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The Caper Club

Copyright 2018 Ronald E. Hudkins

Published by Ronald E. Hudkins at Smashwords

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Summary – The Caper Club

Already reluctantly faced with inheriting a vast fortune, Sir Jayden Finlay finds his life complicated further when he surprises a ruffian in the act of rummaging through his kit-bag. By a strange coincidence, the very same scoundrel also happens to be blackmailing the woman whose portrait Finlay has become enamored of! Will the multi-millionaire manage to frustrate Captain Matthew and the Corruption Caper Bunches’ evil designs to save the fair lady from humiliating ruin?

A book that will keep you guessing and on the edge of your seat! An incognito, newly titled and extremely rich, Sir Jayden finds himself embroiled in blackmail, murder, and political intrigue beyond his imagining when he boards a steamer to London in search of the beautiful lady in a photo. Lady Isabella and her father, the Prime Minister are in dire trouble with nowhere to turn until this brash stranger with the arresting eyes single-handedly takes an arch-blackmailer, Matthew and his Corruption Caper Club.

Copyright © Ronald E. Hudkins

All Rights Reserved

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This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

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Table of Contents



I. The Blackmailer

II. Sir Jayden Finlay Buys a Crime Syndicate

III. The Girl in the Park

IV. The Red-Haired Woman

V. The Caper Club

VI. Downing Street

VII. Lady Isabella’s Doubts

VIII. Scotland Yard Intervenes

IX. The Higher Burglary

X. Sir Jayden in Peril

XI. Murder Mysterious

XII. The Prime Minister is Compromised

XIII. The Gaming House

XIV. Lady Isabella’s Mission

XV. By Order of the Czar

XVI. Strange Happenings

XVII. Melodrama at Trant Hall

XVIII. At the Empire

XIX. The Capture of Lady Isabella

XX. The Farm on the Hill

XXI. The Kidnapping of the Prime Minister

XXII. The Premier's Story

XXIII. A Grisly Threat

XXIV. Finlay's Way Out

XXV. The Last Fight

About the Author

Book Review

Ronald Hudkins Other Books



Hearing the sound of lightly-falling footsteps behind him, Captain Matthew ceased his investigations of Sir Jayden Finlay's kit-bag and cautiously turned his head.

As he did so, the captain experienced a painful sensation. He felt a little cold ring of steel pressed against his right temple, and from past experience, both objective and subjective, he knew that a Colt cartridge was held, so to speak, in leash within five inches of his head.

It was very still on board the Commodious. The liner rose and fell easily on the long, oily Atlantic swell of the Bay of Biscay. Moreover, there was upon the entire vessel that peace which comes between the post-prandial exercises, such as deck quoits, of Atlantic passengers and the comparative bustle which arrives with tea-time. In short, the hour was half-past three o'clock.

Captain Matthew for several infinitely long seconds was offered an opportunity of enjoying the supreme calm of the liner. But he did not entirely revel in the moments so offered to him.

It was, indeed, with some relief that he heard a distinctly pleasant, though slightly mocking, voice break the accentuated silence and say:

“Don't be alarmed, Captain Matthew. I mean you no harm. I am simply psychologically interested in your movements. The fact that I am attempting to protect the contents of my kit-bag from your attentions is of comparatively small importance.”

The captain drew a little breath of relief, not the less sincere because he was conscious that the nozzle of the revolver was withdrawn from his temple.

He heard the door of the state-room close softly; then the pleasant voice spoke again, though with a slightly harder ring in its tones.

“Stand up, Captain Matthew,” said the voice, “and be seated. I have a good deal to say, and it is not my habit to talk to any man when I find him on his knees.”

Captain Matthew rose a little unsteadily and faced about, to find the most disconcerting eyes of Sir Jayden Finlay bent full upon him.

Still retaining the revolver in his hand, the baronet seated himself upon the edge of his bunk and then motioned to Captain Matthew to sit down upon the only available couch.

For a few minutes the two men gazed at each other with curiosity and interest; and it would have been hard to find a greater contrast in physique and physiognomy.

Captain Matthew had an olive face set with dark, almond-shaped eyes beneath a pair of oblique and finely-penciled brows; his nose was aquiline and assertive, his mouth shrewd and mean and scarcely hidden by a carefully-trained and very faintly-waxed moustache. He was exceedingly tall and astonishingly spare in build. Indeed, his whole aspect suggested a man who brooded over defeated ends. For the rest, his dress was unmistakably associated with that service to which he had never been a credit and which he had left unwept, unhonored, and unsung.

Sir Jayden rivalled the captain in inches. Indeed, he must have overtopped him by half a head. He was spare, too, as Matthew was, but his was the leanness of a man who has been worn fine by activity. His hair was undeniably red in tint, and his face had that pronounced ruddiness possessed only by red-haired folk. His nose was inelegantly short and emphasized the length of his upper lip, which was, however, covered, as indeed were both his face and chin, with a short, crisp auburn beard.

Strong though it was, his face, under the covering of its beard, would have lacked both distinction and power but for the amazing eyes. These, beneath brows which were rather beetling for so young a man, were of a shade which can only be described as of duck's-egg green. They gave the man an aspect of superhuman coldness and at times an air of almost superhuman cruelty. They were the eyes of a man who could look unmoved upon a sea of troubles or survey with untouched heart a panorama of undeserved suffering.

Sir Jayden was, in fact, no uncommon man. Leaving a wild youth behind him, he had for ten years which followed his landing in the United States pursued the hard and humble and most exacting calling of miner in the West. Life he had always held cheap, not only as it touched others, but as it touched himself. He had learnt a hard lesson in the school of life, and taking it hardly had become a hard man. So inured, indeed, had he become both to suffering and to danger that, when at length a greedy lawyer had tracked him down, he had at first resented bitterly and blasphemously the fate which made him the richest man on earth.

