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    Chapter 34

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    Chapter 34
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    CONSCIENCE MONEY

    The colonel was sleeping peacefully when Pinto rushed into his bedroom with the news. He was awake in a second and sat up in bed.

    "What!" he said incredulously.

    "Selby's pinched," said Pinto, his voice shaking. "My God! It's awful! It's dreadful! Colonel, we've got to get away to-day. I tell you they'll have us----"

    "Just shut up for a minute, will you?" growled the colonel, swinging out of bed and searching for his slippers with the detached interest of one who was hearing a little gossip from the morning papers. "What is the charge against him?"

    "Loitering with intention to commit a felony," said Pinto. "They took him to the station and searched his bag. He had brought a bag with him in preparation for the journey. And what do you think they found?"

    "I know what they found," said the colonel; "a complete kit of burglar's tools. The fool must have left his bag in the hall and of course Jack o' Judgment planted the stuff. It is simple!"

    "What can we do?" wailed Pinto. "What can we do?"

    "Engage the best lawyer you can. Do it through one of your pals," said the colonel. "It will go hard with Selby. He's had a previous conviction."

    "Do you think he'll split?" asked Pinto.

    He looked yellow and haggard and he had much to do to keep his teeth from chattering.

    "Not for a day or two," said the colonel, "and we shall be away by then. Does Crewe know?"

    Pinto shook his head.

    "I haven't any time to run about after that swine," he said impatiently.

    "Well, you'd better do a little running now then," said the colonel. "We may want his signature for the bank."

    "What are you going to do?"

    "I'm going to draw what we've got and I advise you to do the same. I suppose you haven't made any preparations to get away, have you?"

    "No," lied Pinto, remembering with thankfulness that he had received a letter that morning from the aviator Cartwright, telling him that the machine was in good order and ready to start at any moment. "No, I have never thought of getting away, colonel. I've always said I'll stick to the colonel----"

    "H'm!" said the colonel, and there was no very great faith in Pinto revealed in his grunt.

    Crewe came along an hour later and seemed the least perturbed of the lot.

    "Here's the cheque-book," said the colonel, taking it from a drawer. "Now the balance we have," he consulted a little waistcoat-pocket notebook, "is £81,317. I suggest we draw £80,000, split it three ways and part to-night."

    "What about your own private account?" asked Pinto.

    "That's my business," said the colonel sharply. He filled in the cheque, signed his name with a flourish and handed the pen to Crewe.

    Crewe put his name beneath, saw that the cheque was made payable to bearer, and handed the book to the colonel.

    "Here, Pinto." The colonel detached the form and blotted it. "Take a taxi-cab, see Ferguson, bring the money straight back here. Or, better still, go on to the City to the New York Guaranty and change it into American money."

    "Do you trust Pinto?" asked Crewe bluntly after the other had gone.

    "No," said the colonel, "I don't trust Pinto or you. And if Pinto had plenty of time I shouldn't expect to see that money again. But he's got to be back here in a couple of hours, and I don't think he can get away before. Besides, at the present juncture," he reflected, "he wouldn't bolt because he doesn't know how serious the position is."

    "Where are you going, colonel?" asked Crewe curiously. "I mean, when you get away from here?"

    Boundary's broad face creased with smiles.

    "What a foolish question to ask," he said. "Timbuctoo, Tangier, America, Buenos Ayres, Madrid, China----"

    "Which means you're not going to tell, and I don't blame you," said Crewe.

    "Where are you going?" asked the colonel. "If you're a fool you'll tell me."

    Crewe shrugged his shoulders.

    "To gaol, I guess," he said bitterly, and the colonel chuckled.

    "Maybe you've answered the question you put to me," he said, "but I'm going to make a fight of it. Dan Boundary is too old in the bones and hates exercise too much to survive the keen air and the bracing employment of Dartmoor--if we ever got there," he said ominously.

    "What do you mean?" demanded Crewe.

    "I mean that, when they've photographed Selby and circulated his picture, somebody is certain to recognise him as the man who handed the glass of water over the heads of the crowd when Hanson was killed----"

    "Was it Selby?" gasped Crewe. "I wasn't in it. I knew nothing about it----"

    The colonel laughed again.

    "Of course you're not in anything," he bantered. "Yes, it was Selby, and it is ten chances to one that the usher would recognise him again if he saw him. That would mean--well, they don't hang folks at Dartmoor." He looked at his watch again. "I expect Pinto will be about an hour and a half," he said. "You will excuse me," he added with elaborate politeness "I have a lot of work to do."

    He cleared the drawers of his writing-table by the simple process of pulling them out and emptying their contents upon the top. He went through these with remarkable rapidity, throwing the papers one by one into the fire, and he was engaged in this occupation when Pinto returned.

