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CHAPTER X. Held for Ransom. Goulburn^s first instinct on awaking was to spring to his feet and confront tjie two men who had entered the room during his sleep. He had slept much more heavily than was lighal with'him, and he felt dazècl and confused, but he quickly recognised in one of the men the in- dividual who had led him into captivity.. And it was with considerable indignation that he faced this person and put a direct question to him- Why have 1 been detained against my will in this room ?" The man addressed regarded Goulburn with a cold stare of absolute indifference. He might have been a prison warder to "vhom aconvicted criminal was no more that a number. After staring at Goulburn for a few seconds, he spoke, and his voice was as cold as his eyes. Put on your vest and coat and follow us." he said in tones which implied the necessity of entire obedience. I should like to know by what right you order me to do anything!" exclaimed Goulburn angrily. 1 demand my instant release from this place." The man shrugged his shoulders and glanced significantly at his comnion. Goulburn's eves following that glance, rested upon another man of equal size. and presumably of equal strength to the first. Certainly, if the object of whoever it was that was directing all these strange things was to awe him by a display of force majeure, tbese two were well chosen for the purpose. Each was over six feet in height and of strong muscular build each had cruel, im- placable eyes each had the mouth and chin of the mere brute. Put on your vest and coat and follow us," commanded the first ma.n again. Goulburn realised that opposition to such superior forces was useless. He put on his clothes, fuming at the necessity. This is an outrage he said. And you shall pay for it." The second man smiled a little the first man's grim countenance neverv relaxed. He looked as if he bad never smiled in his life. Just as immovable as when Goulburn first saw Inn standing 2t the foot of the bed. he remained with folded arms, watching his prisoner as the latter re-assumed his garments. His lips, once closed in a straight, hard line, looked as if they would never open again. Now follow me," this man commanded, as soon as he saw that. Goulburn was ready. He moved out or the room, and Goulburn fol- lowed him, raging in mind and heart at his own powerlessness to resist; these indignities. The second man came after Goulburn at a pace's distance-he closed the doors behind them as 1he-v- left the cell and its ante-room. Traversing first one corridor and then an- other, all as silent as when he had first fol- lowed his guide from the waiting-room to his prison. Goulburn felt as if he were indeed in some modern Bastille, from whence there was no hope of escape. The dogged silence of his guard was not less horrible than the silence of the house; there was something sinister and threatening in it. Once more he thought of the awful effect this atmosphere of silence, and this mystery of surroundings would have on Moira and Maisie. The man who walked in front opened a door at the end of a narrow corridor, and revealed an elevator. He addressed Goulburn in the manner and tone of a drill sergeant. Step in Goulburn stepped in the two men followed. The lift sank. Twice it passed other doors— the house, then, must be of some height. Or— since on his first entrance he had only ascended one flight of stairs from the hall—were they sinking into the basement ? The lift stopped the men got out. gain they placed Goulburn between them and set off along a corridor, carpeted as softly as those which he had traversed in the upper storeys. Coming to a door which Goulburn (who had been endeavouring to keep an accurate remem- brance of the geography of the place in his head) noted as being on the left hand side of the corridor, they entered an apartment which, from its arrangement and furniture, seemed to be intended for use as a board-room. There was a table across the top end of this room, and along its further side were arranged three chairs, while chairs were set at either end. The aide nearest the door bad not chairs, but in the middle of the floor-space an arm-chair had been set as if in readiness for some one expected. As for the rest of the room. it was gloomy and sombre panelled in dark wood from floor to ceiling, it was lighted by a single electric lamp. a.nd there was neither picture nor ornament on the walls. But above the middle chair of the three which were ranged on the further side of the table there hung on the wall a black ban- » ner, whereon was embroidered the unmistak- able sign of the pirate from time immemorial —a skull and cross bones. It gave Goulburn no surprise to see Dr. Van Mildart sitting beneath this suggestive emblem; he had felt sure for many weary hours that his neighbour of Harfey-street was at the bottom of this unheard-of outrage upon the liberty of innocent people. When he entered with his escort the doctor was writing, and did not im- mediately look up Goulburn. directed by the men at his side to advance to the easy chair, looked narrowly at the other occupants of the chairs beyond the table, svonderingif he should recognise them. However, they were not known to him, nor could he gain much impression of them from their appearance. One, sitting on Van Mildart's left band, was an oldish man with a patriarchal beard, now almost white the