. A glance was sufficient to tell
Merriman that the body was indeed that of his former acquaintance.
His agitation became painful.
"You're right!" he cried. "It is he! And it's my fault. Oh, if
I had only done what she said! If I had only kept out of it!"
He wrung his hands in his anguish.
Willis was much interested. Though this man could not be personally
guilty - he was not tall enough, for one thing - he must surely know
enough about the affair to put the inspector on the right track. The
latter began eagerly to await his story.
Merriman for his part was anxious for nothing so much as to tell it.
He was sick to death of plots and investigations and machinations,
and while driving to the Yard he had made up his mind that if the
dead man were indeed Madeleine's father, he would tell the whole
story of his and Hilliard's investigations into the doings of the
syndicate. When, therefore, they were back in the inspector's room,
he made a determined effort to pull himself together and speak
"Yes," he said, "I know him. He lived near Bordeaux with his
daughter. She will be absolutely alone. You will understand that I
must go out to her by the first train, but until then I am at your
"You are a relation perhaps?"
"No, only an acquaintance, but - I'm going to tell you the whole
story, and I may as well say, once for all, that it is my earnest
hope some day to marry Miss Coburn."
Willis bowed and inquired, "Is Miss Coburn's name Madeleine?"
"Yes," Merriman answered, surprise and eagerness growing in his face.
"Then," Willis went on, "you will be pleased to learn that she is not
in France - at least, I think not. She left the Peveril Hotel in
Russell Square about eleven o'clock yesterday morning."
Merriman sprang to his feet.
"In London?" he queried excitedly. "Where? What address?"
"We don't know yet, but we shall soon find her. Now, sir, you can't
do anything for the moment, and I am anxious to hear your story.
Take your own time, and the more details you can give me the better."
Merriman controlled himself with an effort.
"Well," he said slowly, sitting down again, "I have something to
tell you, inspector. My friend Hilliard - Claud Hilliard of the
Customs Department - and I have made a discovery. We have
accidentally come on what we believe is a criminal conspiracy, we
don't know for what purpose, except that it is something big and
fraudulent. We were coming to the Yard in any case to tell what
we had learned, but this murder has precipitated things. We can
no longer delay giving our information. The only thing is that I
should have liked Hilliard to be here to tell it instead of me, for
our discovery is really due to him."
"I can see Mr. Hilliard afterwards. Meantime tell me the story
Merriman thereupon related his and Hilliard's adventures and
experiences from his own first accidental visit to the clearing
when he noticed the changing of the lorry number, right up to his
last meeting with Mr. Coburn, when the latter expressed his
intention of breaking away from the gang. He hid nothing,
explaining without hesitation his reasons for urging the delay in
informing the authorities, even though he quite realized his action
made him to some extent an accomplice in the conspiracy.
Willis was much more impressed by the story than he would have
admitted. Though it sounded wild and unlikely, then was a ring of
truth in Merriman's manner which went far to convince the other of
its accuracy. He did not believe, either that anyone could have
invented such a story. It's very improbability was an argument for
And if it were true, what a vista it opened up to himself! The
solution of the murder problem would be gratifying enough but it
was a mere nothing compared to the other. If he could search out
and bring to naught such a conspiracy as Merriman's story indicated,
he would be a made man. It would be the crowning point of his
career, and would bring him measurably nearer to that cottage and
garden in the country to which for years past he had been looking
forward. Therefore no care and trouble would be too great to spend
on the matter.
Putting away thoughts of self, therefore, and deliberately
concentrating on the matter in hand, he set himself to consider in
detail what his visitor had told him and get the story clear in his
mind. Then slowly and painstakingly he began to ask questions.
"I take it, Mr. Merriman, that your idea is that Mr. Coburn was
murdered by a member of the syndicate?"
"Yes, and I think he foresaw his fate. I think when he told them
he was going to break with them they feared he might betray them,
and wanted to be on the safe side."
"Any of them a tall, stoutly built man?"
"Captain Beamish is tall and strongly built, but I should not say
he was stout."
"He stooped and was a little round-shouldered, but even then he was
tall. If he had held himself up he would have been a big man. He
had a heavy face with a big jaw, thin lips, and a vindictive
Willis, though not given to jumping to conclusions, felt suddenly
thrilled, and he made up his mind that an early development in the
case would be the taking of the impressions of Captain Beamish's
right thumb and forefinger.
He asked several more questions and, going over the story again,
took copious notes. Then for some time he sat in silence
considering what he had heard.
At first sight he was inclined to agree with Merriman, that the
deceased had met his death at the hands of a member of the
syndicate, and if so, it was not unlikely that all or most of the
members were party to it. From the mere possibility of this it
followed that the most urgent thing for the moment was to prevent
the syndicate suspecting his knowledge. He turned again to his
"I suppose you realize, Mr. Merriman, that if all these details
you have given me are correct, you yourself are in a position of
"I know it, but I am not afraid. It is the possible danger to Miss
Coburn that has upset me so much."
"I understand, sir," the inspector returned sympathetically, "but
it follows that for both your sakes you must act very cautiously,
so as to disarm any suspicions these people may have of you."
"I am quite in your hands, inspector."
"Good. Then let us consider your course of action. Now, first of
all about the inquest. It will be held this evening at five o'clock.
You will have to give evidence, and we shall have to settle very
carefully what that evidence will be. No breath of suspicion against
the syndicate must leak out."
"You must identify the deceased, and, if asked, you must tell the
story of your two visits to the clearing. You must speak without
the slightest hesitation. But you must of course make no mention
of the changing of the lorry numbers or of your suspicions, nor will
you mention your visit to Hull. You will explain that you went back
to the clearing on the second occasion because it was so little out
of your way and because you were anxious to meet the Coburns again,
while your friend wanted to see the forests of Les Landes."
Merriman again nodded.
