Arthur Morrison.

The Dorrington Deed-Box



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"Bessborough Street, Pimlico. You'll find Mrs. Hamer has a temper of her own."

"Well, well, we all have our failings. But before we start, now, observe." For a moment Dorrington was stern and menacing. "You wriggled a little at first, but that was quite natural. Now you've given in; and at the first sign of another wriggle I stop it once and for all. Understand? No tricks, now."

They entered a hansom at the door. Hamer was moody and silent at first, but under the influence of Dorrington's gay talk he opened out after a while. "Well," he said, "you're far the cleverest of the three, no doubt, and perhaps in that way you deserve to win. It's mighty smart for you to come in like this, and push Bouvier on one side and me on the other, and both of us helpless. But it's rough on me after having all the trouble."

"Don't be a bad loser, man!" Dorrington answered. "You might have had a deal more trouble and a deal more roughness too, I assure you."

"Oh yes, so I might. I'm not grumbling. But there's one thing has puzzled me all along. Where did Bouvier get that stone from?"

"He inherited it. It's the most important of the family jewels, I assure you."

"Oh, skittles! I might have known you wouldn't tell me, even if you knew yourself. But I should like to know. What sort of a duffer must it have been that let Bouvier do him for that big stone – Bouvier of all men in the world? Why, he was a record flat himself – couldn't tell a diamond from a glass marble, I should think. Why, he used to buy peddling little trays of rotters in the Garden at twice their value! And then he'd sell them for what he could get. I knew very well he wasn't going on systematically dropping money like that for no reason at all. He had some axe to grind, that was plain. And after a while he got asking timid questions as to the sale of big diamonds, and how it was done, and who bought them, and all that. That put me on it at once. All this buying and selling at a loss was a blind. He wanted to get into the trade to sell stolen diamonds, that was clear; and there was some value in them too, else he couldn't afford to waste months of time and lose money every day over it. So I kept my eye on him. I noticed, when he put his overcoat on, and thought I wasn't looking, he would settle a string of some sort round his neck, under his shirt-collar, and feel to pack up something close under his armpit. Then I just watched him home, and saw the sort of shanty he lived in. I mentioned these things to Mrs. H., and she was naturally indignant at the idea of a chap like Bouvier having something valuable in a dishonest way, and agreed with me that if possible it ought to be got from him, if only in the interests of virtue." Hamer laughed jerkily. "So at any rate we determined to get a look at whatever it was hanging round his neck, and we made the arrangements you know about. It seemed to me that Bouvier was pretty sure to lose it before long, one way or another, if it had any value at all, to judge by the way he was done in other matters.

But I assure you I nearly fell down like Bouvier himself when I saw what it was. No wonder we left the bottle behind where I'd dropped it, after soaking the shawl – I wonder I didn't leave the shawl itself, and my hat, and everything. I assure you we sat up half last night looking at that wonderful stone!"

"No doubt. I shall have a good look at it myself, I assure you. Here is Bessborough Street. Which is the number?"

They alighted, and entered a house rather smaller than those about it. "Ask Mrs. Hamer to come here," said Hamer, gloomily, to the servant.

The men sat in the drawing-room. Presently Mrs. Hamer entered – a shortish, sharp, keen-eyed woman of forty-five. "This is Mr. Dorrington," said Hamer, "of Dorrington & Hicks, private detectives. He wants us to give him that diamond."

The little woman gave a sort of involuntary bounce, and exclaimed. "What? Diamond? What d'ye mean?"

"Oh, it's no good, Maria," Hamer answered dolefully. "I've tried it every way myself. One comfort is we're safe, as long as we give it up. Here," he added, turning to Dorrington, "show her some of your evidence – that'll convince her."

Very politely Dorrington brought forth, with full explanations, the cork and the broken glass; while Mrs. Hamer, biting hard at her thin lips, grew shinier and redder in the face every moment, and her hard gray eyes flashed fury.

"And you let this man," she burst out to her husband, when Dorrington had finished, "you let this man leave your office with these things in his possession after he had shown them to you, and you as big as he is, and bigger! Coward!"

"My dear, you don't appreciate Mr. Dorrington's forethought, hang it! I made preparations for the very line of action you recommend, but he was ready. He brought out a very well kept revolver, and he has it in his pocket now!"

Mrs. Hamer only glared, speechless with anger.

"You might just get Mr. Dorrington a whisky and soda, Maria," Hamer pursued, with a slight lift of the eyebrows which he did not intend Dorrington to see. The woman was on her feet in a moment.

