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    Chapter 14

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    Chapter 14
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    THE TAKING OF MAISIE WHITE

    A week passed without anything exceptional happening, and Maisie White had ceased even to harbour doubts as to her own safety--doubts which had been present, in spite of the courageous showing she had made before Stafford King. Undeterred by her previous experience, she had made arrangements with another and a more responsible detective agency and had chosen a new watcher, though she had small hopes of obtaining results. She knew his task was one of almost insuperable difficulty, and she was frank in exposing to him what those difficulties were. Still, there was a faint chance that he might discover something, and moreover she had another purpose to serve.

    She had seen Pinto Silva once. He had called, and she had noticed with surprise that the debonair, self-confident man she had known, whose air of conscious superiority had been so annoying to her, had undergone a considerable change. He was ill-at-ease, almost incoherent at moments, and it was a long time before she could discover his business.

    This time she received him in her tiny sitting-room, for Pinto was somehow less alarming to her than he had been. Perhaps she was conscious that at the corner of the street stood a quietly dressed man doing nothing particular, who was relieved at the eighth hour by an even less obtrusive-looking gentleman from Scotland Yard.

    She waited for Pinto to disclose his business, and the Portuguese was apparently in no hurry to do so. Presently he blurted it out.

    "Look here, Maisie," he said, "you've got things all wrong. Things are going to be very rotten for you unless--unless----" he floundered.

    "Unless what?" she asked.

    "Unless you make up with me," he said in a low voice. "I'm not so bad, Maisie, and I'll treat you fair. I've always been in love with you----"

    "Stop," she said quietly. "I dare say it is a great honour for a girl that any man should be in love with her, but it takes away a little of the compliment when the man is already married."

    "That's nothing," he said eagerly. "I can divorce her by the laws of my country. Maisie, she hates me and I hate her."

    "In those circumstances," she smiled, "I wonder you wait until you fall in love again before you get divorced. No, Mr. Silva, that story doesn't convince me. If you were single or divorced, or if you were ever so eligible, I would not marry you."

    "Why not?" he demanded truculently. "I've got money."

    "So have I," she said, "of a sort."

    "My money's as clean as yours, if it is Solomon White's money."

    She nodded.

    "I'm well aware of that, too," she said. "It is Gang money, isn't it--loot money. I don't see what good I shall get out of exchanging mine for yours, anyway. It is just as dirty. The money doesn't come into it at all, Mr. Silva, it is just liking people well enough--for marriage. And I don't like you that way."

    "You don't like me at all," he growled.

    "You're very nearly right," she smiled.

    "You're a fool, you're a fool!" he stormed, "you don't know what's coming to you. You don't know."

    "Perhaps I do," she said. "Perhaps I can guess. But whatever is coming to me, as you put it, I prefer that to marrying you."

    He started back as though she had struck him across the face, and he turned livid.

    "You won't say that when----"

    He checked himself and without another word left the room, and she heard his heavy feet blundering down the stairs.

    And then she met him again. It was two nights after. She met him in a horrible dream. She dreamt he was flying after her, that they were both birds, she a pigeon and he a hawk; and as she made her last desperate struggle to escape, she heard his hateful voice in her ear:

    "Maisie, Maisie, it is your last chance, your last chance!"

    She had gone to bed at ten o'clock that night, and it seemed that she had hardly fallen asleep before the vision came. She struggled to sit up in bed, she tried to speak, but a big hand was over her mouth.

    Then it was true, it was no dream. He was in the room, his hand upon her mouth, his voice in her ear. The room was in darkness. There was no sound save the sound of his heavy breathing and his voice.

    "They'll be up here in five minutes," he whispered. "I can save you from hell! I can save you, Maisie! Will you have me?"

    She summoned all the strength at her command to shake her head.

    "Then keep quiet!"

    There was a note of savagery in his voice which made her turn sick.

    For a second she filled her lungs to scream, but at that instant a mass of cotton-wool was thrust over her face, and she began to breathe in a sickly sweet vapour. Somebody else was in the room now. They were holding her feet. The voice in her ear said:

    "Breathe. Take a deep breath!"

    She sobbed and writhed in an agony of mind, but all the time she was breathing, she was drawing into her lungs the chloroform with which the wool was saturated.

    At two o'clock in the morning a uniformed constable, patrolling his beat, saw an ambulance drawn up outside a house in Doughty Street. He crossed the road to make inquiries.

    "A case of scarlet fever," said the driver.

    "You don't say," said the sympathetic constable.

    The door opened and two men walked out, carrying a figure in a blanket. The policeman stood by and saw the "patient" laid upon a stretcher and the back of the ambulance closed. Then he continued his walk to the corner of the street, where he found, huddled up in a doorway, the unconscious figure of a Scotland Yard detective, whose observation had been interrupted by a well-directed blow from a life preserver.
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