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II. "LE BALAFRE"
I BECOME CHARLES MALET
Behold me established in rooms in Battersea and living retired during the day while I permitted my beard to grow. I had recognized that my mystery of "The Scorpion" was the biggest case which had ever engaged the attention of the Service de Surete, and I was prepared, if necessary, to devote my whole time for twelve months to its solution. I had placed myself in touch with Paris, and had had certain papers and licenses forwarded to me. A daily bulletin reached me, and one of these bulletins was sensational.
The body of Jean Sach had been recovered from the Seine. The man had been stabbed to the heart. Surveillance of Miguel and his associates continued unceasingly, but I had directed that no raids or arrests were to be made without direct orders from me.
I was now possessed of a French motor license and also that of a Paris taxi-driver, together with all the other documents necessary to establish the identity of one Charles Malet. Everything was in order. I presented myself--now handsomely bearded--at New Scotland Yard and applied for a license. The "knowledge of London" and other tests I passed successfully and emerged a fully-fledged cabman!
Already I had opened negotiations for the purchase of a dilapidated but seviceable cab which belonged to a small proprietor who had obtained a car of more up-to-date pattern to replace this obsolete one. I completed these negotiations by paying down a certain sum and arranged to garage my cab in the disused stable of a house near my rooms in Battersea.
Thus I now found myself in a position to appear anywhere at any time without exciting suspicion, enabled swiftly to proceed from point to point and to pursue anyone either walking or driving whom it might please me to pursue. It was a modus operandi which had served me well in Paris and which had led to one of my biggest successes (the capture of the French desperado known as "Mr. Q.") in New York.
I had obtained, via Paris, particulars of the recent death of Sir Frank Narcombe, and the circumstances attendant upon his end were so similar to those which had characterized the fate of the Grand Duke, of Van Rembold and the others, that I could not for a moment believe them to be due to mere coincidence. Acting upon my advice Paris advised Scotland Yard to press for a post mortem examination of the body, but the influence of Sir Frank's family was exercised to prevent this being carried out--and exercised successfully.
Meanwhile, I hovered around the houses, flats, clubs and offices of everyone who had been associated with the late surgeon, noting to what addresses they directed me to drive and who lived at those address. In this way I obtained evidence sufficient to secure three judicial separations, but not a single clue leading to "The Scorpion"! No matter.
At every available opportunity I haunted the East-End streets, hoping for a glimpse of the big car and the brown-skinned chauffeur or of my scarred man from Paris. I frequented all sorts of public bars and eating-houses used by foreign and Asiatics. By day and by night I roamed about the dismal thoroughfares of that depressing district, usually with my flag down to imply that I was engaged.
Such diligence never goes long unrewarded. One evening, having discharged a passenger, a mercantile officer, at the East India Docks, as I was drifting, watchfully, back through Limehouse, I saw a large car pull up just ahead of me in the dark. A man got out and the car was driven off.
Two courses presented themselves. I was not sure that this was the car for which I sought, but it strangely resembled it. Should I follow the car or the man? A rapid decision was called for. I followed the man.
That I had not been mistaken in the identity of the car shortly appeared. The man took out a cigar and standing on the corner opposite the Town Hall, lighted it. I was close to him at the time, and by the light of the match, which he sheltered with his hands, I saw the scarred and bearded face! Triomphe! it was he!
Having lighted his cigar, he crossed the road and entered the saloon of a neighbourhood public-house. Locking my cab I, also, entered that saloon. I ordered a glass of bitter beer and glanced around at the object of my interest. He had obtained a glass of brandy and was contorting his hideous face as he sipped the beverage. I laughed.
"Have they tried to poison you, mister!" I said.
"Ah,pardieu! poison--yes!" he replied.
"You want to have it out of a bottle," I continued confidentially-- "Martell's Three Stars."
He stared at me uncomprehendingly.
"I don't know," he said haltingly. "I have very little English."
"Oh, that's it!" I cried, speaking French with a barbarous accent. "You only speak French?"
"Yes, yes," he replied eagerly. "It is so difficult to make oneself understood. This spirit is not cognac, it is some kind of petrol!"
Finishing my bitter, I ordered two glasses of good brandy and placed one before "Le Balafre."
"Try that," I said, continuing to speak in French, "You will find it is better."
He sipped from his glass and agreed that I was right. We chatted together for ten minutes and had another drink, after which my dangerous-looking acquaintance wished me good-night and went out. The car had come from the West, and I strongly suspected that my man either lived in the neighbourhood or had come there to keep an appointment. Leaving my cab outside the public-house, I followed him on foot, down Three Colt Street to Ropemaker Street, where he turned into a narrow alley leading to the riverside. It was straight and deserted, and I dared not follow further until he had reached the corner. I heard his footsteps pass right to the end. Then the sound died away. I ran to the corner. The back of a wharf building--a high blank wall--faced a row of ramshackle tenements, some of them built of wood; but not a soul was in sight.
I reluctantly returned to the spot at which I had left the cab--and found a constable there who wanted to know what I meant by leaving a vehicle in the street unattended. I managed to enlist his sympathy by telling him that I had been in pursuit of a "fare" who had swindled me with a bad half-crown. The ruse succeeded.
"Which street did he go down, mate?" asked the constable.
I described the street and described the scarred man. The constable shook his head.
"Sounds like one o' them foreign sailormen," he said. "But I don't know what he can have gone down there for. It's nearly all Chinese, that part."
