Jack O' Judgment
THE MISSING HANSON
Colonel Dan Boundary descended slowly from the Ford taxi-cab which had brought him up from Horsham station and surveyed without emotion the domicile of his partner. It was Colonel Boundary's boast that he was in the act of lathering his face on the tenth floor of a Californian hotel when the earthquake began, and that he finished his shaving operations, took his bath and dressed himself before the earth had ceased to tremble.
"I shall want you again, so you had better wait," he said to the driver and passed through the wooden gates toward Rose Lodge.
He stopped half-way up the path, having now a better view of the house. It was a red brick villa, the home of a well-to-do man. The trim lawn with its border of rose trees, the little fountain playing over the rockery, the quality of the garden furniture within view and the general air of comfort which pervaded the place, suggested the home of a prosperous City man, one of those happy creatures who have never troubled to get themselves in line for millions, but have lived happily between the four and five figure mark.
Colonel Boundary grunted and continued his walk. A trim maid opened the door to him and by her blank look it was evident that he was not a frequent visitor.
"Boundary—just say Boundary," said the colonel in a deep voice which carried to the remotest part of the house.
He was shown to the drawing-room and again found much that interested him. He felt no twinge of pity at the thought that Solomon White would very soon exchange this almost luxury for the bleak discomfort of a prison cell, and not even the sight of the girl who came through the door to greet him brought him a qualm.
"You want to see my father, colonel?" she asked.
Her tone was cold but polite. The colonel had never been a great favourite of Maisie White's, and now it required a considerable effort on her part to hide her deep aversion.
"Do I want to see your father?" said Colonel Boundary. "Why, yes, I think I do and I want to see you too, and I'd just as soon see you first, before I speak to Solly."
She sat down, a model of patient politeness, her hands folded on her lap. In the light of day she was pretty, straight of back, graceful as to figure and the clear grey eyes which met his faded blue, were very understanding.
"Miss White," he said, "we have been very good to you."
"We?" repeated the girl.
"We," nodded the colonel. "I speak for myself and my business associates. If Solomon had ever told you the truth you would know that you owe all your education, your beautiful home," he waved his hand, "to myself and my business associates." His tongue rolled round the last two words. They were favourites of his.
She nodded her head slightly.
"I was under the impression that I owed it to my father," she said, with a hint of irony in her voice, "for I suppose that he earned all he has."
"You suppose that he earned all that he has?" repeated the colonel. "Well, very likely you are right. He has earned more than he has got but pay-day is near at hand."
There was no mistaking the menace in his tone, but the girl made no comment. She knew that there had been trouble. She knew that her father had for days been locked in his study and had scarcely spoken a word to anybody.
"I saw you the other night," said the colonel, changing the direction of his attack. "I saw you at the Orpheum. Pinto Silva came with me. We were in the stage box."
"I saw you," said the girl quietly.
"A very good performance, considering you're a kid," said Boundary; "in fact, Pinto says you're the best mimic he has ever seen on the stage–" He paused—"Pinto got you your contracts."
"I am very grateful to Mr. Silva," she said.
"You have all the world before you, my girl," said Boundary in his slow, ponderous way, "a beautiful and bright future, plenty of money, pearls, diamonds," he waved his hand with a vague gesture, "and Pinto, who is the most valuable of my business associates, is very fond of you."
The girl sighed helplessly.
"I thought that matter had been finished and done with, colonel," she said. "I don't know how people in your world would regard such an offer, but in my world they would look upon it as an insult."
"And what the devil is your world?" asked the colonel, without any sign of irritation.
She rose to her feet.
"The clean, decent world," she said calmly, "the law-abiding world. The world that regards such arrangements as you suggest as infamous. It is not only the fact that Mr. Silva is already married–"
The colonel raised his hand.
"Pinto talks very seriously of getting a divorce," he said solemnly, "and when a gentleman like Pinto Silva gives his word, that ought to be sufficient for any girl. And now you have come to mention law-abiding worlds," he went on slowly, "I would like to speak of one of the law-abiders."
She knew what was coming and was silent.
"There's a young gentleman named Stafford King hanging round you." He saw her face flush but went on, "Mr. Stafford King is a policeman."
"He is an official of the Criminal Intelligence Department," said the girl, "but I don't think you would call him a policeman, would you, colonel?"
"All policemen are policemen to me," said Boundary, "and Mr. Stafford King is one of the worst of the policemen from my point of view, because he's trying to trump up a cock-and-bull story about me and get me into very serious trouble."
"I know Mr. King is connected with a great number of unpleasant cases," said the girl coolly. "It would be a coincidence if he was in a case which interested you."
"It would be a coincidence, would it?" said the colonel, nodding his huge head. "Perhaps it is a coincidence that my clerk, Hanson, has disappeared and has been seen in the company of your friend, eh? It is a coincidence that King is working on the Spillsbury case—the one case that Solly knows nothing about—eh?"
She faced him, puzzled and apprehensive.
"Where does all this lead?" she asked.
"It leads to trouble for Solly, that's all," said the colonel. "He's trying to put me away and put his business associates away, and he has got to go through the mill unless–"
"Unless what?" she asked.
"Pinto's a merciful man, I'm a merciful man. We don't want to make trouble with former business associates, but trouble there is going to be, believe me."
"What kind of trouble?" asked the girl. "If you mean that your so-called business association with my father will cease, I shall be happier. My father can earn his living and I have my stage work."
"You have your stage work," the colonel did not smile but his tone betrayed his amusement, "and your father can earn his living, eh? He can earn his living in Portland Gaol," he said, raising his voice.
"For the matter of that, so can you, colonel."
The colonel turned his head slowly and surveyed the spare figure in the doorway.
"Oh, you heard me, did you, Solly," he said not unpleasantly.
"I heard you," said Solomon White, his lean face a shade whiter than the girl had ever seen it and his breathing was a little laboured.
"If you are thinking of gaoling me," said White, "why, I think we shall make up a pretty jolly party."
"Meaning me?" said the colonel, raising his eyebrows.