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The Slave of Silence By Fred M. White Characters: 11463

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


Hot words rose to Field's lips, but he managed to swallow them just in time. He could have wished that the girl had not been quite so businesslike in her methods.

"I suppose that can't be helped," he muttered. "Though it certainly gives the enemy a better start. I hope you have not destroyed the address of that lawyer?"

"Oh, no," Violet cried. "It is in my old memorandum book. Perhaps you had better take a copy of it for your own use. I have no doubt that my letter has been delivered at Wandsworth by this time, but as Mr. Sartoris is a cripple--"

Field was not quite so sure on that point. Sartoris, it was true, was a cripple, but then Field had not forgotten the black hansom and the expedition by night to the Royal Palace Hotel. He felt that Sartoris would not let the grass grow under his feet. From the memorandum book he copied the address-which proved to be a street in Lincoln's Inn Fields.

"Evidently a pretty good firm," Field muttered. "I'll go round there at once and see Mr. George Fleming. But there is one thing, you will be silent as to all I have told you. We are on the verge of very important discoveries, and a word at random might ruin everything."

Violet Decié said that she perfectly well understood what she had to do.

"Sartoris may try to see you again," Field continued. "If he does, do not answer him. Pretend that you are still ignorant; do nothing to arouse his suspicions. Perhaps it would have been better if I had told you nothing of this, but I fancy that I can trust you."

"You can trust me implicitly," the girl said eagerly. "If it is to harm that man--"

She said no more, and Field perfectly understood what her feelings were. By no means displeased with his morning's work he started off in the direction of Lincoln's Inn Fields. He was pleased to find that the firm of George Fleming & Co. occupied good offices, and that the clerks looked as if they had been there a long time. It was just as well not to have a pettifogging lawyer to deal with. Mr. Fleming was in, but he was engaged for a little time. Perhaps the gentleman would state his business; but on the whole Field preferred to wait.

He interested himself for some little time behind the broad page of the "Daily Telegraph," until at length an inner door marked "private" opened and a tall man with grey hair emerged, with a crooked figure dragging on his arm. Field looked over the paper for a moment, and then ducked down again as he saw Carl Sartoris. Evidently the cripple had lost no time. He was saying something now in a low and rasping voice to the lawyer.

"My dear sir, there shall be no delay at all," the latter replied. "I am bound to confess that that deed has made all the difference. I always told Sir Charles that that property was valuable. But he would never see it, and if he had, where was the capital to work it? But why he never told me that he had made the thing over to you--"

"Did he ever tell anybody anything that facilitated business?" Sartoris laughed. "I daresay he forgot all about it, poor fellow."

Sartoris shuffled painfully out of the office with the help of the lawyer, and got into a cab. A moment later and Field was in the inner office with Mr. Fleming. He produced his card and laid it on the table by the way of introduction.

"This is the first time I have been honoured by a detective in all my long experience," the lawyer said as he raised his eyebrows. "I hope there is nothing wrong, sir?"

"Not so far as any of your clients are concerned, sir," Field replied. "As a matter of fact, I am the officer who has charge of the investigation into the strange case of Sir Charles Darryll. And I am pretty sure that the lame gentleman who has just gone out could tell you all about it if he chose. I mean Mr. Carl Sartoris."

The lawyer again raised his eyebrows, but said nothing.

"I see you have no disposition to help me," Field proceeded. "But just now Mr. Sartoris made a remark that gives me an opening. He came to you to-day with a deed which, unless I am greatly mistaken, purports to be an assignment of property from Sir Charles to Mr. Sartoris. And that property is probably a ruby mine in Burmah."

"So far you are quite correct," the lawyer said drily. "Pray proceed."

"I must ask you to help me a little," Field cried. "Let me tell you that Carl Sartoris was in the scheme to obtain possession of the body of Sir Charles Darryll. He was the lame man who was in the black hansom. I have been in that fellow's house, and I have seen the body of Sir Charles, unless I am greatly mistaken."

"Then, why don't you arrest that man?" the lawyer asked.

"Because I want the whole covey at one bag," Field said coolly. "Now, sir, will you let me see the deed that Carl Sartoris brought here to-day? Yesterday he did not know of your existence."

"He has been going to write to me for a long time," Fleming said.

"I am prepared to stake my reputation that Carl Sartoris never heard your name till this morning," Field said coolly. "I can produce a witness to prove it if you like. My witness is Miss Violet Decié, only daughter of Lord Edward Decié of that ilk."

The lawyer's dry, cautious manner seemed to be melting. He took up a sheet of parchment and read it. It was a deed of some kind, in which the names of Charles Darryll and Carl Sartoris figured very frequently. Field asked to be told the gist of it.