"Then both you and your friend must avoid Scotland Yard. It is
quite natural that you should rush off here as you did, but it would
not be natural for you to return. And there is no reason why Mr.
Hilliard should come at all. If I want to see either of you I shall
ring up and arrange a place of meeting. And just two other things.
The first is that I need hardly warn you to be as circumspect in
your conversation as in your evidence. Keep in mind that each
stranger that you may meet may be Morton or some other member of the
gang. The second is that I should like to keep in touch with you
for the remainder of the day in case any question might crop up
before the inquest. Where will you be?"
"I shall stay in my club, Rover's, in Cranbourne Street. You can
ring me up."
"Good," Willis answered, rising to his feet. "Then let me say again
how pleased I am to have met you and heard your story. Five o'clock,
then, if you don't hear to the contrary."
When Merriman had taken his leave the inspector sat on at his desk,
lost in thought. This case bade fair to be the biggest he had ever
handled, and he was anxious to lay his plans so as to employ his
time to the best advantage. Two clearly defined lines of inquiry
had already opened out, and he was not clear which to follow. In
the first place, there was the obvious routine investigation
suggested directly by the murder. That comprised the finding of
Miss Coburn, the learning of Mr. Coburn's life history, the tracing
of his movements during the last four or five days, the finding of
the purchaser of the black cloth, and the following up of clues
discovered during these inquiries. The second line was that
connected with the activities of the syndicate, and Willis was
inclined to believe that a complete understanding of these would
automatically solve the problem of the murder. He was wondering
whether he should not start an assistant on the routine business of
the tragedy, while himself concentrating on the pit-prop business,
when his cogitations were brought to an end by a messenger. A lady
had called in connection with the case.
"Miss Madeleine Coburn," thought Willis, as he gave orders for her
to be shown to his room, and when she entered he instantly recognized
the original of the photograph.
Madeleine's face was dead white and there was a strained look of
horror in her eyes, but she was perfectly calm and sell-possessed.
"Miss Coburn?" Willis said, as he rose and bowed. "I am afraid I
can guess why you have called. You saw the account in the paper?"
"Yes." She hesitated. "Is it - my father?"
Willis told her as gently as he could. She sat quite still for a
few moments, while he busied himself with some papers, then she
asked to see the body. When they had returned to Willis's room he
invited her to sit down again.
"I very deeply regret, Miss Coburn," he said, "to have to trouble
you at this time with questions, but I fear you will have to give
evidence at the inquest this afternoon, and it will be easier for
yourself to make a statement now, so that only what is absolutely
necessary need be asked you then."
Madeleine seemed stunned by the tragedy, and she spoke as if in a
"I am ready to do what is necessary."
He thanked her, and began by inquiring about her father's history.
Mr. Coburn, it appeared, had had a public school and college
training, but, his father dying when he was just twenty, and
leaving the family in somewhat poor circumstances, he had gone
into business as a clerk in the Hopwood Manufacturing Company, a
large engineering works in the Midlands. In this, he had risen
until he held the important position of cashier, and he and his
wife and daughter had lived in happiness and comfort during the
latter's girlhood. But some six years previous to the tragedy
which had just taken place a change had come over the household.
In the first place, Mrs. Coburn had developed a painful illness
and had dragged out a miserable existence for the three years
before her death. At the same time, whether from the expense of
the illness or from other causes Miss Coburn did not know, financial
embarrassment seemed to descend on her father. One by one their
small luxuries were cut off, then their house had to be given up,
and they had moved to rooms in a rather poor locality of the town.
Their crowning misfortune followed rapidly. Mr. Coburn gave up
his position at the works, and for a time actual want stared them
in the face. Then this Pit-Prop Syndicate had been formed, and Mr.
Coburn had gone into it as the manager of the loading station. Miss
Coburn did not know the reason of his leaving the engineering works,
but she suspected there had been friction, as his disposition for
a time had changed, and he had lost his bright manner and vivacity.
He had, however, to a large extent recovered while in France. She
was not aware, either, of the terms on which he had entered the
syndicate, but she imagined he shared in the profits instead of
receiving a salary.
These facts, which Willis obtained by astute questioning, seemed to
him not a little suggestive. From what Mr. Coburn had himself told
Merriman, it looked as if there had been some secret in his life
which had placed him in the power of the syndicate, and the inspector
wondered whether this might not be connected with his leaving the
engineering works. At all events inquiries there seemed to suggest
a new line of attack, should such become necessary.
Willis then turned to the events of the past few days. It appeared
that about a fortnight earlier, Mr. Coburn announced that he was
crossing to London for the annual meeting of the syndicate, and, as
he did not wish his daughter to be alone at the clearing, it was
arranged that she should accompany him. They travelled by the
Girondin to Hull, and coming on to London, put up at the Peveril.
Mr. Coburn had been occupied off and on during the four days they
had remained there, but the evenings they had spent together in
amusements. On the night of the murder, Mr. Coburn was to have left
for Hull to return to France by the Girondin, his daughter going by
an earlier train to Eastbourne, where she was to have spent ten days
with an aunt. Except for what Mr. Coburn had said about the meeting
of the syndicate, Madeleine did not know anything of his business in
town, nor had she seen any member of the syndicate after leaving the
Having taken notes of her statements, Willis spoke of the inquest
and repeated the instructions he had given Merriman as to the
evidence. Then he told her of the young man's visit, and referring
to his anxiety on her behalf, asked if he might acquaint him with
her whereabouts. She thankfully acquiesced, and Willis, who was
anxious that her mind should be kept occupied until the inquest,
pushed his good offices to the extent of arranging a meeting between
The inquest elicited no further information. Formal evidence of
identification was given, the doctors deposed that death was due
to a bullet from an exceedingly small bore automatic pistol, the
cab driver and porter told their stories, and the jury returned the
obvious verdict of murder against some person or persons unknown.
