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The Beautiful White Devil online

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sent to Hong Kong. They would convict her at once. No! There is
nothing for it but for us to plan some means of escape for her, and
yet, when one thinks how perfect English police arrangements are, that
seems wellnigh impossible. However, done it must be, by hook or crook,
and we must set about it at once."

"But how? Have you any idea in your head?"

"Not at present, but it will be strange if I don't hit upon one before
very long. If only her ladyship could help us!"

"Wait one moment. Perhaps she can. When I left her this afternoon she
gave me a note, which I was not to open until I got home. Let us see
what it says."

I took it out of my waistcoat pocket, opened it, and read it aloud. It
certainly contained the germs of an idea and ran as follows:

"I have been thinking over what we spoke of this morning and
it seems to me that, if I am to escape at all, the attempt
must be made during the time I am being conveyed from Bow
Street to Holloway in the prison van. The question is
whether sufficient temptation could be put before the driver
and the guard to induce them to assist me. Will you think
this out?"

When I had finished reading, I asked Walworth for his opinion. But for
nearly five minutes he allowed no sign to escape him to show that he
had heard my question, only laid himself back in his chair, looked up
at the ceiling, and meanwhile slowly tore my newspaper into rags. When
he had finished his work of destruction, he sat up straight and
slapped his hand on his knee.

"Her ladyship is always right. I believe I _do_ see a way now!"

"What is it?" I asked, in almost breathless excitement.

"You must not ask me just yet. I'll go away and make a few inquiries
first. To-night at nine o'clock I'll come back here, and we'll go into
the matter thoroughly. For the present then, good-bye, and keep up
your heart. Have no fear, we'll rescue her yet."

There was something so strong and confident about the man that this
assurance roused and braced me like a tonic. I stopped him, however,
before he could reach the door.

"One word first, Walworth. Do you know the position in which I stand
towards Alie?"

"I know that you were to have been married within the next three
weeks, if that's what you mean?" he answered. "And so you shall be yet
if I can bring it about. Dr. De Normanville, you have got a woman for
whom we all would die. This is your chance to show yourself worthy of
her, and, if you will allow me to say so, I think you will. I am your
faithful servant as well as hers, remember that. Now I must go!"

"Good luck go with you!"

I let him out by the front door, and then went back to my room to try
and discover what the idea could be that he had got into his fertile
brain. I felt I would have given anything to have known something a
little more definite. However, as I _didn't_ know, there was nothing
for it but to exercise my patience until nine o'clock should arrive.

It may be guessed how anxiously I watched the hands of the clock upon
my mantelpiece. At last, however, they drew round to the appointed
hour and I prepared myself for Walworth's arrival. But, though I saw
no sign of him, I had not very long to wait for a visitor. The last
stroke of nine had hardly died away before my ear caught a ring at the
bell and a moment later a "Mr. Samuel Baker" was ushered into the
room. As he entered, I took stock of him, half fearing he might be
some sort of police officer in disguise. He was a stout, rather
pompous man of middle height, with fluffy whiskers, clean shaven chin
and upper lip, and from his dress might have been a linen draper or
small tradesman from some cathedral town. Having warmly shaken hands
with me he put his top hat down on a chair, seated himself on another,
mopped his forehead with a red bandanna handkerchief, took off and
carefully wiped his spectacles, returned them to his nose, and then
said quietly, "What do you think of this for a make-up, Dr. De

"Walworth," I cried, in utter amazement. "You don't really mean to say
it's you. I was just beginning to wonder how I should manage to rid
myself of Mr. Samuel Baker before you should arrive. You are certainly
a genius at concealing your identity, if ever there was one."

"I have had to do it so often," he replied, "that I have reduced it to
a science."

"Have you anything to report?"

"A good deal," he answered. "But before I begin, may I light a
cheroot? I see from the ash trays you smoke in here!"

"Smoke as much as you please," I replied. "May I also offer you some
refreshment. Perhaps you haven't dined? If so, I can tell them to
bring you up something!"

"No, thank you," he answered; "I have dined, and excellently. Now let
us get to business without any further waste of time."

"With all the good will in the world," I said, seating myself again.
"Go on. Tell me all."

