Inspector Field took up his hat and
gloves from the chair where he had deposited them.
He was satisfied, and more than satisfied with the
interview. In a short time he had achieved excellent
“We will not trouble Mrs. Richford
any more at present,” he said. “It
may be some consolation to her to know that I agree
with all her reasonings. But there is plenty
of work to do.”
Field bowed himself out, followed
by Berrington. The latter asked what the inspector
was going to do.
“In the first place I am going
down to the Yard,” Field explained. “I
am then going to get rid of my correspondence and
have my dinner. After that till it gets dark
I propose to pursue what Lord Beaconsfield called
a policy of masterly inactivity for a time. Once
it is really dark, I intend to go as far as Wandsworth
Common, and learn something of the gentleman who is
lame and has a private hansom painted black. You
see, sir, the scene of the story is changed.
The next act must be played out at Wandsworth.”
“You have some settled plan
in your mind?” Berrington asked.
“Indeed I have not, sir.
I may make no more than a few simple inquiries and
come home again. On the other hand, before morning
I may find myself inside the house. I may even
return with the lame gentleman as my prisoner.
It is all in the air.”
“By Jove,” Berrington
cried. “I should like to go with you.
As an old campaigner, and one with some little knowledge
of strategy I may be useful. Anything is better
than sitting here doing nothing. Would you very
much mind, Inspector?”
Field regarded the brown, eager, clever
face and steadfast eyes of the questioner shrewdly.
“I shall be delighted, sir,”
he said heartily, “with one proviso that
you regard me as your senior officer and commander
in this business. Military strategy is one thing,
the hunting of criminals quite a different thing.
I shall start from the Yard before ten o’clock,
and even then I shall not make my way to Wandsworth
direct. We are dealing with an exceedingly clever
lot, and it is just possible that I may be watched.
Therefore I shall disguise myself, and you had better
do the same. Then you can meet me at eleven o’clock
where you like.”
“That’s a bargain,”
Berrington said eagerly. “I’ll go
over to Wandsworth pretty early and try to see my
police friend, Macklin. At eleven o’clock
I shall be under the trees opposite Audley Place, waiting
for you. Probably I shall assume the disguise
of a sailor.”
“Um, not a bad idea,”
Field remarked. “We will both be sailors
just paid off from a ship and with money in our pockets.
Sailors, in that condition who have assimilated a
fair amount of liquid refreshment, do strange things.
Oh, we shall be all right. Merchant seamen let
us be, from the ship Severn, just home from
South America. Good afternoon, sir.”
It was nearly ten before Berrington
reached the rendezvous. He was perfectly disguised
as a sailor fresh from a tramp steamer, his clothes
were dirty and grimy, and the cap in his hand had a
decided naval cock. So far as he could judge
there were no lights visible at N, opposite.
He waited for Macklin to come along, which presently
he did. The police officer looked suspiciously
at the figure in a slumbering attitude on the seat,
and passed before him.
“Now, then,” he said sharply.
“What are you doing here? Come out of that.”
Berrington came unsteadily to his
feet and blinked into the lane of light made by the
policeman’s lantern. He was rather proud
of his disguise and the way in which it was passing
“All right, Macklin,”
he said in his natural voice. “It’s
Colonel Berrington. Not quite the same sort of
disguise that I tried to pass into the Madi Halfa
camp with when you were on guard that night. Still
it took you in, didn’t it?”
“It did indeed, sir,”
Macklin said, not without admiration. “And
might I beg to ask what manner of game the Colonel
of my old regiment is up to in London at this hour?”
“We need not go into details,
Macklin,” Berrington said. “Regard
me as your senior officer for a moment, and answer
my questions without comment. As I told you yesterday,
I am interested in that house opposite. Have
you found out anything?”
“Nothing worth speaking about,
sir,” Macklin replied. “They seem
to be just respectable people who have plenty of money
and very few visitors. Last night about half
past eleven the old gentleman went out in a cab, and
came back about half past two with a friend who had
a big box on the top of the cab. That’s
all I can tell you.”
“Ah, perhaps that is more important
than it seems,” Berrington muttered. “Anything
“Nothing to-day, sir. Oh,
yes, there is. The parlourmaid reported to the
man who is doing day duty here this week that the house
would be closed till Saturday, and that the police
were to keep an eye on the place at night. Looks
as if they’ve gone, sir.”
Berrington swore quietly and under
his breath. It seemed to him as if he and Field
were going to have their trouble for their pains.
N was not the kind of house where people are
unduly economical on the score of lights, and there
was not one to be seen.
“I should like to go and have
a prowl around,” Berrington said, after a pause.
“I suppose if I did, I shouldn’t have any
officious policeman to reckon with.”
“Well, sir, I’m not quite
sure,” Macklin said dubiously. “Of
course I know you to be a gentleman as wouldn’t
do anything in the least wrong, but there’s
my sergeant to consider. Still, as this is on
my beat, no other officer is likely to see you.”
“Good,” Berrington exclaimed.
“What time will you be back here again?”
