The Secret of the Silver Car
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Few men believe in intuition, guess work or "hunches" as do those who work outside the law. Again and again Anthony Trent had found his "hunches" were correct. Once or twice he had saved himself by implicitly acting on them in apparent defiance of reason. At the end of many hours during which he tried to tell himself he was mistaken and this voice owned by someone else, he gave it up. He knew it was Smith.
To find out by what name the Smith of the dug-out went by in his own country must be the first step. The second would be to shadow him, observe his way of life and go through his papers. So far all he had to go upon was a quick glance at an automobile of unknown make upon whose panels a coat of arms was emblazoned surmounted by a crown. Had he possessed a knowledge of heraldry he could have told at a glance whether the coronet was that of a baron, viscount, earl, marquis or duke and so narrowed down the search. And had he observed the coat of arms and motto he could have made certain, for all armorial bearings are taxable and registered.
To try to comb the counties of Lancashire and Cheshire for the occupants of an unknown car would take time and might lead to police interest in his activities.
Before he retired to his bed a courteous agent of the Cunard Company had called upon him to inquire at what he was dissatisfied that he left the ship so suddenly. To this agent he told the same story – the true one – that he had told the policeman.
The purser was able to inform the group in the smoking room ere it retired.
"I don't believe that for a moment," Colliver declared.
"Why not?" asked the Harvard professor, "don't you know that truth in the mouth of an habitual liar is often a potent and confounding weapon?"
"Maybe," Colliver said dryly, "but I'm an honest man and I'd like to know why you think that man Trent was an habitual liar."
"I don't know," the professor answered amiably. "I always think in terms of crime on board ship."
"There's no need to on this ship," the purser said testily.
"I hope not," said the professor, "but coming back from the far East last year on another line I made friends with a man much of the build of Mr. Colliver here. I did not like him very much. He had only prejudices and no opinions. A typical successful man of business I presume."
"Thank you," said Mr. Colliver finding one of his own neck adornments growing tight.
"He was murdered," the theologian went on, "because he carried some diamonds for his wife in a pocket. Some thieves found it out."
"What thieves?" Colliver demanded.
"It is one of the undiscovered murders on the high seas," the professor said placidly.
"Mighty awkward for you," Colliver said, still angry.
"Fortunately I had an alibi," said the other, "I was violently ill of mal de mer."
"Mighty convenient," Colliver commented.
Later he asked the purser's private opinion of the professor.Myers Irving joined with Colliver in resenting the professor's attack on business men.
"Ordinarily," Colliver said, "I don't like advertising men, but you're different. They're like vultures after my account as a rule."
"You'd have to force your account on me," said Myers Irving seriously. "I'm not an ordinary business or advertising man. Primarily I'm a business builder. I leave nothing to underlings. I direct everything personally. I take few accounts. If my clients don't make good on their end of it I give them up. I make money for my clients. I have no other ambition. I believe in advertising. It might be that fellow Trent jumped ashore for some publicity stunt. Supposing he said he did it because he forgot to order some special dish at the Adelphi or Midland? Such a dish would get more publicity than you could shake a stick at. But I'm not here to talk shop."
Colliver watched the trim advertising man saunter off.
"A bright boy," commented the Troy magnate, "maybe he'll be surprised before this trip is over. Maybe he'll have to talk shop."
Captain Sutton listened to the purser's explanation as though they were entirely reasonable. But all the time he said to himself, "why need he have been afraid of me?"
Anthony Trent bought himself a suit of clothes in the city and set out for London on the ten o'clock train. An Army List showed him the names of the officers of the City of London Regiment. He decided to call upon the adjutant, a Captain Edgell. It took him little time to find out that Edgell had resumed his former occupation of stock broker and was living with his family at Banstead in Surrey.
Edgell was a golfer of distinction and before the war had been a scratch man at the club on the Downs. Five years absence had sent his handicap up a bit but he was engaged in pulling it down when a golfing stranger from the United States giving the name of Trent who had the club's privileges for the day asked him if he could introduce him to a member for a round of golf. It so happened that most of the men waiting to play were ruddy faced gentlemen with handicaps of from twelve up to twenty-four. They did not excite Edgell.
"Glad to," he said heartily. He had been brigaded with Americans and liked them. "Do you play a strong game?"
"I have a two handicap at Wykasol," Trent said.
"Good business," cried Edgell, "we'll play together."