The inspector's precautions were observed, and not a word was
uttered which could have given a hint to any member of the Pit-Prop
Syndicate that the bona fides of his organization was suspected.
Two days later, when the funeral was over, Merriman took Miss
Coburn back to her aunt's at Eastbourne. No word of love passed his
lips, but the young girl seemed pleased to have his company, and
before parting from her he obtained permission to call on her again.
He met the aunt for a few moments, and was somewhat comforted to
find her a kind, motherly woman, who was evidently sincerely
attached to the now fatherless girl. He had told Madeleine of his
interview with her father, and she had not blamed him for his part
in the matter, saying that she had believed for some time that a
development of the kind was inevitable.
So, for them, the days began to creep wearily past. Merriman paid
as frequent visits to Eastbourne as he dared, and little by little
he began to hope that he was making progress in his suit. But try
as he would, he could not bring the matter to a head. The girl had
evidently had a more severe shock than they had realized at first,
and she became listless and difficult to interest in passing events.
He saw there was nothing for it but to wait, and he set himself to
bide his time with the best patience he could muster.
A MYSTIFYING DISCOVERY
Inspector Willis was more than interested in his new case. The more
he thought over it, the more he realized its dramatic possibilities
and the almost world-wide public interest it was likely to arouse,
as well as the importance which his superiors would certainly attach
to it; in other words, the influence a successful handling of it
would have on his career.
He had not been idle since the day of the inquest, now a week past.
To begin with he had seen Hilliard secretly, and learned at first
hand all that that young man could tell him. Next he had made sure
that the finger-prints found on the speaking tube were not those of
Mr. Coburn, and he remained keenly anxious to obtain impressions
from Captain Beamish's fingers to compare with the former. But
inquiries from the port officials at Hull, made by wire on the
evening of the inquest, showed that the Girondin would not be back
at Ferriby for eight days. There had been no object, therefore, in
his leaving London immediately, and instead he had busied himself
by trying to follow up the deceased's movements in the metropolis,
and learn with whom he had associated during his stay. In his
search for clues he had even taken the hint from Merriman's
newspaper and bought a copy of The Mystery of a Hansom Cab, but
though he saw that this clever story might easily have inspired
the crime, he could find from it no help towards its solution.
He had also paid a flying visit to the manager of the Hopwood
Manufacturing Company in Sheffield, where Coburn had been employed.
>From him he had learned that Madeleine's surmise was correct, and
that there had been "friction" before her father left. In point
of fact a surprise audit had revealed discrepancies in the accounts.
Some money was missing, and what was suspiciously like an attempt
to falsify the books had taken place. But the thing could not be
proved. Mr. Coburn had paid up, but though his plea that he had
made a genuine clerical error had been accepted, his place had
been filled. The manager expressed the private opinion that there
was no doubt of his subordinate's guilt, saying also that it was
well known that during the previous months Coburn had been losing
money heavily through gambling. Where he had obtained the money
to meet the deficit the manager did not know, but he believed
someone must have come forward to assist him.
This information interested Willis keenly, supporting, as it
seemed to do, his idea that Coburn was in the power of the syndicate
or one of its members. If, for example, one of these men, on the
lookout for helpers in his conspiracy, had learned of the cashier's
predicaments it was conceivable that he might have obtained his
hold by advancing the money needed to square the matter in return
for a signed confession of guilt. This was of course the merest
guesswork, but it at least indicated to Willis a fresh line of
inquiry in case his present investigation failed.
And with the latter he was becoming exceedingly disappointed. With
the exception of the facts just mentioned, he had learned absolutely
nothing to help him. Mr. Coburn might as well have vanished into
thin air when he left the Peveril Hotel, for all the trace he had
left. Willis could learn neither where he went nor whom he met on
any one of the four days he had spent in London. He congratulated
himself, therefore, that on the following day the Girondin would be
back at Ferriby, and he would then be able to start work on the
That evening he settled himself with his pipe to think over once
more the facts he had already learned. As time passed he found
himself approaching more and more to the conclusion reached by
Hilliard and Merriman several weeks before - that the secret of
the syndicate was the essential feature of the case. What were
these people doing? That was the question which at all costs
he must answer.
His mind reverted to the two theories already in the field. At
first sight that of brandy smuggling seemed tenable enough, and
he turned his attention to the steps by which the two young men
had tried to test it. At the loading end their observations were
admittedly worthless, but at Ferriby they seemed to have made a
satisfactory investigation. Unless they had unknowingly fallen
asleep in the barrel, it was hard to see how they could have
failed to observe contraband being set ashore, had any been
unloaded. But he did not believe they had fallen asleep. People
were usually conscious of awakening. Besides there was the
testimony of Menzies, the pilot. It was hardly conceivable that
this man also should have been deceived. At the same time Willis
decided he must interview him, so as to form his own opinion of
the man's reliability.
Another possibility occurred to him which none of the amateur
investigators appeared to have thought of. North Sea trawlers
were frequently used for getting contraband ashore. Was the
Girondin transferring illicit cargo to such vessels while at sea?
This was a question Inspector Willis felt he could not solve. It
would be a matter for the Customs Department. But he knew enough
about it to understand that immense difficulties would have to be
overcome before such a scheme could be worked. Firstly, there was
the size of the fraud. Six months ago, according to what Miss
Coburn overheard, the syndicate were making 6,800 pounds per trip,
and probably, from the remarks then made, they were doing more
today. And 6,800 meant - the inspector buried himself in
calculations - at least one thousand gallons of brandy. Was it
conceivable that trawlers could get rid of one thousand gallons
every ten days - One hundred gallons a day? Frankly he thought
it impossible. In fact, in the face of the Customs officers'
activities, he doubted if such a thing could be done by any kind of
machinery that could be devised. Indeed, the more Willis pondered
the smuggling theory, the less likely it seemed to him, and he
turned to consider the possibilities of Miss Coburn's SUGGESTION
of false note printing.
