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VII. What The Red
"MY dear Angel," wrote Jimmy, "I commend to you one Mr. Spedding, an ingenious man. If by chance you ever wish to visit him, do so in business hours. If you desire to examine his most secret possession, effect an entrance into a dreary-looking house at the corner of Cley's Road, a stone's-throw from 'High Holly Lodge'. It is marked in plain characters 'To Let,' In the basement you will find a coal-cellar. Searching the coal-cellar diligently, you will discover a flight of stone steps leading to a subterranean passage, which burrows under the ground until it arrives at friend Spedding's particular private vault. If this reads like a leaf torn from Dumas or dear Harrison Ainsworth it is not my fault. I visited our legal adviser last night, and had quite a thrilling evening. That I am alive this morning is a tribute to my caution and foreseeing wisdom. The result of my visit is this: I have the key of the 'safe-word' in my hands. Come and get it."
Angel found the message awaiting him when he reached Scotland Yard that morning. He too had spent sleepless hours in a futile attempt to unravel the mystery of old Reale's doggerel verse.
A telegram brought Kathleen Kent to town. Angel met her at a quiet restaurant in Rupert Street, and was struck by the delicate beauty of this slim girl with the calm, gray eyes.
She greeted him with a sad little smile.
"I was afraid you would never see me again after my outburst of the other night," she said. "This this person is a friend of yours?"
"Jimmy?" asked the detective cheerily. "Oh, yes, Jimmy's by way of being a friend; but he deserved all you said, and he knows it, Miss Kent."
The girl's face darkened momentarily as she thought of Jimmy.
"I shall never understand," she said slowly, "how a man of his gifts allowed himself to become "
"But," protested the detective, "he told you he took no part in the decoying of your father."
The girl turned with open-eyed astonishment. "Surely you do not expect me to believe his excuses," she cried.
Angel Esquire looked grave.
"That is just what I should ask you to believe," he said quietly. "Jimmy makes no excuses, and he would certainly tell no lie in extenuation of his faults."
"But but," said Kathleen, bewildered, "he is a thief by his own showing a bad man."
"A thief," said Angel soberly, "but not a bad man. Jimmy is a puzzle to most people. To me he is perfectly understandable; that is because I have too much of the criminal in my own composition, perhaps."
"I wish, oh, how I wish I had your faith in him! Then I could absolve him from suspicion of having helped ruin my poor father."
"I think you can do that," said the detective almost eagerly. "Believe me, Jimmy is not to be judged by conventional standards. If you ask me to describe him, I would say that he is a genius who works in an eccentric circle that sometimes overlaps, sometimes underreaches the rigid circle of the law. If you asked me as a policeman, and if I was his bitterest enemy, what I could do with Jimmy, I should say, 'Nothing'. I know of no crime with which I could charge him, save at times with associating with doubtful characters. As a matter of fact, that equally applies to me. Listen, Miss Kent. The first big international case I figured in was a gigantic fraud on the Egyptian Bank. Some four hundred thousand pounds were involved, and whilst from the outsider's point of view Jimmy was beyond suspicion, yet we who were working at the case suspected him, and pretty strongly. The men who owned the bank were rich Egyptians, and the head of all was a Somebody-or-other-Pasha, as great a scoundrel as ever drew breath. It is impossible to tell a lady exactly how big a scoundrel he was, but you may guess. Well, the Pasha knew it was Jimmy who had done the trick, and we knew, but we dare not say so. The arrest of Jimmy would have automatically ruined the banker. That was where I realized the kind of man I had to deal with, and I am always prepared when Jimmy's name is mentioned in connection with a big crime to discover that his victim deserved all he got, and a little more."
The girl gave a little shiver.
"It sounds dreadful. Cannot such a man as that employ his talents to a greater advantage?"
Angel shrugged his shoulders despairingly.
"I've given up worrying about misapplied talents; it is a subject that touches me too closely," he said. "But as to Jimmy, I'm rather glad you started the conversation in that direction, because I'm going to ask you to meet him today."
"Oh, but I couldn't," she began.
"You are thinking of what happened on the night the will was read? Well, you must forget that. Jimmy has the key to the verse, and it is absolutely imperative that you should be present this afternoon."
With some demur, she consented.
* * * * * * * *
In the sitting-room of Jimmy's flat the three sat round a table littered with odds and ends of papers.
The girl had met him with some trepidation, and his distant bow had done more to assure her than had he displayed a desire to rehabilitate himself in her good opinion.
Without any preliminaries, Jimmy showed the contents of the packet. He did not explain to the girl by what means he had come into possession of them.
"Of all these papers," began Jimmy, tapping the letter before him, "only one is of any service, and even that makes confusion worse confounded. Reale had evidently had this cursed cryptogram in his mind for a long time. He had made many experiments, and rejected many. Here is one."
