CHAPTER XVII.—ROGUES IN
At the very moment when Quint and Somerset were gazing in fascinated as- tonishment at the face of Kent looking out of the public-house window, fate was taking a hand at the game only a few miles away. In his office in Fenchurch Street. Claw sat immersed in the contemplation of a mass of fig- ures which he had taken from his pri-
vate safe and was now puzzling over with a knitted brow and an almost
painful compression of his illicit lips. The big bald head was bowed down and the heavy crimson cheeks were not quite as florid as usual. If ever there was a man sore afraid it was John Claw at that moment. The mere con- templation of the figures before him caused him to start and tremble at every passing sound.
Outside in the Clerks' office there was every suggestion of bustle and prosperity. People came and went, but Claw had given strict orders that he was not to he interrupted for the next hour. He gazed almost hopelessly round the luxuriantly-furnished office he went back to his figures again. He felt half-inclined to lock the door, to deny himself to everybody, and when
the time for closing came slink off to his chambers and there seclude himself
from the world. But that was impos-
sible. There were people to see and
directions to be given before he could
turn his back upon the city and seek
the seclusion of his rooms.
The more Claw contemplated the fig- ures before him the worse did the sit- uation appear. He pushed the papers away from him presently with a hopeless gesture and lighted a cigarette.
"What a fool I ever was to touch
it," he murmured to himself. "I was doing well enough a few years ago up to the time when those people of New York asked me to take over Everard Geere's affairs. I ought to have waited a bit; I ought not to have launched out as I did. And what does all this mean, these big offices and this large staff of clerks? It means that I have to struggle every week-end to pay my men, and where the rent is coming from in a fortnight's time heaven only knows. And yet if I could tide over the next few months I am a made man. That invention of
Somerset 's alone means a huge for-
tune if I had only the capital to de- velop it. It would take time, of course, and it's time that is going to
beat me. I wonder if I could get hold of those securities of Geere's. I have had all the interest for the last
twelve months, but that is not suffi- cient. I want the securities to dis- pose of. And I wonder if I went
down to see him if he would give me a Power of Attorney to deal with all his stock. That's the only way I can see out of it. Or perhaps a neat little forgery. Yes—that's the idea,
and needs must when the devil drives."
These were the thoughts that were racing through Claw's brain as he sat at his desk smoking his cigarette and, gazing into vacancy. He had made up his mind now that nothing should stand between him and the fortune
that lay behind Somerset's wonderful invention and the more he thought of that forgery of Geere's signature the
better he liked the idea. Geere was utterly alone in the world—a man without friends or even acquaintances, and it was long odds that he would never find out the fraud so long as he received his interest regularly. It was the only way, too, out of a des- perate situation, for Claw was begin- ning to find other people were talking, and if once his credit in the city was shaken, then ruin indeed lay in front of him. It was just when he had come to this decision and had com-
menced to plot out the forgery in his
mind that a clerk came in with a
"Mr. Enderby downstairs to see
you, sir," he said.
''Tell him I can't see him," Claw
said. "Tell him to go to—I mean,
tell him I'm too busy to see anybody."
"But, sir," the clerk expostulated.
"Mr. Enderby says he must see you on the most important business. He says he has some information that can- not wait."
Claw looked up with a scowl. He was on the point of dismissing his
clerk abruptly when a sudden idea came to him. Perhaps Enderby had found out something in connection with the missing Kent, and just for the moment in the thick of his troubles Claw had forgotten Kent en-
tirely. If Enderby had got on the
track of the absconding man then it
might be as well to see Enderbv now.
"Show him up at once," he com-
manded. "And I am not to be in- terrupted till he is gone. If anybody else calls you had better tell them I am not in the office. I shall be too busy between now and closing time to see any clients."
A minute later Enderby came in. He passed the clerk with his usual arrogant assumption of superiority and contempt that so made him a marked man with all subordinates wherever he went, but directly the door was closed his mask dropped and the fear in his eyes was as marked
as that in Claw's.
"I had to come," he said huskily. "I put it off as long as possible, but now I can wait no longer."
The stronger man of the two looked at his companion under his brows with absolute contempt.
"The old story," he said. "Money, I suppose. Well, you've come to the wrong shop. You can't get blood from a stone, but if a ten pound note is any good to you——"
"Ten pound note," Enderby echoed furiously. "I suppose that is your idea of a joke. I want a. thousand, and I must have it by the middle of next week. I am giving you as much notice as possible because I know you are rather pushed yourself."
(To be Continued).