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    Chapter 22

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    Chapter 22
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    MAISIE TELLS HER STORY

    "There is one fact which I would impress upon you," said Sir Stanley Belcom, addressing the heads of his departments at the early morning conference at Scotland Yard, "and it is this, that the criminal has nine chances against the one which the law possesses. He has the initiative in the first place, and if he fails to evade detection, the law gives him certain opportunities of defence and imposes certain restrictions which prevent one taking a line which would bring the truth of his assertions or denials to light. It protects him; it will not admit evidence against him; it will not allow the jury to be influenced by the record of his previous crimes until they have delivered their verdict upon the one on which he stands charged; in fact, gentlemen, the criminal, if he were intelligent, would score all the time."

    "That's true enough, sir," said Cole, of the Record Office. "I've never yet met a criminal who wasn't a fool."

    "And you never will till you meet Colonel Boundary," said Sir Stanley with a good-natured smile, "and the reason you do not meet him is because he is not a fool. But, gentlemen, every criminal has one weak spot, and sooner or later he exposes the chink in his armour to the sword of justice--if you do not mind so theatrical an illustration. Here, again, I do not think that Boundary will make any such exposure. One of you gentlemen has again brought up the question as to the prosecution of the Boundary Gang, and particularly the colonel himself. Well, I am all in favour of it, though I doubt whether the Home Secretary or the Public Prosecutor would agree with my point of view. We have a great deal of evidence, but not sufficient evidence to convict. We know this man is a blackmailer and that he engages in terrorising his unfortunate victims, but the mere fact that we know is not sufficient. We need the evidence, and that evidence we have not got. And that is where our mysterious Jack o' Judgment is going to score. He knows, and it is sufficient for him that he does know. He calls for no corroborative evidence, but convicts and executes his judgment without recourse to the law books. I do not think that the official police will ever capture Boundary, and if it is left to them, he will die sanctified by old age and ten years of comfortable repentance. He will probably end his life in a cathedral town, and may indeed become a member of the town council--hullo, King, what is the matter?"

    Stafford King had rushed in. He was dusty and hot of face, and there was a light of excitement in his eyes.

    "She's found, sir, she's found!"

    "She's found?" Sir Stanley frowned. "To whom are you referring? Miss White?"

    Stafford could only nod.

    With a gesture the commissioner dismissed the conference. Then:

    "Where was she found?" he asked.

    "In her own flat, sir. That is the amazing thing about it."

    "What! Did she come back herself?"

    Stafford shook his head.

    "It is an astonishing story, sir. She was, of course, detained and held prisoner somewhere, and last night--she will not give me any details--she was carried from the house where she had been kept prisoner. She had an awful experience, at which she only hints, poor girl! Apparently she fainted, and when she came to she was in a motor-car being carried along rapidly. And that is about all she'll tell me."

    "But who brought her away?" asked the commissioner.

    Again Stafford shook his head.

    "For some reason or other she is reticent and will give no information at all. It is evident she has been drugged, for she looks wretchedly ill--of course, I haven't pressed her for particulars."

    "It is a strange story," said the commissioner.

    "I have a feeling," Stafford went on, "that she has given a promise to her unknown rescuer that she will not tell more than is necessary."

    "But it is necessary to tell the police," said the commissioner, "and even more important for the young lady to tell her--fiancé, I hope, King?"

    The young man reddened and smiled.

    "I agree with you that this is not the moment when you can cross-examine the girl, but I want you to see her as soon as you possibly can and try to induce her to tell you all she knows."

    * * * * * * *

    Maisie White lay on the sofa in her own room. She was still weak, but oh! the relief of being back again and of ending that terrible nightmare which had oppressed her for--how long? Even the depressing effect of the drug could not quench the exaltation of finding herself free. She went over the details of the night one by one. She must do it, she thought. She must never lose grip of what happened or forget her promise.

    First she recalled seeing the weird figure of Jack o' Judgment. He had lifted her from the bed and had laid her on the floor. She remembered seeing him slip beneath the blankets, and then Pinto had come. She recalled the cracked voice of her rescuer, his fantastic language.

    She had awakened to consciousness to find herself in a big car which was passing quickly through the dark and deserted streets. She had no recollection of being carried from the room or of being handed to the thick-set man who stood on a ladder outside the open window. All she recalled was her waking to consciousness and seeing in the half-light the gleam of a white silk handkerchief.

    She was too dazed to be terrified, and the soft voice which spoke into her ear quelled any inclinations she might have had to struggle. For the man was holding her in his arms as tenderly as a brother might hold a sister, or a father a child.

    "You're safe, Miss White," said the voice. "Do you understand? Are you awake?"

    "Yes," she whispered.

    "You know what I have saved you from?"

    She nodded.

    "I want you to do something for me now. Will you?" She nodded again. "Are you sure you understand?" said the voice anxiously.

    "I quite understand," she replied.

    She could have almost smiled at his consideration.

    "I am taking you to your home, and to-morrow your friends will know that you have returned. But you're not to tell them about the house where they have kept you. You must not tell them about Silva or anybody that was in that house. Do you understand?"

    "But why?" she began, and he laughed softly.

    "I am not trying to shield them," he said, answering her unspoken thought, "but if you give information you can only tell a little, and the police can only discover a little, and the men can only be punished a little. And there's so much that they deserve, so many lives they have ruined, so much sorrow they have caused, that it would be a hideous injustice if they were only punished--a little. Will you leave them to me?"