    "Back already?" said the colonel in surprise, and then, after a glance at the other's face, he demanded: "What's wrong?"

    Pinto was incapable of speech. He just put the cheque down upon the table.

    "Haven't they cashed it?" asked the colonel with a frown.

    "They can't cash it," said Pinto in a hollow voice. "There's no money there."

    The colonel picked up the cheque.

    "So there's no money there to meet it?" he said softly. "And why is there no money there to meet it?"

    "Because it was drawn out three days ago. I thought----" said Pinto incoherently. "I saw Ferguson, and he told me that a cheque for the full amount came through from the Bank of England."

    "In whose favour was it drawn?"

    Pinto cleared his throat.

    "In favour of the Chancellor of the Exchequer," he said. "That's why Ferguson passed it without question. He said that otherwise he would have sent a note to you."

    "The Chancellor of the Exchequer!" snarled the colonel. "What does it mean?"

    "Look here! Ferguson showed it me himself." He took a copy of The Times from his pocket and laid it on the table, pointing out the paragraph with trembling fingers.

    It was in the advertisement column and it was brief:

    "The Chancellor of the Exchequer desires to acknowledge the receipt of £81,000 Conscience Money from Colonel D. B."

    "Conscience money!"

    The colonel sat back in his chair and laughed softly. He was genuinely amused.

    "Of course, we can get this back," he said at last. "We can explain to the Chancellor of the Exchequer the trick that has been played upon us, but that means delay, and at the moment delay is really dangerous. I suppose both you fellows have money of your own? I know Pinto has. How do you stand, Crewe?"

    "I have a little," said Crewe, "but honestly, I was depending upon my share of the Gang Fund."

    "What about you, colonel?" asked Pinto meaningly. "If I may suggest it, we should pool our money and divide."

    The colonel smiled.

    "Don't be silly," he said tersely. "I doubt whether my balance at the bank is more than a couple of thousand pounds."

    "But what about your private safe?" persisted Pinto. "A-ha! You didn't know I knew that, did you? As a matter of fact, Ferguson told me----"

    "What the devil does Ferguson mean by discussing my business?" said the colonel wrathfully. "What did he tell you?"

    "He told me that the package was received and that he had put it with the other in your safe."

    "Package!" The colonel's voice was quiet, almost inaudible. "The package was received! When was the package received?"

    "Yesterday," said Pinto. "He said it came along and he put it with the other. Now what have you got in----"

    But the colonel was walking towards his bedroom with rapid strides. Presently he reappeared with his hat and coat on.

    "Come with me, Crewe. We'll go down to the bank," he said. "You stay here, Pinto, and report anything that happens."

    When they were on their way he confided to the other:

    "I have a little money put aside," he said, "and I'm willing to finance you. You haven't been a bad fellow, Crewe. The only rotten turn you've ever done us is introducing that damned fellow, 'Snow' Gregory, and you didn't even do that, for I had met him before you brought him from Monte--which reminds me. Have you found out anything about him?"

    "I have a letter here from Oxford," said Crewe, putting his hand in his pocket. "I hadn't opened my letters when Pinto came. You'll find all the news there, if there is any news."

    He handed the envelope to the other and the colonel transferred it to his pocket.

    "That'll keep," he said. "What was I talking about? Oh, yes, Gregory. The whole of this business has come about through Gregory. Gregory made Jack o' Judgment, and Jack o' Judgment has ruined us."

    He sprang from the taxi at the door of the bank with an agile step, and went straight to the manager's office. Without any preliminary he began:

    "What is this package that came for me yesterday, Ferguson?"

    The manager looked surprised.

    "It was an ordinary package, similar to that which you put in the safe the other day. It was sealed and wrapped and had your name on it. I rather wondered you hadn't brought it yourself, but it was put into your safe in the presence of two clerks."

    "I'd like to see it," said the colonel.

    Ferguson led the way down the stairs to the vaults and snapped back the lock of Safe 20. As he did so Crewe was conscious of a faint, musty odour.

    "I smell something," said the colonel suspiciously.

    He reached his hand into the safe and pulled open the long drawer, and as he did so a cloud of sickly-smelling vapour rose from its interior. For the first time Crewe heard Boundary groan. He pulled the drawer out under the light and looked in. There was nothing but a black mass of pulp, out of which glinted and gleamed a dozen pin-points of light.

    With a howl of rage the colonel turned the contents upon the stone floor of the vault and raked it over with the end of his walking-stick. The diamonds were intact, and they at least were something; but the greater part of eight hundred thousand dollars was indistinguishable from any other kind of paper that had been treated with one of the most destructive acids known to chemical science.
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