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A USE FOR OLD FILMS
They brought Pinto Silva into the magistrate's court at Bow Street the following morning in a condition of collapse. The man was dazed by his misfortune, incapable of answering the questions which were put to him, or even of instructing the exasperated solicitor who had been with him for an hour.
By the solicitor's side was a grey-faced, shrunken man, whose clothes did not seem to fit him and who at the end of the proceedings whispered something into the lawyer's ear. But the application which was made for bail was rejected. The evidence was too damning, and the knowledge that the prisoner was not English and that it would be impossible to extradite him if he managed to make his escape to certain countries, all helped to influence the magistrate in his refusal.
Colonel Boundary did not speak to the man in the dock or as much as look at him. He got out of court after the proceedings had terminated, the cynosure of every policeman's eye, and drove back to his apartments. He had not heard from Crewe or Lollie that morning and he guessed that the two had left by aeroplane. So he was alone, he thought, and the very knowledge had the effect of stiffening him.
He could go through the remainder of his papers at his leisure, without fear of interruption. The lesser members of the gang had been controlled by Selby or Crewe, and they would not approach him directly, but he did not doubt that there were a score of little men waiting to jump into the witness box the moment he was caught, but he had by no means given up hope of escaping.
For days he had carried in his pocket the means of disguise, a safety razor, scissors and a small bottle of anatto solution to darken his face.
Despite his sixty-one years, he was a healthy and virile man, capable of undergoing hardships if the necessity arose, but, above all, he had a plan and an alternative plan.
He finished the destruction of his correspondence, and then began to search his pocket for any stray letters which he might have put away absent-mindedly. In making this search he came upon a long, white envelope addressed to Crewe, and wondered how it had come into his possession. Then he remembered that Crewe had handed him a letter.
He looked at the postmark.
This was the report of the agents whom Crewe had sent down to discover the names of the men who had left Balliol in a certain year. "Snow" Gregory, who had been found shot in the streets of London, was a Balliol man who had left Oxford in that year. It was certain that it was a relative of "Snow" Gregory who was called Jack o' Judgment and who had taken upon himself the task of avenging the man's death.
What was "Snow" Gregory's real name? If he could find that, he might find Jack o' Judgment.
Slowly, as though with a sense that the great discovery was imminent, he tore open the letter and pulled out the three foolscap pages, which, with a covering note, constituted the contents. There were two lists of names of graduates who had passed out in the year which, if "Snow" Gregory spoke the truth in a moment of unusual confidence, was the year of his leaving.
The colonel's finger traced the lines one by one and he finished the first list without discovering a name which was familiar. He was half way through the second list when he stopped and his finger jumped. For fully three minutes he sat glaring at the paper open-mouthed. Then:
"Merciful God!" he whispered.
He sat there for the greater part of an hour, his chin on his hand, his eyes glued to the name. And all the time his active mind was running back through the years, piecing together the evidence which enabled him to identify, without any shadow of doubt, Jack o' Judgment.
He rose and went to his bookcase and took down volume after volume. They were mostly reference books, and for some time he searched in vain. Then he found a Year Book which gave him the data he wanted, and he brought it back to the table and scribbled a few notes. These he read through and carefully burnt.
He finished his labours with a bright look in his eye and strutted into his bedroom ten years younger in appearance than he had been that afternoon. He put out all the lights and sat for a little while in the shadow of the curtain, watching the street from the open window. At the corner of the block a Salvation Army meeting was in progress, and he was surprised that he had not noticed the fact, although this practice of the Salvationists holding meetings near his flat had before now driven him to utter distraction.
Very keenly he scrutinised the street for some sign of a lurking figure, and once saw a man walk past under the light of a street lamp and melt into the shadow of a doorway on the opposite side of the road. He went into his bedroom and brought back a pair of night glasses, and focused them upon the figure.
He chuckled and went out of the flat into the street, turning southward.
He did not go far, however, before he stopped and looked back, and his patience was rewarded by the sight of a figure crossing the road and entering the building he had just left. The colonel gave him time, and then retraced his steps. He took off his boots in the vestibule and went upstairs quietly. He was half-way up when he heard the soft thud of his own door closing, and grinned again. He gave the intruder time to get inside before he too inserted his key, and turning it without a sound, came into the darkened hall. There was a light in his room, and he heard the sound of a drawer being pulled open. Then he gripped the handle, and, flinging the door open, stepped in. The man who was looking through the desk sprang up in affright.
As Boundary had suspected, it was his former butler, the man who had deserted him the day before without a word. He was a big, heavy-jowled man of powerful build, and the momentary look of fright melted to a leer at the sight of the colonel's face.
"Well, Tom," said Boundary pleasantly, "come back for the pickings?"
