Bull-dog Drummond/Chapter 10
IN WHICH THE HUN NATION DECREASES BY ONE
Drummond had yielded to impulse—the blind, all-powerful impulse of any man who is a man to get to the woman he loves if she wants him. As he had dashed across the lawn to The Elms, with the American's warning cry echoing in his ears, he had been incapable of serious thought. Subconsciously he had known that, from every point of view, it was the act of a madman; that he was deliberately putting his head into what, in all probability, was a carefully prepared noose; that, from every point of view, he could help Phyllis better by remaining a free agent outside. But when a girl shrieks, and the man who loves her hears it, arguments begin to look tired. And what little caution might have remained to Hugh completely vanished as he saw the girl watching him with agonised terror in her face, from an upstair window, as he dashed up to the house. It was only for a brief second that he saw her; then she disappeared suddenly, as if snatched away by some invisible person.
"I'm coming, darling." He had given one wild shout, and hurled himself through the door which led into the house from the garden. A dazzling light of intense brilliance had shone in his face, momentarily blinding him; then had come a crushing blow on the back of his head. One groping, wild step forward, and Hugh Drummond, dimly conscious of men all round him, had pitched forward on his face into utter oblivion.
"It's too easy." Lakington's sneering voice broke the silence, as he looked vindictively at the unconscious man.
"So you have thought before, Henry," chuckled Peterson, whose complete recovery from his recent unfortunate indisposition was shown by the steady glow of the inevitable cigar. "And he always bobs up somehow. If you take my advice you'll finish him off here and now, and run no further risks."
"Kill him while he's unconscious?" Lakington laughed evilly. "No, Carl, not under any circumstances, whatever. He has quite a lengthy score to pay and by God! he's going to pay it this time." He stepped forward and kicked Drummond twice in the ribs with a cold, animal fury.
"Well, don't kick him when he's down, guv'nor. You'll 'ave plenty o' time after." A hoarse voice from the circle of men made Lakington look up.
"You cut it out, Jem Smith," he snarled, "or I might find plenty of time after for others beside this young swine." The ex-pugilist muttered uneasily under his breath, but said no more, and it was Peterson who broke the silence.
"What are you going to do with him?"
"Lash him up like the other two," returned Lakington, "and leave him to cool until I get back to-morrow. But I'll bring him round before I go, and just talk to him for a little. I wouldn't like him not to know what was going to happen to him. Anticipation is always delightful." He turned to two of the men standing near. "Carry him into my room," he ordered, "and another of you get the rope."
And so it was that Algy Longworth and Toby Sinclair, with black rage and fury in their hearts, watched the limp form of their leader being carried into the central room. Swathed in rope, they sat motionless and impotent, in their respective chairs, while they watched the same process being performed on Drummond. He was no amateur at the game, was the rope-winder, and by the time he had finished, Hugh resembled nothing so much as a lifeless brown mummy. Only his head was free, and that lolled forward helplessly.
Lakington watched the performance for a time; then, wearying of it, he strolled over to Algy's chair.
"Well, you puppy," he remarked, "are you going to try shouting again?" He picked up the rhinoceros-hide riding-whip lying on the floor, and bent it between his hands. "That weal on your face greatly improves your beauty, and next time you'll get two, and a gag as well."
"How's the jaw, you horrible bit of dreg?" remarked Algy insultingly, and Toby laughed.
"Don't shake his nerve, Algy," he implored. "For the first time in his filthy life he feels safe in the same room as Hugh."
The taunt seemed to madden Lakington, who sprang across the room and lashed Sinclair over the face. But even after the sixth cut no sound came from the helpless man, though the blood was streaming down inside his collar. His eyes, calm and sneering, met those of the raving man in front of him without a quiver, and, at last, Peterson himself intervened.
"Stop it, Lakington." His voice was stern as he caught the other's upraised arm. "That's enough for the time."
For a moment it seemed as if Lakington would have struck Peterson himself; then he controlled himself, and, with an ugly laugh, flung the whip into a corner.
"I forgot," he said slowly. "It's the leading dog we want—not the puppies that run after him yapping." He spun round on his heel. "Have you finished ?"
The rope-artist bestowed a final touch to the last knot, and surveyed his handiwork with justifiable pride.
"Cold mutton," he remarked tersely, "would be lively compared to him when he wakes up."
"Good! Then we'll bring him to."
