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THE SOLDIER WHO FOLLOWED
In the train which had carried Pinto Silva to Huddersfield were one or two remarkable passengers, and it was not a coincidence that they did not meet. In a third-class carriage at the far end of the train was a soldier who carried a kit-bag and who whiled away the journey by reading a seemingly endless collection of magazines.
He got out at Huddersfield too, and Pinto might and probably did see him as he passed through the barrier. The soldier left his kit-bag at the cloak-room and eventually became one of the two dozen people who patronised Lady Sybil's bazaar on that afternoon. He passed Pinto twice, and once made a small purchase at the same stall where the Portuguese was buying lavishly. If Pinto saw him, then he did not remember the fact. One soldier looks very much like another, anyway.
Lady Sybil had reason to notice the representative of His Majesty's forces, and herself informed him severely that smoking was not allowed, and the man had put his cigarette under his heel with an apology and had walked out of the building. When Lady Sybil and her guest had entered her car and were driven away to Mill Hall, the soldier had been loitering near the entrance, and a few minutes later he was following the party in a taxi-cab which had been waiting at his order for the past two hours.
The taxi did not turn in at the stone-pillared gates of the Hall, but continued some distance beyond, when the soldier alighted and, turning back, walked boldly through the main entrance and passed up the drive. It was dusk by now, and nobody challenged him.
He made a reconnaissance of the house and found the dining-room without any difficulty. The blinds were up and the servants were setting the table. Then he passed round to the wing of the building and discovered the library. He actually went into that room, because it was one of Lady Sybil's standing orders that the library should be "aired" and that the scent of Mr. Crotin's atrocious tobacco should be cleared.
He sniffed the stale fragrance and was satisfied that this was a room which was lived in.
If there was any real, confidential talk between the two men, it would be here, he thought, and looked round for a likely place of concealment. The room was innocent of cupboards. Only a big settee drawn diagonally across a corner of the room promised cover, and that looked too dangerous. If anybody sat there and by chance dropped something--a pipe or an ash-tray----
He walked back to the terrace to take his bearings in case he had to make a rapid exit. He looked round and then dropped suddenly to the cover of the balustrade, for he had seen a dark figure moving across the lawn, and it was coming straight for the terrace. He slipped back into the room and as he did so he heard a step in the passage without. He stepped lightly over to the settee and crouched down.
It was evidently a servant, for he heard the French windows closed and the clang of the shutters. They were evidently very ordinary folding-shutters, fastened with an old-fashioned steel bar--he made a mental note of this. Then he heard the swish of the curtain-rings upon the brass pole as the curtains were drawn. A dim light was switched on, somebody poked the fire, and then the light was put out and the door closed softly.
The intruder did some rapid thinking. He crossed to the nearest of the windows, noiselessly opened the shutters and pushed them back to the position in which they stood when not in use. Then he unlatched the window and left it, hoping that it would not blow open and betray him. This done, he again pulled the heavy curtains across and returned to his place of concealment. That was to be the way out for him if the necessity for a rapid retreat should arise.
There was no sound save the ticking of the clock and the noise of falling cinders for ten minutes, and then he heard something which brought him to the alert, all his senses awakened and concentrated. It was the sound of a light and stealthy footstep on the terrace outside. He wondered whether it was a servant and whether he would see that one of the windows was unshuttered. He had half a mind to investigate, when there came another sound--a lumbering foot in the passage. Suddenly the door was opened, the lights were flashed on, and the man behind the settee hugged the floor and held his breath.
* * * * * * *
"How much do I want?"
Pinto laughed and lit a cigarette.
"My dear Mr. Crotin, I really don't know what you mean."
"Let's have no more foolery," said the Yorkshireman roughly. "I know that you've come up from Colonel Boundary and I know what you've come for. You want to buy my mill, eh? Well, I'll make it worth your while not to buy my mill. You can take the money instead."
"I really am honest when I tell you that I don't understand what you are talking about. I have certainly come up to buy a mill--that is true. It is also true that I want to buy your mill."
"And what might you be thinking of paying for it?" asked Crotin between his teeth.
"Twenty thousand pounds," said Pinto nonchalantly.
"Twenty thousand, eh? It was thirty thousand the last time. You'll want me to give it to you soon. Nay, nay, my friend, I'll pay, but not in mills."
"Think of the poor," murmured Pinto.
"I'm thinking of them," said the other. "I'm thinking of the poor woman in Wales, too, and the poor woman in there." He jerked his head. Then, in a calmer tone: "I guessed at dinner where you came from. Colonel Boundary sent you."
"Let us mention no names," he said politely. "And who is Colonel Boundary, anyway?"
Crotin was at his desk now. He had taken out his cheque-book and slapped it down upon the writing-pad.
"You've got me proper," he said, and his voice quavered. "I'll make an offer to you. I'll give you fifty thousand pounds if you write an agreement that you will not molest or bother me again."
There was a silence, and the soldier crouched behind the settee, listening intently. He heard Pinto laugh softly as one who is greatly amused.
"That, my good friend," said Pinto, "would be blackmail. You don't imagine that I would be guilty of such an iniquity? I know nothing about your past; I merely suggest that you should sell me one of your mills at a reasonable price."
"Twenty thousand pounds is reasonable for you, I suppose," said Crotin sarcastically.
"It is a lot of money," replied Pinto.
The Yorkshireman pulled open the drawer of his desk and slammed in the cheque-book, closing it with a bang.
"Well, I'll give you nothing," he said, "neither mill nor money. You can clear out of here."
He crossed the room to the telephone.
"What are you going to do?" asked Pinto, secretly alarmed.
"I'm going to send for the police," said the other grimly. "I'm going to give myself up and I'm going to pinch thee too!"
If Crotin had turned the handle of the old-fashioned telephone, if he had continued in his resolution, if he had shown no sign of doubt, a different story might have been told. But with his hand raised, he hesitated, and Pinto clinched his argument.
"Why have all that trouble?" he said. "Your liberty and reputation are much more to you than a mill. You're a rich man. Your wife is wealthy in her own right. You have enough to live on for the rest of your life. Why make trouble?"
The little man dropped his head with a groan and walked wearily back to the desk.
"Suppose I sell this?" he said in a low voice. "How do I know you won't come again----"
"When a gentleman gives his word of honour," began Pinto with dignity, but was interrupted by a shrill laugh that made his blood run cold.
He swung round with an oath. Framed in an opening of the curtains which covered one of the windows was the Figure!
The black silk gown, the white masked face, the soft felt hat pulled down over the eyes--his teeth chattered at the sight of it, and he fell back against the wall.
"Who wouldn't trust Pinto?" squeaked the voice. "Who wouldn't take Pinto's word of honour? Jack o' Judgment wouldn't, poor old Jack o' Judgment!"
Jack o' Judgment! The soldier behind the settee heard the words and gasped. Without any thought of consequence he raised his head and looked. The Jack o' Judgment was standing where he expected him to be. He had come through the window which the soldier had left unbarred. This time he carried no weapon in his hand, and Pinto was quick to see the possibilities. The electric switch was within reach, and his hand shot out. There was a click and the room went dark.
But the figure of Jack o' Judgment was silhouetted against the night, and Pinto whipped out the long knife which never left him and sent it hurtling at his enemy. He saw the figure duck, heard the crash of broken glass, and then Jack o' Judgment vanished. In a rage which was three parts terror, he sprang through the open French windows on to the terrace in time to see a dark figure drop over the balustrade and fly across the park.
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