"Thank you, no," interposed Dorrington, rising also, "I won't trouble you. I'd rather not drink anything just now, and, although I fear I may appear rude, I can't allow either of you to leave the room. In short," he added, "I must stay with you both till I get the diamond."

"And this man Bouvier," asked Mrs. Hamer, "what is his right to the stone?"

"Really, I don't feel competent to offer an opinion, do you know," Dorrington answered sweetly. "To tell the truth, M. Bouvier doesn't interest me very much."

"No go, Maria!" growled Hamer. "I've tried it all. The fact is we've got to give Dorrington the diamond. If we don't he'll just call in the police – then we shall lose diamond and everything else too. He doesn't care what becomes of Bouvier. He's got us, that's what it is. He won't even bargain to give us a share."

Mrs. Hamer looked quickly up. "Oh, but that's nonsense!" she said. "We've got the thing. We ought at least to say halves."

Her sharp eyes searched Dorrington's face, but there was no encouragement in it. "I am sorry to disappoint a lady," he said, "but this time it is my business to impose terms, not to submit to them. Come, the diamond!"

"Well, you'll give us something, surely?" the woman cried.

"Nothing is sure, madam, except that you will give me that diamond, or face a policeman in five minutes!"

The woman realised her helplessness. "Well," she said, "much good may it do you. You'll have to come and get it – I'm keeping it somewhere else. I'll go and get my hat."

Again Dorrington interposed. "I think we'll send your servant for the hat," he said, reaching for the bell-rope. "I'll come wherever you like, but I shall not leave you till this affair is settled, I promise you. And, as I reminded your husband a little time ago, you'll find tricks come expensive."

The servant brought Mrs. Hamer's hat and cloak, and that lady put them on, her eyes ablaze with anger. Dorrington made the pair walk before him to the front door, and followed them into the street. "Now," he said, "where is this place? Remember, no tricks!"

Mrs. Hamer turned towards Vauxhall Bridge. "It's just over by Upper Kennington Lane," she said. "Not far."

She paced out before them, Dorrington and Hamer following, the former affable and business-like, the latter apparently a little puzzled. When they came about the middle of the bridge, the woman turned suddenly. "Come, Mr. Dorrington," she said, in a more subdued voice than she had yet used, "I give in. It's no use trying to shake you off, I can see. I have the diamond with me. Here."

She put a little old black wooden box in his hand. He made to open the lid, which fitted tightly, and at that moment the woman, pulling her other hand free from under her cloak, flung away over the parapet something that shone like fifty points of electric light.

"There it goes!" she screamed aloud, pointing with her finger. "There's your diamond, you dirty thief! You bully! Go after it now, you spy!"

The great diamond made a curve of glitter and disappeared into the river.

For the moment Dorrington lost his cool temper. He seized the woman by the arm. "Do you know what you've done, you wild cat?" he exclaimed.

"Yes, I do!" the woman screamed, almost foaming with passion, while boys began to collect, though there had been but few people on the bridge. "Yes, I do! And now you can do what you please, you thief! you bully!"

Dorrington was calm again in a moment. He shrugged his shoulders and turned away. Hamer was frightened. He came at Dorrington's side and faltered, "I – I told you she had a temper. What will you do?"

Dorrington forced a laugh. "Oh, nothing," he said. "What can I do? Locking you up now wouldn't fetch the diamond back. And besides I'm not sure that Mrs. Hamer won't attend to your punishment faithfully enough." And he walked briskly away.

"What did she do, Bill?" asked one boy of another.

"Why, didn't ye see? She chucked that man's watch in the river."

"Garn! that wasn't his watch!" interrupted a third, "it was a little glass tumbler. I see it!"

"Have you got my diamond?" asked the agonised L?on Bouvier of Dorrington a day later.

"No, I have not," Dorrington replied drily. "Nor has your cousin Jacques. But I know where it is, and you can get it as easily as I."

"Mon Dieu! Where?"

"At the bottom of the river Thames, exactly in the centre, rather to the right of Vauxhall Bridge, looking from this side. I expect it will be rediscovered in some future age, when the bed of the Thames is a diamond field."

The rest of Bouvier's savings went in the purchase of a boat, and in this, with a pail on a long rope, he was very busy for some time afterward. But he only got a great deal of mud into his boat.

