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    Chapter 35

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    Chapter 35
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    The colonel wiped his burnt and discoloured hands after he had dropped the last diamond into a medicine bottle which the bank manager happened to have in the room.

    "That's something saved from the wreck, at any rate," he said.

    He had gone suddenly old, and his mouth trembled, as many a younger mouth had trembled in despair that Colonel Boundary might become a rich man.

    "Something saved from the wreck," he repeated slowly.

    The manager's grave eyes were fixed on his.

    "I'm not blaming you, Ferguson," said the colonel. "It was a plot to ruin me, and it succeeded."

    "What do you think happened?" asked the troubled Ferguson.

    "The second package was a box filled with a very strong acid," said the colonel. "Probably the box was made of soft metal, through which the acid would eat in a few hours. It was placed in the safe, and in time the corrosive worked through----"

    He shrugged his shoulders and left the room without another word.

    "Thirty-five years' work that represents, Crewe," he said as they were driving back to the flat; "thirty-five years of risk and thought and organisation, and ended in pulp--stinking pulp--that burns your fingers when you touch it."

    He began to whistle and Crewe noticed with curiosity that he chose the "Soldiers' Chorus" from "Faust" for the dirge to his lost fortune.

    "Jack o' Judgment!" he said wonderingly. "Jack o' Judgment! Well, he's had his judgment all right, and I'm going to have mine. You needn't tell Pinto what happened this morning. Leave him guessing. He's got a pretty thick bank-roll, and I'll agree to that grand scheme of his for sharing out."

    The thought seemed to cheer him, and by the time they reached the flat he was almost jovial.

    "Well, what's the news?" asked Pinto eagerly.

    "Fine," said the colonel. "Everything is as it should be."

    "Stop rotting," growled the other. "What is the news?"

    "The news, my lad," said the colonel, "is that I've decided to agree to your unselfish suggestion."

    "What's that?" said the unsuspicious Pinto.

    "That we should pool and divide."

    "Jack o' Judgment's got your money, too!" said Pinto, who cherished no illusions about the colonel's generosity.

    "How well he knows me!" said Boundary. "Now, come, Pinto, we're all in this, sink or swim. I told Crewe going down that I intended dividing; didn't I, Crewe?"

    "You said something like that," said Crewe cautiously.

    "Now we'll pool our money," said the colonel, "and split three ways. I'll make a fair proposition. We'll divide it into four and the man who puts in the most shall take two shares. Is it a bet?"

    "I suppose so," said Pinto reluctantly. "What is the truth about your money? Did Jack o' Judgment get it?"

    "I hadn't any money," said the colonel blandly. "I've about a thousand pounds hidden away in this room; that is all, if Jack hasn't been in."

    He unlocked the safe and made an inspection.

    "Yes, a little over a thousand, if anything. How much have you, Crewe?"

    "Three thousand," said Crewe.

    "That makes four thousand. Now what have you got, Pinto?"

    "I've about five thousand," said Pinto, trying to appear unconcerned.

    The colonel made a little whistling noise through his teeth.

    "Bring fifty," he said. "I'm dead serious, Pinto. Bring fifty!"

    "But how can I get it?" demanded the other frantically.

    "Get it," said the colonel. "It is highly probable that it will be of no use to any of us. Let us at least have the illusion of being well off."

    * * * * * * *

    In greater leisure than either of her three companions in crime were exhibiting, Lollie Marsh was preparing to take her departure to New York. She was packing at leisure in her cosy flat on Tavistock Avenue, stopping now and again to consider the problem of the superfluous article of clothing--a problem which presents itself to all packers.

    Between whiles she arrested her labours to think of something else. Kneeling down by the side of her trunk, she would give herself up to long reveries, which ended in a sigh and the resumption of her packing.

    By the commonly accepted standards of civilisation she was a wicked woman, but there are degrees of wickedness. She had searched her mind to recall all the qualms she had felt in her long association with the Boundary Gang, and took an unusual pleasure in her strange recollection. She remembered when she had refused to be drawn into the Crotin fraud; she recalled her stormy interview with the colonel when she declined to take a part in the ruining of young Debenham.

    But mostly she was glad that she had never gone any farther to carry out the colonel's instructions in regard to Stafford King. Not that she would have succeeded, she told herself with a little smile, but she was glad she had never seriously tried. Her mind switched to Crewe and switched back again. Crewe's was the one face she did not wish to see, the one member of the gang that she put aside from the others and wilfully veiled. Crewe had always been kind to her, always courteous, her champion in all bad times, and yet had never made love to her. She wondered what had brought him down to his present level, and why a man possessed of education, and who at one time, as she knew, had been an officer in a crack regiment, should have fallen so readily under Boundary's influence.

    She made a little face and went on with her packing. She did not want to think about Crewe for obvious reasons. Yet, as he had said---- But he hadn't said, she told herself. Very likely he was married, though that fact did not greatly trouble the girl. Such men as these have always a good as well as a bad past, pleasant as well as bitter memories, and possibly he included amongst the former the recollection of a girl whose shoelaces Lollie Marsh was not fit to tie.

    She took a delight in torturing herself with pictures of her own humiliation, though she may have counted it to the good that she was capable of feeling humiliated at all. She finished her trunk, squeezed in the last article and locked down the lid. She looked at her wrist watch--it was half-past nine. Stafford King had not asked to see her, and she had the evening free.

