IF PETER HAMES had not chanced to remove his hat and deposit it upon the table devoted to the use of clients and callers in Martin's Bank, it is probable that the mystery of the great robbery which was one of the most dramatic shocks the Principality of Monaco had experienced for many years would have gone unsolved. As it was, Hames, standing bareheaded before one of the blackboards upon which were chalked quotations from the money market of the previous day, had somewhat the air of an official. He found himself courteously accosted by a young man who was a complete stranger to him.
"Can you tell me where I should be likely to find Mr. Pontifex, the manager?" the latter inquired. "I should be glad to see him for a few minutes if possible."
Peter Hames turned to inspect his questioner—a fair, thin young man, with flaxen hair, curiously sandy complexion, and wearing a rimless monocle. He was correctly dressed in Riviera flannels. His tone was pleasantly modulated, and his speech itself rendered almost intriguing by a slight stutter.
"I haven't seen Pontifex for the last quarter of an hour," Peter Hames replied, "but I fancy he is in his room there. I am not an official of the bank," he explained, as he noticed the young man's hesitation, "but they don't stand on ceremony here."
"Thanks very much," was the amiable rejoinder. "Sorry I made a mistake. Do they close here punctually, do you know?"
"On the stroke. But if you're here they don't throw you out into the street. All the same," Peter Hames added, glancing at the clock, "if you want to see Pontifex, you had better look him up now. It's five minutes to twelve."
The young man nodded. He turned away, knocked at the door of the private office, and was evidently bidden to enter, for he opened it and disappeared, closing it behind him. Peter Hames remained staring after him, a slight frown upon his face. The stranger had somehow or other created a very curious impression. Hames had the feeling that he had been talking to a dummy. He had an idea that the flaxen hair was false, that the eyeglass and stutter were the eccentricities of an amateur actor, the complexion unnatural, the easy manners a pose.
It was an idea at which he found himself laughing a moment later. There was nothing definite to justify this queer fancy. The young man, except for his vivid flaxen hair, was, in fact, almost quite as much of a type in his way as the red- cheeked, bustling millionaire yacht owner, Sir Richard Branksome, who had just come hurrying in.
"Bless my soul, Peter, I've run it fine, haven't I?" the latter exclaimed, as he drew out a capacious pocket-book, and laid a satchel upon the table. "I'm going to touch 'em for a bit this morning, too."
We hear you're off on Saturday," Peter Hames observed.
"Off to Athens and Constantinople," Sir Richard assented. "Afterward to Port Sudan and overland to Khartoum. If you want any money out of this old bank, you'd better get it quick. I'm going to suck 'em dry. I don't trust these Eastern banks. I like a full money chest. What do you think of that, eh?"
He held out two checks. Peter Hames whistled. One was for a million francs: the other for ten thousand pounds.
"You don't suppose they'll have that ready for you?" he demanded.
Sir Richard smiled.
"I gave them a week's notice," he confided. "I'll go and collect. Wait for me, and we'll go and have a cocktail."
Sir Richard turned toward one of the paying grilles. Peter Hames lit a cigarette and, seated on the edge of one of the writing-tables, awaited his friend's return. He glanced with indifferent curiosity around the place from which very nearly all the clients had now departed, except for a man at the next table supporting his head in his hands and apparently worrying over a letter.
A fussy old lady hurried toward the exit, which she barely reached before the clock struck twelve. Almost at the first chime, Mr. Urquart, the genial sub- manager of the bank, came hurrying forward to meet his distinguished client, Sir Richard, with a great pile of notes in his hand. He changed then from his right to his left to offer the customary greeting to his client.
Precisely at that moment several things happened. The man who had been seated at the writing-table, with his head bent forward, suddenly sprang to his feet, disclosing the fact that he was wearing a small black silk mask. A swing of his right arm, and a dig in the back, which Urquart, who was an old football player, recognized, and the latter lay gazing at the ceiling with both hands empty. The stranger, who appeared to be a man of average build, but light- footed, and wearing tennis shoes, gave one spring to the lift, flung out the gasping attendant, snatched his keys and rattled down below.
Peter Hames and Sir Richard simultaneously leaped forward, but before they were through the swing-gates, the lift had gone to its resting place, the emergency door leading into the street under the main entrance had been opened, and the stranger had disappeared. They tore down the steps and tried the front door, only to find it locked. They rushed up the stairs again into the bank.