His words came as a revelation; they changed the whole complexion of the case. It dawned upon me even as he spoke the word "Chinese" that the golden scorpion which I had seen in the Paris cafe was of Chinese workmanship! I started my engine and drove slowly to that street in which I had lost the track of "Le Balafre." I turned the cab so that I should be ready to drive off at a moment's notice, and sat there wondering what my next move should be. How long I had been there I cannot say, when suddenly it began to rain in torrents.
What I might have done or what I had hoped to do is of no importance; for as I sat there staring out at the dismal rain-swept street, a man came along, saw the head-lamps of the cab and stopped, peering in my direction. Evidently perceiving that I drove a cab and not a private car, he came towards me.
"Are you disengaged?" he asked.
Whether it was that I sympathized with him--he had no topcoat or umbrella--or whether I was guided by Fate I know not, but as he spoke I determined to give up my dreary vigil for that night. Pardieu! but certainly it was Fate again!
"Well, I suppose I am, sir," I said, and asked him where he wanted to go.
He gave an address not five hundred yards from my own rooms! I thought this so curious that I hesitated no longer.
"Jump in," I said; and still seeking in my mind for a link between the scorpion case and China, I drove off, and in less than half an hour, for the streets were nearly empty, arrived at my destination.
The passenger, whose name was Dr. Keppel Stuart, very kindly suggested a glass of hot grog, and I did not refuse his proferred hospitality. When I came out of his house again, the rain had almost ceased, and just as I stooped to crank the car I thought I saw a shadowy figure moving near the end of a lane which led to the tradesmen's entrance of Dr. Stuart's house. A sudden suspicion laid hold upon me--a horrible doubt.
Having driven some twenty yards along the road, I leaned from my seat and looked back. A big man wearing a black waterproof overall was standing looking after me!
Remembering how cleverly I had been trailed from Miguel's cafe to my flat, in Paris (for I no longer doubted that someone had followed me on that occasion), I now perceived that I might again be the object of the same expert's attention. Stopping my engine half-way along the next road, I jumped out and ran back, hiding in the bushes which grew beside the gate of a large empty house. I had only a few seconds to wait.
A big closed car, running almost silently, passed before me ... and "Le Balafre" was leaning out of the window!
At last I saw my chance of finding the headquarters of "The Scorpion." Alas! The man of the scar was as swift to recognize that possibility as I. A moment after he had passed my stationary cab, and found it to be deserted, his big car was off like the wind, and even before I could step out from the bushes the roar of the powerful engine was growing dim in the distance!
I was detected. I had to deal with dangerously clever people.
BAITING THE TRAP
The following morning I spent at home, in my modest rooms, reviewing my position and endeavouring to adjust my plans in accordance with the latest development. "The Scorpion" had scored a point. What had aroused the suspicions "Le Balafre," I knew not; but I was inclined to think that he had been looking from some window or peep-hole in the narrow street with the wooden houses when I had, injudiciously, followed him there.
On the other hand, the leakage might be in Paris--or in my correspondence system. The man of the scar might have been looking for me as I was looking for him. That he was looking for someone on the cross-channel boat I had not doubted.
He was aware, then that Charles Malet, cabman, was watching him. But was he aware that Charles Malet was Gaston Max? And did he know where I lived? Also--did he perchance think that my meeting with Dr. Stuart in Limehouse had been prearranged? Clearly he had seen Dr. Stuart enter my cab, for he had pursued us to Battersea.
This course of reflection presently led me to a plan. It was a dangerous plan, but I doubted if I should ever find myself in greater danger than I was already. Nom d'un nom! I had not forgotten the poor Jean Sach!
That night, well knowing that I carried my life in my hands, I drove again to Limehouse Town Hall, and again leaving my cab outside went into the bar where I had preciously me "Le Balafre." If I had doubted that my movements were watched I must now have had such doubts dispelled; for two minutes later the man with the scar came in and greeted me affably!
I had learned something else. He did not know that I had recognized him as the person who had tracked me to Dr. Stuart's house!
He invited me to drink with him, and I did so. As we raised our glasses I made a move. Looking all about me suspiciously:
"Am I right in supposing that you have business in this part of London?" I asked.
"Yes," he replied "My affairs bring me here sometimes."
"You are well acquainted with the neighbourhood?"
"Fairly well. But actually of course I am a stranger to London."
I tapped him confidentially upon the breast.
"Take my advice, as a friend," I said, "and visit these parts as rarely as possible."
"Why do you say that?"
"It is dangerous. From the friendly manner in which you entered into conversation with me, I perceived that you were of a genial and unsuspicious nature. Very well. I warn you. Last night I was followed from a certain street not far from here to the house of a medical man who is a specialist in certain kinds of criminology, you understand."
He stared at me very hard, his teeth bared by that fearful snarl. "You are a strange cabman."
"Perhaps I am. No matter. Take my advice. I have things written here"--I tapped the breast of my tunic--"which will astonish all the world shortly. I tell you, my friend, my fortune is made."
I finished my drink and ordered another for myself and one for my acquaintance. He was watching me doubtfully. Taking up my replenished glass, I emptied it at a draught and ordered a third. I leaned over towards the scarred man, resting my hand heavily upon his shoulder.
