She looked positively happy under this sweet incense to a housewifely heartron price inr nowt. She was being paid in the coin that women love best, and it was all the more precious to her because she had never expected to receive it again.
"Light your pipuniswap app infoe and I'll read to you, if you wish me to.""Oh, come now! I at least believe in Sunday as a day of rest, and you need it. Reading aloud is about as hard work as I can do."
"But I'm used to it. I read aloud to mother a great deal," and then there passed over her face an expression of deep pain."What is it, Alida? Don't you feel well?""Yes, oh, yes!" she replied hastily, and her pale face became crimson.It was another stab of memory recalling the many Sundays she had read to the man who had deceived her. "Shall I read?" she asked."Alida," he said very kindly, "it wasn't the thought of your mother that brought that look of pain into your face."
She shook her head sadly, with downcast eyes. After a moment or two, she raised them appealingly to him as she said simply, "There is so much that I wish I could forget.""Poor child! Yes, I think I know. Be patient with yourself, and remember that you were never to blame.""I DON'T THINK this is the way out. There was panic in Irene s voice which she could not control.
Burfoot had stopped and locked the door through which they had come. There might be no certain significance in that, but he was now leading the way to a glass-walled chamber, the use of which was not difficult to guess, even apart from the faint penetrating odour which never left its precincts, even when it was not charged with the fumes by which it destroyed its countless unsuspecting victims, who were repaid for the love and loyalty they had given to men by this murderous treachery.Burfoot looked at her with the derisive grin she had seen at their first encounter. He said: "You can please yourself. It's all one to me. But I should say a good whiff of gas is better than being roasted alive.""But - you can't mean it!" she answered faintly. "You said you'd show me the way out, and I'd give you a hundred pounds. Suppose we say two? Or what do you want? It's no use trying to frighten me like this. You can't want to be hanged. I've told you the police are on the way here. I know they are. . . ."She stopped before the malicious amusement in his eyes. Incredible as it must seem, she knew at that moment that he meant to kill her, and that there was no hope in any pleading, and little in appeals either to greed or fear.
The inclination to faint came again, as it had done in the room above, and she knew that, if she should do so, there would be no return to consciousness, unless it should be in some horror of mortal pain.She looked at the man, who was a head taller than herself massive, muscular, able to break her back over his knee, and she knew that, even if she had retained the poker that she had been cajoled into laying down so foolishly, it would have been useless to her. Her wits must save her, or nothing would. And how could her wits avail?
The man had listened to her with no sign of relenting. She saw that her terror was amusement to him - that he would find pleasure in that which he was meaning to do. But he answered her, in the tone of one who would show sense to a fool."You didn't think we should let you live? You know a damned sight too much for that.""If I knew that you had saved my life, wouldn't that be a good thing for you?"It was shrewdly suggested. For one moment he may have hesitated as to whether it would not be best to take whatever money she might promise now and afterwards prove able and willing to pay, and to take the credit of saving her from Snacklit's hands. But would it save him? It is no sufficient legal defence to say that you declined to kill a young lady at night, if it can be proved against you that you helped to murder a taxi-driver at any earlier hour. No, there was one way, and only one, that was sure. . . . And then there was the noise of a key turning in a locked door, and Billson stood in the entrance.
For a moment the three stood looking at one another in silence. Then Billson said:"Kate thought this was about how it'ud be. But I'm not standing for it. It's a bit too thick. . . . You should have left the key in the lock if you didn't want me to come butting in."Burfoot cursed to himself. It was true that he had not given a thought to the duplicate keys that always hung in the outer hall those that Billson, who did the routine killing, was accustomed to use. And he was not a quick-witted man. He was used to carrying out the orders of others, not to plan for himself."It's the master's orders," he said at last. "You'd better talk it over with him."
"Yes. I'll do that. He'll have to know that we don't stand for murder, not Kate or I. You'd better come and hear what I've got to say.""We'll wait here till you get back."
"Mr. Billson," Irene exclaimed, in a fresh access of terror, "you're not going to leave me here?""No. I won't do that. And I've changed my mind about seeing the master. We'll clear out without any more words."
He had guessed that, if he should leave them together, there would be no change in the programme that he had interrupted and, after that, was it likely that he would be allowed to escape? He remembered Wilkes. A man as powerful and perhaps even more brutal than the one who confronted him now If he should go upstairs, he might come down to find that Kate had been already dealt with, and that he had to face two men as desperate, and each as strong as himself.One, at least, had become desperate now. Burfoot said, "No, you don't." His arm swept round, striking Irene with a force which threw her against the wall, from which she collapsed on to the floor. He leapt forward. "You yellow rat!" he cried savagely, as his left shot outward for Billson's chin.It was a blow which might have been decisive, but Billson swerved, and it did no more than graze the side of his head. It was returned next moment with equal force and more smashing contact, and then the two men fought like raging beasts, while Irene struggled to her feet, to be swept off them again by a rush which was regardless of her.She tried to dodge the quick movements of the combatants to get past them and through the door, but it was not easy to do without taking the risk of blows which were not intended for her and which she would have been less fit to endure than were those upon whom they fell.But as she watched for the moment of clear passage that she required, there came what may have been the most welcome sound that her ears had heard - her father's voice calling her name, as he hurried along the passage at a pace which left Kate behind, whose part it had been to show him the way."Hands up!" he cried sharply, pulling out the weapon on which he had learnt to rely during the adventurous passage of earlier years. But he spoke to those who were too fully engaged upon their own affairs to heed a summons that was less familiar to their ears than it had been to those of his native state.
