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Fall turned over a switch and the other renewed his attention to T. B.

"You know exactly how you are situated, Mr. Smith," said Farrington,
"and now I am going to tell you exactly how you may escape from your
position."

"I shall be interested to learn," said T. B. coolly, "but I warn you
before you tell me that if my escape is contingent upon your own, then I
am afraid I am doomed to dissolution."

The other nodded.

"As you surmise," he said, "your escape is indeed contingent upon mine
and that of my friends. My terms to you are that you shall pass me out
of England. I know you are going to tell me that you have not the power,
but I am as well acquainted with the extraordinary privileges of your
department as you are. I know that you can take me out of the Secret
House and land me in Calais to-morrow morning, and there is not one man
throughout the length and breadth of England who will say you nay. I
offer you your life on condition that you do this, otherwise - - "

"Otherwise?" asked T. B.

"Otherwise I shall kill you," said Farrington briefly, "just as I killed
Poltavo. You are the worst enemy I have and the most dangerous. I have
always marked you down as one whose attention was to be avoided, and I
shall probably kill you with less compunction because I know that but
for you I should not have been forced to live this mad dog's life that
has been mine for the past few months. You will be interested, Mr.
Smith, to learn that you nearly had me once. You see the whole wing of
the house in which Mr. Moole lies," he smiled, "works on the principle
of a huge elevator. The secret of the Secret House is really the secret
of perfectly arranged lifts; that is to say," he went on, "I can take my
room to the first floor and I can transport it to the fourth floor with
greater ease than you can carry a chair from a basement to an attic."

"I guessed that much," said T. B. "Do you realize that you might have
made a fortune as a practical electrician?"

Farrington smiled.

"I very much doubt it," he said coolly; "but my career and my wasted
opportunities are of less interest to me at the moment than my future
and yours. What are you going to do?"

T. B. smiled.

"I am going to do nothing," he said cheerfully, "unless it be that I am
going to die, for I can imagine no circumstance or danger that
threatens me or those I love best which would induce me to loose upon
the world such dangerous criminals as yourself and your
fellow-murderers. Your time has come, Farrington. Whether my time comes
a little sooner or later does not alter the fact that you are within a
month of your own death, whether you kill me or whether you let me go."

"You are a bold man to tell me that," said Farrington between his teeth.

T. B. saw from a glance at the blanched faces of the men that his words
had struck home.

"If you imagine you can escape," T. B. went on unconcernedly, "why, I
think you are wasting valuable time which might be better utilized, for
every moment of delay is a moment nearer to the gallows for both of
you."

"My friend, you are urging your own death," said Fall.

"As to that," said T. B., shrugging his shoulders, "I have no means of
foretelling, because I cannot look into the future any more than you,
and if it is the will of Providence that I should die in the execution
of my duty, I am as content to do so as any soldier upon the
battle-field, for it seems to me," he continued half to himself, "that
the arrayed enemies of society are more terrible, more formidable, and
more dangerous than the massed enemies that a soldier is called upon to
confront. They are only enemies for a period; for a time of madness
which is called 'war'; but you in your lives are enemies to society for
all time."

Fall exchanged glances with his superior, and Farrington nodded.

The doctor leant down and picked up the leather helmet, and placed it
with the same tender care that he had displayed before over the head of
his previous victim.

"I give you three minutes to decide," said Farrington.

"You are wasting three minutes," said the muffled voice of T. B. from
under the helmet.

Nevertheless Farrington took out his watch and held it in his unshaking
palm; for the space of a hundred and eighty seconds there was no sound
in the room save the loud ticking of the watch.

At the end of that time he replaced it in his pocket.

"Will you agree to do as I ask?" he said.

"No," was the reply with undiminished vigour.

"Let him have it," said Farrington savagely.

Dr. Fall put up his hand to the switch, and as he did so the lights
flickered for a moment and slowly their brilliancy diminished.

"Quick," said Farrington, and the doctor brought the switch over just
as the lights went out.

T. B. felt a sharp burning sensation that thrilled his whole being and
then lost consciousness.




CHAPTER XXI


There was a group of police officers about the gates of the Secret House
as the car bearing Ela and the woman came flying up.

The detective leapt out.

"They have taken T. B.," he said. He addressed a divisional inspector,
who was in charge of the corps.

"Close up the cordon," he went on, "and all men who are armed follow
me."

