Quick on the heels of the case of the Burnt Barn followed the next of the Red Triangle affairs. Indeed, the interval was barely two days. Mr. Victor Peytral, it will be remembered, had declined to reveal to Hewitt the addresses of the two houses in London which he had seen Mayes visit, desiring to think the matter over for a few days first; but before any more could be heard from him, news of another sort was brought by Inspector Plummer.
It may give some clue to the period whereabout the whole mystery of the Red Triangle began to be cleared up if I say that at the time of Plummer’s visit this country was on the very verge of war with a great European State. It is a State with which the present relations of England are of the friendliest description, and, since the dreaded collision was happily averted, there is no need to particularise in the matter now, especially as the name of the country with which we were at variance matters nothing as regards the course of events I am to relate. Though most readers will recognise it at once when I say that the war, had it come to that, would have been a naval war of great magnitude; and that during the time of tension swift but quiet preparations were going forward at all naval depôts, and movements and dispositions of our fleet were arranged that extended to the remotest parts of the ocean.
It was at the height of the excitement, and, as I have said, two days after the return of Hewitt and myself from Throckham, when the case of the Burnt Barn had been disposed of, that Detective–Inspector Plummer called. I was in Hewitt’s office at the time, having, in fact, called in on my way to learn if he had heard more from Mr. Victor Peytral, for, as may be imagined, I was as eager to penetrate the mystery of the Triangle as Hewitt himself — perhaps more so, since Hewitt was a man inured to mysteries. I had hardly had time to learn that Peytral had not yet made up his mind so far as to write, when Plummer pushed hurriedly into the room.
“Excuse my rushing in like this,” he said, “but your lad told me that it was Mr. Brett who was with you, and the matter needs hurry. You’ve heard no more of that fellow — Myatt, Hunt, Mayes, whatever his name is last — since the barn murder, of course? Has Peytral given you the tip he half promised?”
Hewitt shook his head again. “Brett has this moment come to ask the same question,” he said. “I have heard nothing.”
“I must have it,” said Plummer, emphatically. “Do you think he will tell me?”
Hewitt shook his head again. “Scarcely likely,” he said. “He’s an odd fellow, this Mr. Peytral — a foreigner, with revenge in his blood. I have done him and his daughter some little service, and he told me all his private history; but he seemed even then disposed to keep Mayes to himself and let nobody interfere with his own vengeance. But I will wire if you like. What is it?”
“I’ll tell you,” said Plummer, pushing the door close behind him. “I’ll tell you — in confidence, of course — because you’ve seen more of this mysterious rascal than I have, and — equally in confidence, of course — Mr. Brett may hear, too, since he’s been in several of the cases already. Well, of course, we all know well enough that we want this creature — Mayes, we may as well call him, I suppose, now — for three murders, at least, to say nothing of other things. That’s all very well, and we might have got him with time. But now we want him for something else; and it’s such a thing that we must have him at once, or else”— and Plummer pursed his lips and snapped his fingers significantly. “We can’t wait over this, Mr. Hewitt; we’ve got to have that man to-day, if it can be done. And there’s more than ordinary depending on it. It’s the country this time. The Admiralty telegraphic code has been stolen!”
Plummer shrugged his shoulders. “That’s to be proved,” he said; “but he was seen leaving the office at about the time the loss occurred, and that’s enough to set me after him; and there’s not another clue of any sort. Mr. Hewitt, I wish you were in the official service!”
Hewitt smiled. “You flatter me,” he said, “as you have done before. But why in this case particularly?”
“It’s a case altogether out of the ordinary, and one of a string of such, all of which you have at your fingers’ ends. And I don’t mind confessing that this man Mayes is a little too big a handful for one — for me, at any rate. I wish you could work with me over this; in fact, in the special circumstances I’ve a good mind to ask to have you retained, as an exceptional measure. But the thing’s urgent, and there’s red-tape!”
Hewitt had taken a glance at his desk tablet, which he now flung down.
“I’ll do it for love,” he said, “if necessary. My appointment list is uncommonly slack just now, and even if it weren’t, I’d make a considerable sacrifice rather than be out of this. This fellow Mayes is a dangerous man; and I feel it a point of honour that he shall not continue to escape. Moreover, I have begun to form a certain theory as to the Red Triangle, and all there is at the back of it — a theory I would rather keep to myself till I see a little more, since as it stands it may only strike you as fantastic, and if it is wrong it may lead some of us off the track; but it is a theory I wish to test to the end. So I’m with you, Plummer, if you’ll allow it; and you can make your official application for a special retainer or not, just as you please.”
Plummer was plainly delighted.
“Most certainly I will,” he said. “Shall I give you the heads of the case, or will you come to the Admiralty and see for yourself?”
“Both, I think,” said Hewitt. “But first I will send a telegram to Peytral. Then you can give me the heads of the case as we go along, and I will look at the place for myself. I am in this case heart and soul, pay or no pay — and I expect my friend Brett would like to be in it, too. Is there any objection?”
“Well,” Plummer answered, a little doubtfully, “we’re glad of outside help, of course, but I’m not sure, officially ——”
“Of course you are always glad of outside help,” Hewitt interrupted, “and in this case we may possibly find Brett more useful than you think. Consider now. He has seen a good deal of these cases — quite as much as you, in fact — but he is the only one of the three of us whom Mayes does not know by sight. Remember, Mayes saw us both in the affair of Mr. Jacob Mason, and he saw you again in the case of the Lever Key — escaped, in fact, because he instantly recognised you. I’ll answer for Brett’s discretion, and I’m sure he’ll be glad to help, even if, for official reasons, you may not find it possible to admit him wholly into your counsels.”
Of course I willingly assented, and the conditions understood, Plummer offered no further objection. Hewitt despatched his telegram, and in a very few minutes we were in a cab on the way to the Admiralty.