IV
THE AFFAIR OF THE "AVALANCHE BICYCLE AND TYRE CO., LIMITED"

I

Cycle companies were in the market everywhere. Immense fortunes were being made in a few days and sometimes little fortunes were being lost to build them up. Mining shares were dull for a season, and any company with the word "cycle" or "tyre" in its title was certain to attract capital, no matter what its prospects were like in the eyes of the expert. All the old private cycle companies suddenly were offered to the public, and their proprietors, already rich men, built themselves houses on the Riviera, bought yachts, ran racehorses, and left business for ever. Sometimes the shareholders got their money's worth, sometimes more, sometimes less – sometimes they got nothing but total loss; but still the game went on. One could never open a newspaper without finding, displayed at large, the prospectus of yet another cycle company with capital expressed in six figures at least, often in seven. Solemn old dailies, into whose editorial heads no new thing ever found its way till years after it had been forgotten elsewhere, suddenly exhibited the scandalous phenomenon of "broken columns" in their advertising sections, and the universal prospectuses stretched outrageously across half or even all the page – a thing to cause apoplexy in the bodily system of any self-respecting manager of the old school.

In the midst of this excitement it chanced that the firm of Dorrington & Hicks were engaged upon an investigation for the famous and long-established "Indestructible Bicycle and Tricycle Manufacturing Company," of London and Coventry. The matter was not one of sufficient intricacy or difficulty to engage Dorrington's personal attention, and it was given to an assistant. There was some doubt as to the validity of a certain patent having reference to a particular method of tightening the spokes and truing the wheels of a bicycle, and Dorrington's assistant had to make inquiries (without attracting attention to the matter) as to whether or not there existed any evidence, either documentary or in the memory of veterans, of the use of this method, or anything like it, before the year 1885. The assistant completed his inquiries and made his report to Dorrington. Now I think I have said that, from every evidence I have seen, the chief matter of Dorrington's solicitude was his own interest, and just at this time he had heard, as had others, much of the money being made in cycle companies. Also, like others, he had conceived a great desire to get the confidential advice of somebody "in the know" – advice which might lead him into the "good thing" desired by all the greedy who flutter about at the outside edge of the stock and share market. For this reason Dorrington determined to make this small matter of the wheel patent an affair of personal report. He was a man of infinite resource, plausibility and good-companionship, and there was money going in the cycle trade. Why then should he lose an opportunity of making himself pleasant in the inner groves of that trade, and catch whatever might come his way – information, syndicate shares, directorships, anything? So that Dorrington made himself master of his assistant's information, and proceeded to the head office of the "Indestructible" company on Holborn Viaduct, resolved to become the entertaining acquaintance of the managing director.

On his way his attention was attracted by a very elaborately fitted cycle shop, which his recollection told him was new. "The Avalanche Bicycle and Tyre Company" was the legend gilt above the great plate-glass window, and in the window itself stood many brilliantly enamelled and plated bicycles, each labelled on the frame with the flaming red and gold transfer of the firm; and in the midst of all was another bicycle covered with dried mud, of which, however, sufficient had been carefully cleared away to expose a similar glaring transfer to those that decorated the rest – with a placard announcing that on this particular machine somebody had ridden some incredible distance on bad roads in very little more than no time at all. A crowd stood about the window and gaped respectfully at the placard, the bicycles, the transfers, and the mud, though they paid little attention to certain piles of folded white papers, endorsed in bold letters with the name of the company, with the suffix "limited" and the word "prospectus" in bloated black letter below. These, however, Dorrington observed at once, for he had himself that morning, in common with several thousand other people, received one by post. Also half a page of his morning paper had been filled with a copy of that same prospectus, and the afternoon had brought another copy in the evening paper. In the list of directors there was a titled name or two, together with a few unknown names – doubtless the "practical men." And below this list there were such positive promises of tremendous dividends, backed up and proved beyond dispute by such ingenious piles of business-like figures, every line of figures referring to some other line for testimonials to its perfect genuineness and accuracy, that any reasonable man, it would seem, must instantly sell the hat off his head and the boots off his feet to buy one share at least, and so make his fortune for ever. True, the business was but lately established, but that was just it. It had rushed ahead with such amazing rapidity (as was natural with an avalanche) that it had got altogether out of hand, and orders couldn't be executed at all; wherefore the proprietors were reluctantly compelled to let the public have some of the luck. This was Thursday. The share list was to be opened on Monday morning and closed inexorably at four o'clock on Tuesday afternoon, with a merciful extension to Wednesday morning for the candidates for wealth who were so unfortunate as to live in the country. So that it behoved everybody to waste no time lest he be numbered among the unlucky whose subscription-money should be returned in full, failing allotment. The prospectus did not absolutely say it in so many words, but no rational person could fail to feel that the directors were fervently hoping that nobody would get injured in the rush.

