Bull-dog Drummond/Chapter 3
IN WHICH THINGS HAPPEN IN HALF MOON STREET
Hugh Drummond folded up the piece of paper he was studying and rose to his feet as the doctor came into the room. He then pushed a silver box of cigarettes across the table and waited.
"Your friend," said the doctor, "is in a very peculiar condition, Captain Drummond—very peculiar." He sat down and, putting the tips of his fingers together, gazed at Drummond in his most professional manner. He paused for a moment, as if expecting an awed agreement with this profound utterance, but the soldier was calmly lighting a cigarette. "Can you," resumed the doctor, "enlighten me at all as to what he has been doing during the last few days?"
Drummond shook his head. "Haven't an earthly, doctor."
"There is, for instance, that very unpleasant wound in his thumb," pursued the other. "The top joint is crushed to a pulp."
"I noticed that last night," answered Hugh non-committally. "Looks as if it had been mixed up between a hammer and an anvil, don't it?"
"But you have no idea how it occurred?"
"I'm full of ideas," said the soldier. "In fact, if it's any help to you in your diagnosis, that wound was caused by the application of an unpleasant mediæval instrument known as a thumbscrew."
The worthy doctor looked at him in amazement. "A thumbscrew! You must be joking, Captain Drummond."
"Very far from it," answered Hugh briefly. "If you want to know, it was touch and go whether the other thumb didn't share the same fate." He blew out a cloud of smoke, and smiled inwardly as he noticed the look of scandalised horror on his companion's face. "It isn't his thumb that concerns me," he continued; "it's his general condition. What's the matter with him?"
The doctor pursed his lips and looked wise, while Drummond wondered that no one had ever passed a law allowing men of his type to be murdered on sight.
"His heart seems sound," he answered after a weighty pause, "and I found nothing wrong with him constitutionally. In fact, I may say, Captain Drummond, he is in every respect a most healthy man. Except—er—except for this peculiar condition."
Drummond exploded. "Damnation take it, man, what on earth do you suppose I asked you to come round for? It's of no interest to me to hear that his liver is working properly." Then he controlled himself. "I beg your pardon, doctor: I had rather a trying evening last night. Can you give me any idea as to what has caused this peculiar condition?"
His companion accepted the apology with an acid bow. "Some form of drug," he answered.
Drummond heaved a sigh of relief. "Now we're getting on," he cried. "Have you any idea what drug?"
"It is, at the moment, hard to say," returned the other. "It seems to have produced a dazed condition mentally, without having affected him physically. In a day or two, perhaps, I might be able to—er—arrive at some conclusion…."
"Which, at present, you have not. Right; now we know where we are." A pained expression flitted over the doctor's face: this young man was very direct. "To continue," Hugh went on, "as you don't know what the drug is, presumably you don't know either how long it will take for the effect to wear off."
"That—er—is, within limits, correct," conceded the doctor.
"Right; once again we know where we are. What about diet?"
"Oh! light…. Not too much meat…. No alcohol …" He rose to his feet as Hugh opened the door; really the war seemed to have produced a distressing effect on people's manners. Diet was the one question on which he always let himself go….
"Not much meat—no alcohol. Right. Good morning, doctor. Down the stairs and straight on. Good morning." The door closed behind him, and he descended to his waiting car with cold disapproval on his face. The whole affair struck him as most suspicious—thumbscrews, strange drugs… Possibly it was his duty to communicate with the police….
"Excuse me, sir." The doctor paused and eyed a well-dressed man who had spoken to him uncompromisingly.
"What can I do for you, sir?" he said.
"Am I right in assuming that you are a doctor?"
"You are perfectly correct, sir, in your assumption."
The man smiled: obviously a gentleman, thought the practitioner, with his hand on the door of his car.
"It's about a great pal of mine, Captain Drummond, who lives in here," went on the other. "I hope you won't think it unprofessional, but I thought I'd ask you privately, how you find him."
The doctor looked surprised. "I wasn't aware that he was ill," he answered.
"But I heard he'd had a bad accident," said the man, amazed.
The doctor smiled. "Reassure yourself, my dear sir," he murmured in his best professional manner. "Captain Drummond, so far as I am aware, has never been better. I—er—cannot say the same of his friend." He stepped into his car. "Why not go up and see for yourself?"