“This is the way of it,” Plummer said. “You will remember that when we lost Mayes at the end of the Lever Key case, I was waiting for him in that city office, with an assistant, and that we only saw him for an instant in the lift. Well, that assistant was a very intelligent man of mine, named Corder — a fellow with a wonderful memory for a face. Now Corder is on another case just now, and we’d put him on, dressed like a loafer, to hang about Whitehall and the neighbourhood, watching for some one we want. Well, this morning there came an urgent message to the Yard from the Admiralty, to ask for a responsible official at once, and I was sent. As I came along I saw Corder lounging about, and of course I took no notice — it would not do for us people from the Yard to recognise each other too readily in the street. But Corder came up, and made pretence to ask me for a match to light his pipe; and under cover of that he told me that he had seen Mayes not an hour before, coming out of the Admiralty. At this, of course, I pricked up my ears. I didn’t know what they wanted me for, but if there was mischief, and that fellow had been there, it was likely at least that he might have been in it. Corder was quite positive that it was the man, although he had only seen him for a moment in the lift. He hadn’t seen him go into the Admiralty office, but he was passing as he came out, and noted the time exactly, so that he might report to me at the first opportunity. The time was 11.32, and Mayes jumped into a hansom and drove off. He walked right out into the middle of the road to stop the hansom — you know how wide the road is there — so that Corder couldn’t hear his direction to the cabman, but he took the number as the cab went off. Corder ought to have collared him then and there, I think, but he was in a difficult position. It would have endangered the case he was on, which is very important; and besides, he didn’t realise how much we wanted him for, having only been brought in as an assistant at the tail of our bond case. Still less did he guess — any more than myself — what I was going to hear at the Admiralty office.”
“At any rate,” interrupted Hewitt, “you’ve got the number of the cab?”
“Here it is,” Plummer answered, “and I’ve already set a man to get hold of the cabman. You’d better note the number — 92,873.”
Hewitt duly noted the number, and advised me to do the same, in case I should chance to meet the cab during the afternoon; and as we neared our destination Plummer gave us the rest of the case in outline.
“In the office,” he said, “I found them in a great state. A copy of the code, or cypher, in which confidential orders and other messages are sent to the fleet all over the world, and in which reports and messages are sent back, had disappeared during the morning. It was in charge of a Mr. Robert Telfer, a clerk of responsibility and undoubted integrity. He kept it in a small iron safe, which is let into the wall of his private room. It was safe when he arrived in the morning, and he immediately used it in order to code a telegram, and locked it in the safe again at 10.20. Two hours later, at 12.20, he went to the safe for it again, in order to de-code a message just received, and it was gone! And the lock of the safe is one that would take hours to pick, I should judge. There isn’t a shade of a clue, so far as I can see, except this circumstance of Mayes being seen leaving by Corder — just between Telfer’s two visits to the safe, you perceive. And of course there may be nothing in that, except for the character of the man. And that’s all there is to go on, as far as I can see. I needn’t tell you how important the thing is at a time like this, and how much would be paid for that secret code by a certain foreign Government. We have made hurried arrangements to have certain places watched, and as soon as I have taken you to the office I must rush off and make a few more arrangements still. But here we are.”
Mr. Robert Telfer’s room was at the side of a long and gloomy corridor on the upper floor, and the door was distinguished merely by a number and the word “Private” painted thereon. We found Mr. Telfer sitting alone, and plainly in a state of great nervous tension. He was a man of forty or thereabout, thin, alert, and using a single eye-glass. Plummer introduced us by name, and rapidly explained our business.
“I told you the name of the party I am after, Mr. Telfer,” Plummer said, “and I went straight to Mr. Martin Hewitt, as being most likely to have information of him. Mr. Hewitt, whose name you know already, of course, is kind enough, seeing we’re in a bad pinch, and pushed for time, to come in and give us all the help he can. Both he and his friend, Mr. Brett, know a good deal of the doings of the person we’re after, and their assistance is likely to be of the very greatest value. Do you mind giving Mr. Hewitt any information he may ask? I must rush over to the Yard to put some other inquiries on foot, and to set an observation or two, but I’ll be back presently.”
“Certainly,” Mr. Telfer answered, “I’m only too anxious to give any information whatever — so long as it is nothing departmentally forbidden — which will help to put this horrible matter right. Please ask me anything, and be patient if my answers are not very clear. I have been much overworked lately, as you may imagine, and have had very little sleep; and now this terrible misfortune has upset me completely; for, of course, I am held responsible for that copy of the code, and if it isn’t recovered, and quickly, I am ruined — to say nothing, of course, of the far more serious consequences in other directions.”
“That is the safe in which it was kept, I presume?” Hewitt said, indicating a small one let into the wall. “May I examine it?”
“Certainly.” Mr. Telfer turned and produced the keys from his pocket. “The code was here, lying on this shelf when I needed it this morning at ten. I took it out, used it, returned it to the same place exactly, and locked the safe door. Then I took the draft of the telegram, together with the copy in cypher, into the Controller’s room, gave it into safe hands, and returned here.”
Hewitt narrowly examined the lock of the safe with his pocket lens. “There are no signs of the lock having been picked,” he said, “even if that were possible. As a matter of fact, this is a lock that would take half a day to pick, even with a heavy bag of tools. No, I don’t think that was the way of it. You have no doubt about locking the safe door at 10.20, I suppose, before you went to the Controller’s room?”
“No possible doubt whatever. You see, I left the whole bunch of keys hanging in the lock while I coded the telegram. It was a short one, and was soon done. Then I returned the code to its place, locked the safe, and then used another key on the bunch to lock a drawer in this desk. I had no occasion to go to the safe again till about 12.20, when the Controller’s secretary came here with a telegram to be de-coded. The safe was still locked then, but when it was opened the code was gone.”
“You had had no occasion to go to the safe in the meantime?”
“None at all. I locked it at 10.20, and I unlocked it two hours later, and that was all.”
“You were not in the room the whole of the time, of course?”
