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    Chapter 7

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    Chapter 7
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    THE COLONEL CONDUCTS HIS BUSINESS

    A merry little dinner party was assembled that night in a luxurious flat in Albemarle House. It was a bachelor party, and consisted of three--the colonel, resplendent in evening dress, "Swell" Crewe and a middle-aged man whose antique dress coat and none too spotless linen certainly did not advertise their owner's prosperity. Yet this man with the stubbly moustache and the bald head could write his cheque for seven figures, being Mr. Thomas Crotin, of the firm of Crotin and Principle, whose swollen mills occupy a respectable acreage in Huddersfield and Dewsbury.

    "You're Colonel Boundary, are you?" he said admiringly, and for about the seventh time since the meal started.

    The colonel nodded with a good-humoured twinkle in his eye.

    "Well, fancy that!" said Mr. Crotin. "I'll have something to talk about when I go back to Yorkshire. It is lucky I met your friend, Captain Crewe, at our club in Huddersfield."

    There was something more than luck in that meeting, as the colonel well knew.

    "I read about the trial and all," said the Yorkshireman; "I must say it looked very black against you, colonel."

    The colonel smiled again and lifted a bottle towards the other.

    "Nay, nay!" said the spinner. "I'll have nowt more. I've got as much as I can carry, and I know when I've had enough."

    The colonel replaced the bottle by his side.

    "So you read of the trial, did you?"

    "I did and all," said the other, "and I said to my missus: 'Yon's a clever fellow, I'd like to meet him.'"

    "You have an admiration for the criminal classes, eh?" said the colonel good-humouredly.

    "Well, I'm not saying you're a criminal," said the other, taking his host literally, "but being a J.P. and on the bench of magistrates, I naturally take an interest in these cases. You never know what you can learn."

    "And what did your lady wife say?" asked Boundary.

    The Yorkshireman smiled broadly.

    "Well, she doesn't take any interest in these things. She's a proper London lady, my wife. She was in a high position when I married."

    "Five years ago," said Boundary, "you married the daughter of Lord Westsevern. It cost you a hundred thousand pounds to pay the old man's debts."

    The Yorkshireman stared at him.

    "How did you know that?" he asked.

    "You're nominated for Parliament, too, aren't you. And you're to be Mayor of Little Thornhill?"

    Mr. Crotin laughed uproariously.

    "Well, you've got me properly taped," he said admiringly, and the colonel agreed with a gesture.

    "So you're interested in the criminal classes?"

    Mr. Crotin waved a protesting hand.

    "I'm not saying you're a member of the criminal classes, colonel," he said. "My friend Crewe here wouldn't think I would be so rude. Of course, I know the charge was all wrong."

    "That's where you're mistaken," interrupted the colonel calmly; "it was all right."

    "Eh?"

    The man stared.

    "The charge was perfectly sound," said the colonel, playing with his fruit knife; "for twenty years I have been making money by buying businesses at about a twentieth of their value and selling them again."

    "But how----" began the other.

    "Wait, I'll tell you. I've got men working for me all over the country, agents and sub-agents, who are constantly on the look-out for scandal. Housekeepers, servants, valets--you know the sort of people who get hold of information."

    Mr. Crotin was speechless.

    "Sooner or later I find a very incriminating fact which concerns a gentleman of property. I prefer those scandals which verge on the criminal," the colonel went on.

    The outraged Mr. Crotin was rolling his serviette.

    "Where are you going? What are you going to do? The night's young," said the colonel innocently.

    "I'm going," said Mr. Crotin, very red of face. "A joke's a joke, and when friend Crewe introduced me to you, I hadn't any idea that you were that kind of man. You don't suppose that I'm going to sit here in your society--me with my high connections--after what you've said?"

    "Why not?" asked the colonel; "after all, business is business, and as I'm making an offer to you for the Riverborne Mill----"

    "The Riverborne Mill?" roared the spinner. "Ah! that's a joke of yours! You'll buy no Riverborne Mill of me, sitha!"

    "On the contrary, I shall buy the Riverborne Mill from you. In fact, I have all the papers and transfers ready for you to sign."

    "Oh, you have, have you?" said the man grimly. "And what might you be offering me for the Riverborne?"

    "I'm offering you thirty thousand pounds cash," said the colonel, and his bearer was stricken speechless.

    "Thirty thousand pounds cash!" he said after awhile. "Why, man, that property is worth two hundred thousand pounds."

    "I thought it was worth a little more," said the colonel carelessly.