Lakington took some crystals from a jar on one of the shelves, and placed them in a tumbler. Then he added a few drops of liquid and held the glass directly under the unconscious man's nose. Almost at once the liquid began to effervesce, and in less than a minute Drummond opened his eyes and stared dazedly round the room. He blinked foolishly as he saw Longworth and Sinclair; then he looked down and found he was similarly bound himself. Finally he glanced up at the man bending over him, and full realisation returned.
"Feeling better, my friend?" With a mocking smile, Lakington laid the tumbler on a table close by.
"Much, thank you, Henry," murmured Hugh. "Ah! and there's Carl. How's the tummy, Carl? I hope for your sake that it's feeling stronger than the back of my head."
He grinned cheerfully, and Lakington struck him on the mouth. "You can stop that style of conversation, Captain Drummond," he remarked. "I dislike it."
Hugh stared at the striker in silence.
"Accept my congratulations," he said at length, in a low voice which, despite himself, shook a little. "You are the first man who has ever done that, and I shall treasure the memory of that blow."
"I'd hate it to be a lonely memory," remarked Lakington. "So here's another, to keep it company." Again he struck him, then with a laugh he turned on his heel. "My compliments to Miss Benton," he said to a man standing near the door, "and ask her to be good enough to come down for a few minutes."
The veins stood out on Drummond's forehead at the mention of the girl, but otherwise he gave no sign; and, in silence, they waited for her arrival.
She came almost at once, a villainous-looking blackguard with her, and as she saw Hugh she gave a pitiful little moan and held out her hand to him.
"Why did you come, boy?" she cried. "Didn't you know it was only a forgery—that note?"
"Ah! was it?" said Hugh softly. "Was it, indeed?"
"An interesting point," murmured Lakington. "Surely if a charming girl is unable—or unwilling—to write to her fiancé, her father is a very suitable person to supply the deficiency. Especially if he has been kindly endowed by Nature with a special aptitude for—er—imitating writing."
Mr. Benton, who had been standing outside the door, came lurching into the room.
"Quite ri', Laking—Laking—ton," he announced solemnly. "Dreadful thing to sep—separate two young people." Then he saw Drummond, and paused, blinking foolishly. "Whash he all tied up for li' that?"
Lakington smiled evilly.
"It would be a pity to lose him, now he's come, wouldn't it?"
The drunken man nodded two or three times; then a thought seemed to strike him, and he advanced slowly towards Hugh, wagging a finger foolishly.
"Thash reminds me, young fellah," he hiccoughed gravely, "you never asked my consent. You should have asked father's consent. Mosh incon—inconshiderate. Don't you agree with me, Mishter Peterson?"
"You will find the tantalus in the dining-room," said Peterson coldly. "I should say you require one more drink to produce complete insensibility, and the sooner you have it the better."
"Inshensibility!" With outraged dignity the wretched man appealed to his daughter. "Phyllis, did you hear? Thish man says I'sh in—inebri … says I'sh drunk. Gratui … tous inshult …"
"Oh, father, father," cried the girl, covering her face with her hands. "For pity's sake go away! You've done enough harm as it is."
Mr. Benton tacked towards the door, where he paused, swaying.
"Disgraceful," he remarked solemnly. "Rising generation no reshpect for elders and bettersh! Teach 'em lesson, Lakington. Do 'em all good. One—two—three, all ranged in a—in a row. Do 'em good——" His voice tailed off, and, after a valiant attempt to lean against a door which was not there, he collapsed gracefully in a heap on the floor.
"You vile hound," said Phyllis, turning like a young tigress on Lakington. "It's your doing entirely, that he's in that condition."
But Lakington merely laughed.
"When we're married," he answered lightly, "we'll put him into a really good home for inebriates."
"Married!" she whispered tensely. "Married! Why, you loathsome reptile, I'd kill myself before I married you."
"An excellent curtain," remarked Lakington suavely, "for the third act of a melodrama. Doubtless we can elaborate it later. In the meantime, however"—he glanced at his watch—"time presses. And I don't want to go without telling you a little about the programme, Captain Drummond. Unfortunately both Mr. Peterson and I have to leave you for to-night; but we shall be returning to-morrow morning—or, at anyrate, I shall. You will be left in charge of Heinrich—you remember the filthy Boche?—with whom you had words the other night. As you may expect, he entertains feelings of great friendship and affection for you, so you should not lack for any bodily comforts; such as may be possible in your present somewhat cramped position. Then tomorrow, when I return, I propose to try a few experiments on you, and, though I fear you will find them painful, it's a great thing to suffer in the cause of science….You will always have the satisfaction of knowing that dear little Phyllis will be well cared for." With a sudden, quick movement, he seized the girl and kissed her before she realised his intention. The rope round Drummond creaked as he struggled impotently, and Lakington's sneering face seemed to swim in a red glow.