    She struggled to an erect position and stared at him.

    "I know you," she whispered fearlessly; "you are Jack o' Judgment."

    "Jack o' Judgment!" he laughed a little bitterly. "Yes, I am Jack o' Judgment."

    "Who are you?" she asked.

    "A living lie," he replied bitterly, "a masquerader, a mummer, a nobody."

    She did not know what impelled her to do the thing, but she put out her hand and laid it on his. She felt the silky smoothness of the glove and then his other hand covered hers.

    "Thank you," he said simply. "Do you think you can walk? We are just turning into Doughty Street. We've passed the policeman on his beat; he is going the other way. Can you walk upstairs by yourself?"

    "I--I'll try," she said, but when he assisted her from the car she nearly fell, and he half carried, half supported her into her room.

    He stood hesitating near the door.

    "I shall be all right," she smiled. "How quickly you understand my thoughts!"

    "Wouldn't it be well if I sent somebody to you--a nurse? Have you the key I gave you?"

    "How did you get it?" she asked suddenly, and he laughed again.

    "Jack o' Judgment," he mocked, "wise old Jack o' Judgment! He has everything and nothing! Suppose I send a nurse to you, a nice nurse. I could send the key to her by messenger. Would you like that?"

    She looked doubtful.

    "I think I would," she said with a weak smile. "I am not quite sure of myself."

    He did not take off the soft felt hat which was drawn tightly over his ears, nor did he remove his mask or cloak. She was making up her mind to take a closer stock of him, when unexpectedly he backed towards the door, and with a little nod was gone. He had left her on the couch, and there she was, half dozing and half drugged when the matronly nurse from St. George's Institute arrived half an hour later.

    Stafford called in the afternoon and was surprised and delighted to learn that he could speak to the girl. He found her looking better and more cheerful. He bent over and kissed her cheek, and her hand sought his.

    "Now, I'm going to be awfully official," he laughed, "I want you to tell me all sorts of things. The chief is very anxious that we should lose no time in getting your story."

    She shook her head.

    "There's no story to tell, Stafford," she said.

    "No story to tell?" he said incredulously. "But weren't you abducted?"

    She nodded.

    "There's that much you know," she said; "I was abducted and taken away. I have been detained and I think drugged."

    "No harm has come to you?" he asked anxiously.

    Again she shook her head.

    "But where did they take you? Who was it? Who were the people?"

    "I can't tell you," she said.

    "You don't know?"

    She hesitated.

    "Yes, I think I know, but I can't tell you."

    "But why?" he asked in astonishment.

    "Because the man who rescued me begged me not to tell, and, Stafford, you don't know what he saved me from."

    "He--he--who was it?" asked Stafford.

    "The man called Jack o' Judgment," said the girl slowly, and Stafford jumped up with a cry.

    "Jack o' Judgment!" he said. "I ought to have guessed! Did you see his face?" he demanded eagerly.

    She shook her head again.

    "Did he give you any clue as to his identity?"

    "None whatever," she replied with a little gleam of amusement in her eyes. "What a detective you are, Stafford! And I thought you were coming down here to tell me"--the colour went to her cheeks--"well, to tell me the news," she added hastily. "Is there any news?"

    "None, except----"

    Then he remembered that she knew nothing whatever of her father's death and its tragic sequel, and this was not the moment to tell her. Later, when she was stronger, perhaps.

    She was watching him with trouble in her eyes. She had noted how quickly he had stopped and guessed that there was something to be told which he was withholding for fear of hurting her. Her father was uppermost in her mind and it was natural that she should think of him.

    "Is there any news of my father?" she asked quietly.

    "None," he lied.

    "You're not speaking the truth, Stafford." She put her hand on his arm. "Stafford, is there any news of my father?"

    He looked at her, and she saw the pain in his face.

    "Why don't you wait a little while, and I'll tell you all the news," he said with an assumption of gaiety. "There have been several fashionable weddings----"

    "Please tell me," she said, "Stafford. I've been for weeks under the influence of a drug, and somehow it has numbed pain, even mental pain, and perhaps you will never find me in a better condition to hear--the worst."

    "The worst has happened, Maisie," he said gently.

    "He has been arrested?" she asked.

    He shook his head.

    "No, dear, worse than that."

    "Not--not suicide?" she said between her set teeth.

    Again he shook his head. "He is dead," he said softly.

    "Dead!"

    There was a long silence which he did not break.

    "Dead!" she said again. "How?"

    "He was shot by--we think it was by a member of the Boundary Gang, a man named Raoul."

    She looked up at him.

    "I have never heard my father speak of him."

    "He was a man imported from France, according to our theory."

    "And was he captured?"

    "He was killed too," said Stafford; "he was caught in the act and instantly executed."

    "By whom?" she asked.

    "By Jack o' Judgment," replied Stafford.

    "Jack o' Judgment!" She breathed the words. "And I--I never thanked him! I never knew!"

    He told her the story step by step of the discovery which the police had made and the theories they had formed.

    "He was lured there," said the girl.

    She did not cry. She seemed incapable of tears.

    "He was lured there and murdered, and Jack o' Judgment slew his murderer? Poor father! Poor, dear daddy!"

    And then the tears came.

    Half an hour later he left her in charge of the nurse and went back to Scotland Yard to report.
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