Again The Ringer/VII
|VI|| Again The Ringer
written by Edgar Wallace
Mr. Gilbert Orsan was an industrious writer: he might not, perhaps, rival that inventor of tales who, if rumour does not lie, produces a novel a week and a play a fortnight. And he certainly could not be credited with the fabulous income of that restless man; for Mr. Orsan was not paid for his contributions to journalism. He wrote letters on genealogy and the thriftlessness of the poor, and similar cheerful subjects.
As to the thriftlessness of the poor, he might claim to be an authority. The rents due to him were sometimes, on the aggregate, as much as a thousand pounds in arrears. He owned a very considerable amount of house property in the south, east, north, and west of London.
Sometimes the most unpleasant things were said about him—both as landlord and employer. For he was also the proprietor of the Orsan Stores, which had branches in every part of the metropolis. He invariably wrote about these outcries against his humanity as "carefully engineered". He referred to them as "artificial grievances", and put them down to "the unscrupulous agitations of Communists."
Communism was a great blessing to Mr. Orsan. He ascribed all criticism to the "growing spirit of lawlessness engendered by the pestiferous doctrines of Moscow."
Yet, if the truth be told, there were thousands of people who hated Moscow and Mr. Orsan with equal ferocity.
Lila Brown should have been one of these, but she was too sore at heart to hate any but herself.
Yet Mr. Orsan had behaved very generously to her. As he said in his god-like way, These Things Happen, and there was no sense in Making Mountains out of Molehills. She ceased to be Mr. Organ's housekeeper-secretary and went to live at Schofields boarding-house at Hythe, on four pounds a week, which was little enough to keep two people, even though one of the two lived on an exclusive diet of milk and patent barley.
A quiet man went to live at Schofield's. He was of uncertain age, rather good-looking, and his hair was greyish at the temples. He had one trick of inviting and inspiring confidence, and another of making people talk about things that they could never dream they would ever discuss with their nearest friends. And he loved babies, and handled them beautifully—he had once "walked" an Edinburgh hospital.
So, in the course of the quiet weeks when Superintendent Bliss was seeking him in every part of England except Hythe, the engaging man learned all about Mr. Orsan and his ménage, and the little passage that led from the garage to the study, which Mr. Orsan used when he took friends to the house who could not go more openly without endangering his reputation for sanctity.
And Miss Brown showed him his portrait signed "Gilly", which was both intimate and anonymous. For she had reached the stage where she had to tell somebody or die.
The nice man was sympathetic and understanding, and, since his mind was on results rather than causes, he gave her no cause for embarrassment.
Mr. Orsan lived in a beautiful house overlooking Hyde Park, but on its unfashionable frontier. His connection with his business was a very slight one. For two hours a day he attended his head office and dictated reproofs to the various heads of departments, watched salary lists with the eye of an eagle, punished the petty defalcations which are the common experience of storekeepers, told his general manager the story of how he started life with nothing and by his industry and application to business had amassed a fortune—and then went back to his room, the windows of which looked across the budding green of trees, and composed the letter or the lecture (for he was in demand as a speaker at literary societies) which occupied his attention at the moment.
This writing-room was a lovely saloon, all gold and jade green, with a great marble fireplace, and it was famished in Empire style. It was very unlike the cupboards where his shop assistants slept, and bore no comparison with the hovels in which his tenants lived and died.
Mr. Orsan was strong for gentility, and the footman who took a card to him wore knee breeches, with the golden tassels of aiguillettes dangling from his shoulders. Mr. Orsan read the card, fingered his greying side whiskers, rubbed his bristling black eyebrows, and pursed his lips.
"Superintendent Bliss? Who the deuce is Superintendent Bliss? Show him in, Thomas."
Bliss entered and instantly annoyed the great man by expressing, by his attitude and manner, less deference and respect to him than he felt was due from a public servant. Bliss put his hat on the floor and sat down uninvited—an objectionable action to Mr. Orsan, who was strong for proper behaviour.
"Well, sir," he said impatiently, "I presume you wish to see me about that defaulting cashier of mine? I would much rather you saw my general manager. I do not, as a rule——"
"I haven't come to discuss defaulting cashiers, Mr. Orsan," said Bliss brusquely. "My visit is in regard to a letter you wrote which was published in this morning's Megaphone dealing with the criminal classes and the urgent need for extending capital punishment for felonies."
Mr. Orsan sat back in his chair, put the tips of his fingers together, and inclined his head more graciously. That Scotland Yard should take notice of his views on criminals was especially flattering.
"Of course, of course! I had forgotten that," he said. "I think you will agree with me, Inspector—or Superintendent, or whatever you are—that the only way to deal with the habitual criminal—"
"I'm not even asking you for your views on the habitual criminal," said Bliss, who had no finesse.