"That is quite in keeping, is it not," he snarled "to kiss the lady, and to strike the man like this—and this—and this?…" A rain of blows came down on Drummond's face, till, with a gasping sigh, the girl slipped fainting to the floor.
"That'll do, Lakington," said Peterson, intervening once again. "Have the girl carried upstairs, and send for Heinrich. It's time we were off."
With an effort Lakington let his hand fall to his side, and stood back from his victim.
"Perhaps for the present, it will," he said slowly. "But to-morrow—to-morrow, Captain Drummond, you shall scream to Heaven for mercy, until I take out your tongue and you can scream no more." He turned as the German came into the room. "I leave them to you, Heinrich," he remarked shortly. "Use the dog-whip if they shout, and gag them."
The German's eyes were fixed on Hugh gloatingly.
"They will not shout twice," he said in his guttural voice. "The dirty Boche to it himself will see."
"We appear," remarked Hugh quietly, a few minutes later, "to be in for a cheery night."
For a moment the German had left the room, and the three motionless, bound figures, sitting grotesquely in their chairs, were alone.
"How did they get you, Toby?"
"Half a dozen of 'em suddenly appeared," answered Sinclair shortly, "knocked me on the head, and the next thing I knew I was here in this damned chair."
"Is that when you got your face?" asked Hugh.
"No," said Toby, and his voice was grim. "We share in the matter of faces, old man."
"Lakington again, was it?" said Hugh softly. "Dear Heavens! if I could get one hand on that…" He broke off and laughed. "What about you, Algy?"
"I went blundering in over the way, old bean," returned that worthy, "and some dam' fellow knocked my eye-glass off. So, as I couldn't see to kill him, I had to join the picnic here."
Hugh laughed, and then suddenly grew serious.
"By the way, you didn't see a man chewing gum on the horizon, did you, when I made my entrance? Dogrobber suit, and face like a motor-mascot."
"Thank God, I was spared that!" remarked Algy.
"Good!" returned Hugh. "He's probably away with it by now, and he's no fool. For I'm thinking it's only Peter and him between us and—" He left his remark unfinished, and for a while there was silence. "Jerry is over in France still, putting stamp-paper on his machine; Ted's gone up to see that Potts is taking nourishment."
"And here we sit like three well-preserved specimens in a bally museum," broke in Algy, with a rueful laugh. "What'll they do to us, Hugh?"
But Drummond did not answer, and the speaker, seeing the look on his face, did not press the question.
Slowly the hours dragged on, until the last gleams of daylight had faded from the skylight above, and a solitary electric light, hung centrally, gave the only illumination. Periodically Heinrich had come in to see that they were still secure; but from the sounds of hoarse laughter which came at frequent intervals through the half-open door, it was evident that the German had found other and more congenial company. At length he appeared carrying a tray with bread and water on it, which he placed on a table near Hugh.
"Food for you, you English swine," he remarked, looking gloatingly at each in turn. "Herr Lakington the order gave, so that you will be fit to-morrow morning. Fit for the torture." He thrust his flushed face close to Drummond's and then deliberately spat at him.
Algy Longworth gave a strangled grunt, but Drummond took no notice. For the past half-hour he had been sunk in thought, so much so that the others had believed him asleep. Now, with a quiet smile, he looked up at the German.
"How much, my friend," he remarked, "are you getting for this?"
The German leered at him.
"Enough to see that you to-morrow are here," he said.
"And I always believed that yours was a business nation," laughed Hugh. "Why, you poor fool, I've got a thousand pounds in notes in my cigarette-case." For a moment the German stared at him; then a look of greed came into his pig-eyes.
"You hof, hof you?" he grunted. "Then the filthy Boche will for you of them take care."
Hugh looked at him angrily.
"If you do," he cried, "you must let me go."
The German leered still more.
"Natürlich. You shall out of the house at once walk."
He stepped up to Drummond and ran his hands over his coat, while the others stared at one another in amazement. Surely Hugh didn't imagine the swine would really let him go; he would merely take the money and probably spit in his face again. Then they heard him speaking, and a sudden gleam of comprehension dawned on their faces.
