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II. — The House in Terrington Square
A MAN turned into Terrington Square from Seymour Street and walked leisurely past the policeman on point duty, bidding him a curt "good night." The other subsequently described the passer, as a foreign-looking gentleman with a short pointed beard. Under the light overcoat he was apparently in evening dress, for the officer observed the shoes with the plain black bow, and the white silk muffler and the crush hat supported that view. The man crossed the road, and disappeared round the corner of the railed garden that forms the centre of the square. A belated hansom came jingling past, and an early newspaper cart, taking a short cut to Paddington, followed; then the square was deserted save for the man and the policeman.
The grim, oppressive houses of the square were wrapped in sleep — drawn blinds and shuttered windows and silence.
The man continued his stroll until he came abreast of No. 43. Here he stopped for a second, gave one swift glance up and down the thoroughfare, and mounted the three steps of the house. He fumbled a little with the key, turned it, and entered. Inside he stood for a moment, then taking a small electric lamp from his pocket he switched on the current.
He did not trouble to survey the wide entrance hall, but flashed the tiny beam of light on the inside face of the door. Two thin wires and a small coil fastened to the lintel called forth no comment. One of the wires had been snapped by the opening of the door.
"Burglar-alarm, of course," he murmured approvingly. "All the windows similarly treated, and goodness knows what pitfalls waiting for the unwary."
He flashed the lamp round the hall. A heavy Turkish rug at the foot of the winding staircase secured his attention. He took from his pocket a telescopic stick, extended it, and fixed it rigid. Then he walked carefully towards the rug. With his stick he lifted the corner, and what he saw evidently satisfied him, for he returned to the door, where in a recess stood a small marble statue. All his strength was required to lift this, but he staggered back with it, and rolling it on its circular base, as railway porters roll milk churns, he brought it to the edge of the rug. With la quick push he planted it square in the centre of the carpet. For a second only it stood, oscillating, then like a flash it disappeared, and where the carpet had lain was a black, gaping hole. He waited. Somewhere from the depths came a crash, and the carpet came slowly up again and filled the space. The unperturbed visitor nodded his head, as though again approving the householder's caution.
"I don't suppose he has learnt any new ones," he murmured regretfully, "he is getting very old." He took stock of the walls. They were covered with paintings and engravings. "He could not have fixed the cross tire in a modern house," he continued, and taking a little run, leapt the rug and rested for a moment on the bottom stair. A suit of half armor on the first landing held him in thoughtful attention for a moment. "Elizabethan body, with a Spanish bayonet," he said regretfully; "that doesn't look like a collector's masterpiece." He flashed the lamp up and down the silent figure that stood in menacing attitude with a raised battle-axe. "I don't like that axe," he murmured, and measured the distance.
Then he saw the fine wire that stretched across the landing. He stepped across carefully, and ranged himself alongside the steel knight. Slipping off his coat, he reached up and caught the figure by the wrist. Then with a quick jerk of his foot he snapped the wire.
He had been prepared for the mechanical downfall of the axe; but as the wire broke the figure turned to the right, and swish! came the axe in a semicircular cut. He had thought to hold the arm as it descended, but he might as well have tried to hold the piston-rod of an engine. His hand was wrenched away, and the razor-like blade of the axe missed his head by the fraction of a second. Then with a whir the arm rose stiffly again to its original position and remained rigid.
The visitor moistened his lips and sighed.
"That's a new one, a very new one," he said under his breath, and the admiration in his tone was evident. He picked up his overcoat, flung it over his arm, and mounted half a dozen steps to the next landing. The inspection of the Chinese cabinet was satisfactory.
The white beam of his lamp flashed into corners and crevices and showed nothing. He shook the curtain of a window and listened, holding his breath.
"Not here," he muttered decisively, "the old man wouldn't try that game. Snakes turned loose in a house in London, S.W., take a deal of collecting in the morning."
