MR. REEDER descended from the bus at Victoria Station, bought a third-class return ticket to Horsham, and, going on to the bookstall, purchased a copy of the Economist and the Poultry World, and, thus fortified for the journey, passed through the barrier, and finding an empty carriage, ensconced himself in one corner. From thence onward, until the train drew into Horsham Station, he was apparently alternately absorbed in the eccentricities of Wyandottes and the fluctuations of the mark.
There were many cabs at the station, willing and anxious to convey him to his destination for a trifling sum; but apparently Mr. Reeder was deaf to all the urgent offers which were made to him, for he looked through the taxi-men, or over their heads, as though there were no such things as grim mechanicians or drivers of emaciated horses; and, using his umbrella as a walking-stick, he set out to walk the distance intervening between the station and Peter Kane's residence.
Peter was in his snuggery, smoking a meditative cigar, when Barney came in with the news.
"There's an old guy wants to see you, Peter. I don't know who he is, but he says his name's Reeder."
Peter's brows met.
"Reeder?" he said sharply. "What sort of man is he?"
"An old fellow," said Barney. "Too shaky for a 'busy'. He looks as if he's trying to raise subscriptions for the old chapel organ."
It was not an unfair description, as Peter knew.
"Bring him here, Barney, and keep your mouth shut. And bear in mind that this is the busiest 'busy' you are ever likely to meet."
"A copper?" said Barney incredulously.
"Where's Marney?" he asked quickly.
"Up in her boojar," said Barney with relish. "She's writing letters. She wrote one to Johnny. It started 'Dear old boy'."
"How do you know?" asked Peter sharply.
"Because I read it," said Barney without shame. "I'm a pretty good reader: I can read things upside down, owing to me having been in the printing business when I was a kid."
"Bring in Mr. Reeder," interrupted Peter ominously. "And remember, Barney, that if ever I catch you reading anything of mine upside down, you will be upside down! And don't argue."
Barney left the room, uttering a mechanical defiance which such threats invariably provoked.
Mr. Reeder came in, his shabby hat in one hand, his umbrella in the other, and a look of profound unhappiness on his face.
"Good morning, Mr. Kane," he said, laying down his impedimenta. "What a beautiful morning it is for a walk! It is a sin and a shame to be indoors on a day like this. Give me a garden, with roses, if I may express a preference, and just a faint whiff of heliotrope… "
"You'd like to see me in the garden, eh?" said Peter. "Perhaps you're wise."
Barney, his inquisitive ears glued to the keyhole, cursed softly.
"I was in a garden yesterday," murmured Mr. Reeder, as they walked across the lawn toward the sunken terraces. "Such a lovely garden! One bed was filled with blue flowers. There is something about a blue flower that brings a lump into my throat. Rhododendrons infuriate me: I have never understood why. There is that about a clump of rhododendrons which rouses all that is evil in my nature. Daffodils, on the other hand, and especially daffodils intermingled with hyacinths, have a most soothing effect upon me. The garden to which I refer had the added attraction of being on the edge of the sea—a veritable Garden of Eden, Mr. Kane, although "—he wagged his head from side to side disparagingly—"there were more snakes than is customary. There was a snake in a chair, and a snake who was posting letters in the village, and another official snake who was hiding behind a clump of bushes and had followed me all the way from London—sent, I think, by that misguided gentleman, Mr. Craig."
"Where were you, Mr. Reeder?"
"At a seaside villa, a beautiful spot. A truly earthly paradise," sighed Mr. Reeder. "The very place an intelligent man would go to if he were convalescent, and the gentleman on the chair was certainly convalescent."
"You saw Jeff Legge, eh? Sit down."
He pointed to the marble bench where Johnny had sat and brooded unhappily on a certain wedding day.
"I think not," said Mr. Reeder, shaking his head as be stared at the marble seat. "I suffer from rheumatism, with occasional twinges of sciatica. I think I would rather walk with you, Mr. Kane." He glanced at the hedge. "I do not like people who listen. Sometimes one listens and hears too much. I heard the other day of a very charming man who happened to be standing behind a bush, and heard the direful character of his son-in-law revealed. It was not good for him to hear so much."
Peter knew that the man was speaking about him, but gave no sign.
"I owe you something, Mr. Reeder, for the splendid way you treated my daughter—"
Mr. Reeder stopped him with a gesture.
"A very charming girl. A very lovely girl," he said with mild enthusiasm. "And so interested in chickens! One so seldom meets with women who take a purely sincere interest in chickens."