For his uncle, from whom he inherited the baronetcy, had been a rich man when he died; and for five years his well-invested fortune had lain in the hands of able men, slowly accumulating still greater wealth, which a Logand of secondary relatives had striven to prove did not belong to the vanished and scapegrace nephew.

At first the fact that he was the undisputed owner of quite as many millions as would have justified an American plutocrat in being jealous had annoyed the new baronet more than he could tell.

Week after week the lawyer, mindful of his fees, had pleaded with the new baronet to return to England and enter into possession of his own. Week after week Finlay had hesitated to return, for, in spite of the hardships which he had undergone, there lived with him still sufficient of the old life to tell him that the possession of millions would entail the labor of a social treadmill which he not only dreaded but despised.

There had, however, come to him quite by chance a motive for returning. On thinking it over he had come to the conclusion that it is not, after all, so bad a thing to be able to indulge a whim. And the secret of the whim he meant to follow lay, he knew, within the kit-bag which he had found Captain Matthew ransacking.

Utterly cut off from the world as he had been, the names which mean so much in Society in London, Paris, Vienna, and even in New York, had been lost to him. The faces of the great men of those great cities were to him as a closed book. The faces of their womenkind were as dreams which he had long since forgotten. But there was a dream in the kit-bag.

Even Finlay's roistering had not been ill-spent. His knowledge of the world, which, after all, means a certain cognizance of the evil that men do, had taught him that Captain Matthew was not a man to perpetrate a common theft.

Long years spent in a land peopled practically by Ishmaelites had taught him deep distrust of the stranger—particularly distrust of the stranger who would be friendly.

So, many hours had not passed on board the Commodious before the shrewd inquiries that followed on his suspicions had laid bare before him, as far as could be unfolded, the history of Captain Matthew.

The captain, it seemed, moved in the best society in London and New York; none the less, he was not liked. There was no actual charge against him, but there appeared to have been bound up in his career in America a number of unpleasant episodes. The record of the episodes was vague, but that suspicion of them was justified lay in the fact that whereas Captain Matthew had landed in the States poor he was leaving them enriched. And to lend color to this justification was the captain's exceedingly unfortunate reputation as a card-player.

Now Finlay, if truth must be told, loved play, and high play. In the old days he had not cared for what stakes he played against men so long as they were honest men; but now he resented as an insult to his good sense the suggestion that he should play, despite the resources at his command, for high stakes against a man who, by some subtle means, seldom, if ever, lost.

It was with these things in his mind—a mind active and of great intelligence, a mind moreover sharpened by adversity—that he looked stonily at Captain Matthew.

It had almost become second nature for Finlay to draw a gun upon a man whom he had caught apparently intent on theft. Swiftly, however, it came to him that a man in Matthew's position was not likely to be engaged in theft. There sprang into his brain the notion that Matthew was simply searching through his belongings with the idea of blackmail.

It almost made Finlay laugh to think that any man should attempt to blackmail him. He had nothing to disguise, nothing to hide.

Indeed, as he sat easily on the edge of his bunk looking at the dark, disconcerted face before him, Finlay had half a mind to throw his weapon aside and to tell Matthew to go his way in peace. Then there came to him a certain recollection, and the blood crept into his face so that it seemed to burn, and his sinister eyes gleamed beneath his brows, bright and green and dangerous.

His control over himself was, however, perfect, and still in the soft, smooth voice, which long absence in the West had not robbed of its initial and birth-given refinement, he asked:

“What did you find?”

Captain Matthew did not even blink his heavy-lidded eyes.

“Nothing,” he said.

“Yet,” rejoined Finlay, almost meditatively, “you must have been here at least five minutes before I arrived.”

“I tell you,” said Matthew, almost earnestly, “that I found nothing.”

“That is to say,” said Finlay, “nothing which you could turn to your own good account.”

Matthew smiled a sour yet demure little smile.

“Precisely,” he said evenly.

“Permit me,” said the baronet, just as quietly, “to inform you that you are a liar. If you will be good enough to turn over the bundle of socks which you will find in the right-hand corner of the kit-bag as it faces you now, I think you will be able to hand me something that is of interest to us both.”

“I was not aware that I could,” replied Captain Matthew with a touch of sarcasm in his voice.

Finlay picked up again the six-shooter which he had laid carelessly at his side.

“Have a look,” he said, and his voice was gently persuasive.

Just a flicker of vindictiveness crept into Matthew's eyes, and under the suasion of firearms he turned again to the bag.

After a few moments Finlay, now schooled to infinite placidity, inquired for the second time if he had found anything.

“Only a few papers,” said Captain Matthew, crossly.

“Pardon me,” said the baronet, “if I am not mistaken you have found only one paper. Be kind enough to hand it to me.”

The captain turned about, and with a carefully-manicured hand offered Finlay a slip of paper which had evidently been torn from some English periodical.

Finlay took it and looked at it casually, though the muscles on his closed jaws stood out in a manner that was not wholly pleasant to look upon. It was, however, with unfathomable eyes that he surveyed the scrap of paper before him. It revealed the portrait of a girl with an astonishingly quiet face. Her cheeks were round and soft, and her chin was round and soft too, but her mouth, a little full and pronounced, was distinctly sad and set. A pair of large dark eyes looked out upon the world unwaveringly and serenely, if a little sorrowfully, beneath a pair of finely-penciled, level brows, which formed, as it were, a little bar of inflexible resolve. A mass of dark hair was coiled upon the girl's head after the manner of early Victorian heroines. It was a face at once striking and wistful in its splendor.

