Текст книги

Edgar Wallace
Jack O' Judgment

"You believe in—the Jack o' Judgment?" he asked.

Sir Stanley shot a swift glance at him.

"That is the bugbear of the gang, isn't it?"

"So Hanson says," replied the other. "I verily believe that Hanson is more afraid of that mysterious person than he is of Boundary himself."

The Attorney-General had begun his opening speech when the two men made their way into the crowded court and found their seats at the end of the solicitors table.

In the dock sat Colonel Boundary, the least concerned of all that assembly. The colonel was leaning forward, his arms resting on the rails, his chin on the back of his hairy hand, his eyes glued upon the grey-haired lawyer who was dispassionately opening the case.

"The contention of the Crown," the Attorney-General was saying, "is that Colonel Boundary is at the head of a huge blackmailing organisation, and that in the course of the past twenty years, by such means as I shall suggest and as the principal witness for the Crown will tell you, he has built up his criminal practice until he now controls the most complex and the most iniquitous organisation that has been known in the long and sordid history of crime.

"Your Worship will doubtless hear," he went on, "of a bizarre and fantastic figure which flits through the pages of this story, a mysterious somebody who is called the 'Jack.' But I shall ask your Worship, as I shall ask the jury, when this case reaches, as it must reach ultimately, the Central Criminal Court, to disregard this apparition, which displayed no part in bringing Boundary to justice.

"The contention of the Crown is, as I say, that Boundary, by means of terrorisation and blackmail, through the medium and assistance of his creatures, has from time to time secured a hold over rich and foolish men and women, and from these has acquired the enormous wealth which is now his and his associates'. As to these latter, their prosecution depends very largely upon the fate of Boundary. There are, I believe, some of them in court at this moment, and though they are not arrested, it will be no news to them to learn that they are under police observation."

"Swell" Crewe, sitting at the back of the court, shifted uneasily and, turning his head, he met the careless gaze of the tall, military-looking man who had "detective" written all over him.

There had been a pause in the Attorney-General's speech whilst he examined, short-sightedly, the notes before him.

"In the presentation of this case, your Worship," he went on, "the Crown is in somewhat of a dilemma. We have secured one important and, I think, convincing witness—a man who has been closely associated with the prisoner, a Scandinavian named Hanson, who, considering himself badly treated by this gang, has been for a long time secretly getting together evidence of an incriminating character. As to his object we need not inquire. There is a possibility suggested by my learned friend, the counsel for the defence, that Hanson intended blackmailing the blackmailers, and presenting such a weight of evidence against Boundary that he could do no less than pay handsomely for his confederate's silence. That is as may be. The main fact is that Hanson has accumulated this documentary evidence, and that that documentary evidence is in existence in certain secret hiding-places in this country, which will be revealed in the course of his examination.

"We are at this disadvantage, that Hanson has not yet made anything but the most scanty of statements. Fearing for his life, since this gang will stick at nothing, he has been closely guarded by the police from the moment he made his preliminary statement. Every effort which has been made to induce him to commit his revelations to writing has been in vain, and we are compelled to take what is practically his affidavit in open court."

"Do I understand," interrupted the magistrate, in that weary tone which is the prerogative of magistrates, "that you are not as yet in possession of the evidence on which I am to be asked to commit the prisoner to the Old Bailey?"

"That is so, your Worship," said the counsel. "All we could procure from Hanson was the bald affidavit which was necessary to secure the man's arrest."

"So that if anything happened to your witness, there would be no case for the Crown?"

The Attorney-General nodded.

"Those are exactly the circumstances, your Worship," he said, "and that is why we have been careful to keep our witness in security. The man is in a highly nervous condition, and we have been obliged to humour him. But I do not think your Worship need have any apprehension as to the evidence which will be produced to-day, or that there will not be sufficient to justify a committal."

"I see," said the magistrate.

Sir Stanley turned to Stafford and whispered:

"Rather a queer proceeding."

Stafford nodded.

"It is the only thing we could do," he said. "Hanson refused to speak until he was in court—until, as he said, he saw Boundary under arrest."

"Does Boundary know this?"

"I suppose so," replied Stafford with a little smile, "he knows everything. He has a whole army of spies. Sir Stanley, you don't know how big this organisation is. He has roped in everybody. He has Members of Parliament, he has the best lawyers in London, and two of the big detective agencies are engaged exclusively on his work."

Sir Stanley pursed his lips thoughtfully and turned his attention to the prosecuting counsel. The address was not a long one, and presently the Attorney-General sat down, to be followed by a leading member of the Bar, retained for the defence. Presently he too had finished, and again the Attorney-General rose.

"Call Olaf Hanson," he said, and there was a stir of excitement.

The door leading to the cells opened, and two tall detectives came through, and two others followed. In the midst of the four walked the short, grey-faced man, in whose hands was the fate, and indeed the life, of Colonel Dan Boundary.

He did not as much as glance at the dock, but hurried across the floor of the court and was ushered to the witness stand, his four guardians disposing themselves behind and before him. The man seemed on the point of crumbling. His fear-full eyes ranged the court, always avoiding the gross figure in the railed dock. The lips of the witness were white and trembling. The hands which clutched the front of the box for support twitched spasmodically.

"Your name is Olaf Hanson?" asked the Attorney-General soothingly.

The witness tried to speak but his lips emitted no sound. He nodded.

"You are a native of Christiania?"

Again Hanson nodded.

"You must speak out," said Counsel kindly, "and you need have no fear. How long have you known Colonel Boundary?"

This time Hanson found his voice.

"For ten years," he said huskily.

An usher came forward from the press at the back of the court with a glass of water and handed it to the witness, who drank eagerly. Counsel waited until he had drained the glass before he spoke again.

"You have in your possession certain documentary evidence convicting Colonel Boundary of certain malpractices?"

"Yes," said the witness.

"You have promised the police that you will reveal in court where those documents have been stored?"

"Yes," said Hanson again.

"Will you tell the court now, in order that the police may lose as little time as possible, where you have hidden that evidence?"

Colonel Boundary was showing the first signs of interest he had evinced in the proceedings. He leaned forward, his head craned round as though endeavouring to catch the eye of the witness.

Hanson was speaking, and speaking with difficulty.

"I haf—put those papers,"—he stopped and swayed—"I haf put those papers–" he began again, and then, without a second's warning, he fell limply forward.

"I am afraid he has fainted," said the magistrate.

Detectives were crowding round the witness, and had lifted him from the witness stand. One said something hurriedly, and Stafford King left his seat. He was bending over the prostrate figure, tearing open the collar from his throat, and presently was joined by the police surgeon, who was in court. There was a little whispered consultation, and then Stafford King straightened himself up and his face was pale and hard.

"I regret to inform your Worship," he said, "that the witness is dead."