other on his right was a clean-shaven indi- vidual, rather portly, and presumably of bland manners, who wore pince-nez, had his hair parted in the middle, and might have-been any- thing from a stock broker to a company solicitor. Goulburn's principal guard pointed him to the easy chair, and again spoke to him after the drill-sergeant fashion. Be seated The presence of other men seemed to com- municate fresh courage to Goulburn—he gave bis jailor a defiant glance, and plied sharply I shall do no such thing And folding his arms across his chest, he stood in front of the chair, staring at the three men at the table, and waiting until it pleased Van Mildart to look up from his writing. That gentleman, however, appeared to be quite en- grossed in what he was doing just then, and when at last he finished his task it was only to enter into consultation with his colleagues on either hand who bent forward to examine the document which had occupied his attention. Finally, all three appended their signatures to this document, Van Mildart last of all, and this done he placed it in a despatch box at'his side, and for the first time bent his gaze upon Goul- burn, who was regarding him with an expres- sion of angry indignation. Well, Mr Goulburn," he said, with the same easy, careless manner, which Goulburn knew eo well and now loathed. so there you are. I hope you have been well looked after, and have had vour pr. meals Let me advise you to be seated-<e may find it necessary to have a lengthy talk with you." I refuse to be seated Dr. Van Mildart," Goulburn replied.* "I refuse to be coerced. I wish to know why I and my sister have been entrapped into this house, and imprisoned here, and I demand our liberty. This is a vile out- rage, and you will suffer for it." My dear sir," replied Van Mildart, don't be too hasty to prophesy evil. You wish to know why you ars there. Because we will that you shall be there. Because we will that you shall do our pleasure. Because we are more powerful than you. Because you are in our power." Whenever he said we he turned right and left to his colleagues, who bowed their heads in assent. Each watched Goulburn c uriously, as the morbidly inquisitive watch a prisoner in the dock. You may have the power to do me an í jury, because you have trapped me," said Gonl- burn. "But you know exactly that you can only do that by using felonious means. You are a scoundrel, Dr. Van Mildart." I quite believe tha^you think so, Mr Goul- burn. Opinions differ on various matters. A rat no doubt thinks that the man who entraps it is a scoundrel. Yet a rat is not half such dangerous vermin as you and the like of you," said Van Mildart. with a perceptible sneer. That," said Goulburn, is a remark which I do not understand. Tell me plainly why I am here, and who are my captors ?" Certainly," answered Van Mildart. There is no necessity for concealment. You are in the presence, Mr Goulburn, of the supreme executive (that is to say, the president and the two vice-presidents) of a certain society, small in numbers, but eminently powerful in its work, which, is greatly concerned with the doings of persons who, like yourself, have much more money than they ought to have. Why you are here is, I suppose, made clear to you by that; You must pay ransom." In other words," said Goulburn, I am in the hands of a gang of unscrupulous scoundrels who mean to rob me 1" Use what terms you please, my dear sir— they made no difference to us," replied Van Mildart, with careless contempt. We are not much concerned with words—hard facts and hard cash are much more in our line. I will be explicit with you. We are, as I have said, a small but tremendously powerful society, banded together for the express purpose of extracting as much money as possible from the pockets of those who have what we con- sider a superfluity. We have been in existence three years, with branches in London, Paris, and New York, and we have done very well— so well, indeed, that when we have effected our little coup with you we intend to dissolve partnership. We You are, in fact, a gang of professional Sieves and swindlers interrupted Goulburn. I daresay people who think as you do would call us so." replied Van Mi1 dart, calmly. The same terms are applied by Socialists to aristocrats and plutocrats. After all, it is a mere question of what one means by the use of certain words." .C You will get nothing out of me." said Goulburn. There vou are wrong, because we shall: You are in our power—absolutely in our power. Yur are as securely immured in these walls as if you were in the deepest dungeons of a mediaeval castle, or in the cell in which Von Trenck spent the best part of his life, or within an iron cage on Devils Island, with natives on I land and sharks in the sea to act as jailers even if you got out of the cage. Understand me he concluded in a menacing tone. You are in our poweer! Power Goulburn felt his heart turn sick. He tried, remembering all there was at stake, to main- tain his composure and show a brave front. Do you mean to tell me," he said, that here in Enghmd-in the very lic-art of London- you can kidnap me in this way and hold me prisoner for an indefinite period ? The thing's impossible—absurd You'll have all Scotland Yard about your ears when we're missed." Dr. Van Mildart elevated his Vandyke beard his colleagues smiled openly. That is amusing—but silly," said Van Mil- dart. It is precisely what will