RUBY OF A THOUSAND DREAMS
Mary Francis sat in the sitting-room of her small but artistically furnished flat in Chelsea. Facing her, on another chair, was a grey-haired aristocratic-looking man whose face was wreathed in smiles.
“So you succeeded in getting it after all?” said the man.
“Yes, I succeeded in getting it.”
The girl took from her handbag an envelope which she at once placed in the hands of her companion. He, after first satisfying himself it contained what he expected, placed the envelope into the breast pocket of his coat.
“Thank you, Mary, you have done very well,” he said.
“Honestly, it was one of the easiest jobs I have ever had,” replied the girl.
Sir George Parkinson, head of Britain’s Secret Service, smiled.
“Mary, you under-rate your work,” he said. “Three of my best men failed. You succeeded. Need I say more?”
Mary Francis could not restrain a slight flush of satisfaction. Praise from the man who faced her was something to be indeed proud of, for it was seldom that he gave open praise to anyone.
Perhaps it was that pretty Mary Francis was one of his favourites, but the fact remained she had just returned from Russia having accomplished successfully a most delicate and confidential mission on behalf of the British Government.
It was like Sir George Parkinson that he asked for no details of her journey, she had been successful, that was all which interested him. On the other hand, had she failed, she would have been on the carpet and down to the minutest particular she would have had to report to her chief, and his criticism would have been biting, his sarcasm like the lash of a whip.
The girl, perhaps to hide her embarrassment, reached for and lit a cigarette.
Sir George who was critically eyeing her, said:
“Mary, let me compliment you upon your charming frock.”
“You like it?” she said, and smiled.
The man nodded.
“I’m glad, for you see I am dining out with quite a charming young man to-night, and I like to make a good impression.”
Sir George Parkinson gave a start as he exclaimed:
“Good Heavens! Mary, don’t tell me you’ve fallen in love?”
Mary Francis laughed.
“No, nothing so interesting as that, Sir George. Just a nice young man who will give me a good time.”
The head of the Secret Service heaved a sigh of relief. Sir George had a horror of any of his female staff falling in love. It was a saying of his—he could trust a man in love, but never a woman. Whenever any one of the weaker sex belonging to his staff became engaged, he promptly dismissed them. It was because she knew his weakness that Mary Francis had laughed.
“I am sorry,” said Sir George, after a slight silence, “but I fear your charming young man is in for a disappointment.”
Mary lifted up her eyebrows questioningly.
“I have some work for you to do,” he explained, observing her expression.
“Of an exceedingly delicate . . . and perhaps dangerous nature.”
The surprise in the tone of the girl’s voice was owing to the fact Sir George rarely, if ever, gave dangerous work to a woman if he could avoid it.
He nodded an affirmative, then said:
“Does the word ‘dangerous’ alarm you?”
“On the contrary, Sir George, it thrills me.”
“Humph! I would not suggest you in connexion with dangerous work, Mary, but for the fact this particular job requires the hand of a woman.”
Mary Francis gave a low musical laugh.
“Sir George,” she said, “I know how you dislike anything theatrical, but I must say, even in spite of that fact, ever since I have been a member of your staff I have longed for the opportunity to have a real man’s job offered to me.”
Now Sir George Parkinson laughed, and it was a friendly laugh.
“Mary, I fear you are what my wife would term, incorrigible,” he said. “Well, let me assure you you have got your wish. To recover the paper I want from The Ruby of a Thousand Dreams is indeed work which might tax the courage and ingenuity of the cleverest male member of my staff.”
“Ruby of a Thousand Dreams!” exclaimed Mary. “Why, what on earth is that?”
“Patience, child,” Sir George shook a finger in the direction of the girl. “I think I have told you before, you must never rush your hurdles. Before you hear about the ruby, you had better first know something of the matter on hand.”
“Sorry, Sir George,” muttered the girl.
“Mary, have you ever met or heard of Stanley Wingate?” asked Sir George.
Mary Francis shook her head.
“I may be showing a want of useful knowledge,” she replied, “but I must admit I have neither met nor ever heard of the man.”
“I cannot say either knowing about, or having met Stanley Wingate, would add anything to your curriculum on Secret Service work. I merely inquired out of curiosity. Stanley Wingate was a Government geologist.”
“He was foully murdered in his bed some time during last night.”
“I see.” Mary succeeded in avoiding even a slight tremor of voice.
“Wingate,” went on Sir George, “returned only the night before from a three years sojourn in Central Africa. He returned secretively because he believed he had discovered one of the richest goldfields in the world. Being a Government servant he desired the Government should be the first to profit from his discovery. He, like every other man and woman, knew how deeply England was in debt, and he hoped this goldfield, for which he had obtained a concession, might enable her to pay off her debts, and lower the terrible unemployment which is so rampant throughout the land. Now, I will say at once, had all he told us proved to be true, his hopes might reasonably have been fulfilled. Gold has to be bought, even by Governments, but gold belonging to a Government would not have to be bought. Well, to continue, as soon as Wingate had made his discovery, he drew up a plan, then he made his way across two hundred miles of trackless country to get the concession from the ruling native Chief. After that he started for home. He arrived in London about midnight the night before last. Yesterday morning he went direct to Downing Street to see the Prime Minister. I happened to be there when he called, so was present when he opened his attaché-case to show his plan. To his utter amazement it was no longer there. When questioned he admitted the last time he had seen it was when he had placed it in the case as he was about to leave his ship the evening before at Southampton. The attaché-case had never left his hand from that moment until his arrival in London when he had it placed in the hotel safe, where it had remained until he started off for Downing Street. The plan must have been stolen some time between his leaving the ship and his arrival at Number Ten, That was all he could tell us. The Prime Minister asked Wingate if he could from memory draw out another plan. Wingate said he could, and so was dispatched back to his hotel to do it. He intimated that it might take him until to-day as he would have to look up and refer to certain papers which were in a trunk that would not arrive at his hotel until the afternoon. Wingate went off, and I returned to my office to set about trying to discover who might have robbed him. At eight o’clock this morning I received news that Wingate had been discovered stabbed to the heart in his bed, and that whoever had killed him had also thoroughly ransacked his bedroom. That is the story of Stanley Wingate, Mary. The police have charge of the matter of who may have killed him, we are not concerned in that. It is to get back the plan showing the whereabouts of that goldfield which concerns my department, and to you will be entrusted delicate work in that direction.”