Mr. Orsan hated being interrupted, and showed it.
"In your reference to criminals," Bliss went on, unconscious of the fact that he had ruffled the magnate, "you spoke of a certain man, The Ringer. You said it was disgraceful that the police allowed this criminal to remain at large and that his crimes had gone unpunished."
"And I hold to that opinion," said Mr. Orsan firmly. "I suppose it has rubbed you up the wrong way at Scotland Yard. Well I'm afraid I can't help that. As a public man, writing on a matter of national interest, I must speak the views which, as I feel, are generally held."
"It is very interesting to read your views, Mr. Orsan, but we aren't very much troubled by them. Scotland Yard is there to be kicked, and if we weren't kicked we should think something unusual was happening. I merely came to warn you that it is a very dangerous thing to mention this man or to draw attention to yourself in the way you have, especially in view of the fact that we have reason to believe he has been staying at Hythe recently."
Mr. Orsan frowned. Hythe? It had a familiar sound.
"Why at Hythe?" he asked.
"There is a young lady at Hythe who calls herself Mrs. Tredmayne, but is, I believe, a girl named Brown who was recently in your employ. I don't know whether she has any grievance against you; I only know that to all appearances she has reasonable grounds for grievance. She was once your secretary-housekeeper—rather a pretty girl——"
"I know all about Miss Brown," snapped Orsan. "A very nice—er—young lady who had the misfortune to.… Well, I don't wish to discuss it with you, and——"
"It is unnecessary to discuss it at all, Mr. Orsan," said Bliss in his hard, metallic voice. "It would take more than Miss Brown to shock Scotland Yard. The only point is that if the man who was living in the same boarding-house at Hythe was The Ringer, then there is every reason for you to expect trouble. I think it is very undesirable that you should call attention to yourself and your antagonism to The Ringer."
Mr. Orsan rose and towered over the detective.
"Let me tell you, Mr. Bliss, that I am surprised to hear you offer such a suggestion! Is it not my duty as a citizen to denounce this man—aye, and to denounce the police for their laxity in their treatment of him?
"So far from avoiding any reference to The Ringer, I shall make it the subject of my next letter to the Megaphone—the editor of which is a personal friend of mine," he added significantly, as though that statement conveyed a terrible threat.
Bliss shrugged his shoulders and rose, picking up his hat. "Does it occur to you that it would be a simple matter to use you as a bait to catch this man?" he asked. "Or that it might make our task considerably easier if we encouraged you to denounce, as you call it, The Ringer?"
That had not occurred to Mr. Orsan; it did not occur to him now. After Thomas had shown the visitor from the premises Mr. Orsan pushed aside the sheet on which he had been inscribing his remedies for poverty (remedies which did not include decent housing and higher wages) and, ringing for his secretary, gave orders that every available piece of data concerning Henry Arthur Milton, better known as The Ringer, should be accumulated for reference. Having done this he began a letter to the editor of the Megaphone, which began:
- Sir,—When Pliny the Younger spoke of that "indolent but agreeable condition of doing nothing," he surely had in view the attitude of the police towards "the biggest rascal that ever walked on two legs" (see Pliny's letters)—The Ringer …
He wrote with vehemence, with passion, with a tremendous sense of importance. He called for an instant investigation of police methods, he hinted that Scotland Yard was not sacrosanct, and introduced such Latin tags as Template:'Template:TooltipTemplate:', to justify his own energy, and Template:'Template:TooltipTemplate:', to explain the inaction of the police.
His letter did not create a furore: little bits of it were cut out by the gentleman who "made up" the Megaphone in order to allow space for a dog-racing advertisement; but it certainly attracted attention. At Scotland Yard Bliss read the letter and grinned mirthlessly.
"It is a pity," he said, "that the old man forgot that 'Those whom the gods destroy write letters to the newspapers'."
Inspector Mander smiled his disapproval of the flippancy.
"There's a lot in what he says," he stated.
Mr. Bliss turned cold eyes upon his incompetent assistant.
"There's a lot in what you say, and yet you're hardly worth listening to," he said unkindly.
Two days after the epistle was published the inevitable letter came to Mr. Orsan. It was typewritten, posted in the north-west district of London, and began without conventional introduction.
- You're a very amusing letter-writer. Are you as good a debater? I am thinking of giving a Christmas dinner to all your unfortunate tenants, and I have taken the Herbert Hall for that purpose. At nine o'clock in the evening I am prepared to appear on the platform and debate with you the question of Capital Punishment. Show this to Bliss. Reply through the advertisement columns of the 'Megaphone.'"’'
It was signed, in a flourishing hand, "Henry Arthur Milton."
"Swank," said Mr. Orsan vulgarly.
He telephoned through to Scotland Yard, and was infuriated when Bliss, with the greatest coolness, invited him to call on him.
