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The Adventurer
by [?]

Lionel Norwood, from his earliest days, had been marked out for a life of crime. When quite a child he was discovered by his nurse killing flies on the window-pane. This was before the character of the house-fly had become a matter of common talk among scientists, and Lionel (like all great men, a little before his time) had pleaded hygiene in vain. He was smacked hastily and bundled off to a preparatory school, where his aptitude for smuggling sweets would have lost him many a half-holiday had not his services been required at outside-left in the hockey eleven. With some difficulty he managed to pass into Eton, and three years later–with, one would imagine, still more difficulty–managed to get superannuated. At Cambridge he went down-hill rapidly. He would think nothing of smoking a cigar in academical costume, and on at least one occasion he drove a dogcart on Sunday. No wonder that he was requested, early in his second year, to give up his struggle with the Little-go and betake himself back to London.

London is always glad to welcome such people as Lionel Norwood. In no other city is it so simple for a man of easy conscience to earn a living by his wits. If Lionel ever had any scruples (which, after a perusal of the above account of his early days, it may be permitted one to doubt) they were removed by an accident to his solicitor, who was run over in the Argentine on the very day that he arrived there with what was left of Lionel’s money. Reduced suddenly to poverty, Norwood had no choice but to enter upon a life of crime.

Except, perhaps, that he used slightly less hair-oil than most, he seemed just the ordinary man about town as he sat in his dressing-gown one fine summer morning and smoked a cigarette. His rooms were furnished quietly and in the best of taste. No signs of his nefarious profession showed themselves to the casual visitor. The appealing letters from the Princess whom he was blackmailing, the wire apparatus which shot the two of spades down his sleeve during the coon-can nights at the club, the thimble and pea with which he had performed the three-card trick so successfully at Epsom last week–all these were hidden away from the common gaze. It was a young gentleman of fashion who lounged in his chair and toyed with a priceless straight-cut.

There was a tap at the door, and Masters, his confidential valet, came in.

“Well,” said Lionel, “have you looked through the post?”

“Yes, sir,” said the man. “There’s the usual cheque from Her Highness, a request for more time from the lady in Tite Street with twopence to pay on the envelope, and banknotes from the Professor as expected. The young gentleman of Hill Street has gone abroad suddenly, sir.”

“Ah!” said Lionel, with a sudden frown. “I suppose you’d better cross him off our list, Masters.”

“Yes, sir. I had ventured to do so, sir. I think that’s all, except that Mr. Snooks is glad to accept your kind invitation to dinner and bridge to-night. Will you wear the hair-spring coat, sir, or the metal clip?”

Lionel made no answer. He sat plunged in thought. When he spoke it was about another matter.

“Masters,” he said, “I have found out Lord Fairlie’s secret at last. I shall go to see him this afternoon.”

“Yes, sir. Will you wear your revolver, sir, as it’s a first call?”

“I think so. If this comes off, Masters, it will make our fortune.”

“I hope so, I’m sure, sir.” Masters placed the whisky within reach and left the room silently.

Alone, Lionel picked up his paper and turned to the Agony Column.

As everybody knows, the Agony Column of a daily paper is not actually so domestic as it seems. When “Mother” apparently says to “Floss,” “Come home at once. Father gone away for week. Bert and Sid longing to see you,” what is really happening is that Barney Hoker is telling Jud Batson to meet him outside the Duke of Westminster’s little place at 3 a.m. precisely on Tuesday morning, not forgetting to bring his jemmy and a dark lantern with him. And Floss’s announcement next day, “Coming home with George,” is Jud’s way of saying that he will turn up all right, and half thinks of bringing his automatic pistol with him too, in case of accidents.