Here at once he was met by a fact which he had not mentioned to
Merriman. As it happened, the circulation of spurious Treasury
notes was one of the subjects of interest to Scotland Yard at the
moment. Notes were being forged and circulated in large numbers.
Furthermore, the source of supply was believed to be some of the
large towns in the Midlands, Leeds being particularly suspected.
But Leeds was on the direct line through Ferriby, and comparatively
not far away. Willis felt that it was up to him to explore to the
uttermost limit all the possibilities which these facts opened up.
He began by looking at the matter from the conspirators' point of
view. Supposing they had overcome the difficulty of producing the
notes, how would they dispose of them?
Willis could appreciate the idea of locating the illicit press in
France. Firstly, it would be obvious to the gang that the early
discovery of a fraud of the kind was inevitable. Its existence,
indeed, would soon become common property. But this would but
slightly affect its success. It was the finding of the source of
supply that mattered, and the difficulty of this was at once the
embarrassment of the authorities and the opportunity of the
Secondly, English notes were to he forged and circulated in England,
therefore it was from the English police that the source of supply
must be hidden. And how better could this be done than by taking
it out of England altogether? The English police would look in
England for what they wanted. The attention of the French police,
having no false French notes to deal with, would not be aroused.
It seemed to Willis that so far he was on firm ground.
The third point was that, granting the first two, some agency would
be required to convey the forged notes from France to England. But
here a difficulty arose. The pit-prop plan seemed altogether too
elaborate and cumbrous for all that was required. Willis, as
Merriman had done earlier, pictured the passenger with the padded
overcoat and the double-bottomed handbag. This traveller, it seemed,
would meet the case.
But did he? Would there not, with him, be a certain risk? There
would be a continuous passing through Customs houses, frequent
searchings of the faked suitcase. Accidents happen. Suppose the
traveller held on to his suitcase too carefully? Some sharp-eyed
Customs officer might become suspicious. Suppose he didn't hold on
carefully enough and it were lost? Yes, there would be risks.
Small, doubtless, but still risks. And the gang couldn't afford
As Willis turned the matter over in his mind, he came gradually to
the conclusion that the elaboration of the pit-prop business was
no real argument against its having been designed merely to carry
forged notes. As a business, moreover, it would pay or almost
pay. It would furnish a secret method of getting the notes across
at little or no cost. And as a blind, Willis felt that nothing
better could be devised. The scheme visualized itself to him as
follows. Somewhere in France, probably in some cellar in Bordeaux,
was installed the illicit printing-press. There the notes were
produced. By some secret method they were conveyed to Henri when
his lorry-driving took him into the city, and he in turn brought
them to the clearing and handed them over to Coburn. Captain
Beamish and Bulla would then take charge of them, probably hiding
them on the Girondin in some place which would defy a surprise
Customs examination. Numbers of such places, Willis felt sure,
could be arranged, especially in the engine room. The cylinders
of a duplicate set of pumps, disused on that particular trip,
occurred to him as an example. After arrival at Ferriby there
would be ample opportunity for the notes to be taken ashore and
handed over to Archer, and Archer "could plant stuff on Old
The more he pondered over it, the more tenable this theory seemed
to Inspector Willis. He rose and began pacing the room, frowning
heavily. More than tenable, it seemed a sound scheme cleverly
devised and carefully worked out. Indeed he could think of no means
so likely to mislead and delude suspicious authorities in their
search for the criminals as this very plan.
Two points, however, think as he might, he could not reconcile.
One was that exasperating puzzle of the changing of the lorry number
plates, the other how the running of a second boat to Swansea would
increase the profits of the syndicate.
But everything comes to him who waits, and at last he got an idea.
What if the number of the lorry was an indication to the printers
of the notes as to whether Henri was or was not in a position to
take over a consignment? Would some such sign be necessary? If
Henri suspected he was under observation, or if he had to make
calls in unsuitable places, he would require a secret method of
passing on the information to his accomplices. And if so, could a
better scheme be devised than that of showing a prearranged number
on his lorry? Willis did not think so, and he accepted the theory
for what it was worth.
Encouraged by his progress, he next tackled his second difficulty
- how the running of a second boat would dispose of more notes.
But try as he would he could arrive at no conclusion which would
explain the point. It depended obviously on the method of
distribution adopted, and of this part of the affair he was entirely
ignorant. Failure to account for this did not therefore necessarily
invalidate the theory as a whole.
And with the theory as a whole he was immensely pleased. As far as
he could see it fitted all the known facts, and bore the stamp of
probability to an even greater degree than that of brandy smuggling.
But theories were not enough. He must get ahead with his
Accordingly next morning he began his new inquiry by sending a
"To BEAMISH, Landes Pit-Prop Syndicate, Ferriby, Hull.
"Could you meet me off London train at Paragon Station at 3.9
tomorrow re death of Coburn. I should like to get back by 4.0.
If not would stay and go out to Ferriby.
He travelled that same day to Hull, having arranged for the reply
to be sent after him. Going to the first-class refreshment room
at the Paragon, he had a conversation with the barmaid in which he
disclosed his official position, and passed over a ten-shilling
note on account for services about to be rendered. Then, leaving
by the evening train, he returned to Doncaster, where he spent the
On the next day he boarded the London train which reaches Hull at
3.9. At Paragon Station he soon singled out Beamish from Merriman's
"Sorry for asking you to come in, Captain Beamish," he apologized,
"but I was anxious if possible to get back to London tonight I heard
of you from Miss Coburn and Mr. Merriman, both of whom read of the
tragedy in the papers, and severally came to make inquiries at the
Yard. Lloyd's Register told me your ship came in here, so I came
along to see you in the hope that you might be able to give me some
information about the dead man which might suggest a line of inquiry
as to his murderer."