The car rolled smoothly into Piccadilly, but the man showed no signs of availing himself of the doctor's suggestion. He turned and walked rapidly away, and a few moments later—in an exclusive West End club—a trunk call was put through to Godalming—a call which caused the recipient to nod his head in satisfaction and order the Rolls-Royce.
Meanwhile, unconscious of this sudden solicitude for his health, Hugh Drummond was once more occupied with the piece of paper he had been studying on the doctor's entrance. Every now and then he ran his fingers through his crisp brown hair and shook his head in perplexity. Beyond establishing the fact that the man in the peculiar condition was Hiram C. Potts, the American multi-millionaire, he could make nothing out of it.
"If only I'd managed to get the whole of it," he muttered to himself for the twentieth time. "That dam' fellah Peterson was too quick." The scrap he had torn off was typewritten, save for the American's scrawled signature, and Hugh knew the words by heart.
ade of Britain
months I do
the holder of
of five million
do desire and
earl necklace and the
are at present
chess of Lamp-
k no questions
am C. Potts.
At length he replaced the scrap in his pocket-book and rang the bell.
"James," he remarked as his servant came in, "will you whisper 'very little meat and no alcohol' in your wife's ear, so far as the bird next door is concerned? Fancy paying a doctor to come round and tell one that!"
"Did he say anything more, sir?"
"Oh! A lot. But that was the only thing of the slightest practical use, and I knew that already." He stared thoughtfully out of the window. "You'd better know," he continued at length, "that as far as I can see we're up against a remarkably tough proposition."
"Indeed, sir," murmured his servant. "Then perhaps I had better stop any further insertion of that advertisement. It works out at six shillings a time."
Drummond burst out laughing. "What would I do without you, oh! my James," he cried. "But you may as well stop it. Our hands will be quite full for some time to come, and I hate disappointing hopeful applicants for my services."
"The gentleman is asking for you, sir." Mrs. Denny's voice from the door made them look round, and Hugh rose.
"Is he talking sensibly, Mrs. Denny?" he asked eagerly, but she shook her head.
"Just the same, sir," she announced. "Looking round the room all dazed like. And he keeps on saying 'Danger.' "
Hugh walked quickly along the passage to the room where the millionaire lay in bed.
"How are you feeling?" said Drummond cheerfully.
The man stared at him uncomprehendingly, and shook his head.
"Do you remember last night?" Hugh continued, speaking very slowly and distinctly. Then a sudden idea struck him and he pulled the scrap of paper out of his case. "Do you remember signing that?" he asked, holding it out to him. For a while the man looked at it; then with a sudden cry of fear he shrank away. "No, no," he muttered, "not again."
Hugh hurriedly replaced the paper. "Bad break on my part, old bean; you evidently remember rather too well. It's quite all right," he continued reassuringly; "no one will hurt you." Then after a pause—"Is your name Hiram C. Potts?"
The man nodded his head doubtfully and muttered "Hiram Potts" once or twice, as if the words sounded familiar.
"Do you remember driving in a motor-car last night?" persisted Hugh.
But what little flash of remembrance had pierced the drug-clouded brain seemed to have passed; the man only stared dazedly at the speaker. Drummond tried him with a few more questions, but it was no use, and after a while he got up and moved towards the door.
"Don't you worry, old son," he said with a smile. "We'll have you jumping about like a two-year-old in a couple of days."
Then he paused: the man was evidently trying to say something. "What is it you want?" Hugh leant over the bed.
"Danger, danger." Faintly the words came, and then, with a sigh, he lay back exhausted.
With a grim smile Drummond watched the motionless figure.
"I'm afraid," he said half aloud, "that you're rather like your medical attendant. Your only contribution to the sphere of pure knowledge is something I know already." He went out and quietly closed the door. And as he re-entered his sitting-room he found his servant standing motionless behind one of the curtains watching the street below.
"There's a man, sir," he remarked without turning round, "watching the house."
For a moment Hugh stood still, frowning. Then he gave a short laugh. "The devil there is!" he remarked. "The game has begun in earnest, my worthy warrior, with the first nine points to us. For possession, even of a semi-dazed lunatic, is nine points of the law, is it not, James?"
His servant retreated cautiously from the curtain, and came back into the room. "Of the law—yes, sir," he repeated enigmatically. "It is time, sir, for your morning glass of beer."