They had reached a place where it was impossible they could be overheard. Peter, who realised that the visitor would not have called unless he had something important to say, waited for the next move. Mr. Reeder returned to the subject of eavesdropping.
"My friend—if I may call him my friend—who learnt by accident that his son-in-law was an infernal rascal—if you will excuse that violent expression—might have got himself into serious trouble, very serious trouble." He shook his head solemnly. "For you see," he went on, "my friend—I do hope he will allow me to call him my friend?—has something of a criminal past, and all his success has been achieved by clever strategy. Now, was it clever strategy"—he did not look at Peter, and his faded eyes surveyed the landscape gloomily—"was it clever of my friend to convey to Mr. Emanuel Legge the astounding information that at a certain hour, in a certain room—I think its number was thirteen, but I am not sure—Mr. John Gray was meeting Mr. J. G. Reeder to convey information which would result in Emanuel Legge's son going to prison for a long period of penal servitude? Was it wise to forge the handwriting of one of Emanuel Legge's disreputable associates, and induce the aforesaid Emanuel to mount the fire-escape at the Highlow Club and shoot, as he thought, Mr. John Gray, who wasn't Mr. Gray at all, but his own son? I ask you, was it wise?"
Peter did not answer.
"Was it discreet, when my friend went to the hotel where his daughter was staying, and found her gone, to leave a scribbled note on the floor, which conveyed to Mr. Jeffrey Legge the erroneous information that the young lady was meeting Johnny Gray in Room 13 at nine-thirty? I admit," said Mr. Reeder handsomely, "that by these clever manoeuvres, my friend succeeded in getting Jeffrey Legge just where he wanted him at the proper time; for Jeffrey naturally went to the Highlow Club in order to confront and intimidate his wife. You're a man of the world, Mr. Kane, and I am sure you will see how terribly indiscreet my friend was. For Jeffrey might have been killed." He sighed heavily. "His precious life might have been lost; and if the letters were produced at the trial, my friend himself might have been tried for murder."
He dusted the arm of his frock-coat tenderly.
"The event had the elements of tragedy," he said, "and it was only by accident that Jeff's face was turned away from the door; and it was only by accident that Emanuel was not seen going out. And it was only by the sheerest and cleverest perjury that Johnny Gray was not arrested."
"Johnny was not there," said Peter sharply.
"On the contrary, Johnny was there—please admit that he was there?" pleaded Mr. Reeder. "Otherwise, all my theories are valueless. And a gentleman in my profession hates to see his theories suffer extinction."
"I'll not admit anything of the sort," said Peter sharply. "Johnny spent that evening with a police officer. It must have been his double."
"His treble perhaps," murmured the other. "Who knows? Humanity resembles, to a very great extent, the domestic fowl, gallus domesticus. One man resembles another—it is largely a matter of plumage."
He looked up to the sky as though he were seeking inspiration from heaven itself.
"Mr. Jeffrey Legge has not served you very well, Mr. Kane," he said. "In fact, I think he has served you very badly. He is obviously a person without principle or honour, and deserves anything that may come to him."
Peter waited, and suddenly the man brought his eyes to the level of his.
"You must have heard, in the course of your travels, a great deal about Mr. Legge?" he suggested. "Possibly more has come to you since this unfortunate—indeed, dastardly—happening, of which I cannot remind you without inflicting unnecessary pain. Now, Mr. Kane, don't you think that you would be rendering a service to human society if—"
"If I squeaked," said Peter Kane quietly. "I'll put your mind at rest on that subject immediately. I know nothing of Jeffrey Legge except that he's a blackguard. But if I did, if I had the key to his printing works, if I had evidence in my pocket of his guilt—" he paused.
"And if you had all these?" asked Mr. Reeder gently.
"I should not squeak," said Peter with emphasis, "because that is not the way. A squeak is a squeak, whether you do it in cold blood or in the heat of temper."
Again Mr. Reeder sighed heavily, took off his glasses, breathed on them and polished them with gentle vigour, and did not speak until he had replaced them.
"It is all very honourable," he said sadly. "This—er—faith and—er—integrity. Again the poultry parallel comes to my mind. Certain breeds of chickens hold together and have nothing whatever to do with other breeds, and, though they may quarrel amongst themselves, will fight to the death for one another. Your daughter is well, I trust?"
"She is very well," said Peter emphatically, "surprisingly so. I thought she would have a bad time—here she is." He turned at that moment and waved his hand to the girl, who was coming down the steps of the terrace. "You know Mr. Reeder?" said Peter as the girl came smiling toward the chicken expert with outstretched hand.
"Why, of course I know him," she said warmly. "Almost you have persuaded me to run a poultry farm!"