"I shall be at home all the afternoon," repeated Mr. Orsan.
"So shall I," was the reply. "Call at three o'clock. I may be able to give you exactly ten minutes."
Swallowing his pride, the magnate drove down in his limousine to Scotland Yard and suffered the indignity of being kept waiting for a quarter of an hour before ho was admitted to the bare business-like office where Superintendent Bliss worked.
The detective took the letter and read it through.
"Well?" he asked, when he had finished. "Are you going to take up the challenge?"
"Take up the challenge?" Mr. Orsan stared at him. "Do you seriously suggest that this man will come to the Herbert Hall to debate … it's preposterous!"
"If he says he'll come to the Herbert Hall, he'll come," said Bliss. "Exactly what will happen to you I don't know, but I should imagine something unpleasant. You'd better put the advertisement in, and I will do my best to keep you from harm."
Mr. Orsan was not frightened; he was merely surprised. "Do you mean to tell me, Inspector——"
"Superintendent," murmured Bliss.
"Does it really matter what you are?" asked Mr. Orsan impatiently. "You are a public servant, which is all that concerns me. Do you really mean to tell me that you take this balderdash seriously?"
"I certainly do, and I advise you to do the same."
In the course of the next few days Mr. Orsan attained to the eminence of a public figure. Another letter from him, which quoted that received from The Ringer, was published in every newspaper in the land.
It was ascertained that the Herbert Hall, which is one of the largest in London and is situated in South Kensington, had been engaged through an agent for the use of an unknown patron, who had paid the rent in advance; and that a large firm of caterers had received orders to provide refreshments for three thousand people. They also had been paid in cash.
There was some suggestion that the proprietors of the hall should cancel the letting, in the public interest, but Scotland Yard got busy to prevent this. Mander interviewed the owners of the hall and the caterers and told them to let matters stand as they were.
He himself was, at his own request, put in charge of the police arrangements.
"I want this chance, chief, to wipe out the mistake I made over the Lumière case," he pleaded. "I shall make no mistake here."
Bliss was unwilling to do this, but Mander's appeal was seconded by a high authority, for the inspector had made many useful friends, and in the end Bliss yielded.
"It's a chance for you, Mander, but it's very nearly your last chance," he said. "I hate putting you in charge, and I doubt if I'd do it if I wasn't convinced that whoever tackles The Ringer at this little Christmas party of his will get it in the neck."
"If he's a man of his word he'll have to be a magician to get away."
"He's a man of his word, all right. Take the case, and God help you."
It was not difficult to secure guests at this party. Mr. Orsan's tenants lived in solid blocks, in little mean streets where every house looked like the other, in tenements which had been up to date in the 'seventies and were no longer up to date. To every occupier came an invitation, printed on a private press. Mr. Orsan became famous. He was pointed out in restaurants as the man who would meet The Ringer in debate.
Superintendent Bliss had made only one suggestion to his subordinate.
"I advise you to have four doctors within reach of the platform and an ambulance ready to rush Orsan to the hospital," he said.
"Why four?" asked Mander.
"Two for each of you," snarled Bliss, and again Mr. Mander smiled.
"If he turns up I'm a Dutchman."
"You are what you are and nothing can alter you," said Bliss bitterly.
It was on Christmas Eve that Mr. Orsan received the second letter.
- Do not fail me. If you do not turn up I shall wait for you on the platform for ten minutes, and no longer.
But, for the moment, Mr. Orsan was not concerned about The Ringer. A new protagonist had appeared in the field. He had received a communication from a Mr. Arthur Agnis, and not only a communication, but a call.
Mr. Agnis, a shock-headed, bearded man, was a strenuous opponent of capital punishment. He had, he said, argued against capital punishment wherever the English language was spoken, and he came with the request that if The Ringer did not turn up he might be allowed to argue in his stead. He seemed a respectable man, was well dressed, and treated Mr. Orsan with the greatest deference. Moreover, he arrived in his own car.
"My point is this, sir," he said. "You're being taken down to the Herbert Hall, and it is pretty clear that The Ringer will not appear—it's a hoax, if ever there was one. Why not let us have the debate?"
It seemed a very good idea, especially as Mr. Orsan had his speech already in type.
As a matter of precaution, he communicated with Scotland Yard.
"Arthur Agnis!" said Mander softly. "By gad!"
He got on the telephone to Orsan.
"By all means, let him come," he said. "Where does he live?"
"I didn't trouble to ask him," said Mr. Orsan. "He is telephoning me tonight to get my decision. He seems a very charming and well-spoken man."
"He would be!" said Mander, smiling to himself.
There were certain arrangements to be made. Mounted police were drafted to control the crowd of curious onlookers that surrounded the hall; policemen in plain clothes were called for duty by the thousand, and orders were given that only ticket holder were to be admitted.