At twelve o'clock precisely the bell rang, announcing a visitor, and Drummond looked up from the columns of the Sportsman as his servant came into the room.
"Yes, James," he remarked. "I think we are at home. I want you to remain within call, and under no circumstances let our sick visitor out of your sight for more than a minute. In fact, I think you'd better sit in his room."
He resumed his study of the paper, and James, with a curt "Very good, sir," left the room. Almost at once he returned, and flinging open the door announced Mr. Peterson.
Drummond looked up quickly and rose with a smile.
"Good morning," he cried. "This is a very pleasant surprise, Mr. Peterson." He waved his visitor to a chair. "Hope you've had no more trouble with your car."
Mr. Peterson drew off his gloves, smiling amiably. "None at all, thank you, Captain Drummond. The chauffeur appears to have mastered the defect."
"It was your eye on him that did it. Wonderful thing—the human optic, as I said to your friend, Mr.—Mr. Laking. I hope that he's quite well and taking nourishment."
"Soft food only," said the other genially. "Mr. Lakington had a most unpleasant accident last night—most unpleasant."
Hugh's face expressed his sympathy. "How very unfortunate!" he murmured. "I trust nothing serious."
"I fear his lower jaw was fractured in two places." Peterson helped himself to a cigarette from the box beside him. "The man who hit him must have been a boxer."
"Mixed up in a brawl, was he?" said Drummond, shaking his head. "I should never have thought, from what little I've seen of Mr. Lakington, that he went in for painting the town red. I'd have put him down as a most abstemious man—but one never can tell, can one? I once knew a fellah who used to get fighting drunk on three whiskies, and to look at him you'd have put him down as a Methodist parson. Wonderful the amount of cheap fun that chap got out of life."
Peterson flicked the ash from his cigarette into the grate. "Shall we come to the point, Captain Drummond?" he remarked affably.
Hugh looked bewildered. "The point, Mr. Peterson? Er—by all manner of means."
Peterson smiled even more affably. "I felt certain that you were a young man of discernment," he remarked, "and I wouldn't like to keep you from your paper a minute longer than necessary."
"Not a bit," cried Hugh. "My time is yours—though I'd very much like to know your real opinion of The Juggernaut for the Chester Cup. It seems to me that he cannot afford to give Sumatra seven pounds on their form up to date."
"Are you interested in gambling?" asked Peterson politely.
"A mild flutter, Mr. Peterson, every now and then," returned Drummond. "Strictly limited stakes."
"If you confine yourself to that you will come to no harm," said Peterson. "It is when the stakes become unlimited that the danger of a crash becomes unlimited too."
"That is what my mother always told me," remarked Hugh. "She even went farther, dear good woman that she was. "Never bet except on a certainty, my boy," was her constant advice, "and then put your shirt on!" I can hear her saying it now, Mr. Peterson, with the golden rays of the setting sun lighting up her sweet face."
Suddenly Peterson leant forward in his chair. "Young man," he remarked, "we've got to understand one another. Last night you butted in on my plans, and I do not like people who do that. By an act which, I must admit, appealed to me greatly, you removed something I require—something, moreover, which I intend to have. Breaking the electric bulb with a revolver-shot shows resource and initiative. The blow which smashed Henry Lakington's jaw in two places shows strength. All qualities which I admire, Captain Drummond—admire greatly. I should dislike having to deprive the world of those qualities."
Drummond gazed at the speaker open-mouthed. "My dear sir," he protested feebly, "you overwhelm me. Are you really accusing me of being a sort of wild west show?" He waggled a finger at Peterson. "You know you've been to the movies too much, like my fellah, James. He's got revolvers and things on the brain."
Peterson's face was absolutely impassive; save for a slightly tired smile it was expressionless. "Finally, Captain Drummond, you tore in half a piece of paper which I require—and removed a very dear old friend of my family, who is now in this house. I want them both back, please, and if you like I'll take them now."
Drummond shrugged his shoulders resignedly. "There is something about you, Mr. Peterson," he murmured, "which I like. You strike me as being the type of man to whom a young girl would turn and pour out her maidenly secrets. So masterful, so compelling, so unruffled. I feel sure—when you have finally disabused your mind of this absurd hallucination—that we shall become real friends."
Peterson still sat motionless save for a ceaseless tapping with his hand on his knee.
