Irene gave evidence, which the Press treated with that voluntary discretion which is the usual consequence of a word fsolana ecosystem redditrom Whitehall or Downing Street, and that she was the daughter of the American Ambassador was not generally known. . . . The Press of the United States, under banner headlines, had more to say; but it was fortunately of the right kind.
"No, not under the circumseos coin current pricetances, unless you wished to. I'm cowardly enough to dread being stared at."He gave a deep sign of relief. "This thing has been troubling me," he said. "I feared you would want to go, and if you did, I should feel that you ought to go."
"I fear I'm very weak about it, but I shrink so from meeting strangers. I do thank God for his goodness many times a day and ask for help. I'm not brave enough to do any more, yet."His rugged features became very somber as he said, "I wish I had as much courage as you have.""You don't understand me--" she began gently."No, I suppose not. It's all become a muddle to me. I mean this church and religious business."She looked at him wistfully, as if she wished to say something, but did not venture to do so. He promptly gave a different turn to the conversation by quoting Mrs. Mumpson's tirade on churchgoing the first Sunday after her arrival. Alida laughed, but not in a wholly mirthful and satisfied way. "There!" he concluded, "I'm touching on things a little too sacred for you. I respect your feelings and beliefs, for they are honest and I wish I shared in 'em." Then he suddenly laughed again as he added, "Mrs. Mumpson said there was too much milking done on Sunday, and it's time I was breaking the Fourth Commandment, after her notion."
Alida now laughed outright, without reservation."'By jocks!' as Watterly says, what a difference there is in women!" he soliloquized on his way to the barn. "Well, the church question is settled for the present, but if Alida should ask me to go, after her manner this morning, I'd face the whole creation with her."But Professor Blinkwell received his message with a mingling of astonishment and anger which was not free from an under-current of fear. A gang which operates outside the law, which handles large sums of money, and the members of which must depend upon a common loyalty for their own protection, is only held together by ruthless discipline, such as Professor Blinkwell had shown himself able and resolute to enforce. No one knew these facts better than Snacklit, who had been executioner of more than one on whom the Professor had passed sentence of death which might be unknown to the victim until he found himself in the hands of those by whom he would be bound, drugged, and thrust into the asphyxiating chamber, for the existence of which there was such an excellent pretext - or perhaps even thrown into the incinerator without that preliminary, if there should be occasion for haste. . . . Was there not a reason for that incinerator also which all nice-minded people would approve? Who would wish to see a daily heap of dead dogs of all shapes and sizes shovelled into a cart in the open street?
To the Professor's mind the fact that Snacklit should venture upon an insubordinate attitude in the moment of common peril had a note of ominous warning beyond anything he had encountered during this most vexatious episode of his career of well-ordered crime. It brought him to an instant decision to take the matter in hand himself, and carry through the imaginary programme which he had suggested to the consideration of the police. If he should be too late - well, even so, the bold course might be the best. Snacklit might then be silenced - removed - and all trace of what had occurred obliterated, so that the utmost efforts of the police would be exerted vainly to ascertain what had occurred, and with no fear whatever that his own part in it could be more than an ugly doubt.There might, he admitted to himself in a mind that was not usually hasty in decision. be some possible explanation, some extenuation which Snacklit might be able to urge, in which idea his logical faculty came somewhat near to the fact. But, if so, he must know, not guess. The position called imperatively for his control, and it was fortunate that he had already provided himself with an explanation for the police. He was on an errand of rescue on their behalf. That was, if he should be in time, and should decide that Irene should be saved; and, in any case, if they should learn where he was about to go, as they might not do.With these thoughts in his mind, he rang to order his car, and then got through to Myra's bedroom, to be told in a sleepy voice that his niece had retired for the night."Then," he said, "you'd better wake yourself up with a jerk. The quicker you're dressed the better.
"I'm going after that Thurlow girl, and I want you to be up to take any calls that come, particularly if there should be one from me."And if Kindell 'phones or comes back you're to tell him that I got uneasy as to what might be happening when I heard nothing more from him, and I've gone out again to see whether there's anything more I can do to help."
"He surely wouldn't be coming back at this hour," Myra answered in sulky protest; but she spoke to a dead wire. It would be incredible, even after his experience of the last hour, that there should be rebellion from her. . . .It was not long after he left the house that she found that she had not reversed the process of her evening toilet in vain.The American ambassador was announced, and Kindell followed him into the room.Mr. Thurlow was polite, but abrupt. "It is Professor Blinkwell we wish to see."
"I'm afraid," she answered, "you've come rather too late. But he left a message, in case you should ring up, that he was uneasy about what might be happening, and he has gone out to see what he can do.""Well, we'd better follow him up. Perhaps you can tell us where we should be most likely to find him.""I'm sorry he didn't say.""But you could make a good guess?" the ambassador persisted.
Kindell, who knew Myra's tone of sincerity, thought that she was speaking the truth for once, and that it would be useless to press her further. He was not surprised when she repeated: "I'm sorry I've no idea. He didn't say a word about it."But Mr. Thurlow had not finished. He asked, with the abruptness he had first used, "It wouldn't by any chance be a Dogs' Home?"
Myra was a practised and skilful liar, and she had, in fact, no particular reason for supposing that her uncle had gone to Snacklit's, being ignorant of the concluding events of the day. But the question startled her by its suggestion of a knowledge she had not supposed that they would have had.In half a second she had voice and expression under control, and said, with some trace of natural annoyance: "I keep telling you that I've no idea where. He's sure to be back before long. Would you like to wait?"