Beamish replied politely and with a show of readiness and candor.
"No trouble to meet you, inspector. I had to come up to Hull in
any case, and I shall be glad to tell you anything I can about poor
Coburn. Unfortunately I am afraid it won't be much. When our
syndicate was starting we wanted a manager for the export end.
Coburn applied, there was a personal interview, he seemed suitable
and he was appointed on trial. I know nothing whatever about him
otherwise, except that he made good, and I may say that in the two
years of our acquaintance I always found him not only pleasant and
agreeable to deal with, but also exceedingly efficient in his work."
Willis asked a number of other questions - harmless questions,
easily answered about the syndicate and Coburn's work, ending up
with an expression of thanks for the other's trouble and an
invitation to adjourn for a drink.
Beamish accepting, the inspector led the way to the first-class
refreshment room and approached the counter opposite the barmaid
whose acquaintance he had made the previous day.
"Two small whiskies, please," he ordered, having asked his
The girl placed the two small tumblers of yellow liquid before her
customers and Willis added a little water to each.
"Well, here's yours," he said, and raising his glass to his lips,
drained the contents at a draught. Captain Beamish did the same.
The inspector's offer of a second drink having been declined, the
two men left the refreshment room, still chatting about the murdered
man. Ten minutes later Captain Beamish saw the inspector off in the
London train. But he did not know that in the van of that train
there was a parcel, labelled to "Inspector Willis, passenger to
Doncaster by 4.0 p.m.," which contained a small tumbler, smelling
of whisky, and carefully packed up so as to prevent the sides from
The inspector was the next thing to excited when, some time later,
he locked the door of his bedroom in the Stag's Head Hotel at
Doncaster and, carefully unpacking the tumbler, he took out his
powdering apparatus and examined it for prints. With satisfaction
he found his little ruse had succeeded. The glass bore clearly
defined marks of a right thumb and two fingers.
Eagerly he compared the prints with those he had found on the taxi
call-tube. And then he suffered disappointment keen and deep. The
two sets were dissimilar.
So his theory had been wrong, and Captain Beamish was not the
murderer after all! He realized now that he had been much more
convinced of its truth than he had had any right to be, and his
chagrin was correspondingly greater. He had indeed been so sure
that Beamish was his man that he had failed sufficiently to consider
other possibilities, and now he found himself without any alternative
theory to fall back on.
But he remained none the less certain that Coburn's death was due
to his effort to break with the syndicate, and that it was to the
syndicate that he must look for light on the matter. There were
other members of it - he knew of two, Archer and Morton, and there
might be more - one of whom might be the man he sought. It seemed
to him that his next business must be to find those other members,
ascertain if any of them were tall men, and if so, obtain a copy
of their finger-prints.
But how was this to be done? Obviously from the shadowing of the
members whom he knew, that was, Captain Beamish, Bulla, and Benson,
the Ferriby manager. Of these, Beamish and Bulla were for the most
part at sea; therefore, he thought, his efforts should be
concentrated on Benson.
It was with a view to some such contingency that he had alighted at
Doncaster instead of returning to London, and he now made up his
mind to return on the following day to Hull and, the Girondin having
by that time left, to see what he could learn at the Ferriby depot.
He spent three days shadowing Benson, without coming on anything in
the slightest degree suspicious. The manager spent each of the days
at the wharf until about six o'clock. Then he walked to Ferriby
Station and took the train to Hull, where he dined, spent the evening
at some place of amusement, and returned to the depot by a late train.
On the fourth day, as the same program seemed to be in prowess, Willis
came to the conclusion that he was losing time and must take some more
energetic step. He determined that if Benson left the depot in the
evening as before, he would try to effect an entrance to his office
and have a look through his papers.
Shortly after six, from the hedge behind which he had concealed
himself, he saw Benson appear at the door in the corrugated iron
fence, and depart in the direction of Ferriby. The five employees
had left about an hour earlier, and the inspector believed the works
were entirely deserted.
After giving Benson time to get clear away, he crept from his hiding
place, and approaching the depot, tried the gate in the fence. It
was locked, but few locks were proof against the inspector's prowess,
and with the help of a bent wire he was soon within the enclosure. He
closed We gate behind hint and glancing carefully round, approached
The door of the office was also locked, but the bent wire conquered
it too, and in a coup1e of minutes he pushed it open, passed through,
and closed it behind him.
The room was small, finished with yellow matchboarded walls and
ceiling, and containing a closed roll-top desk, a table littered with
papers, a vertical file, two cupboards, a telephone, and other simple
office requisites. Two doors led out of it one to the manager's
bedroom, the other to the shed. Thinking that those could wait,
Willis settled down to make an examination of the office.
He ran rapidly though methodically through the papers on the table
without finding anything of interest. All referred to the pit-prop
industry, and seemed to indicate that the business was carried on
efficiently. Next he tackled the desk, picking the lock with his
usual skill. Here also, though he examined everything with meticulous
care, his search was fruitless.
He moved to the cupboards. One was unfastened and contained old
ledgers, account books and the like, none being of any interest.
The other cupboard was locked, and Willis's quick eyes saw that the
woodwork round the keyhole was much scratched, showing that the
lock was frequently used. Again the wire was brought into
requisition, and in a moment the door swung open, revealing to the
inspector's astonished gaze - a telephone.
Considerably puzzled, he looked round to the wall next the door.
Yes, he had not been mistaken; there also was affixed a telephone.
He crossed over to it, and following with his eye the run of the
wires, saw that it was connected to those which approached the
shed from across the railway.
With what, then, did this second instrument communicate? There were
no other wires approaching the shed, nor could he find any connection
to which it could be attached.
