Read CHAPTER II - THE GIRL WHO CRIED of The Man Who Knew , free online book, by Edgar Wallace, on ReadCentral.com.

The northern express had deposited its passengers at King’s Cross on time.  All the station approaches were crowded with hurrying passengers.  Taxicabs and “growlers” were mixed in apparently inextricable confusion.  There was a roaring babble of instruction and counter-instruction from police-men, from cab drivers, and from excited porters.  Some of the passengers hurried swiftly across the broad asphalt space and disappeared down the stairs toward the underground station.  Others waited for unpunctual friends with protesting and frequent examination of their watches.

One alone seemed wholly bewildered by the noise and commotion.  She was a young girl not more than eighteen, and she struggled with two or three brown paper parcels, a hat-box, and a bulky hand-bag.  She was among those who expected to be met at the station, for she looked helplessly at the clock and wandered from one side of the building to the other till at last she came to a standstill in the center, put down all her parcels carefully, and, taking a letter from a shabby little bag, opened it and read.

Evidently she saw something which she had not noticed before, for she hastily replaced the letter in the bag, scrambled together her parcels, and walked swiftly out of the station.  Again she came to a halt and looked round the darkened courtyard.

“Here!” snapped a voice irritably.  She saw a door of a taxicab open, and came toward it timidly.

“Come in, come in, for heaven’s sake!” said the voice.

She put in her parcels and stepped into the cab.  The owner of the voice closed the door with a bang, and the taxi moved on.

“I’ve been waiting here ten minutes,” said the man in the cab.

“I’m so sorry, dear, but I didn’t read ­”

“Of course you didn’t read,” interrupted the other brusquely.

It was the voice of a young man not in the best of tempers, and the girl, folding her hands in her lap, prepared for the tirade which she knew was to follow her act of omission.

“You never seem to be able to do anything right,” said the man.  “I suppose it is your natural stupidity.”

“Why couldn’t you meet me inside the station?” she asked with some show of spirit.

“I’ve told you a dozen times that I don’t want to be seen with you,” said the man brutally.  “I’ve had enough trouble over you already.  I wish to Heaven I’d never met you.”

The girl could have echoed that wish, but eighteen months of bullying had cowed and all but broken her spirit.

“You are a stone around my neck,” said the man bitterly.  “I have to hide you, and all the time I’m in a fret as to whether you will give me away or not.  I am going to keep you under my eye now,” he said.  “You know a little too much about me.”

“I should never say a word against you,” protested the girl.

“I hope, for your sake, you don’t,” was the grim reply.

The conversation slackened from this moment until the girl plucked up courage to ask where they were going.

“Wait and see,” snapped the man, but added later:  “You are going to a much nicer home than you have ever had in your life, and you ought to be very thankful.”

“Indeed I am, dear,” said the girl earnestly.

“Don’t call me ‘dear,’” snarled her husband.

The cab took them to Camden Town, and they descended in front of a respectable-looking house in a long, dull street.  It was too dark for the girl to take stock of her surroundings, and she had scarcely time to gather her parcels together before the man opened the door and pushed her in.

The cab drove off, and a motor cyclist who all the time had been following the taxi, wheeled his machine slowly from the corner of the street where he had waited until he came opposite the house.  He let down the supports of his machine, went stealthily up the steps, and flashed a lamp upon the enamel numbers over the fanlight of the door.  He jotted down the figures in a notebook, descended the steps again, and, wheeling his machine back a little way, mounted and rode off.

Half an hour later another cab pulled up at the door, and a man descended, telling the driver to wait.  He mounted the steps, knocked, and after a short delay was admitted.

“Hello, Crawley!” said the man who had opened the door to him.  “How goes it?”

“Rotten,” said the newcomer.  “What do you want me for?”

His was the voice of an uncultured man, but his tone was that of an equal.

“What do you think I want you for?” asked the other savagely.

He led the way to the sitting room, struck a match, and lit the gas.  His bag was on the floor.  He picked it up, opened it, and took out a flask of whisky which he handed to the other.

“I thought you might need it,” he said sarcastically.

Crawley took the flask, poured out a stiff tot, and drank it at a gulp.  He was a man of fifty, dark and dour.  His face was lined and tanned as one who had lived for many years in a hot climate.  This was true of him, for he had spent ten years of his life in the Matabeleland mounted police.

The young man pulled up a chair to the table.

“I’ve got an offer to make to you,” he said.

“Is there any money in it?”

The other laughed.

“You don’t suppose I should make any kind of offer to you that hadn’t money in it?” he answered contemptuously.

Crawley, after a moment’s hesitation, poured out another drink and gulped it down.

“I haven’t had a drink to-day,” he said apologetically.

“That is an obvious lie,” said the younger man; “but now to get to business.  I don’t know what your game is in England, but I will tell you what mine is.  I want a free hand, and I can only have a free hand if you take your daughter away out of the country.”

“You want to get rid of her, eh?” asked the other, looking at him shrewdly.

The young man nodded.