They played. They became intimate during the game and Edgell learned with regret that Trent was not one of the many American business men engaged in their work in London. Trent beat the stockbroker on the twenty-third hole.
"If I could only putt like that," said Edgell, "I'd have a chance for the open championship."
"I wish I could drive a ball the length you do," Trent said not to be outdone.
"Of course you'll have dinner with us," the stockbroker said. "We don't dress for it any more since the war so you've no excuse. I learned to make cocktails from some of your fellows in France so you ought to feel at home."
"As home used to be," Trent corrected. "I'd love to come if I'm not putting you out."
Edgell's home was a half-timbered house standing in an acre of lawn and flower garden. It was thoroughly comfortable. There seemed to be a number of children but they did not obtrude. Trent could see them playing in different parts of the garden, the little ones with their nurse and the elder playing clock golf on a perfect green in front of the house. Always the quiet secure atmosphere of a home such as this brought to Anthony Trent a vision of what he had lost or rather of what he could never obtain.
Little six-year old Marjorie Edgell liked Trent on sight and liking him announced it openly. She told him what a great man her father was and how he had medals and things. Finally she asked the visitor whether he would not like to have medals. It was the opportunity for which Trent had been looking. Ordinarily averse to talking of himself, he wanted to get on to the subject of the war with the late adjutant of the seventy-eighth.
"I have," he told little Marjorie.
"Daddy," she shrieked in excitement, "Mr. Trent has medals too."
"So you were in the big thing?" Edgell asked. "Honestly wouldn't you rather play golf? I can get all the excitement I want on the Stock Exchange to last me the rest of my life. I enlisted in a city regiment as a private and I left it as adjutant after four years and I'm all for the piping ways of peace. My battalion was the 78th and we always had the luck with us. Whenever we got anywhere something started."
"The seventy-eighth battalion," Trent commented, "I had a pal in your battalion, a pal who saved my life. I'm going to look him up next week. Curious that I should be talking to his adjutant. William Smith was his name. I wonder if you knew him?"
"I wonder if you know how many William Smiths and John Smiths are lying in France and Flanders with little wooden crosses over them?"
"This one came through all right," Trent said.
"At least ten William Smiths came through," Edgell asserted. "I think I remember them all. Which was your man? Describe him."
Trent lighted his cigarette very deliberately. To be asked to describe a man he had claimed as a pal and yet had never seen face to face was not easy.
"I think you would recognize my William Smith," Trent answered, "if I told you he was not really William Smith at all but a man who had assumed that name as a disguise."
"I understand," Edgell exclaimed, "a slight blond man very erect and rather supercilious with what the other men called a lah-de-dah voice. I remember him well. I had him up before me for punishment many times. Little infractions of discipline which he constantly committed. Used to rile me by his superior airs. Quite a mysterious person. Saved your life did he? Well, he had all the pluck a man need have."
"I want to thank him for it," Trent said, "but I've only known him as William Smith. The War Office people tell me he was demobilized three months back and they have no address. If you'll tell me, in confidence, his real name I can find him out."
"But my dear chap," said Captain Edgell, "I don't know it. None of us knew it. My sergeant-major swore he'd been a regular and an officer but that's mere conjecture. He was a regular now I come to think of it and sent to us when his own regiment was wiped out in the Autumn of 1914."
"Who would be able to tell me?" Trent asked eagerly.
"The colonel knew," Edgell declared, "I sent him up to the old man for punishment once. The colonel looked at him as if he could not believe his eyes. 'You are down here as William Smith,' he said."
"'That is my name, sir,' said Smith."
"Then the colonel knew him?" Trent asked.
"Undoubtedly. I was told to leave them alone. I should like to have asked Colonel Langley but he is one of those men it's hard to approach. Doesn't mean to be standoffish but gives that impression. One of those very tall men who seem to be looking through you and taking no interest whatsoever in the proceeding."
"I want to find out," Trent said, "could you give me a letter of introduction?"
"Glad to," Edgell replied, "but he's like that native song bird of yours, the clam. He is a silent fighter. The men respected him and went to their deaths for him but they would have felt it disrespectful to love him. He lives at a place called Dereham Old Hall in Norfolk. A great county swell with magnificent shooting. One of those places royalty stays every year for a week at the partridges. Always thought it a funny thing he was given the command of a lot of cockneys considering he was Sandhurst and Tenth Hussars till he married and chucked the service, but he made good as you fellows say."