"Well! in the first place, you must understand that when I left here
this afternoon I went for a walk to think out my plan. To begin with,
I saw quite clearly that any attempt to rescue her ladyship from
either Bow Street police station itself or Holloway Gaol would only be
a farce, and by proving a failure would end by completely spoiling the
whole thing. I settled it, therefore, that the only time when it could
be done, with any hope of success, would be on the journey _from_ the
court _to_ the prison. In other words, during the time she is in the
van. But how that is to be managed is more difficult to see. To bribe
the officials, as her ladyship suggests, would be altogether too
hazardous a proceeding, even if it were possible, nor is it to be
imagined that we could secure the van for ourselves."

"It seems a very difficult matter."

"Difficult, certainly, but by no means as hopeless as you would be
inclined to suppose. No! I have an idea in my head that looks
promising, and you must assist me in carrying it out."

"You have every reason to know that you may count upon my doing that,"
I answered. "Who would so gladly assist as I?"

"Of course I understand that, but I have to warn you that this will
mean, either way you look at it, social extinction for you. If it
fails and we are caught, you are done for as far as your reputation
here is concerned. If we are not caught, well, I suppose you will fly
with her, and in that case you will certainly never see England

"Do you suppose I shall allow my own social position to weigh with me,
if by risking it I can save her?"

"No, I don't think you will. But now let me detail my scheme as I have
thought it out. In the first place I have ascertained that the van
leaves the prison at a definite hour every day. It drives down, takes
the prisoners up, and drives back again. This being so, it is certain,
as I have said before, that it must be stopped on its way _from_ the
prison _to_ the court, and in such a way that it cannot go on again
for at least half an hour. In the meantime another van must drive down
equipped in every way like the real one. This one will take up the
prisoner and drive off. Once out of sight of the station it will drive
into the yard of an empty house, a conveyance will then be in waiting
in the other street, her ladyship passes through the house, gets into
that and drives off to a railway station; there a Pullman must be in
readiness to take her to the seaside, whence a yacht will convey her
to some place where we can have the _Lone Star_ to meet her. I shall
cable to Patterson to set off and be in readiness to pick us up
directly we have decided where that place shall be."

"But how will you cable to him without exciting suspicion?"

"You need have no fear on that score; we have a means of communicating
of our own, which I would explain now only it would be waste of time.
What do you think of my scheme?"

"It sounds all right, but is it workable?"

"I really think so! However, we will discuss it, item by item, and try
and arrive at a conclusion that way. To begin with, money must be
considered no object. If even £10,000 is necessary to its success,
£10,000 will be spent. In the first place, we must find a competent
coachbuilder at once. If he has a van on hand, which is hardly likely,
we'll purchase it! If not, well, then he must put on all his hands and
make one, even if he has to work day and night to do it."

"But how will you explain the purpose for which we want it?"

"I have thought of that, and, when I left you, I sent the following

Here he produced a duplicate form from his pocket and read it aloud:


"What dates this month? Reply terms, Stragaus, West Strand
Telegraph Office.


"But who on earth is Maximillien Stragaus, and what has the Royal
Olympic Theatre, Manchester, to do with our scheme?"

"Everything. In the first place you must realise the fact that I am
Maximillien Stragaus, the world-renowned theatrical _entrepreneur_,
and that you are his secretary, Fairlight Longsman. Having received a
reply from Manchester, I decide to open there with my wonderful and
intensely exciting prison drama, 'Saved by a Woman's Pluck,' on the
third Saturday in June. Here is the preliminary announcement. I had it
struck off this afternoon."

He took from the small bag he had brought into the room with him a
large theatrical poster, covered with printing of all colours of the
rainbow. It read as follows:




Commencing Saturday, June 20th.

Mr. Maximillien Stragaus' World-renowned Standard Company,
in the intensely exciting Prison Drama,


Detectives - Police - Bloodhounds - Real Horses and Real
Prison Vans.

Sole Manager and Proprietor, MR. MAXIMILLIEN STRAGAUS.

"There! what do you think of that for a poster?"

"Very startling," I answered. "But I must reiterate my former remark,
that I do not understand in the very least degree what it has to do
with us."

