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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesAvenger - Chapter 6. One Thousand Pounds' Reward
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Avenger - Chapter 6. One Thousand Pounds' Reward Post by :nbdesign Category :Long Stories Author :E. Phillips Oppenheim Date :May 2012 Read :2354

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Avenger - Chapter 6. One Thousand Pounds' Reward

CHAPTER VI. ONE THOUSAND POUNDS' REWARD

But when the morrow came, and his visitor was shown into Wrayson's private office, he was not quite so sure about it. Mr. Bentham had not in the least the appearance of a murderer. Clean-shaven, a little slow in speech, quietly dressed, he resembled more than anything a country solicitor in moderate practice.

He bowed in correct professional manner, and laid a brown paper parcel upon the table.

"I believe," he said, "that I have the honour of addressing Mr. Wrayson?"

Wrayson nodded a little curtly.

"And you, I suppose," he remarked, "are the owner of the mysterious voice which summoned Morris Barnes to the Francis Hotel on the night of his murder?"

"It was I who spoke to you," Mr. Bentham admitted.

"Very well," Wrayson said, "I am glad to see you. It was obvious, from your message, that you knew of some danger which was threatening Morris Barnes that night. It is therefore only fair to presume that you are also aware of its source."

"You go a little fast, sir," Mr. Bentham objected.

"My presumption is a fair one," Wrayson declared. "You are perhaps aware of my unfortunate connection with this affair. If so, you will understand that I am particularly anxious to have it cleared up."

"It is not at all certain that I can help you," his visitor said precisely. "It depends entirely upon yourself. Will you permit me to put my case before you?"

"By all means," Wrayson answered. "Go ahead."

Mr. Bentham took the chair towards which Wrayson had somewhat impatiently pointed, and unbuttoned his coat. It was obvious that he was not a person to be hurried.

"In the first place, Mr. Wrayson," he said, "I must ask you distinctly to understand that I am not addressing you on my own account. I am a lawyer, and I am acting on behalf of a client."

"Who is he?" Wrayson asked. "What is his name?"

The ghost of a smile flickered across the lawyer's thin lips.

"I am not at liberty to divulge his identity," he answered. "I am, however, fully empowered to act for him."

Wrayson shrugged his shoulders.

"He may find it necessary to disclose it, and before very long," he remarked. "Well, go on."

Mr. Bentham discreetly ignored the covert threat in Wrayson's words.

"My mission to you, Mr. Wrayson" he declared, "is a somewhat delicate one. It is not, in fact, connected with the actual--tragedy to which you have alluded. My commission is to regain possession of a paper which was stolen either from the person of Morris Barnes or from amongst his effects, on that night."

Wrayson looked up eagerly.

"The motive at last!" he exclaimed. "What was the nature of this paper, sir?"

Mr. Bentham's eyebrows were slowly raised.

"That," he said, "we need not enter into for the moment. The matter of business between you and myself, or rather my client, is this. I am authorized to offer a thousand pounds reward for its recovery."

Wrayson was impressed, although the other's manner left him a little puzzled.

"Why not offer the reward for the discovery of the murderer?" he asked. "It would come, I presume, to the same thing."

"By no means," the lawyer answered dryly. "I am afraid that I have not expressed myself well. My client cares nothing for Morris Barnes, dead or alive. His interest begins and ends with the recovery of that paper."

"But isn't it almost certain," Wrayson persisted, "that the thief and the murderer are the same person? Your client ought to have come forward at the inquest. The thing which has chiefly troubled the police in dealing with this matter is the apparent lack of motive."

"My client is not actuated in any way by philanthropic motives," Mr. Bentham said coldly. "To tell you the truth, he does not care whether the murderer of Morris Barnes is brought to justice or not. He is only anxious to recover possession of the document of which I have spoken."

"If he has a legal claim to it," Wrayson said, "he had better offer his reward openly. He would probably help himself then, and also those who are anxious to have this mystery solved."