"Five thousand pounds," I whispered thickly, "has been offered for the information which I have here in my pocket. It is not yet complete, you understand, and because they may murder me before I obtain the rest of the facts, do you know what I am going to do with this?"
Again I tapped my tunic pocket. "Le Balafre" frowned perplexedly.
"I don't even know what you are talking about, my friend," he replied.
"I know what I am talking about," I assured him, speaking more and more huskily. "Listen, then: I am going to take all my notes to my friend, the doctor, and leave them with him, sealed--sealed, you follow me? If I do not come back for them, In a week, shall we say?--he sends them to the police. I do not profit, you think? No.morbleu! but there are some who hang!"
Emptying my third glass, I ordered a fourth and one for my companion. He checked me.
"No more for me, thank you," he said. "I have--business to attend to. I will wish you good-night."
"Good-night!" I cried boisterously--"good-night, friend! take heed of my good advice!"
As he went out, the barman brought me my fourth glass of cognac, staring at me doubtfully. Our conversation had been conducted in French, but the tone of my voice had attracted attention.
"Had about enough, ain't you, mate?" he said. "Your ugly pal jibbed!"
"Quite enough!" I replied, in English now of course. "But I've had a stroke of luck to-night and I feel happy. Have one with me. This is a final."
On going out into the street I looked cautiously about me, for I did not expect to reach the house of Dr. Stuart unmolested. I credited "Le Balafre" with sufficient acumen to distrust the genuineness of my intoxication, even if he was unaware of my real identity. I never make the mistake of underestimating an opponent's wit, and whilst acting on the assumption that the scarred man knew me to be forcing his hand, I recognized that whether he believed me to be drunk or sober, Gaston Mas or another, his line of conduct must be the same. He must take it for granted that I actually designed to lodge my notes with Dr. Stuart and endeavour to prevent me doing so.
I could detect no evidence of surveillance whatever and cranking the engine I mounted and drove off. More than once, as I passed along Commercial Road, I stopped and looked back. But so far as I could make out no one was following me. The greater part of my route lay along populous thoroughfares, and of this I was not sorry; but I did not relish the prospect of Thames Street, along which presently my course led me.
Leaving the city behind me, I turned into that thoroughfare, which at night is almost quite deserted, and there I pulled up. Pardieu! I was disappointed! It seemed as though my scheme had miscarried. It could not understand why I had been permitted to go unmolested, and I intended to walk back to the corner for a final survey before continuing my journey. This survey was never made.
As I stopped the cab and prepared to descend, a faint--a very faint-- sound almost in my ear, set me keenly on the alert. Just in the nick of time I ducked ... as the blade of a long knife flashed past my head, ripping its way through my cloth cap!
Yes! That movement had saved my life, for otherwise the knife must have entered my shoulder--and pierced to my heart!
Someone was hidden in the cab!
He had quietly opened one of the front windows and had awaited a suitable opportunity to stab me. Now, recognizing failure, he leapt out on the near side as I lurched and stumbled from my seat, and ran off like the wind. I never so much as glimpsed him.
"Mon Dieu!" I muttered, raising my hand to my head, from which blood was trickling down my face, "the plan succeeds!"
I bound a handkerchief as tightly as possible around the wound in my scalp and put my cap on to keep the bandage in place. The wound was only a superficial one, and except for the bleeding I suffered no inconvenience from it. But I had now a legitimate reason for visiting Dr. Stuart, and as I drove on towards Battersea I was modifying my original plan in accordance with the unforeseen conditions.
It was long past Dr. Stuart's hours of consultation when I arrived at his house, and the servant showed me into a waiting-room, informing me that the doctor would join me in a few minutes. Directly she had gone out I took from the pocket of my tunic the sealed envelope which I had intended to lodge with the doctor. Pah! it was stained with blood which had trickled down from the wound in my scalp!
Actually, you will say, there was no reason why I should place a letter in the hand of Dr. Stuart; my purpose would equally well be served by pretending that I had done so. Ah, but I knew that I had to deal with clever people--with artists in crime--and it behooved me to be an artist also. I had good reason to know that their system of espionage was efficient; and the slipshod way is ever the wrong way.
The unpleasantly sticky letter I returned to my pocket, looking around me for some means of making up any kind of packet which could do duty as a substitute. Beyond a certain draped over a recess at one end of the waiting-room I saw a row of boxes, a box of lint and other medical paraphernalia. It was the doctor's dispensary. Perhaps I might find there an envelope.
I crossed the room and looked. Immediately around the corner, on a level with my eyes, was a packet of foolscap envelopes and a stick of black sealing-wax! Bien! all that I now required was a stout sheet of paper to enclose in one of those envelopes. But not a scrap of paper could I find, except the blood-stained letter in my pocket-- towards which I had formed a strong antipathy. I had not even a newspaper in my possession. I thought of folding three or four envelopes, but there were only six in all, and the absence of so many might be noted.
Drawing aside a baize curtain which hung from the bottom shelf, I discovered a number of old card-board boxes. It was sufficient. With a pair of surgical scissors I cut a piece from the lid of one and thrust it into an envelope, gumming down the lapel. At a little gas jet intended for the purpose I closed both ends with wax and-- singular coincidence!--finding a Chinese coin fastened to a cork lying on the shelf, my sense of humour prompted me to use it as a seal! Finally, to add to the verisimilitude of the affair I borrowed a pen which rested in a bottle of red ink and wrote upon the envelope the number: 30, that day being the thirtieth day of the month.