"Why, look here, it means that to-morrow morning we go to that
coachbuilder I was speaking of and give him an order for a prison van.
Incidentally we will show him this poster, and state that, owing to
change of dates, we must have the van delivered this day week. Don't
you see? If we hadn't something to show, he might suspect; this
poster, however, will set his mind completely at rest, and, at the
same time, be an excuse for haste. Now, do you understand?"

"I do, and I must say I admire your wonderful resource. What next?"

"Well, the next thing will be to obtain two police uniforms and two
trustworthy men, one to drive the van the other to act as guard. That,
however, will be easily managed. The next item will be rather more

"What is that?"

"Why, to find a sure and certain means of stopping the real van on its
way down to the court."

"We couldn't waylay the driver and keep him talking, I suppose?"

"We could try it, of course; but it wouldn't be sure enough. He might
be a conscientious man, you see, and not like to stop, or he might
stop and afterwards whip up to make up lost time. No! we must hit on
something that will absolutely prevent him from going on for at least
half an hour, and yet something that will not excite suspicion. I
think I see a way to do it, but it will require the most minute and
careful working out to insure its success. To begin with, I shall have
to find a first-class man for the job, and possibly I shall have to
cable to America for him."

"What is your idea?"

"To arrange a collision. To have a runaway, and crash into the

"Would that do, do you think?"

"If I can find the right man and the right sort of horses."

"I don't like it. To quote your own words, it doesn't sound sure

"We shall have to do it if we can't hit out a better way. Then we must
discover a house somewhere in a handy neighbourhood; it must have a
yard at the back, opening into an obscure street. The yard must have
high gates and be in such a position that it cannot be overlooked by
the neighbours. Then the day before the business comes off we must
find an invalid carriage, engage a Pullman car for Portsmouth, and
hire a yacht for a voyage to the Cape."

"It will mean simply superhuman labour, if it is all to be
accomplished in a fortnight."

"It will, but I don't think either of us is afraid of work. Aren't we
fighting for what is more precious to her than her life? Yes! We'll do
it between us. Don't you doubt that. Now I must be off again; I've a
lot to do before I can get to bed to-night. By the way, will it be
convenient for you if I call here at half-past five to-morrow morning?
We must be at the coachbuilder's by seven o'clock."

"Come at three if you like, you will find me quite ready."

"Then good-night."

He went away and I to bed. At five o'clock I woke, had a bath,
dressed, and went down stairs. Punctually, almost to the minute, a
slightly Jewish, black-ringletted man, wearing a profusion of
diamonds, put in an appearance, bag in hand. Though I should never
have recognised him as Walworth I felt certain it was he, so I let him
in and we went into my study together.

"Now," said my friend, for it was Walworth, as I suspected, "I don't
know what you'll say to it, but it's absolutely necessary for the
success of our scheme that you should assume some disguise. As you are
known to be the affianced husband of her ladyship, the police will be
certain to have their eyes on you."

"Do with me as you like," I replied; "I am in your hands entirely."

"Then, with your permission, we will set to work at once. I have taken
the liberty of bringing a few things with me. You have an
old-fashioned frock coat, I presume."

"A very old-fashioned one," I answered, with a laugh.

"Then put it on, also a pair of light check trousers, if you have

I went to my room and did as he desired. When I returned to the study
he had arranged a number of articles upon the table - crepe hair,
spectacles, a curiously low cut collar, and a soft felt hat with a
dented crown. He gazed at me with approval, and then said:

"The effect will be excellent, I feel sure. Sit down here."

I did as commanded and he immediately set to work. As he was occupied
behind me I could not of course see what he was doing, but after a
while he took off my own collar, put on the low one he had brought
with him, cut up some crepe hair and gummed it to my face, with what I
believe is technically termed "spirit gum," trimmed its exuberances
with a pair of scissors, and finally combed my moustache over it. This
accomplished, he placed the spectacles upon my nose and the soft felt
hat rather rakishly upon my head, patted me on the shoulder, and said:

"Look at yourself in the glass."

