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TRANSCRIBER'S NOTES:

Following each author's name was a notice: "All rights reserved." This
book is currently in the public domain, and the notices have been
removed, but are mentioned here in the interest of completeness.

Many inconsistencies in spelling, punctuation, and hyphenation have been
normalized. Others remain as in the original. Any deviation from the
author's intent is solely the responsibility of the transcriber.

This book seems to have been bound in two sections, each with stories
numbered I-XII.







Golden Stories


A SELECTION OF THE BEST FICTION
BY THE FOREMOST WRITERS


[Illustration]


NEW YORK
THE SHORT STORIES COMPANY
1909




ALL RIGHTS RESERVED, INCLUDING THAT OF TRANSLATION INTO FOREIGN
LANGUAGES, INCLUDING THE SCANDINAVIAN

COPYRIGHT, 1908-1909, BY THE SHORT STORIES COMPANY




I

THE NIGHT EXPRESS

The Story of a Bank Robbery

By FRED M. WHITE


A PELTING rain volleyed against the great glass dome of the terminus, a
roaring wind boomed in the roof. Passengers, hurrying along the
platform, glistened in big coats and tweed caps pulled close over their
ears. By the platform the night express was drawn up - a glittering mass
of green and gold, shimmering with electric lights, warm, inviting, and
cozy.

Most of the corridor carriages and sleeping berths were full, for it was
early in October still, and the Scotch exodus was not just yet. A few
late comers were looking anxiously out for the guard. He came presently,
an alert figure in blue and silver. Really, he was very sorry. But the
train was unusually crowded, and he was doing the best he could. He was
perfectly aware of the fact that his questioners represented a Cabinet
Minister on his way to Balmoral and a prominent Lothian baronet, but
there are limits even to the power of an express guard, on the Grand
Coast Railway.

"Well, what's the matter with this?" the Minister demanded. "Here is an
ordinary first-class coach that will do very well for us. Now, Catesby,
unlock one of these doors and turn the lights on."

"Very sorry, my lord," the guard explained, "but it can't be done. Two
of the carriages in the coach are quite full, as you see, and the other
two are reserved. As a matter of fact, my lord, we are taking a body
down to Lydmouth. Gentleman who is going to be buried there. And the
other carriage is for the Imperial Bank of Scotland. Cashier going up
north with specie, you understand."

It was all plain enough, and disgustingly logical. To intrude upon the
presence of a body was perfectly impossible; to try and force the hand
of the bank cashier equally out of the question. As head of a great
financial house, the Minister knew that. A platform inspector bustled
along presently, with his hand to his gold-laced cap.

"Saloon carriage being coupled up behind, my lord," he said.

The problem was solved. The guard glanced at his watch. It seemed to him
that both the bank messenger and the undertaker were cutting it fine.
The coffin came presently on a hand-truck - a black velvet pall lay over
it, and on the sombre cloth a wreath or two of white lilies. The door of
the carriage was closed presently, and the blinds drawn discreetly
close. Following behind this came a barrow in charge of a couple of
platform police. On the barrow were two square deal boxes, heavy out of
all proportion to their size. These were deposited presently to the
satisfaction of a little nervous-looking man in gold-rimmed glasses. Mr.
George Skidmore, of the Imperial Bank, had his share of ordinary
courage, but he had an imagination, too, and he particularly disliked
these periodical trips to branch banks, in convoy, so to speak. He took
no risks.

"Awful night, sir," the guard observed. "Rather lucky to get a carriage
to yourself, sir. Don't suppose you would have done so only we're taking
a corpse as far as Lydmouth, which is our first stop."

"Really?" Skidmore said carelessly. "Ill wind that blows nobody good,
Catesby. I may be overcautious, but I much prefer a carriage to myself.
And my people prefer it, too. That's why we always give the railway
authorities a few days' notice. One can't be too careful, Catesby."