It was well that the artist within me had dictated this careful elaboration, as became evident a few minutes later when the doctor appeared at the head of a short flight of stairs and requested me to step up to his consulting-room. It was a small room, so that the window, over which a linen blind was drawn, occupied nearly the whole of one wall. As Dr. Stuart, having examined the cut on my scalp, descended to the dispensary for lint, the habits of a lifetime asserted themselves.
I quickly switched off the light and peeped out of the window around the edge of the blind, which I drew slightly aside. In the shadow of the wall upon the opposite side of the narrow lane a man was standing! I turned on the light again. The watcher should not be disappointed!
My skull being dressed, I broached the subject of the letter, which I said I had found in my cab after the accident which had caused the injury.
"Someone left this behind to-day, sir," I said; "perhaps the gentleman who was with me when I had the accident; and I've got no means of tracing him. He may be able to trace me, though, or he may advertise. It evidently contains something valuable. I wonder if you would do me a small favour? Would you mind taking charge of it for a week or so, until it is claimed?"
He asked me why I did not take it to Scotland Yard.
"Because," said I, "if the owner claims it from Scotland Yard he is less likely to be generous than if he gets it direct from me!"
"But what is the point," asked Dr. Stuart, "in leaving it here?"
I explained that if I kept the letter I might be suspected of an intention of stealing it, whereas directly there was any inquiry, he could certify that I had left it in his charge. He seemed to be satisfied and asked me to come into his study for a moment. The man in the lane was probably satisfied, too. I had stood three paces from the table-lamp all the time, waving the letter about as I talked, and casting a bold shadow on the linen blind!
The first thing that struck me as I entered the doctor's study was that the French windows, which opened on a sheltered lawn, were open. I acted accordingly.
"You see," said Dr. Stuart, "I am enclosing your letter in this big envelope which I am sealing."
"Yes, sir," I replied, standing at some distance from him, so that he had to speak loudly. "And would you mind addressing it to the Lost Property Office."
"Not at all," said he, and did as I suggested. "If not reclaimed within a reasonable time, it will be sent to Scotland Yard."
I edged nearer to the open window.
"If it is not reclaimed," I said loudly, "it goes to Scotland Yard--yes."
"Meanwhile," concluded the doctor, "I am locking it in this private drawer in my bureau."
"It is locked in your bureau. Very good."
DISAPPEARANCE OF CHARLES MALET
Knowing, and I knew it well, that people of "The Scorpion" were watching, I do not pretend that I felt at my ease as I drove around to the empty house in which I garaged my cab. My inquiry had entered upon another stage, and Charles Malet was about to disappear from the case. I was well aware that if he failed in his vigilance for a single moment he might well disappear from the world!
The path which led to the stables was overgrown with weeds and flanked by ragged bushes; weeds and grass sprouted between the stones paving the little yard, also, although they were withered to a great extent by the petrol recently spilled there. Having run the cab into the yard, I alighted and looked around the deserted grounds, mysterious in the moonlight. Company would have been welcome, but excepting a constable who had stopped and chatted with me on one or two evenings I always had the stables to myself at night.
I determined to run the cab into the stable and lock it up without delay, for it was palpably dangerous in the circumstances to remain longer than necessary in that lonely spot. Hurriedly I began to put out the lamps. I unlocked the stable doors and stood looking all about me again. I was dreading the ordeal of driving the cab those last ten yards into the garage, for whilst I had my back to the wilderness of bushes it would be an easy matter for anyone in hiding there to come up behind me.
Nevertheless, it had to be done. Seating myself at the wheel I drove into the narrow building, stopped the engine and peered cautiously around toward the bright square formed by the open doors. Nothing was to be seen. No shadow moved.
A magazine pistol held in my hand, I crept, step by step, along the wall until I stood just within the opening. There I stopped.
I could hear a sound of quick breathing! There was someone waiting outside!
Dropping quietly down upon the pavement, I slowly protruded my head around the angle of the brick wall at a point not four inches above the ground. I knew that whoever waited would have his eyes fixed upon the doorway at the level of a man's head.
Close to the wall, a pistol in his left hand and an upraised stand-bag in his right, stood "Le Balafre!" His eyes gleamed savagely in the light of the moon and his teeth were bared in that fearful animal snarl. But he had not seen me.
Inch by inch I thrust my pistol forward, the barrel raised sharply. I could not be sure of my aim, of course, nor had I time to judge it carefully.
The bullet was meant for his right wrist, but it struck him in the fleshy part of his arm. Uttering a ferocious cry he leapt back, dropped his pistol--and perceiving me as I sprang to my feet, lashed at my head with the sand-bag. I raised my left arm to guard my skull and sustained the full force of the blow upon it.
I staggered back against the wall, and my own pistol was knocked from my grasp. My left arm was temporarily useless and the man of the scar was deprived of the use of his right. Pardieu! I had the better chance!
He hurled himself upon me.
Instantly he recovered the advantage, for he grasped me by the throat with his left hand--and, nom d'un nom! what a grip he had! Flat against the wall he held me, and began, his teeth bared in that fearful grin, to crush the life from me.
To such an attack there was only one counter. I kicked him savagely-- and that death-grip relaxed. I writhed, twisted--and was free! As I regained my freedom I struck up at him, and by great good fortune caught him upon the point of the jaw. He staggered. I struck him over the heart, and he fell I pounced upon him, exulting, for he had sought my life and I knew no pity.
