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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Box With Broken Seals (strange Case Of Mr. Jocelyn Thew) - Chapter 26
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The Box With Broken Seals (strange Case Of Mr. Jocelyn Thew) - Chapter 26 Post by :YUMGAL01 Category :Long Stories Author :E. Phillips Oppenheim Date :May 2012 Read :3390

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The Box With Broken Seals (strange Case Of Mr. Jocelyn Thew) - Chapter 26

CHAPTER XXVI

From six o'clock until half an hour before the time fixed for the commencement of the performance, a steady crowd of people elbowed and pushed their way that night into the cheaper parts of the Alhambra Music-hall. Soon afterwards, the earliest arrivals presented themselves at the front of the house. Brightman and Crawshay arrived together, and made their way at once to the manager's office, the former noticing, with a little glint of recognition which amounted to scarcely more than a droop of the eyes, two or three sturdy looking men who had the appearance of being a little unused to their evening clothes, and who were loitering about in the vestibule.

The manager greeted his two visitors without enthusiasm. He was a small, worried-looking man, with pale face, hooked nose and shiny black hair. He had recently changed his name from Jonas to Joyce, without materially affecting the impression which he made upon the stranger.

"This is Mr. Crawshay," Brightman began, "who has charge from the Government point of view, of the little matter you and I know about."

The manager shook hands limply.

"Glad to meet you, Mr. Crawshay," he said, "but a little disturbed at the cause. I must say that I hope you will find your impressions ill-founded. I don't like things of this sort happening in my house."

"Might happen anywhere," Mr. Brightman declared, with an attempt at cheerfulness. "By-the-by, Mr. Joyce, I hope you got my note?"

The manager nodded.

"Yes," he assented, "I've made all the arrangements you wished, and the box has not been entered except by the cleaner."

"Mr. Thew himself, then, has made no attempt to visit it?" Crawshay enquired.

"Not to my knowledge," was the brusque reply.

The two men took their leave, strolled along the vestibule, glanced at the closed door of the box and made their way down into the stalls.

"Our friend must be exceedingly confident," Brightman remarked musingly.

"Or else we are on the wrong tack," Crawshay put in.

"As to that we shall see! I don't like to seem over-sanguine," Brightman went on, "but my impression is that he is rather up against it."

"All I can say is that he is taking it very coolly, then!"

"To all appearance, yes. But whereas it is quite true that he has made no attempt to get at the box, Joyce didn't tell us--as a matter of fact, I don't suppose he knows--that three times Jocelyn Thew has visited the theatre under some pretext or other, and spotted my men about. From half-an-hour after his bid at the fete, that box has been as inaccessible to him as though it had been walled up."

They took their seats in the stalls, which were now rapidly filling. About five minutes later, Jocelyn Thew arrived alone. The box opener brought him from the vestibule, and an amateur programme seller accepted his sovereign--both, in view of the many rumours floating about the place, regarding him with much curiosity. Without any appearance of hurry he entered the much-discussed box, divested himself of his coat and hat, and stood for a moment in full view, looking around the house. His eyes rested for a moment upon the figures of the two men below, and a very grim smile parted his lips. He stepped a little into the background and remained for some time out of sight. Brightman's interest became intense.

"From this moment he is our man," he whispered. "All the same, I should have liked to have seen where he has hidden the papers. I went round the box myself without finding a thing."

Jocelyn Thew had hung up his coat and hat upon one of the pegs, and for a few seconds remained as though listening. Then he turned the key of the door, and, taking the heavy curtain up in his hand, searched it for a few moments until he arrived at a certain spot in one of the bottom folds. With a penknife which he drew from his pocket, he cut through some improvised stitches, thrust his hand into the opening and drew out a small packet, which he buttoned up in his pocket. In less than a minute he had let the curtain fall again and unlocked the door. Almost immediately afterwards there was a knock.

"Come in," he invited.

Katharine and her brother entered, the former in a gown of black net designed by the greatest of French modistes, and Richard in active service uniform.

"We are abominably early, of course," Katharine declared, as they shook hands, "but I love to see the people arrive, and as it is Dick's last evening he couldn't bear the thought of losing a minute of it."

Jocelyn Thew busied himself in establishing his guests comfortably. He himself remained standing behind Katharine's chair, a little in the background.

"We are going to have a great performance to-night," he observed. "Exactly what time does your train go, Richard?"

"Ten o'clock from Charing Cross."