He examined the instrument more closely, and then he saw that it was
not of the standard government pattern. It was marked "The A. M.
Curtiss Co., Philadelphia, Pa." It was therefore part of a private
installation and, as such, illegal, as the British Government hold
the monopoly for all telephones in the country. At least it would
be illegal if it were connected up.
But was it? The wires passed through the back of the cupboard into
the wall, and, looking down, Willis saw that one of the wall sheeting
boards, reaching from the cupboard to the floor, had at some time been
taken out and replaced with screws.
To satisfy his curiosity he took out his combination pocket knife,
and deftly removing the screws, pulled the board forward. His
surprise was not lessened when he saw that the wires ran down inside
the wall and, heavily insulated, disappeared into the ground beneath
"Is it possible that they have a cable?" thought the puzzled man, as
he replaced the loose board and screwed it fast.
The problem had to stand over, as he wished to complete his
investigation of the remainder of the building. But though he
searched the entire premises with the same meticulous thoroughness
that he had displayed in dealing with the papers, he came on nothing
else which in any way excited his interest.
He let himself out and, relocking the various doors behind him,
walked to Hassle and from there returned to his hotel in Hull.
He was a good deal intrigued by his discovery of the secret telephone.
That it was connected up and frequently used he was certain, both
from the elaboration of its construction and from the marking round
the cupboard keyhole. He wondered if he could without discovery tap
the wires and overhear the business discussed. Had the wires been
carried on poles the matter would have been simple, but as things
were he would have to make his connection under the loose board and
carry his cable out through the wall and along the shore to some
point at which the receiver would be hidden - by no means an easy
But in default of something better he would have tried it, had not
a second discovery he made later on the same evening turned his
thoughts into an entirely new channel.
It was in thinking over the probable purpose of the telephone that
he got his idea. It seemed obvious that it was used for the secret
side of the enterprise, and if so, would it not most probably connect
the import depot of the secret commodity with that of its
distribution? Ferriby wharf was the place of import, but the
distribution, as the conversations overheard indicated, lay not in
the hands of Benson but of Archer. What if the telephone led to
There was another point. The difficulty of laying a secret land
wire would be so enormous that in the nature of things the line
must be short. It must either lead, Willis imagined, to the
southern bank of the estuary or to somewhere quite near.
But if both these conclusions were sound, it followed that Archer
himself must be found in the immediate neighborhood. Could he
learn anything from following up this idea?
He borrowed a directory of Hull and began looking up all the
Archers given in the alphabetical index. There were fifteen, and
of these one immediately attracted his attention. It read:
"Archer, Archibald Charles, The Elms, Ferriby."
He glanced at his watch. It was still but slightly after ten.
Taking his hat he walked to the police station and saw the sergeant
"Yes, sir," said the man in answer to his inquiry. "I know the
gentleman. He is the managing director of Ackroyd and Holt's
distillery, about half-way between Ferriby and Hassle."
"And what is he like in appearance?" Willis continued, concealing
the interest this statement had aroused.
"A big man, sir," the sergeant answered. "Tall, and broad too.
Clean shaven, with heavy features, very determined looking."
Willis had food for thought as he returned to his hotel. Merriman
had been thrilled when he learned of the proximity of the distillery
to the syndicate's depot, seeing therein an argument in favor of the
brandy smuggling theory. This new discovery led Willis at first to
take the same view, but the considerations which Hilliard had pointed
out occurred to him also, and though he felt a little puzzled, he was
inclined to dismiss the matter as a coincidence.
Though after his recent experience he was even more averse to jumping
to conclusions than formerly, Willis could not but believe that he
was at last on a hopeful scent. At all events his first duty was
clear. He must find this Archibald Charles Archer, and obtain prints
of his fingers.
Next morning found him again at Ferriby, once more looking southwards
from the concealment of a cluster of bushes. But this time the object
of his attention was no longer the syndicate's depot. Instead he
focused his powerful glasses on the office of the distillery.
About nine-thirty a tall, stoutly built man strode up to the building
and entered. His dress indicated that he was of the employer class,
and from the way in which a couple of workmen touched their caps as
he passed, Willis had no doubt he was the managing director.
For some three hours the inspector lay hidden, then he suddenly
observed the tall man emerge from the building and walk rapidly in
the direction of Ferriby. Immediately the inspector crept down the
hedge nearer to the road, so as to see his quarry pass at close
It happened that as the man came abreast of Willis, a small
two-seater motor-car coming from the direction of Ferriby also
reached the same spot. But instead of passing, it slowed down
and its occupant hailed the tall man.
"Hallo, Archer," he shouted. "Can I give you a lift?"
"Thanks," the big man answered. "It would be a kindness. I have
unexpectedly to go into Hull, and my own car is out of order."
"Run you in in quarter of an hour."
"No hurry. If I am in by half past one it will do. I am lunching
with Frazer at the Criterion at that time."
The two-seater stopped, the big man entered, and the vehicle moved
As soon as it was out of sight, Willis emerged from his hiding-place,
and hurrying to the station, caught the 1.17 train to Hull. Twenty
minutes later he passed through the swing doors of the Criterion.
The hotel, as is well known, is one of the most fashionable in Hull,
and at the luncheon hour the restaurant was well filled. Glancing
casually round, Willis could see his new acquaintance seated at a
table in the window, in close conversation with a florid, red-haired
individual of the successful business man type.
All the tables in the immediate vicinity were occupied, and Willis
could not get close by in the hope of overhearing some of the
conversation, as he had intended. He therefore watched the others
from a distance, and when they had moved to the lounge he followed
He heard them order coffee and liqueurs, and then a sudden idea came
into his head. Rising, he followed the waiter through the service
"I want a small job done," he said, while a ten-shilling note changed
hands. "I am from Scotland Yard, and I want the finger-prints of the
men who have just ordered coffee. Polish the outsides of the liqueur
glasses thoroughly, and only lift them by the stems. Then when the
men have gone let me have the glasses."