“Oh, no. I have told you that at 10.20 I went to the Controller’s room, and after that I went out two or three times on one occasion or another. But each time I locked the door of the room.”
“Oh, you did? That is important. And you took all your keys with you, I presume?”
“Yes, all. The keys on the bunch I took in my pocket, of course, and the room door key I also took. There are one or two rather important papers on my desk, you see, and anybody from the corridor might come in if the door were left unlocked.”
“The lock of the door would be a good deal easier to pick than that of the safe,” Hewitt observed, after examining it. “But that would be of no great use with the safe locked. Shortly, then, the facts are these. You locked the code safely away at 10.20, you left the room two or three times, but each time the door, as well as the safe, was locked, and the keys in your pocket; and then, at 12.20, or two hours exactly after the code had been put safely away, you opened the safe again in presence of the Controller’s secretary, and the code had vanished. That is the whole matter in brief, I take it?”
“Precisely.” Mr. Telfer was pallid and bewildered. “It seems a total impossibility,” he said; “a total, absolute, physical impossibility; but there it is.”
“But as no such thing as a physical impossibility ever happens,” Hewitt replied calmly, “we must look further. Now, are there any other ways into this room than by that door into the corridor? I see another door here. What is that?”
“That door has been locked for ages. The room on the other side is one like this, with a door in the corridor; it is used chiefly to store old documents of no great importance, and I believe that whole stacks of them, in bundles, are piled against the other side of that same door. We will send for the key and see, if you like.”
The key was sent for, and the door from the corridor opened. As Telfer had led us to expect, the place was full of old papers in bundles and parcels, thick with ancient dust, and these things were piled high against the door next his room, and plainly had not been disturbed for months, or even years.
“There remains the skylight,” said Hewitt, “for I perceive, Mr. Telfer, that your room is lighted from above, and has no window; while the grate is a register. There seems to be no opening in that skylight but the revolving ventilator. Am I right?”
“Quite so. There is no getting in by the skylight without breaking it, and, as you see, it has not been broken. Certainly there are men on the roof repairing the leads, but it is plain enough that nobody has come that way. The thing is wholly inexplicable.”
“At present, yes,” Hewitt said, musingly. He stood for a few moments in deep thought.
“Plummer is longer away than I expected,” he said presently. “By the way, what was the external appearance of the missing code?”
“It was nothing but a sort of thin manuscript book, made of a few sheets of foolscap size, sewn in a cover of thickish grey paper. I left it in the safe doubled lengthwise, and tied with tape in the middle.”
“Its loss is a very serious thing, of course?”
“Oh, terribly, terribly serious, Mr. Hewitt,” Telfer replied, despairingly. “I am responsible, and it will put an end to my career, of course. But the consequences to the country are more important, and they may be disastrous — enormously so. A great sum would be paid for that code on the Continent, I need hardly say.”
“But now that you know it is taken, surely the code can be changed?”
“It’s not so easy as it seems, Mr. Hewitt,” Telfer answered, shaking his head. “It means time, and I needn’t tell you that with affairs in their present state we can’t afford one moment of time. Some expedients are being attempted, of course, but you will understand that any new code would have to be arranged with scattered items of the fleet in all parts of the world, and that probably with the present code in the hands of the enemy. Moreover, all our messages already sent will be accessible with very little trouble, and they contain all our strategical coaling and storing dispositions for a great war, Mr. Hewitt; and they can’t, they can’t be altered at a moment’s notice! Oh, it is terrible! . . . But here is Inspector Plummer. No news, I suppose, Mr. Plummer?”
“Well, no,” Plummer answered deliberately. “I can’t say I’ve any news for you, Mr. Telfer, just yet. But I want to talk about a few things to Mr. Hewitt. Hadn’t we better go and see if your telegram is answered, Mr. Hewitt? Unless you’ve heard.”
“No, I haven’t,” Hewitt replied. “We’ll go on at once. Good-day for the present, Mr. Telfer. I hope to bring good news when next I see you.”
“I hope so, too, Mr. Hewitt, most fervently,” Telfer answered; and his looks confirmed his words.
We walked in silence through the corridor, down the stairs, and out by the gates into the street. Then Plummer turned on his heel and faced Hewitt.
“That man’s a wrong ’un,” he said, abruptly, jerking his thumb in the direction of the office we had just left. “I’ll tell you about it in the cab.”
As soon as our cab was started on its way back to Hewitt’s office Plummer explained himself.
“He’s been watched,” he said, “has Mr. Telfer, when he didn’t know it; and he’ll be watched again for the rest of to-day, as I’ve arranged. What’s more, he won’t be allowed to leave the office this evening till I have seen him again, or sent a message. No need to frighten him too soon — it mightn’t suit us. But he’s in it, alone or in company!”
“How do you know?”
“I’ll tell you. It seems the lead roofs are being repaired at the Admiralty, and the plumbers are walking about where they like. Now I needn’t tell you I’ve had a man or two fishing about among the doorkeepers and so on at the Admiralty, and one of them found a plumber he knew slightly, working on the roof. That plumber happens to be no fool — a bit smarter than the detective-constable, it seems to me, in fact. Anyhow, he seems to have got more out of my man than my man got out of him; and soon after I reached the Yard he turned up, asking to see me. He said he’d heard that a valuable paper was missing (he didn’t know what) from the room with the skylight in the top floor, where the gentleman with the single eye-glass was, and where the safe was let in the wall; and he wanted to know what would be the reward for anybody giving information about it. Of course I couldn’t make any promise, and I gave him to understand that he would have to leave the amount of the reward to the authorities, if his information was worth anything; also, that we were getting to work fast, and that if he wished to be first to give information he’d better be quick about it; but I promised to make a special report of his name and what he had to say if it were useful. And it will be, or I’m vastly mistaken! For just you see here. Our friend, Mr. Telfer, says he put that code safely away at 10.20 in the safe, and that he never went to the safe again till 12.20, when the Controller’s secretary was with him; never went to it for anything whatever, observe. Well, the plumber happened to be near the skylight at half-past eleven, and he is prepared to swear that he saw Mr. Telfer —‘the gent with the eye-glass,’ as he calls him — go to the safe, unlock it, take out a grey paper, folded lengthwise, with red tape round it, re-lock the safe, and carry that paper out into the corridor! The plumber was kneeling by a brazier, it seems, which was close by the skylight, and he is so certain of the time because he was regulating his watch by Westminster Hall clock, and compared it when the half-hour struck, which was just while Telfer was absent in the corridor with the paper. He was only gone a second or two, and you will remember that Corder saw Mayes leaving the premises within two minutes of that time!”