"Are you amongst those, Mr. Wrayson?" his visitor asked quietly.

Wrayson started slightly, but he retained his self-composure.

"I am very much amongst them," he answered. "My connection with the affair was an extremely unpleasant one, and it will remain so until the murderer of Morris Barnes is brought to book."

"Or murderess," Mr. Bentham murmured softly.

Wrayson reeled in his chair as though he had been struck a violent and unexpected blow. He understood now the guarded menace of his visitor's manner. He felt the man's eyes taking merciless note of his whitening cheeks.

"My client," the lawyer continued, "desires to ask no questions. All that he wants is the document to which he is entitled, and which was stolen on the night when Mr. Morris Barnes met with his unfortunate accident."

Wrayson had pulled himself together with an effort.

"I presume," he said, "from your frequent reiteration, that I may take this as being to some extent a personal offer. If so, let me assure you, sir, that so far as I am concerned I know nothing whatever of any papers or other belongings which were in the possession of my late neighbour. I have never seen or heard of any. I do not even know why you should have come to me at all."

"I came to you," Mr. Bentham said, "because I was very well aware that, for some reason or other, your evidence at the inquest was not quite as comprehensive as it might have been."

"Then, for Heaven's sake, tell me all that you know!" Wrayson exclaimed. "Take my word for it, I know nothing of this document or paper. I have neither seen it nor heard of it. I know nothing whatever of the man or his affairs. I can't help you. I would if I could. On the other hand, you can throw some light upon the motive for the crime. Who is your client? Let me go and see him for myself."

Mr. Bentham rose to his feet, and began slowly to draw on his gloves.

"Mr. Wrayson," he said quietly, "I am disappointed with the result of my visit to you. I admit it frankly. You are either an extremely ingenuous person, or a good deal too clever for me. In either case, if you will not treat with me, I need not waste your time."

Wrayson moved to the door and stood with his back to it.

"I am not at all sure," he said, "that I am justified in letting you go like this. You are in possession of information which would be invaluable to the police in their search for the murderer of Morris Barnes."

Mr. Bentham smiled coldly.

"And are not you," he remarked, "in the same fortunate position--with the unfortunate exception, perhaps, of having already given your testimony? Of the two, if disclosures had to be made, I think that I should prefer my own position."

Wrayson remained where he was.

"I am inclined," he said, "to risk it. At least you would be compelled to disclose your client's name."

Mr. Bentham visibly flinched. He recovered himself almost immediately, but the shadow of fear had rested for a moment, at any rate, upon his impassive features.

"I am entirely at your service," he said coldly. "My client has at least not broken the laws of his country."

Wrayson stood away from the door.

"You can go," he said shortly, "if you will leave me your address."

Mr. Bentham bowed.

"I regret that I have no card with me," he said, "but I have an office, a single room only, in number 8, Paper Buildings, Adelphi. If you should happen to come across--that document--"

Wrayson held open the door.

"If I should come to see you," he said, "it will be on other business."

* * * * *

Wrayson lunched at the club that morning, and received a warm greeting from his friends. The subject of the murder was, as though by common consent, avoided. Towards the end of the meal the Colonel received a telegram, which he read and laid down upon the table in front of him.

"By Jove!" he said softly, "I'd forgotten all about it. Boys, you've got to help me out."

"We're on," Mason declared. "What is it? a fight?"

"It's a garden party my girls are giving to-morrow afternoon," the Colonel answered. "I promised to take some of you down. Come, who's going to help me out? Wrayson? Good! Heneage? Excellent! Mason? Good fellows, all of you! Two-twenty from Waterloo, flannels and straw hats."

The little group broke up, and the Colonel was hurried off into the Committee Room. Wrayson and Heneage exchanged dubious glances.

"A garden party in May!" the latter remarked.

"Taking time by the forelock a little, isn't it?"

Wrayson sighed resignedly.

"It's the Colonel!" he declared. "We should have to go if it were December!"

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