"You might do worse," said Mr. Reeder gravely. "There are very few women who take an intelligent interest in such matters. Men are ever so much more interested in chickens."
Peter looked at him sharply. There was something in his tone, a glint of unsuspected humour in his eyes, that lit and died in a second, and Peter Kane was nearer to understanding the man at that moment than he had ever been before.
And here Peter took a bold step.
"Mr. Reeder is a detective," he said, "employed by the banks to try and track down the people who have been putting so many forged notes on the market."
Her eyes opened wide in surprise, and Mr. Reeder hastened to disclaim the appellation.
"Not a detective. I beg of you not to misunderstand, Miss Kane. I am merely an investigator, an inquiry agent, not a detective. 'Detective' is a term which is wholly repugnant to me. I have never arrested a man in my life, nor have I authority to do so."
"At any rate, you do not look like a detective, Mr. Reeder," smiled the girl.
"I thank you," said Mr. Reeder gratefully. "I should not wish to be mistaken for a detective. It is a profession which I admire, but do not envy."
He took from his pocket a large note-case and opened it. Inside, fastened by a rubber band in the centre, was a thick wad of bank-notes. Seeing them, Peter's eyebrows rose.
"You're a bold man to carry all that money about with you, Mr. Reeder," he said.
"Not bold," disclaimed the investigator. "I am indeed a very timid man."
He slipped a note from under the elastic band and handed it to his wondering host. Peter took it.
"A fiver," he said.
Mr. Reeder took another. Peter saw it was a hundred before he held it in his hand.
"Would you cash that for me?"
Peter Kane frowned.
"What do you mean?"
"Would you cash it for me?" asked Mr. Reeder. "Or perhaps you have no change? People do not keep such large sums in their houses."
"I'll change it for you with pleasure," said Peter, and was taking out his own note-case when Mr. Reeder stopped him with a gesture.
"Forged," he said briefly.
Peter looked at the note in his hand.
"Forged? Impossible! That's a good note."
He rustled it scientifically and held it up to the light. The watermark was perfect. The secret marks on the face of the note which he knew very well were there. He moistened the corner of the note with his thumb.
"You needn't trouble," said Reeder. "It answers all the tests."
"Do you mean to tell me this is 'slush'—I mean a forgery?"
The other nodded, and Peter examined the note again with a new interest. He who had seen so much bad money had to admit that it was the most perfect forgery he had ever handled.
"I shouldn't have hesitated to change that for you. Is all the other money the same?"
Again the man nodded.
"But is that really bad money?" asked Marney, taking the note from her father. "How is it made?"
Before the evasive answer came she guessed. In a flash she pieced together the hints, the vague scraps of gossip she had heard about the Big Printer.
"Jeffrey Legge!" she gasped, going white. "Oh!"
"Mr. Jeffrey Legge," nodded Reeder. "Of course we can prove nothing. Now perhaps we can sit down."
It was he who suggested that they should go back to the garden seat. Not until, in his furtive way, he had circumnavigated the clump of bushes that hid the lawn from view did he open his heart.
"I am going to tell you a lot, Mr. Kane," he said, "because I feel you may be able to help me, in spite of your principles. There are two men who could have engraved this note, one man who could manufacture the paper. Anybody could print it—anybody, that is to say, with a knowledge of printing. The two men are Lacey and Burns. They have both been in prison for forgery; they were both released ten years ago, and since then have not been seen. The third man is a paper maker, who was engaged in the bank-note works at Wellington. He went to penal servitude for seven years for stealing banknote paper. He also has been released a very considerable time, and he also has vanished."
"Lacey and Bums? I have heard of them. What is the other man's name?" asked Peter.
Mr. Reeder told him.
"Jennings? I never heard of him."
"You wouldn't because he is the most difficult type of criminal to track. In other words, he is not a criminal in the ordinary sense of the word. I am satisfied that he is on the Continent because, to be making paper, it is necessary that one should have the most up-to-date machinery. The printing is done here."
"Where?" asked the girl innocently, and for the first time she saw Mr. Reeder smile.
"I want this man very badly, and it is a matter of interest for you, young lady, because I could get him to-morrow—for bigamy." He saw the girl flush. "Which I shall not do. I want Jeff the Big Printer, not Jeff the bigamist. And oh, I want him badly!"
A sound of loud coughing came from the lawn, and Barney appeared at the head of the steps.
"Anybody want to see Emanuel Legge?"
They looked at one another.
"I don't want to see him," said Mr. Reeder decidedly. He nodded at the girl. "And you don't want to see him. I fear that leaves only you, Mr. Kane."