But in that half-second Kindell had seen the startled fear in her eyes. He heard the ambassador say curtly: "No, we won't wait. We'll be getting on." As they left the house together, he said, "I suppose it's the Dogs' Home now?""Yes," the ambassador replied grimly. "I reckon I should have won that bet. But I wonder what they've done with Rene there?""Know the Snacklit Dogs' ome?" he asked the taxi-driver "Then here's a pound note, and don't stop for the lights if there's a way through.""Right you are, guv'nor," the man said cheerfully, and headed his car to the destination to which one of his fraternity had already gone that day on a journey from which there was no return.Chapter 36 THe Poker or Else The BellSNACKLIT LOOKED AT the three whose conversation his entrance had abruptly stopped, and there was suspicion in his eyes.
either Kate nor Billson were, he had good reason to believe, aware of his more sinister activities. Kate was a household servant, engaged through a Labour Exchange a few months before, at a wage sufficiently high to make it a place she would be reluctant to leave.Billson was employed in the business. He acted as porter he worked the lift, he was the routine executioner of the dogs and cats, and any other domestic creatures who had tired the patience of their owners by illness or age, or making it difficult to close their owners' houses.
Snacklit had told him that a young woman had called of whose honesty he was not sure, and that he was not to allow her to leave the premises unless she should be shown out in a regular manner. That had been both a precaution against Irene getting away through the front entrance and a means of keeping Billson in that part of the premises while other things were happening elsewhere of which it was desirable that he should not know.Had Snacklit foreseen that he would have that telephone-call which he could not ignore, he would have made different arrangements. Now he looked round in a well-founded doubt of what might have been said while he was away.
His anxiety and the sense of urgency under which he acted were increased by the fact that he did not return only from receiving and refusing Professor Blinkwell's telephone instructions. He had also interviewed the detective-sergeant whom Superintendent Allenby had sent to the house. He thought he had been successful in turning that enquiry aside; but it had been a plain warning of the activity of the police - of an enquiry which might be concentrating upon him. Suppose they had come with a search-warrant, and had discovered her there - had listened to what she certainly would have said - had looked into the furnace while the taxi-driver's bones were still recognizable? There was no time for further hesitation now. He asked, "What's been happening here?"Kate would have answered, but Billson was quicker than she. He said: "Kate just called me in, sir. I don't know why."
Kate explained: "The young lady said she wanted to go, so I called Billson. You told me to, if she did."Irene saw that, though they might not be prepared to give her further support, they did not betray what she had said, and she got some small comfort from that.Snacklit said, "Well, you can both go now."Irene became aware that she was desperately afraid of what might happen if she should be left alone with Snacklit again. She said, "They're not going without me."
"I suppose," Snacklit retorted, "I can give orders in my own house.""You can't give orders to me. I say, if they go out of the room I go too. . . . If I'm kept here, I mean to be able to tell the police who's in it, and who's not."
The two servants had stood hesitating, evidently interested in what they heard. Snacklit looked at them angrily. Billson said, "Come alone, Kate." He put his hand on her arm and drew her out of the room.Irene would have followed, but Snacklit was too quick for her. He was first at the door, turned the key, and dropped it into his pocket. He faced her, scowling. Here was a fresh reason for doubt. If she were traced to the house (but was that likely?) how much would those two say, if they should be questioned? How safely could they be bribed? Neither of them was of high character. But their degree of loyalty to him might not be great. It was an added risk, but still - if she could be done away with completely without their knowledge, was it not still the one path on which a prospect of safety lay?
"Now," he said, "if you value your skin, you'll sit down quietly and tell me what you really know, or think you know, and what made you follow me in the way you did.""And if you value your skin you'll unlock the door. I shan't tell you anything till the key's back where it belongs,"
"You'll wait a long time, if you wait for that," he said "but I've no time to lose. If you won't talk sensibly to me, f shall have to send for someone who'll treat you differently than I was meaning to do."As he said this, his eyes were on the bell. Irene, having declined his suggestion that she should sit down, was standing near the fireplace. He would have to come close to her to reach the bell-push.Her own eyes had settled for a moment upon a heavy metal ornament on the mantelpiece. She judged its weight, and the distance between them. She had attended a college where baseball was not unknown. She thought she could manage that."I'll give you one last chance," she said. "If you don't open the door - - "
He laughed, and advanced towards her, with a purpose she did not understand, but to which she saw only one sufficient reply. She seized the heavy ornament, and threw with all the force of her desperation, and of a young and vigorous arm. Snacklit ducked, or he would have been worse hurt than he was. But the attack had been so sudden and unexpected that he was not quick enough to avoid it entirely.It did not come full in his face, as had been intended, but it struck him a glancing blow, and he fell forward.
She knew the pocket in which he had put the key. She had it out as he tried dizzily to rise. Seeing what she had done, he snatched at her catching an arm. He was still half-dazed by the blow, but he tried to drag her toward the grate. She misunderstood his intention, and, instead of trying to keep him away, she struggled to be first there. She succeeded in her own aim, which she had supposed to have been his. She caught the poker in her free hand, but as she did so he rose sufficiently to press the lower of the two bell-pushes beside the grate.The next moment the poker came down hard on the hand that held her, and she was free.
She had dropped the key in the struggle, and must come near him to look for it in the thick rug. He was still only raised on one hand, but he made a sudden grab at her foot, pulling her down.At that, in a passion of mingled anger and fear, she struck hard and blindly with the poker across his face. He screamed at the blow, and fell back. "Burfoot!" he called. "Burfoot!" and then tried again to rise and pursue her, as he saw that she was taking no further notice of him, but had already got the key into the door.