The piece of paper had been torn with a jagged edge across the girl's throat, so that the inscription which would have borne her name was lacking.

Finlay looked up from the picture to Matthew.

“You,” he said simply, “go everywhere and know everybody. Therefore, I feel confident that you will be able to tell me the name of this girl. That is all I ask you—at present.”

Captain Matthew laughed and then checked his laughter.

“The lady,” he said, “is Lady Isabella Cayden, the only child of the Earl of Penshurst, who is, as even you are probably aware”—there was a covert sneer in his tones—“Prime Minister of England.”

“So!” murmured Finlay, and he nodded his head.

“Yes,” said Captain Matthew, “and if it is of any interest to you to know it, I propose to marry Lady Isabella.”

“Indeed,” said Finlay.

He folded the paper and placed it carefully in his breast-pocket.

“You must forgive my being rude,” he added, “but I should not now be on my way to England if I had not every intention of marrying the lady myself.”



Captain Matthew was a man used to being hard hit. He was steeled against cunningly and swiftly-dealt blows, such as he himself administered, but this declaration of Sir Jayden Finlay, that he intended to marry the Lady Isabella, took him quite aback.

“Oh!” he exclaimed softly, and his voice had a certain note of puzzlement and anxiety in it. “Oh!” he repeated, and again he said “Oh!”

The baronet smiled a little grimly in his red beard, but his duck's-egg green eyes were as serene and as cold as ever.

The three gently murmured “OH’s” of the captain had told him much. His quick brain realized that he had dealt the captain an exceedingly well-landed blow. Then the baronet's smile died, for, following the train of his suspicious thoughts, he instinctively grasped and held on to the idea that just as Matthew had been searching his kit-bag for the purpose of blackmail, so that individual purposed marriage with the Prime Minister's daughter to the same end.

This notion disquieted him greatly.

It disturbed him so much that the hard eyes hardened. Only the baronet's friends knew that they sometimes hardened because of the softness behind their gaze.

Finlay's heart, indeed, rose in revolt against the suggestion that this man, spurned of the Army, suspected of the clubs, distrusted by every honorable man, should for a moment presume to reach out and touch the hand of Isabella Cayden. Not for such a man as Matthew was the girl with the calm yet, at the same time, troubled face, that had looked out from the tattered picture and drawn him back to England.

Finlay's brain worked as swiftly as the brain of a woman, as do the brains of men who, cut off from the electric-lift side of civilization, day by day face Nature in its true, maternal, and therefore its feminine aspect. It was a long guess, but a shrewd guess, and a true guess, that if Matthew had his hopes set on Lady Isabella, the girl with the dark hair and steadfast eyes stood in some peril.

The mere thought of it quickened Finlay's blood, and the quickening of his blood livened his brain still more, so that he watched, almost cat-like, the glance of Matthew's eyes as they followed the placing of the Lady Isabella’s picture in his pocket.

For a couple of minutes nothing was said. Each man knew instinctively that he must move to the attack, but realized that a mistake at the opening of the game might possibly spell disaster.

It was the baronet who broke the silence—it is always the man who has least to fear that recovers first.

Finlay had pursued a train of thought as bold as it was unerring. It had come home to him that Matthew was not merely a blackmailer, but a prince among blackmailers. With infinite speed of thought he followed out his idea, and came to a conclusion which at once suggested and vindicated his next remark.

“I have never realized before, Captain Matthew,” he said, “what a pleasure it was to meet a perfectly-unqualified villain.”

Captain Matthew raised his black eyebrows a shade more obliquely, and his eyelids flickered. He was, however, equal to the situation.

“Indeed?” he said coolly, though he passed his tongue along his upper lip beneath his carefully-trimmed moustache. “Indeed? I shall be glad if you will explain.”

Finlay took a deep breath and laughed almost gaily. “I shall be charmed,” he said.

He paused a little and then continued: “No man, except one with such a reputation as yours,” he said, “would dream of regarding Lady Isabella Cayden as a possible wife unless he were so equipped with all the arts of blackmail that he had some reason to hope for his success.”

By this time Captain Matthew had got back his composure.

“You seem,” he said casually, “to endow Lord Penshurst with an exceedingly poor character.”

“Not exactly,” said Finlay. “I endow you with an exceedingly dangerous one.”

There was another pause, and the two pairs of eyes sought each other, and the heavy-lidded, slumberous eyes of Matthew flickered and faltered beneath those of the man who had so correctly jumped to a menacing conclusion.

“I am about to present to you an argument,” continued the baronet, “which unswervingly follows my present conception of yourself. Long experience of this wicked world—by which I mean that particular kind of vulture-like humanity which preys upon better men than itself—enables me to assume that you are without question a blackmailer, a bad blackmailer, and a blackmailer of no common type.

“But I have also learnt this, that no blackmailer can stand alone. His offence is the most cowardly offence in the world. A blackmailer is always a coward, and a coward is invariably afraid of isolated action. I am therefore very certain that you do not stand alone in this attempt to blackmail me.”

Captain Matthew's eyes left those of Finlay and studied the white-painted panel behind the baronet's head.

Sir Jayden went steadily on with his pitiless and logical argument.

“I am persuaded,” he said, “that your only motive in leaving New York was to sail on the same ship as myself, and, if possible, find an opportunity of buying my silence on some point.

“Possibly you think that in the discovery which we have mutually made in the past few minutes you have unearthed a fact which may be much to your advantage. You are wrong.

“On the contrary,” Sir Jayden continued, “it is I who have unearthed a fact which may be much to my benefit, and with your permission I will proceed to explain to you why.”