“Well, Telfer was back in a second or two, without the paper, and went on with his affairs as before. That’s pretty striking, eh?”
“Yes,” Hewitt answered thoughtfully, “it is.”
“It was a sort of shot in the dark on the part of the plumber, for he knew nothing else — nothing about Telfer legitimately having the keys of the safe, nor any of the particulars we have been told. He merely knew that a paper was missing, and having seen a paper taken out of the safe he got it into his head that he had possibly witnessed the theft; and he kept his knowledge to himself till he could see somebody in authority. Mighty keen, too, about a reward!”
“And now you are having Telfer supervised?”
“I am. Not that we’re likely to get the code from him; that’s passed out, sure enough, in Mayes’s hands — or else his pockets.”
To this confident expression of opinion Hewitt offered no reply, and presently we alighted at his office, eager to learn if Peytral had given the information Hewitt so much desired. Sure enough a telegram was there, and it ran thus:
“On the night you know of, Mayes went first to 37 Raven Street, Blackfriars, then to 8 Norbury Row, Barbican. Message follows.”
“Now we’re at work,” Hewitt said, briskly, “and for a while we part. I shall make a few changes of dress, and go to take a look at 37 Raven Street, Blackfriars. Will you two go on to Norbury Row? You’ll have to be careful, Plummer, and not show yourself. That is where Brett will be useful, since he isn’t known; if anybody is to be seen let it be him. I shall be very careful myself — though I shall have some little disguise; and I fancy I shall not be so likely to be seen as you.”
“What are we to do?” I asked.
“Well, of course, if you see Mayes in the open, grab him instantly. I needn’t tell Plummer that. I think Plummer would naturally seize him on the spot, rush him off to the nearest station and go back with enough men to clear out No. 8 Norbury Row. If you don’t see him you’ll keep an observation, according to Plummer’s discretion. But, unless some exceptional chance occurs, I hope you won’t go rushing in till we communicate with each other — we must work together, and I may have news. My instinct seems to tell me that yours is the right end of the stick, at Barbican. But we must neglect nothing, and that is why I want you to hold on there while I make the necessary examination at the other end. Do you know this Norbury Row, Plummer?”
“I think I know every street and alley in the City,” Plummer answered. “There is a very good publican at the corner of Norbury Row, who’s been useful to the police a score of times. He keeps his eyes open, and I shall be surprised if he can’t give us some information about No. 8, anyhow. Moon’s his name, and the house is ‘The Compasses.’ I shall go there first. And if you’ve any message to send, send it through him. I’ll tell him.”
On the stairs Plummer and I encountered another of his assistants. “I’ve got the cab, sir,” he reported. “Waiting outside now. Took up a fare in Whitehall, opposite the Admiralty, and drove him to Charterhouse Street; got down just by the Meat Market. That’s all the man seems to know.”
Plummer questioned the cabman, and found that as a matter of fact that was all he did know. So, telling him to wait to take us our little journey, we returned and reported his information to Hewitt.
“Just as I expected,” he said, quietly. “He stopped the cab a bit short of his destination, of course — just as you will, no doubt. There’s not a great deal in the evidence, but it confirms my idea.”
We followed Mayes’s example by stopping the cab in Charterhouse Street, and walking the short remaining distance to Barbican. Norbury Row was an obscure street behind it, at the corner of which stood “The Compasses,” the public-house which Plummer had mentioned. We did not venture to show ourselves in Norbury Row, but hastened into the nearest door of “The Compasses,” which chanced to be that of the private bar.
A stout, red-faced, slow-moving man with one eye and a black patch, stood behind the bar. Plummer lifted his finger and pointed quickly toward the bar-parlour; and at the signal the one-eyed man turned with great deliberation and pulled a catch which released the door of that apartment, close at our elbows. We stepped quickly within, and presently the one-eyed man came rolling in by the other door.
“Well, good art’noon, Mr. Plummer, sir,” he said, with a long intonation and a wheeze. “Good art’noon, sir. You’ve bin a stranger lately.”
“Good afternoon, Mr. Moon,” Plummer answered, briskly. “We’ve come for a little information, my friend and I, which I’m sure you’ll give us if you can.”
“All the years I’ve been knowed to the police,” answered Mr. Moon, slower and wheezier as he went on, “I’ve allus give ’em all the information I could, an’ that’s a fact. Ain’t it, Mr. Plummer?”
“Yes, of course, and we don’t forget it. What we want now ——”
“Allus tell ’em what — ever I knows,” rumbled Mr. Moon, turning to me, “allus; an’ glad to do it, too. ‘Cause why? Ain’t they the police? Very well then, I tells ’em. Allus tells ’em!”
Plummer waited patiently while Mr. Moon stared solemnly at me after this speech. Then, when the patch slowly turned in my direction and the eye in his, he resumed, “We want to know if you know anything about No. 8 Norbury Row?”
“Number eight,” Mr. Moon mused, gazing abstractedly out of the window; “num — ber eight. Ground-floor, Stevens, packing-case maker; first-floor, Hutt, agent in fancy-goods; second-floor, dunno. Name o’ Richardson, bookbinder, on the door, but that’s bin there five or six year now, and it ain’t the same tenant. Richardson’s dead, an’ this one don’t bind no books as I can see. I don’t even remember seein’ him very often. Tallish, darkish sort o’ gent he is, and don’t seem to have many visitors. Well, then there’s the top-floor — but I s’pose it’s the same tenant. Richardson used to have it for his workshop. That’s all.”