The guard supposed not. He was slightly, yet discreetly, amused to see
Mr. Skidmore glance under the seats of the first-class carriage.
Certainly there was nobody either there or on the racks. The carriage
at the far side was locked, and so, now, was the door next the platform.
The great glass dome was brilliantly lighted so that anything suspicious
would have been detected instantly. The guard's whistle rang out shrill
and clear, and Catesby had a glimpse of Mr. Skidmore making himself
comfortable as he swung himself into his van. The great green and gold
serpent with the brilliant electric eyes fought its way sinuously into
the throat of the wet and riotous night on its first stage of over two
hundred miles. Lydmouth would be the first stop.

So far Mr. Skidmore had nothing to worry him, nothing, that is, except
the outside chance of a bad accident. He did not anticipate, however,
that some miscreant might deliberately wreck the train on the off chance
of looting those plain deal boxes. The class of thief that banks have to
fear is not guilty of such clumsiness. Unquestionably nothing could
happen on this side of Lydmouth. The train was roaring along now through
the fierce gale at sixty odd miles an hour, Skidmore had the carriage to
himself, and was not the snug, brilliantly lighted compartment made of
steel? On one side was the carriage with the coffin; on the other side
another compartment filled with a party of sportsmen going North.
Skidmore had noticed the four of them playing bridge just before he
slipped into his own carriage. Really, he had nothing to fear. He lay
back comfortably wondering how Poe or Gaboriau would have handled such a
situation with a successful robbery behind it. There are limits, of
course, both to a novelist's imagination and a clever thief's process of
invention. So, therefore....

Three hours and twenty minutes later the express pulled up at Lydmouth.
The station clock indicated the hour to be 11.23. Catesby swung himself
out of his van on to the shining wet platform. Only one passenger was
waiting there, but nobody alighted. Catesby was sure of this, because he
was on the flags before a door could be opened. He came forward to give
a hand with the coffin in the compartment next to Skidmore's. Then he
noticed, to his surprise, that the glass in the carriage window was
smashed; he could see that the little cashier was huddled up strangely
in one corner. And Catesby could see also that the two boxes of bullion
were gone!

Catesby's heart was thumping against his ribs as he fumbled with his
key. He laid his hand upon Skidmore's shoulder, but the latter did not
move. The fair hair hung in a mass on the side of his forehead, and here
it was fair no longer. There was a hole with something horribly red and
slimy oozing from it. The carpet on the floor was piled up in a heap;
there were red smears on the cushions. It was quite evident that a
struggle had taken place here. The shattered glass in the window
testified to that. And the boxes were gone, and Skidmore had been
murdered by some assailant who had shot him through the brain. And this
mysterious antagonist had got off with the bullion, too.

A thing incredible, amazing, impossible; but there it was. By some
extraordinary method or another the audacious criminal had boarded an
express train traveling at sixty miles an hour in the teeth of a gale.
He had contrived to enter the cashier's carriage and remove specie to
the amount of eight thousand pounds! It was impossible that only one man
could have carried it. But all the same it was gone.

Catesby pulled himself together. He was perfectly certain that nobody at
present on the train had been guilty of this thing. He was perfectly
certain that nobody had left the train. Nobody could have done so after
entering the station without the guard's knowledge, and to have
attempted such a thing on the far side of the river bridge would have
been certain death to anybody. There was a long viaduct here - posts and
pillars and chains, with tragedy lurking anywhere for the madman who
attempted such a thing. And until the viaduct was reached the express
had not slackened speed. Besides, the thief who had the courage and
intelligence and daring to carry out a robbery like this was not the man
to leave an express train traveling at a speed of upwards of sixty miles
an hour.

The train had to proceed, there was no help for it. There was a hurried
conference between Catesby and the stationmaster; after that the
electric lamps in the dead man's carriage were unshipped, and the blinds
pulled down. The matter would be fully investigated when Edinburgh was
reached, meanwhile the stationmaster at Lydmouth would telephone the
Scotch capital and let them know there what they had to expect. Catesby
crept into his van again, very queer and dizzy, and with a sensation in
his legs suggestive of creeping paralysis.

