The Black Bag Part 53

"But,"--deliberately, "there's still this other matter of the gladstone bag. I don't mind abandoning my parental authority, when my child's happiness is concerned, but as for my property--"

"It is not your property," interrupted the girl.

"It was your mother's, dear child. It's now mine."

"I dispute that assertion," Kirkwood put in.

"You may dispute it till the cows come home, my boy: the fact will remain that I intend to take my property with me when I leave this room, whether you like it or not. Now are you disposed to continue the argument, or may I count on your being sensible?"

"You may put away your revolver, if that's what you mean," said Kirkwood.

"We certainly shan't oppose you with violence, but I warn you that Scotland Yard--"

"Oh, that be blowed!" the adventurer snorted in disgust. "I can sail circles round any tec. that ever blew out of Scotland Yard! Give me an hour's start, and you're free to do all the funny business you've a mind to, with--Scotland Yard!"

"Then you admit," queried Brentwick civilly, "that you've no legal title to the jewels in dispute?"

"Look here, my friend," chuckled Calendar, "when you catch me admitting anything, you write it down in your little book and tell the bobby on the corner. Just at present I've got other business than to stand round admitting anything about anything.... Cap'n, let's have that bag of my dutiful daughter's."

"'Ere you are." Stryker spoke for the first time since entering the room, taking the valise from beneath the chair and depositing it on the table.

"Well, we shan't take anything that doesn't belong to us," laughed Calendar, fumbling with the catch; "not even so small a matter as my own child's traveling bag. A small--heavy--gladstone bag," he grunted, opening the valise and plunging in one greedy hand, "will--just--about--do for mine!" With which he produced the article mentioned. "This for the discard, Cap'n," he laughed contentedly, pushing the girl's valise aside; and, rumbling with stentorian mirth, stood beaming benignantly over the assembled company.

"Why," he exclaimed, "this moment is worth all it cost me! My children, I forgive you freely. Mr. Kirkwood, I felicitate you cordially on having secured a most expensive wife. Really--d'you know?--I feel as if I ought to do a little something for you both." Gurgling with delight he smote his fat palms together. "I just tell you what," he resumed, "no one yet ever called Georgie Calendar a tight-wad. I just believe I'm going to make you kids a handsome wedding present.... The good Lord knows there's enough of this for a fellow to be a little generous and never miss it!"

The thick mottled fingers tore nervously at the catch; eventually he got the bag open. Those about the table bent forward, all quickened by the prospect of for the first time beholding the treasure over which they had fought, for which they had suffered, so long....

A heady and luscious fragrance pervaded the atmosphere, exhaling from the open mouth of the bag. A silence, indefinitely sustained, impressed itself upon the little audience,--a breathless pause ended eventually by a sharp snap of Calendar's teeth. "_Mmm_!" grunted the adventurer in bewilderment.

He began to pant.

Abruptly his heavy hands delved into the contents of the bag, like the paws of a terrier digging in earth. To Kirkwood the air seemed temporarily thick with flying objects. Beneath his astonished eyes a towel fell upon the table--a crumpled, soiled towel, bearing on its dingy hem the inscription in indelible ink: "_Hotel du Commerce, Anvers_." A tooth-mug of substantial earthenware dropped to the floor with a crash. A slimy soap-dish of the same manufacture slid across the table and into Brentwick's lap. A battered alarm clock with never a tick left in its abused carcass rang vacuously as it fell by the open bag.... The remainder was--oranges: a dozen or more small, round, golden globes of ripe fruit, perhaps a shade overripe, therefore the more aromatic.

The adventurer ripped out an oath. "Mulready, by the living God!" he raged in fury. "Done up, I swear! Done by that infernal sneak--me, blind as a bat!"

He fell suddenly silent, the blood congesting in his face; as suddenly broke forth again, haranguing the company.

"That's why he went out and bought those damned oranges, is it? Think of it--me sitting in the hotel in Antwerp and him lugging in oranges by the bagful because he was fond of fruit! When did he do it? How do I know? If I knew, would I be here and him the devil knows where, this minute? When my back was turned, of course, the damned snake! That's why he was so hot about picking a fight on the boat, hey? Wanted to get thrown off and take to the woods--leaving me with _this_! And that's why he felt so awful done up he wouldn't take a hand at hunting you two down, hey?

Well--by--the--Eternal! I'll camp on his trail for the rest of his natural-born days! I'll have his eye-teeth for this, I'll--"

He swayed, gibbering with rage, his countenance frightfully contorted, his fat hands shaking as he struggled for expression.

And then, while yet their own astonishment held Dorothy, Kirkwood, Brentwick and Stryker speechless, Charles, the mechanician, moved suddenly upon the adventurer.

There followed two metallic clicks. Calendar's ravings were abrupted as if his tongue had been paralyzed. He fell back a pace, flabby jowls pale and shaking, ponderous jaw dropping on his breast, mouth wide and eyes crazed as he shook violently before him his thick fleshy wrists--securely handcuffed.

Simultaneously the mechanician whirled about, bounded eagerly across the floor, and caught Stryker at the door, his dexterous fingers twisting in the captain's collar as he jerked him back and tripped him.

"Mr. Kirkwood!" he cried. "Here, please--one moment. Take this man's gun, from him, will you?"

Kirkwood sprang to his assistance, and without encountering much trouble, succeeded in wresting a Webley from Stryker's limp, flaccid fingers.