He looked round. From the landing access was gained to three rooms. That which from its position he surmised faced the street he did not attempt to enter. The second, covered by a heavy curtain, he looked at for a time in thought. To the third he walked, and carefully swathing the door-handle with his silk muffler, he turned it. The door yielded. He hesitated another moment, and jerking the door wide open, sprang backward.
The interior of the room was for a second only in pitch darkness, save for the flicker of light that told of an open fireplace. Then the visitor heard a click, and the room was flooded with light. In the darkness on the landing the man waited; then a voice, a cracked old voice, said grumblingly:
Still the man on the landing waited.
"Oh, come in, Jimmy — I know ye."
Cautiously the man outside stepped through the entry into the light and faced the old man, who, arrayed in a wadded dressing-gown, sat in a big chair by the fire — an old man, with white face and a sneering grin, who sat with his lap full of papers. The visitor nodded a friendly greeting.
"As far as I can gather," he said deliberately, "we are just above your dressing-room, and if you dropped me through one of your patent traps, Reale, I should fetch up amongst your priceless china."
Save for a momentary look of alarm on the old man's face at the mention of the china, he preserved an imperturbable calm, never moving his eyes from his visitor's face. Then his grin returned, and he motioned the other to a chair on the other side of the fireplace.
Jimmy turned the cushion over with the point of his stick and sat down.
"Suspicious?" — he grin broadened — "suspicious of your old friend, Jimmy? The old governor, eh?"
Jimmy made no reply for a moment, then —
"You're a wonder, governor, upon my word you are a wonder. That man in armour — your idea?"
The old man shook his head regretfully.
"Not mine entirely, Jimmy. Ye see, there's electricity in it, and I don't know much about electricity, I never did, except — "
"Except?" suggested the visitor.
"Oh, that roulette board, that was my own idea; but that was magnetism, which is different to electricity, by my way of looking."
"Ye got past the trap?" The old man had just a glint of admiration in his eye.
"Yes, jumped it."
The old man nodded approvingly.
"You always was a one for thinkin' things out. I've known lots of 'em who would never have thought of jumping it. Connor, and that pig Massey, they'd have walked right on to it. You didn't damage anything?" he demanded suddenly and fiercely. "I heard somethin' break, an' I was hoping that it was you."
Jimmy thought of the marble statue, and remembered that it had looked valuable.
"Nothing at all," he lied easily, and the old man's tense look relaxed.
The pair sat on opposite sides of the fireplace, neither speaking for fully ten minutes; then Jimmy leant forward.
"Reale," he said quietly, "how much are you worth?"
In no manner disturbed by this leading question, but rather indicating a lively satisfaction, the other replied instantly —
"Two millions an' a bit over, Jimmy. I've got the figures in my head. Reckonin' furniture and the things in this house at their proper value, two millions, and forty-seven thousand and forty-three pounds — floatin', Jimmy, absolute cash, the same as you might put your hand in your pocket an' spend — a million an' three — quarters exact."
He leant back in his chair with a triumphant grin and watched his visitor.
Jimmy had taken a cigarette from his pocket and was lighting it, looking at the slowly burning match reflectively.
"A million and three-quarters," he repeated calmly, "is a lot of money."
Old Reale chuckled softly.
"All made out of the confiding public, with the aid of me — and Connor and Massey — "
"Massey is a pig!" the old man interjected spitefully.
Jimmy puffed a cloud of tobacco smoke.
"Wrung with sweat and sorrow from foolish young men who backed the tiger and played high at Reale's Unrivalled Temple of Chance, Cairo, Egypt — with branches at Alexandria, Port Said, and Suez."
The figure in the wadded gown writhed in a paroxysm of silent merriment.
"How many men have you ruined, Reale?" asked Jimmy.
"The Lord knows!" the old man answered cheerfully; "only three as I knows of — two of 'em's dead, one of 'em's dying. The two that's dead left neither chick nor child; the dying one's got a daughter."