"Don't forget," warned Bliss on Christmas afternoon, when he met his subordinate at the Yard, "that Henry Arthur Milton does not depend upon wigs and beards. When he impersonates a man he is that man. His voice, his gestures, his tricks of speech—he has the whole box of tricks."
"Trust me," said Mander.
"I'd rather not," replied Bliss, and left the man to his fate.
The ticket-holders began to queue up as early as four o'clock in the afternoon. By seven the hall was packed, and the tables which had been set on the floor and in the galleries were filled. A band had been engaged to keep them occupied and amused; there was to be dancing after the debate.
At half-past eight Mander, accompanied by four armed officers, went to Orsan's house and was shown up into his beautiful library-sitting-room. When they went in the urbane gentleman looked up over his glasses and pointed to chairs.
"Sit down, please. I want to finish this letter to the Megaphone."
He wrote steadily for a quarter of an hour, then put down his pen, blotted the paper, and, collecting the sheets together, folded them into an envelope.
"It has occurred to me that this man might be—er—a suspicious person."
"That's already occurred to me, sir," said Mr. Mander. "You needn't worry about him. The moment he gives his name at the door he will practically be surrounded by police. We have left a space in front of the platform so that he can come forward, because we want to see just what he is going to do."
"He's not likely to do anything—rash, is he?" asked the other nervously.
"Trust me, sir," said Mander. It was a favourite expression of his—and, happily, the man he guarded did not know the right answer.
The car was waiting at the door, and in this the five were driven to the Herbert Hall and admitted at a private entrance. As the hands of Mr. Orsan's watch pointed to nine its wearer walked forward on to the platform with his bodyguard, and the audience, forgetting, in the cheer of the blessed feast, their natural and year-long grievance against their oppressor, cheered in the sycophantic way of tenants saluting their landlord.
He went nervously to the platform and stood with folded hands, waiting. There was a deathly hush; privileged reporters who had been admitted made a brief examination of the hall, wondering whence The Ringer would come.
Then there was a stir; a bearded man strode into the beam of the limelight, which was focused, by Mander's orders, not on the figure standing on the stage, but upon the space where the debater would take his position.
"As The Ringer hasn't come," he began, in a high-pitched voice, "I'd like to take issue with you, Mr. Orsan, on the subject of capital punishment. I've got a few notes here——"
He reached for his hip pocket. Before he could withdraw its contents a cloud of detectives surrounded him. Before anybody in the hall realised what was happening he was whisked away.
"I think that's all, air," smiled Mander. "I shouldn't advise you to stay any longer; we don't want to take any unnecessary chances."
He left to the bodyguard the task of escorting the charge to safety, and dashed off to interrogate his bearded prisoner. Mr. Agnis was livid of face, violent of tongue.
"You pull my beard again," he screamed, "and I'll beat the head off you! All England shall ring with this outrage!"
"It's a real beard," muttered one of the detectives to Mander, "and he's got papers on him that prove he's what he says he is."
The inspector examined these quickly. A horrible mistake had been made.
"Why did you come here at all?" he asked.
"Because I was invited here," howled Agnis. "I was brought down from Manchester. A gentleman gave me twenty-five pounds to come and debate the question of capital punishment with old Orsan."
The eyes of Mander and his second-in-command met blankly.
"Anyway," said Mander after a while, "that disposes of The Ringer. I said he'd never come, and he hasn't. Now, if anybody looks silly over this business it's Bliss."
He went back to Scotland Yard and found Bliss waiting impatiently for news.
"Why the hell didn't you telephone?" said the superintendent savagely when he told the story.
He was out of Scotland Yard, flying to Mr. Orsan's house, before Mander could think of an adequate reply.
One of the resplendent footmen admitted him.
"Yes, sir, Mr. Orsan is at home; he's been home some time."
"Where is he?"
"In his writing-room, sir."
But Orsan was not in his writing-room. He was not in his bedroom. Eventually they found him trussed up in a small box-room at the top of the house, gagged and handcuffed, and there he had been since three o'clock that afternoon, when The Ringer went for him through a private passage leading from the garage, before he made himself up at his leisure in Mr. Orsan's own bedroom, wearing Mr. Orsan's own clothes (even Mr. Orsan's own watch), and had appeared on the platform at the Herbert Hall.
He had not gone alone. The library safe had been forced; some seven thousand pounds' worth of negotiable securities had been taken. How negotiable they were Miss Brown could have told them, for a month after the robbery she received bank-notes to their full value, with a line of writing which ran:
- "A present from Horace."
Which was curious, because she knew nobody named "Horace."
|Works by this author are in the public domain in countries where the copyright term is the author's life plus 84 years or less.|