While Captain Edgell was writing the letter Trent had leisure to reflect that the identity of Private William Smith might remain permanently veiled in obscurity if Colonel Langley refused to talk. If the colonel was not to be lured to disclose what Trent needed to know, the American would be left in a very unpleasant position. Until he knew whether his "hunch" was right or wrong he could never again sleep in peace with the name Anthony Trent as his own. He was in danger every minute. Smith might have tracked him to the liner to have him arrested in America. That he had left the boat might easily be known. Therefore in order to win twenty thousand sovereigns English money, or a half million francs in the coinage of the country where the two had spent weary months, Smith had only to start the hue and cry in England. The ports would be watched. In the end they would get him.
There was no escape over the borders to Mexico or dash to safety over the Canadian frontier as he had planned to do under similar conditions of peril in his own country. Here on an island they had got him. He was weaving evidence that could be used against him by making this display of interest in Private Smith. Captain Edgell could give testimony that would not help his case.
"Here you are," said Edgell genially, "I've taken the liberty of calling you an old golfing pal. I've done all I could but Colonel Langley is not easy of approach. I'm not at all hopeful."
"It isn't really serious," Trent explained after thanking him, "but I'd like to see him again. He did undoubtedly save my life and carried me into safety. Quite a physical feat for one of his weight. What do you suppose he weighs?"
"About ten stone seven," the other answered.
That was one hundred and forty-seven pounds. Trent was gradually building up a portrait of the man he feared.
"And about five feet seven in height?" he hinted.
"That's the man," Edgell asserted. "Quite a good looking chap, too, if you care for the type. Rather too effeminate for me although, God knows, he is a man."
It was not easy to see Colonel Langley, D.S.O. Trent knew that county magnates such as he was did not see everyone who desired an interview. He stayed at a good hotel in Norwich and enclosed Captain Edgell's letter in one of his own.
The answer came back in the third person. It was favorable and punctiliously polite. Colonel Langley would be happy to see Mr. Anthony Trent at eleven o'clock on a certain morning. Dereham Old Hall was a dozen miles from Norwich, city of gardens, city of Norman cathedrals and many quaintly named parish churches. Trent hired a motor car and drove through the leafy Norfolk lanes.
Colonel Langley's residence was the work of Inigo Jones and a perfect example of the Renaissance style. It stood at least a mile from the high road. The lodge keeper telephoned to the house and Trent's driver was permitted to drive through the deer park and pull up before the great front doors.
The room in which Anthony Trent waited for the colonel was evidently a sort of smoking room. Trophies of the chase adorned the walls. It was evident Langley was a hunter of great game and had shot in all parts of the globe from Alaska to Africa.
He was a man of six feet four in height, grizzled and wore a small clipped military moustache. It was not a hard face, Trent noted, but that of a man who had always been removed from pursuits or people who wearied him. There was a sense of power in the face and that inevitable keenness of eye which a man who commanded a regiment could not fail to have acquired.
He bowed his visitor to a seat. He did not offer to shake hands.
"You have come," he said politely, "from my former adjutant to ask a question concerning the regiment which he writes he could not tell you. I can think of nothing to which this would apply. He had every thread of the business in his hands."
"Captain Edgell could not tell me the real name of one of his men who enlisted under the name of William Smith."
There was no change of expression on the rather cold face of the lord of broad acres.
"And what made Captain Edgell assume I could help you, sir?"
"I don't know all the particulars but he was certain you knew his real identity."
"If I do," Colonel Langley returned, "I shall keep that knowledge to myself. I regret that you have had this trouble for nothing."
"William Smith," Trent told the other, "saved my life. I want to thank him for it. Is there anything odd in that? You alone can help me so I come to you. I want to help William Smith. I have money which I should not have been able to enjoy but for him."
"You imagine, then, that William Smith is penniless, is that it?"
"He told me he was," Trent answered promptly. "I can offer him an opportunity to make good money in New York."
He looked at Colonel Langley as he said it. If Smith was indeed of a great family the idea of being offered money and a job must amuse the one who knew his real name and estate. Sure enough a flicker of a smile passed over the landowner's face.
"I am happy to inform you," he said, "that Mr. Smith is living at home with his family financially secure enough not to need your aid."
"That," said Trent deliberately, "is more than you can say."
"I am not in the habit of hearing my word doubted," the older man said acidly.