Jimmy eyed him through narrowed lids.
"Why this solicitude for the relatives — you're not going — ?"
As he spoke, as if anticipating a question, the old man was nodding his head with feverish energy, and all the while his grin broadened.
"What a one you are for long words, Jimmy! You always was. That's how you managed to persuade your swell pals to come an' try their luck. Solicitude! What's that mean? Frettin' about 'em, d'ye mean? Yes, that's what I'm doin' — frettin' about 'em. And I'm going to make, what d'ye call it — you had it on the tip of your tongue a minute or two ago?"
"Reparation?" suggested Jimmy.
Old Reale nodded delightedly.
"Don't you ask questions!" bullied the old man, his harsh voice rising. "I ain't asked you why you broke into my house in the middle of the night, though I knew it was you who came the other day to check the electric meter. I saw you, an' I've been waitin' for you ever since."
"I knew all about that," said Jimmy calmly, and flicked the ash of his cigarette away with his little finger, "and I thought you would — "
Suddenly he stopped speaking and listened.
"Who's in the house beside us?" he asked quickly, but the look on the old man's face reassured him.
"Nobody," said Reale testily. "I've got a special house for the servants, and they come in every morning after I've unfixed my — burglar-alarms." He grinned, and then a look of alarm came into his face.
"The alarms!" he whispered; "you broke them when you came in, Jimmy. I heard the signal. If there's some one in the house we shouldn't know it now."
Down below in the hall something creaked, then the sound of a soft thud came up.
"He's skipped the rug," whispered Jimmy, and switched out the light. The two men heard a stealthy footstep on the stair, and waited. There was the momentary glint of a light, and the sound of some one breathing heavily Jimmy leant over and whispered in the old man's ear.
Then, as the handle of the door was turned and the door pushed open, Jimmy switched on the light.
The new-comer was a short, thick-set man with a broad, red face. He wore a check suit of a particularly glaring pattern, and on the back of his head was stuck a bowler hat, the narrow brim of which seemed to emphasize the breadth of his face. A casual observer might have placed him for a coarse, good-natured man of rude but boisterous humour. The ethnological student would have known him at once for what he was — a cruel man-beast without capacity for pity.
He started back as the lights went on, blinking a little, but his hand held an automatic pistol that covered the occupants of the room.
"Put up your hands," he growled. "Put 'em up!"
Neither man obeyed him. Jimmy was amused and looked it, stroking his short beard with his white tapering fingers. The old man was fury incarnate.
He it was that turned to Jimmy and croaked — "What did I tell ye, Jimmy? What've I always said, Jimmy? Massey is a pig — he's got the manners of a pig. Faugh!"
"Put up your hands!" hissed the man with the pistol. "Put 'em up, or I'll put you both out!"
"If he'd come first, Jimmy!" Old Reale wrung his hands in his regret. "S'pose he'd jumped the rug — any sneak thief could have done that — d'ye think he'd have spotted the man in armor? If you'd only get the man in armor ready again."
"Put your pistol down, Massey," said Jimmy I coolly, "unless you want something to play with. Old man Reale's too ill for the gymnastics you suggest, and I'm not inclined to oblige you."
The man blustered.
"By God, if you try any of your monkey tricks with me, either of you — "
"Oh, I'm only a visitor like yourself," said Jimmy, with a wave of his hand; "and as to monkey tricks, why, I could have shot you before you entered the room."
Massey frowned, and stood twiddling his pistol.
"You will find a safety catch on the left side of the barrel," continued Jimmy, pointing to the pistol; "snick it up — you can always push it down again with your thumb if you really mean business. You are not my idea of a burglar. You breathe too noisily, and you are built too clumsily; why, I heard you open the front door!"
The quiet contempt in the tone brought a deeper red into the man's face.
"Oh, you are a clever 'un, we know!" he began, and the old man, who had recovered his self-command, motioned him to a chair.