"Pontifex has a key," Urquart, who was crawling across the floor, doubled up with agony, called out. "Get down the private way."
Sir Richard made a dash toward the private office. Peter Hames, instead, strode over to one of the long windows, flung it open, and leaned out. Along the Boulevard des Moulins there was only one car to be seen which could possibly be connected with the robbery—a small two-seater, racing around the corner. In it were seated two men, indistinguishable at such a distance. Peter Hames turned away to find Sir Richard pummeling at the panels of the office door with one hand, and trying the handle with the other.
"Door locked on the inside," he shouted.
Three cashiers, having got over their first bewilderment, now came into action. One of them assisted Urquart to his feet; another disappeared into the back regions, made his way by a circuitous route into the private office and, without waiting even to look around him, unlocked and threw open the door. Seated in his chair, with a vicious-looking gag in his mouth, his arms bound together and his legs tied to the desk, was Pontifex, the manager, pale and exhausted with his struggles. Opposite him was the safe with the door open.
Peter Hames wasted no time in demanding useless explanations. He dashed to the door which led to Pontifex's private house. Here again, however, there was a check. It was fastened on the farther side. Urquart, who, supported by the other two clerks, had been dragged in, drew from his pocket a key, and flung it across.
"I know the way they went," Peter Hames declared, stooping to pick it up. "Telephone the police, and tell them to make for the frontier."
He tore down the stairs, pushing to one side an astonished parlor maid, and heedless of the cries of Mrs. Pontifex from the other staircase. A moment later he was out in the street, and in his two-seater.
Peter Hames drove straight through to Mentone, and up the hill to the customs. A civil official detained him scarcely a moment but as he reached the French passport office, he saw a car crawling away. He shouted madly, but ineffectually. The two men—both dressed in linen dusters, motoring caps and glasses—looked around nervously. They drove their car to the side of the road, and climbed into a huge touring car with a long hood which was drawn up in the shade of some trees. In less than a minute they were out of sight.
Here perhaps was where Peter Hames failed. In rapid French he essayed to explain the situation, but he made little progress, the law was the law and no person without a passport could cross the frontier. A message was sent to the Italian side. The same reply was received.
For half an hour, Peter Hames stormed and argued. At the end of that time, a carload of gendarmes came tearing up behind him and the way to Italy was free. Peter Hames, however, made no attempt now to follow the chase. He drove back to Monte Carlo.
He motored straight to the Royalty bar and found pandemonium. The principal and most popular bank in the principality robbed in daylight by two men, one of whom never even appeared upon the scene! The sheer artistry of the thing was thrilling. The lift-man was in the hospital, but his his injuries were only superficial. Mr. Pontifex had an exceedingly sore jaw, and was reported to be locked in a private room of his house with the Commissaire of Police and his doctor. His coadjutor, Urquart, however, formed the center of one of the little parties, perfectly willing to demonstrate to anyone the particular artifice of jujitsu by which he had been thrown.
Peter Hames was seized upon immediately on his entrance. He was bustled to a chair and surrounded by a curious group it inquirers.
"There is very little I have to tell you," he confided. "I got a line on the fellows, or I thought I did, because I rushed to the window and saw a car with two men in it, who looked to me to be likely birds, racing down the Boulevard. I guessed they were off to the frontier, so directly I got clear I followed them.
"When I arrived there, I was held up, as of course I hadn't a passport with me. They had just slipped through. I saw them drive away, in fact, on the Italian side, jump into a huge car which was waiting for them, and disappear round the bend. The gendarmes came up half an hour too late. If they've ordinary luck and telephone to all stations ahead, they ought to pick them up."
"What were they like?" someone asked eagerly.
"One of them might have been the man who threw Urquart," Peter Hames reported, a little doubtfully. "The other I couldn't even catch a glimpse of. He was a smaller man, and he seemed the more terrified of the two. I say, let me ask a question now. What did the young man who got into Pontifex's office clear up?"
"Half a million dollars' worth of American negotiable bonds," was the portentous response.
"Any other news from this end?" Peter Hames inquired.
"How could there be?" one of the party rejoined. "You saw the last of the robbers trekking through Italy."
"If they were the robbers," Peter Hames meditated.
Sir Richard came stalking across the little square of garden. His complexion was more rubicund than ever.
"So there you are, young fellow!" he greeted Hames. "Where's my money?"
