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Farrington's fingers rubbed the glass with greater energy, and his
anxious eyes looked left and right for the custodian of the law.

He crept down the stairs, opened the metal flap of the letter-box and
listened. It was not difficult to hear all they said, though they had
dropped their voices, for they stood at the foot of the steps.

"What is the use?" said one in French. "There is a reward large enough
for two - but for him - my faith! there is money to be made, sufficient
for twenty. It is unfortunate that we should meet on similar errands,
but I swear to you I did not desire to betray you - - " The voice sank.

Mr. Farrington chewed the butt of his cigar in the darkness of the hall
and pieced together the jigsaw puzzle of this disjointed conversation.
These men must be associates of Montague - Montague Fallock, who else?

Montague Fallock, the blackmailer for whom the police of Europe were
searching, and individually and separately they had arranged to
blackmail him - or betray him.

The fact that T. B. Smith also had a house in Brakely Square, and that
T. B. Smith was an Assistant Commissioner of the police, and most
anxious to meet Montague Fallock in the flesh, might supply reason
enough to the logical Mr. Farrington for this conversation outside his
respectable door.

"Yes, I tell you," said the second man, angrily, "that I have arranged
to see M'sieur - you must trust me - - "

"We go together," said the other, definitely, "I trust no man, least of
all a confounded Neapolitan - - "

Constable Habit had not heard the sound of quarrelling voices, as far
as could be gathered from subsequent inquiry. His statement, now in the
possession of T. B. Smith, distinctly says, "I heard nothing unusual."

But suddenly two shots rang out.

"Clack - clack!" they went, the unmistakable sound of an automatic pistol
or pistols, then a police whistle shrieked, and P. C. Habit broke into a
run in the direction of the sound, blowing his own whistle as he ran.

He arrived to find three men, two undoubtedly dead on the ground, and
the third, Mr. Farrington's unpicturesque figure, standing shivering in
the doorway of his house, a police whistle at his lips, and his grey
velvet dressing-gown flapping in a chill eastern wind.

Ten minutes later T. B. Smith arrived on the scene from his house, to
find a crowd of respectable size, half the bedroom windows of Brakely
Square occupied by the morbid and the curious, and the police ambulance
already on the spot.

"Dead, sir," reported the constable.

T. B. looked at the men on the ground. They were obviously foreigners.
One was well, almost richly dressed; the other wore the shabby evening
dress of a waiter, under the long ulster which covered him from neck to

The men lay almost head to head. One flat on his face (he had been in
this position when the constable found him, and had been restored to
that position when the methodical P. C. Habit found that he was beyond
human assistance) and the other huddled on his side.

The police kept the crowd at a distance whilst the head of the secret
police (T. B. Smith's special department merited that description) made
a careful examination. He found a pistol on the ground, and another
under the figure of the huddled man, then as the police ambulance was
backed to the pavement, he interviewed the shivering Mr. Farrington.

"If you will come upstairs," said that chilled millionaire, "I will tell
you all I know."

T. B. sniffed the hall as he entered, but said nothing. He had his
olfactory sense developed to an abnormal degree, but he was a tactful
and a silent man.

He knew Mr. Farrington - who did not? - both as a new neighbour and as the
possessor of great wealth.

"Your daughter - - " he began.

"My ward," corrected Mr. Farrington, as he switched on all the lights of
his sitting-room, "she is out - in fact she is staying the night with my
friend Lady Constance Dex - do you know her?"

T. B. nodded.

"I can only give you the most meagre information," said Mr. Farrington.
He was white and shaky, a natural state for a law-abiding man who had
witnessed wilful murder. "I heard voices and went down to the door,
thinking I would find a policeman - then I heard two shots almost
simultaneously, and opened the door and found the two men as they were
found by the policeman."

"What were they talking about?"

Mr. Farrington hesitated.

"I hope I am not going to be dragged into this case as a witness?" he
asked, rather than asserted, but received no encouragement in the spoken
hope from T. B. Smith.

"They were discussing that notorious man, Montague Fallock," said the
millionaire; "one was threatening to betray him to the police."

"Yes," said T. B. It was one of those "yesses" which signified
understanding and conviction.

Then suddenly he asked:

"Who was the third man?"

Mr. Farrington's face went from white to red, and to white again.

"The third man?" he stammered.