Captain Matthew slowly shrugged his shoulders and slightly bowed his head. He realized that it was the baronet's move, and did not propose to hinder him in the making of it, inasmuch as until he could correctly grasp Finlay's intention he could make no counter move himself.

“Following therefore,” continued Finlay, “my original line of thought, I should say that you were the headpiece, the brain-piece, of a well-planned scheme of crime.”

The faint color in Matthew's face became fainter still. Finlay knew he was pursuing the right trail.

“Now with such men as yourself—mind, I am not speaking so much from knowledge as from an intuition as to what I should do myself were I placed in similar circumstances—it is probable that you have sufficient intelligence, not only to rob your victims, but to rob your friends.

“Another piece of life's philosophy that roughing it has taught me is that the robber is always poor. I come, therefore, to the natural deduction that you are hard up.”

Finlay's whole expression of face changed suddenly. The coldness left it. The sea-green eyes smiled with a smile that invited confidence from the man before him.

“Well?” said Matthew. “And what of it?”

Finlay knew that the battle was won.

“Then,” Finlay continued coolly, “such a sum as a hundred thousand pounds would not come amiss to you. Such a sum I am prepared to pay you—under certain conditions.”

He paused suddenly in his speech with the intention of catching the very slightest exclamation on the part of Matthew; nor was he disappointed. A quick indrawing of Matthew's breath told Finlay that he was hitting him hard.

All the pleasantness in Finlay's face vanished again, and he looked at the captain with narrowed eyes.

“I realize that in offering you such a sum,” he said, “it will, of course, cost you something to earn it. A man who speculates must spend his own money to gain other people's. A criminal—you must forgive the word, but it is necessary—who seeks to make a great coup at the expense of others must put up a certain amount of money to bring it off.

“I think, however, that I am offering you quite enough to enable you to buy either the silence or the inactivity of your fellow criminals. A hundred thousand pounds is a good deal of money, and your gang cannot be so large that you will not be able to afford a sufficient sum to render them your servants.”

“Exactly,” said Captain Matthew.

“Ah!” exclaimed Finlay. “Then you acknowledge what I say to be true?”

“Sir Jayden,” answered Matthew, “you may take my word at what you judge it is worth, but none the less I, for my part, am prepared to take the word of a gentleman. Do you give me your word of honor that the offer—I take it such is meant—is in all sincerity?”

“It is meant in all sincerity,” said the baronet, “because I am following out my own particular ideas, and I know that you have neither the capacity nor yet the opportunity of saying me nay.”

No man was quicker than Matthew to seize an advantage. He saw that Finlay read him through and through, and that acknowledgment of his own baseness would be the surest way of obtaining some small measure of the baronet's confidence.

No man lies to his doctor, and at the moment Matthew stood in the presence of a pitiless diagnosis of his soul.

“Yes, Captain Matthew,” the baronet proceeded, “I admit that you have had bad luck, but your bad luck places you in my hands. In short, you can be delivered up to the captain of this ship as a common thief, or you can do as I tell you.”

For a moment Matthew hesitated, then he laughed.

“I never realized before,” he said steadily, almost with insolence, “that the blackmailer could be blackmailed.”

“Nevertheless,” said Finlay, “such is the case.”

“It is with every confidence,” the baronet continued, “that I make you my present offer. You have divined my secret just as I have divined yours; it would, however, be just as well for both if I explained every motive of my action.”

He paused and looked for a moment almost shyly out of the port-hole, which swung up and down between sea and sky.

“Where I have been,” he said, “women are few and far between. I never cared for any of them—until—until—I saw this picture.”

He tapped his breast lightly.

“Do you think,” he continued, his voice rising louder again, “that I should ever have set out for England if I had not been drawn back by this?”

He tapped his breast again. Then his eyes grew wider and his nostrils distended.

“I suppose,” he cried, with a certain tone of irony in his voice, “that I am a poet. But I am a poet of the open air. Do you think that I care a glass of barbed-wire whisky for all the scented drawing-rooms in the world? I began life, as they call it, in England, when I was young. What do you think I care for polo, for Hurlingham, for a stuffy reception in some great house in town? Nothing—nothing! Give me the open prairie land, the tall, blue grass, the open sky, the joy of the weary body that has ridden hard after cattle all the day!”

He laughed shortly.

“Do you think,” he continued, extending an almost melodramatically gesticulating hand towards the astonished captain, “that there is any soft, silk-bound pillow in Mayfair that could appeal to me when I could sleep under the stars?”

“Heavens!” He reached out his arms and brought them to his sides again with a strenuous motion, all his muscles contracted. “I have learned,” he cried, “the lesson that life is not only real and earnest, but that life is hard, that life is a battle—a battle to be won!”

His eyes fell upon his strong, sinewy, brown hands, and he clenched his fists.

“I am not going back to England to make pleasure, but to fight—to win the girl of the picture—from you!”

But now, to Finlay's surprise, Matthew had turned to sneering. The baronet was a breed of man the captain did not understand; no man that he had as yet been acquainted with loosed his heart in this wild manner. It seemed to him that Finlay was but a romantic child.

But there was no childhood, no romance, in the bitter gaze he lifted his eyes to meet.

“Listen,” said Finlay, quietly, “for a hundred thousand pounds I expect you to place yourself at my disposal. For a hundred thousand pounds I expect not only your services, but the services of all those whom you employ. And the greatest of these services will be silence.

“I am going back to England as Sir Jayden Finlay, Baronet, the richest man in the world. Thanks to the prying of the New York reporters I have had to sail on this ship in my own name. I did not wish it, and I have no intention of ever being discovered in London in the same character as I left New York.”

Finlay laughed a little to himself.

“No reporters at the dock-side for me,” he said. “No triumphal entry into London. No account of what I eat and do, and how many hours a night I sleep. I am going back to London to do precisely as I choose.”