* * * * *

Naturally, the mystery of the night express caused a great sensation.
Nothing like it had been known since the great crime on the South Coast,
which is connected with the name of Lefroy. But that was not so much a
mystery as a man hunt. There the criminal had been identified. But here
there was no trace and no clue whatever. It was in vain that the
Scotland Yard authorities tried to shake the evidence of the guard,
Catesby. He refused to make any admissions that would permit the police
even to build up a theory. He was absolutely certain that Mr. Skidmore
had been alone in the carriage at the moment that the express left
London; he was absolutely certain that he had locked the door of the
compartment, and the engine driver could testify that the train had
never traveled at a less speed than sixty miles an hour until the bridge
over the river leading into Lydmouth station was reached; even then
nobody could have dropped off the train without the risk of certain
death. Inspector Merrick was bound to admit this himself when he went
over the spot. And the problem of the missing bullion boxes was quite as
puzzling in its way as the mysterious way in which Mr. Skidmore had met
his death.

There was no clue to this either. Certainly there had been a struggle,
or there would not have been blood marks all over the place, and the
window would have remained intact. Skidmore had probably been forced
back into his seat, or he had collapsed there after the fatal shot was
fired. The unfortunate man had been shot through the brain with an
ordinary revolver of common pattern, so that for the purpose of proof
the bullet was useless. There were no finger marks on the carriage door,
a proof that the murderer had either worn gloves or that he had
carefully removed all traces with a cloth of some kind. It was obvious,
too, that a criminal of this class would take no risks, especially as
there was no chance of his being hurried, seeing that he had had three
clear hours for his work. The more the police went into the matter, the
more puzzled they were. It was not a difficult matter to establish the
bona fides of the passengers who traveled in the next coach with
Skidmore, and as to the rest it did not matter. Nobody could possibly
have left any of the corridor coaches without attracting notice; indeed,
the very suggestion was absurd. And there the matter rested for three
days.

It must not be supposed that the authorities had been altogether idle.
Inspector Merrick spent most of his time traveling up and down the line
by slow local trains on the off-chance of hearing some significant
incident that might lead to a clue. There was one thing obvious - the
bullion boxes must have been thrown off the train at some spot arranged
between the active thief and his confederates. For this was too big a
thing to be entirely the work of one man. Some of the gang must have
been waiting along the line in readiness to receive the boxes and carry
them to a place of safety. By this time, no doubt, the boxes themselves
had been destroyed; but eight thousand pounds in gold takes some moving,
and probably a conveyance, a motor for choice, had been employed for
this purpose. But nobody appeared to have seen or heard anything
suspicious on the night of the murder; no prowling gamekeeper or watcher
had noticed anything out of the common. Along the Essex and Norfolk
marshes, where the Grand Coast Railway wound along like a steel snake,
they had taken their desolate and dreary way. True, the dead body of a
man had been found in the fowling nets up in the mouth of the Little
Ouse, and nobody seemed to know who he was; but there could be no
connection between this unhappy individual and the express criminal.
Merrick shook his head as he listened to this from a laborer in a
roadside public house where he was making a frugal lunch on bread and
cheese.

"What do you call fowling nets?" Merrick asked.

"Why, what they catches the birds in," the rustic explained. "Thousands
and thousands of duck and teel and widgeon they catches at this time of
year. There's miles of nets along the road - great big nets like fowl
runs. Ye didn't happen to see any on 'em as ye came along in the train?"

"Now I come to think of it, yes," Merrick said thoughtfully. "I was
rather struck by all that netting. So they catch sea birds that way?"

"Catches 'em by the thousand, they does. Birds fly against the netting
in the dark and get entangled. Ducks they get by 'ticing 'em into a sort
of cage with decoys. There's some of 'em stan's the best part of half a
mile long. Covered in over the top like great cages. Ain't bad sport,
either."

Merrick nodded. He recollected it all clearly now. He recalled the wide,
desolate mud flats running right up to the railway embankment for some
miles. At high tide the mud flats were under water, and out of these the
great mass of network rose both horizontally and perpendicular. And in
this tangle the dead body of a man had been found after the storm.

There was nothing really significant in the fact that the body had been
discovered soon after the murder of Mr. George Skidmore. Still, there
might be a connection between the two incidents. Merrick was going to
make inquiries; he was after what looked like a million to one chance.
But then Merrick was a detective with an imagination, which was one of
the reasons why he had been appointed to the job. It was essentially a
case for the theoretical man. It baffled all the established rules of
the game.