“Have you got a window we can watch it from?”
Mr. Moon turned ponderously round and without a word led the way to the first floor, puffing enormously on the stairs.
“You can see it from the club-room,” he said at length, “but this ’ere little place is better.”
He pushed open a door, and we entered a small sitting-room. “That’s the place,” he said, pointing. “There’s a new packing-case a-standing outside now.”
Norbury Row presented an appearance common enough in parts of the city a little way removed from the centre. A street of houses that once had sheltered well-to-do residents had gradually sunk in the world to the condition of tenement-houses, and now was on the upward grade again, being let in floors to the smaller sort of manufacturers, and to such agents and small commercial men as required cheap offices. No. 8 was much like the rest. A packing-case maker had the ground-floor, as Moon had said, and a token of his trade, in the shape of a new packing-case, stood on the pavement. The rest of the building showed nothing distinctive.
“There y’are, gents,” said Mr. Moon, “if you want to watch, you’re welcome, bein’ the p’lice, which I allus does my best for, allus. But you’ll have to excuse me now, ‘cos o’ the bar.”
Mr. Moon stumped off downstairs, leaving Plummer and myself watching at the window.
“Your friend the publican seems very proud of helping the police,” I remarked.
Plummer laughed. “Yes,” he said, “or at any rate, he is anxious we shan’t forget it. You see, it’s in some way a matter of mutual accommodation. We make things as easy as possible for him on licensing days, and as he has a pretty extensive acquaintance among the sort of people we often want to get hold of, he has been able to show his gratitude very handsomely once or twice.”
The house on which our eyes were fixed was a little too far up the street for us to see perfectly through the window of the second-floor, though we could see enough to indicate that it was furnished as an office. We agreed that the unknown second-floor tenant was more likely to be our customer, or connected with him, than either of the others. Still, we much desired a nearer view, and presently, since the coast seemed clear, Plummer announced his intention of taking one.
He left me at the post of observation, and presently I saw him lounging along on the other side of the way, keeping close to the houses, so as to escape observation from the upper windows. He took a good look at the names on the door-post of No. 8, and presently stepped within.
I waited five or six minutes, and then saw him returning as he had come.
“It’s the top floors we want,” he said, when he rejoined me in Mr. Moon’s sitting-room. “The packing-case maker is genuine enough, and very busy. So is the fancy-goods agent. I went in, seeing the door wide open, and found the agent, a little, shop-walkery sort of chap, hard at work with his clerk among piles of cardboard boxes. I wouldn’t go further, in case I were spotted. Do you think you’d be cool enough to do it without arousing suspicion? Mayes doesn’t know you, you see. What do you think? We don’t want to precipitate matters till we hear from Hewitt, but on the other hand I don’t want to sit still as long as anything can be ascertained. You might ask a question about book-binding.”
“Of course,” I said. “If you will let me I’ll go at once — glad of the chance to get a peep. I’ll bespeak a quotation for binding and lettering a thousand octavos in paste grain, on behalf of some convenient firm of publishers. That would be technical enough, I think?”
I took my hat and walked out as Plummer had done, though, of course, I approached the door of No. 8 with less caution. The packing-case maker’s men were hammering away merrily, and as I mounted the stairs I saw the little fancy-goods agent among his cardboard boxes, just as Plummer had said. The upper part of the house was a silent contrast to the busy lower floors, and as I arrived at the next landing I was surprised to see the door ajar.
I pushed boldly in, and found myself alone in a good-sized room plainly fitted as an office. There were two windows looking on the street, and one at the back, more than half concealed behind a ground glass partition or screen. I stepped across and looked out of this window. It looked on a narrow space, or well, of plain brick wall, containing nothing but a ladder, standing in one corner. And the only other window giving on this narrow square space was in the opposite wall, but much lower, on the ground level.
I saw these things in a single glance, and then I turned — to find myself face to face with a tallish, thin, active man, with a pale, shaven, ascetic face, dark hair, and astonishingly quick glittering black eyes. He stood just within the office door, to which he must have come without a sound, looking at me with a mechanical smile of inquiry, while his eyes searched me with a portentous keenness.
“Oh,” I said, with the best assumption of carelessness I could command, “I was looking for you, Mr. Richardson. Do you care to give a quotation for binding at per thousand crown octavo volumes in paste grain, plain, with lettering on back?”
“No,” answered the man with the eyes, “I don’t; I’m afraid my carelessness has led you into a mistake. I am not Richardson the bookbinder. He was my predecessor in this office, and I have neglected to paint out his name on the door-post.”
I hastened to apologise. “I am sorry to have intruded,” I said. “I found the door ajar and so came in. You see the publishing season is beginning, and our regular binders are full of work, so that we have to look elsewhere. Good-day!”
“Good-day,” the keen man responded, turning to allow me to pass through the door. “I’m sorry I cannot be of service to you — on this occasion.”
From first to last his eyes had never ceased to search me, and now as I descended the stairs I could feel that they were fixed on me still.
I took a turn about the houses, in order not to be observed going direct to “The Compasses,” and entered that house by way of the private bar, as before.
“That is Mayes, and no other,” said Plummer, when I had made my report and described the man with the eyes. “I’ve seen him twice, once with his beard and once without. The question now is, whether we hadn’t best sail in straight away and collar him. But there’s the window at the back, and a ladder, I think you said. Can he reach it?”
“I think he might — easily.”
“And perhaps there’s the roof, since he’s got the top floor too. Not good enough without some men to surround the house. We must go gingerly over this. One thing to find out is, what is the building behind? Ah, how I wish Mr. Hewitt were here now! If we don’t hear from him soon we must send a message. But we mustn’t lose sight of No. 8 for a moment.”