"I am not doubting it," Trent said suavely, "I mean merely to remind you that he may need my aid although it may not be monetary aid. You will remember that there have been passages in Mr. Smith's life which have not been entirely creditable."
"Are you claiming to be friend or accomplice?" Langley snapped.
"Let us say friend and confidant," Trent smiled. "Perhaps he made certain confessions to me – "
"To you also?" Langley cried.
In that moment he had said too much. During that hour when Edgell left the private alone with his commanding officer the officer had obtained his confidence and very likely a confession. He saw the soldier throw a quick glance at one of those old safes which disguised themselves as necessary articles of furniture. Trent's eyes dwelt on it no longer than the owner's did, but he saw enough. Colonel Langley had told him plainly that the confession was locked in the safe which looked like a black oak sideboard on which decanters and a humidor were arranged.
"To me also," Trent repeated, "and it is because of it that I knew he did what he did for the reason he needed more money than a younger son could expect. Colonel Langley, I only want his real name. I want to help him. That's why I spoke of offering him money."
"You will be glad to know," the colonel answered, "that Mr. Smith is at present in no need of money."
"You mean," Trent said sharply, "that you will not give me his real name and address?"
"I cannot tell you," Colonel Langley answered. "If you like I will write and say you have called and give him the opportunity to do as he pleases."
Trent reflected for a moment. If Smith were not already aware of his presence in England it would be very unwise to advertise it. He was beginning to see he had been less than cautious in calling upon Edgell and Colonel Langley under his own name.
"I need not trouble you to do that," he said, "if you wish to conceal his name it is no doubt your privilege and he will do well enough without my thanks."
He made his chauffeur drive home at a temperate speed. The man knew all about the Langleys and was glad to tell the affable stranger. As they passed through the gates several carriages laden with men and some station carts filled with baggage passed into the gravelled drive.
"Gentlemen come for the shooting," the chauffeur volunteered. "Tomorrow is September the first when partridge shooting commences. The colonel is a great shot and the King comes here often and the German Emperor has shot over those turnips in the old days. This is supposed to be the best partridge shoot in the kingdom and the birds are fine and strong this year – not too much rain in the Spring."
"I suppose there'll be a regular banquet tonight," said Trent.
"Tomorrow night's the night," said the chauffeur grinning, "tonight they all go to bed early so as to be up to an early breakfast and have their shooting eyes. The colonel's terrible man if any of the guns only wound their birds. They've got to shoot well tomorrow if they want to come here again. I know because my uncle is one of the keepers."
The man was surprised at the tip his American passenger handed him when they reached the Maids' Head Hotel, and charmed with his affability. He told his fellows that Trent was a real gentleman. He did not know that his unsolicited confidence had given the American a hint upon which he would be quick to act.
As Trent had been driven along the Dereham Road approach to Norwich he had seen a little cycle shop where gasoline was sold and repairs made. The war had sent English people of moderate circumstances back to the bicycle again and only the wealthy could keep cars or buy petrol at seventy-five cents a gallon. In his drive he had seen several people of seemingly good position pedalling cheerfully through the lanes. The chauffeur had touched his hat to one and spoken of him as rector of a nearby parish. Cycles were to be hired everywhere and the prevailing rate seemed to be sixpence an hour or three and six for the day.
After dinner Anthony Trent found his way back to the little shop in the Dereham Road. "The Wensum Garage" it proudly called itself. Here he said he wished to hire a bicycle for a day. As dusk fell he was pedalling along to Dereham Old Hall. Few people were about and those he passed evinced no curiosity. Avoiding the main road which passed in front of the lodge and gates by which he had entered, he hid his wheel between two hay stacks which almost touched. Then he made his way through the kitchen gardens to the rear of the house. It was now ten o'clock and the servants' part of the big house seemed deserted. Already the lights in the upper stories were evidence that some guests were retiring to rest well before the "glorious first."
From the shelter of the rose garden he could see a half score of men and women on the great terrace in front of the splendid house. He could see that they were all in evening dress. In a mosquitoless country this habit of walking up and down the long stone terraces was a common practice after dinner. Trent came so near to the guests that he could hear them talking. The conversation was mainly about to-morrow's prospects. He learned there was little disease among the birds, that they were phenomenally strong on the wing and hadn't been shot over to any extent since 1914. Some guests deplored the fact that dancing was taboo on this night of nights but it was the Langley tradition and they must bend to it.
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