Even to one of his emphatic habits, exasperated as he was by the sight of a dishevelled daughter at the further side of the room, it was not a possible programme to make indiscriminate slaughter of the struggling men, one of whom must presumably be his daughter's champion, though he had no clue to which it might be. So they survived the peril natural to those who ignore the customary American greeting.But though he did not immediately empty the contents of his gun into their contending bodies, he was in no mood to wait patiently for the struggle, which had become an all-out wrestling match rather than a fight, to proceed to its natural end.
Watching his chance, he interposed an adroit foot, which brought Billson heavily to the ground. His opponent found himself confronted by a new antagonist, and a levelled gun. The sharp order, "Stand back, or you're a dead man," came in a tone which the wildest person would be unlikely to disregard. Burfoot did not raise his hands, but they dropped to his sides. Scowling, and breathing hard, he backed toward the sliding glass partition of the lethal chamber.He made no resistance when Kindell, who had entered immediately behind the ambassador, passed a precautionary hand over his pockets.
"Irene, are you all right?" her father asked, without taking his eyes off the two men, the second of whom had now risen from the floor, and was using the back of his hand to improve the sight of a blackened and bleeding eye. "Then you'd better tell me who's who in this mix-up.""It's the one you've got covered," Irene replied with ungrammatical lucidity. "He was trying to kill me. Mr. Billson was trying to get me away. I think we owe him a hundred pounds."
It was an opportune testimonial, for the police, whose coming Irene had foretold on such dubious grounds, were now crowding into the room."Do you charge this man?" a detective-sergeant asked briskly."I charge him with trying to murder me," Irene said, with a fierce hatred in her heart which is easy to understand, "and with helping to kill the driver who brought me here.""That's enough to go on with," the sergeant answered.
"It was just a bit of a game," the man said sullenly. "And what about what she'd done before? Bashed Mr. Snacklit's head with a poker before I got her away."But as he spoke the handcuffs were on his wrists, and Mr. Thurlow was putting away a gun which had done its part. As he did so, the voice of Professor Blinkwell gave some confirmation to the allegation that Burfoot had made. "It is certainly true that Mr. Snacklit has been rather badly hurt, but, from admissions which he made to me a few moments ago, I should say he brought it upon himself, and Miss Thurlow did no more than was justified by the detention to which she was subjected."
The reception of this statement, and the general consciousness of his entrance which it brought, was certainly without warmth, but the Professor showed no consciousness of that. The sergeant said only, "I'd better see Mr. Snacklit. Where is he now?""I left him," Professor Blinkwell answered, "in the lounge upstairs. He was resting on a couch there, his face being badly injured. From what he told me, I felt that Miss Thurlow might be requiring assistance. I found this man" - he looked at Wilkes standing somewhat in the rear, as he said this - "in the back premises, and he guided me here."
With the same absence of comment, the sergeant said, "You'd better show me where Snacklit is."The Professor showed no unwillingness to oblige, but when they reached the lounge, it will be readily believed that Mr. Snacklit was not there.
Chapter 40 Professor Blinkwell Was PleasedMR. LAMBTON RECEIVED Superintendent Allenby's report before leaving the House, and it went far to relieve his mind. The American Ambassador had returned to Grosvenor Square with a daughter who had been no more than superficially damaged, and without having involved himself in any further homicidal episodes. International amity seemed unlikely to be disturbed.So far, good. But there were other aspects of the matter such as might still lead the most cautious Secretary to make one of those blunders which cause the Home Office to be regarded as the most perilous stage of a climbing politician's career.Allenby ended his report by saying: "Snacklit made himself scarce, knocked about though he certainly was, as soon as our men entered the building. It's difficult to guess how it was done, as we had every exit watched. It looks as though he'd got a getaway planned beforehand, and when he knew we were there he saw that the game was up. Anyway, it was pleading guilty in a loud voice, and he shouldn't take long to catch. Not with his face marked as it is."
Mr. Lambton said he supposed not. What arrests had actually been made?"Only the man Burfoot. It'll be a long stretch, if not the gallows, for him. We've brought another man named Wilkes in for questioning, but we haven't gone further than that. There are one or two others who won't leave Snacklit House without our having something to say. But I told Sergeant Duckworth to go slow till we'd thought it out."
"Quite right. What about Blinkwell?""We've done nothing so far. We've not got much to go on. And I didn't know what you would wish. . . . Of course, there are those extradition papers on the way. We can't ignore them."
"No. They can't be ignored. But there's no need to do more tonight. I'll see Sir Henry in the morning, and talk it over with him."Mr. Lambton, his mind greatly relieved, though not unaware of further problems ahead, went home for a short night's sleep.