There was a thump at the sitting-room door, and Mr. Moon came puffing in and shouldered himself confidentially against Plummer. “Bloke downstairs wants to see you,” he said, in a hoarse grunt that was meant for a low whisper. “Twigged you outside, I think, an’ says he’s got somethink partickler to tell yer. I believe ‘e’s a ‘nark’; I see him with one o’ your chaps the other day.”
“I’ll go,” Plummer said to me hurriedly. “Plainly somebody’s spotted me in the street, and I may as well hear him.”
I knew very well, of course, what Moon meant by a ‘nark.’ A ‘nark’ is an informer, a spy among criminals who sells the police whatever information he can scrape up. Could it be possible that this man had anything to tell about Mayes? It was scarcely likely, and I made up my mind that Plummer was merely being detained by some tale of a petty local crime.
But in a few minutes he returned with news of import. “This fellow is most valuable,” he said. “He knows a lot about Mayes, whom, of course, he calls by another name; but the identity’s certain. He saw me looking in at No. 8, he says, and guessed I must be after him. He seems to have wondered at Mayes’s mysterious movements for a long time, and so kept his eye on him and made inquiries. It seems that Mayes sometimes uses a back way, through the window you saw on the opposite side of the little area, by way of that ladder you mentioned. It’s quite plain this fellow knows something, from the particulars about that ladder. He wants half a sovereign to show me the way through a stable passage behind and point out where our man can be trapped to a certainty. It’ll be a cheap ten shillingsworth, and we mustn’t waste time. If Hewitt comes, tell him not to move till I come back or send a message, which I can easily do by this chap I’m going with. And be sure to keep your eye on the front door of No. 8 while I’m gone.”
The thing had begun to grow exciting, and the fascination of the pursuit took full possession of my imagination. I saw Plummer pass across the end of the street in company with a shuffling, out-at-elbows-looking man with dirty brown whiskers, and I set myself to watch the door of the staircase by the packing-case maker’s with redoubled attention, hoping fervently that Mayes might emerge, and so give me the opportunity of capping the extraordinary series of occurrences connected with the Red Triangle by myself seizing and handing him over to the police.
So I waited and watched for something near another quarter of an hour. Then there came another thump at the door, and once more I beheld Mr. Moon.
“Man askin’ for you in the bar, sir,” he said.
“Asking for me?” I asked, a little astonished. “By name?”
“Mr. Brett, ‘e said, sir. He’s the same chap, you know. He’s got a message from Inspector Plummer, ‘e says.”
“May he come up here?” I asked, mindful of maintaining my watch.
“Certainly, sir, if you like. I’ll bring him.”
Presently the shuffling man with the dirty whiskers presented himself. He was a shifty, villainous-looking fellow of middle height, looking a “nark” all over. He pulled off his cap and delivered his message in a rum-scented whisper. “Inspector Plummer says the front way don’t matter now,” he said. “‘E can cop ’im fair the other way if you’ll go round to him at once. If Mr. Martin Hewitt’s here ‘e’d rather ‘ave ’im, but on’y one’s to come now.”
Naturally, I thought, Plummer would prefer Hewitt; but in this case I should for once be ahead of my friend, and have the pleasure of relating the circumstances of the capture to him, instead of listening, as usual, to his own quiet explanations of the manner in which the case had been brought to a successful issue. So I took my hat and went.
“Best let me go in front,” whispered the “nark.” “You bein’ a toff might be noticed.” It was a reasonable precaution, and I followed him accordingly.
We went a little way down Barbican, and presently, taking a very narrow turning, plunged into a cluster of alleys, through which, however, I could plainly perceive that our way lay in the direction of the back of the house in Norbury Row. At length my guide stopped at what seemed a stable yard, pushed open a wicket gate, and went in, keeping the gate open for me to follow.
It was, indeed, a stable yard, littered with much straw, which the “nark” carefully picked to walk on as noiselessly as possible, motioning me to do the same. It was a small enough yard, and dark, and when my guide very carefully opened the door of a stable I saw that that was darker still.
He pushed the door wide so as to let a little light fall on another door which I now perceived in the brick wall which formed the side of the stable. After listening intently for a moment at this door, the guide stepped back and favoured me with another puff of rum and a whisper. “There’s no light in that there passage,” he said, “an’ we’d better not strike one. I’ll catch hold of your hand.”
He pulled the stable door to, and took me by the hand. I heard the inner door open quietly, and we stepped cautiously forward. We had gone some five or six yards in the darkness when I felt something cold touch the wrist of the hand by which I was being led. There was a loud click, my hand was dropped, and I felt my wrist held fast, while I could hear my late guide shuffling away in the darkness.
I could not guess whether to cry out or remain quiet. I called after the man in a loud whisper, but got no answer. I used my other hand to feel at my right wrist, and found that it was clipped in one of a pair of handcuffs, the other being locked in a staple in the wall. I tugged my hardest to loosen this staple, but it held firm. The thing had been so sudden and stealthy that I scarce had time to realise that I was in serious danger, and that, doubtless, Plummer had preceded me, when a light appeared at an angle ahead. It turned the corner, and I perceived, coming toward me, carrying a lamp, the pale man of the eyes, whom I had encountered not an hour before — in a word, Mayes.
His eyes searched me still, but he approached me with a curiously polite smile.
“No, Mr. Brett,” he said, “my name is not Richardson, and I am not a bookbinder. Not that I am particular about such a thing as a name, for you have heard of me under more than one already, and you are quite at liberty to call me Richardson if you like. I am sorry to have to talk to you in this uncomfortable place, but the circumstances are exceptional. But, at least, I should give you a chair.”
He stepped back a little way and pressed a bell-button. Presently the fellow who had decoyed me there appeared, and Mayes ordered him to bring me a chair at once, which he did, with stolid obedience. I sat in it, so that my wrist rested at somewhere near the level of my shoulder.