I rose and went over to the fire-place. But, though I looked in the
mirror above the chimney piece, I did not recognise myself. My
moustache was waxed to a point and stood out above a close-cropped
chestnut beard, while over my coat collar hung a profusion of curls of
a corresponding colour. Indeed, my whole appearance suggested a man
whose aim in life it was to copy, as nearly as possible, the accepted
portrait of the Bard of Avon.

"It is wonderful," I said. "Nobody would ever recognise me. I feel a
theatrical agent all over."

"Remember you are Fairlight Longsman, the author of several farces,
and my secretary. Whatever you do, don't forget that. Now we must be
going. Come along."

We left the house unnoticed, and, having hailed a hansom, were driven
to the carriage builder's yard at Vauxhall. Walworth had evidently
written preparing him for our visit, for, early as it was, we found
him waiting to receive us.

"Zir," began Mr. Maximillien Stragaus, in broken English, as soon as
he had descended from the cab. "Is it you dot are Mr. Ebridge?"

"That is my name, sir," said the coachbuilder. "And you are Mr.
Stragaus, I presume."

"Dot is my name. Dis shentleman is my secretary, Mr. Fairlide
Longsman. Now, you know, an' so we can our business begin to dalk!"

"Perhaps you will be good enough, gentlemen, to step into my office
first. We shall be more private there."

We followed him into the room he mentioned, and took possession of the
chairs he offered us.

"Now, Mr. Stragaus, in what way can I be of service to you?" he asked,
seating himself as he spoke at his desk.

"Zir! My segratary sprechens the Anglaish better nor me, he vill dell

I felt that it behoved me to do my best, so leaning forward in a
confidential manner, I said:

"My employer, as doubtless you are very well aware, Mr. Ebridge, is
one of the largest theatrical _entrepreneurs_ in England. His dealings
are gigantic. And it is the business connected with one of those
enormous productions that brings us here. In the first place, you must
know that, on the third Saturday in this present month, he has
arranged to produce the entirely new and original drama, "Saved by a
Woman's Pluck," at the Royal Olympic Theatre, Manchester. By the way,
have you the preliminary poster with you, Mr. Stragaus?"

In answer Mr. Stragaus produced from his bag the placard before
described and spread it upon the table, at the same time looking at
the coachbuilder as if to demand his opinion on such a fine display of

"You will observe, Mr. Ebridge," I continued, when the other had read
it, "that the whole production will be on a scale of unparalleled
splendour, - police, bloodhounds, live horses, and one large prison
van, all on the stage, - it will be one of the greatest successes of
the century. But we want your assistance."

"You mean, of course, that you want me to make you a van!"


"Just a makeshift affair for the stage, I presume?"

"Oh, dear, no! That is not Mr. Stragaus' way of doing business at all.
If he has a fire engine on the stage, as he had in his last
production, it must be a real engine, with every detail complete and
in proper working order. In the same way then, when he orders a police
van, he wants it made in every particular just as you would make it
for Her Majesty's Government. There must be no difference at all in
any one respect, neither the painting, lettering, nor the internal

"It will cost you a lot of money, Mr. Stragaus," said the builder.

"Dot is no madder at all to me," replied Mr. Stragaus pompously; "I
vill 'ave de ding berfect or nod at all. Vot is more, I must 'ave it
at once."

"Mr. Stragaus, I may point out to you, Mr. Ebridge," I continued, "is
in a very great hurry. There has been a slight pushing forward of
dates, and in order to insure a success he is willing to pay you
handsomely if you will complete the work in a short space of time."

"How long can you give me, sir?"

"A week exactly. Not a day longer!"

"Impossible. It cannot be done!"

"Den ve must go elsewhere, mine vriend," said Mr. Stragaus. "Dot is
all. If you will underdake to do de vork and to 'and me over de van
gomplete on next Duesday evening at twelve o'glock, I vill pay you
dwice de sum you ask me now."

The man looked up in surprise at this extraordinary offer, and asked
to be excused for a moment while he consulted with his foreman. While
he was absent, Walworth whispered:

"I think he'll do it. And if we can arrange it that way we shall be
able to get it safely up to the yard of the house unobserved."

Here the coachbuilder returned.