"I mean the man who shot those two," said T. B., "because if there is
one thing more obvious than another it is that they were both killed by
a third person. You see," he went on, "though they had pistols neither
had been discharged - that was evident, because on each the safety catch
was raised. Also the lamp-post near which they stood was chipped by a
bullet which neither could have fired. I suggest, Mr. Farrington, that
there was a third man present. Do you object to my searching your

A little smile played across the face of the other.

"I haven't the slightest objection," he said. "Where will you start?"

"In the basement," said T. B.; "that is to say, in your kitchen."

The millionaire led the way down the stairs, and descended the back
stairway which led to the domain of the absent cook. He turned on the
electric light as they entered.

There was no sign of an intruder.

"That is the cellar door," indicated Mr. Farrington, "this the larder,
and this leads to the area passage. It is locked."

T. B. tried the handle, and the door opened readily.

"This at any rate is open," he said, and entered the dark passageway.

"A mistake on the part of the butler," said the puzzled Mr. Farrington.
"I have given the strictest orders that all these doors should be
fastened. You will find the area door bolted and chained."

T. B. threw the rays of his electric torch over the door.

"It doesn't seem to be," he remarked; "in fact, the door is ajar."

Farrington gasped.

"Ajar?" he repeated. T. B. stepped out into the well of the tiny
courtyard. It was approached from the street by a flight of stone

T. B. threw the circle of his lamp over the flagged yard. He saw
something glittering and stooped to pick it up. The object was a tiny
gold-capped bottle such as forms part of the paraphernalia in a woman's

He lifted it to his nose and sniffed it.

"That is it," he said.

"What?" asked Mr. Farrington, suspiciously.

"The scent I detected in your hall," replied T. B. "A peculiar scent, is
it not?" He raised the bottle to his nose again. "Not your ward's by any

Farrington shook his head vigorously.

"Doris has never been in this area in her life," he said; "besides, she
dislikes perfumes."

T. B. slipped the bottle in his pocket.

Further examination discovered no further clue as to the third person,
and T. B. followed his host back to the study.

"What do you make of it?" asked Mr. Farrington.

T. B. did not answer immediately. He walked to the window and looked
out. The little crowd which had been attracted by the shots and arrival
of the police ambulance had melted away. The mist which had threatened
all the evening had rolled into the square and the street lamps showed
yellow through the dingy haze.

"I think," he said, "that I have at last got on the track of Montague

Mr. Farrington looked at him with open mouth.

"You don't mean that?" he asked incredulously.

T. B. inclined his head.

"The open door below - the visitor?" jerked the stout man, "you don't
think Montague Fallock was in the house to-night?"

T. B. nodded again, and there was a moment's silence.

"He has been blackmailing me," said Mr. Farrington, thoughtfully, "but I
don't think - - "

The detective turned up his coat collar preparatory to leaving.

"I have a rather unpleasant job," he said. "I shall have to search
those unfortunate men."

Mr. Farrington shivered. "Beastly," he said, huskily.

T. B. glanced round the beautiful apartment with its silver fittings,
its soft lights and costly panellings. A rich, warm fire burnt in an
oxidized steel grate. The floor was a patchwork of Persian rugs, and a
few pictures which adorned the walls must have been worth a fortune.

On the desk there was a big photograph in a plain silver frame - the
photograph of a handsome woman in the prime of life.

"Pardon me," said T. B., and crossed to the picture, "this is - - "

"Lady Constance Dex," said the other, shortly - "a great friend of mine
and my ward's."

"Is she in town?"

Mr. Farrington shook his head.

"She is at Great Bradley," he said; "her brother is the rector there."

"Great Bradley?"

T. B.'s frown showed an effort to recollect something.

"Isn't that the locality which contains the Secret House?"

"I've heard something about the place," said Mr. Farrington with a
little smile.

"C. D.," said the detective, making for the door.


"Lady Constance Dex's initials, I mean," said T. B.

"Yes - why?"

"Those are the initials on the gold scent bottle, that is all," said the
detective. "Good night."

He left Mr. Farrington biting his finger nails - a habit he fell into
when he was seriously perturbed.


T. B. Smith sat alone in his office in Scotland Yard. Outside, the
Embankment, the river, even the bulk of the Houses of Parliament were
blotted out by the dense fog. For two days London had lain under the
pall, and if the weather experts might be relied upon, yet another two
days of fog was to be expected.