“Mr. Brett,” Mayes pursued, when his man was gone, “I am not so implacable a person as you perhaps believe me; in fact, I can assure you that my disposition is most friendly.”
“Then unfasten this handcuff,” I said.
“I am sorry that that is a little precaution I find it necessary to take till we understand each other better. I am glad to see you, Mr. Brett, though I am sure you will not think me rude if I say that I should have preferred Mr. Martin Hewitt in your place. But perhaps his turn will come later. I have a proposition to make, Mr. Brett. I should like you to join me.”
“To join you?”
“Exactly.” He nodded pleasantly. “You needn’t shrink; I shan’t ask you to do anything vulgar, or even anything that, with your present prejudices, you might consider actively criminal. You can help me, you see, in your own profession as a journalist; and in other ways. And my enterprise is greater than you may imagine. Join me, and you shall be a great man in an entirely new sphere. A small matter of initiation is necessary, and that is all. You have only to consent to that.”
I said nothing.
“You seem reluctant. Well, perhaps it is natural, in your present ignorance. This is no vulgar criminal organisation that I have, understand. I have taken certain measures to provide myself with the necessary tools in the shape of money, and so forth, but my aims are larger than you suspect — perhaps larger than you can understand. And I work with a means more wonderful than you have experience of. For instance, here is to-day’s work. You know about the lost Naval Code, of course — it is what you came about. That document is now lying in the desk you stood by in the room where we spoke of paste grain book covers and the like. It was there then at your elbow. It will be sold for many thousands of pounds by to-morrow, and all the puny watchings and dodgings that have been devised cannot prevent it. The money will go to aid me in the attainment of the power of which you may have a part, if you wish. The means of attaining this I scruple no more about than you did to-day about the story of the bookbindings.” He bowed with a slight smile and went on.
“Come now, Mr. Brett, put aside your bourgeois prejudices and join me. Your friend Plummer is coming gladly, I feel sure, and he will be useful, too. And from what I have seen from Mr. Martin Hewitt, I have no doubt I can make it right with him. If I can’t it will be very bad for him, I can assure you; you have heard and seen something of my powers, and I need say no more. But Hewitt is a man of sense, and will come in, of course, and you had better come with your friends. I want one or two superior men. Mason — you know about Jacob Mason, of course — Mason was a fool, and he was lost — inevitably. The others”— he made a gesture of contempt —“they are mere vulgar tools. They will have their rewards if they are faithful, of course; if not — well, you remember Denson in the Samuel diamond business? He was not faithful, and there was an end of him. I may tell you that Denson was made an example, for one was needed. I assigned him a certain operation, and, having brought it to success, he endeavoured to embezzle — did embezzle — the proceeds. He was made a conspicuous example, in a most conspicuous public place, to impress the others. They didn’t know him, but they knew well enough what the Red Triangle meant! Ah, my excellent recruit — for so I count you already — there is more in that little sign than you can imagine! It is more than a sign — it is an implement of very potent power; and you shall learn its whole secret in that little form of initiation I spoke of. See now, a present example. Telfer, the Admiralty clerk, gave up that document at my mere spoken word. He will deny it to his dying day, and he will be ruined for the act; but he gave me the paper himself, at my mere order. If he were one of my own — if he had passed through the initiation I offer you, I would have protected him; as it is, he must take his punishment, and though it is only I who will benefit, he will still deny the fact! Ha! Mr. Brett, do you begin to perceive that I do not boast when I tell of powers beyond your understanding?”
Truly I was amazed, though I could not half understand. The circumstances of the loss of the Admiralty code had been so inexplicable, and now these incredible suggestions of the prime actor in the matter were more mysterious still.
“Ha! you are amazed,” he went on, “but if you will come further into my counsels I will amaze you more. What are you now? A drudge of a journalist, and if ever you make a thousand a year to feed yourself with you will be lucky. Come to me and you shall be a man of power. There is a place beyond the sea where I may be king, and you a viceroy. Don’t think I am raving! It is true enough that I am an enthusiast, but I have power, power to do anything I please, I tell you! What are the greatest powers among men on this earth? Some will say the pen, or the sword, or love, or what not. Men of the world will say, money and lies; and they will be very nearly right. Money and lies will move continents, but I have one greater power still — the very apex of the triangle! That power I revealed to Jacob Mason. He thought to betray it, and it killed him. That power I will reveal to you, if you will accept the alternative I offer.”
“Yes, the alternative, for an alternative it is, of course. If you will go through the form of initiation, I shall keep you here a little till I can trust you — which will be very soon. But if not — well, Mr. Brett, I wish to be as friendly as you please, but having been at the trouble of catching you, and having got you here safely, you who know so much now, you who could be so dangerous if you ever got away — eh? Well, you know my methods, and you have seen them exemplified, and you will understand.”
There was no anger in his voice as he uttered this threat, nor even, I thought, in his eyes. But what there was was worse.
“But I’m sure you will not make things unpleasant,” he concluded. “You will go through the little form I have arranged, if only for curiosity. Just think over it for a moment, while I go to close my little office.”
He took the lamp and turned away, but as he reached the angle of the passage, there came a sound that checked his steps. I could hear a noise of feet and hurried voices, and then suddenly arose a shout in a voice which seemed to be Plummer’s. “Here!” it cried. “Help! This way, Hewitt! Brett!”
I shouted back at the top of my voice, wondering where Plummer was, and what it might all mean. And with that Mayes turned, and I saw that he was about to make for the door I had entered by. I resolved he should not pass me if I could prevent it, and I sprang up and seized my chair in my left hand, shouting aloud for help as I did so.