Yet I had not thought so strong a man would choke so easily, and for some moments I stood looking down at him, believing that he sought to trick me. But it was not so. His affair was finished.
I listened. The situation in which I found myself was full of difficulty. An owl screeched somewhere in the trees, but nothing else stirred. The sound of the shot had not attracted attention, apparently. I stooped and examined the garments of the man who lay at my feet.
He carried a travel coupon to Paris bearing that day's date, together with some other papers, but, although I searched all his pockets, I could find nothing of real interest, until in an inside pocket of his coat I felt some hard, irregularly shaped object. I withdrew it, and in the moonlight it lay glittering in my palm ... a golden scorpion!
It had apparently been broken in the struggle. The tail was missing, nor could I find it: but I must confess that I did not prolong the search.
Some chance effect produced by the shadow of the moonlight, and the presence of that recently purchased ticket, gave me the idea upon which without delay I proceeded to act. Satisfying myself that there was no mark upon any of his garments by which the man could be identified, I unlocked from my wrist an identification disk which I habitually wore there, and locked it upon the wrist of the man with the scar!
Clearly, I argued, he had been detailed to dispatch me and then to leave at once for France. I would make it appear that he had succeeded.
Behold me, ten minutes later, driving slowly along a part of the Thames Embankment which I chanced to remember, a gruesome passenger riding behind me in the cab. I was reflecting as I kept a sharp look-out for a spot which I had noted one day during my travels, how easily one could commit murder in London, when a constable ran out and intercepted me!
Mon Deiu! how my heart leapt!
"I'll trouble you for your name and number, my lad," he said.
"What for?" I asked, and remembering a rare fragment of idiom: "What's up with you?" I added.
"Your lamp's out!" he cried, "that's what's up with me!"
"Oh," said I, climbing from my seat--"very well. I'm sorry. I didn't know. But here is my license."
I handed him the little booklet and began to light my lamps, cursing myself for a dreadful artist because I had forgotten to do so.
"All right," he replied, and handed it back to me. "But how the devil you've managed to get all your lamps out, I can't imagine!"
"This is my first job since dusk," I explained hurrying around to the tail-light. "And he don't say much!" remarked the constable.
I replaced my matches in my pocket and returned to the front of the cab, making a gesture as of one raising a glass to his lips and jerking my thumb across my shoulder in the direction of my unseen fare.
"Oh, that's it!" said the constable, and moved off.
Never in my whole career have I been so glad to see the back of any man!
I drove on slowly. The point for which I was making was only some three hundred yards further along, but I had noted that the constable had walked off in the opposite direction. Therefore, arriving at my destination--a vacant wharf open to the road--I pulled up and listened.
Only the wash of the tide upon the piles of the wharf was audible, for the night was now far advanced.
I opened the door of the cab and dragged out "Le Balafre." Right and left I peered, truly like a stage villain, and then hauled my unpleasant burden along the irregularly paved path and on to the little wharf. Out in mid-stream a Thames Police patrol was passing, and I stood for a moment until the creak of the oars grew dim.
Then: there was a dull splash far below ... and silence again.
Gaston Max had been consigned to a watery grave!
Returning again to the garage, I wondered very much who he had been, this one, "Le Balafre." Could it be that he was "The Scorpion"? I could not tell, but I had hopes very shortly of finding out. I had settled up my affairs with my landlady and had removed from my apartments all papers and other effects. In the garage I had placed a good suit of clothes and other necessities, and by telephone I had secured a room at a West-End hotel.
The cab returned to the stable, I locked the door, and by the light of one of the lamps, shaved off my beard and moustache. My uniform and cap I hung up on the hook where I usually left them after working hours, and changed into the suit which I had placed there in readiness. I next destroyed all evidences of identity and left the place in a neat condition. I extinguished the lamp, went out and locked the door behind me, and carrying a travelling-grip and a cane I set off for my new hotel.
Charles Malet had disappeared!
I MEET AN OLD ACQUAINTANCE
On the corner opposite Dr. Stuart's establishment stood a house which was "to be let or sold." From the estate-agent whose name appeared upon the notice-board I obtained the keys--and had a duplicate made of that which opened the front door. It was a simple matter, and the locksmith returned both keys to me within an hour. I informed the agent that the house would not suit me.
Nevertheless, having bolted the door, in order that prospective purchasers might not surprise me, I "camped out" in an upper room all day, watching from behind the screen of trees all who came to the house of Dr. Stuart. Dusk found me still at my post, armed with a pair of good binoculars. Every patient who presented himself I scrutinized carefully, and finding as the darkness grew that it became increasingly difficult to discern the features of visitors, I descended to the front garden and resumed my watch from the lower branches of a tree which stood some twenty feet from the roadway.
At selected intervals I crept from my post and surveyed the lane upon which the window of the consulting-room opened and also the path leading to the tradesmen's entrance, from which one might look across the lawn and in at the open study windows. It was during one of these tours of inspection and whilst I was actually peering through a gap in the hedge, that I heard the telephone bell. Dr. Stuart was in the study and I heard him speaking.
I gathered that his services were required immediately at some institution in the neighbourhood. I saw him take his hat, stick and bag from the sofa and go out of the room. Then I returned to the front garden of my vacant house.