Matthew was very quiet. He knew he had met a stronger spirit than his own. For all the bleak chilliness of the eyes of the man who talked to him, he knew that he had to deal with the fierceness of a wild animal which feels the cage opening before him, that Finlay was seeking to evade the bars of a social prison.

“In three days' time,” Finlay went on, “we shall be in Liverpool. I shall leave the ship in such a dress that no man will recognize me. I shall go straight to London and put up at Walter's Hotel in the Strand. It is a little place, where not even journalists will look for a millionaire.”

“You forget,” said Matthew, “that if you disappear in that manner there will be an awful outcry over your disappearance.”

“That matters nothing,” said Finlay. “Disappear I shall, to pursue my own ends as I choose to follow them. For once I am going to prove that money has the power to hide a man. Do you agree to my bargain?”

Matthew nodded his head.

“I agree,” he said, “because I must. The day after you land in Liverpool I will meet you at Walter's.”

“You tell me,” said Finlay, “that you agree. Yet I doubt your word. There is something which I have not yet fathomed. You are still thinking of Lady Isabella?

“Lie to me if you dare!” he added with brutal emphasis.

“I am not such a fool as to lie to you,” answered Captain Matthew. “I am still thinking of the Lady Isabella.”

“Then you make a vast mistake,” said the baronet.

He rose and opened the door for Matthew to pass out.



On the same night the oily quality departed from the swell. It came on to blow, and blew hard until the Commodious crossed the Mersey's turgid bar.

It was sufficiently rough to justify a great number of persons remaining in their cabins, but it was hardly sufficiently rough to excuse a two-days' absence of Captain Matthew from the poker table.

There were some who were fools enough to grumble at Matthew's absence, alleging against him that he sought to rob them of that revenge which they desired to make.

But while the rough weather kept Captain Matthew below it brought Sir Jayden Finlay on deck. And those maidens whose beauty was weatherproof rejoiced in the fact that the hitherto unattainable baronet now seemed to court friendly advances.

But they, poor little dears, did not know what Captain Matthew did—their dreams of endless millions were unspoiled by any knowledge of the little paper which Finlay carried in his breast-pocket.

On the third day, however, there came a complete right-about-face in the conduct of the two men whose personalities had most impressed themselves on the ship's company, for while Matthew came on deck looking sullen and morose, the baronet pleaded a slight attack of fever and hid himself in his state-room. Nor indeed, until with all that serenity on the bridge and all that shouting on the quay which goes to the berthing of a great liner, did any of the maidens, clamorous for his presence, look upon Finlay's face again.

The gangway lashed securely to the Commodious side, the first to step aboard were the reporters, anxious and eager-eyed, keen on finding the miner who was now a baronet and a millionaire. They proposed to wire his life-story up to London for the benefit of readers beyond number. Hard upon the reporters came the fussy relatives and friends of passengers, and amid the general kissing and hand-shakings on deck no one had much thought for any particular individual beyond himself.

So, without arousing any comment, there stepped from the main entrance to the saloon a tall, spare, clean-shaven man dressed in clerical garb. Even the fact that his face was exceedingly ruddy and that his eyes were of a peculiar sea-green shade aroused no comment.

Carrying a little bag in his hand, the apparently athletic curate swept his way to the head of the gangway, where his fresh and smiling face invited confidence from the reporters who hovered there, nervous lest the baronet should escape them.

One of them lifted his hat, and stepping forward, asked the tall, youthful parson if he had seen Sir Jayden Finlay.

The parson smiled and said gravely:

“Yes, I saw him two minutes ago in his state-room.”

There was a stampede on the part of the journalists, and, smiling blandly to himself, Finlay settled his clerical hat firmly on his head and sped down the gangway.

In the days he had spent below decks Finlay had mapped out for himself a sufficiently daring and ingenious plan of campaign to satisfy the most exacting of romantic minds. It was, indeed, with almost boyish zest that he entered on the adventure, and with all the enthusiasm of an amateur detective had paved the way for slipping up to London, there to become a lost nonentity.

He knew better than to take the boat-train. Instead, he went up to the Adelphi Hotel, where fewer of his fellow-passengers were likely to congregate than at the North-Western, deposited his bag, and thereafter sauntered out to enjoy a stroll through the Loganded streets of Liverpool.

At the Adelphi he slept that night, proceeding up to London on the following day.

He arrived at Euston about one o'clock, and drove straight to Walter's, a small yet comfortable hotel on the north side of the Strand.

Before going there, however, he had taken the precaution to buy some passable, if ready-made, clothes, together with a tweed cap, so that there was left about him no trace of the clerical disguise which he had assumed on arriving at Liverpool.

His presence, indeed, was sufficiently honest and prosperous to warrant not the slightest inquiry as to his bona fides at the hotel. In an hour he had comfortably settled himself in his new and temporary home, taking a small bedroom and a small sitting-room on the second floor.

Immediately on taking the room he had written a note to his friend, Lord Thomas, who was practically the only man in the whole of London whom he considered he could trust.

Thomas called at about five o'clock, and the two men spent a couple of hours in a quiet corner chuckling over the vivid accounts in the various newspapers which told of the mysterious disappearance of the miner baronet from the Commodious.

Every theory which could be advanced was exploited to the full—murder, suicide, lapse of memory, and accidents of every sort and description were set forth to account for Sir Jayden Finlay's banishment. There were interviews with the captain and purser of the Commodious; interviews with a score of passengers, and much to Finlay's amusement, numerous bearded portraits of himself in a miner's guise.

Then, over a whisky-and-soda, Finlay briefly outlined to Thomas the adventure with Matthew in his cabin and of his voluntary disappearance.