"No luck," was the regretful reply. "I caught up with the two men I was after, though. I watched them drive off, but I was on the wrong side of the frontier."
Sir Richard lilted his hat and wiped the perspiration from his forehead.
"Gad!" he exclaimed. "That was a close shave! Do you realize, you fellows, that if Urquart hadn't stopped to shake hands with me, those notes would have been in my possession, and then I should have been the loser—a million francs and ten thousand pounds!"
IT WAS Sybil Christian who handed Peter Hames his cocktail that night in the strange bourgeois little restaurant at the end of the shabby street.
"After your strenuous day," she said, "you deserve even better food than they can offer you here. Still, they have done their best."
"Food is a good thing," he replied, "but more than anything else in the world I was looking forward to seeing you again."
"Don't begin by disappointing me," she begged. "We are above that—you and I. We have our one consuming hobby which we happen to share, and which is more interesting than any sort of philandering folly."
"I am no philanderer," he declared indignantly.
"Don't you often pose as one?" she rejoined. "Now be serious. Tell me—as man to woman—why did you turn back from the frontier and abandon the chase?"
His expression was one of blank bewilderment.
"What else could I do?" he demanded. "I have more respect for the Italians than I had. I do not think that any single man could bluff or fight his way across that frontier. They address you with loaded rifles, those carabinieri. I have no fancy for being on the wrong side of an argument with a man who carries a loaded gun."
"So you watched the prey escape," she reflected. "You could think of no arguments, no words, to melt those uniformed officials? You stood like a good little boy, obeyed orders and watched the criminals drive off to safety."
"I am not of the police," he reminded her. "The affair was not mine. The gendarme arrived even while I was there. It was for them to beg or fight their way through. They could learn the truth as easily as I."
"Good fish, this," she remarked, sampling her salmon trout.
"Excellent," he agreed.
"With it," she confided, "I have ordered a half bottle of this hock. Try it. I believe it is good. The champagne is to follow."
"I admire your taste," he applauded. "Liebfraumilch '21—you have given me of the best. Let us talk of food and wine. No fish, for instance, has such curious habits as the salmon."
"Thank you," she said coldly, "I did not order you an expensive dinner to discuss the habits of a fish. I wish to talk about the robbery."
"You could scarcely choose," he told her, "a more fascinating subject. Notwithstanding what you seem to consider my cowardice at the frontier, the affair, on the side of the criminals, at any rate, was a triumph in technique. A bank robbery without a shot fired, no roistering villains, no pale-faced thugs shooting holes into defenseless citizens. A huge effort at humor, that is what it might have seemed, with Sir Richard chuckling himself into an apoplectic fit because by a matter of two seconds the bank lost the money, and not he. That vision, too, of Pontifex tied to a chair, and Urquart kicking his heels upon the floor. Monte Carlo, when it has got over the shock, will laugh at this for years."
"I am a woman, and I am deficient in a sense of humor," she declared. "My mind is still engrossed with the details of this amazing outrage. Now tell me what was your honest opinion of the young man who you directed to Mr. Pontifex's room?"
He was a little taken aback. It was a matter to which he had already given considerable thought.
"How did you know I did that?" he demanded. "You weren't there."
"When anything happens in Monte Carlo," she explained calmly, "I am always there."
"Are you ambitious," he asked, "to bring to justice the plunderers of Martin's Bank?"
"I think it ought to be done," she acknowledged, "and you seem—pardon me—a little lukewarm in the matter."
"Lukewarm?" he remonstrated. "I was the first to see them in the car, and realize that they were off to the frontier. If I had happened to have my passport in my pocket, I should probably have caught them. When the gendarmes arrived the matter naturally rested with them."
"The Commissaire is a friend of yours, isn't he?" she asked, a little abruptly.
"I know him."
"Will you do something for me?"
"I will do anything in the world for the hostess who has provided me with such a dinner," he assented.
"Please go to the telephone, ring up headquarters and ask if any arrest has been made."
Peter Hames rose to his feet at once, executed his commission, and returned almost immediately.
"No arrest has been made," he reported, "but the Italian and French police are both watching two men at San Remo."
Her face remained inscrutable, but he fancied that her lips twitched as though with the desire to smile.
"I suppose," she reflected, "that there is no doubt that those two men who escaped across the frontier were the robbers?"
"Ah!" he murmured. "I wonder!"