He returned to the lounge, and presently had the satisfaction of
seeing Archer lift his glass by the bowl between the finger and thumb
of his right hand, to empty his liqueur into his coffee. Hall an hour
later he was back in his hotel with the carefully packed glass.
A very few minutes sufficed for the test. The impressions showed up
well, and this time the inspector gave a sigh of relief as he
compared them with those of the taxi speaking-tube. They were the
same. His quest was finished. Archer was the murderer of Francis
For a minute or two, in his satisfaction, the inspector believed his
work was done. He had only to arrest Archer, take official prints
of his fingers, and he had all the necessary proof for a conviction.
But a moment's consideration showed him that his labors were very
far indeed from being over. What he had accomplished was only a
part of the task he had set himself. It was a good deal more likely
that the other members of the syndicate were confederates in the
murder as well as in the illicit trade. He must get his hands on
them too. But if he arrested Archer he would thereby destroy all
chance of accomplishing the greater feat. The very essence of
success lay in lulling to rest any doubts that their operations
were suspect which might have entered into the minds of the members
of the syndicate. No, he would do nothing at present, and he once
more felt himself up against the question which had baffled Hilliard
and Merriman - What was the syndicate doing? Until he had answered
this, therefore, he could not rest.
And how was it to be done? After some thought he came to the
conclusion that his most promising clue was the secret telephone,
and he made up his mind the next day he would try to find its other
end, and if necessary tap the wires and listen in to any conversation
which might take place.
INSPECTOR WILLIS LISTENS IN
Inspector Willis was a good deal exercised by the question of
whether or not he should have Archer shadowed. If the managing
director conceived the slightest suspicion of his danger he would
undoubtedly disappear, and a man of his ability would not be
likely to leave many traces. On the other hand Willis wondered
whether even Scotland Yard men could shadow him sufficiently
continuously to be a real safeguard, without giving themselves
away. And if that happened he might indeed arrest Archer, but it
would be good-bye to any chance of getting his confederates.
After anxious thought he decided to take the lesser risk. He
would not bring assistants into the matter, but would trust to
his own skill to carry on the investigation unnoticed by the
Though the discovery of Archer's identity seemed greatly to
strengthen the probability that the secret telephone led to him,
Willis could not state this positively, and he felt it was the
next point to be ascertained. The same argument that he had used
before seemed to apply - that owing to the difficulty of wiring,
the point of connection must be close to the depot. Archer's
office was not more than three hundred yards away, while his
house, The Elms, was over a mile. The chances were therefore
in favor of the former.
It followed that he must begin by searching Archer's office for the
other receiver, and he turned his attention to the problem of how
this could best be done.
And first, as to the lie of the offices. He called at the Electric
Generating Station, and having introduced himself confidentially to
the manager in his official capacity, asked to see the man whose
business it was to inspect the lights of the distillery. From him
he had no difficulty in obtaining a rough plan of the place.
It appeared that the offices were on the first floor, fronting
along the line, Archer's private office occupying the end of the
suite and the corner of the building nearest to the syndicate's
wharf, and therefore to Ferriby. The supervisor believed that it
had two windows looking to the front and side respectively, but
was not sure.
That afternoon Inspector Willis returned to the distillery, and
secreting himself in the same hiding place as before, watched until
the staff had left the building. Then strolling casually along the
lane, he observed that the two telephone wires which approached
across the fields led to the third window from the Ferriby end of
the first floor row.
"That'll be the main office," he said to himself, "but there will
probably be an extension to Archer's own room. Now I wonder- "
He looked about him. The hedge bounding the river side of the lane
ran up to the corner of the building. After another hasty glance
round Willis squeezed through and from immediately below scrutinized
the side window of the managing director's room. And then he saw
something which made him chuckle with pleasure.
Within a few inches of the architrave of the window there was a
down-spout, and from the top of the window to the spout he saw
stretching what looked like a double cord. It was painted the
same color as the walls, and had he not been looking out specially
he would not have seen it. A moment's glance at the foot of the
spout showed him his surmise was correct. Pushed in behind it and
normally concealed by it were two insulated wires, which ran down
the wall from the window and disappeared into the ground with the
"Got it first shot," thought the inspector delightedly, as he moved
away so as not to attract the attention of any chance onlooker.
Another idea suddenly occurred to him and, after estimating the
height and position of the window, he turned and ran his eye once
more over his surroundings. About fifty yards from the distillery,
and behind the hedge fronting the lane, stood the cottage which
Hilliard and Merriman had noticed. It was in a bad state of repair,
having evidently been unoccupied for a long time. In the gable
directly opposite the managing director's office was a broken
window. Willis moved round behind the house, and once again
producing his bent wire, in a few moments had the back door open.
Slipping inside, he passed through the damp-smelling rooms and up
the decaying staircase until he reached the broken window. From
it, as he had hoped, he found he had a good view into the office.
He glanced at his *watch. It was ten minutes past seven.
"I'll do it tonight," he murmured, and quietly leaving the house,
he hurried to Ferriby Station and so to Hull.
Some five hours later he left the city again, this time by motor.
He stopped at the end of the lane which ran past the distillery,
dismissed the vehicle, and passed down the lane. He was carrying
a light, folding ladder, a spade, a field telephone, a coil of
insulated wire, and some small tools.
The night was very dark. The crescent moon would not rise for
another couple of hours, and a thick pall of cloud cut off all
light from the stars. A faint wind stirred the branches of the
few trees in the neighborhood and sighed across the wide spaces of
open country. The inspector walked slowly, being barely able to
see against the sky the tops of the hedges which bounded the lane.
Except for himself no living creature seemed to be abroad.