"Tell me," continued Hugh, "why did you allow this scoundrel to treat you in such an off-hand manner? It doesn't seem to me to be the sort of thing that ought to happen at all, and I suggest your going to the police at once."
"Unfortunately a bullet intended for him just missed," answered Peterson casually. "A pity—because there would have been no trace of him by now."
"Might be awkward for you," murmured Hugh. "Such methods, Mr. Peterson, are illegal, you know. It's a dangerous thing to take the law into your own hands. May I offer you a drink?"
Peterson declined courteously. "Thank you—not at this hour." Then he rose. "I take it, then, that you will not return me my property here and now."
"Still the same delusion, I see!" remarked Hugh with a smile.
"Still the same delusion," repeated Peterson. "I shall be ready to receive both the paper and the man up till six o'clock to-night at 32A, Berners Street; and it is possible, I might even say probable, should they turn up by then, that I shall not find it necessary to kill you."
Hugh grinned. "Your forbearance amazes me," he cried. "Won't you really change your mind and have a drink?"
"Should they not arrive by then, I shall be put to the inconvenience of taking them, and in that case—much as I regret it—you may have to be killed. You're such an aggressive young man, Captain Drummond—and, I fear, not very tactful." He spoke regretfully, drawing on his gloves; then as he got to the door he paused. "I'm afraid that my words will not have much effect," he remarked, 'but the episode last night did appeal to me. I would like to spare you—I would really. It's a sign of weakness, my young friend, which I view with amazement—but nevertheless, it is there. So be warned in time. Return my property to Berners Street, and leave England for a few months." His eyes seemed to burn into the soldier's brain. "You are meddling in affairs," he went on gently, "of the danger of which you have no conception. A fly in the gear-box of a motor-car would be a sounder proposition for a life insurance than you will be—if you continue on your present course."
There was something so incredibly menacing in the soft, quiet voice, that Drummond looked at the speaker fascinated. He had a sudden feeling that he must be dreaming—that in a moment or two he would wake up and find that they had really been talking about the weather the whole time. Then the cynical gleam of triumph in Peterson's eyes acted on him like a cold douche; quite clearly that gentleman had misinterpreted his silence.
"Your candour is as refreshing," he answered genially, "as your similes are apt. I shudder to think of that poor little fly, Mr. Peterson, especially with your chauffeur grinding his gears to pieces." He held open the door for his visitor, and followed him into the passage. At the other end stood Denny, ostentatiously dusting a book-shelf, and Peterson glanced at him casually. It was characteristic of the man that no trace of annoyance showed on his face. He might have been any ordinary visitor taking his leave.
And then suddenly from the room outside which Denny was dusting there came a low moaning and an incoherent babble. A quick frown passed over Drummond's face, and Peterson regarded him thoughtfully.
"An invalid in the house?" he remarked. "How inconvenient for you!" He laid his hand for a moment on the soldier's arm. "I sadly fear you're going to make a fool of yourself. And it will be such a pity." He turned towards the stairs. "Don't bother, please; I can find my own way out."
Hugh turned back into his own room, and lighting a particularly noisy pipe, sat down in his own special chair, where James Denny found him five minutes later, with his hands deep in his pockets, and his legs crossed, staring out of the window. He asked him about lunch twice without result, and having finally been requested to go to hell, he removed himself aggrievedly to the kitchen. Drummond was under no delusions as to the risks he was running. Underrating his opponent had never been a fault of his, either in the ring or in France, and he had no intention of beginning now. The man who could abduct an American millionaire, and drug him till he was little better than a baby, and then use a thumbscrew to enforce his wishes, was not likely to prove overscruplous in the future. In fact, the of that bullet still rang unpleasantly in his ears.
After a while he began half unconsciously to talk aloud to himself. It was an old trick of his when he wanted to make up his mind on a situation, and he found that it helped him to concentrate his thoughts.
"Two alternatives, old buck," he remarked, stabbing the air with his pipe. "One—give the Potts bird up at Berners Street; two—do not. Number one—out of court at once. Preposterous—absurd. Therefore—number two holds the field." He recrossed his legs, and ejected a large wineglassful of nicotine juice from the stem of his pipe on to the carpet. Then he sank back exhausted, and rang the bell.
"James," he said, as the door opened, "take a piece of paper and a pencil—if there's one with a point—and sit down at the table. I'm going to think, and I'd hate to miss out anything."