    She had only spoken the truth when she had told Boundary that the police chief had made no inquiries as to the gang. Stafford King knew human nature rather well, and he would not make the mistake of questioning her. Or perhaps it was because he did not wish to spoil the value of his gifts by fixing a price--the price of treachery.

    She wondered what the colonel was doing, and Pinto--and Crewe. She impatiently stamped her foot. She was indulging in the kind of insanity of which hitherto she had shown no symptoms. She looked at her watch again and then remembered the Orpheum. It was a favourite house of hers. She could always get a free box if there was one vacant, and she had spent many of her lonely evenings in that way. She had always declined Pinto's offer to share his own, and of late he had got out of the habit of inviting her.

    She dressed and took a taxi to the Orpheum. The booking office clerk knew her, and without asking her desires drew a slip from the ticket rack.

    "I can give you Box C to-night, Miss Marsh," he said. "That is the one above the governor's."

    The "governor" was Pinto.

    "Have you a good house?"

    The youth shook his head.

    "We're not having the houses we had when Miss White was here," he said. "What's become of her, miss?"

    "I don't know," said Lollie shortly.

    She had to pass to the back of Pinto's box to reach the little staircase which led to the box above. She thought she heard voices, and stopping at the door, listened. Perhaps Crewe had come down or the colonel. But it was not Crewe's voice she heard. The door was slightly ajar, and the man who was talking was evidently on the point of departure, because she glimpsed his hand upon the handle and his voice was so distinct that he must have been quite near her.

    "----three o'clock in the morning. You can't miss the aerodrome. It is a mile out of Bromley on the main road and on the right. You will see three red lamps burning in a triangle."

    The aerodrome! She put her hand to her mouth to suppress an exclamation. Pinto was talking, but his voice was a mumble.

    "Very good," said the strange voice. "I can carry three or four passengers if you like. There's plenty of room--of course, if you're by yourself, so much the better. I shall expect you at three o'clock. The weather's beautiful."

    The door opened and she crouched against the wall so that the opening door hid her, and heard Pinto call the man back by name.

    "Cartwright!" she repeated. "Cartwright. A mile out of Bromley on the main road. Three lamps in a red triangle!"

    She was going to slip up the stairs, but the door had closed on Cartwright, and making a swift decision she passed the box and came again into the vestibule of the theatre. Presently she saw the man appear. She guessed it was he by the smile on his face, and when he said "Good night" to the attendant at the barrier she recognised his voice. She followed him but let him get outside the theatre before she spoke to him. Then suddenly she laid her hand on his arm: "Mr. Cartwright!"

    He looked round into her smiling face in surprise, taking off his hat.

    "That is my name," he said with a smile. "I don't remember----"

    "Oh, I'm a friend of Mr. Silva," she said. "I've heard a lot about you."

    "Oh, indeed?" said he.

    He was a little puzzled because he thought that the projected flight was a dead secret; and she guessed his thoughts.

    "You won't tell Mr. Silva I told you? He begged me not to repeat it to anybody, even to you. But he's leaving to-morrow morning, isn't he?"

    He nodded.

    "I know an awful lot," she said, and then: "Won't you come and have supper with me? I'm starving!"

    Cartwright hesitated. He had not expected so charming a diversion, and really there was no reason why he should not accept the invitation. He was not due at Bromley until early in the morning, and the girl was young and pretty and a friend of his employer. It was she who hailed the taxi and they drove to a select little restaurant at the back of Shaftesbury Avenue.

    "You're not seeing Pinto--I mean Mr. Silva--again to-night, are you?" she asked.

    "No, I'm not seeing him until--well, until I see him," he smiled again.

    "Well, I want to tell you something."

    He thought she was charmingly embarrassed, and in truth she was, to invent the story she had to tell.

    "You know why Mr. Silva is leaving England in such a hurry?"

    He nodded. She wished she knew too, or had the slightest inkling of the yarn which Pinto had spun. And then the man enlightened her.

    "Political," he said.

    "Exactly; political," she said easily. "But you will realise that it is not necessarily he himself who is making this flight."

    "I did understand that he was making the flight himself," said the aviator in surprise.

    "But"--she was desperate now--"has he never told you of the other gentleman who was coming, the other political person who really must go to Portugal at once?"

    "No, he certainly did not," said Cartwright; "he told me distinctly that he was going himself."

    The girl leaned back in her chair, baffled, but thoughtful.

    "Oh, of course, he told you that," she said with a knowing smile. "You see, there are some things he is not allowed to tell you. But do not be surprised if you have two passengers instead of one."

    "I shan't be surprised, I shall be pleased. The machine will carry half a dozen," said Cartwright readily, "but I certainly thought----"

    "Wait till you see him," said the girl, waving a warning finger with mock solemnity.

    He found her a cheerful companion through the meal, but there were certain intervals of abstraction in her cheerfulness, intervals when she was thinking very rapidly and reconstructing the plan which Pinto had made. So he was one of the rats who were deserting the sinking ship and leaving the Colonel and Crewe to face the music. And Crewe--that was the thought uppermost in her mind.

    When she parted from the pilot she had only one thought--to warn the colonel of Pinto's treachery--and Crewe. And somehow Crewe seemed to bulk most importantly at that moment.
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