The cheery room, with its polished oak panelling and the chaste elegance
of its electroliers, offered every inducement to a lover of comfort to
linger. The fire glowed bright and red in the tiled fireplace, a silver
clock on the mantelpiece ticked musically, and at his hand was a
white-covered tray with a tiny silver teapot, and the paraphernalia
necessary for preparing his meal - that strange tea-supper which was one
of T. B. Smith's eccentricities.

He glanced at the clock; the hands pointed to twenty-five minutes past

He pressed a little button let into the side of the desk, and a few
seconds later there was a gentle tap at the door, and a helmetless
constable appeared.

"Go to the record room and get me" - he consulted a slip of paper on the
desk - "Number G 7941."

The man withdrew noiselessly, and T. B. Smith poured out a cup of tea
for himself.

There was a thoughtful line on his broad forehead, a look of
unaccustomed worry on the handsome face, tanned with the suns of
Southern France. He had come back from his holiday to a task which
required the genius of a superman. He had to establish the identity of
the greatest swindler of modern times, Montague Fallock. And now another
reason existed for his search. To Montague Fallock, or his agent, must
be ascribed the death of two men found in Brakely Square the night

No man had seen Montague; there was no photograph to assist the army of
detectives who were seeking him. His agents had been arrested and
interrogated, but they were but the agents of agents. The man himself
was invisible. He stood behind a steel network of banks and lawyers and
anonymities, unreachable.

The constable returned, bearing under his arm a little black leather
envelope, and, depositing it on the desk of the Assistant Commissioner,

T. B. opened the envelope and removed three neat packages tied with red
tape. He unfastened one of these and laid three cards before him. They
were three photographic enlargements of a finger print. It did not need
the eye of an expert to see they were of the same finger, though it was
obvious that they had been made under different circumstances.

T. B. compared them with a smaller photograph he had taken from his
pocket. Yes, there was no doubt about it. The four pictures, secured by
a delicate process from the almost invisible print on the latest letter
of the blackmailer, proved beyond any doubt the identity of Lady Dex's

He rang the bell again and the constable appeared in the doorway.

"Is Mr. Ela in his office?"

"Yes, sir. He's been taking information about that Dock case."

"Dock case? Oh yes, I remember; two men were caught rifling the Customs
store; they shot a dock constable and got away."

"They both got away, sir," said the man, "but one was shot by the
constable's mate; they found his blood on the pavement outside where
their motor-car was waiting."

T. B. nodded.

"Ask Mr. Ela to come in when he is through," he said.

Mr. Ela was evidently "through," for almost immediately after the
message had gone, the long, melancholy face of the superintendent
appeared in the doorway.

"Come in, Ela," smiled T. B.; "tell me all your troubles."

"My main trouble," replied Ela, as he sank wearily into the padded
chair, "is to induce eyewitnesses to agree as to details; there is
absolutely no clue as to the identity of the robbers, and nearly
murderers. The number of the car was a spurious one, and was not traced
beyond Limehouse. I am up against a blank wall. The only fact I have to
go upon is the very certain fact that one of the robbers was either
wounded or killed and carried to the car by his friend, and that his
body will have to turn up somewhere or other - then we may have something
to go on."

"If it should prove to be that of my friend Montague Fallock," said T.
B. humorously, "I shall be greatly relieved. What were your thieves
after - bullion?"

"Hardly! No, they seem to be fairly prosaic pilferers. They engaged in
going through a few trunks - part of the personal baggage of the
_Mandavia_ which arrived from Coast ports on the day previous. The
baggage was just heavy truck; the sort of thing that a passenger leaves
in the docks for a day or two till he has arranged for their carriage.
The trunks disturbed, included one of the First Secretary to a High
Commissioner in Congoland, a dress basket of a Mrs. Somebody-or-other
whose name I forget - she is the wife of a Commissioner - and a small box
belonging to Dr. Goldworthy, who has just come back from the Congo where
he has been investigating sleeping sickness."

"Doesn't sound thrilling," said T. B. thoughtfully; "but why do swagger
criminals come in their motor-cars with their pistols and masks - they
were masked if I remember the printed account aright?" Ela nodded. "Why
do they come on so prosaic an errand?"

"Tell me," said Ela, laconically, then, "What is your trouble?"