Roughly the mechanician shook the man, dragging him to his feet. "Now," he ordered sternly, "you march to that corner, stick your nose in it, and be good! You can't get away if you try. I've got other men outside, waiting for you to come out. Understand?"

Trembling like a whipped cur, Stryker meekly obeyed his instructions to the letter.

The mechanician, with a contemptuous laugh leaving him, strode back to Calendar, meanwhile whipping off his goggles; and clapped a hearty hand upon the adventurer's quaking shoulders.

"Well!" he cried. "And are you still sailing circles round the men from Scotland Yard, Simmons, or Bellows, or Sanderson, or Calendar, or Crumbstone, or whatever name you prefer to sail under?"

Calendar glared at him aghast; then heaved a profound sigh, shrugged his fat shoulders, and bent his head in thought. An instant later he looked up.

"You can't do it," he informed the detective vehemently; "you haven't got a shred of evidence against me! What's there? A pile of oranges and a peck of trash! What of it?... Besides," he threatened, "if you pinch me, you'll have to take the girl in, too. I swear that whatever stealing was done, she did it. I'll not be trapped this way by her and let her off without a squeal. Take me--take her; d'you hear?"

"I think," put in the clear, bland accents of Brentwick, "we can consider that matter settled. I have here, my man,"--nodding to the adventurer as he took up the black leather wallet,--"I have here a little matter which may clear up any lingering doubts as to your standing, which you may be disposed at present to entertain."

He extracted a slip of cardboard and, at arm's length, laid it on the table-edge beneath the adventurer's eyes. The latter, bewildered, bent over it for a moment, breathing heavily; then straightened back, shook himself, laughed shortly with a mirthless note, and faced the detective.

"It's come with you now, I guess?" he suggested very quietly.

"The Bannister warrant is still out for you," returned the man. "That'll be enough to hold you on till extradition papers arrive from the States."

"Oh, I'll waive those; and I won't give you any trouble, either.... I reckon," mused the adventurer, jingling his manacles thoughtfully, "I'm a back-number, anyway. When a half-grown girl, a half-baked boy, a flub like Mulready--damn his eyes!--and a club-footed snipe from Scotland Yard can put it all over me this way,... why, I guess it's up to me to go home and retire to my country-place up the Hudson." He sighed wearily.

"Yep; time to cut it out. But I would like to be free long enough to get in one good lick at that mutt, Mulready. My friend, you get your hands on him, and I'll squeal on him till I'm blue in the face. That's a promise."

"You'll have the chance before long," replied the detective. "We received a telegram from the Amsterdam police late this afternoon, saying they'd picked up Mr. Mulready with a woman named Hallam, and were holding them on suspicion. It seems,"--turning to Brentwick,--"they were opening negotiations for the sale of a lot of stones, and seemed in such a precious hurry that the diamond merchant's suspicions were roused. We're sending over for them, Miss Calendar, so you can make your mind easy about your jewels; you'll have them back in a few days."

"Thank you," said the girl with an effort.

"Well," the adventurer delivered his peroration, "I certainly am blame'

glad to hear it. 'Twouldn't 've been a square deal, any other way."

He paused, looking his erstwhile dupes over with a melancholy eye; then, with an uncertain nod comprehending the girl, Kirkwood and Brentwick, "So long!" he said thickly; and turned, with the detective's hand under his arm and, accompanied by the thoroughly cowed Stryker, waddled out of the room.


Kirkwood, following the exodus, closed the door with elaborate care and slowly, deep in thought, returned to the table.

Dorothy seemed not to have moved, save to place her elbows on the marble slab, and rest her cheeks between hands that remained clenched, as they had been in the greatest stress of her emotion. The color had returned to her face, with a slightly enhanced depth of hue to the credit of her excitement. Her cheeks were hot, her eyes starlike beneath the woven, massy sunlight of her hair. Temporarily unconscious of her surroundings she stared steadfastly before her, thoughts astray in the irridescent glamour of the dreams that were to come....

Brentwick had slipped down in his chair, resting his silvered head upon its back, and was smiling serenely up at the low yellow ceiling. Before him on the table his long white fingers were drumming an inaudible tune. Presently rousing, he caught Kirkwood's eye and smiled sheepishly, like a child caught in innocent mischief.

The younger man grinned broadly. "And you were responsible for all that!"

he commented, infinitely amused.

Brentwick nodded, twinkling self-satisfaction. "I contrived it all," he said; "neat, I call it, too." His old eyes brightened with reminiscent enjoyment. "Inspiration!" he crowed softly. "Inspiration, pure and simple.

I'd been worrying my wits for fully five minutes before Wotton settled the matter by telling me about the captain's hiring of the motor-car. Then, in a flash, I had it.... I talked with Charles by telephone,--his name is really Charles, by, the bye,--overcame his conscientious scruples about playing his fish when they were already all but landed, and settled the artistic details."

He chuckled delightedly. "It's the instinct," he declared emphatically, "the instinct for adventure. I knew it was in me, latent somewhere, but never till this day did it get the opportunity to assert itself. A born adventurer--that's what I am!... You see, it was essential that they should believe we were frightened and running from them; that way, they would be sure to run after us. Why, we might have baited a dozen traps and failed to lure them into my house, after that stout scoundrel knew you'd had the chance to tell me the whole yarn... Odd!"

"Weren't you taking chances, you and Charles?" asked Kirkwood curiously.

Chapter end

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