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    Chapter 12

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    Chapter 12
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    BUYING A NURSING HOME

    The building in which Colonel Boundary had his beautiful home was of a type not uncommonly met with in the West End of London. The street floor was taken up entirely with shops, the first floor with offices and the remainder of the building was practically given over to the colonel. One by one he had ousted every tenant from the building, and practically the whole of the fourteen sets of apartments which constituted the residential portion of the building was held by him in one name or another. Some he had obtained by the payment of heavy premiums, some he had secured when the lease of the former tenant had lapsed, some he had gathered in by sub-hiring. He had tried to buy the building, since it served his purpose well, but came against a deed of trust and the Court of Chancery, and had wisely refrained from going any further into a matter which must bring him vis-à-vis with a Master in Chancery, with all the publicity which such a transaction entailed.

    Nor had he been successful in acquiring any of the premises on the first floor. They were held by three very old established businesses--an estate agent, a firm of land surveyors and the offices of a valuer. He missed his opportunity, at any rate, of securing the business of Lee and Hol, the surveyors, and did not know it was in the market until after it had been transferred to a new owner. But they were quiet, sober tenants, who closed their offices between five and six every night and did not open them until between nine or ten on the following morning, and their very respectability gave him a certain privacy.

    The new proprietor of Lee and Hol was a short-sighted, elderly man of no great conversational power, and apparently of no fixed purpose in life except to say "no" to the very handsome offers which the colonel's agents made when they discovered there was a chance of re-purchasing the business. Boundary had personally inspected all the offices. He had found an excuse to visit them several times, duly noted the arrangement of the furniture, the sizes of the staffs and the general character of the business which was being carried on. This was a necessary precaution because these offices were immediately under his own flat. But just now they had a special value, because it was a practice during the daytime for the three firms to employ a commissionaire, who occupied a little glass-partitioned office on the landing and attended impartially to the needs of all three tenants to the best of his ability.

    Boundary descended the stairs and found the elderly man in his office, leisurely and laboriously affixing stamps to a pile of letters. He called him from his task.

    "Judson," he said, "have you seen anybody go up to my rooms this afternoon?"

    The man thought.

    "No, sir, I haven't," he replied.

    "Have you been here all the time?"

    "Yes, since one o'clock I have been in my office," said the commissionaire. "None of our young gentlemen wanted anything."

    "You didn't go out to go to the post?"

    "No, sir," said the man. "I've not stirred from this office except for one minute when I went into Mr. Lee's office to get these letters."

    "And you've seen nobody go upstairs?"

    "Not since Mr. Silva came down, sir. He came down after you, if you remember."

    "Nobody's been up?" insisted the other.

    "Not a soul. Your servant came down before you, sir."

    "That's true," said the colonel remembering that he had sent the man on a special journey to Huddersfield with a letter to the bigamous Mr. Crotin. "You haven't seen a lady go up at all?" he asked suddenly.

    "Nobody has gone up them stairs," said the commissionaire emphatically. "I hope you haven't lost anything, sir?"

    The colonel shook his head.

    "No, I haven't lost anything. Rather, I've found something," he said grimly.

    He slipped half-a crown into the man's hand.

    "You needn't mention the fact that I've been making inquiries," he said and went slowly up the stairs again.

    The card had been put there that day. He would swear it. The ink on the card had not had time to darken and when he made a further search of his room, this view was confirmed by the appearance of his blotting-pad. The card had been dried there, and the pen, which had been left on the table, was still damp.

    The colonel passed into his bedroom and took off his coat and vest. He searched his drawer and found what looked to be like a pair of braces made of light fabric. These he slipped over his shoulder, adjusting them so that beneath his left arm hung a canvas holster. From another drawer he took an automatic pistol, pulled the magazine from the butt and examined it before he returned it, and forced a cartridge into the breach by drawing back the cover. This he carefully oiled, and then, pressing up the safety catch, he slipped the pistol into the holster and resumed his coat and vest.

    It was a long time since the colonel had carried a gun under his arm, but his old efficiency was unimpaired. He practised before a mirror and was satisfied with his celerity. He loaded a spare magazine, and dropped it into the capacious pocket of his waistcoat. Then, putting the remainder of the cartridges away tidily, he closed the box, shut the drawer and went back to his room. If all the commissioner had hinted were true, if this mysterious visitor was laying for him because of the 'Snow' Gregory affair, he should have what was coming to him.

    The colonel was no coward and if this eerie experience had got a little on his nerves, it was not to be wondered at. He drew up a chair to the table, sitting in such a position that he could see the door, took a pencil and a sheet of paper and began to write rapidly.

    The man's knowledge was encyclopædic. Not once did he pause or refer to a catalogue, and he was still writing when Crewe came in. The colonel looked up.

    "You're the man I want," he said.

    He handed the other three sheets of paper, closely covered with writing.

    "What's this?" asked Crewe and read:

    "Twenty-three iron bedsteads, twenty-three mattresses, twenty-three----"

    "Why, what's all this, colonel?"

    "You can go down to Tottenham Court Road and you can order all that furniture to be taken into No. 3, Washburn Avenue."

    "Are you furnishing a children's orphanage or something?" asked the other in surprise.

    "I am furnishing a nursing home, to be exact," said the colonel slowly. "I bought it this morning, and I'm going to furnish it to-morrow. Send Lollie Marsh to me. Tell her I want her to get three women of the right sort to take charge of a mental case which is coming to my nursing home. By the way, you had better telegraph to old Boyton, or better still, go in a cab and get him. He'll probably be drunk but he's still on the medical register and he's the man I want. Take him straight away to Washburn Avenue, and don't forget that it's his nursing home and not mine. My name doesn't occur in this matter and you'd better get a dummy to do the buying for you from the furniture people."

    "Who is the mental case?" asked the other.

    "Maisie White," snapped the colonel, and Crewe stared.

    "Mad?" he said incredulously. "Is Maisie mad?"

    "She may not be at present," said Boundary, "but----"

    He did not finish his sentence, and Crewe, who was once a gentleman and was now a thief, swallowed something--but he had swallowed too much to choke at the threat to a girl in whom he had not the slightest interest.
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