“I tell you, she’s a millstone round my neck,” he said for the second time that evening, “and I am scared of her.  At any moment she may do some fool thing and ruin me.”

Crawley grinned.

“‘For better or for worse,’” he quoted, and then, seeing the ugly look in the other man’s face, he said:  “Don’t try to frighten me, Mr. Brown or Jones, or whatever you call yourself, because I can’t be frightened.  I have had to deal with worse men than you and I’m still alive.  I’ll tell you right now that I’m not going out of England.  I’ve got a big game on.  What did you think of offering me?”

“A thousand pounds,” said the other.

“I thought it would be something like that,” said Crawley coolly.  “It is a flea-bite to me.  You take my tip and find another way of keeping her quiet.  A clever fellow like you, who knows more about dope than any other man I have met, ought to be able to do the trick without any assistance from me.  Why, didn’t you tell me that you knew a drug that sapped the will power of people and made them do just as you like?  That’s the knockout drop to give her.  Take my tip and try it.”

“You won’t accept my offer?” asked the other.

Crawley shook his head.

“I’ve got a fortune in my hand if I work my cards right,” he said.  “I’ve managed to get a position right under the old devil’s nose.  I see him every day, and I have got him scared.  What’s a thousand pounds to me?  I’ve lost more than a thousand on one race at Lewes.  No, my boy, employ the resources of science,” he said flippantly.  “There’s no sense in being a dope merchant if you can’t get the right dope for the right case.”

“The less you say about my doping, the better,” snarled the other man.  “I was a fool to take you so much into my confidence.”

“Don’t lose your temper,” said the other, raising his hand in mock alarm.  “Lord bless us, Mr. Wright or Robinson, who would have thought that the nice, mild-mannered young man who goes to church in Eastbourne could be such a fierce chap in London?  I’ve often laughed, seeing you walk past me as though butter wouldn’t melt in your mouth and everybody saying what a nice young man Mr. So-and-so is, and I have thought, if they only knew that this sleek lad ­”

“Shut up!” said the other savagely.  “You are getting as much of a danger as this infernal girl.”

“You take things too much to heart,” said the other.  “Now I’ll tell you what I’ll do.  I am not going out of England.  I am going to keep my present menial job.  You see, it isn’t only the question of money, but I have an idea that your old man has got something up his sleeve for me, and the only way to prevent unpleasant happenings is to keep close to him.”

“I have told you a dozen times he has nothing against you,” said the other emphatically.  “I know his business, and I have seen most of his private papers.  If he could have caught you with the goods, he would have had you long ago.  I told you that the last time you called at the house and I saw you.  What!  Do you think John Minute would pay blackmail if he could get out of it?  You are a fool!”

“Maybe I am,” said the other philosophically, “but I am not such a fool as you think me to be.”

“You had better see her,” said his host suddenly.

Crawley shook his head.

“A parent’s feelings,” he protested, “have a sense of decency, Reginald or Horace or Hector; I always forget your London name.  No,” he said, “I won’t accept your suggestion, but I have got a proposition to make to you, and it concerns a certain relative of John Minute ­a nice, young fellow who will one day secure the old man’s swag.”

“Will he?” said the other between his teeth.

They sat for two hours discussing the proposition, and then Crawley rose to leave.

“I leave my final jar for the last,” he said pleasantly.  He had finished the contents of the flask, and was in a very amiable frame of mind.

“You are in some danger, my young friend, and I, your guardian angel, have discovered it.  You have a valet at one of your numerous addresses.”

“A chauffeur,” corrected the other; “a Swede, Jonsen.”

Crawley nodded.

“I thought he was a Swede.”

“Have you seen him?” asked the other quickly.

“He came down to make some inquiries in Eastbourne,” said Crawley, “and I happened to meet him.  One of those talkative fellows who opens his heart to a uniform.  I stopped him from going to the house, so I saved you a shock ­if John Minute had been there, I mean.”

The other bit his lips, and his face showed his concern.

“That’s bad,” he said.  “He has been very restless and rather impertinent lately, and has been looking for another job.  What did you tell him?”

“I told him to come down next Wednesday,” said Crawley.  “I thought you’d like to make a few arrangements in the meantime.”

He held out his hand, and the young man, who did not mistake the gesture, dived into his pockets with a scowl and handed four five-pound notes into the outstretched palm.

“It will just pay my taxi,” said Crawley light-heartedly.

The other went upstairs.  He found the girl sitting where he had left her in her bedroom.

“Clear out of here,” he said roughly.  “I want the room.”

Meekly she obeyed.  He locked the door behind her, lifted a suitcase on to the bed, and, opening it, took out a small Japanese box.  From this he removed a tiny glass pestle and mortar, six little vials, a hypodermic syringe, and a small spirit lamp.  Then from his pocket he took a cigarette case and removed two cigarettes which he laid carefully on the dressing table.  He was busy for the greater part of the hour.

As for the girl, she spent that time in the cold dining room huddled up in a chair, weeping softly to herself.