Willard Lyall came down to breakfast and glanced at his mail. it was a fairly large pile, but nothing more than usual. Mercia often twitted him with the fact that he seemed to do most of his business by correspondence at home.
He tossed one or two letters aside, matters of small moments, thrust one or two others into an inside pocket without opening them and then picked up a plain post-card. it was addressed to him in neat, upright capitals and note the New Delhi post-mark across the stamp. The date of posting was blurred and scarcely decipherable. He turned it over in curiously. on the reverse side also in black print letters, was a single sentence.
A slow frown spread over his face as he read it. His hand shook and he dropped the card suddenly to the table. There was a sickly, unhealthy pallor crawling slowly over his skin, but the dark brows had come down over his eyes like a thunder cloud.
He read the extraordinary thing again and a look of awful shock came into his eyes.
“Do not leave your house on Monday night if you value your life.”
Stark and forbidding the words glared up at him from the post-card. They seemed to be vital, alive. They were grinning up at him in a mute, malignant stare.
He stared back at the thing as though in a mesmeric trance. It was the worst shock he had ever had in his life. For fifteen years, Willard Lyall had plied his trade behind an impenetrable mask of unimpeachable gentility.
And here, like a thunderbolt out of the cloudless blue came a dumb messenger in black and white to stun him with the knowledge that his secret was not only suspected but definitely known.
He mopped his forehead with a trembling hand and glanced once more at the thin red wafer, impressed with the myriad lines of a fingerprint. It lay on the white card like a drop of blood sinister and brutally significant.
At first he thought it must be some vulgarly offensive practical joke. but he rejected the thought almost as soon as it was formed. His friends were not the kind who would send such things as that through the open post. and his own guilty conscience, his own instinctive knowledge told him that this was no joke.
He broke into a cold sweat. He saw the full horror of the thing in a single, disruptive seconds. He had been living in a fool’s paradise.
And ahead the cold, chill vista of the years of degraded slavery. it was all there the mud-slinging, the callous, horrible, inhumanity of the showdown, the amazement, the anger, the sympathy, the mockery of his friends he saw the beginning and the end of it all in that card.
He pulled himself up with a jerk. He had just noticed his hand it was shaking like a leaf.
“Good Lord!” he muttered. “This won’t do. Get a grip on yourself man, pull yourself together.”
He picked up the card and examine it closely. no date, no clue in the writing, no address, no anything even the post-mark was so smudge as to be unreadable. it was posted at the G.P.O. he could tell that much from the code initials. But the actual time of posting and the horary letters were a black badge. He could not even see whether they were a.m. or p.m.
After a few minutes hard thinking, he stood up and there was a gleam of battle in his eyes.
“So they think they can frighten me off as easily as that, do they?” he muttered to himself. ” There’s a renegade in the camp somewhere—- a renegade who thinks he can slip in and pick the plums after all the months of scheming and planning…. well, we shall see about you Mr. Judas.”
Then after a little while, he added. “Either that or someone has got cold feet. and cold feet are not to be encouraged in this profession. They lead to cold cells.”
He thrust the grim warning into his pocket as a light footstep sounded in the hall outside.
Mercia came into the breakfast room smiling a merry morning greeting to her father.
Lyall as cool and unperturbed as though such things as anonymous warnings were something infinitely removed from his sphere of life smiled back at her and chaffed her about the fresh healthiness of her color.
“Rouge so early in the day?” he protested. “My dear girl please!”
“That’s not rouge,” expostulated Mercia, rubbing her cheeks with a handkerchief to demonstrate the irrefutable naturalness of her color. “That’s a cold tub.”
“Yes indeed every morning Eight o’clock. Whooshter! Brrh! It was icy enough this morning anyway. You wouldn’t look so unnaturally white in the morning if you risked a cold bath anyway.”
Lyall looked at her critically.
“white? Why? Am I white this morning?” he asked.
“Only in so far as you look as though you have just seen your own ghost, or—–or had an atrocious night last night.”
“Which I have not; and did not; replied Lyall suavely.
“I don’t suppose you did. But there’s another thing you might do for the benefit of your health, and such others as may be concerned. It isn’t anything drastic either, like signing the pledge or swearing off smokes or wintering on the Riviera.”
“And that is?”
“Come down to Brighton to see that night firing experiment of Mr. Rashid’s. An exciting night trip in the vigorous sea air with some fun in the wind would do you more good than a whole week on the golf Links.”
Lyall stiffened perceptibly. He did not answer. He was thinking at the lightning speed. the mention of Abdul Rashid’s name had sent his memory rocketing back to Rashid’s visit the previous evening. And he sensed an odd connection, an unsettling coincidence between that visit with its pressing invitation to witness a private Admiralty test and the arrival of that grisly thing in his pocket.
Yes there certainly was something very unusual about that visit. The invitation itself now, that was unusual. Rashid decidedly was not the type who admitted others into the confidence of his experiments and Inventions.
And the lateness of the hour too. That was more than unusual. It must have been some time after midnight before he arrived at Sotheby’s International Realty. That was a thing he had never done before. He had not even phoned his intentions. He had just landed up there, obviously on the spur of the moment. And his excuse for declining to take the ladies along with him after Lyall had intimated his inability to accompany them. that was very weak, very weak indeed.
And yet, how on earth did Abdul Rashid come to know anything about me?
By what miraculous means did he know that in the early hours of Tuesday morning we proposed to burgle the Duchess of Karol Bagh’s jewel collection?
The more he thought about it, the more hopelessly involved it became.