Jocelyn Thew thrust his hand into his pocket, and Richard, rising to his feet, stepped back into the shadows of the box. Something passed between them. Katharine turned her head and clutched nervously at the programme which lay before her. She was looking towards them, and her face was as pale as death. Her host stepped forward at once and smiled pleasantly down at her.

"You will not forget," he whispered, "that we are likely be the centre of observation to-night. I see that our friends Brightman and Crawshay are already amongst the audience."

Katharine picked up her program and affected to examine it. "If only to-night were over!" she murmured.

"It is strange that you should feel like that," he observed, drawing his chair up to the front of the box and leaning towards her in conversational fashion. "Now to me half the evils of life lie in anticipation. When the time of danger actually arrives, those evils seem to take to themselves wings and fly away. Take the case of a great actress on her first night, an emotional and temperamental woman, besieged by fears until the curtain rises, and then carried away by her genius even unto the heights. Our curtain has risen, Miss Beverley. All we can do is to pray that the gods may look our way."

She studied him thoughtfully for a moment. It was obvious that he was not exaggerating. His granite-like face had never seemed more immovable. His tone was perfectly steady, his manner the manner of one looking forward to a pleasant evening. Yet he knew quite well what she, too, guessed--that his enemies were closing in around him, that the box itself was surrounded, that notwithstanding all his ingenuity and all his resource, a crisis had come which seemed insuperable. She was suddenly overwhelmed with a sense of the pity of it. All the admiration she had ever felt for his strange insouciance, his almost bravado-like coolness, his mastery over events, seemed suddenly to resolve itself into more definite and more clearly-comprehended emotion. It was the great pity of it all which suddenly appealed to her. She leaned a little forward.

"You have called this our last evening," she whispered. "Tell me one thing, won't you? Tell me why it must be?"

The softness in her eyes was unmistakable, and his own face for a moment relaxed wonderfully. Again there was that gleam almost of tenderness in his deep-blue eyes. Nevertheless, he shook his head.

"Whether I succeed or whether I fail," he said simply, "to-night ends our associations. Don't you understand," he went on, "that if I pass from the shadow of this danger, there is another more imminent, more certain?"

He hesitated for a single moment, and his voice, which had grown softer, became suddenly almost musical. Katharine, who was listening intently, realised like a flash that for the first moment the mask had fallen away.

"I have lived for many years with that other danger," he went on. "It has lain like a shadow always in front of my path. Perhaps that is why I have become what I am, why I have never dared to hope for the other things which are dear to every one."

Her hand suddenly gripped his. They sat there for a moment in a strange, disturbing silence. Then the orchestra ceased, the curtain was rung up, the performance, which was in the nature of a music-hall show, with frequent turns and changes, commenced. Popular favourites from every department of the theatrical world, each in turn claimed attention and applause. Katharine watched it all with an interest always strained, a gaiety somewhat hysterical; Jocelyn Thew with the measured pleasure of a critic; Richard with uproarious, if sometimes a little unreal merriment. The time slipped by apparently unnoticed. Suddenly Richard glanced at his wrist-watch and stood up.

"I must go," he declared. "I had no idea that it was so late." Katharine's fingers clutched the program which lay crumpled up in her hand. She looked at her brother with almost frightened eyes. Their host, too, had risen to his feet, and down-stairs in the stalls two men had slipped out of their places. Jocelyn Thew threw back his head with a little familiar gesture. The light of battle was in his eyes.

"Richard is right," he observed. "It is twenty minutes to ten."

"My servant will meet me down there with my kit and get me a seat," the young man said. "I shall have plenty of time, but I think I had better make a start."

Katharine came into the back of the box and threw her arms around her brother's neck. He stooped and kissed her on the lips and forehead.

"Cheer up, Katharine," he begged. "There is nothing to worry about."

"Nothing whatever," Jocelyn Thew echoed. "The most serious contingency that I can see at present is that you may have to find your way home alone."

"The number of the car is twenty," Beverley said, handing a ticket to his sister. "I'll send you a wire from Folkestone."

Jocelyn Thew suddenly held out his hand. His eyes were still flashing with the light of anticipated battle, but there was something else in his face reminiscent of that momentary softening.

"Mine, I fear," he murmured, "may be but a wireless message, but I hope that you will get it."

