Текст книги

Edgar Wallace
Jack O' Judgment

The colonel nodded slowly.

"Sure you do, Hanson."

His tone was mild, and that spelt danger to Hanson, had he known it. This was the third sign of rebellion which the man had shown in the past week.

"What's happened to your temper this morning, Hanson?" he asked.

"Everything," exploded the man and in his agitation his foreign origin was betrayed by his accent. "You tell me I shall haf plenty money, thousands of pounds! You say I go to my brother in America. Where is dot money? I go in March, I go in May, I go in July, still I am here!"

"My good friend," said the colonel, "you're too impatient. This is not a moment I can allow you to go away. You're getting nervous, that's what's the matter with you. Perhaps I'll let you have a holiday next week."

"Nervous!" roared the man. "Yes, I am. All the time I feel eyes on me! When I walk in the street, every man I meet is a policeman. When I go to bed, I hear nothing but footsteps creeping in the passage outside my room."

"Old Jack, eh?" said the colonel, eyeing him narrowly.

Hanson shivered.

He had seen the Jack o' Judgment once. A figure in gossamer silk who had stood beside the bed in which the Scandinavian lay and had talked wisdom whilst Olaf quaked in a muck sweat of fear.

The colonel did not know this. He was under the impression that the appearance of the previous night had constituted the first of this mysterious menace.

So he nodded again.

"Send Miss Marsh to me," he said.

Hanson would have got on his nerves if he had nerves. The man, at any rate, was becoming an intolerable nuisance. The colonel marked him down as one of the problems calling for early solution.

The secretary had not been gone more than a few seconds before the door opened again and the girl came in. She was tall, pretty in a doll-like way, with an aura of golden hair about her small head. She might have been more than pretty but for her eyes, which were too light a shade of blue to be beautiful. She was expensively gowned and walked with the easy swing of one whose position was assured.

"Good morning, Lollie," said the colonel. "Did you see him again?"

She nodded.

"I got a pretty good view of him," she said.

"Did he see you?"

She smiled.

"I don't think so," she said; "besides, what does it matter if he did?"

"Was the girl with him?"

She shook her head.

"Well?" asked the colonel after a pause. "Can you do anything with him?"

She pursed her lips.

If she had expected the colonel to refer to their terrifying experience of the night before, she was to be disappointed. The hard eyes of the man compelled her to keep to the matter under discussion.

"He looks pretty hard," said the girl. "He is not the man to fall for that heart-to-heart stuff."

"What do you mean?" asked the colonel.

"Just that," said the girl with a shrug. "I can't imagine his picking me up and taking me to dinner and pouring out the secrets of his young heart at the second bottle."

"Neither can I," said the colonel thoughtfully. "You're a pretty clever girl, Lollie, and I'm going to make it worth your while to get close to that fellow. He's the one man in Scotland Yard that we want to put out of business. Not that we've anything to be afraid of," he added vaguely, "but he's just interfering with–"

He paused for a word.

"With business," said the girl. "Oh, come off it, colonel! Just tell me how far you want me to go."

"You've got to go to the limit," said the other decidedly. "You've got to put him as wrong as you can. He must be compromised up to his neck."

"What about my young reputation?" asked the girl with a grimace.

"If you lose it, we'll buy you another," said the colonel drily, "and I reckon it's about time you had another one, Lollie."

The girl fingered her chin thoughtfully.

"It is not going to be easy," she said again. "It isn't going to be like young Spillsbury—Pinto Silva could have done that job without help—or Solomon White even."

"You can shut up about Spillsbury," growled the colonel. "I've told you to forget everything that has ever happened in our business! And I've told you a hundred times not to mention Pinto or any of the other men in this business! You can do as you're told! And take that look off your face!"

He rose with extraordinary agility and leant over, glowering at the girl.

"You've been getting a bit too fresh lately, Lollie, and giving yourself airs! You don't try any of that grand lady stuff with me, d'ye hear?"

There was nothing suave in the colonel's manner, nothing slow or ponderous or courtly. He spoke rapidly and harshly and revealed the brute that many suspected but few knew.

"I've no more respect for women than I have for men, understand! If you ever get gay with me, I'll take your neck in my hand like that," he clenched his two fists together with a horribly suggestive motion and the frightened girl watched him, fascinated. "I'll break you as if you were a bit of china! I'll tear you as if you were a rag! You needn't think you'll ever get away from me—I'll follow you to the ends of the earth. You're paid like a queen and treated like a queen and you play straight—there was a man called 'Snow' Gregory once–"

The trembling girl was on her feet now, her face ashen white.

"I'm sorry, colonel," she faltered. "I didn't intend giving you offence. I—I–"

She was on the verge of tears when the colonel, with a quick gesture, motioned her back to the chair. His rage subsided as suddenly as it had risen.

"Now do as you're told, Lollie," he said calmly. "Get after that young fellow and don't come back to me until you've got him."

She nodded, not trusting herself to speak, and almost tiptoed from his dread presence.

At the door he stopped her.

"As to Maisie," he said, "why, you can leave Maisie to me."