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    Chapter 26

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    Chapter 26
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    Mrs. Cornford's Lodger

    Jim filled up the tank of his car, stacked a couple of tins in the dickey and drove the machine into the village, stopping first at the post office to send a wire to Binger, and then at the blacksmith's shop, which, since the demise of the garage, had served the rough needs of motorists. The complicated repairs which he described to the blacksmith could not be carried out at Creith, as he well knew.

    "You had better take the car to Horsham, Mr. Morlake," said the blacksmith. "I don't know enough about these here machines to do the work you want."

    The police watcher saw him drive off and strolled across to the blacksmith to discover what was the trouble.

    "His steering apparatus has gone wrong," said the smith. "He has patched it up himself, but I told him it is dangerous to drive and he's taken it over to Bolley's at Horsham."

    Satisfied, Detective Spooner went back to his chief and reported. Just as it was getting dark, Jim returned by the little motor omnibus which plied three times a day between Creith and Horsham. This also Spooner reported.

    "I don't see what's the use of keeping us down here at all," said Sergeant Milligan. "It's a dead and alive hole, and it's not likely that Morlake is going to start anything just yet. The trial's shaken him up a bit."

    "I wish he'd get in the habit of going to bed early," grumbled his subordinate. "I had a talk with the butler--who is going back to him, by the way--and he said that he'd never known his boss to have insomnia before."

    "Perhaps it is his conscience," said Milligan hopefully.

    Soon after Jim returned to the house, Binger arrived with a small handbag, containing all that was necessary for him in the matter of changes, and William Cleaver showed him into Jim's room.

    "I've got a job for you that you'll like, Binger," said Jim. "It is to sit in a chair and do nothing for five or six hours every night. You will be able to sleep in the day and I've not the slightest doubt that you'll also put in a few short winks whilst on duty."

    Binger, whose face had fallen at the suggestion of work, brightened up again.

    "I'm not naturally a lazy man, sir," he said, "but I find at my time of life, after my military experience, that things tire me very hastily. I think it must be the fever I got in Hindia. It isn't that I'm lazy--ho no! Work I love. Are you having a hard time 'ere, sir?--I expect you hare! Naturally the gentry would be a bit put out, you being a burglar, sir. I'm sure the way the reporters came hafter me when you was in jug was disgraceful. They put my portrait in the papers, sir--maybe you saw it?" He fumbled in his pocket and took out a large, creased and somewhat idealised photograph of Mr. Binger. "Not that I court publicity, sir, to use a foreign hexpression, but if you're in the public heye, you're in the public heye, and there's no getting away from it. This Mommet" (he referred to Mahmet thus) "he doesn't mind at all. Being a Hafrican, he 'asn't got any sense. You've given it hup, I suppose, sir?"

    "Given what hup?" asked Jim.

    "Burglarising, sir."

    He saw an unfamiliar object standing on a side table.

    "Going in for music, sir?" he asked.

    Jim looked across at the big gramophone that had been delivered to him a few days before.

    "Yes, I've developed a pretty taste in jazz," he said. "Now listen to my instructions, Binger, and they are to be carried out to the letter. To-night at ten o'clock you will take up your post outside my door. You can have the most comfortable chair you can find, and I don't mind very much if you sleep. But nobody is to come into this room--you understand? And under no circumstances am I to be interrupted. If any detectives call----"

    "Detectives?" said the startled Binger.

    "There are two in Creith," said Jim coolly, "but I don't think they will worry you. But if they call, knock at the front door, or do anything after ten o'clock, they are not to be admitted unless they can produce a warrant signed by a magistrate, which is extremely unlikely. You understand?"

    "Yes, sir. Do you want me to bring you in some coffee?"

    "I want you to bring me in nothing," said Jim sharply. "If you attempt to come in or interrupt me, you'll be fired."

    He had the best dinner he had had in weeks that night, for the majority of the staff were again on duty. At half-past nine he interviewed Cleaver, who was already making preparations to retire for the night.

    Jim strolled into the grounds and walked to the gate. The road was deserted, but in the shadow of a hedge he saw a red spark of light that glowed and died with regularity. It was the cigar of the watcher, and he smiled to himself.

