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   Chapter 35 No.35

The Slave of Silence By Fred M. White Characters: 10874

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


There was a thrill of excitement, an electric feeling in the air that was not lost to anyone of the little group standing there in the darkness. That some momentous event was going to happen everybody knew without being told. Tacitly, it seemed to be understood that everything was in the hands of Inspector Field.

Previously, on the arrival of his two men, he had sent one of them off with hurried instructions of some kind. The other man stood by the gate like a statue. Mark Ventmore, growing restless at last, turned to Field and asked a question. The inspector was wiping his damp hands upon his handkerchief as if he himself was a thief waiting for arrest.

"We are going to wait," he said curtly, "and there is an end of the matter."

Mark felt that he could not say any more after that. Mary was still crying softly to herself. The misery was with her yet, as she felt that it would be to her dying day, but the agony of suspense was past. Of what took place in that house from time to time she knew a great deal, but some things had been kept back from her. It was the vague feeling of what might be that frightened her.

Half an hour or more passed in the same tense, rigid silence, and yet there was no sign from the house. A figure crossed the road and came up the drive, making no more noise than a ghost. It was Field's man returning.

The inspector turned to him with an eager agitation that seemed strange to him.

"Well," he asked, "have you anything definite?"

His voice sounded hoarse and strange. The other man touched his cap. He seemed to hesitate before the presence of so many strangers. Field urged him on impatiently.

"Don't be all night," he said. "You can speak before the lady and gentleman. They don't know everything yet, but they will in the course of a few minutes. Did you manage it?"

"Managed it all right, sir," the misty figure in the big coat said. "I got through on the telephone to the Southwark police and told them all the particulars. They said that they would send round to Edward Street without delay."

"Of course you stayed to see that they had done so?"

"Of course, sir. It isn't a very far cry to Edward Street, so I waited. I asked the inspector in charge to telephone me directly the raid had been made."

"Oh, get on, man," Field cried impatiently. "You're not in the witness box now grinding it out so that the magistrate's clerk can take it all down in long hand. What I want to know is whether or not the raid was effective."

"To a certain extent, sir. They took the housekeeper, who doesn't appear to have had much to do with the matter, and an old gentleman who looked like a clergyman. So far, there was nobody else in the house."

Field gave vent to something that sounded like a grunt of satisfaction. Mary said nothing, but she had a pretty shrewd idea who the clergyman was. Field seemed to be fairly pleased.

"So far, so good," he said. "Are they going to send round the motor car? I shall be very glad to see our elderly clerical friend here."

The officer indicated that everything would be done in accordance with Field's desire.

"There was one other man I wanted," he said. "Not that one ever gets everything in cases like this. Unless I am greatly mistaken, there was another man in Edward Street, a tall man--"

"Called the doctor," the officer said eagerly. "I know all about him, because they told me over the wire from Southwark exactly how the raid was made. The housekeeper called to some 'doctor,' but the police couldn't find him. I expect he found some way of getting off."

"He'll come here," Field said emphatically. "He'll come if only to tell his pals exactly what has happened. He'll come post haste in a cab. If he does I shall bag the lot. This is going to be a fine evening's work."

Seeing that nothing further was expected of him, the officer saluted and went beyond the gate. Still there was no sign from the house, and the silence and suspense were growing intolerable. Mark ventured to suggest that something should be done.

Field turned upon him with the fury of a tiger. By his anger he showed that he, too, was feeling the strain of suspense.

"Confound you, sir," he said, "allow me to know my business best. Here I am close to the solution of one of the strangest and most daring crimes of the century, and yet you are asking me to spoil it by the raw haste of a schoolboy."

"Perhaps I had better go," Mark said. "Come with me, Miss Sartoris. Let us leave together. It will be better for you that way."

"No," Mary said gently. "I am greatly obliged to you, but I shall stay."

"Both stay, please," Field said in a gentler tone. "Mr. Ventmore, let me make you the most handsome apology in my power. I am afraid that this thing has got a little on my nerves. You see, this is a great case, a far greater case than anybody is aware of. I only stumbled on the real truth of it more or less by accident to-day. And if there is anything like a struggle, your help may be of value."

Mark let the matter pass. He could quite understand Field's feeling. Another quarter of an hour slipped away; the road was now quite deserted, so that the wheels of a coming cab could be heard a long way off. There was a little discussion between the cabman and his fare, followed by the banging of a door, and the heavy footsteps came staggering up the street and a big man passed before the gate of N

o. 100, Audley Place. With a sign, Field motioned his companion to steal behind the bushes.