"Something like that, guv'nor," said the other. "You don't blame me?"
"I've been pretty good to you, Tom," said the colonel.
"Ugh! I don't know that I've anything to thank you for."
Here was a man who a month before would have cringed at the colonel's upraised finger!
"Oh, don't you, Tom?" said Boundary softly. "Come, come, that's not very grateful."
"What have I got to be grateful to you for?" demanded the man.
"Grateful that you're alive, Tom," said the colonel, and the servant's face went hard.
"None of that, colonel," he snarled; "you can't afford to talk 'fresh' with me. I know a great deal more about you than you suppose. You think I've got no brains."
"I know you have brains, Tom," said the colonel, "but you can't use 'em."
"Can't I, eh? I haven't been looking after you for four or five years and doing your dirty work, colonel, without picking up a little intelligence--and a little information! You'd look comic if they put me in the witness box!"
He was gaining courage at the very mildness of the man of whom he once stood in terror.
"So you've come for the pickings?" said the colonel, ignoring his threat. "Well, help yourself."
He went to the sideboard, poured himself out a little whisky and sat down by the window to watch the man search. Tom pulled open another drawer and closed it again.
"Now look here, colonel," he said, "I haven't made so much money out of this business as you have. Things are pretty bad with me, and I think the least you can do is to give me something to remember you by."
The colonel did not answer. Apparently his thoughts were wandering.
"Tom," he said after awhile, "do you remember three months ago I bought a lot of old cinema films?"
"Yes, I remember," said the man, surprised at the change of subject. "What's that to do with it?"
"There were about ten boxes, weren't there?"
"A dozen, more likely," said the man impatiently. "Now look here, colonel----"
"Wait a moment, Tom. I'll discuss your share when you've given me a little help. Meeting you here--by the way, I saw you out of the window, skulking on the other side of the street--has given me an idea. Where did you put those films?"
The man grinned.
"Are you starting a cinema, colonel?"
"Something like that," replied Boundary; "it was the Salvation Army that gave me the idea really. Do you hear what an infernal noise that drum makes?"
The man made a gesture of impatience.
"What is it you want?" he asked. "If you want the films, I put them in my pantry, underneath the silver cupboard. I suppose, now that the partnership's broken up, you don't object to me taking the silver? I might be starting a little house on my own."
"Certainly, certainly, you can take the silver," said the colonel genially. "Bring me the films."
The man was half-way out of the room when he turned round.
"No tricks, mind you," he said, "no doing funny business when my back's turned."
"I shall not move from the chair, Tom. You don't seem to trust me."
The ex-valet made two journeys before he deposited a dozen shallow tin boxes on the desk.
"There they are," he said, "now tell me what's the game."
"First of all," said the colonel, "were you serious when you suggested that you knew something about me that would be worth a lot to the police? There goes that drum again, Tom. Do you know what use that drum is to me?"
"I don't know," growled the man. "Of course I meant what I said--and what's this stuff about the drum?"
"Why, the people in the street can hear nothing when that's going," said the colonel softly.
He put his hand in the inside of his coat, as though searching for a pocket-book, and so quick was he that the man, leaning over the table, did not see the weapon that killed him. Three times the colonel fired and the man slid in an inert heap to the ground.
"Might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb, Tom," said the colonel, replacing the weapon; and turning the body over, he took the scarf-pin from his own tie and fastened it in that of the dead man. Then he took his watch and chain from his pocket and slipped it in the waistcoat of the other. He had a signet ring on his little finger and this he transferred to the finger of the limp figure.
Then he began opening the boxes of old films and twined their contents about the floor, pinning them to the curtains, twining them about the legs of the chairs, all the time whistling the "Soldiers' Chorus." He found a candle in the butler's pantry and planted it with a steady hand in the heap of celluloid coils. This he lighted with great care and went out, closing the door softly behind him. Half an hour later, Albemarle Place was blocked with fire engines and a dozen hoses were playing in vain upon the roaring furnace behind the gutted walls of Colonel Dan Boundary's residence.
* * * * * * *
Stafford King was an early caller at Doughty Street, and Maisie knew, both by the unusual hour of the visit and by the gravity of the visitor, that something extraordinary had happened.
"Well, Maisie," he said, "there's the end of the Boundary Gang--the colonel is dead."
"Dead?" she said, open-eyed.
"We don't know what happened, but the theory is that he shot himself and set light to the house. The body was found in the ruins, and I was able to identify some of the jewellery--you remember the police had it when he was arrested, and we kept a special note of it for future reference."
She heaved a long sigh.
"That's over, at last; it is the end of a nightmare," she said, "a horrible, horrible nightmare. I wonder----"
"What do you wonder?"