“The only thing that troubles me,” Finlay concluded, “is whether you will stand by and see me through. It is practically impossible for me to achieve what I consider necessary unless I have at least one friend who will keep his mouth shut tight.”

“My dear fellow,” said Thomas, earnestly, “I assure you that if this is your whim I see no reason why I should not do my best not only to humor it but to help it. By Jove!” he added, “but it's a ripping good idea!”

For Lord Thomas, who was very light-haired, very blue-eyed, and very vapid, had in his composition a great tendency to what he called “a ripping good lark.”

And so the two men arranged the matter between them.

They dined together very quietly in a little restaurant in Soho, where nobody who knew Thomas was likely to meet them, and where the cooking, if unpretentious, was at least good.

Afterwards Finlay went back to Thomas's rooms in Ryder Street, where they talked far into the night. They sat together, indeed, until past two o'clock, so that even the polite porter at Walter's raised his eyebrows at Finlay with some disapprobation when he finally returned to his hotel.

Next morning Thomas called early, and together the two men went up to the baronet's solicitors in Lincoln's Inn. There they had a long and not wholly placid interview with Mr. Leo Henry, a somewhat elderly gentleman with pronounced views on the law and the propriety of abiding strictly by it.

In answer to all his objections, however, the baronet had one extremely awkward reply:

Did or did not the lawyer wish to remain entrusted with the care of his vast estates and fortune?

So after a couple of hours' talk matters were arranged to Finlay's way of thinking.

A hundred thousand pounds were to be paid into Lord Thomas's account in order that Finlay might be able to draw such sums of money as he required without any knowledge in any quarter of the fact that the baronet himself was dealing with the bank.

Mr. Henry, moreover, was pledged to complete and absolute secrecy, so that with the exception of the lawyer and Thomas no one knew of Finlay's arrival in London.

The only tinge of humor that was introduced into the debate on Finlay's affairs was when, from time to time, a sleek and grave-mannered senior clerk entered quietly and placed on Mr. Henry's desk a card that bore the name of some great London newspaper; for the newspapers had discovered quickly enough who Sir Jayden's lawyers were. But they sought information in vain.

The few matters of moment that required to be settled having been dealt with, Finlay and Thomas went to lunch, and at lunch Finlay unfolded his further schemes to his friend.

They acted upon them without delay, and that afternoon Finlay secured more than luxurious rooms in Bruton Street in the name of Owen Seth. It should be mentioned that at Walter's Hotel Finlay was known by the same simple title.

“In fact,” said Finlay to his friend, laughing, as they afterwards sat over a whisky-and-soda at Long's, “I seem to be setting out to lead a double life on a somewhat splendid scale. Where, of course, it will land me, and into what difficulties it will plunge me, naturally I cannot tell, but it is really comforting to reflect that, no matter what caprice I may indulge in, I have at least sufficient money behind me to provide a complete excuse.

“You see,” he went on a trifle more gravely, “I rely so much upon my intuition that I feel perfectly justified in regarding Matthew with the very gravest suspicion. If I do my country no other service, I may at least be able to unmask what I am certain is a gang of international criminals, and, at the worst, I shall have plenty of fun for my money.”

The main reason for his peculiar mode of disappearing Finlay kept to himself. He said nothing to Thomas of the girl with the steadfast eyes.

And there he was wrong, for the difficulties—the very serious and dangerous difficulties—into which he was afterwards plunged would have been far more easily surmounted had he taken his friend into his full confidence.

Matthew, in obedience to his instructions, had called at Walter's Hotel on the second day following the arrival of the Commodious, but having no use for him then, and desiring to see a little of London before he proceeded to investigate the mysteries of Matthew's life, Finlay told the urbane, if somewhat sinister, captain that he did not require his presence. Finlay, indeed, informed Matthew pretty curtly that he would send for him when he needed him.

The next five days were spent by Finlay very quietly. The best of tailors that Thomas could recommend were hard at work building innumerable suits for Mr. Owen Seth, whose magnificent motor car was at least a guarantee of the soundness of his banking account.

When he had possessed himself of such clothes as he required in order to live as Owen Seth, Esq., of Bruton Street, plain Mr. Seth, of Walter's Hotel, informed the proprietor there that he was going into the country, and for two days Finlay lived in his new quarters.

Then he made excuses to the correct, soft-footed, and soft-spoken valet with whom Thomas had provided him, and went back to live at Walter's.

As a matter of fact, he rather preferred the existence which he was able to follow when he wore cheaper clothes and walked a humbler path of life.

It was not without distinctly good reason that he set himself systematically to explore London—not the London commonly known to the average sight-seer, but the London of the obscure Londoner, —the London of distant suburbs, the London of mean streets, the London of the docks and slums and of wastes of respectable spaces.

In the course of his peregrinations Finlay found himself one night at about the hour of ten wandering in a particularly ill-lit and remote corner of Hyde Park.

He was walking lightly over the wet grass with almost silent feet. Indeed, as he swung gently forward, his mind was far away on the soft prairie land that he seemed to have left years and years before. So occupied was he with his thoughts that he came near to walking into a couple engaged in a heated controversy beneath a tree.

When, however, he beheld them, he came to a sudden standstill, all his senses alive, his quick intuition telling him he was in the presence of some matter of moment.

He did not like the look of the thick-set greasy man who faced the girl. Finlay could read a man's character as easily from his back as he could from his face, and he had instantly a great distrust of the fat man's aspect.

The girl he could not see, but it was with some unaccountable notion of doing her a service, and not with the remotest idea of eavesdropping, that he stepped softly and silently to the further side of a tree trunk.