"Montague," said the other, with a grim smile, "Montague Fallock,
Esquire. He has been demanding a modest ten thousand pounds from Lady
Constance Dex - Lady Constance being a sister of the Hon. and Rev. Harry
Dex, Vicar of Great Bradley. The usual threat - exposure of an old love

"Dex is a large, bland aristocrat under the thumb of his sister; the
lady, a masterful woman, still beautiful; the indiscretion partly atoned
by the death of the man. He died in Africa. Those are the circumstances
that count. The brother knows, but our friend Montague will have it that
the world should know. He threatens to murder, if necessary, should she
betray his demands to the police. This is not the first time he has
uttered this threat. Farrington, the millionaire, was the last man, and
curiously, a friend of Lady Dex."

"It's weird - the whole business," mused Ela. "The two men you found in
the square didn't help you?"

T. B., pacing the apartment with his hand in his pocket, shook his head.

"Ferreira de Coasta was one, and Henri Sans the other. Both men
undoubtedly in the employ of Montague, at some time or other. The former
was a well-educated man, who may have acted as intermediary. He was an
architect who recently got into trouble in Paris over money matters.
Sans was a courier agent, a more or less trusted messenger. There was
nothing on either body to lead me to Montague Fallock, save this."

He pulled open the drawer of his desk and produced a small silver
locket. It was engraved in the ornate style of cheap jewellery and bore
a half-obliterated monogram.

He pried open the leaf of the locket with his thumbnail. There was
nothing in its interior save a small white disc.

"A little gummed label," explained T. B., "but the inscription is

Ela held the locket to the light, and read:

"Mor: Cot.
God sav the Keng."

"Immensely patriotic, but unintelligible and illiterate," said T. B.,
slipping the medallion into his pocket, and locking away the dossier in
one of the drawers of his desk.

Ela yawned.

"I'm sorry - I'm rather sleepy. By the way, isn't Great Bradley, about
which you were speaking, the home of a romance?"

T. B. nodded with a twinkle in his eye.

"It is the town which shelters the Secret House," he said, as he rose,
"but the eccentricities of lovesick Americans, who build houses equally
eccentric, are not matters for police investigation. You can share my
car on a fog-breaking expedition as far as Chelsea," he added, as he
slipped into his overcoat and pulled on his gloves; "we may have the
luck to run over Montague."

"You are in the mood for miracles," said Ela, as they were descending
the stairs.

"I am in the mood for bed," replied T. B. truthfully. Outside the fog
was so thick that the two men hesitated. T. B.'s chauffeur was a wise
and patient constable, but felt in his wisdom that patience would be
wasted on an attempt to reach Chelsea.

"It's thick all along the road, sir," he said. "I've just 'phoned
through to Westminster Police Station, and they say it is madness to
attempt to take a car through the fog."

T. B. nodded.

"I'll sleep here," he said. "You'd better bed down somewhere, David, and
you, Ela?"

"I'll take a little walk in the park," said the sarcastic Mr. Ela.

T. B. went back to his room, Ela following.

He switched on the light, but stood still in the doorway. In the ten
minutes' absence some one had been there. Two drawers of the desk had
been forced; the floor was littered with papers flung there hurriedly by
the searcher.

T. B. stepped swiftly to the desk - the envelope had gone.

A window was open and the fog was swirling into the room.

"There's blood here," said Mr. Ela. He pointed to the dappled blotting

"Cut his hand on the glass," said T. B. and jerked his head to the
broken pane in the window. He peered out through the open casement. A
hook ladder, such as American firemen use, was hanging to the parapet.
So thick was the fog that it was impossible to see how long the ladder
was, but the two men pulled it up with scarcely an effort. It was made
of a stout light wood, with short steel brackets affixed at intervals.

"Blood on this too," said Ela, then, to the constable who had come to
his ring, he jerked his orders rapidly: "Inspector on duty to surround
the office with all the reserve - 'phone Cannon Row all men available to
circle Scotland Yard, and to take into custody a man with a cut
hand - 'phone all stations to that effect."

"There's little chance of getting our friend," said T. B. He took up a
magnifying glass and examined the stains on the pad.

"Who was he?" asked Ela.

T. B. pointed to the stain.

"Montague," he said, briefly, "and he now knows the very thing I did not
wish him to know."

"And that is?"

T. B. did not speak for a moment. He stood looking down at the evidence
which the intruder had left behind.

"He knows how much I know," he said, grimly, "but he may also imagine I
know more - there are going to be developments."