"One of our birds, unless I am greatly mistaken," he said. "Yes, he is coming this way."

Mary held her breath now, for she did not fail to recognise the newcomer. She could see from a casual glance that it was Bentwood.

He came with a lurch and a stagger which proved his condition. He seemed a little suspicious at first, but the silence of the house, the steady gleam of the light over the fanlight, seemed to dispel any suspicions. Then he advanced more boldly to the door. As he stood on the bottom step, Field emerged from his hiding-place.

"Doctor Bentwood," he said, "I fancy I am not mistaken. You will oblige me by taking your hand off the bell. Nobody will answer your ring."

Taken aback for a moment, Bentwood stepped off the path. He bent and gripped Field by the throat.

"You little beast!" he hissed. "I'll kill you. If you only knew who you are talking to!"

But Field was made of whipcord and steel. He slipped away from the other's grip and planted two or three body blows that caused Bentwood to groan aloud. Mark stepped out at once, but there was no need of his services. Field was all over his man by this time. As he clenched and drove his left home, Bentwood came heavily to the ground. Before he could stagger to his feet again, Field had the handcuffs on him.

"It's an outrage," Bentwood blustered, though his face was white now and his big red cheeks shook like a jelly. "What does it all mean?"

"Case of Sir Charles Darryll," Field panted. "We know all about that. We shall have your friend Sartoris, in a minute, to say nothing of Reggie and Cora. If you tell us everything and make a clean breast of your part of it--"

"Shan't," Bentwood said sullenly. "You can find out that for yourself."

Field pursed his lips in a soft whistle. The two shadows by the gate came up.

"Keep him close by," Field said. "He is just valiantly drunk now, but unless I greatly mistake my man, he will listen to reason shortly. Don't take him far away, as I may want to make use of him presently. I am glad that he arrived on the scene before the motor came up."

Again the tense silence fell on the group; once more they had to possess their souls in patience. Field appeared more cheerful and philosophical; the arrest of Bentwood seemed to have taken a heavy weight from his mind. He took out a cigarette and lighted it. Mark turned to Mary.

"You are sure that you will not reconsider your decision?" he said. "I wish that I could persuade you not to remain here. It has been quite painful enough for you already, and you can do no good. Why should you witness the final humiliation of it?"

Mary looked at the speaker; a grateful sigh came from her lips.

"You are more than kind to me," she said. "But I have drunk so deeply of the cup of humiliation that a draught more or less makes no difference. Heaven knows how I have tried to avert this thing, to ward off the danger that I could not see. And yet all this time I knew that sooner or later the blow would fall. Mr. Ventmore, how old do you take me to be?"

Mark could not say. It was rather an awkward question.

"I see by your silence that you would rather not reply," Mary said. "It means that you would have a delicacy in calling me an old woman. And yet I am barely thirty. When I think what I was three years ago, it seems to me as if ages had passed. Of course, this is all silly talk, but I must talk or go mad."

"There is a happier time coming for you," Mark said.

"I know that. Once that blow has fallen, I shall regard myself as free of my cares. And now, with that prospect before me, I would avert the calamity if I could. And yet I have done my best and nobody could do more."

Silence fell again, for Mark could not think of anything else to say. The silence was broken presently by the clang and snarl of a distant motor car, and Field pitched his cigarette away. He seemed to have become good-humoured all at once.

"That is good," he exclaimed. "Our patience has been rewarded at last. Another few minutes and we will go and see what the house has in store for us. There's the other man."

The motor pulled up opposite No. 100, and two men got out-followed by a third in clerical costume. The latter seemed to be protesting about something. As he came up the drive Field stepped out, and the two men who had engineered the motor car saluted.

"You have done exceedingly well," Field said in a pleased voice. "You will just stay where you are, because you may be wanted. So you have brought the gentleman from Edward Street? I telephoned your chief to make a raid on the place just now."

"But this is an outrage," the clerical figure said in a shaky voice. "To take a gentleman from his lodgings in that way is something that even the police--"

"The police are prepared to accept all responsibility," Field said drily. "There is one little matter that I have to clear up, and that is your identity. As it is not a cold night you are not likely to suffer for the want of your wig."

Dexterously Field snatched away wig and hat and glasses, and Richford stood exposed. He was about to say something when all attention was arrested by a sound from the house. It was a clear, crisp sound, the ring of a revolver shot.

"Look to your prisoners!" said Field crisply. "I am going into the house."

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