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首页 » 英文短篇小说 » The Yellow Face » CHAPTER XXVIII. THE LAMP GOES OUT.
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Meanwhile, Carrington had been pacing up and down the room, obviously troubled and ill at ease. Anstruther watched him with a gleam of malicious amusement in his dark eyes. This strong man liked to feel that he had everybody in his power; it was good to him to know that he could move others as the man behind the curtain moves the puppets in a marionette show. It was not particularly that Anstruther cared for crime for its own sake, but he loved to be subtle and mysterious; it was a joy to him to get the better of his fellow creatures. Had Carrington but known it, the major part of the trouble which was racking his mind now had been brought about by the very man to whom he turned most readily in the hour of his misfortunes. He poured himself out a liberal dose of whiskey, and gulped it down without the formality of adding anything to it. He flung himself angrily into a chair.

"Now that that little ape is gone we can discuss my affairs," he said. "My dear Anstruther, I am the most desperate man in England to-night."

"I think I have heard that remark somewhere before," Anstruther said cynically. "Most people talk like that when they owe twopence-ha' penny they can't manage to pay. But tell me, are your affairs in such a state as that?"

"They could not possibly be worse," Carrington said, moodily. "Since my father died, practically all the financial side of the business has been left to me. Like the fool that I am, I was not content with the handsome profit that the concern was bringing in. I started speculating for myself, and I was unlucky from the start. I lost my head and plunged desperately, but that is not the worst of it. Not only is all the property at the bank mortgaged to its full value, but I have taken and disposed of securities belonging to clients. Every morning I go down to the bank I do so with my heart in my mouth. It only needs the smallest spark to fire the whole mine. I should not be surprised to find myself in jail to-morrow night. Now, you are a clever man, quite the cleverest man I have ever met--can you show me any way out of the difficulty?"

"My dear fellow," Anstruther said presently, "clever men can do most things, but there is one thing in which they generally fail. They can't command money just when they want it. As you are perfectly well aware, I am as desperately hard up as you are yourself. If you could give me two or three days----"

"But something must be done within the next eight and forty hours!" Carrington exclaimed. "For instance, there is that confounded affair at Lady Barmouth's."

"But how does that concern you?" Anstruther asked.

"I was just coming to that. You see, we have a great many clients--ladies--who keep their jewels with us. Take the case of the Duchess of Plymouth, for instance, and Admiral Scott's widow. But those are only a few of many. Now I know perfectly well that all these ladies will be round the day after to-morrow to obtain their jewels, for the purpose of wearing them at Lady Barmouth's masked ball. Not to put too fine a point upon it, they won't get their jewels, because they are not there."

"Mortgaged or sold?" Anstruther asked, curtly.

"Mortgaged to the utmost penny. You can imagine my feelings every time the door of my private office is opened and I am told that a client wishes to see me. I cannot for the life of me see any way out of it. Nothing less than a quarter of a million of money would set me on my feet again."

Anstruther smoked thoughtfully, his brows knitted into a frown. It was some time before he spoke, Carrington watching him with sickening anxiety. There was something pathetic in his belief in Anstruther's ability to get him out of this terrible position.

"There are more ways of doing it than one," Anstruther said presently. "In this instance we can take a hint from the daily papers. Supposing that the bank was mysteriously robbed--the safes forced open and all that kind of thing?"

"Yes, and the whole thing exposed in twenty minutes," Carrington said, bitterly. "The robbing and gagging of cashiers has been slightly overdone lately. I can't call a single case to mind in which the scheme has not fallen to the ground. Take the case of those stolen banknotes, for instance. And even supposing that nothing could be proved against one, there is always a large section of the public ready to regard the trouble as nothing more than a mere swindle. An affair like that would be the finishing touch; it would ruin the bank's business utterly."

"And incidentally save your skin," said Anstruther, significantly. "Oh, no; this is going to be a much more artistic affair than that. If you could get me a plan of the bank premises, including the safes and the cellars and all that kind of thing, I believe I could hit upon a scheme ingenious enough to deceive the police and gain you the sympathy of the British public."

Carrington shook his head wearily. He had expected something much more brilliant and original from Anstruther than this.

"The plan you want would take days to prepare," he said, "to say nothing of the fact----"

Carrington jumped to his feet joyfully. His moody face cleared, and something like a smile shone on his features. "What a fool I am!" he cried. "Why, I have the very thing on the premises; in fact, I have two copies. It was only a few months ago that the bank premises were thoroughly restored and a fresh set of strong rooms added. I feel positively certain that in my safe here I have two sets of tracings of the architect's plans. I'll get them for you. Only I hope you won't make the same blunder over this business as you did at the affair of the man whom we will call Nostalgo Seymour."

