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    Chapter 17

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    Chapter 17
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    SOLOMON COMES BACK

    At nine o'clock that night the colonel, in immaculate evening-dress, sat playing double-dummy bridge with his two companions. In the light of the big shaded lamp overhead there was something particularly peaceful and innocent in their occupation. No word was spoken save of the game.

    It was a quarter to nine, noted the colonel, looking at the little French clock on the mantelpiece. He rose, walked to the window and looked out. It was a stormy night and the wind was howling down the street, sending the rain in noisy splashes against the window panes. He grumbled his satisfaction and returned to the table.

    "Did you see the paper?" asked Pinto presently.

    "I saw the paper," said the colonel, not looking up from his hand. "I make a point of reading the newspapers."

    "You see they've made a feature of----"

    "Mention no names," said the colonel. "I know they've made a feature about it. So much the better. Everything depends----"

    It was as he spoke that Solomon White came into the room. Boundary knew it was he before the door handle turned, before the hum of voices in the hall outside had ceased, but it was with a great pretence of surprise that he looked up.

    "Why, if it isn't Solomon White!" he said.

    The man was haggard and sick-looking. He had evidently dressed in a hurry, for his cravat was ill-tied and the collar gaped. He strode slowly up to the table and Boundary's manservant, with a little grin, closed the door.

    "Where have you been all this time, Solomon?" asked Boundary genially. "Sit you down and play a hand."

    "You know why I've come," breathed Solomon White.

    "Surely I know why you've come. You've come to explain where you've been, old boy. Sit down," said Boundary.

    "Where is my daughter?" asked White.

    "Where is your daughter?" repeated the colonel. "Well, that's a queer question to ask us. We've been saying where is Solomon White all this time."

    "I've been to Brighton," said the man, "but that's nothing to do with it."

    "Been at Brighton? A very pleasant place, too," said Boundary. "And what were you doing at Brighton?"

    "Keeping out of your way, damn you!" said White fiercely. "Trying to cure the fear of you which has made a rank coward of me. If you wanted to find a method for curing me, colonel, you've found it. I've come back for my daughter--where is she?"

    The colonel pushed his chair back from the table and looked up with a quizzical smile.

    "Now you're not going to take it hard, Solomon," he said. "We had to have you back and that was the only scheme we could think of. You see, there are lots of little bits of business that have to be cleared up, bits of business in which you had a hand the same as my other business associates."

    "Where is the girl?" asked the man steadily.

    "Well, I'm going to admit to you," said the colonel, with a fine show of frankness, "that I've put her away--no harm has come to her, you understand. She's at a little place at Putney Heath, a house I took specially for her, surrounded by loving guardians----"

    "Like Pinto?" asked the man, looking down at the silent Silva.

    "Like Lollie. Now you can't deny that Lollie's a very nice girl," said the colonel. "Sit down, Solomon, and talk things over."

    "When I've got my girl I'll talk things over with you. Where is this place?"

    "It is on Putney Heath," said the colonel. "Now aren't I being straightforward with you? If I had any bad designs against the girl, should I tell you where she is? If you go there, Solomon, take some of your copper friends."

    "I have no copper friends," said the man angrily. "You know that well enough. What am I that I should go to the police? Can I go to them with clean hands?"

    "Well, that's a question I've often asked myself," said the colonel. "I've often said----"

    "What is the name of the house?" interrupted White. "I want to see whether you're playing square with me, Boundary, and if you're not, by----"

    "Don't threaten me, don't threaten me, Solomon," said the colonel with a good-humoured gesture. "I'm a nervous man and I suffer from heart disease. You ought to know better than that. Bishopsholme is the place. It is the fourth big house after passing Tredennis Road--a fine villa standing in its own grounds. It looks a bit deserted because it was empty until a few days ago, when I put a scrap or two of furniture into it. Why not wait----"

    "First I'll find out whether you're speaking the truth, and if you're not----"

    "Gently, gently," growled Crewe. "What's the good of kicking up a row, White? The colonel's dealing straighter with you than you're dealing with us."