His servant complied, and for a while silence reigned.
"First," remarked Drummond, "put down—'They know where Potts is.'"
"Is, sir, or are?" murmured Denny, sucking his pencil.
"Is, you fool. It's a man, not a collection. And don't interrupt, for Heaven's sake. Two—'They will try to get Potts.'"
'Yes, sir,' answered Denny, writing busily.
"Three—'They will not get Potts.' That is as far as I've got at the moment, James—but every word of it stands. Not bad for a quarter of an hour, my trusty fellah—what?"
"That's the stuff to give the troops, sir," agreed his audience, sucking his teeth.
Hugh looked at him in displeasure. "That noise is not, James," he remarked severely. "Now you've got to do something else. Rise and with your well-known stealth approach the window, and see if the watcher still watcheth without."
The servant took a prolonged survey, and finally announced that he failed to see him.
"Then that proves conclusively that he's there," said Hugh. "Write it down, James: four—'Owing to the watcher without, Potts cannot leave the house without being seen.'"
"That's two withouts, sir," ventured James tentatively; but Hugh, with a sudden light dawning in his eyes, was staring at the fire-place.
"I've got it, James," he cried. "I've got it…. Five—'Potts must leave the house without being seen." I want him, James, I want him all to myself. I want to make much of him and listen to his childish prattle. He shall go to my cottage on the river, and you shall look after him."
"Yes, sir," returned James dutifully.
"And in order to get him there, we must get rid of the watcher without. How can we get rid of the bird—how can we, James, I ask you? Why, by giving him nothing further to watch for. Once let him think that Potts is no longer within, unless he's an imbecile he will no longer remain without."
"I see, sir," said James.
"No, you don't—you don't see anything. Now trot along over, James, and give my compliments to Mr. Darrell. Ask him to come in and see me for a moment. Say I'm thinking and daren't move."
James rose obediently, and Drummond heard him cross over the passage to the other suite of rooms that lay on the same floor. Then he heard the murmur of voices, and shortly afterwards his servant returned.
"He is in his bath, sir, but he'll come over as soon as he's finished." He delivered the message and stood waiting. "Anything more, sir?"
"Yes, James. I feel certain that there's a lot. But just to carry on with, I'll have another glass of beer."
As the door closed, Drummond rose and started to pace up and down the room. The plan he had in mind was simple, but he was a man who believed in simplicity.
"Peterson will not come himself—nor will our one and only Henry. Potts has not been long in the country, which is all to the good. And if it fails—we shan't be any worse off than we are now. Luck—that's all; and the more you tempt her, the kinder she is." He was still talking gently to himself when Peter Darrell strolled into the room.
"Can this thing be true, old boy," remarked the newcomer. "I hear you're in the throes of a brain-storm."
"I am, Peter—and not even that repulsive dressing-gown of yours can stop it. I want you to help me."
"All that I have, dear old flick, is yours for the asking. What can I do?"
"Well, first of all, I want you to come along and see the household pet." He piloted Darrell along the passage to the American's room, and opened the door. The millionaire looked at them dazedly from the pillows, and Darrell stared back in startled surprise.
"My God! What's the matter with him?" he cried.
"I would give a good deal to know," said Hugh grimly. Then he smiled reassuringly at the motionless man, and led the way back to the sitting-room.
"Sit down, Peter," he said. "Get outside that beer and listen to me carefully."
For ten minutes he spoke, while his companion listened in silence. Gone completely was the rather vacuous-faced youth clad in a gorgeous dressing-gown; in his place there sat a keen-faced man nodding from time to time as a fresh point was made clear. Even so had both listened in the years that were past to their battalion commander's orders before an attack.
At length Hugh finished. "Will you do it, old man?" he asked.
"Of course," returned the other. "But wouldn't it be better, Hugh," he said pleadingly, "to whip up two or three of the boys and, have a real scrap? I don't seem to have anything to do."
Drummond shook his head decidedly. "No, Peter, my boy—not this show. We're up against a big thing; and if you like to come in with me, I think you'll have all you want in the scrapping line before you've finished. But this time, low cunning is the order."
Darrell rose. "Right you are, dearie. Your instructions shall be carried out to the letter. Come and feed your face with me. Got a couple of birds from the Gaiety lunching at the Cri."
"Not to-day," said Hugh. "I've got quite a bit to get through this afternoon."
