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    Chapter 4

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    Chapter 4
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    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."

    She nodded.

    "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.

    "You amongst others. Pinto Silva, 'Swell' Crewe and Selby, to name a few."

    Colonel Boundary permitted himself to chuckle.

    "On what charge?" he asked, "tell me that, Solly? The cleverest men in Scotland Yard have been laying for me for years and they haven't got away with it. Maybe they have your assistance and that dog Hanson----"

    "That's a lie," interrupted White, "so far as I am concerned--I know nothing about Hanson."

    "Hanson," said the colonel slowly, "is a thief. He bolted with £300 of mine, as I've reported to the police."

    "I see," said White with a little smile of contempt, "got your charge in first, eh, colonel--discredit the witness. And what have you framed for me?"

    "Nothing," said the colonel, "except this. I've just had from the bank a cheque for £4,000 drawn in your favour on our joint account and purporting to be signed by Silva and myself."

    "As it happens," said White, "it was signed by you fellows in my presence."

    The colonel shook his head.

    "Obdurate to the last, brazening it out to the end--why not make a frank confession to an old business associate, Solly? I came here to see you about that cheque."

    "That's the game, is it?" said White. "You are going to charge me with forgery, and suppose I spill it?"

    "Spill what?" asked the colonel innocently. "If by 'spill' you mean make a statement to the police derogatory to myself and my business associates, what can you tell? I can bring a dozen witnesses to prove that both Pinto and I were in Brighton the morning that cheque was signed."

    "You came up by car at night," said White harshly. "We arranged to meet outside Guildford to split the loot."

    "Loot?" said Colonel Boundary, puzzled. "I don't understand you."

    "I'll put it plainer," said White, his eyes like smouldering fire: "a year ago you got young Balston the shipowner to put fifty thousand pounds into a fake company."

    He heard Maisie gasp, but went on.

    "How you did it I'm not going to tell before the girl, but it was blackmail which you and Pinto engineered. He paid his last instalment--the four thousand pounds was my share."

    Colonel Boundary rose and looked at his watch.

    "I have a taxi-cab waiting, and with a taxi-cab time is money. If you are going to bring in the name of an innocent young man, who will certainly deny that he had any connection with myself and my business associates, that is a matter for your own conscience. I tell you I know nothing about this cheque. I have made your daughter an offer."

    "I can guess what it is," interrupted White, "and I can tell you this, Boundary, that if you are going to sell me, I'll be even with you, if I wait twenty years! If you imagine I am going to let my daughter into that filthy gang----" His voice broke, and it was some time before he could recover himself. "Do your worst. But I'll have you, Boundary! I don't doubt that you'll get a conviction, and you know the things that I can't talk about, and I'll have to take my medicine, but you are not going to escape."

    "Wait, colonel." It was the girl who spoke in so low a voice that he would not have heard her, but that he was expecting her to speak. "Do you mean that you will--prosecute my father?"

    "With law-abiding people," said the colonel profoundly, "the demands of justice come first. I must do my duty to the state, but if you should change your mind----"

    "She won't change her mind," roared White.

    With one stride he had passed between the colonel and the door. Only for a second he stood, and then he fell back.

    "Do your worst," he said huskily, and Colonel Boundary passed out, pocketing the revolver which had come from nowhere into his hand, and presently they heard the purr of the departing motor.

    He came to Horsham station in a thoughtful frame of mind. He was still thinking profoundly when he reached Victoria.

    Then, as he stepped on the platform, a hand was laid on his arm, and he turned to meet the smiling face of Stafford King.

    "Hullo," said the colonel, and something within him went cold.

    "Sorry to break in on your reverie, colonel," said Stafford King, "but I've a warrant for your arrest."

    "What is the charge?" asked the colonel, his face grey.

    "Blackmail and conspiracy," said King, and saw with amazement the look of relief in the other's eyes.

    Then:

    "Boundary," he said between his teeth, "you thought I wanted you for 'Snow' Gregory!"

    The colonel said nothing.
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