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   Chapter 24 No.24

The Slave of Silence By Fred M. White Characters: 12017

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04

Every word of the conversation was quite plain and distinct. Richford seemed to be very vexed about something, but on the other hand Sartoris appeared to be on the best of terms with himself.

"You tried to get the better of us," he was saying. "You thought that clever people like ourselves were going to be mere puppets in the play, that we were going to pull your chestnuts for you. You with the brains of a rabbit, and the intelligence of a tom cat! That low cunning of yours is all very well in the City, but it is of no use with me. Where are those diamonds?"

"Those diamonds are so safe that we can't touch them," Richford sneered.

"Very well, my friend. Believe me, we shall know how to act when the time comes. But you are wasting time here. You should be in Edward Street long ago. Edward Street in the Borough; you know the place I mean. The others are there, Reggie and Cora and the rest, to say nothing of the object of our solicitous desires. You follow me?"

"Oh, yes, I follow everything, confound you," Richford growled. "You are trying to frighten me with your cry of danger. As if I was fool enough to believe that story."

"You can just please yourself whether you believe it or not," Sartoris replied. "But the danger is real enough. I have had the salt two days now in succession. It is true that it came by post and was not addressed to me here, but it is proof positive of the fact that our yellow friends are on the right track at last. They may even be outside now. That is why I want you to go as far as Edward Street without delay."

Richford seemed to be convinced at last, for he made no reply.

"And you need not worry about your wife for the present," Sartoris went on. "So long as she is your wife you come in for your share of the plunder when the division takes place. Nor need you let her know that you married her for her fortune, and not for her pretty face. People will be surprised to discover what a rich man Sir Charles really was."

Berrington started with surprise. A great flood of light had been let in on the scene in the last few words of this overheard conversation. So there was a large fortune somewhere, and this was at the bottom of this dark conspiracy. The conversation trailed off presently, and Berrington heard no more. But his heart was beating now with fierce exultation, for he had heard enough. Without knowing it, Sir Charles Darryll had been a rich man. But those miscreants knew it, and that was the reason why they were working in this strange way. A door closed somewhere and then there was silence. It was quite evident that Richford had left the house.

A minute or two later and Berrington got his flash signal at work. He used it over and over again for an hour or so in the hope that the house was being watched. A great sigh of satisfaction broke from him presently when he knew the signal was being answered. Once more there was an irritating delay and then the quick tapping of the reply. Field was not far off, and Field had grasped the scheme. Also he had to send for somebody to translate the flashing signs. Berrington understood it now as well as if he had been outside with the police.

He sent his messages through quickly now, and received his replies as regularly. Nor did he forget to impart the information he had discovered relative to the house in Edward Street, Borough. On the whole it had not been a bad night's work.

A restless desire to be up and doing something gripped Berrington. He wandered impatiently about the room, listening at the tube from time to time, in the hope of getting something fresh. Down below he could hear the sharp purring of the electric bell and the shuffle of Sartoris's chair over the floor of the hall. Then there was a quick cry which stopped with startling suddenness, as if a hand had gripped the throat of somebody who called out with fear.

For a little time after that, silence. Then voices began to boom downstairs, voices in strange accents that seemed to be demanding something. Evidently foreigners of some kind, Berrington thought, as he strained his ears to catch something definite. Sartoris seemed to be pleading for somebody, and the others were stern and determined. It was some time before Berrington began to understand what nationality the newcomers were. A liquid voice was upraised.

"Burmah," Berrington cried. "I thought I knew the tongue. Burmese beyond a doubt. I wish those fellows would not speak quite so quickly. I wish that I had learned a little more of the language when I had the opportunity. Ah, what was that?"

A familiar phrase had struck home to the old campaigner. One of the newcomers was saying something about rubies. There were ruby mines in Burmah, some of which had never been explored by white men. Sir Charles Darryll had been out there in his younger days and so had his friend, the Honourable Edward Decié. Suppose that rubies had something to do with the papers that Sartoris declared Sir Charles possessed. Berrington was feeling now that his weary hours of imprisonment had by no means been wasted. He heard Sartoris's sullen negative, a sound of a blow, and a moan of pain, then silence again.

Perhaps those strangers downstairs were applying torture. Berrington had heard blood-curdling stories of what the Burmese could do in that way. Bad as he was, Sartoris had never lacked pluck and courage, and he was not the man to cry out unless the pain was past endurance. The guttural language returned; it was quite evident that Sartoris was being forced to do something against his will.

"You shall have it," he said at last. "I'll ask my secretary to bring the papers down."

There was a shuffling of Sartoris's chair across the floor, and then a puff of wind came up the tube. Very quickly Berrington replaced the whistle. It flashed across him that Sartoris was going to call him to assist to get rid of those yellow friends downstairs. But how was that going to be done so long as the door wa

s locked?