Mayes came with a bound, and flung his lighted lamp full at my head. It struck the chair and smashed to a thousand pieces, and in that instant of time Mayes was on me. Plainly he had no weapon, or he would have used it; but I was at disadvantage enough, with my right wrist chained to the wall. I clung with all my might, and endeavoured to swing my enemy round against the wall in order that I might clasp my hands about him, and I shouted my loudest as I did it. But the chair and the broken glass hampered me, and Mayes was desperate. The agony in my right wrist was unbearable, and just as I was conscious of a rush of approaching feet a heavy blow took me full in the face, and I felt Mayes rush over me while I fell and hung from the wrist.
I had a stunned sense of lights and voices and general confusion, and then I remembered nothing.
I came to myself on the floor of a lighted room, with Hewitt’s face over mine. My wrist seemed broken, though it was free, there was oil and blood on my clothes, and in my left hand I still gripped a piece of Mayes’s coat.
“Stop him!” I cried. “He’s gone by the stable! Have they got him?”
“No good, Brett,” Hewitt answered soberly. “You did your best, but he’s gone, and Peytral after him!”
“Yes. He brought his own message to town. But see if you can stand up.”
I was well enough able to do that, and, indeed, I had only fainted from the pain of the strain on my wrist. Several policemen were in the room, beside Hewitt and Plummer. Mayes’s stronghold was in the hands of his enemies.
Then I suddenly remembered.
“The Admiralty code!” I cried. “It was in the office desk. Have you got it?”
“No,” Hewitt answered. “Come, Plummer, up the ladder!”
Little time was lost in forcing Mayes’s desk, and there the document was found, grey cover, red tape and all intact. The police were left to make a vigorous search for any possible copy, and the original was handed to Plummer, as chief representative of the law present. He had been trapped precisely as I had been, except that he had been led further, and shut in a cellar as well as fastened by the wrist. Mayes, it seemed, had wasted very little time in attempting to pervert him, and I have no doubt that, whatever fate might have been reserved for me, Plummer would never have left the place alive had it not been for the timely irruption of Hewitt, with Peytral and the police.
In half an hour Peytral returned. He had dashed out in chase of the fugitive, but failed even to see him — lost him wholly in the courts, in fact. For some little while he persevered, but found it useless.
The dirty-whiskered man made no attempt to escape, though there was talk of another man having got away in the confusion by way of the stable roof. The police were left in charge of the place, and we deferred a complete exploration till the next day.
Hewitt’s tale was simple enough. He had endued himself in somewhat seedy clothes, and had visited 37 Raven Street, Blackfriars, which he found to be merely a tenement house. It took some time to make inquiries there, with the necessary caution, because of the number of lodgers; and then the inquiries led to nothing. It was an experience common enough in his practice, but none the less an annoying delay, and when he returned to his office he found Mr. Peytral already awaiting him. Peytral described his following of Mayes at much greater length and detail than before, and he and Hewitt had come on to Norbury Row at once and asked news of Mr. Moon.
Mr. Moon’s description of the successive disappearances of Plummer and myself, and of our continued absence, so aroused Hewitt’s suspicions that he instantly procured help from the nearest station, and approached the door of Mayes’s office. A knock being unanswered, the door was instantly broken in. The room was found to be unoccupied, but the ladder was still standing at the open window, by which Mayes had descended to the back premises. Down this ladder Hewitt went, with the police after him. The rest I had seen myself.
“But what,” I said, “what is this mystery? Why did Telfer give up the code, and what is the power that Mayes talks of?”
“It is a power,” replied Hewitt, “that I have suspected for some time, and now I am quite sure of it. A secret, dangerous and terrible power which I have encountered before, though never before have I known its possibilities carried so far. It is hypnotism!”
“Hypnotism!” I exclaimed. “But can a person be hypnotised against his will?”
“In a sense, in most cases, he cannot. That is the explanation of Mayes’s proposals to you to go through a ‘form of initiation.’ If you had consented, the ‘form’ would have been a process of hypnotism. Once or twice repeated, and you would have been wholly under his control, so that if he willed it and forbade you, you could tell nothing of what he wished kept secret, and you would have committed any crime he might suggest. Consider poor Jacob Mason! Remember how he struggled to tell what he knew, oppressed by the horror of it, and how it all ended! And remember Henning the clerk, Mayes’s tool in that case of bond robbery! What has happened to him? He committed suicide, as you know, immediately after Mayes had left him at the barn. Brett, this power of hypnotism, a power for healing in the hands of a good man, may become a terrible power for evil in the hands of a villain!”
“But Telfer, to-day? He seems to have known nothing of Mayes, and he was not one of his regular creatures — Mayes himself told me so.”
“About that I don’t know. But I expect we shall find that he has been willingly hypnotised at some time or another, perhaps more than once, by this same scoundrel Mayes. Possibly in one of Mayes’s appearances in respectable society, at an evening party, or the like. In a case of that sort the hypnotist may impress a certain formula — a word, a name, or a number — on the subject’s mind, by the repetition of which, at any future time, that same subject may be instantly hypnotised. So that, once having become hypnotised, on any innocent occasion, the subject is in the power of the hypnotist, more or less, ever after. The hypnotist says: ‘When I repeat such and such a sentence or number to you in future, you will be hypnotised,’ and hypnotised the subject duly is, instantly. Supposing such a case in this matter of Mr. Telfer, it would only be necessary for Mayes to meet him in the corridor, repeat his formula and command the victim to bring out the paper he specified. This done he could similarly order him to forget the whole transaction, and this the victim would do, infallibly.”
It is only necessary to say here, parenthetically, that later inquiry proved the truth of Hewitt’s supposition. Twice or three times Mr. Telfer had been hypnotised in a friend’s chambers, by a plausible tall man whose acquaintance his host had made at some public scientific gathering. And in the end it became possible to identify this man with Mayes.
Mr. Moon, of “The Compasses,” was of great comfort to me that evening. My cuts and bruises were washed in his house, and my inner man revived with his food and drink.
“Allus glad to oblige the p’lice,” said Mr. Moon; “allus. ‘Cos why? Ain’t they the p’lice? Very well then!”
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:11