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    Chapter 9

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    Chapter 9
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    Their prisoner was a stranger. He was a lean, furtive-looking man of thirty-five, below middle height, respectably dressed, and at first glance, the colonel, whose hobby was distinguishing at a look the social standing of humanity, was unable to place him.

    Crewe locked the door.

    "Now then," said the colonel, "what the devil were you doing listening at my door? Was that his game, Mr. Silva?"

    "That was his game," said the other, brushing his hands.

    "What have you got to say before I send for the police?" asked the colonel virtuously. "What have you got to say for yourself? Sneaking about a gentleman's flat, listening at keyholes!"

    The man, who had been roughly handled, had risen and was putting his collar straight. If he had been taken aback by the sudden onslaught, he was completely self-possessed now.

    "If you want to send for the police, you'd better start right away," he said; "you've got a telephone, haven't you? Perhaps I'll have a job for the policeman, too. You've no right to assault me, my friend," he said, addressing Pinto resentfully.

    "What were you doing?" asked the colonel.

    "Find out," said the man sharply.

    The colonel stroked his long moustache, and his manner underwent a change.

    "Now look here, old man," he said almost jovially; "we're all friends here, and we don't want any trouble. I daresay you've made a mistake, and my friend has made a mistake. Have a whisky and soda?"

    The man grinned crooked.

    "Not me, thank you," he said emphatically; "if I remember rightly, there was a young gentleman who took a glass of water in North Lambeth Police Court the other day, and----"

    The colonel's eyes narrowed.

    "Well, sit down and be sociable. If you're suggesting that I'm going to poison you, you're also suggesting that you know something which I don't want you to tell. Or that you have discovered one of those terrible secrets that the newspapers are all writing about. Now be a sensible man; have a drink."

    The man hesitated.

    "You have a drink of whisky out of the same bottle, and I'll join you."

    "Help yourself," said the colonel good-naturedly. "Give me any glass you like."

    The man went to the sideboard, poured out two pegs and sent the soda-water sizzling into the long glasses.

    "Here's yours and here's mine," he said; "good luck!"

    He drank the whisky off, after he had seen the colonel drink his, and wiped his mouth with a gaudy handkerchief.

    "I'm taking it for granted," said the colonel, "that we've made no mistake and that you were listening at our door. Now we want no unpleasantness, and we'll talk about this matter as sensible human beings and man to man."

    "That's the way to talk," said the other, smacking his lips.

    "You've been sent here to watch me."

    "I may have and I may not have," said the other.

    Pinto shifted impatiently, but the colonel stopped him with a look.

    "Now let me see what you are," mused the colonel, still wearing that benevolent smile of his. "You're not an ordinary tradesman. You've got a look of the book canvasser about you. I have it--you're a private detective!"

    The man smirked.

    "Perhaps I am," said he, "and," he added, "perhaps I'm not."

    The colonel slapped him on the shoulder.

    "Of course you are," he said confidently; "we don't see shrewd-looking fellows like you every day. You're a split!"

    "Not official," said the man quickly.

    He had all the English private detective's fear of posing as the genuine article.

    "Now look here," said the colonel, "I'm going to be perfectly straight with you, and you've got to be straight with me. That's fair, isn't it?"

    "Quite fair," said the man; "if I've been misconducting myself in any manner----"

    "Don't mention it," said the colonel politely, "my friend here will apologise for handling you roughly, I'm sure; won't you, Mr. Silva?"

    "Sure!" said the other, without any great heartiness.

    He was tired of this conversation and was anxious to know where it was leading.

    "You're not in the private detective business for your health," said the colonel, and the man shook his head.

    "I bet you're working for a firm that's paying you about three pounds a week and your miserable expenses--a perfect dog's life."

    "You're quite right there," said the man, and he spoke with the earnestness of the ill-used wage-earner, "it is a dog's life; out in all kinds of weather, all hours of the day and night, and never so much as 'thank you' for any work you do. Why, we get no credit at all, sir. If we go into the witness-box, the lawyers treat us like dirt."

    "I absolutely agree with you," said the colonel, shaking his head. "I think the private detective business in this country isn't appreciated as it ought to be. And it is very curious we should have met you," he went on; "only this evening I was saying to my friends here, that we ought to get a good man to look after our interests. You've heard about me, I'm sure, Mr.----"

    "Snakit," said the other; "here's my card."

    He produced a card from his waistcoat pocket, and the colonel read it.

    "Mr. Horace Snakit," he said, "of Dooby and Somes. Now what do you say to coming into our service?"

    The man blinked.

    "I've got a good job----" he began inconsistently.

    "I'll give you a better--six pounds a week, regular expenses and an allowance for dressing."

    "It's a bet!" said Mr. Snakit promptly.

    "Well, you can consider yourself engaged right away. Now, Mr. Snakit, as frankness is the basis of our intercourse, you will tell me straight away whether you were engaged in watching me?"

    "I'll admit that, sir," said the man readily. "I had a job to watch you and to discover if you knew the whereabouts of a certain person."

    "Who engaged you?"

    "Well----" the man hesitated. "I don't know whether it isn't betraying the confidence of a client," he waited for some encouragement to pursue the path of rectitude and honour, but received none. "Well, I'll tell you candidly, our firm has been engaged by a young lady. She brought me here to-night----"

    "Miss White, eh?" said the colonel quickly.

    "Miss White it was, sir," said Snakit.

    "So that was why she was here? She wanted to show you----"

    "Just where your rooms were, sir," said the man. "She also wanted to show me the back stairs by which I could get out of the building if I wanted to."

    "What were your general instructions?"

    "Just to watch you, sir, and if I had an opportunity when you were out, of sneaking in and nosing round."

    "I see," said the colonel. "Crewe, just take Mr. Snakit downstairs and tell him where to report. Fix up his pay--you know," he gave a significant sideways jerk of his head, and Crewe escorted the gratified little detective from the apartment.

    When the door had closed, the colonel turned on Silva.

    "Pinto," he said and there was a rumble in his voice which betrayed his anger, "that girl is dangerous. She may or may not know where her father is--this detective business may be a blind. Probably Snakit was sent here knowing that he would be captured and spill the beans."

    "That struck me, too," said Pinto.

    "She's dangerous," repeated the colonel.

    He resumed his promenade up and down the room.

    "She's an active worker and she's working against us. Now, I'm going to settle with Miss White," he said gratingly. "I'm going to settle with her for good and all. I don't care what she knows, but she probably knows too much. She's hand in glove with the police and maybe she's working with her father. You'll get Phillopolis here to-morrow morning----"

    The other's eyes opened.

    "Phillopolis?" he almost gasped. "Good heavens! You're not going to----"

    The colonel faced him squarely.

    "You've had your chance with the girl and you've missed it," he said. "You've tried your fancy method of courting and you've fallen down."

    "But I'm not going to stand for Phillopolis," said the other, with tense face. "I tell you I like the girl. There's going to be none of that----"

    "Oh, there isn't, isn't there?" said the colonel in his silkiest tone.

    Then suddenly he leaned forward across the table and his face was the face of a devil.

    "There's only one Boundary Gang, Pinto, and this is it," he said between his clenched white teeth, "and there's only one Dan Boundary and that's me. Do you get me, Pinto? You can go a long way with me if I happen to be going that way. But you stand in the road and you're going to get what's coming. I've been good to you, Pinto. I've stood your interference because it amused me. But you come up against me, really up against me, and by the Lord Harry! you'll know it. Did you get that?"

    "I've got it" said Pinto sullenly.
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