not happen. I repeat—you are in our absolute power. We can imprison you here as long as we like- much longer than you would like—and no one in this world would ever know. We can starve you. We can flog you. We can inoculate you with the germs of frightful diseases. If we please we can kill you. Nobody will ever be the wiser. I say again—you are in our power. And "—here his voice took on a more significant meaning and a tone which made Goulburn shudder, though he strove to conceal it-" we have not only got you, but we have got your sister, your sweetheart, and Mr Christopher Aspinall." Goulburn started at the mention of Christo- pher. He had been indulging in wild hopes that Christopher might do something to help when he found them missing under such strange circumstances. Aspinall he exclaimed. He has no money." No," replied^ Van Mildart, but he has a tongue. And so we deemed it wise to attach his person. Now, Mr Goulburn," he con- tinued after a brief pause, just let me give you a piecc of sound advice if you don't want pain to fall on those you care for. If you won't hear common sense we must try physical suasion. We should begin with the women first, and-- You are a devil!" said Goulburn, with concentrated fury. Put on your coat and vest and follow us," said one of the men. We will not quarrel about words. But we should certainly begin first with the women. You see how helpless you are—it's all very well to gnash your teeth, clench your fists, and make lightning with your eyes, but you can't do anything. Every member of our society is a picked man or woman—we are all, I may tell you, ex-convicts of one country or another,and all adepts in our particular forms of art. One of us acted as coachman this morning; another as footman of our general calibre and dispo- sition you may judge by the two gentlemen who guard you. I ask you-what can you do ? Who knows where you are ? Not a soul in this world—outside these walls. Do what is asked of you and you shall have your freedom-if not, then you must prepare for unpleasant things- very unpleasant things," concluded Van Mil- dart, with fresh significance of tone. If I agreed to whatever it is you propose," said Goulburn, you know that I should de- nounce you to the police." Van Mildart shrugged his shoulders. Even when you have done what we wish," he said, you would not have the opportunity of denouncing us to the police until we were every one of us safely beyond their reach. We are not fools, and our plans arc always care- fully worked out." The man with the white beard leaned across to Van Mildart and spoke a few words which Goulburn could not catch. Van Mildart nodded, and turned to the prisoner. V My colleague on the left," he said, thinks that we arc* wasting time, and that you are displaying a lamentable want of mental intelli- gence in not appreciating the situation, and he suggests that we should stimulate your facul- ties by an experiment or two on, say, your sister." Your colleague is a worse devil than your- self," said Goulburn, boldly, and will no doubt meet with his just deserts before very- long. seeing that he is a hoary old scoundrel already." There you are wrong," said Van Mildart, pleasantly. He is almost a young man, and got his white hairs through confinement in an underground dungeon in a European prison. But come-your answer. You have not yet told me what you want," said Goulburn. Ah, I believe you are right-I beg your pardon. I told you we wanted money, but I did not say how much," said Van Mildart. Now let me see-I will just go into that little matter." As he spoke he drew a sheet ot paper and a pencil to him and began to jot down figures. Presently he raised his head, and looked at Goulburn with something of a smile. After all," he said, I think we can afford to let you off very easily, Mr Goulburn. In fact, considering that quite a short time ago you were a mere nobody with no prospects, content—or perhaps not content, but obliged to be satisfied-with a small weekly wage, and that your sister was a governess, not too well paid, I think we shall treat you handsomely. As for my niece- Behind them hung a black banner, with skull and crossbpnes. J -— J -— r • You would help to rob your own niece exclaimed Goulburn. With all the greater pleasure because he father once robbed twe," replied Van Mildart. As for my niece, I say, she is in another cate- gory, having lived in luxury aU her life. She, if things were levelled up, ought to scrub floors for the rest of her natural life. However, we shall lump all together." He took up the piece of paper on which he bad been scribbling, and began to tell off the figures vith the tip of his pencil. Now, you, Mr Goulburn," he said. "are worth considerablyover hal f a million of English money. I have a fairly accurate idea of what you have spent since you came into your for- tune, and I should say that what you really can command at this present moment is about £ 530.000. I have put you down for that. Now we come to your sister. I happen to know ex- actly what she has, because she is very sub- ject to hypnotic influence, and- I believe it was you who got that thousand pounds in gold I" burst out Goulburn, indig- nantly. Quite right—it was," answered Van Mildart imperturbable as ever. I happened to need gold just then. Well, she can command £ 260,000 in round figures-I put her down for that." He paused and tapped the paper with his pencil for a moment