Macklin calculated that he would reach
the same spot again an hour or so later, about
eleven o’clock, to be exact. The hour tallied
precisely with the coming of Field, and in the meantime
Berrington was free to make what he could of the house
But there was precious little to be
gained in that respect. The house was all fastened
up, there were shutters to the windows on the ground
floor; the garden was tried next, but there was no
litter anywhere such as might have been caused by
a hasty removal. Clearly if the house was closed
up it was only for a day or two, as the parlourmaid
had told the policeman.
At the end of an hour Berrington was
not a whit wiser than before.
He crossed over the road and there
on a seat under the trees was a sailor like himself.
Field did not assume to be asleep but was pulling
at a short clay pipe.
“Come and sit down, sir,”
he said. “I’ve just come. As
I anticipated, I am being watched. But I managed
to give my shadowers quite a wrong impression and
I passed from the house, where I keep a few stock
disguises, under their very noses. They imagine
that they are following me up West by this time.”
“I am afraid all the trouble
has been wasted,” Berrington said irritably.
“The birds have flown.”
“Indeed, sir. And who did
you get that valuable piece of information from?”
“From my friend the policeman
that I told you about. The house is shut up for
a few days and the authorities have been informed of
the fact. I have been all around the house and
it is as silent as the grave.”
“Well, that might be merely
a blind, after all,” Field said cheerfully.
“When did they go?”
“So far as I can gather from
Macklin, they departed early this morning.”
Field chuckled but said nothing.
A little while later there was a thud of heavy boots
on the pavement, and Macklin and his sergeant came,
together. The latter was about to say something
but Field produced his card and the effect was instantaneous.
“No, we don’t want any
assistance at all,” the Scotland Yard official
said. “All you can do is to go about your
work as if nothing was taking place. You may
notice something suspicious presently at N, across
the road, but you are to ignore it. You understand?”
The sergeant nodded and touched his
helmet; he understood perfectly well. The two
passed on together and the sham sailors crossed the
road. Very quietly Field proceeded to the back
of the house. It was a little dark here, and
he guided himself by pressing his fingers to the walls.
Presently he stopped, and a low chuckle came from his
“Discovery the first, sir,”
he said. “Press your hand on the wall here.
What do you notice?”
But Berrington noticed nothing beyond
the fact that the wall was quite warm. He said
so, and the inspector chuckled once more. He seemed
to be pleased about something.
“That should tell you a story,
sir,” he said. “That house is supposed
to be empty; nobody has been here since early this
morning. If you will look up, you will see that
the blank wall terminates in a high chimney obviously
the kitchen chimney. This wall is quite hot, it
is the back of the kitchen fireplace so
obviously, if those people went early to-day there
would be very little fire, in fact the range would
have been out long ago. And what do we find?
A hot wall that tells of a good fire all day, a good
fire at this moment, or these bricks would have cooled
down before now. If you listen you will hear the
boiler gently simmering.”
It was all exactly as Field had said.
Perhaps the servants had been sent away for a day
or two, indeed, it was very probable that they had.
But there was the big fire testifying to the fact
that somebody was in the house at that very moment.
“We are going to take risks,”
Field whispered. “If we are discovered we
shall be given into custody as two drunken sailors,
given into the custody of your friend Macklin and
his sergeant, from whom we shall probably escape.
You may be very sure that we shall not be charged,
for the simple reason that the people here don’t
want their names or anything about them to get into
the papers; in fact, the less they see of the police
the better they will be pleased. Come along.”
Field strode around to the kitchen
window. The shutters were up, but not so in the
larder, which had no bars, and was only protected by
a square of perforated zinc. The inspector took
a tool from his pocket and with great care and dexterity,
and without making the least noise, removed the zinc
from its place. Then a lantern flamed out.
“Come along,” said Field,
“we can easily get through here. We shall
be safe in the kitchen, for we know that the maids
are not in the house.”
For the present everything was absolutely
plain sailing. And as Field had anticipated there
was nobody in the kitchen and nobody in the corridor
leading to the better part of the house. All the
same, a big fire, recently made up, was roaring in
the range, showing that the place was not quite deserted.
And yet it was as silent as the grave.
It was the same in the hall, and the
same in the living-rooms, where no lights gleamed.
From somewhere upstairs came a sound as if somebody
was gently filing some soft metal. The noise
ceased presently to be followed by the rattle of a
typewriter, or so it seemed. The two adventurers
stood in the darkness of the dining-room listening;
it seemed to them as if that rattle was getting closer.
Field flashed a light into the room, but it was quite
empty; the polished mahogany of the table reflected
the flowers on it.
Then suddenly the rattle grew louder,
and Field hid his light under the slide. As suddenly
as his light had faded out, the dining-room glowed
in a perfect bank of shaded yellow light, as if by
magic the table stood with a perfect meal, a dainty
cold supper with glass and silver and crystal and
gold-topped bottles upon it; the whole thing seemed
a most wonderful piece of conjuring. At the same
instant there was the rattle of a latch-key in the
front door. Field pulled his companion into the
darkness of the drawing-room doorway. A man came
in, peeled off his coat, and entered the dining-room.
“What is the matter?”
Berrington asked. “Do you know who it is?”
“Rather,” Field replied,
“I should say that I do. Why! that’s
no other than the Rajah of Ahbad! Well, if this
doesn’t beat all!”