Dorrington passed on and reached the well-known establishment of the "Indestructible Bicycle Company." This was already a limited company of a private sort, and had been so for ten years or more. And before that the concern had had eight or nine years of prosperous experience. The founder of the firm, Mr. Paul Mallows, was now the managing director, and a great pillar of the cycling industry. Dorrington gave a clerk his card, and asked to see Mr. Mallows.

Mr. Mallows was out, it seemed, but Mr. Stedman, the secretary, was in, and him Dorrington saw. Mr. Stedman was a pleasant, youngish man, who had been a famous amateur bicyclist in his time, and was still an enthusiast. In ten minutes business was settled and dismissed, and Dorrington's tact had brought the secretary into a pleasant discursive chat, with much exchange of anecdote. Dorrington expressed much interest in the subject of bicycling, and, seeing that Stedman had been a racing man, particularly as to bicycling races.

"There'll be a rare good race on Saturday, I expect," Stedman said. "Or rather," he went on, "I expect the fifty miles record will go. I fancy our man Gillett is pretty safe to win, but he'll have to move, and I quite expect to see a good set of new records on our advertisements next week. The next best man is Lant – the new fellow, you know – who rides for the 'Avalanche' people."

"Let's see, they're going to the public as a limited company, aren't they?" Dorrington asked casually.

Stedman nodded, with a little grimace.

"You don't think it's a good thing, perhaps," Dorrington said, noticing the grimace. "Is that so?"

"Well," Stedman answered, "of course I can't say. I don't know much about the firm – nobody does, as far as I can tell – but they seem to have got a business together in almost no time; that is, if the business is as genuine as it looks at first sight. But they want a rare lot of capital, and then the prospectus – well, I've seen more satisfactory ones, you know. I don't say it isn't all right, of course, but still I shan't go out of my way to recommend any friends of mine to plunge on it."

"You won't?"

"No, I won't. Though no doubt they'll get their capital, or most of it. Almost any cycle or tyre company can get subscribed just now. And this 'Avalanche' affair is both, and it is so well advertised, you know. Lant has been winning on their mounts just lately, and they've been booming it for all they're worth. By Jove, if they could only screw him up to win the fifty miles on Saturday, and beat our man Gillett, that would give them a push! Just at the correct moment too. Gillett's never been beaten yet at the distance, you know. But Lant can't do it – though, as I have said, he'll make some fast riding – it'll be a race, I tell you!"

"I should like to see it."

"Why not come? See about it, will you? And perhaps you'd like to run down to the track after dinner this evening and see our man training – awfully interesting, I can tell you, with all the pacing machinery and that. Will you come?"

Dorrington expressed himself delighted, and suggested that Stedman should dine with him before going to the track. Stedman, for his part, charmed with his new acquaintance – as everybody was at a first meeting with Dorrington – assented gladly.

At that moment the door of Stedman's room was pushed open and a well-dressed, middle-aged man, with a shaven, flabby face, appeared. "I beg pardon," he said, "I thought you were alone. I've just ripped my finger against the handle of my brougham door as I came in – the screw sticks out. Have you a piece of sticking plaster?" He extended a bleeding finger as he spoke. Stedman looked doubtfully at his desk.

"Here is some court plaster," Dorrington exclaimed, producing his pocket-book. "I always carry it – it's handier than ordinary sticking plaster. How much do you want?"

"Thanks – an inch or so."

"This is Mr. Dorrington, of Messrs. Dorrington & Hicks, Mr. Mallows," Stedman said. "Our managing director, Mr. Paul Mallows, Mr. Dorrington."

Dorrington was delighted to make Mr. Mallows's acquaintance, and he busied himself with a careful strapping of the damaged finger. Mr. Mallows had the large frame of a man of strong build who has had much hard bodily work, but there hung about it the heavier, softer flesh that told of a later period of ease and sloth. "Ah, Mr. Mallows," Stedman said, "the bicycle's the safest thing, after all! Dangerous things these broughams!"

"Ah, you younger men," Mr. Mallows replied, with a slow and rounded enunciation, "you younger men can afford to be active. We elders – "

"Can afford a brougham," Dorrington added, before the managing director began the next word. "Just so – and the bicycle does it all; wonderful thing the bicycle!"

Dorrington had not misjudged his man, and the oblique reference to his wealth flattered Mr. Mallows. Dorrington went once more through his report as to the spoke patent, and then Mr. Mallows bade him good-bye.



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