"An assignment of mining rights," Fleming explained. "A place in Burmah. It was a dangerous place to get at some time ago, but things have changed recently. At one time certain Burmese followed Sir Charles about and threatened his life unless he promised to let the thing drop. But Sir Charles had assign

ed all his interest for the sum of five hundred pounds paid to him by Mr. Carl Sartoris. Here is the signature."

The deed looked regular enough. Field looked closely at the signature of Sir Charles.

"Of course it would be easy to get the body of the deed written by a clerk," he said with a thoughtful air. "If there was anything wrong about the thing, the false note would ring out in the signature. Are you sure that it is genuine?"

"Quite," the lawyer said with conviction. "I'll show you some old letters of poor Sir Charles if you like. The signature is a little peculiar in the respect that it has a long loop to the first l, and a short loop to the second. That appears in every signature. Besides there is that little flourish over the C. The flourish really forms the initials 'C. D.' Can't you see that for yourself? Leave out ever so little of the flourish, and the 'C. D.' disappears."

Field was fain to be satisfied, though he was a little disappointed too. The pretty little theory that he had been building up in his mind had been shattered.

"I suppose I shall have to give way on that point," he said. "Only it strikes me as strange that a man should have allowed this matter to lie for three years without making use of it. Unless, of course, Sir Charles's death made all the difference. Allow me."

Field's eyes began to gleam as they dwelt on the parchment. There was a red seal in the top left-hand corner, a red seal with silver paper let into it and some small figures on the edge.

"What do those figures represent?" he asked. "The figures 4. 4. '93, I mean."

"The date," Fleming explained. "Those stamped skins are forwarded from Somerset House to the various sub-offices, and they are dated on the day they go out. The date-figures are very small, and only the legal eye gives them any value at all."

Field jumped up in a great state of excitement. He had made an important discovery.

"Then this is a forgery, after all," he cried. "4. 4. '93 means the fourth of April 1893, and the deed is dated three years ago. How are you going to get over that, sir? I take it, there are no mistakes in the date?"

Even the lawyer was forced out of his calm manner for the moment. He looked very closely at the red stamp through his glasses. It was some time before he spoke.

"You are quite right," he said. "And as to there being a mistake in the date, that is absolutely out of the question. You may be quite certain that Somerset House makes no mistakes like that. It is most extraordinary."

"I don't see anything extraordinary about it," Field said coolly. "That rascal, clever as he is, has made a mistake. Not knowing anything of legal matters in these minor points, it has never occurred to him to see whether these parchment stamps are dated or not. He simply bought a skin and got some engrossing clerk to make out the deed. Then he put in the date, and there you are."

"Stop a minute, Mr. Field," Mr. Fleming put in. "There is one little point that you have overlooked. I am quite prepared to take my oath to the fact that the signature is genuine."

Field stared at the speaker. He could find no words for the moment. He could see that Fleming was in deadly earnest. The silence continued for some time.

"Well, I thought that I had got to the bottom of this business, but it seems to me that I am mistaken," Field admitted. "In the face of the evidence of forgery that I have just produced, your statement that the signature is genuine fairly staggers me."

"The deed purporting to have been executed three years ago has only been executed a few days, or a few months at the outside," Fleming said. "What I think is this-there must have been some reason why the deed was dated back. Perhaps the old one was destroyed and this one copied from the other, and executed say a month or two ago. Would that not meet the case? You see I am taking a legal view of it."

"You are still sure of the signature?" Field asked.

"Absolutely. On that head I do not hesitate for a moment. Whatever else may happen, I am positive that Sir Charles wrote that signature."

Field scratched his head in a puzzled kind of way. It was some time before he began to see his way clear again. Then a happy thought came to him.

"If they are so particular at Somerset House, the fact may help us. When those deed stamps are sold to the public, are the numbers taken, and all that?"

"So I understand. But what do you want to get at? Yes, I think you are right."

"Anyway, I'm on the right track," Field cried. "If what I ask is a fact, then the people at the sub-office will be able to tell me the date that parchment was sold. I see there is a number on the stamp. If I take that to Somerset House--"

Field spent half an hour at Somerset House, and then he took a cab to Wandsworth. He stopped at the Inland Revenue Office there and sent in his card. Giving a brief outline of what he wanted to the clerk, he laid down his slip of paper with the number of the stamp on it and the date, and merely asked to know when that was sold and to whom.

He watched the clerk vaguely as he turned over his book. It seemed a long time before any definite result was arrived at. Then the clerk looked over his glasses.

"I fancy I've got what you want," he said. "What is the number on your paper?"

"44791," Field said, "and the date."

"Never mind dates, that is quite immaterial, Mr. Field. You have us now. That stamped parchment was sold early this morning, just after the office was open-why, I must have sold it myself. Yes; there is no mistake."

With a grim smile on his face, Field drove back to London. He began to see his way clearer to the end of the mystery now.

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