"Sit down, Mister Massey," he snapped; "sit down, my fine fellow, an' tell us all the news. Jimmy an' me was just speakin' about you, me an' Jimmy was. We was saying what a fine gentleman you was" — his voice grew shrill — "what a swine, what an overfed, lumbering fool of a pig you was, Mister Massey!"
He sank back into the depths of his chair exhausted.
"Look here, governor," began Massey again — he had laid his pistol on a table by his side, and waved a large red hand to give point to his remarks — "we don't want any unpleasantness. I've been a good friend to you, an' so has Jimmy. We've done your dirty work for years, me an' Jimmy have, and Jimmy knows it" — turning with an ingratiating smirk to the subject of his remarks — "and now we want a bit of our own — that is all it amounts to, our own."
Old Reale looked under his shaggy eyebrows to where Jimmy sat with brooding eyes watching the fire.
"So it's a plant, eh? You're both in it. Jimmy comes first, he being the clever one, an' puts the lay nice an' snug for the other feller."
Jimmy shook his head.
"Wrong," he said. He turned his head and took a long scrutiny of the newcomer, and the amused contempt of his gaze was too apparent.
"Look at him!" he said at last. "Our dear Massey! Does he look the sort of person I am likely to share confidence with?"
A cold passion seemed suddenly to possess him.
"It's a coincidence that brought us both together."
He rose and walked to where Massey sat, and stared down at him. There was something in the look that sent Massey's hand wandering to his pistol.
"Massey, you dog!" he began, then checked himself with a laugh and walked to the other end of the room. There was a tantalus with a soda siphon, and he poured himself a stiff portion and sent the soda fizzling into the tumbler. He held the glass to the light and looked at the old man. There was a look on the old man's face that he remembered to have seen before. He drank his whisky and gave utterance to old Reale's thoughts.
"It's no good, Reale, you've got to settle with Massey, but not the way you're thinking. We could put him away, but we should have to put ourselves away too." He paused. "And there's me," he added.
"And Connor," said Massey thickly, "and Connor's worse than me. I'm reasonable, Reale; I'd take a fair share — "
"You would, would you?" The old man was grinning again. "Well, your share's exactly a million an' three-quarters in solid cash, an' a bit over two millions — all in."
He paused to notice the effect of his words.
Jimmy's calm annoyed him; Massey's indifference was outrageous.
"An' it's Jimmy's share, an' Connor's share, an' it's Miss Kathleen Kent's share."
This time the effect was better. Into Jimmy's inexpressive face had crept a gleam of interest.
"Kent?" he asked quickly. "Wasn't that the name of the man — ?"
Old Reale chuckled.
"The very feller, Jimmy — the man who came in to lose a tenner, an' lost ten thousand; who came in next night to get it back, and left his lot. That's the feller!"
He rubbed his lean hands, as at the memory of some pleasant happening.
"Open that cupboard, Jimmy." He pointed to an old-fashioned walnut cabinet that stood near the door. "D'ye see anything — a thing that looks like a windmill?"
Jimmy drew out a cardboard structure that was apparently a toy working-model. He handled it carefully, and deposited it on the table by the old man's side. Old Reale touched it caressingly. With his little finger he set a fly — wheel spinning, and tiny little pasteboard rods ran to and fro, and little wooden wheels spun easily.
"That's what I did with his money, invented a noo machine that went by itself — perpetual motion. You can grin, Massey, but that's what I did with it. Five years' work an' a quarter of a million, that's what that little model means. I never found the secret out. I could always make a machine that would go for hours with a little push, but it always wanted the push. I've been a chap that went in for inventions and puzzles. D'ye remember the table at Suez?"
He shot a sly glance at the men.
Massey was growing impatient as the reminiscences proceeded. He had come that night with an object; he had taken a big risk, and had not lost sight of the fact. Now he broke in —
"Damn your puzzles, Reale. What about me; never mind about Jimmy. What's all this rotten talk about two millions for each of us, and this girl? When you broke up the place in Egypt you said we should stand in when the time came. Well, the time's come!"