Anstruther laughed unpleasantly. Jack's companion, listening intently from his hiding place amongst the ferns, gripped his companion by the arm. "That's me," he whispered, with almost a suppressed chuckle. "I am the man they speak of as Nostalgo Seymour."

Jack pressed the arm of his fellow conspirator by way of acknowledgment. He was far too interested in what was going on inside the brilliantly-lighted room to care to talk; indeed, he had forgotten the presence of his comrade altogether. He could see that Anstruther had risen to his feet and was pacing the room, evidently nettled by Carrington's remark. "If you want to be friends, don't mention that matter to me again," he said. "It is the one failure of my life. To get Seymour out of the way is imperative. I trusted the matter to Padini, and he failed me."

"I would have trusted nothing to Padini," Carrington said.

"Oh, yes, you would," Anstruther growled. "Especially if he had done so many artistic jobs in the same line for you. But I did not know, unfortunately, till too late, that the little rascal has been drinking more lately than was good for him. The fact is, he has lost his nerve. And yet he might have felt himself justified in believing that his mission had been attended with complete success--but go and get your plans. I will have a good look at them now, and I will call to see you to-morrow at the bank as if I came on business, and you shall show me all over the premises. It will be surprising, indeed, if I cannot show you some safe way out of the present difficulty."

As Carrington went off jingling a bunch of keys in his hand, Jack could feel the man whom we will now call Seymour fairly trembling with excitement. It seemed more than once as if he was bent on darting from his hiding place and confronting the two scoundrels in the inner room. But evidently he was placing great restraint upon himself, for he turned to Jack and patted him reassuringly on the shoulder. At the same instant, Carrington returned with a large roll of tracing paper in his hand. There was an agitation about him scarcely warranted by the circumstances of the case. It was as if he had seen something dreadful during his brief absence. Anstruther looked at him with some scorn. "What a face!" he growled. "If you go down to the bank looking like that you will have a run on the concern in half an hour. No ghosts about here, I suppose?"

"It isn't that," Carrington said hoarsely; "but it is something I have found in the corridor. It was lying on the floor close by the dining-room door. Tell me, have you ever seen it before?"

With a shaking hand Carrington laid a small silver-mounted moleskin tobacco pouch on the table. At the same moment Jack noticed that his companion had given a great start. There was no need for Jack to be told that the tobacco pouch in question was Seymour's property, and had been dropped by him accidentally a little time before.

"Why, you don't mean to say this belongs to Seymour," Anstruther cried, and there was a real anxiety in his voice. "Yes, you are quite correct; I distinctly remember Seymour buying this peculiar pattern of filigree silver. Now you see why I wanted to get that fellow out of the way. I have tried to believe that he was dead and gone, but not only is it quite evident that he is very much alive, but also it is equally plain that he has been here to-night."

Carrington fairly shook as he hoarsely muttered his opinion that Anstruther was right. He glanced timidly about him, as if expecting to meet the face of Seymour; he stepped towards the conservatory, as if suspicious that the crimson flowers were hiding his enemy there. Then he gave a shaky half-laugh at his own fears.

"My nerves are all rags to-night," he said. "Positively I imagined that I could see that dreadful scarred face of Seymour glaring at me from behind the bank of geraniums. Call me a coward if you like, but I must really ask you to turn up the light in the conservatory. I dare not do it myself."

Something like a curse broke from the rigid figure by Jack's side. From overhead there dangled an electric light swinging on a long, pliable flex. An instant later, and there would come a brilliant blaze of light if Anstruther could have reached the switch towards which he was contemptuously strolling. An instant later, and the eavesdroppers would have been discovered; but Seymour rose grandly to the situation. With one bound he was across the floor of the conservatory, and literally tore the switch from its place. Instantly the fuses connected with the two rooms short-circuited, and the brilliant light of the inner room was swallowed up in the throat of a great velvety darkness. The thing was so swift, so clever, and so unexpected, that Jack could only gasp. He was conscious of the fact that Seymour had left his side, but only for a moment.

"Confound the light!" Carrington cried. "Give me a match, and I'll light the lamps. This is the second time lately the same thing has happened."

The feeble spurt of a vesta made a tiny blue flame, but it was sufficient to show Carrington the position of two silver lamps. He lighted one of these and then the other, and placed them on the table. As he did so his face grew white again, his tongue began to stammer.

"The plans," he gasped. "Surely I put two on the table? Where is the other?"

"The other," Jack's companion whispered, with a hoarse chuckle of triumph, "is quite safe in my breast pocket."


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