Sir George Parkinson paused. He wished all he had said so far to sink in, and be thoroughly digested by the girl, before he continued.
However, Mary Francis was for some information right away; she said:
“Sir George, before you go on, there is one thing I should like to understand.”
Sir George smiled.
“Certainly, my dear, ask your question. No use starting off in the dark if there is light to be got.”
“Well then, Sir George, if this man Stanley Wingate obtained a concession, why trouble about the plan having been stolen? Surely the concession gives the right to mine, so why bother about the plan? Or was the concession stolen as well?”
“A sensible point to bring forward, Mary. No, the concession was not stolen, but as it covers an area of ground as large as Scotland, and from Wingate’s story the actual gold-bearing field is about the size of Green Park, the concession is practically useless without the plan. To send men out to look for Wingate’s goldfield would be rather like sending them to look for a needle in a haystack. And all the time they would be looking the thief goes direct to the spot and helps himself, without a soul being any the wiser or there to prevent him. That, Mary, is why the plan must be recovered before the thief has time to leave this country.”
“Then you don’t think he has already left?” asked Mary.
“If he is the man I suspect—no. He will require a certain amount of capital before he goes out to Africa, and it is here in London he will hope to obtain it.”
Mary Francis, who was beginning to see the very special honour paid to her in suggesting she should be given such important work, said rather excitedly:
“I see. That gives us time at any rate. And now, Sir George, who is this man you suspect?”
Again Sir George smiled.
“Mary, as I have already said once before, don’t rush your hurdles. Before I tell you whom I suspect, don’t you think it might be best to know why I suspect him?”
The girl felt herself going red. She was not behaving with that calm which appealed to the man opposite her. She must be careful, or he might quite likely refuse to give her the job.
“I am afraid I am being a little hasty,” she said. “But I won’t be after I know all. Yes, you are quite right, it will be better for me to know why you suspect this person.”
“Well, listen. After my return to my office yesterday, I set about making inquiries. I desired to see if I could get a line on who might have stolen Wingate’s plan from his attaché-case. I did not apply to Scotland Yard, for not for a moment did I suspect any ordinary thief. The man who had stolen that plan knew what he was stealing, therefore he must have known all about Wingate’s find. Wingate, after he had obtained the concession, made his way to Zanzibar, there to catch a Union Castle Line boat for home. He had to wait in Zanzibar five days before a boat arrived. Between Zanzibar and Suez he decided it might be better if he left the slower boat at the latter place, and caught the faster P. & O. mail steamer for the remainder of his journey. He arranged the transfer by wireless and so arrived home some days earlier than he otherwise would have. All this information I obtained by telephoning Wingate at his hotel. Then I set to work on the passenger list of the boat he left Zanzibar in, and then on the one he transferred to at Suez. Almost at once I was struck by one fact; only two other persons besides Wingate had made a transfer at Suez, and those same two had joined the Union Castle boat at Zanzibar. Of course it might be a coincidence, but it was worth looking into. I at once sent a cable to one of my men who by lucky chance happens to be in Zanzibar. In that cable I asked for detailed information concerning two Chinamen who had left on the same boat as Stanley Wingate, Chang Wong and his servant Li Lung, for those were the two names I had noticed as the only two persons who had transferred from one ship to the other. It was not until this morning that I received a reply.”
“And the reply said?”
“That Li Lung had been the keeper of a small shop on the water-front. That his decision to leave Zanzibar had been very hurried, and evidently influenced by the man who had sailed with him. But the most important piece of information in my man’s cable was contained in giving the real identity of the other Chinaman, Chang Wong.”
“So Chang Wong was not his right name?” broke in Mary Francis.
“No, his real name is Wu Fang.”
It was clear the name meant nothing to the girl.
“Yes, my dear, Wu Fang. Wu Fang is one of the most sinister and cunning devils who has ever come up against my department, and as a matter of fact, Scotland Yard as well. More than once the Yard has nearly had him, but always has he managed to slip through their fingers. The Yellow Devil they call him at the Yard, and I can assure you the name fits admirably. There is nothing the man will stop at to obtain his ends. Murder and torture are but play games to him, and the worst of all is, he has some extraordinary power over his fellow countrymen; they fear him, like they might a plague. Even the meanest Chinaman in Limehouse would rather die than give Wu Fang away to the authorities; that makes the matter of laying hands on him so difficult.”
As George Parkinson stopped speaking Mary Francis could not help feeling a slight flutter at her heart.
If this terrible Chinaman had stolen Stanley Wingate’s plan, then no wonder Sir George had warned her her work would be dangerous!