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    Chapter 18

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    Chapter 18
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    THE JUDGMENT OF DEATH

    Solomon White had a taxi waiting, and gave his directions. He was sufficiently loyal to the band to avoid calling especial attention to the house where the girl was imprisoned, and he told his cab to wait at the end of Putney Heath. The night was wild and boisterous and very dark, but he carried an electric torch, and presently he came to weather-stained gates bearing in letters which had half-faded the name he sought. He pushed open the gate with some trouble. There was a curving carriage-drive which led to the front door, which stood at the head of a flight of steps under a square and ugly portico.

    He looked up at the building, but it was in darkness. Apparently it was empty, but he knew enough of the colonel's methods to know that Boundary would not advertise the presence of the girl to the outside world.

    He stood hesitating, wondering. The whole thing might be a trap, but Solomon White was not easily scared. He took a revolver from his pocket, drew back the hammer and walked forward cautiously. There was no sign of life. The rustling of shrubs and trees was the only mournful sound which varied the roar of the storm.

    He was opposite the door, and one foot was raised to surmount the first step, when there came a sound like the sharp tap of a drum.

    "Rap-rap!"

    Solomon White stood for fully a second before he crumbled and fell, and he was dead before he reached the ground.

    Still there was no sign or sound of life. A church clock boomed out the quarter to ten. A motor-car went past, and then the laurel bushes by the side of the steps moved, and a man in a black mackintosh stepped out. He bent over the dead man, picked up the fallen torch and flashed the light on the dead man's face, then, with a grunt of satisfaction, Raoul Pontarlier unscrewed his Soubet silencer and slipped his automatic into the wet pocket of his mackintosh.

    Feeling in an inside pocket for a cigarette, he found one and lit it from the smouldering end of a tinder-lighter. Then, carefully concealing the lighted cigarette in the palm of his hand, he walked softly and noiselessly down the drive, keeping to the shadow of the bushes and watching to left and right for signs of approaching pedestrians. At two points he could see the heath road, and nobody was in sight. There was plenty of time, and men had been ruined by haste. He reached the gate and carefully looked over. The road was deserted. His hand was on the gate, when something cold and hard was pushed against his ear and he turned round.

    "Put up your hands!" said a mocking voice. "Put them up!"

    The Frenchman's hands rose slowly.

    "Now turn round and face the house. Quick!" said the voice. "Marchez! Halt!"

    Raoul stopped. If he could only get his hands down and duck, one lightning dive....

    His captor evidently read his thoughts, for he felt a hand slip into his mackintosh pocket, and he was relieved of the weight of his automatic.

    "Go forward, up the steps. Stop!"

    The stranger had seen the huddled figure of White, and stooped over him. He made no comment. He knew the man was dead before his hands had touched him.

    "Mount the steps, canaille!" said the voice, and Raoul walked slowly up the steps of the house and halted with his face against the door.

    A hand came up under his uplifted arm and sought the keyhole. A few minutes' fumbling until the prongs of the skeleton key had found its corresponding wards, and then the door swung open, emitting a scent of mustiness and decay.

    "Marchez!" said the stranger, and Raoul walked forward and heard the door slam behind him.

    The house was not empty, in the sense that it was unfurnished. The unknown was using an electric torch of extraordinary brilliancy, and revealed a dilapidated hall-stand and a musty chair. He took a brief survey and then:

    "Down those stairs!" he said, and the murderer obeyed.

    They were in the kitchen now, and again the bright light gleamed about. The windows were heavily shuttered, the grate was rusty, and a few odd pieces of china on the sideboard were dirty. There was a gas bracket in the centre over a large deal table, and this the stranger turned on. He heard the hiss of escaping gas, struck a match and lit it, and then for the first time Raoul gazed in fear and astonishment upon the man who held him.

    "Monsieur," he stammered, "who are you?"

    The masked figure slipped his hand into his pocket and flicked a card upon the table, and Raoul, looking down, saw the Jack of Clubs, and knew that his end was near.

    * * * * * * *

    For three hours the Frenchman had lain on the floor, tied hand and foot, a gag in his mouth, and the clocks were striking two when Jack o' Judgment came back. This time he wore neither mask nor coat but over his arm he carried a coil of fine rope. Raoul watched him, fascinated, as he walked about the kitchen, whistling softly to himself, and now and again breaking into scraps of song.

    "Monsieur, monsieur," blubbered the terrified man, "I would make a confession. I will make a statement before the judge----"

    Jack o' Judgment smiled.

    "You shall make a statement before your judge, for I am he," he said, "and I think this is the place."

    He glanced up at the high roof of the kitchen, for there was a stout hook, where in old times heavy sides of bacon hung. He drew the table under the place and put a chair on top. Then he mounted, and with a skillful cast of his rope caught the hook and drew the rope slowly through. He did not move the table or take any notice of the man on the floor, but stood as a workman might stand who was calculating distances, and all the time he whistled softly.

    "Monsieur, monsieur, for God's sake spare me! I will make reparation!"

    "You speak truly," said the other without taking his eyes from the rope, "for it is reparation you make this night for two dead men, and God knows how many besides."

    "Two?"

    The murderer twisted his head.

    "For a man called Gregory particularly," said Jack o' Judgment, "shot down like a mad dog."

    "I was paid to do it. I knew nothing against him, I had no malice in my heart," said the man eagerly.

    "Nor have I," said Jack o' Judgment, "for behold! I shall kill you without passion, as a warning to all villains of all nationalities."

    "This is against the law," whined the man, beads of sweat standing on his forehead. "Give me a knife and let me fight you. You coward!"

    "Give Solomon White a pistol, and let him fight you," said the other. "It is against the law--well, I know it. But it is much more speedy than the law, my little cabbage!"

    He was busy making a slip-knot at one end of the rope, and presently he had finished it to his satisfaction.

    "Raoul Pontarlier," he said, "this is a moment for which I have waited."

    The man screamed and twisted his head, but the noose was about his neck and tightening. Then with a wrench Jack o' Judgment jerked him to his feet.

    "On to the table," he said sternly. "Mount! It is quicker so!"

    "I will not, I will not!" yelled the Frenchman. His voice rose to a shrill scream. "I--help!... help!..."

    Half an hour later Jack o' Judgment came down the dark path, stopping only for a second to look upon the figure of Solomon White.

    "God have mercy on you all!" he said soberly, and passed into the night.
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