They departed, and Katharine, drawing her chair into the back of the box, faced many anxious moments of solitude. The two men made their way in leisurely fashion along the vestibule and turned upstairs towards the refreshment room. Half-way up, however, Jocelyn Thew laid his hand upon his companion's arm.

"Dick," he said, "I think if I were you I wouldn't have another. You've only just time to catch your train, as it is."

"Must have a farewell glass, old fellow," the young man protested.

His companion was firm, however, and Beverley turned reluctantly away. They walked arm in arm down the broad entrance lounge towards the glass doors. It seemed to have become suddenly evident that Jocelyn Thew's words were not without point. Richard stumbled once and walked with marked unsteadiness. Just before they reached the doors, Brightman, with a tall, stalwart-looking friend, slipped past them on the right. Another man fell almost into line upon the left, and jostled the young officer as he did so. The latter glanced at both of them a little truculently.

"Say, don't push me!" he exclaimed threateningly. "You keep clear."

Neither of the men took any notice. The nearer one, in fact, closed in and almost prevented Beverley's further progress. Brightman leaned across.

"I am sorry, Captain Beverley," he said, "but we wish to ask you a question. Will you step into the box office with us?"

"I'm damned if I will!" the young man answered. "I have a matter of ten minutes to catch my train at Charing Cross, and I'm not going to break my leave for you blighters."

Crawshay, who had been lingering in the background, drew a little nearer.

"Forgive my intervention, Captain Beverley," he said, "but the matter will be explained to the military authorities if by chance you should miss your train. I am afraid that we must insist upon your acceding to our request."

Then followed a few seconds' most wonderful pandemonium. Jocelyn Thew's efforts seemed of the slightest, yet Mr. Brightman lay on his back upon the floor, and his stalwart companion, although he himself was not ignorant of Oriental arts, lay on his side for a moment, helpless. Richard, if not so subtle, was equally successful. His great fist shot out, and the man whose hand would have gripped his arm went staggering back, caught his foot in the edge of the carpet, and fell over upon the tesselated pavement. There were two swing doors, and Richard, with a spring, went for the right-hand one. The commissionaire guarding the other rushed to help his companion bar the exit. The two plainclothes policemen, whose recovery was instantaneous, scrambled to their feet and dashed after him, followed by Crawshay. Jocelyn Thew, scarcely accelerating his walk, strolled through the left-hand door, crossed the pavement of the Strand and vanished.

Fortune was both kind and unkind to Richard in those next few breathless minutes. An old football player, his bent head and iron shoulder were sufficient for the commissionaires, and, plunging directly Across the pavement and the street, he leapt into a taxi which was crawling along in the direction of Charing Cross.

"Give you a sovereign to get to Charing Cross in three minutes," he cried out, and the man, accepting the spirit of the thing, thrust in his clutch, eagerly. For a moment it seemed as though temporarily, at any rate, Richard would get clear away. In about fifty yards, however, there was a slight block. The door of the taxicab was wrenched open, and one of the men who were chasing him essayed to enter. Richard sent him without difficulty crashing back into the street, only to find that simultaneously the other door had been opened, and that his hands were held from behind in a grip of iron. At the same time he looked into the muzzle of Crawshay's revolver.

"Sit down," the latter commanded.

Brightman, too, was in the taxicab, and one of the other men had his foot upon the step. With a shrug of the shoulders, the young man accepted the inevitable and obeyed. Brightman leaned out of the window, gave a direction to the driver, and the taxicab was driven slowly in through the assembling crowd. Richard leaned back in his corner and glared at his two companions.

"Say, this is nice behaviour to an officer!" he exclaimed truculently. "I am on my way to catch the leave train. How dare you interfere with me!"

"Perhaps," Crawshay remarked, "we may consider that the time has arrived for explanations."

"Then you'd better out with them quick," Richard continued angrily. "I am an officer in His Britannic Majesty's Service, come over to fight for you because you can't do your own job. Do you get that, Crawshay?"

"I am listening."

"I am on my way to catch the ten o'clock train from Charing Cross," Richard went on. "If I don't catch it, my leave will be broken."

"I feel sure," Crawshay remarked drily, "that the authorities will recognise the fact that you made every effort to do so. As a matter of fact, there will be a supplementary train leaving at ten-forty-five, which it is possible that you may be able to catch. Explanations such as I have to offer are not to be given in a taxicab. I have therefore directed the man to drive to my rooms, I trust that you will come quietly. If the result of our conversation is satisfactory, as I remarked before, you can still catch your train."