"You'll have to undo one of the ropes, my friend, before you can get at it," said Hugh quietly.
For a moment the German hesitated. He looked at the ropes carefully; the one that bound the arms and the upper part of the body was separate from the rope round the legs. Even if he did undo it the fool Englishman was still helpless, and he knew that he was unarmed. Had he not himself removed his revolver, as he lay unconscious in the hall? What risk was there, after all? Besides, if he called someone else in he would have to share the money.
And, as he watched the German's indecision, Hugh's forehead grew damp with sweat.… Would he undo the rope? Would greed conquer caution?
At last the Boche made up his mind, and went behind the chair. Hugh felt him fumbling with the rope, and flashed an urgent look of caution at the other two.
"You'd better be careful, Heinrich," he remarked, "that none of the others see, or you might have to share."
The German ceased undoing the knot, and grunted. The English swine had moments of brightness, and he went over and closed the door. Then he resumed the operation of untying the rope; and, since it was performed behind the chair, he was in no position to see the look on Drummond's face. Only the two spectators could see that, and they had almost ceased breathing in their excitement. That he had a plan they knew; what it was they could not even guess.
At last the rope fell clear, and the German sprang back.
"Put the case on the table," he cried, having not the slightest intention of coming within range of those formidable arms.
"Certainly not," said Hugh, "until you undo my legs. Then you shall have it."
Quite loosely he was holding the case in one hand; but the others, watching his face, saw that it was strained and tense.
"First I the notes must have." The German strove to speak conversationally, but all the time he was creeping nearer and nearer to the back of the chair. "Then I your legs undo, and you may go." Algy's warning cry rang out simultaneously with the lightning dart of the Boche's hand as he snatched at the cigarette-case over Drummond's shoulder. And then Drummond laughed a low, triumphant laugh. It was the move he had been hoping for, and the German's wrist was held fast in his vicelike grip. His plan had succeeded.
And Longworth and Sinclair, who had seen many things in their lives, the remembrance of which will be with them till their dying day, had never seen and are never likely to see anything within measurable distance of what they saw in the next few minutes. Slowly, inexorably, the German's arm was being twisted, while he uttered hoarse, gasping cries, and beat impotently at Drummond's head with his free hand. Then at last there was a dull crack as the arm broke, and a scream of pain, as he lurched round the chair and stood helpless in front of the soldier, who still held the cigarette-case in his left hand.
They saw Drummond open the cigarette-case and take from it what looked like a tube of wood. Then he felt in his pocket and took out a match-box, containing a number of long thin splinters. And, having fitted one of the splinters into the tube, he put the other end in his mouth.
With a quick heave they saw him jerk the German round and catch his unbroken arm with his free left hand. And the two bound watchers looked at Hugh's eyes as he stared at the moaning Boche, and saw that they were hard and merciless.
There was a sharp, whistling hiss, and the splinter flew from the tube into the German's face. It hung from his cheek, and even the ceaseless movement of his head failed to dislodge it.
"I have broken your arm, Boche," said Drummond at length, "and now I have killed you. I'm sorry about it; I wasn't particularly anxious to end your life. But it had to be done."
The German, hardly conscious of what he had said owing to the pain in his arm, was frantically kicking the Englishman's legs, still bound to the chair; but the iron grip on his wrists never slackened. And then quite suddenly came the end. With one dreadful, convulsive heave the German jerked himself free, and fell doubled up on the floor. Fascinated, they watched him writhing and twisting, until at last, he lay still….The Boche was dead….
"My God!" muttered Hugh, wiping his forehead. "Poor brute."
"What was that blow-pipe affair?" cried Sinclair hoarsely.
"The thing they tried to finish me with in Paris last night," answered Hugh grimly, taking a knife out of his waistcoat pocket. "Let us trust that none of his pals come in to look for him."
A minute later he stood up, only to sit down again abruptly, as his legs gave way. They were numbed and stiff with the hours he had spent in the same position, and for a while he could do nothing but rub them with his hands, till the blood returned and he could feel once more.