Then he heard the girl's voice saying in low, quiet, earnest accents:

“Why will you not let us rest? Why do you pursue us in this way? Surely it is inhuman to adopt these methods. You know what you want, and you have practically the power of obtaining it. Is it fair to drag me to a place like this and insult me in this way?”

The man mumbled something which Finlay could not catch.

Then he heard the girl utter a little cry.

“Look!” she exclaimed eagerly. “Look! I will make you an offer. Free us from this horrible nightmare, give me your word that you will not persecute us further, and I will give you these.”

Finlay heard the rustle of draperies, and was conscious that the girl reached out her hands. The man took something from her. His head was bent over the object, whatever it might be, long and earnestly.

Then he heard a thick voice, with a distinctly Semitic lisp, say, “They are beautiful, very beautiful. But what are they to us? You think they are worth a hundred thousand pounds, eh? Suppose they are—what of that? Do you think a hundred thousand pounds can close our lips? Do you think a hundred thousand pounds can save your father? Bah!”

The man chuckled thickly.

“But they are very pretty baubles,” he went on, “and seeing you offer them to me, I see no reason why I should not keep them.”

“Ah!” cried the girl. “Then you will be silent?”

“Silent!” exclaimed the man, “Silent, for this much! Not us! Why, it's ridiculous.”

“Then give them back to me,” said the girl, quietly, with a quaver in her voice. “Give them back to me. Would you rob me?”

“I am not robbing you,” answered the man, sullenly. “I am taking what you offered me. I shall not give them back. It is impossible for you to make me. You would cry out, would you? What good would that do? Cry out, call a policeman—do what you like—what will it mean for you except exposure? What will it mean for your father except ruin? Give them back? Not I! I——”

But his speech ended suddenly at this point, for Finlay, always quick to action, took quick action now.

Moving round the trunk of the tree, he caught the man deftly by the collar of his coat, kicked his heels from under him, and brought him with a heavy crash to the ground.

The man lay still.

In a second Finlay was on his knees beside the prostrate figure. With swift fingers he searched the man's clothing and found a mass of jewels in the breast-pocket of the man's outer coat.

In a twinkling he had them out, and, rising to his feet, he held a heavy string of diamonds towards the girl.

“Madam,” he cried, “permit me to befriend you. I do not know who you are, but—”

His voice trailed away into a little gasp. For the frightened face that stared at him with starting eyes was the face of the girl in the picture.

In this strange manner did Finlay meet Lady Isabella Cayden.



Finlay stood still gazing stupidly at the girl and holding out the jewels towards her.

When he had recovered from his great surprise he moved a step nearer to her.

“Madam,” he said, “permit me to insist that you shall take these things back.”

Without a word the girl stretched out her hand and took the jewels from him. She hid them quickly in the folds of her cloak, and all the while the expression of amaze and fear on her face did not abate.

At last she pointed to the man lying beneath the tree.

“You have not killed him?” she asked, in a low voice.

For answer, Finlay turned again and knelt at the fat man's side. He inserted his hand skillfully over the unconscious man's heart, and then rose to his feet again.

“No,” he said, almost with a laugh. “Just knocked him out; that is all. He will be all right directly, and I fancy he will be glad to walk away without assistance. I imagine he is not a character who would care for much fuss and attention at this time of the night.”

Again Finlay drew near to the girl and peered gravely and keenly, but at the same time with all deference, into her face.

“I think,” he said quietly, “that it will be better for you to walk away while we are still undisturbed. If you will allow me, I will accompany you to the gates of the park. If I may be permitted to say so, it is hardly fitting that a lady in your position, carrying so much property about with her, should be strolling around here unattended.”

His tones were so kind and so cheering, and suggested such a delicate sense of humor at the whole situation, that Lady Isabella smiled back at him.

“At least,” she said, and now she almost laughed herself, “you are a very sturdy escort.”

Finlay said not another word except, “This is the way,” and then, guiding the girl through the trees, he reached the main path and helped Lady Isabella to step over the low iron railing; thence he piloted her through a throng of quite incurious people to Hyde Park Corner.

She walked beside him without saying anything at all, apparently satisfied to be in his charge; and she made no demur when, on reaching the street, Finlay hailed a passing taxicab.

The man drew up at the curb, and opening the door, Finlay assisted the girl to enter.

Then he leant forward into the darkness of the cab and said earnestly:

“I trust you will permit me to see you safely on your road. Apparently one never knows what may happen in London, and believe me, I have no wish you should suffer a second adventure such as the one through which you have just passed.”

“Thank you,” said Lady Isabella in a scarcely audible voice. “If you will see me as far as Trafalgar Square I shall be glad.”

Giving the order “Trafalgar Square!” Finlay entered the cab.

They drove in complete silence along Piccadilly, down St. James's Street, and through Pall-Mall, and rapidly approached the Nelson monument. As the lights of the Grand Hotel came into view, Finlay leaned towards the girl and said very gravely:

“Do you think Trafalgar Square is near enough to your home? Had I not better tell the man to put you down at the corner of Downing Street?”

The girl gave a quick gasp, and then a stifled cry.

Finlay could see her eyes shining in the dimly-lit little vehicle.

“What do you know?” she cried.

“If you mean,” answered Finlay, “what do I know of the fat man and the jewels and your mission in Hyde Park—nothing. I give you my word I know nothing at all. But I do know you are Lady Isabella Cayden, and that your father is Prime Minister of England, and that, without any high-flown sentiments, it is at least my duty to see you reach home in safety.”

Obedient to Finlay's instructions, the cabman had pulled up at the curb beneath the monument.

“If you are sure,” said Finlay, “that you would rather alight here, of course I must defer to your wishes. But at least permit me to follow you at a respectful distance down Whitehall. I cannot tell why, but I feel uneasy about the last stages of your journey.”