    Going back to his study, he found that Binger, with a rug and a chair, had taken up his position in the hall.

    "Good-night, Binger," he said and locked the door.

    Though the house was equipped for electric lighting, the petrol engine which supplied the current had not been working since his return. On his study table was a shaded vapour lamp, which threw a powerful light on to the desk. The shade he had removed and the brilliance of the flame was almost blinding.

    He picked up the gramophone and put it on the table in the middle of the room, wound it tight and regulated the turn-table until it moved at its slowest pace. Then, from his desk, he took a long steel rod, which he screwed into the end of the turn-table. To this he had fixed a tiny cardboard figure, the silhouette of a man with his hands behind him, clamped to a piece of stout wire. This he fastened to the end of the rod, and carrying the vapour lamp from his desk, placed it in the centre of the turn-table and released the catch. The disc turned slowly and with it the lamp and the cardboard figure. Presently the blurred shadow of the silhouette passed across the white window shade.

    "There he goes again!" groaned Detective Spooner, as he saw the shadow pass. "How long is he going to keep that up?"

    Apparently not for long, for Jim stopped the machine, and, passing upstairs to his room, changed into an old black suit. Over this he drew a tightly fitting ulster that reached almost to his heels, and this, with a soft black hat, completed his wardrobe. He put his tools and gun in his pocket, added a small but powerful electric torch and looked at his watch. It was half-past ten. The house was silent. He went back to the study and, going close to the door, called Binger.

    "Are you all right?"

    "Yes, sir."

    "Remember I am not to be interrupted."

    "No, sir, I quite understand."

    From the voice he gathered that the watchful Binger was already half asleep.

    He set the gramophone working again, watched it for a little while, regulating the speed, and then, passing up to his bedroom, crossed to the window at the back of the house, and, lifting the sash, stepped out upon a small balcony.

    In a minute he was in the grounds, making his way furtively in the shadow of the bushes to the little footbridge that led to the Creith estate. Ten minutes' walk and he came to an isolated barn, approached by a cart track across a field which was his property, and here the car was waiting....

    "He's at it again," said Spooner to his sergeant who had strolled up to join the watcher. "There he goes," as a shadow crossed the window jerkily.

    Spooner groaned.

    "This means an all-night job," he said.

    At that moment Jim's car was running up the Haymarket in a drizzle of rain. He turned into Wardour Street and, putting the machine at the tail of a long queue of cars that were waiting here to pick up the theatre traffic, he walked into Shaftesbury Avenue and hailed a taxi. As the car drew up, the door of a saloon bar was pushed open violently and a man stumbled out.

    He fell against Jim, who caught and jerked him to his feet.

    "'Scuse me!" said the drunkard, "had a slight argument ... on purely abstrac' question of metaphysics," he got the word out with difficulty.

    Jim looked at him closely. It was the young man who had come to his house on the night of the storm.

    "Hello, my friend, you're a long way from home," he said, before he remembered that he particularly did not wish to be recognised. But the man was incapable of recognition.

    The taxicab was waiting, and, seeing the little crowd that was gathering, he pushed the sot into the car.

    "Drive to Long Acre," he said.

    At this hour of the night the street of wholesale fruit salesmen and motor-car depôts would be empty. Stopping the cab in the quietest part of the street, he guided his companion to the sidewalk.

    "Now, Mr. Soak, I advise you to go home."

    "Home!" said the other bitterly. "Got no home! Got no friends, got no girl!"

    "Perhaps that is not unfortunate--for the girl," said Jim, impatient to be gone.

    "Is it? I dunno. I'd like to get hold of the girl who played the trick on me. I'd kill her--I would, I'd kill her!"

    His weak face was distorted with sudden rage and then he burst into drunken tears.

    "She ruined my life, damn her!" he sobbed, "and I don't know her, except her Christian name, don't know anything except that her father's a lord ... she's got a little heart-shaped scar on the back of her hand."

    "What is the name of this girl who--who ruined your life?" asked Jim huskily.

    The young man wiped his eyes and gulped.

    "Joan--that is her name, Joan ... she played it low down on me and if I ever find her, I'll kill her!"
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