Then, slowly and painfully, he tottered across to the others and set them free as well. They were in an even worse condition than he had been; and it seemed as if Algy would never be able to stand again, so completely dead was his body from the waist downwards. But, at length, after what seemed an eternity to Drummond, who realised only too well that should the gang come in they were almost as helpless in their present condition as if they were still bound in their chairs, the other two recovered. They were still stiff and cramped—all three of them—but at any rate they could move; which was more than could be said of the German, who lay twisted and rigid on the floor with his eyes staring up at them—a glassy, horrible stare.
"Poor brute!" said Hugh again, looking at him with a certain amount of compunction. "He was a miserable specimen—but still …" He shrugged his shoulders. "And the contents of my cigarette-case are half a dozen gaspers, and a ten-bob Bradbury patched together with stamp paper!"
He swung round on his heel as if dismissing the matter, and looked at the other two.
"All fit now? Good! We've got to think what we're going to do, for we're not out of the wood yet by two or three miles."
"Let's get the door open," remarked Algy, "and explore."
Cautiously they swung it open, and stood motionless. The house was in absolute silence; the hall was deserted.
"Switch out the light," whispered Hugh. "We'll wander round."
They crept forward stealthily in the darkness, stopping every now and then to listen. But no sound came to their ears; it might have been a house of the dead.
Suddenly Drummond, who was in front of the other two, stopped with a warning hiss. A light was streaming out from under a door at the end of a passage, and, as they stood watching it, they heard a man's voice coming from the same room. Someone else answered him, and then there was silence once more.
At length Hugh moved forward again, and the others followed. And it was not until they got quite close to the door that a strange, continuous noise began to be noticeable—a noise which came most distinctly from the lighted room. It rose and fell with monotonous regularity; at times it resembled a brass band—at others it died away to a gentle murmur. And occasionally it was punctuated with a strangled snort….
"Great Scott!" muttered Hugh excitedly, "the whole boiling-bunch are asleep, or I'll eat my hat."
"Then who was it that spoke?" said Algy. "At least two of 'em are awake right enough."
And, as if in answer to his question, there came the voice again from inside the room.
"Wal, Mr. Darrell, I guess we can pass on, and leave this bunch."
With one laugh of joyful amazement Hugh flung open the door, and found himself looking from the range of a yard into two revolvers.
"I don't know how you've done it, boys," he remarked, "but you can put those guns away. I hate looking at them from that end."
"What the devil have they done to all your dials?" said Darrell, slowly lowering his arm.
"We'll leave that for the time," returned Hugh grimly, as he shut the door. "There are other more pressing matters to be discussed."
He glanced round the room, and a slow grin spread over his face. There were some twenty of the gang, all of them fast asleep. They sprawled grotesquely over the table, they lolled in chairs; they lay on the floor, they huddled in corners. And, without exception, they snored and snorted.
"A dandy bunch," remarked the American, gazing at them with satisfaction. "That fat one in the corner took enough dope to kill a bull, but he seems quite happy." Then he turned to Drummond. "Say now, Captain, we've got a lorry load of the boys outside; your friend here thought we'd better bring 'em along. So it's up to you to get busy."
"Mullings and his crowd," said Darrell, seeing the look of mystification on Hugh's face. "When Mr. Green got back and told me you'd shoved your great mutton-head in it again, I thought I'd better bring the whole outfit."
"Oh, you daisy!" cried Hugh, rubbing his hands together, "you pair of priceless beans! The Philistines are delivered into our hands, even up to the neck." For a few moments he stood, deep in thought; then once again the grin spread slowly over his face. "Right up to their necks," he repeated, "so that it washes round their back teeth. Get the boys in, Peter; and get these lumps of meat carted out to the lorry. And, while you do that, we'll go upstairs and mop up."
Even in his wildest dreams Hugh had never imagined such a wonderful opportunity. To be in complete possession of the house, with strong forces at his beck and call, was a state of affairs which rendered him almost speechless.
"Up the stairs on your hands and knees," he ordered, as they stood in the hall. "There are peculiarities about this staircase which require elucidation at a later date."
But the murderous implement which acted in conjunction with the fifth step was not in use, and they passed up the stairs in safety.
"Keep your guns handy," whispered Hugh. "We'll draw each room in turn till we find the girl."
But they were not to be put to so much trouble. Suddenly a door opposite opened, and the man who had been guarding Phyllis Benton peered out suspiciously. His jaw fell, and a look of aghast surprise spread over his face as he saw the four men in front of him. Then he made a quick movement as if to shut the door, but before he realised what had happened the American's foot was against it, and the American's revolver was within an inch of his head.