As soon as Darrell had gone, Drummond again rang the bell for his servant.
"This afternoon, James, you and Mrs. Denny will leave here and go to Paddington. Go out by the front door, and should you find yourselves being followed—as you probably will be—consume a jujube and keep your heads. Having arrived at the booking office—take a ticket to Cheltenham, say good-bye to Mrs. Denny in an impassioned tone, and exhort her not to miss the next train to that delectable inland resort. You might even speak slightingly about her sick aunt at Westbourne Grove, who alone prevents your admirable wife from accompanying you. Then, James, you will board the train for Cheltenham and go there. You will remain there for two days, during which period you must remember that you're a married man—even if you do go to the movies. You will then return here, and await further orders. Do you get me?"
"Yes, sir." James stood to attention with a smart heel-click. "Your wife—she has a sister or something, hasn't she, knocking about somewhere?"
"She 'as a palsied cousin in Camberwell, sir," remarked James with justifiable pride.
"Magnificent," murmured Hugh. "She will dally until eventide with her palsied cousin—if she can bear it—and then she must go by Underground to Ealing, where she will take a ticket to Goring. I don't think there will be any chance of her being followed—you'll have drawn them off. When she gets to Goring I want the cottage got ready at once, for two visitors." He paused and lit a cigarette. "Above all, James—mum's the word. As I told you a little while ago, the game has begun. Now just repeat what I've told you."
He listened while his servant ran through his instructions, and nodded approvingly. "To think there are still people who think military service a waste of time!" he murmured. "Four years ago you couldn't have got one word of it right."
He dismissed Denny, and sat down at his desk. First he took the half-torn sheet out of his pocket, and putting it in an envelope, sealed it carefully. Then he placed it in another envelope, with a covering letter to his bank, requesting them to keep the enclosure intact.
Then he took a sheet of notepaper, and with much deliberation proceeded to pen a document which accorded him considerable amusement, judging by the grin which appeared from time to time on his face. This effusion he also enclosed in a sealed envelope, which he again addressed to his bank. Finally, he stamped the first, but not the second—and placed them both in his pocket.
For the next two hours he apparently found nothing better to do than eat a perfectly grilled chop prepared by Mrs. Denny, and superintend his visitor unwillingly consuming a sago pudding. Then, with the departure of the Dennys for Paddington, which coincided most aptly with the return of Peter Darrell, a period of activity commenced in Half Moon Street. But being interior activity, interfering in no way with the placid warmth of the street outside, the gentleman without, whom a keen observer might have thought strangely interested in the beauties of that well-known thoroughfare—seeing that he had been there for three hours—remained serenely unconscious of it. His pal had followed the Dennys to Paddington. Drummond had not come out—and the watcher who watched without was beginning to get bored.
About 4.30 he sat up and took notice again as someone left the house; but it was only the superbly dressed young man whom he had discovered already was merely a clothes-peg calling himself Darrell.
The sun was getting low and the shadows were lengthening when a taxi drove up to the door. Immediately the watcher drew closer, only to stop with a faint smile as he saw two men get out of it. One was the immaculate Darrell; the other was a stranger, and both were quite obviously what in the vernacular is known as oiled.
"You prisheless ole bean," he heard Darrell say affectionately, "thish blinking cabsh my show."
The other man hiccoughed assent, and leant wearily against the palings.
"Right," he remarked, "ole friend of me youth. It shall be ash you wish."
With a tolerant eye he watched them tack up the stairs, singing lustily in chorus. Then the door above closed, and the melody continued to float out through the open window.
Ten minutes later he was relieved. It was quite an unostentatious relief: another man merely strolled past him. And since there was nothing to report, he merely strolled away. He could hardly be expected to know that up in Peter Darrell's sitting-room two perfectly sober men were contemplating with professional eyes an extremely drunk gentleman singing in a chair, and that one of those two sober young men was Peter Darrell.
Then further interior activity took place in Half Moon Street, and as the darkness fell, silence gradually settled on the house.
Ten o'clock struck, then eleven—and the silence remained unbroken. It was not till eleven-thirty that a sudden small sound made Hugh Drummond sit up in his chair, with every nerve alert. It came from the direction of the kitchen—and it was the sound he had been waiting for.