    "You're a fool or a madman," said the angry Yorkshireman. "It isn't my mill, it is a limited company."

    "But you hold the majority of the shares--ninety-five per cent., I think," said the colonel. "Those are the shares which you will transfer to me at the price I suggest."

    "I'll see you damned first," roared Crotin, bringing his hand down smash on the table.

    "Sit down again for one moment." The colonel's voice was gentle but insistent. "Do you know Maggie Delman?"

    Suddenly Crotin's face went white.

    "She was one of your father's mill-girls when you were little more than a boy," the colonel proceeded, "and you were rather in love with her, and one Easter you went away together to Blackpool. Do you remember?"

    Still Crotin did not speak.

    "You married the young lady and the marriage was kept secret because you were afraid of your father, and as the years went on and the girl was content with the little home you had made for her and the allowance you gave her, there seemed to be no need to admit your marriage, especially as there were no children. Then you began to take part in local politics and to accumulate ambitions. You dared not divorce your wife and you thought there was no necessity for it. You had a chance of improving yourself socially by marrying the daughter of an English lord, and you jumped at it."

    "You've got to prove that," he said huskily.

    The man found his voice.

    "I can prove it all right. Oh, no, your wife hasn't betrayed you--your real wife, I mean. You've betrayed yourself by insisting on paying her by telegraphic money orders. We heard of these mysterious payments but suspected nothing beyond a vulgar love affair. Then one night, whilst your placid and complacent wife was in a cinema, one of my people searched her box and came upon the certificate of marriage. Would you like to see it?"

    "I've nothing to say," said Crotin thickly. "You've got me, mister. So that is how you do it!"

    "That is how I do it," said the colonel. "I believe in being frank with people like you. Here are the transfers. You see the place for your signature marked with a pencil."

    Suddenly Crotin leaped at him in a blind fury, but the colonel gripped him by the throat with a hand like a steel vice, and shook him as a dog would shake a rat. And the gentle tone in his voice changed as quickly.

    "Sit down and sign!" snarled Boundary. "If you play that game, I'll break your damned neck! Come any of those tricks with me and I'll smash you. Give him the pen, Crewe."

    "I'll see you in gaol for this," said the white-faced man shakily.

    "That's about the place you will see me, if you don't sign, and it is the inside of that gaol you'll be to see me."

    The man rose up unsteadily, flinging down the pen as he did so.

    "You'll suffer for this," he said between his teeth.

    "Not unduly," said the colonel.

    There was a tap at the door and the colonel swung round.

    "Who's that?" he asked.

    "Can I come in?" said a voice.

    Crewe was frowning.

    "Who is it?" asked the colonel.

    The door opened slowly. A gloved hand, and then a white, hooded face, slipped through the narrow entry.

    "Jack o' Judgment! Poor old Jack o' Judgment come to make a call," chuckled the hateful voice. "Down, dog; down!" He flourished the long-barrelled revolver theatrically, then turned with a chuckle of laughter to the gaping Mr. Crotin.

    "Poor Jacob!" he crooned, "he has sold his birthright for a mess of pottage! Don't touch that paper, Crewe, or you die the death!"

    His hand leapt out and snatched the transfer, which he thrust into the hand of the wool-spinner.

    "Get out and go home, my poor sheep," he said, "back to the blankets! Do you think they'd be satisfied with one mill? They'd come for a mill every year and they'd never leave you till you were dead or broke. Go to the police, my poor lamb, and tell them your sad story. Go to the admirable Mr. Stafford King--he'll fall on your neck. You won't, I see you won't!"

    The laughter rose again, and then swiftly with one arm he swung back the merchant and stood in silence till the door of the flat slammed.

    The colonel found his voice.

    "I don't know who you are," he said, breathing heavily, "but I'll make a bargain with you. I've offered a hundred thousand pounds to anybody who gets you. I'll offer you the same amount to leave me alone."

    "Make it a hundred thousand millions!" said Jack o' Judgment in his curious, squeaky voice, "give me the moon and an apple, and I'm yours!"

    He was gone before they could realise he had passed through the door, and he had left the flat before either moved.

    "Quick! The window!" said the colonel.

    The window commanded a view of the front entrance of Albemarle House, and the entry was well lighted. They reached the window in time to see the Yorkshireman emerge with unsteady steps and stride into the night. They waited for their visitor to follow. A minute, two minutes passed, and then somebody walked down the steps to the light. It was a woman, and as she turned her face the colonel gasped.

    "Maisie White!" he said in a wondering voice. "What the devil is she doing here?"
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