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    Chapter 37

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    Chapter 37
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    THE FALL OF PINTO

    Whilst Pinto was putting the finishing touches to his scheme of flight, the colonel paced his room, whistling the "Soldiers' Chorus" jerkily. He was restless and nervous, and rendered all the more irritable by the disappearance of his servant, a minor member of the gang, who had been a participant in every act of villainy, and who had been in charge of the arrangements for the abduction of Maisie White. Twice in the course of the evening he wandered through the hall, opened the outer door, and looked out on to the landing.

    On the first occasion there was nothing to see, but on the second it was only by the narrowest margin of time that he failed to detect a dark figure moving noiselessly up the stairs and disappearing on to the second landing. The man above heard the door open and close again, and stood watching. Then, when no sound reached him, he moved to the door of Pinto's flat, opened it, deposited the suit-case which he was carrying in the hall, and closed the door softly behind him.

    He was within for about a quarter of an hour, then he reappeared, and still carrying his suit-case, passed swiftly down the stairs and out into the street. The clock struck half-past nine as he disappeared, and a quarter of an hour later Stafford King received by special messenger a communication which gave him something to think about. He read it through twice, then called up the First Commissioner and gave him the gist of the communication.

    "That's the third time we've had this sort of message," he said.

    "The others have proved right," said the Commissioner's voice, "why shouldn't this?"

    "But it seems incredible," said Stafford in perplexity. "We've been watching these people for years and we've never found them with the goods."

    "I should certainly act on it, King, if I were you," said the Commissioner. "Let me know what happens. Of course, you may make a mistake, but you must take a chance on that."

    Pinto had a lot of business to do at the theatre that night. For a week he had not banked the theatre's takings, but had converted them into paper money, and now he took from his safe the last penny he could carry. It was half-past eleven when he came to his Club, where supper had been prepared for him. He paid the bill from notes he had taken from the bank that day. Presently the waiter came back.

    "I beg your pardon, sir, but the cashier says that this note is a wrong 'un."

    "A wrong 'un?" said Pinto in surprise, and took it in his hand.

    There was no doubt whatever that the man was right. It was the most obvious forgery he had ever handled.

    "Then I've been sold," he smiled; "here's another."

    He took the second note and examined it. That also was bad, as he could tell at a glance. In the tail pocket of his dress-coat he had the money he had taken from the theatre and was able to settle the bill. He was worried on the journey back to the flat. He had drawn a hundred pounds from the bank that morning in five-pound notes. He remembered putting them into his pocket-book and had no occasion to disturb them since. It was unlikely that the bank would have given him such obvious forgeries. He was stepping from the taxi when the awful truth dawned on him. The notes had been planted, the forgeries substituted for the good paper! He was putting his hand in his pocket, intending to take out the money and push it down the nearest drain, when he was gripped.

    "Sorry and all that," said a voice.

    He turned round shaking like an aspen.

    "Stafford King," he said dully.

    "Stafford King it is. I have a warrant for your arrest, Silva, on a charge of forging and uttering. Bring him up to his rooms."

    The colonel heard the noise on the stairs and came to the door. He stood, a silent spectator, watching with unmoved face the procession as it passed up to the floor above.

    "I want your key," said Stafford, and humbly the Portuguese handed it to him.

    Stafford opened the door and snapped on the light.

    "Bring him in," he said to the detective who held Pinto. "What room is this?"

    "My dining-room," said Pinto faintly.

    Stafford entered the room, turning on the light as he did so.

    "Hullo, Pinto," he said.

    Pinto could only look.

    The table was littered with copper-plates and ink rollers. There was a thick pad of counterfeit money on one corner of the table, held down by a paper weight; little bottles of acids were scattered about, and near the table was a small lever press, so small that a man might carry it in a corner of his handbag.

    "I think I have got you, Pinto," said Stafford King, and Pinto Silva nodded before he fell limply into the arms of his captor.

    * * * * * * *

    Maisie White had gone to bed early and the bell rang three times before she awoke. She slipped into a dressing-gown, and, going to the window, leaned out. She looked down upon the upturned face of a girl and in spite of the distance and the darkness of the night, recognised her. The man who stood in the background, however, she could not for the moment place. Nevertheless, she did not hesitate to go downstairs.

    "Is that Miss White?" asked the girl.

    "Yes. It is Lollie Marsh, isn't it? Won't you come in?"

    Lollie was hesitant.

    "Yes," she said after awhile and they went upstairs together. "I'm very sorry I disturbed you, Miss White, but it is a matter which can't very well wait. You know that Mr. Stafford King has been kind to me?"

    Maisie nodded. She was looking at the girl with interest and was surprised to note how pretty she was. She could not forget what Lollie Marsh had done for her that dreadful night at the nursing home, and if the truth be told, she had inspired the assistance which Stafford had been giving the girl.

    "Mr. King has booked my passage to America, as you probably know," Lollie went on, "but at the last moment I have been obliged to change my plans."

    "I'm sorry to hear that," said the girl. "I was hoping that you'd get away before----"

    "I am hoping to get away before," Lollie smiled faintly. "But you see, one has to be very quick, because things are moving at such a rapid rate. They arrested Pinto to-night--we only just heard of it."

    "Arrested Silva?" said the girl in surprise. "That is news to me. What is the charge?"

    "I didn't quite understand what the charge was. I know he's arrested," said Lollie. "The colonel has advised me to get out as quickly as I can. And there's a big chance for me, Miss White. I'm going to be married!"

    She blurted the words out, and Maisie stared at her. Somehow she had never thought of Lollie Marsh as a person who would get married, and it was amazing to see the confusion and shyness in which her confession had thrown her.

    "I congratulate you with all my heart," said Maisie. "Who is the fortunate man?"

    "I can't tell you. Yes, I will," said the girl. "I'll trust you. I'm marrying Jack Crewe."

    "Crewe? I remember. Mr. King spoke about him. But isn't he one of the--isn't he a friend of the colonel?"

    Lollie nodded.

    "Yes, but we're going away to-night. That is why I came to see you."

    Maisie White clasped the girl's hands in hers.

    "You yourself are facing a great happiness and a beautiful life," pleaded Lollie, her eyes filling with tears. "Can't you feel some sympathy with me? For I want love and happiness and security more even than you, because you have never known anything of the dreadful apprehensions and uncertainties such as I have passed through. And I want you to help me in this. I'm not going to ask you to influence Mr. King to do anything but his duty. But I want just a chance for Jack."

    Maisie shook her head.

    "I don't know that I can promise that," she said. "Mr. King has always spoken of your friend as one of the least dangerous of the gang. When are you leaving?"

    "To-night."

    "To-night? But how?"

    "That's a secret."

    "But it is a secret I won't reveal," smiled Maisie.

    "By aeroplane," said Lollie after a moment's hesitation, and told the story of Pinto's preparation.

    "You'd better not tell me where you're going," warned Maisie, but she didn't stop Lollie in time. "Well, I wish you luck and I'll do my best for you." She stopped and kissed the girl.

    "There's one warning I want to give you, Miss White," said Lollie as she stood in the doorway. "The colonel is a desperate man and I don't think somehow that he's coming through this with his life. He's been a good friend of mine up to a point and according to his lights, but you've been good and Mr. King has been more than good. Beware of the colonel now that you have him at bay! That is all!"

    Then she was gone.
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