No one appeared for some time. A policeman walked slowly up the road, and flashed his lantern in at the gate of the house I had commandeered. His footsteps died away. Then, faintly, I heard the hum of a powerful motor. I held my breath. The approaching car turned into the road at a point above me to the right, came nearer ... and stopped before Dr. Stuart's door.
I focussed my binoculars upon the chauffeur.
It was the brown-skinned man! Nom d'un nom! a woman was descending form the car. She was enveloped in furs and I could not see her face. She walked up the steps to the door and was admitted.
The chauffeur backed the car into the lane beside the house.
My heart beating rapidly with excitement, I crept out by the further gate of the drive, crossed the road at a point fifty yards above the house and walking very quietly came back to the tradesmen's entrance. Into its enveloping darkness I glided and on until I could peep across the lawn.
The elegant visitor, as I hoped, had been shown, not into the ordinary waiting-room but into the doctor's study. She was seated with her back to the window, talking to a grey-haired old lady--probably the doctor's housekeeper. Impatiently I waited for this old lady to depart, and the moment that she did so, the visitor stood up, turned and ... it was Zara el-Khala!
It was only with difficulty that I restrained the cry of triumph which arose to my lips. On the instant that the study door closed, Zara el-Khala began to try a number of keys which she took from her handbag upon the various drawers of the bureau!
"So!" I said--"they are uncertain of the drawer!"
Suddenly she desisted, looking nervously at the open windows; then, crossing the room, she drew the curtains. I crept out into the road again and by the same roundabout route came back to the empty house. Feeling my way in the darkness of the shrubbery, I found the motor bicycle which I had hidden there and I wheeled it down to the further gate of the drive and waited.
I could see the doctor's door, and I saw him returning along the road. As he appeared, from somewhere---I could not determine from where--came a strange and uncanny wailing sound, a sound that chilled me like an evil omen.
Even as it died away, and before Dr. Stuart had reached his door I knew what it portended--that horrible wail. Some one hidden I knew not where, had warned Zara el-Khala that the doctor returned! But stay! Perhaps that some one was the dark-skinned chauffeur!
How I congratulated myself upon the precautions which I had taken to escape observation. Evidently the watcher had placed himself somewhere where he could command a view of the front door and the road.
Five minutes later the girl came out, the old housekeeper accompanying her to the door, the car emerged from the lane, Zara el-Khala entered it and was driven away. I could see no one seated beside the chauffeur. I started my "Indian" and leapt in pursuit.
As I had anticipated, the route was Eastward, and I found myself traversing familiar ground. From the south-west to the east of London whirled the big car of mystery--and I was ever close behind it. Sometimes, in the crowded streets, I lost sight of my quarry for a time, but always I caught up again, and at last I found myself whirling along Commercial Road and not fifty yards behind the car.
Just by the canal bridge a drunken sailor lurched out in front of my wheel, and only by twisting perilously right into a turning called, I believe, Salmon Lane, did I avoid running him down.
Sacre nom! how I cursed him! The lane was too narrow for me to turn and I was compelled to dismount and to wheel my "Indian" back to the highroad. The yellow car had vanished, of course, but I took it for granted that it had followed the main road. At a dangerous speed, pursued by execrations from the sailor and all his friends, I set off east once more turning to the right down West India Dock Road.
Arriving at the dock, and seeing nothing ahead of me but desolation and ships' masts, I knew that that inebriated pig had spoiled everything! I could have sat down upon the dirty pavement and wept, so mortified was I! For if Zara el-Khala had secured the envelope I had missed my only chance.
However, pardieu! I have said that despair is not permitted by the Bureau. I rode home to my hotel, deep in reflection. Whether the girl had the envelope or not, at least she had escaped detection by the doctor; therefore if she had failed she would try again. I could sleep in peace until the morrow.
Of the following day, which I spent as I had spent the preceding one, I have nothing to record. At about the same time in the evening the yellow car again rolled into view, and on this occasion I devoted all my attention to the dark-skinned chauffeur, upon whom I directed my glasses.
As the girl alighted and spoke to him for a moment, he raised the goggles which habitually he wore and I saw his face. A theory which I had formed on the previous night proved correct. The chauffeur was the Hindu, Chunda Lal! As Zara el-Khala walked up the steps he backed the car into the narrow lane and I watched him constantly. Yet, watch as closely as I might, I could not see where he concealed himself in order to command a view of the road.
On this occasion, as I know, Dr. Stuart was at home. Nevertheless, the girl stayed for close upon half an hour, and I began to wonder if some new move had been planned. Suddenly the door opened and she came out.
I crept through the bushes to my bicycle and wheeled it on to the drive. I saw the car start; but Madame Fortune being in playful mood, my own engine refused to start at all, and when ten minutes later I at last aroused a spark of life in the torpid machine I knew that pursuit would be futile.
Since this record is intended for the guidance of those who take up the quest of "The Scorpion" either in co-operation with myself or, in the event of my failure, alone, it would be profitless for me to record my disasters. Very well, I had one success. One night I pursued the yellow car from Dr. Stuart's house to the end of Limehouse Causeway without once losing sight of it.
A string of lorries form the docks, drawn by a traction engine, checked me at the corner for a time, although the yellow car passed. But I raced furiously on and by great good luck overtook it near the Dock Station. From thence onward pursuing a strangely tortuous route, I kept it in sight to Canning Town, when it turned into a public garage. I followed--to purchase petrol.