"Keep quite still, son," he drawled, "or I guess it might sort of go off."
But Hugh had stepped past him, and was smiling at the girl who, with a little cry of joyful wonder, had risen from her chair.
"Your face, boy" she whispered, as he took her in his arms, regardless of the other; "your poor old face! Oh! that brute, Lakington!"
"It's something to know, old thing," he remarked cheerily, "that anything could damage it. Personally I have always thought that any change on it must be for the better."
He laughed gently, and for a moment she clung to him, unmindful of how he had got to her, glorying only in the fact that he had. It seemed to her that there was nothing which this wonderful man of hers couldn't manage; and now, blindly trusting, she waited to be told what to do. The nightmare was over; Hugh was with her….
"Where's your father, dear?" he asked her after a little pause.
"In the dining-room, I think," she answered with a shiver, and Hugh nodded gravely.
"Are there any cars outside?" He turned to the American.
"Yours," answered that worthy, still keeping his eyes fixed on his prisoner's face, which had now turned a sickly green.
"And mine is hidden behind Miss Benton's greenhouse unless they've moved it," remarked Algy.
"Good," said Hugh. "Algy, take Miss Benton and her father up to Half Moon Street—at once. Then come back here."
"But Hugh—" began the girl appealingly.
"At once, dear, please." He smiled at her tenderly, but his tone was decided. "This is going to be no place for you in the near future." He turned to Longworth and drew him aside. "You'll have a bit of a job with the old man," he whispered. "He's probably paralytic by now. But get on with it, will you? Get a couple of the boys to give you a hand."
With no further word of protest the girl followed Algy, and Hugh drew a breath of relief.
"Now, you ugly-looking blighter," he remarked to the cowering ruffian, who was by this time shaking with fright, "we come to you. How many of these rooms up here are occupied—and which?"
It appeared that only one was occupied—everyone else was below….The one opposite….In his anxiety to please, he moved towards it; and with a quickness that would have done even Hugh credit, the American tripped him up.
"Not so blamed fast; you son of a gun," he snapped, "or there sure will be an accident."
But the noise he made as he fell served a good purpose. The door of the occupied room was flung open, and a thin, weedy object clad in a flannel night-gown stood on the threshold blinking foolishly.
"Holy smoke!" spluttered the detective, after he had gazed at the apparition in stunned silence for a time. "What, under the sun, is it?"
"Why, it's the onion-eater; the intimidated rabbit," he said delightedly. "How are you, little man?"
He extended an arm, and pulled him into the passage, where he stood spluttering indignantly.
"This is an outrage, sir," he remarked; "a positive outrage."
"Your legs undoubtedly are," remarked Hugh, gazing at them dispassionately. "Put on some trousers—and, get a move on. Now you"—he jerked the other man to his feet—"when does Lakington return?"
"Termorrow, sir," stammered the other.
"Where is he now?"
The man hesitated for a moment, but the look in Hugh's eyes galvanised him into speech.
"He's after the old woman's pearls, sir—the Duchess of Lampshire's."
"Ah!" returned Hugh softly. "Of course he is. I forgot."
"Strike me dead, guv'nor," cringed the man, "I never meant no 'arm—I didn't really. I'll tell you all I know, sir. I will, strite."
"I'm quite certain you will," said Hugh. "And if you don't, you swine, I'll make you. When does Peterson come back?"
"Termorrow, too, sir, as far as I knows," answered the man, and at that moment the intimidated rabbit shot rapidly out of his room, propelled by an accurate and forcible kick from Toby, who had followed him in to ensure rapidity of toilet.
"And what's he doing?" demanded Drummond.
"On the level, guv'nor, I can't tell yer. Strite, I can't; 'e can." The man pointed to the latest arrival, who, with his nightdress tucked into his trousers, stood gasping painfully after the manner of a recently landed fish.
"I repeat, sir," he sputtered angrily, "that this is an outrage. By what right…"
"Dry up," remarked Hugh briefly. Then he turned to the American. "This is one of the ragged-trousered brigade I spoke to you about."
For a while the three men studied him in silence; then the American thoughtfully transferred his chewing-gum to a fresh place.
"Wal," he said, "he looks like some kind o' disease; but I guess he's got a tongue. Say, flop-ears, what are you, anyway?"
"I am the secretary of a social organisation which aims at the amelioration of the conditions under which the workers of the world slave," returned the other with dignity.