He pushed over a card, which bore a few words in Reale's characteristic hand.
"The word of five letters I will use, namely:
1. White every 24 sec.
2. Fixed white and red.
3. White group two every 30 sec.
4. Group occ. white red sec. 30 sec.
5. Fixed white and red."
Underneath was written: "No good; too easy."
The detective's brows were bent in perplexity. "I'm blessed if I can see where the easiness comes in," he said. "To me it seems so much gibberish, and as difficult as the other."
Jimmy noted the detective's bewilderment with a quiet smile of satisfaction. He did not look directly at the girl, but out of the corner of his eyes he could see her eager young face bent over the card, her pretty forehead wrinkled in a despairing attempt to decipher the curious document.
"Yet it was easy," he said, "and if Reale had stuck to that word, the safe would have been opened by now."
Angel pored over the mysterious clue.
"The word, as far as I can gather," said Jimmy, "is 'smock,' but it may be "
"How on earth " began Angel in amazement.
"Oh, it's easy," said Jimmy cheerfully, "and I am surprised that an old traveller like yourself should have missed it."
"Group occ. white red sec. 30 sec.," read Angel.
It was the first time the girl had seen this strange man throw aside his habitual restraint, and she noted with an unaccountable satisfaction that he was decidedly handsome when amused.
"Let me translate it for you," said Jimmy. "Let me expand it into, 'Group occulting White with Red Sectors every Thirty Seconds.' Now do you understand?"
Angel shook his head.
"You may think I am shockingly dense," he said frankly, "but even with your lucid explanation I am still in the dark."
Jimmy chuckled. "Suppose you went to Dover tonight, and sat at the end of the Admiralty Pier. It is a beautiful night, with stars in the sky, and you are looking toward France, and you see ?"
"Nothing," said Angel slowly; "a few ships' lights, perhaps, and the flash of the Calais Lighthouse "
"The occulting flash?" suggested Jimmy.
"The occ.! By Jove!"
"Glad you see it," said Jimmy briskly. "What old Reale did was to take the names of five famous lights any nautical almanac will give you them:
They form an acrostic, and the initial letters form the work 'smock '; but it was too easy and too hard, because there are two or three lights, particularly the fixed lights, that are exactly the same, so he dropped that idea."
Angel breathed an admiring sigh.
"Jimmy, you're a wonder," he said simply.
Jimmy, busying himself amongst the papers, stole a glance at the girl.
"I am very human," he thought, and was annoyed at the discovery.
"Now we come to the more important clue," he said, and smoothed a crumpled paper on the table.
"This, I believe, to have a direct bearing on the verse."
Then three heads came close together over the scrawled sheet.
"A picture of a duck, which means T," spelt Angel, "and that's erased; and then it is a snake that means T "
"In Reale's verse," he said deliberately, "there are six words; outside of those six words I am convinced the verse has no meaning. Six words strung together, and each word in capitals. Listen."
He took from his pocketbook the familiar slip on which the verse was written:
"Here's a puzzle in language old,
Find my meaning and get my gold.
Take one BOLT just one, no more
Fix it on behind a DOOR.
Place it at a river's MOUTH
East or west or north or south.
Take some LEAVES and put them whole
In some water in a BOWL.
I found this puzzle in a book
From which some mighty truths were took."
"There are six words," said Jimmy, and scribbled them down as he spoke:
Each one stands for a letter but what letter?"
"It's rather hopeless if the old man has searched round for all sorts of out-of-the-way objects, and allowed them to stand for letters of the alphabet," said Angel.
The girl murmured something, and met Jimmy's inquiring eyes.
"I was only saying," she said hesitatingly, "that there seems to be a method in all this."
"Except," said Jimmy, "for this," and he pointed to the crossed-out duck.
"By that it would seem that Reale chose his symbols hap-hazard, and that the duck not pleasing him, he substituted the snake."
"But," said Kathleen, addressing Angel, "doesn't it seem strange that an illiterate man like Mr. Reale should make even these rough sketches unless he had a model to draw from?"
"Miss Kent is right," said Jimmy quickly.
"And," she went on, gaining confidence as she spoke, "is there not something about these drawings that reminds you of something?"
"Of what?" asked Angel.
"I cannot tell," she replied, shaking her head; "and yet they remind me of something, and worry me, just as a bar of music that I cannot play worries me. I feel sure that I have seen them before, that they form a part of some system " She stopped suddenly.
"I know," she continued in a lower voice; "they are associated in my mind with with the Bible."
The two men stared at her in blank astonishment.
Then Jimmy sprang to his feet, alight with excitement. "Yes, yes," he cried. "Angel, don't you see? The last two lines of Reale's doggerel
"'I found this puzzle in a book
From which some mighty truths were took'"
"Go on, go on, Miss Kent," cried Angel eagerly. "You are on the right track. Try to think "
Kathleen hesitated, then turned to Jimmy to address the first remark she had directed to him personally that day.