Chunda Lal was talking to the man in charge; he had not yet left his seat. But the car was empty!
At first I was stupid with astonishment. Par la barbe du prophete! I was astounded. Then I saw that I had really made a great discovery. The street into which I had injudiciously followed "Le Balafre" lay between Limehouse Causeway and Ropemaker Street, and it was at no great distance from this point that I had lost sight of the yellow car. In that street, which according to my friend the policeman was "nearly all Chinese," Zara el-Khala had descended; in that street was "The Scorpion's" lair!
CONCLUSION OF STATEMENT
I come now to the conclusion of this statement and to the strange occurrence which led to my proclaiming myself. The fear of imminent assassination which first had prompted me to record what I knew of "The Scorpion" had left me since I had ceased to be Charles Malet. And that the disappearance of "Le Balafre" had been accepted by his unknown chief as evidence of his success in removing me, I did not doubt. Therefore I breathed more freely ... and more freely still when my body was recovered!
Yes, my body was recovered from Hanover Hole; I read of it--a very short paragraph, but it is the short paragraphs that matter--in my morning paper. I knew then that I should very shortly be dead indeed-- officially dead. I had counted on this happening before, you understand, for I more than ever suspected that "The Scorpion" knew me to be in England and I feared that he would "lie low" as the English say. However, since a fortunate thing happens better late than never, I say in this paragraph two things: (1) that the enemy would cease to count upon Gaston Max; (2) that the Scotland Yard Commissioner would be authorised to open Part First of this Statement which had been lodged at his office two days after I landed in England--the portion dealing with my inquiries in Paris and with my tracking of "Le Balafre" to Bow Road Station and observing that he showed a golden scorpion to the chauffeur of the yellow car.
This would happen because Paris would wire that the identification disk found on the dead man was that of Gaston Max. Why would Paris do so? Because my reports had been discounted since I had ceased to be Charles Malet and Paris would be seeking evidence of my whereabouts. My reports had discontinued because I had learned that I had to do with a criminal organization of whose ramifications I knew nothing. Therefore I took no more chances. I died.
I return to the night when Inspector Dunbar, the grim Dunbar of Scotland Yard, came to Dr. Stuart's house. His appearance there puzzled me. I could not fail to recognize him, for as dusk had fully come I had descended from my top window and was posted among the bushes of the empty house from whence I commanded a perfect view of the doctor's door. The night was unusually chilly--there had been some rain--and when I crept around to the lane bordering the lawn, hoping to see or hear something of what was taking place in the study, I found that the windows were closed and the blinds drawn.
Luck seemed to have turned against me; for that night, at dusk, when I had gone to a local garage where I kept my motor bicycle, I had discovered the back tire to be perfectly flat and had been forced to contain my soul in patience whilst the man repaired a serious puncture. The result was of course that for more than half an hour I had not had Dr. Stuart's house under observation. And a hundred and one things can happen in half an hour.
Had Dr. Stuart sent for the Inspector? If so, I feared that the envelope was missing, or at any rate that he had detected Zara el-Khala in the act of stealing it and had determined to place the matter in the hands of the police. It was a maddening reflection. Again--I shrewdly suspected that I was not the only watcher of Dr. Stuart's house. The frequency with which the big yellow car drew up at the door a few moments after the doctor had gone out could not be due to accident. Yet I had been unable to detect the presence of this other watcher, nor had I any idea of the spot where the car remained hidden--if my theory was a correct one. Nevertheless I did not expect to see it come along whilst the Inspector remained at the house-- always supposing that Zara el-Khala had not yet succeeded. I wheeled out the "Indian" and rode to a certain tobacconist's shop at which I had sometimes purchased cigarettes.
He had a telephone in a room at the rear which customers were allowed to use on payment of a fee, and a public call-box would not serve my purpose, since the operator usually announces to a subscriber the fact that a call emanated from such an office. The shop was closed, but I rang the bell at the side door and obtained permission to use the telephone upon pleading urgency. I had assiduously cultivated a natural gift for mimicry, having found it of inestimable service in the practice of my profession. It served me now. I had worked in the past with Inspector Dunbar and his subordinate Sergeant Sowerby, and I determined to trust to my memory of the latter's mode of speech.
I rang up Dr. Stuart and asked for the Inspector, saying Sergeant Sowerby spoke from Scotland Yard. "Hullo!" he cried, "is that you, Sowerby?"
"Yes," I replied in Sowerby's voice. "I thought I should find you there. About the body of Max.."
"Eh!" said Dunbar--"what's that? Max?"
I knew immediately that Paris had not yet wired, therefore I told him that Paris had done so, and that the disk numbered 49685 was that of Gaston Max. He was inexpressibly shocked, deploring the rashness of Max in working alone.
"Come to Scotland Yard," I said, anxious to get him away from the house.
He said he would be with me in a few minutes, and I was racking my brains for some means of learning what business had taken him to Dr. Stuart when he gave me the desired information spontaneously.
"Sowerby, listen," said he: "It's 'The Scorpion' case right enough! That bit of gold found on the dead man is not a cactus stem; it's a scorpion's tail!"
So! they had found what I had failed to find! It must have been attached, I concluded, to some inner part of "Le Balafre's" clothing. There had been no mention of Zara el-Khala; therefore, as I rode back to my post I permitted myself to assume that she would come again, since presumably she had thus far failed. I was right.