"I wonder if this is also the end of Jack o' Judgment?" she asked. "Or whether he will continue working to bring to justice those people whom the law cannot touch."
"Heaven only knows," said Stafford, "but I'll admit that Jack o' Judgment has been a most useful person so far as we are concerned. We should never have collected Pinto or Selby, or even the colonel, but for Jack. By the way, there is no news of Crewe and the girl."
"I suppose they've reached their destination by now?" she asked.
"Oh, rather," said Stafford; "hours and days ago. Where were they going, by the way?"
She shook her head.
"I'm not going to tell you that."
"You needn't," smiled Stafford. "They've gone to Portugal. It was Pinto's machine and I don't suppose he had any other idea in the world than to get back to his own beloved land. By the way, Pinto looks like getting ten years. To satisfy myself in regard to Crewe, I telegraphed to an Englishman at Finisterre, who is a good friend of mine and who lives in a wild and isolated spot somewhere near the lighthouse, and he sent me back a message to the effect that an aeroplane passed over Finisterre yesterday afternoon soon after lunch time. That must be friend Lollie."
"Do you know, I hope they get away. Is that rather dreadful of me?" she said.
He shook his head.
"No, I don't think so. I believe the chief shares your hope. He has queer views on things, and they irritate me sometimes. For example, he doesn't think that the colonel is dead."
"But I thought you had found the body?"
"He gets over that by saying that it isn't the body," said Stafford with a little laugh of annoyance. "It rather worries you after you have decided that you've rounded up the gang. I still believe that it is the colonel."
She thought a moment.
"I am inclined to agree with Sir Stanley," said she. "It isn't the sort of thing that the colonel would do. Men like Colonel Boundary are never without hope."
Stafford scratched his head.
"Well, if it isn't the colonel, he's gone; and please the pigs, we'll never see him again! There is only the question of rounding up the little people of the gang, and that won't be much trouble."
She put both her hands on his shoulders and looked at him smilingly.
"You're an optimist, dear," she said.
"Who wouldn't be?" he replied cheerfully. "You said that when the gang was wound up we would drop our sad and lonely lives apart and form a little gang of our own."
She laughed and kissed him, and he went back to his office to find that his chief had already arrived and had asked for him. Sir Stanley was reading the morning paper when Stafford came into his room, and his first words brought consternation to the younger man.
"Stafford," he said, "this is not the body of the colonel. I've just been to see it and I'm certain. Now, you've got to send a call out to all stations throughout the country, particularly the south of England, to look for a man, possibly clean-shaven, certainly without moustaches, who will be disguised as a tramp."
"Why a tramp, sir?" asked Stafford with an heroic attempt to preserve an open mind on a subject where he had reached a definite decision.
"Fifteen years ago," replied Sir Stanley, "when the colonel did most of his own dirty work, it was his favourite disguise. Search the casual wards, the common lodging-houses and the prisons. It is just likely that the colonel will commit a small offence, with the object of getting himself three months in gaol--there's no hiding-place like gaol, you know, Stafford. The real danger is that he may not actually tramp or assume the guise of the real low-down loafer. He may have the sense to become a poor but honest workman, travelling third-class from town to town in search of work. Then he will present the greatest difficulty." He saw the look of doubt on the young man's face and laughed.
"You think he's dead, don't you?" he said.
"I'm perfectly sure he is, sir," replied Stafford frankly.
"An optimist to the last," smiled Sir Stanley and dismissed him with a nod.
Later he was to come to Stafford's little bureau and tell him things which he did not know before. Then for the first time Stafford King discovered how closely his lackadaisical chief had followed the developments of the past few months. He learnt for the first time of the big part which Jack o' Judgment had played in the detection of the gang.
"He had an office under the colonel's flat," said Sir Stanley. "Apparently it was bought with no other object than to provide our friend with an opportunity of spying on the colonel. He discoloured the wall, brought in his own workmen and in the colonel's absence--he was driven from the occupation of the room by the smell--he installed microphones. With the aid of these he was able to listen to all the conversation downstairs and sometimes to chime in. It was Jack o' Judgment who--well, perhaps I'd better not tell you that, because officially, I am not supposed to know it. At any rate, Stafford," he said more seriously, "we have seen the smashing of one of the most iniquitous, villainous gangs that ever existed. God knows how many broken hearts there are in England to-day, how many poor souls who have been brought to a suicide's grave through the machinations of Colonel Boundary and his tools. I do not think there has been a more immoral force in existence in our time, and I hope we shall never see its like again. You sent out the message?" he asked at parting.
"Yes, sir. I warned all stations and all chief constables."
"Good!" said Sir Stanley, and his last words were: "Don't forget--Boundary is not dead!"
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