Текст книги

Edgar Wallace
Jack O' Judgment


King put the card down and looked across at the colonel.

"What happened after the last card came?" he asked, "there was a burglary or something, wasn't there?"

"The last card," said the colonel, clearing his throat, "contained a diabolical and unfounded charge that I and my business associates had robbed Mr. George Fetter, the Manchester merchant, of £60,000 by means of card tricks—a low practice of which I would not be guilty nor would any of my business associates. My friends and myself knowing nothing of any card game, we of course refused to pay Mr. Fetter, and I am sure Mr. Fetter would be the last person who would ask us to do so. As a matter of fact, he did give us bills for £60,000, but that was in relation to a sale of property. I cannot imagine that Mr. Fetter would ever take money from us or that he knew of this business—I hope not, because he seems a very respectable—gentleman."

The detective looked at the card again.

"What is this story of the Spillsbury deal?" he asked.

"What is that story of the Spillsbury deal?" said the colonel.

He had a trick of repeating questions—it was a trick which frequently gave him a very necessary breathing space.

"Why, there's nothing to it. I bought the motor works in Coventry. I admit it was a good bargain. There's no law against making a profit. You know what business is."

The detective knew what business was. But Spillsbury was young and wild, and his wildness assumed an unpleasant character. It was the kind of wildness which people do not talk about—at least, not nice people. He had inherited a considerable fortune, and the control of four factories, the best of which was the one under discussion.

"I know Spillsbury," said the detective, "and I happen to know Spillsbury's works. I also know that he sold you a property worth £300,000 in the open market for a sum which was grossly inadequate—£30,000, was it not?"

"£35,000," corrected the colonel. "There's no law against making a bargain," he repeated.

"You've been very fortunate with your bargains."

Stafford King rose and picked up his hat.

"You bought Transome's Hotel from young Mrs. Rachemeyer for a sum which was less than a twentieth of its worth. You bought Lord Bethon's slate quarries for £12,000—their value in the open market was at least £100,000. For the past fifteen years you have been acquiring property at an amazing rate—and at an amazing price."

The colonel smiled.

"You're paying me a great compliment, Mr. Stafford King," he said with a touch of sarcasm, "and I will never forget it. But don't let us get away from the object of your coming. I am reporting to you, as a police officer, that I have been threatened by a blackguard, a thief, and very likely a murderer. I will not be responsible for any action I may take—Jack o' Judgment indeed!" he growled.

"Have you ever seen him?" asked Stafford.

The colonel frowned.

"He's alive, ain't he?" he growled. "If I'd seen him, do you think he'd be writing me letters? It is your job to pinch him. If you people down at Scotland Yard spent less time poking into the affairs of honest business men–"

Stafford King was smiling now, frankly and undisguisedly. His grey eyes were creased with silent laughter.

"Colonel, you have some nerve!" he said admiringly, and with no other word he left the room.

CHAPTER II

JACK O' JUDGMENT—HIS CARD

The wrong side of a stage door was the outside on a night such as this was. The rain was bucketing down and a chill north-wester howled up the narrow passage leading from the main street to the tiny entry.

But the outside, and the darkest corner of the cul-de-sac whence the stage door of the Orpheum Music Hall was reached, satisfied Stafford King. He drew further into the shadow at sight of the figure which picked a finicking way along the passage and paused only at the open doorway to furl his umbrella.

Pinto Silva, immaculately attired with a white rose in the button-hole of his faultless dress-jacket, had no doubt in his mind as to which was the most desirable side of the stage door. He passed in, nodding carelessly to the doorkeeper.

"A rotten night, Joe," he said. "Miss White hasn't gone yet, has she?"

"No, sir," said the man obsequiously, "she's only just left the stage a few minutes. Shall I tell her you're here, sir?"

Pinto shook his head.

He was a good-looking man of thirty-five. There were some who would go further and describe him as handsome, though his peculiar style of good looks might not be to everybody's taste. The olive complexion, the black eyes, the well-curled moustache and the effeminate chin had their attractions, and Pinto Silva admitted modestly in his reminiscent moments that there were women who had raved about him.

"Miss White is in No. 6," said the doorkeeper. "Shall I send somebody along to tell her you're here?"

"You needn't trouble," said the other, "she won't be long now."

The girl, hurrying along the corridor, fastening her coat as she came, stopped dead at the sight of him and a look of annoyance came to her face. She was tall for a girl, perfectly proportioned and something more than pretty.

Pinto lifted his hat with a smile.

"I've just been in front, Miss White. An excellent performance!"

"Thank you," she said simply. "I did not see you."

He nodded.

There was a complacency in his nod which irritated her. It almost seemed to infer that she was not speaking the truth and that he was humouring her in her deception.

"You're quite comfortable?" he asked.

"Quite," she replied politely.

She was obviously anxious to end the interview, and at a loss as to how she could.

"Dressing room comfortable, everybody respectful and all that sort of thing?" he asked. "Just say the word, if they give you trouble or cheek, and I'll have them kicked out whoever they are, from the manager downwards."

"Oh, thank you," she said hurriedly, "everybody is most polite and nice." She held out her hand. "I am afraid I must go now. A—a friend is waiting for me."

"One minute, Miss White." He licked his lips, and there was an unaccustomed embarrassment in his manner. "Maybe you'll come along one night after the show and have a little supper. You know I'm very keen on you and all that sort of thing."

"I know you're very keen on me and all that sort of thing," said Maisie White, a note of irony in her voice, "but unfortunately I'm not very keen on supper and all that sort of thing."

She smiled and again held out her hand.

"I'll say good night now."

"Do you know, Maisie–" he began.

"Good night," she said and brushed past him.

He looked after her as she disappeared into the darkness, a little frown gathering on his forehead, then with a shrug of his shoulders he walked slowly back to the doorkeeper's office.
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