Arrived at his destination, Willis felt his way to the gap in the
hedge which he had used before, passed through, and with infinite
care raised his ladder to the window of Archer's office. He could
not see the window, but he checked the position of the ladder by
the measurements from the hedge. Then he slowly ascended.
He found he had gauged his situation correctly, and he was soon on
the sill of the window, trying with his knife to push back the
hasp. This he presently accomplished, and then, after an effort
so great that he thought he would be beaten, he succeeded in raising
the sash. A minute later he was in the room.
His first care was to pull down the thick blinds of blue holland
with which the windows were fitted. Then tip-toeing to the door,
he noiselessly shot the bolt in the lock.
Having thus provided against surprise, he began his investigation.
There in the top corner of the side window were the wires. They
followed the miter of the window architrave - white-enameled to
match - and then, passing down for a few inches at the outside of
the moldings, ran along the picture rail round the room, concealed
in the groove behind it. Following in the same way the miter of
the architrave, they disappeared though a door in the back wall of
Willis softly opened the door, which was not locked, and peered
into a small store, evidently used for filing. The wires were
carried down the back of the architrave molding and along the top
of the wainscoting, until finally they disappeared into the side of
one of a series of cupboards which lined the wall opposite the door.
The cupboard was locked, but with the help of the bent wire it soon
stood open and Willis, flashing in a beam from his electric torch,
saw with satisfaction that he had attained at least one of his
objects. A telephone receiver similar to that at the syndicate's
depot was within.
He examined the remaining contents of the room, but found nothing
of interest until he came to the door. This was solidly made and
edged with rubber, and he felt sure that it would be almost
completely sound-proof. It was, moreover, furnished with a
"Pretty complete arrangement," Willis thought as he turned back to
the outer office. Here he conducted another of his meticulous
examinations, but unfortunately with a negative result.
Having silently unlocked the door and pulled up the blinds, he
climbed out on the window sill and closed the window. He was unable
to refasten the hasp, and had therefore to leave this evidence of
his visit, though he hoped and believed it would not be noticed.
Lifting down the ladder, he carried it to the cottage and hid it
therein. Part of his task was done, and he must wait for daylight
to complete the remainder.
When some three hours later the coming dawn had made objects visible,
he again emerged armed with his tools and coil of insulated wire.
Digging a hole at the bottom of the down-pipe, he connected his
wires just below the ground level to those of the telephone. Then
inserting his spade along the face of the wall from the pipe to the
hedge, he pushed back the adjoining soil, placed the wires in the
narrow trench thus made, and trod the earth back into place. When
the hole at the down-spout had been filled, practically no trace
remained of the disturbance.
The ground along the inside of the hedge being thickly grown over
with weeds and grass, he did not think it necessary to dig a trench
for the wire, simply bedding it beneath the foliage. But he made
a spade cut across the sward from the hedge to the cottage door,
sank in the wire and trod out the cut. Once he had passed the tiny
cable beneath the front door he no longer troubled to hide it but
laid it across the floors and up the airs to the broken window.
There he attached the field receiver, affixing it to his ear so as
to be ready for eventualities.
It was by this time half past six and broad daylight, but Willis
had seen no sign of life and he believed his actions had been
unobserved. He ate a few sandwiches, then lighting his pipe, lay
down on the floor and smoked contentedly.
His case at last was beginning to prosper. The finding of Coburn's
murderer was of course an event of outstanding importance, and now
the discovery of the telephone was not only valuable for its own
sake, but was likely to bring in a rich harvest of information from
the messages he hoped to intercept. Indeed he believed he could
hardly fail to obtain from this source a definite indication of the
nature and scope of the conspiracy.
About eight o'clock he could see from his window a number of workmen
arrive at the distillery, followed an hour later by a clerical staff.
After them came Archer, passing from his car to the building with
his purposeful stride. Almost immediately he appeared in his office,
sat down at his desk, and began to work.
Until nearly midday Willis watched him going through papers, dictating
letters, and receiving subordinates. Then about two minutes to the
hour he saw him look at his watch, rise, and approach the door from
the other office, which was in Willis's line of vision behind the
desk. He stooped over the lock as if turning the key, and then the
watcher's excitement rose as the other disappeared out of sight in
the direction of the filing room.
Willis was not disappointed. Almost immediately he heard the faint
call of the tiny buzzer, and then a voice - Archer's voice, he
believed, from what he had heard in the hotel lounge called softly,
"Are you there?"
There was an immediate answer. Willis had never heard Benson speak,
but he presumed that the reply must be from him.
"Anything to report?" Archer queried.
"No. Everything going on as usual."
"No strangers poking round and asking questions?"
"And no traces of a visitor while you were away?"
"Good. It's probably a false alarm. Beamish may have been mistaken."
"I hope so, but he seemed very suspicious of that Scotland Yard man
- said he was sure he was out for more than he pretended. He thought
he was too easily satisfied with the information he got, and that
some of his questions were too foolish to be genuine."
Inspector Willis sat up sharply. This was a blow to his dignity,
and he felt not a little scandalized. But he had no time to consider
his feelings. Archer was speaking again.
"I think we had better be on the safe side. If you have the slightest
suspicion don't wait to report to me. Wire at once to Henri at the
clearing this message - take it down so that there'll be no mistake
- 'Six hundred four-foot props wanted. If possible send next cargo.'
Got that? He will understand. It is our code for 'Suspect danger.
Send blank cargoes until further notice.' Then if a search is made
nothing will be found, because there won't be anything there to
"Very good. It's a pity to lose the money, but I expect you're
"We can't take avoidable risks. Now about yourself. I see you
brought no stuff up last night?"
"Couldn't. I had a rotten bilious attack. I started, but had to
go back to bed again. Couldn't stand."
"Yes, all right now, thanks."
"Then you'll bring the usual up tonight?"
"Very well. Now, what about ten forty-five for tomorrow?"