Turning towards him, the girl held out her hand impulsively.

“Thank you,” she said. “Thank you. I cannot tell you how much I thank you. You are evidently a gentleman. I ask you as a gentleman not to mention to anyone in the world what you have seen or heard tonight. Believe me,” she added with a catch in her voice, “that tonight's doings concern the honor of the best, and, as I think, the greatest, man in this country. I mean my father.”

Finlay bowed.

“You may trust me absolutely,” he said. “I give you my word of honor that not one single word of this shall pass my lips. But may I say something else? May I be allowed to make an offer of help? I have money, I have many resources at my command. I would willingly pledge myself to serve you in any way. I should be only too proud, too glad, to help.”

“No, no!” cried the girl, sharply, and with a note almost of agony in her voice.

The distress in the girl's tones was so real that Finlay made no further effort to persuade her.

He opened the door of the taxicab and assisted Lady Isabella to step out.

Then, having paid the cabman, he turned to her side again.

“If you will allow me,” he said, “I will at least see you across the road,” and he made this suggestion with some justification, for the late after-theatre traffic was now streaming westwards.

At the top of Whitehall he turned, and lifting his hat, stood waiting for Lady Isabella to take leave of him. Once more she stretched out her hand impulsively, and he took it in his own.

“Thank you,” she said, in the same low, earnest voice, “thank you again and again.”

“So far as I am concerned,” said Finlay, “You may rely on my absolute silence—if only,” he added with a little smile, “because there is really no one in London with whom I'm on speaking terms.”

Lady Isabella nodded her head and searched his face with her serious eyes. Then she turned and walked quickly away.

As for Finlay, he ran quickly across to the further side of the roadway that he might watch Lady Isabella’s progress to Downing Street, for he was still fearful that she might meet with further molestation. He saw, however, that she reached the corner of the famous little cul-de-sac in safety, and, moreover, that she was saluted by an apparently surprised and startled policeman.

As Finlay walked back to Walter's Hotel he was in a most perplexed state of mind. Was it possible that he had stepped suddenly into the midst of some tragic mystery? Was it possible that it was real and actual sorrow and horror that had made the eyes of the girl in the picture—the eyes of the girl who had drawn him back to England—so wistful and so beckoning?

That a girl in Lady Isabella Cayden's position might be suffering some profound grief, or might be the center of some bit of distressing family history, might well be conceived. But what should take the daughter of the Prime Minister of England to Hyde Park after dark, and what extraordinary combination of inappropriate events could possibly cause her to seek the silence of such a man as he had left insensible?

Matthew? It was possible that he was connected with the mystery. Finlay now remembered the man's cynical and confident smile when he had so unwisely boasted to him that he proposed to marry Lady Isabella.

If Matthew were really implicated in this business, then the methods of his villainy must be far more complicated than Finlay had anticipated. Only a very extraordinary conspiracy indeed could possibly have taken the Prime Minister's daughter into the park at such an hour.

From Finlay's own personal experience Matthew was a very prince of blackmailers. Indeed, he had not troubled to deny the accusation when Finlay had made it. But even the nimble imagination of Finlay had not foreseen the possibility of blackmailing the Prime Minister, at whose back were all the forces of the law, including a discreet and silent and swiftly-acting Scotland Yard.

Finlay sat far into the night, turning all these things over in his mind; and the more he pondered over them the more convinced he became that Matthew must be in some way implicated, if indeed he were not the originator of the whole business.

It was, however, upon what matter Matthew could possibly blackmail Lord Penshurst that caused Finlay the most perplexity.

Obviously, it was not some minor question of personal honor which involved the necessity of maintaining some sordid and disgraceful secret, or obviously Lord Penshurst's daughter would not be risking her personal safety, and to a great extent her reputation, by making such a visit to the park.

No; evidently the matter involved some great State secret, concerning which the Prime Minister had sought the confidence and assistance of his daughter. Yet Finlay could not altogether understand how this might be, because he could not conceive any matter of State which it would not be better to trust to the Secret Service than to a young girl.

Whatever it might be, the mystery embraced Lady Isabella; and with the single-hearted desire to assist her, Finlay determined, whether it pleased her or not, that he would range himself on her side.

To do this, however, it would be necessary to discover what the mystery was, and he was still far from the solution when he fell asleep.

On the morrow he rose early, and sat till lunch-time in the reading-room holding a paper before him, but in reality setting up and then demolishing a thousand and one theories to account for Lady Isabella’s plight.

He had sent for Matthew, and while he waited for him he debated with himself as to whether or not he should tax the captain with complicity in the matter. Finally he decided against such a course, seeing that an affair of such a magnitude as that in which Lady Isabella was entangled must of a certainty outweigh in value even the great financial inducements with which he had sought to attach Matthew to himself.

Finally Sir Jayden resolved to cease his exploration of London and begin his exploration of the devious paths of Captain Matthew, with the turnings and twisting of which he was still unacquainted.

It was quite possible that for the better conduct of his campaign against the Prime Minister Matthew might require a certain amount of ready money, and in return for that ready money the captain might be led into showing Finlay sufficient of his life to enable the baronet to grasp and understand the mystery of Lady Isabella.

When at last Captain Matthew came up after lunch Finlay greeted him coldly—so coldly that the captain raised his eyebrows.

“It seems,” he said, “that you are not in a very good humor. Is London beginning to bore you?”

Sir Jayden looked at him sharply. “No,” he said, thoughtfully, “not in the least, though I confess that I have to some extent exhausted its ordinary attractions. Now I propose to plunge a little deeper into its secrets and its mysteries. In this direction I am, of course, looking to you to help me.”

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