He raced up the garden path, but it was not toward the Secret House that
he directed his steps; he made a detour through a little plantation to
the power house.

A man stood at the door, a grimy-faced foreign workman who scowled at
the intruders. He tried to pull the sliding doors to their place, but
Ela caught the blue-coated man under the jaw and sent him sprawling into
the interior.

In an instant the detective was inside, confronting more scowling
workmen. A tall, good-looking man of middle age, evidently a decent
artisan, was in control, and he came forward, a spanner in his hand, to
repel the intruders.

But the pistol Ela carried was eloquent of his earnestness.

"Stand back," he said. "Are you in charge?"

The detective spoke Italian fluently.

"What does this mean, signor?" asked the foreman.

"It means that I give you three minutes to stop the dynamo."

"But that is impossible," said the other. "I cannot stop the dynamo; it
is against all orders."

"Stop that dynamo," hissed Ela between his teeth. "Stop it at once, or
you are a dead man."

The man hesitated, then walked to the great switchboard, brilliant with
a score of lights.

"I will not do it," he said sulkily. "There is the signal; give it
yourself."

A little red lamp suddenly glowed on the marble switchboard.

"What is that?" asked Ela.

"That is a signal from the lower rooms," said the man sullenly; "they
want more power."

Ela turned on the man with a snarl, raised his pistol and there was
murder in his eyes.

"Mercy!" gasped the Italian, and putting out his hand he grasped a long
red switch marked 'Danger' and pulled it over. Instantly all the lights
in the power house went dim, and the great whirling wheels slowed down
and stopped. Only the light of day illuminated the power house. Ela,
standing on the controlling platform, wiped his perspiring face with the
back of a hand which was shaking as though with ague.

"I wonder if I was in time?" he muttered.

The big machinery hall was now alive with detectives.

"Take charge of every man," Ela ordered; "see that nobody touches any of
these switches. Arrest stokers and keep them apart. Now you," he said,
addressing the foreman in Italian, "you seem a decent fellow, and I am
going to give you a chance of earning not only your freedom, but a
substantial reward. I am a police officer and I have come to make an
inspection of this house. You spoke of the lower rooms - do you know the
way there?"

The man hesitated.

"The lift cannot work, signor," he said, with a shrug of his shoulders,
"now that the electric current is stopped."

"Is there no other way?"

Again the man hesitated.

"There are stairs, signor," he stammered after a while, then continued
rapidly: "If this is a crime and Signor Moole is an anarchist, I know
nothing of it, I swear to you by the Virgin. I am an honest man from
Padua, and I have no knowledge of such things as your Excellency speaks
about."

Ela nodded.

"I am willing to believe that," he said in a milder tone. "Now, my
friend, you shall undo a great deal of mischief that has been done by
showing me the way to the underground rooms."

"I am at your service," said the man helplessly. "I call all men to
witness that I have done my best to carry out the instructions which the
padrone has given me."

He led the way out of the power house through a door which led to a
large stretch of private garden behind the main building, across a
well-kept lawn to an area basement which ran the whole length of the
house.

In this, at the far end, was a door, and the man opened it with a key
upon a bunch which he took from his pocket. They had to pass through two
more doors before they came to the spiral staircase which led down into
the gloomy depths beneath the Secret House.

To Ela's surprise they were illuminated and he feared that against his
orders the dynamo had been restarted, but the man reassured him.

"They are from the storage batteries," he said. "There is sufficient to
afford light all over the house, but not enough to give power."

The steps seemed never ending. Ela counted eighty-seven before at last
they came to a landing from which one door opened. The detective noticed
that the man employed the same method of entering here as he himself had
done. A bodkin slipped into an almost invisible hole produced the
mechanical unsealing of this doorway.

Ela stepped through the open door. Two lights burned dimly; he saw the
strapped figure in the chair and his heart sank. He went forward at a
run and Farrington was the first to hear him.

The big man turned, a revolver in his hand. There was a quick deafening
report, and another, and a third. Ela stood up unmoved, unharmed, but
Farrington, rocking as he staggered to the table, slid to the ground
with a bullet through his heart.

"Take that man," said Ela, and in an instant Fall was handcuffed and
secure.

Then Ela heard a silent sneeze and through the smoke from the revolver
shots the voice of T. B. Smith, saying: "A pity it takes such
ill-smelling powder to send our clever friend on his long journey."








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Online LibraryEdgar WallaceThe secret house → online text (page 14 of 14)