Late the same afternoon Merrick arrived at Little Warlingham by means of
a baker's cart. It was here that the body of the drowned man lay
awaiting the slim chances of identity. If nothing transpired during the
next eight and forty hours, the corpse would be buried by the parish
authorities. The village policeman acted as Merrick's guide. It was an
event in his life that he was not likely to forget.

"A stranger to these parts, I should say, sir," the local officer said.
"He's in a shed at the back of the 'Blue Anchor,' where the inquest was
held. If you come this way, I'll show him to you."

"Anything found on the body?"

"Absolutely nothing, sir. No mark on the clothing or linen, either.
Probably washed off some ship in the storm. Pockets were quite empty,
too. And no signs of foul play. _There_ you are, sir!"

Casually enough Merrick bent over the still, white form lying there. The
dead face was turned up to the light, Rembrandtesque, coming through the
door. The detective straightened himself suddenly, and wiped his
forehead.

"Stranger to you, sir, of course?" the local man said grimly.

"Well, no," Merrick retorted. "I happen to know the fellow quite well.
I'm glad I came here."

* * * * *

Until it was quite too dark to see any longer Merrick was out on the mud
flats asking questions. He appeared to be greatly interested in the
wildfowlers and the many methods of catching their prey. He learned,
incidentally, that on the night of the express murder most of the nets
and lures had been washed away. He took minute particulars as to the
state of the tide on the night in question; he wanted to know if the
nets were capable of holding up against any great force. For instance,
if a school of porpoises came along? Or if a fish eagle or an osprey
found itself entangled in the meshes?

The fowlers smiled. They invited Merrick to try it for himself. On that
stormy east coast it was foolish to take any risks. And Merrick was
satisfied. As a matter of fact, he was more than satisfied.

He was really beginning to see his way at last. By the time he got back
to his headquarters again he had practically reconstructed the crime. As
he stood on the railway permanent way, gazing down into the network of
the fowlers below, he smiled to himself. He could have tossed a biscuit
on to the top of the long lengths of tarred and knotted rigging. Later
on he telephoned to the London terminus of the Grand Coast Railway for
the people there to place the services of Catesby at his disposal for a
day or two. Could Catesby meet him at Lydmouth to-morrow?

The guard could and did. He frankly admitted that he was grateful for
the little holiday. He looked as if he wanted it. The corners of his
mouth twitched, his hands were shaky.

"It's nerves, Mr. Merrick," he explained. "We all suffer from them at
times. Only we don't like the company to know it, ye understand? To tell
the truth, I've never got over that affair at the Junction here eight
years ago. I expect you remember that."

Merrick nodded. Catesby was alluding to a great railway tragedy which
had taken place outside Lydmouth station some few years back. It had
been a most disastrous affair for a local express, and Catesby had been
acting as guard to the train. He spoke of it under his breath.

"I dream of it occasionally even now," he said. "The engine left the
line and dragged the train over the embankment into the river. If you
ask me how I managed to escape, I can't tell you. I never come into
Lydmouth with the night express now without my head out of the window of
the van right away from the viaduct till she pulls up at the station.
And what's more, I never shall. It isn't fear, mind you, because I've as
much pluck as any man. It's just nerves."

"We get 'em in our profession, too," Merrick smiled. "Did you happen to
be looking out of the window on the night of the murder?"

"Yes, and every other night, too. Haven't I just told you so? Directly
we strike the viaduct I come to my feet by instinct."

"Always look out the same side, I suppose?"

"Yes, on the left. That's the platform side, you understand."

"Then if anybody had left the train there - - "

"Anybody left the train! Why we were traveling at fifty miles an hour
when we reached the viaduct. Oh, yes, if anybody _had_ left the train I
should have been bound to see them, of course."

"But you can't see out of both windows at once."

"Nobody could leave the train by the other side. The stone parapet of
the viaduct almost touches the footboard, and there's a drop of ninety
feet below that. Of course I see what you are driving at, Mr. Merrick.
Now look here. I locked Mr. Skidmore in the carriage myself, and I can
_prove_ that nobody got in before we left London. That would have been
too dangerous a game so long as the train was passing any number of
brilliantly lighted stations, and by the time we got into the open we
were going at sixty miles an hour. That speed never slackened till we
were just outside Lydmouth, and I was watching at the moment that our
pace dropped. I had my head out of the window of my van till we pulled
up by the platform. I am prepared to swear to all this if you like. Lord
knows how the thing was done, and I don't suppose anybody else ever
will."