Swiftly he opened his door and passed along the passage to where the motionless man lay still in bed. Then he switched on a small reading-lamp, and with a plate of semolina in his hand he turned to the recumbent figure.
"Hiram C. Potts," he said in a low, coaxing tone, "sit up and take your semolina. Force yourself, laddie, force yourself. I know it's nauseating, but the doctor said no alcohol and very little meat."
In the silence that followed, a board creaked outside, and again he tempted the sick man with food.
"Semolina, Hiram—semolina. Makes bouncing babies. I'd just love to see you bounce, my Potts."
His voice died away, and he rose slowly to his feet. In the open door four men were standing, each with a peculiar-shaped revolver in his hand.
"What the devil," cried Drummond furiously, "is the meaning of this?"
"Cut it out," cried the leader contemptuously. "These guns are silent. If you utter—you die. Do you get me?"
The veins stood out on Drummond's forehead, and he controlled himself with an immense effort.
"Are you aware that this man is a guest of mine, and sick?" he said, his voice shaking with rage.
"You don't say," remarked the leader, and one of the others laughed. "Rip the bed-clothes off, boys, and gag the young cock-sparrow."
Before he could resist, a gag was thrust in Drummond's mouth and his hands were tied behind his back. Then, helpless and impotent, he watched three of them lift up the man from the bed, and, putting a gag in his mouth also, carry him out of the room.
"Move," said the fourth to Hugh. "You join the picnic."
With fury gathering in his eyes he preceded his captor along the passage and downstairs. A large car drove up as they reached the street, and in less time than it takes to tell, the two helpless men were pushed in, followed by the leader; the door was shut and the car drove off.
"Don't forget," he said to Drummond suavely, "this gun is silent. You had better be the same."
At one o'clock the car swung up to The Elms. For the last ten minutes Hugh had been watching the invalid in the corner, who was making frantic efforts to loosen his gag. His eyes were rolling horribly, and he swayed from side to side in his seat, but the bandages round his hands held firm and at last he gave it up.
Even when he was lifted out and carried indoors he did not struggle; he seemed to have sunk into a sort of apathy. Drummond followed with dignified calmness, and was led into a room off the hall.
In a moment or two Peterson entered, followed by his daughter. "Ah! my young friend," cried Peterson affably. "I hardly thought you'd give me such an easy run as this." He put his hand into Drummond's pockets, and pulled out his revolver and a bundle of letters. "To your bank," he murmured. "Oh! surely, surely not that as well. Not even stamped. Ungag him, Irma—and untie his hands. My very dear young friend—you pain me."
"I wish to know, Mr. Peterson," said Hugh quietly, "by what right this dastardly outrage has been committed. A friend of mine, sick in bed—removed; abducted in the middle of the night: to say nothing of me."
With a gentle laugh Irma offered him a cigarette. "Mon Dieu!" she remarked, "but you are most gloriously ugly, my Hugh!" Drummond looked at her coldly, while Peterson, with a faint smile, opened the envelope in his hand. And, even as he pulled out the contents, he paused suddenly and the smile faded from his face. From the landing upstairs came a heavy crash, followed by a flood of the most appalling language.
"What the —— hell do you think you're doing, you flat-faced son of a Maltese goat? And where the —— am I, anyway?"
"I must apologise for my friend's language," murmured Hugh gently, "but you must admit he has some justification. Besides, he was, I regret to state, quite wonderfully drunk earlier this evening, and just as he was sleeping it off these desperadoes abducted him."
The next moment the door burst open, and an infuriated object rushed in. His face was wild, and his hand was bandaged, showing a great red stain on the thumb.
"What's this —— jest?" he howled furiously. "And this damned bandage all covered with red ink?"
"You must ask our friend here, Mullings," said Hugh. "He's got a peculiar sense of humour. Anyway, he's got the bill in his hand."
In silence they watched Peterson open the paper and read the contents, while the girl leant over his shoulder.
|To Mr. Peterson, The Elms, Godalming.|
|To hire one demobilised soldier||5||0||0|
|To making him drunk (in this item present
strength and cost of drink and said soldier's
capacity must be allowed for)
|To bottle of red ink||0||0||1|
|To shock to system||10||0||0|
It was Irma who laughed.
"Oh! but, my Hugh," she gurgled, "que vous êtes adorable!"
But he did not look at her. His eyes were on Peterson, who with a perfectly impassive face was staring at him fixedly.