"My foreman tells me he thinks it can be done, sir. But you must see
that it will mean night and day work for us all. And the charge will
have to be on a corresponding scale."

"Dot is nodings to me. You do de work, and I vill pay der money. You
agree? Den it is arranged I shall send my men for der van 'ere on
Duesday night at twelve o'glock, and you will 'ave it gomplete! Den we
can zend it on by rail vorst ding in der mornin'. But, mind you dis,
if it is not done den, I vill not pay you von farding, you agree?"

"I agree. I have given you my promise, Mr. Stragaus, and whatever
happens, it shall be completed by that time!"

"Dot is goot. You might, too, 'ave a tarbaulin to cover it mit, so
that de publick shall not see it ven ve take it away. Now, zir, I vish
you goot morning. You vill be paid for de van ven my men dake

"Thank you, sir! Good-morning, gentlemen."

When we were once more in the cab, and on our way back to town,
Walworth discarded his German accent and resumed his natural tongue.

"So far so good. That bit of business is satisfactorily accomplished."

"You did not say anything to him about observing secrecy."

"It wasn't necessary. That poster, which you will notice I have left
upon his table, will account for everything."

"But supposing the police get to hear of it, and it rouses their

"Well, let them get to hear of it. If they suspect, they will call on
Ebridge and make inquiries. He will then describe us and show the
poster. They may then possibly telegraph to the Olympic, Manchester,
and learn that Mr. Stragaus _has_ booked a season there for his new
play. That will put them off the scent completely."

"And what are we to do now?"

"Well, now, you had better come to breakfast with me, I think, at my
lodgings. You can there resume your own everyday appearance. During
the morning I am going to meet two men I have in my mind for the
policemen; after that I shall visit a tailor's shop and order the
uniforms as arranged. In the afternoon I'm going to hunt for a house."

"Can I do anything else to help you?"

"Not just at present. Unless you can find me a trustworthy lady who
will consent to masquerade for a little while as a hospital nurse?"

"There I think I _can_ help you. My sister Janet, I'm sure, would
gladly do so. I'll call upon her this afternoon and see."

I did so, and of course secured Janet's immediate promise of



On looking back upon that dreadful fortnight, I almost wonder how I
managed to live through it. Indeed, had it not been for Walworth's
indomitable energy and the corresponding spirit it provoked in me, I
sometimes doubt if I should have come through it in possession of my
senses. The anxiety and the constant dread of failure were the worst
parts of it, and the last haunted me, day and night, without

Every day popular excitement, fanned by the newspapers, was growing
greater in London. As more became known of the Beautiful White Devil's
extraordinary career, the interest taken by the public in the case
increased, until it was generally admitted that at the final
examination it would be wellnigh impossible to gain admittance to the
court. As, however, my duty on that occasion would lie elsewhere, I
did not trouble myself very much about that.

At last the Wednesday preceding the fatal Thursday dawned. This was
the last day permitted us in which to perfect our arrangements. I had
been warned by Walworth that he would call upon me late in the evening
to make his final report, and at his particular request I arranged
that my sister Janet should be present. I wrote her a note to that
effect, and at eight o'clock precisely she drove up to the door. When
we were alone in my room together, I said:

"Janet, it is Walworth's wish that you should be present at our
interview. Have you made up your mind definitely? Remember, there is
yet time for you to draw back if you wish to do so."

She drew herself up proudly and looked me in the face.

"There will be no drawing back as far as I am concerned," she said.
"No! if you and Alie leave England and will take me, I will go with
you gladly. Why should I not? I have no one left now to consider, and
without you both my life would be too lonely."

"Janet, dear; what can I say to you?" I answered. "But there, you know
how I feel about your generosity, don't you?"

"I do! So let's say no more about it."

Just then there was a ring at the bell, and a few moments later my man
ushered in a decrepid old gentleman of about seventy years of age,
who, immediately the door had closed behind him, straightened his
back, allowed his cheeks to fill again, and declared himself to be the
ever-cautious Walworth. He bowed to Janet, shook hands with me, and
then said:

"I couldn't call in the capacity of either Mr. Maximillien Stragaus or

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Online LibraryGuy BoothbyThe Beautiful White Devil → online text (page 16 of 19)