"Nearly, nearly," said Reale, with his death's — head grin. "It's nearly come. You needn't have troubled to see me. My lawyer's got your addresses. I'm nearly through," he went on cheerfully; "dead I'll be in six months, as sure as — as death. Then you fellers will get the money" — he spoke slowly to give effect to his words — "you, Jimmy, or Massey or Connor or the young lady. You say you don't like puzzles, Massey? Well, it's a bad look out for you. Jimmy's the clever un, an' most likely he'll get it; Connor's artful, and he might get it from Jimmy; but the young lady's got the best chance, because women are good at puzzles."
"What in hell!" roared Massey, springing to his feet.
"Sit down!" It was Jimmy that spoke, and Massey obeyed.
"There's a puzzle about these two millions," Reale went on, and his croaky voice, with its harsh cockney accent, grew raucous in his enjoyment of Massey's perplexity and Jimmy's knit brows. "An' the one that finds the puzzle out, gets the money."
Had he been less engrossed in his own amusement he would have seen a change in Massey's brute face that would have warned him.
"It's in my will," he went on. "I'm goin' to set the sharps against the flats; the touts of the gamblin' hell — that's you two fellers — against the pigeons. Two of the biggest pigeons is dead, an' one's dying. Well, he's got a daughter; let's see what she can do. When I'm dead — "
"That's now!" bellowed Massey, and leant over and struck the old man.
Jimmy, on his feet, saw the gush of blood and the knife in Massey's hand, and reached for his pocket. Massey's pistol covered him, and the man's face was a dreadful thing to look upon.
"Hands up! It's God's truth I'll kill you if you don't!"
Jimmy's hands went up.
"He's got the money here," breathed Massey, "somewhere in this house."
"You're mad," said the other contemptuously. "Why did you hit him?"
"He sat there makin' a fool of me." The murderer gave a vicious glance at the inert figure on the floor. "I want something more than his puzzle-talk. He asked for it."
He backed to the table where the decanter stood, and drank a tumbler half-filled with raw spirit.
"We're both in this, Jimmy," he said, still keeping his man covered. "You can put down your hands; no monkey tricks. Give me your pistol."
Jimmy slipped the weapon from his pocket, and handed it butt foremost to the man. Then Massey bent over the fallen man and searched his pockets.
"Here are the keys. You stay here," said Massey, and went out, closing the door after him. Jimmy heard the grate of the key, and knew he was a prisoner. He bent over the old man. He lay motionless. Jimmy tried the pulse, and felt a faint flutter. Through the clenched teeth he forced a little whisky, and after a minute the old man's eyes opened.
"Jimmy!" he whispered; then remembering, "Where's Massey?" he asked. There was no need to inquire the whereabouts of Massey. His blundering footfalls sounded in the room above.
"Lookin' for money?" gasped the old man, and something like a smile crossed his face. "Safe's up there," he whispered, and smiled again. "Got the keys?"
Jimmy nodded. The old man's eyes wandered round the room till they rested on what looked like a switchboard.
"See that handle marked 'seven'?" he whispered.
Jimmy nodded again.
"Pull it down, Jimmy boy." His voice was growing fainter. "This is a new one that I read in a book. Pull it down."
"Do as I tell you," the lips motioned, and Jimmy walked across the room and pulled over the insulated lever.
As he did there was a heavy thud overhead that shook the room, and then silence.
"What's that?" he asked sharply. The dying man smiled.
"That's Massey!" said the lips.* * * * * * * *
Half an hour later Jimmy left the house with a soiled slip of paper in his waistcoat pocket, on which was written the most precious verse of doggerel that the world has known. And the discovery of the two dead men in the upper chambers the next morning afforded the evening press the sensation of the year.