Richard glanced at the man seated opposite to him--a great strong fellow who was obviously now prepared for any surprise; at Brightman, who, lithe and tense, seemed watching his every movement; at the little revolver which Crawshay, although he kept it out of sight, was still holding.

"Seems to me I'm up against it," he muttered. "You'll have to pay for it afterwards, you fellows, I can tell you that."

They accepted his decision in silence, and a few minutes later they descended outside the little block of flats in which Crawshay's rooms were situated. Richard made no further attempt to escape, stepped into the lift of his own accord, and threw himself into an easy-chair as soon as the little party entered Crawshay's sitting room. There was a gloomy frown upon his forehead, but the sight of a whisky decanter and a soda-water syphon upon the sideboard, appeared to cheer him up.

"I think," he suggested tentatively, "that after the excitement of the last half-hour--"

"You will allow me to offer you a whisky and soda," Crawshay begged, mixing it and bringing it himself. "When you have drunk it, I have to tell you that it is our intention to search you."

"What the devil for?" the young man demanded, with the tumbler still in his hand.

"We suspect you of having in your possession certain documents of a treasonous nature."

"Documents?" Richard jeered. "Don't talk nonsense! And treasonous to whom? I am an American citizen."

"That," Crawshay reminded him, "is entirely contrary to your declaration when a commission in His Majesty's Flying Corps was granted to you. The immediate question, however, is are you going to submit to search or not?"

Richard glanced at that ominous glitter in Crawshay's right hand, glanced at Brightman, and at the giant who was standing barely a yard away, and shrugged his shoulders.

"I suppose you must do what you want to," he acquiesced sullenly, "but you'll have to answer for it--I can tell you that. It's a damnable liberty!"

He drank up his whisky and soda and set down the empty glass. The search which proceeded took a very few moments. Soon upon the table was gathered the usual collection of such articles as a man in Richard's position might be expected to possess, and last of all, from the inside of his vest, next to his skin, was drawn a long blue envelope, fastened at either end with a peculiar green seal. Crawshay's heart beat fast as he watched it placed upon the table. Richard seemed to have lost much of his truculence of manner.

"That packet," he declared, "is my personal property. It contains nothing of any moment whatever, nothing which would be of the least interest to you."

"In that case," Brightman promised, "it will be returned to you. Mr. Crawshay," he added, turning towards him, "I must ask you, as you represent the Government in this matter, to break these seals and acquaint yourself with the nature of the contents of this envelope, which I have reason to suppose was handed to Captain Beverley by Jocelyn Thew, a few minutes ago."

Crawshay took the envelope into his hands.

"I am sorry, Captain Beverley," he declared, "but I must do as Mr. Brightman has suggested. This man Jocelyn Thew, with whom you have been in constant association, is under very grave suspicion of having brought to England documents of a treasonable nature."

"I suppose," Richard said defiantly, "you must do as you d----d well please. My time will come afterwards."

Crawshay broke the seal, thrust his hand into the envelope and drew out a pile of closely folded papers. One by one he laid them upon the table and smoothed them out. Even before he had glanced at the first one, a queer presentiment seemed suddenly to chill the blood in his veins. His eyes became a trifle distended. They were all there now, a score or more of sheets of thin foreign note paper, covered with hand-writing of a distinctly feminine type. The two men read--Richard Beverley watched them scowling!

"What the mischief little May Boswell's letters have to do with you fellows, I can't imagine!" he muttered. "Go on reading, you bounders! Much good may they do you!"

There were minutes of breathless silence. Then Crawshay, as the last sheet slipped through his fingers, glanced stealthily into Brightman's face, saw him bite through his lips till the blood came and strike the table with his clenched fist.

"My God!" he exclaimed, snatching up the telephone receiver. "Jocelyn Thew has done us again!"

"And you let him walk out!" Crawshay groaned.

"We'll find him," Brightman shouted. "Here, Central! Give me Scotland Yard. Scotland Yard, quick! Johnson, you take a taxi to the Savoy."

Unnoticed, Richard Beverley had risen to his feet and helped himself to another whisky and soda.

"If you are now convinced," he said, turning towards them, "that I am carrying nothing more treasonable than the love letters of my best girl, I should be glad to know what you have to say to me on the subject of my detention?"

Crawshay for once forgot his manners.

"Damn your detention!" he replied. "Get off and catch your train."

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