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THE CRIMSON CLOWN AGAIN
A DISTURBING LETTER
IT was characteristic of Mr. Augustus Fleed
that he inspected his morning mail at one o’clock in the afternoon—immediately
after his breakfast. He was neither tardy nor beforehand; Mr. Fleed’s schedule
of life simply was not like that of other men.
Augustus Fleed did not lead what would have
appeared to the multitude to be a normal existence. Not only did he usually
begin his day when other men were half through theirs, but also he was awake and
doing when others were turning over for the last half of the night’s slumber.
The world in general knew only that Augustus
Fleed was either a bachelor or a widower, aged about forty-eight. He lived in a
sumptuous apartment in the exclusive house known as the Manborough Arms, with
Marmaduke Sattley, his secretary and companion. A man-servant attended the pair
in addition to the regular service furnished by the apartment house; and this
servant, Joseph by name, dwelt elsewhere outside his working hours.
It was generally known that Augustus Fleed was
a wealthy man. He was a member of several clubs in which membership was not
easily attained, and which no poverty-stricken individual might enter. He
appeared often at opera and theatre appropriately garbed for the evening, and he
was a confirmed first-nighter. He also gave frequent parties in his apartments
to which he invited a small circle of selected friends, all persons of proper
standing in the world, including gentlemen’s wives and sisters and daughters.
There was nothing of a “wild” atmosphere about
these parties. If Mr. Augustus Fleed ever partook of a hectic existence, such as
is supposed by common report to be partaken of by wealthy bachelors and
widowers, the world knew nothing of it. Rich, distinguished-looking, thorough
man-of-the-world, patron of the arts, charitable, a cultured gentleman who held
himself just a bit aloof—that was the popular conception of Augustus Fleed.
It was understood, dimly, that he had been
left wealth in his youth and had augmented it. He was known as an expert on
jewels, and once had dealt in them wholesale. Even now he was always ready to
buy or sell—not that he needed the profit, it was understood, but because it was
a hobby with him.
Marmaduke Sattley was his constant companion—
more of a friend, it appeared, than a secretary. Yet Mr. Sattley always “kept
his place” when others were around. He was a small man, with very dark hair and
eyes, and a sort of oily expression on his face. One of his principal
characteristics was his ability to render himself inconspicuous. He was adept at
effacing himself when necessary. One simply forgot that Marmaduke Sattley was in
Augustus Fleed perused his mail leisurely this
particular afternoon. There were the usual invitations, bills, advertisements,
and several personal letters from friends. He anticipated nothing out of the
ordinary when he picked up the last letter on the tray and deftly slit the
envelope open. He seldom got a thrill out of his mail.
Augustus Fleed paused to touch a flaming match
to the tip of a cigar. He thanked Heaven that he was not the sort of man
compelled by business to rush through the morning’s present from the postman.
Opening mail was a sort of ceremony with him, a pleasure, something to be done
slowly and deliberately, methodically, like a part of a ritual.
Getting his cigar going well, Mr. Fleed
extracted a sheet of paper from the envelope and spread it out. He read. A frown
appeared upon his brow, deepened, and he bent forward and read the missive once
For a moment he seemed like a man turned to
stone. The colour suddenly was drained from his face. Then it came rushing back,
until it seemed that Augustus Fleed was on the verge of apoplexy. His lips moved
and appeared to form words, but no sounds issued from them. His fat hands were
resting flat on the table before him, but the fingers were trembling.
Presently, and as though with an effort,
Augustus Fleed took a deep breath. He closed his eyes for a moment, as though
fighting to control emotions that sought to engulf his reason. Then he opened
his eyes again and sagged in his chair.
But this condition claimed him for only a
short space of time. He soon sat erect once more, and reached out and touched a
button. He raised his head and glanced around the room. It was a small room
adjoining what Mr. Fleed was pleased to call his library. It had the general
appearance of a magnificent office. He sat at a carved mahogany desk, in a
carved desk-chair to match. There was a filing case in one corner, a rack of
reference books, and a safe in the wall, with its face hidden by a piece of
Augustus Fleed reached out his hand as though
to press the button again, but he did not. For a door opened noiselessly, and
Marmaduke Sattley came into the room with a grace almost womanly, and a manner
both attentive and inquisitive.
“Sit down, Duke!” Fleed snapped. “You may not
be able to take it standing up.”
“Take what, sir?” Sattley asked, as he obeyed
the command to sit.
“Duke, the thing that I have dreaded for
years, the thing that I have most guarded against, has finally come to pass. I
have never felt really secure, but recently I had begun to hope that I’d never
be annoyed. We find ourselves faced with a real emergency, Duke!”
“Sir?” Sattley gasped.
“Something has to be done, something definite,
and at once, or we are wrecked!”
Marmaduke Sattley sat up straighter in his
chair, and his face paled.
“Are you trying to frighten me, sir? Are you
jesting?” he asked.
“I’d as soon jest of holy things as of this,
Duke,” Augustus Fleed replied. “Only a little sheet of paper with a few words
written on it—but it means everything evil to us!”
“What is it, sir?”
“Duke, we’ve been found out!”