    He was not in the colonel's secrets, and he himself was deceived, thinking that the girl had been removed to the house which he now heard about for the first time, and that the sole object of the abduction was to bring White back.

    "Stay a while," said Boundary. "It is only just nine----"

    But White was gone.

    He pushed past the servant, one of the readiest and most dangerous of the colonel's instruments, and into the half-dark corridor. There was a light on the landing below, and as he ran down the stairs he thought he saw somebody standing there. It looked like a woman till the figure turned, and then Solomon White stood stock still. It was the first time he had seen Jack o' Judgment. The shimmer of the black silk coat, the curious suggestion of pallor which the white mask conveyed, the slouch hat, throwing a black bar of shadow diagonally across the face, lent the figure a peculiarly sinister aspect.

    "Stand!"

    The voice was commanding, the glittering revolver in the figure's hand more so.

    "Who are you?" gasped Solomon White.

    "Jack o' Judgment! Have you ever heard of little Jack?" chuckled the figure. "Oh, here's a new one--Solomon White, too, and never heard of Jack o' Judgment! Didn't you see me when they took me out of 'Snow' Gregory's pocket? Little Jack o' Judgment!"

    Solomon White stepped back, his face twitching.

    "I had nothing to do with that," he said hoarsely, "nothing to do with that, do you hear?"

    "Where are you going? Won't you tell Jack something, give him a bit of news? Poor old Jack hears nothing these days," sighed the figure, laughter bubbling between the words.

    "I'm going on private business. Get out of my way," said the other, remembering the urgency of his mission.

    "But you'll tell Jack o' Judgment?" wheedled the figure, "you'll tell poor old Jack where you are going to find your beautiful daughter?"

    "You know!" said the man.

    He took a step forward, but the revolver waved him back.

    "You'll speak, or you don't pass," said Jack o' Judgment. "You don't pass until you speak; do you hear, Solomon White?"

    The man thought.

    "It is a place called Bishopsholme," he said gruffly, "on Putney Heath. Now let me pass."

    "Wait, wait!" said the figure eagerly, "wait for me--only five minutes! I won't keep you! But don't go, there's death there, Solomon White! It is waiting for you--don't you feel it in your bones?"

    The voice sank to a whisper, and in spite of himself, a cold shiver passed down White's spine. He half-turned to go back.

    "Wait!" said the figure again eagerly, fiercely. "I shall not keep you a minute--a second!"

    Solomon White stood irresolutely, and the mask seemed to melt into the darkness. White strained his ears to catch the soft patter of its shoes as it mounted the stairs, but no sound came. Then with a start he seemed to awake as if from a bad dream, and without another word strode down the remaining stairs into the night.

    On the landing above, the strange being who called himself "Jack o' Judgment" stood outside the door of Boundary's flat. He had taken a key from his pocket and had it poised, when he heard the clatter of the other's feet. He stood undecidedly, but only for a second, then the key slipped into the lock and the door opened. The butler from his little pantry saw the figure and slammed his own door, bolting it with trembling fingers.

    In a second Jack o' Judgment was in the room facing the paralysed trio.

    He spoke no word, but suddenly his right arm was raised, some shining object flew from his hand, and there was a crash of glass and instantly a vile odour. On the opposite wall where the bottle had broken appeared a dark and irregular stain.

    Then, without so much as a laugh, he stepped back through the door and raced down the stairs in pursuit of White. It was too late; the man had disappeared. Jack o' Judgment stood for a moment listening, then he slipped off the black coat and ripped off the mask. The coat was of the finest silk, for he rolled it into the space of a pocket-handkerchief and slipped it in his pocket. The handkerchief went the same way. If there had been observers, they would have caught a glimpse of a man in evening dress as he went swiftly down the half-lighted stairway.

    He turned and walked in the shadow of the building and passed down a side street, where a big limousine was awaiting him. He gave a murmured direction to the driver, and the car sped on its way.
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