"You are mistaken there," said Merrick drily. "Now, what puzzles you,
of course, is the manner in which the murderer left the train."

"Well, isn't that the whole mystery?"

"Not to me. That's the part I really do know. Not that I can take any
great credit to myself, because luck helped me. It was, perhaps, the
most amazing piece of luck I have ever had. It was my duty, of course,
to take no chances, and I didn't. But we'll come to that presently. Let
it suffice for the moment that I know how the murderer left the train.
What puzzles me is to know how he got on it. We can dismiss every other
passenger in the train, and we need not look for an accomplice. There
_were_ accomplices, of course, but they were not on the express. Why
didn't Mr. Skidmore travel in one of the corridor coaches?"

"He was too nervous. He always had a first-class carriage to himself. We
knew he was coming, and that was why we attached an ordinary first-class
coach to the train. We shouldn't do it for anybody, but Lord Rendelmore,
the chairman of Mr. Skidmore's bank, is also one of our directors. The
coach came in handy the other night because we had an order from a
London undertaker to bring a corpse as far as here - to Lydmouth."

"Really! You would have to have a separate carriage for that."

"Naturally, Mr. Merrick. It was sort of killing two birds with one
stone."

"I see. When did you hear about the undertaking job?"

"The same morning we heard from the bank that Mr. Skidmore was going to
Lydmouth. We reserved a coach at once, and had it attached to the
Express. The other carriages were filled with ordinary passengers."

"Why didn't I hear of this before?" Merrick asked.

"_I_ don't know. It doesn't seem to me to be of much importance. You
might just as well ask me questions as to the passengers' baggage."

"Everything is of importance," Merrick said sententiously. "In our
profession, there are no such things as trifles. I suppose there will
be no difficulty in getting at the facts of this corpse business. I'll
make inquiries here presently."

So far Merrick professed himself to be satisfied. But there were still
difficulties in the way. The station people had a clear recollection of
the receipt of a coffin on the night of the tragedy, and, late as it
was, the gruesome thing had been fetched away by the people whom it was
consigned to. A plain hearse, drawn by one horse, had been driven into
the station yard, the consignment note had been receipted in the usual
way, and there was an end of the matter. Lydmouth was a big place, with
nearly a quarter of a million of inhabitants, and would necessarily
contain a good many people in the undertaking line. Clearly it was no
business of the railway company to take this thing any further.

Merrick admitted that freely enough. It was nearly dark when he came
back to the station, profoundly dissatisfied with a wasted afternoon.

"No good," he told Catesby. "At the same time there are consolations.
And, after all, I am merely confirming my suspicions. I suppose your
people here are on the telephone. If so, I should like to send a message
to your head office. I want the name of the firm in London who consigned
the coffin here. I suppose the stationmaster could manage this for me."

An hour or so later the information came. Merrick, at the telephone,
wanted a little further assistance. Would the Grand Coast Railway call
up the undertaker's firm whilst he held the line and ask the full
particulars as to the body sent from London to Lydmouth. For half an
hour Merrick stood patiently there till the reply came.

"Are you there? Is that Inspector Merrick? Oh, yes. Well, we have called
up Lincoln & Co., the undertakers. We got on to the manager himself. He
declares that the whole thing is a mistake. They have not sent a corpse
over our trunk system for two months. I read the manager the letter
asking for special facilities, a letter on the firm's own paper. The
manager does not hesitate to say the whole thing is a forgery. I think
he is right, Inspector. If we can do anything else for you - - "

Merrick hung up the receiver and smiled as if pleased with himself. He
turned to his companion, Catesby.

"It's all right," he said. "Is there any way we can get back to London
to-night? The whole thing is perfectly plain, now."

* * * * *

Though Merrick returned to London thoroughly satisfied, he knew that the
sequel was not just yet. There was much conjuring work to be done before


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