before going on. Well," he said at last, my niece possesses alo.000 in English money. Most of it was made by cheating, sweating, and stealing on the part of her father, my late brother-in-law. Some of it belongs to me most of it, if everybody had his own, to poor folk whom he hurried into their graves in his effort to get rich quick. I do not think we shall leave my niece any- thing." If you had your wav-which you won't have said Goulburn, I don't suppose you'd leave any of us a single penny On the contrary, my dear sir," replied Van Mildart, we propose to deal very hand- somely by you—that is, if you are amenable to our commands. You and your sister have in your time worked for your living, and we think, being workers ourselves, that you have a right to your reward. You shall have enough to live on in comfort, but not in foolish luxury. \Ve object to millionaires or semi- millionaires. As for my niece, she deserves nothing, because she has never earned her bread in her life. However, I supose you will marry her, so she will not starve." Will you be good enough to drop these re- marks and put a definite issue before me?" said Goulburn. With pleasure. It is merely a question of fixing your respective ransoms—or, rather, we will lump them all together. The total wealth you, your sister, and my neice can command (irrespective' of your house, Mr Goulburn, a nice thing in itself( amounts to £1,60:),0::>0. We fix your ransom at one million three hundred thousand pounds—that will leave you and your sister one hundred and fifty thousand each. That is really handsome on our pirt. A hun- dred and fifty thousand each !—why, you'll easil) get your six or seven thousand a year out of that." And what, pray, is Mr Aspinall's ransom ?" inquired Goulburn, sarcastically. You ap- pear to have forgotten him." Not at all—not at all. We fix Mr As- pinall's ransom at nothing. He is free to go— when you go," answered Van Miklart. And supposing we decline to submit!" said GouJburn, In that case," replied Van Mildart in the politest manner, but with a deadly positive- ness that made his prisoner's heart throb, we shall be under the painful necessity of obliging you to submit. And as I have previouly re- marked we shall begin with the women first. You would not, T am sure, subject them to such pressure as we can bring to bear upon them—it would not be pleasant for them, Mr Goulburn." Goulburn kept silence, striving to resist the temptation to leap upon Van Mildart and throttle him. I think," he said," that I ought to have the opportunity of consulting with my fellow- prisoners before I give a definite answer to this proposal." The man with the white beard made an im- patient movement; Van Mildart shook his head ominously. Mr Goulburn." he said, it is not for the cohquered to make terms with the conqueror. Whatever you ask of us must be asked as a favour." "You regard us as conquered already, then ?" said Goulburn. Precisely, because you are at our mercy. What we have delivered to you is our ultima- tum. We want one million three hundred thousand pounds from you, your sister, and my niece." said Van Mildart, smacking the blotting pad which lay before him, and what is more, we shall have it." I cannot make my sister or your neice pay the money you demand of them," said Goul- burn. o," said Van Mildart, possibly you can- not. But we can." The last three words were said with such dreadful meaning, were so .pregnant with evil intention that Goulburn now realised that no temporising, no putting off, would do aught to soften these men or change their design. He began tn wonder if he and his companions in this perilous adventure were not the victims of madmen, whose various dire misfortunes had changed from men to fiends. Surely no men in possession of their faculties could be so barbarously cruel as the three sitting before him threatened to be. Let me speak to the others." he said again. That. at any rate is a reasonable thing to ask." Van Mildart and his two associates put their heads together and spoke in whispers. Tt seemed to Goulburn, who tehed them eagerly, that Van Mildart was favourably dis- posed to letting the prisoners see 'each other, but that the other two were not. Each shook his head and frowned malevolently the white- bearded man seemed to. insist on some point with great vigour. At last Van Mildart turned to Goulburn. We are of opinion that your re- quest cannot be granted," he said. I may as well tell you that we have had both your sister and my neice before us, and have delivered to them the ultimatum which we have delivered to you. They are therefore acquainted with our terms." And what was their answer ?" asked Goul- burn. Van Mildart shrugged his shoulders a elevated his eyebrows. • Women can be very obstinate," he said. I regret, for their sakes, that they are at present inclined to resist our demands." Then so am I," exclaimed Goulburn. I refuse entirely to be robbed by you. Do your worst. You can only kill us." Van Miidait sighed. Very weir," he said. However we will try a little persuasion first." He looked at the two men who stood on either side of Goulburn. Put each of the four prisoners on the twenty- four hours' torture System." he commanded. We will see at the end of that time if they are not more amenable to reason." (To be continued.)

Britain's Peril. ..




There's Many a Slip. ..

A Narrow Escape. .




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