Morbleu! quick as I was the car was there before me! But I had not overlooked this possibility and I had dismounted at a good distance from the house and had left the "Indian" in someone's front garden. As I had turned out of the main road I had seen Dr. Stuart and Inspector Dunbar approaching a rank upon which two or three cabs usually stood.
I watched la Bell Zara enter the house, a beautiful woman most elegantly attired, and then, even before Chunda Lal had backed the car into the lane I was off ... to the spot at which I had abandoned my motor bicycle. In little more than half an hour I had traversed London, and was standing in the shadow of that high, blank wall to which I have referred as facing a row of wooden houses in a certain street adjoining Limehouse Causeway.
You perceive my plan? I was practically sure of the street; all I had to learn was which house sheltered "The Scorpion"!
I had already suspected that this night was to be for me an unlucky night. Nom d'un p'tit bon-homme! it was so. Until an hour before dawn I crouched under that wall and saw no living thing except a very old Chinaman who came out of one of the houses and walked slowly away. The other houses appeared to be empty. No vehicle of any kind passed that way all night.
Turning over in my mind the details of this most perplexing case, it became evident to me that the advantages of working alone were now outweighed by the disadvantages. The affair had reached a stage at which ordinary police methods should be put into operation. I had collected some of the threads; the next thing was for Scotland Yard to weave these together whilst I sought for more.
I determined to remain dead. It would afford me greater freedom of action. The disappearance of "Le Balafre" which must by this time have been noted by his associates, might possibly lead to a suspicion that the dead man was not Gaston Max; but providing no member of "The Scorpion" group obtained access to the body I failed to see how this suspicion could be confirmed. I reviewed my position.
The sealed letter had achieved its purpose in part. Although I had failed to locate the house from which these people operated, I could draw a circle on the map within which I knew it to be; and I had learned that Zara el-Khala and the Hindu were in London. What it all meant--to what end "The Scorpion" was working I did not know. But having learned so much, be sure I did not despair of learning more.
It was now imperative that I should find out exactly what had occurred at Dr. Stuart's house. Accordingly I determined to call upon the Inspector at Scotland Yard. I presented myself towards evening of the day following my vigil in Limehouse, sending up the card of a Bureau confrere, for I did not intend to let it be generally known that I was alive.
Presently I was shown up to that bare and shining room which I remembered having visited in the past. I stood just within the doorway, smiling. Inspector Dunbar rose, as the constable went out, and stood looking across at me.
I had counted on striking him dumb with astonishment. He was Scottishly unmoved.
"Well," he said, coming forward with outstretched hand, "I'm glad to see you. I knew you would have come to us sooner or later!"
I felt that my eyes sparkled. There was no resentment within my heart. I rejoiced.
"Look," he continued, taking a slip of paper from his note-book. "This is a copy of a note I left with Dr. Stuart some time ago. Read it."
I did so, and this is what I read:
"A: the name of the man who cut out the lid of the cardboard box and sealed it in the envelope--Gaston Max!
"B: the name of the missing cabman--Gaston Max!
"C: the name of the man who rang me up at Dr. Stuart's and told me that Gaston Max was dead--Gaston Max!"
I returned the slip to Inspector Dunbar. I bowed.
"It is a pleasure and a privilege to work with you, Inspector," I said ....
This statement is nearly concluded. The whole of the evening I spent in the room of the Assistant Commissioner discussing the matters herein set forth and comparing notes with Inspector Dunbar. One important thing I learned: that I had abandoned my nightly watches too early. For one morning just before dawn someone who was not Zara had paid a visit to the house of Dr. Stuart! I determined to call upon the doctor.
As it chanced I was delayed and did not actually arrive until so late an hour that I had almost decided not to present myself ... when a big yellow car flashed past the taxicab in which I was driving!
Nom d'un nom! I could not mistake it! This was within a few hundred yards of the house of Dr. Stuart, you understand, and I instantly dismissed my cabman and proceeded to advance cautiously on foot. I could no longer hear the engine of the car which had passed ahead of me, but then I knew that it could run almost noiselessly. As I crept along in that friendly shadow cast by a high hedge which had served me so well before, I saw the yellow car. It was standing on the opposite side of the road. I reached the tradesman's entrance.
From my left, in the direction of the back lawn of the house, came a sudden singular crackling noise and I discerned a flash of blue flame resembling faint "summer lightning." A series of muffled explosions followed ... and in the darkness I tripped over something which lay along the ground at my feet--a length of cable it seemed to be.
Stumbling, I uttered a slight exclamation ... and instantly received a blow on the head that knocked me flat upon the ground! Everything was swimming around me, but I realized that someone--Chunda Lal probably--had been hiding in the very passage which I had entered! I heard again that uncanny wailing, close beside me.
Vaguely I discerned an incredible figure--like that of a tall cowled monk, towering over me. I struggled to retain consciousness--there was a rush of feet ... the throb of a motor. It stimulated me--that sound! I must get to the telephone and cause the yellow car to be intercepted.
I staggered to my feet and groped my way along the hedge to where I had observed a tree by means of which one might climb over. I was dizzy as a drunken man; but I half climbed and half fell on to the lawn. The windows were open. I rushed into the study of Dr. Stuart.
Pah! it was full of fumes. I looked around me. Mon Dieu! I staggered. For I knew that in this fume-laden room a thing more horrible and more strange than any within my experience had taken place that night.
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