"You don't say," remarked the American unmoved. "Do the workers of the world know about it?"
"And I again demand to know," said the other, turning to Drummond, "the reason for this monstrous indignity."
"What do you know about Peterson, little man?" said Hugh, paying not the slightest attention to his protests.
"Nothing, save that he is the man whom we have been looking for, for years," cried the other. "The man of stupendous organising power, who has brought together and welded into one the hundreds of societies similar to mine, who before this have each, on their own, been feebly struggling towards the light. Now we are combined, and our strength is due to him."
Hugh exchanged glances with the American.
"Things become clearer," he murmured. "Tell me, little man," he continued, "now that you're all welded together, what do you propose to do?"
"That you shall see in good time," cried the other triumphantly. "Constitutional methods have failed—and, besides, we've got no time to wait for them. Millions are groaning under the intolerable bonds of the capitalist: those millions we shall free, to a life that is worthy of a man. And it will all be due to our leader—Carl Peterson."
A look of rapt adoration came into his face, and the American laughed in genuine delight.
"Didn't I tell you, Captain, that that guy was the goods?" But there was no answering smile on Hugh's face.
"He's the goods right enough," he answered grimly. "But what worries me is how to stop their delivery."
At that moment Darrell's voice came up from the hall.
"The whole bunch are stowed away, Hugh. What's the next item?" Hugh walked to the top of the stairs.
"Bring 'em both below," he cried over his shoulder, as he went down. A grin spread over his face as he saw half a dozen familiar faces in the hall, and he hailed them cheerily.
"Like old times, boys," he laughed. "Where's the driver of the lorry?"
"That's me, sir." One of the men stepped forward. "My mate's outside."
"Good!" said Hugh. "Take your bus ten miles from here: then drop that crowd one by one on the road as you go along. You can take it from me that none of 'em will say anything about it, even when they wake up. Then take her back to your garage; I'll see you later."
"Now," went on Hugh, as they heard the sound of the departing lorry, "we've got to set the scene for to-morrow morning." He glanced at his watch. "Just eleven. How long will it take me to get the old buzz-box to Laidley Towers?"
"Laidley Towers," echoed Darrell. "What the devil are you going there for?"
"I just can't bear to be parted from Henry for one moment longer than necessary," said Hugh quietly. "And Henry is there, in a praiseworthy endeavour to lift the Duchess's pearls. … Dear Henry!" His two fists clenched, and the American looking at his face, laughed softly.
But it was only for a moment that Drummond indulged in the pleasures of anticipation; all that could come after. And just now there were other things to be done—many others, if events next morning were to go as they should.
"Take those two into the centre room," he cried. "Incidentally there's a dead Boche on the floor, but he'll come in very handy in my little scheme."
"A dead Boche!" The intimidated rabbit gave a frightened squeak. "Good heavens! You ruffian, this is beyond a joke."
Hugh looked at him coldly.
"You'll find it beyond a joke, you miserable little rat," he said quietly, "if you speak to me like that." He laughed as the other shrank past him. "Three of you boys in there," he ordered briskly, "and if either of them gives the slightest trouble clip him over the head. Now let's have the rest of the crowd in here, Peter."
They came filing in, and Hugh waved a cheery hand in greeting.
"How goes it, you fellows?" he cried with his infectious grin. "Like a company powwow before popping the parapet. What! And it's a bigger show this time, boys, than any you've had over the water." His face set grimly for a moment; then he grinned again, as he sat down on the foot of the stairs. "Gather round, and listen to me."
For five minutes he spoke, and his audience nodded delightedly. Apart from their love for Drummond—and three out of every four of them knew him personally—it was a scheme which tickled them to death. And he was careful to tell them just enough of the sinister design of the master-criminal to make them realise the bigness of, the issue.
"That's all clear, then," said Drummond, rising. "Now I'm off. Toby, I want you to come, too. We ought to be there by midnight."
"There's only one point, Captain," remarked the American, as the group began to disperse. "That safe—and the ledger." He fumbled in his pocket, and produced a small india-rubber bottle. "I've got the soup here—gelignite," he explained, as he saw the mystified look on the other's face. "I reckoned it might come in handy. Also a fuse and detonator."
"Splendid!" said Hugh, "splendid! You're an acquisition, Mr. Green, to any gathering. But I think—I think—Lakington first. Oh! yes—most undoubtedly—Henry first!"
And once again the American laughed softly at the look on his face.