"Are you there?" Sartoris asked in French, and in a whisper, so low that Berrington could hardly hear. "Speak to me, Colonel, and use the same language that I am using."

"All right," Berrington replied. "Anything wrong downstairs? What can I do to help you?"

"Come down as quickly as possible. Take your boots off, and creep into my study. I am in the hands of two Burmese, members of a society to which I belonged at one time. They have come to have my life or certain information that I decline to give them. You know enough of the East to be able to appreciate my danger."

The story was more or less of a lie, as Berrington was perfectly well aware, but there was a large amount of truth in it, nevertheless. Berrington smiled to himself.

"There is one little hitch in the programme," he said. "You seem to forget that I am a prisoner here, behind a door that is protected by steel."

"I had forgotten that for the moment," Sartoris proceeded rapidly. "But it is quite possible to open the door from the inside, if you know the secret. Turn the handle four times to the right quickly and firmly, and then three times to the left, and the door will open. I dare not say any more, as these fellows are beginning to look at me suspiciously. One minute more, and I have finished. There is an old Dutch bureau at the top of the stairs by your door. In the second drawer on the right is a loaded revolver. You may want to use it--"

The voice suddenly ceased, and a cry of pain floated up again. All the old fighting spirit raged in Berrington's veins now. He was going to be free, he would have a weapon that he well knew how to use in his hands, and he had obtained information of the most valuable kind. With his hand on the knob of the door he followed directions. Four times to the right and three to the left! A pull, and the door came open.

Berrington was free at last. As soon as he realised that fact his professional caution came back to him. He kicked off his boots, and finding the Webley revolver, loaded in all chambers, he crept like a cat down the stairs, and looked into the study.

Sartoris lay back in his chair with his hands bound to his sides. Round his head the two strangers had strung a piece of knotted whipcord which one of them was drawing tighter and tighter with the aid of a penknife twisted in the bandage. The face of the victim was ghastly white, his eyes rolled, and the great beads poured down his cheeks. Berrington had heard of that kind of torture before. His blood was boiling now, not that he had any cause for sympathy with the little man in the chair.

"My God, I can't stand this much longer," Sartoris moaned. "Will that fellow never come! Or has he failed to understand my instructions? My brain is blazing. Help, help."

Berrington strode into the room, resolutely but softly. The little yellow man who was administering the torture seemed to have his whole heart in his work; he graduated the torture to a nicety. He seemed to understand exactly how much the victim could stand without losing life and reason altogether. He was like a doctor with an interesting patient.

"I think you will tell me where to find what we desire?" he said smoothly.

"And then we can depart and trouble the gentleman no more," said the other man, who was looking on as coolly as if at some landscape. "Why put us to all this trouble?"

"I'll tell you," Sartoris moaned. "If you will look in the--God be praised!"

The last words came with a yell, for the startled eyes had caught sight of Berrington standing grimly in the background. The latter's left hand shot out and the Burmese who held the penknife in the cord staggered across the room from the force of a blow on the temple, which, had it taken full effect, would have felled him like an ox.

Before he could recover from the full impact of the blow, Berrington was on the other man. Then the two closed on him as he backed to the wall and raised his revolver.

"You see that I am too many for you," he said. "Put down those knives."

For two long cutting knives were gleaming in the light of the electrics. Nothing daunted, the pair made a rush at Berrington, who fired right and left. He had no intention that the shots should be fatal, but they both took effect, one in the shoulder and the other in the arm. When the smoke cleared away Berrington and Sartoris were alone. A cold stream of air pouring into the room testified to the fact that the front door had not been closed by the miscreants in their escape. Berrington cut the cord around the victim's head and bathed his forehead with water. A little brandy seemed to effect something in the way of a cure.

"My God, that was awful, awful," Sartoris moaned. "A second more and I should have died. Would you mind shutting the front door? The cold air makes me feel like death. That's better. I dare say you wonder what those fellows were doing here?"

There was just a touch of slyness in the question. Berrington smiled to himself. He wondered what Sartoris would say if he only knew how much the listener had overheard.

"I suppose your sins are finding you out," he said. "They generally do. Personally, I have no curiosity on the subject at all. And I have not the slightest doubt that your punishment, though pretty severe, was at the same time well deserved. And now, sir, as fate has given me the whip hand of you, have you any reason to urge why I should stay in this house any longer? I take it that you are not quite in a position to place your electric battery at work from this room as you did from the other. If you like to--"

Berrington paused, as there was a loud knocking at the door. Sartoris's pale face grew still paler as he listened. Then he forced a smile to his pallid lips.

"Don't take any heed," he said eagerly. "Let them go away again under the impression that nobody is at the house. Let them knock all night if they like."

But Berrington was already half-way to the door.

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