"You haven't got ?"
Jimmy's smile was a little hard.
"I'm sorry to disappoint you, Miss Kent, but I have got a copy," he said, with a touch of bitterness in his tone.
He walked to the bookcase at one end of the room and reached down the book a well-worn volume and placed it before her.
The rebuke in his voice was deserved, she felt that.
She turned the leaves over quickly, but inspiration seemed to have died, for there was nothing in the sacred volume that marshalled her struggling thoughts.
"Is it a text?" asked Angel.
She shook her head.
"It is something," she said. "That sounds vague, doesn't it? I thought if I had the book in my hand, it would recall everything."
Angel was intently studying the rebus.
"Here's one letter, anyway. You said that, Jimmy?"
"The door?" said Jimmy. "Yes, that's fairly evident. Whatever the word is, its second letter is 'P'. You see Reale's scribbled notes? All these are no good, the other letters are best, I suppose it means; so we can cut out 'T,' 'O,' and 'K'. The best clue of all," he went on, "is the notes about the 'professor'. You see them:
"Mem: To get the professor's new book on it.
"Mem: To do what the professor thinks right.
"Mem: To write to professor about '
"Now the questions are: Who is the professor, what is his book, and what did he advise? Reale was in correspondence with him, that is certain; in his desire for accuracy, Reale sought his advice. In all these papers there is no trace of a letter, and if any book exists it is still in Sped it is still in the place from whence this red envelope came."
The two men exchanged a swift glance.
"Yes," said Angel, as if answering the other's unspoken thought, "it might be done."
The girl looked from one to the other in doubt.
"Does this mean an extra risk?" she asked quietly. "I have not questioned you as to how this red envelope came into your possession, but I have a feeling that it was not obtained without danger."
Angel disregarded Jimmy's warning frown. He was determined that the better side of his strange friend's character should be made evident to the girl.
"Jimmy faced death in a particularly unpleasant form to secure the packet, Miss Kent," he said.
"Then I forbid any further risk," she said spiritedly. "I thought I had made it clear that I would not accept favours at your friend's hands; least of all do I want the favour of his life."
Jimmy heard her unmoved. He had a bitter tongue when he so willed, and he chose that moment.
"I do not think you can too strongly impress upon Miss Kent the fact that I am an interested party in this matter," he said acidly. "As she refused my offer to forego my claim to a share of the fortune, she might remember that my interest in the legacy is at least as great as hers. I am risking what I risk, not so much from the beautifully quixotic motives with which she doubtless credits me, as from a natural desire to help myself."
She winced a little at the bluntness of his speech; then recognizing she was in the wrong, she grew angry with herself at her indiscretion.
"If the book is where these papers were, it can be secured," Jimmy continued, regaining his suavity. "If the professor is still alive he will be found, and by to-morrow I shall have in my possession a list of every book that has ever been written by a professor of anything."
Some thought tickled him, and he laughed for the second time that afternoon.
"There's a fine course of reading for us all," he said with a little chuckle. "Heaven knows into what mysterious regions the literary professor will lead us. I know one professor who has written a treatise on Sociology that runs into ten volumes, and another who has spoken his mind on Inductive Logic to the extent of twelve hundred closely-printed pages. I have in my mind's eye a vision of three people sitting amidst a chaos of thoughtful literature, searching ponderous tomes for esoteric references to bolts, door, mouth, et cetera."
The picture he drew was too much for the gravity of the girl, and her friendship with the man who was professedly a thief, and by inference something worse, began with a ripple of laughter that greeted his sally.
Jimmy gathered up the papers, and carefully replaced them in the envelope. This he handed to Angel.
"Place this amongst the archives," he said flippantly.
"Why not keep it here?" asked Angel in surprise.
Jimmy walked to one of the three French windows that opened on to a small balcony. He took a rapid survey of the street, then beckoned to Angel. "Do you see that man?" He pointed to a lounger sauntering along on the opposite sidewalk.
Jimmy walked back to the centre of the room. "That's why," he said simply. "There will be a burglary here tonight or tomorrow night. People aren't going to let a fortune slip through their fingers without making some kind of effort to save it."
"What people?" demanded the girl. "You mean those dreadful men who took me away?"
"That is very possible," said Jimmy, "although I was thinking of somebody else."
The girl had put on her wrap, and stood irresolutely near the door, and Angel was waiting. "Goodbye," she said hesitatingly. "I I am afraid I have done you an injustice, and and I want to thank you for all you have undergone for me. I know I feel that I have been ungracious, and"
"You have done me no injustice," said Jimmy in a low voice. "I am all that you thought I was and worse."
She held out her hand to him, and he raised it to his lips, which was unlike Jimmy.