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    Chapter 13

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    Chapter 13
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    THE LOVE OF STAFFORD KING

    Maisie White had no illusions. When the report came to her that the detective she had employed had passed his services over to the man he was engaged to watch, she knew that the full force of the Boundary Gang would be employed to her extinction. Strangely enough, she did not appear to be disturbed, as she confessed to Stafford King. They were lunching together at the Hotel Palatine and the detective was unusually thoughtful.

    "Why don't you go out of London?" he asked.

    "I must go on with my work," she said.

    "What is your work?" he asked.

    "I have told you once," she replied. "I am trying to disentangle my father from disgrace. I am working to put him apart when the day of reckoning comes."

    "You've not heard from him?" he asked.

    She shook her head, and her eyes filled with tears.

    "He has been a good father to me," she said, "the kindest and best of daddies. It is dreadful to think----" her lips quivered and she could go no further.

    Nor could Stafford King make matters any easier for her. He knew better than she the depth of Solomon White's commitments. If the gang ever smashed, and if by good fortune the law ever took its course, there was no hope for Solomon White's escape from his share of the responsibility.

    "Why do you think your father went away?" he asked, to turn the subject to a new aspect.

    She did not reply instantly.

    "I think he was scared," she said after a while. "I was shocked when I discovered how much in awe of the colonel he stood. He was just terrified at the threat, and yet I know he would have given his life to protect me from harm. I think it was just I that spurred him on to make the plans he did."

    Stafford King agreed with a gesture.

    "Now what are we going to do about you?" he asked, half-humorously, half-seriously. "I cannot let you go wandering loose about London--I'm scared to death as it is."

    She smiled at him.

    "You had better lock me up," she said flippantly and he nodded in the same spirit.

    "I know a little house in St. John's Wood that would serve us beautifully as a prison," he said. "It has ten rooms and two admirable bathrooms. There is central heating and a large shady garden, and if you will only let me take you before a Justice of the Peace, or even a commonplace clergyman----"

    She shook her head.

    "That isn't prison," she said quietly and put her hand over the table.

    He caught it in his and held it tight.

    "Maisie," he said, "you know I love you. I love you more dearly than anything in the world."

    She did not speak.

    "As my wife," he went on, "you would be safe and I should be happy. I just want you all the time."

    Gently she disengaged her hand, shaking her head with a little smile.

    "What would that mean, Stafford?" she said. "You know you are deceiving me when you agree that my father----" again her voice shook--"no, no," she said, "it would ruin your career to have the daughter of a convict for your wife. I realise very well what it will mean, for I know--I know--I know!"

    "What do you know?" he asked in a low voice.

    "I know that all my work will be in vain. But I must go on with it. I must, or I shall go mad. I know nothing on earth can clear my father, but I'm not going to tell you that again. I just want to think there is a possibility that some miracle will happen, that all the evidence which even I have against him will be explained away."

    He took her unresisting hand in his, and under the cover of the tablecloth held it tight.

    "That is why I wanted to leave the service," he said, and she looked at him quickly.

    "Because you thought that it would mean ruin?"

    He smiled.

    "No, not that. It would hurt you, that is all. Of course, if such a thing happened I would be obliged to resign."

    "And you'd never forgive yourself."

    "I wanted to anticipate such a happening, and, darling, you've got to face the future without any other illusions."

    She winced at the word "other" but he went on, unnoticing:

    "Boundary is a tiger. If he thinks there is reason to fear you, he will never let up on you till he has you in his grip. I tell you this," he said earnestly, "that for all the power of the police, for all their organisation and the backing which the law gives them, they may be helpless against this man if he has marked you down for punishment."

    "I'm not afraid," she said quietly.

    "But I am," said he. "I'm so afraid, that I'm sick with apprehension sometimes."

    "Poor Stafford!" she said softly, and there was a look in her eyes which compensated him for much. "But you mustn't worry, dear. Truly, truly, you mustn't worry. I'm quite capable of looking after myself."

    "And that's the greatest of all your illusions," he said, half-laughingly and half-irritably. "You're just the meekest little mouse that ever came under the paw of a cat."

    She shook her head smilingly.

    "But I tell you I'm speaking seriously," he went on. "I'll do my best to look after you. I'll have a man watching you day and night."

    "But you mustn't," she protested. "There's no immediate cause for worry."

    He saw her to the door of the restaurant and showed her into the taxi-cab which came at his whistle, and she leant out of the window and waved her hand in farewell as she drove off.

    Two men stood on the opposite side of the road and watched her depart.

    "That's the girl," said Crewe.
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