It was a bad night in London, not wild or turbulent, but swathed to the
eyes like an Eastern woman in a soft grey garment of fog. It engulfed
the walled canyons of the city, through which the traffic had roared all
day, plugged up the maze of dark side-streets, and blotted out the open
squares. Close to the ground it was thick, viscous, impenetrable, so
that one could not see a yard ahead, and walked ghostlike, adventuring
into a strange world.

Occasionally it dispersed. In front of the Jollity Theatre numbers of
arc-lights wrought a wavering mist-hung yellow space, into which a
constant line of vehicles, like monstrous shiny beetles, emerged from
the outer nowhere, disgorged their contents, and were eclipsed again.
And pedestrians in gay processional streamed across the rudy glistening
patch like figures on a slide.

Conspicuous in the shifting throng was a sharp-faced boy, ostensibly
selling newspapers, but with a keen eye upon the arriving vehicles.
Suddenly he darted to the curb, where an electric coupe had just drawn
up. A man alighted heavily, and turned to assist a young woman.

For an instant the lad's attention was deflected by the radiant vision.
The girl, wrapped in a voluminous cloak of ivory colour, was tall and
slim, with soft white throat and graceful neck; her eyes under shadowy
lashes were a little narrow, but blue as autumn mist, and sparkling now
with amusement.

"Watch your steps, auntie," she warned laughingly, as a plump, elderly,
little lady stepped stiffly from the coupe. "These London fogs are

The boy stood staring at her, his feet as helpless as if they had taken
root to the ground. Suddenly he remembered his mission. His native
impudence reasserted itself, and he started forward.

"Paper, sir?"

He addressed the man. For a moment it seemed as though he were to be
rebuffed, then something in the boy's attitude changed his mind.

As the man fumbled in an inner pocket for change, the lad took a swift
inventory. The face beneath the tall hat was a powerful oval,
paste-coloured, with thin lips, and heavy lines from nostril to jaw.
The eyes were close set and of a turbid grey.

"It's him," the boy assured himself, and opened his mouth to speak.

The girl laughed amusedly at the spectacle of her companion's passion
for news in this grimy atmosphere, and turned to the young man in
evening dress who had just dismissed his taxi and joined the group.

It was the diversion the boy had prayed for. He took a quick step toward
the older man.

"T. B. S.," he said, in a soft but distinct undertone.

The man's face blanched suddenly, and a coin which he held in his large,
white-gloved palm slipped jingling to the pavement.

The young messenger stooped and caught it dexterously.

"T. B. S.," he whispered again, insistently.

"Here?" the answer came hoarsely. The man's lips trembled.

"Watchin' this theatre - splits[1] by the million," finished the boy
promptly, and with satisfaction. Under cover of returning the coin, he
thrust a slip of white paper into the other's hand.

[Footnote 1: Splits: detectives.]

Then he wheeled, ducked to the girl with a gay little swagger of
impudence, threw a lightning glance of scrutiny at her young escort, and
turning, was lost in the throng.

The whole incident occupied less than a minute, and presently the four
were seated in their box, and the gay strains from the overture of _The
Strand Girl_ came floating up to them.

"I wish I were a little street gamin in London," said the girl
pensively, fingering the violets at her corsage. "Think of the
adventures! Don't you, Frank?"

Frank Doughton looked across at her with smiling significant eyes, which
brought a flush to her cheeks.

"No," he said softly, "I do not!"

The girl laughed at him and shrugged her round white shoulders.

"For a young journalist, Frank, you are too obvious - too delightfully
verdant. You should study indirection, subtlety, finesse - study our
mutual friend Count Poltavo!"

She meant it mischievously, and produced the effect she desired.

At the name the young man's brow darkened.

"He isn't coming here to-night?" Doughton asked, in aggrieved tones.

The girl nodded, her eyes dancing with laughter.

"What can you see in that man, Doris?" he protested. "I'll bet you
anything you like that the fellow's a rogue! A smooth, soft-smiling
rascal! Lady Dinsmore," he appealed to the elder woman, "do you like

"Oh, don't ask Aunt Patricia!" cried the girl. "She thinks him quite the
most fascinating man in London. Don't deny it, auntie!"

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Online LibraryEdgar WallaceThe secret house → online text (page 2 of 14)