She showed signs of irritation.
"Do you know, I believe that you're bluffing me all the time," she declared. "I believe that you were only bluffing when you followed those two men. You have something else in your mind."
Peter Hames closed the matter.
"Miss Sybil Christian," he said firmly, "you are making a mistake. As a sleuth hound, I am entirely at fault. I don't know which way to turn. I will confess that I have lost a little faith In those two men who crossed the frontier. They were lacking in finesse for artists who had brought off so wonderful a coup. Nevertheless, I don't know where else to look for the criminals."
"Why are you so resplendent tonight?" she asked, looking across at his spotless white waistcoat, with onyx buttons matching his links. "Was this all in honor of a poor little incognito at a Beausoleil restaurant?"
"Not entirely. There's old Branksome's farewell dance tonight, you know, on the yacht."
"I had no Idea that you were such a frivolous person," she observed.
"I don't go to dances if I can help it," he admitted. "I have known old Branksome for a long time, though."
She called for the bill, waving aside his protestations.
"Glad you reminded me about the dance," she said. "I must go back and change."
"You're not going?" he exclaimed. "You told me you went nowhere."
"I'm like you—one has to make exceptions," she rejoined. "Sir Richard has been very kind to a brother of mine who is delicate. He is in charge of the wireless on board."
"Couldn't I take you then?" he suggested.
"I am going with a party," she explained.
"I am to be allowed to dance with you, I hope?" he ventured.
She remained silent for several moments. He felt an impulse almost of anger. She saw his expression cloud over, and patted the back of his hand as she rose to her feet.
"Leave this to me," she begged. "Don't be offended if I seem to have no manners."
"YOUNG Christian?" Sir Richard repeated, as he shook hands with his early guest. "Yes, he's my Marconi man. A very decent fellow, but delicate. Crazy on his job. He's been tinkering with his instruments all day, but I think he's about now. Got a sister coming tonight with Lady Fakenham's party. Excuse me, old chap."
"No news, I suppose?" Hames inquired of his departing host.
"They're sitting round 'em all right," Sir Richard called back. "Somewhere between Bordighera and San Remo."
Peter Hames strolled on to the dancing deck, and did his duty for half an hour. Afterward he mounted the ladder, and tapped at the door of the Marconi room. A young man, pale, but of pleasant appearance, admitted him.
"Your name Christian?" the visitor greeted him.
The other nodded. He had evidently been in the act of completing his toilette.
"I know your sister slightly," Hames explained. "Thought I'd look you up. Aren't you coming down to dance?"
"Afraid I'll have to," the young man admitted. "Sybil's turning up presently, and some other people I know. Mind waiting while I tie my tie?"
Peter Hames subsided into a chair. He glanced curiously at the titles of the books on the shelf by his side, and with even greater curiosity at a college photograph upon the wall. A pair of huge dumb-bells upon the dressing- table also attracted his attention.
"You've had a busy day, I hear, tinkering with your Installation," he remarked. "I suppose you like your job?"
"The only thing I'm fit for. I have to live at sea, and I was always fond of this sort of thing anyway."
"How long is Sir Richard going to keep this show going tonight?" Peter Hames asked.
"Lights out at one o'clock," was the cheerful reply. We shall just have time for an hour at the Sporting Club. I'm ready now, if you are," he added, slipping on his coat.
They descended together and exchanged amenities in the bar. Afterward, Peter Hames turned toward the gangway.
"You're not going!" his companion exclaimed.
"Only for half an hour. We'll go up to the Sporting Club together later, if you like "
"Right-o," the young man assented.
Peter Hames, an hour or so later, felt a light touch upon his shoulder. One of the yacht's officers, who was acting as master of ceremonies, addressed him.
"If you happen to be free for a few minutes sir," he said, "a young lady over there, Miss Christian, would like to have you presented to her."
Peter Hames swung along the deck by the side of his companion. He felt himself unreasonably exhilarated. For hours he had been nursing a secret resentment, which disappeared finally as she rose to dance with him.
"Were you surprised?" she asked.
"I was going away in a few minutes feeling very hurt," he told her.
"You shouldn't have felt like that," she remonstrated. "You must know that there were reasons. Even now that you are acquainted with Miss Sybil Christian, that very improper young woman of Beausoleil is and must remain a stranger to you."
"You might have trusted me," he complained.
"I shall and I do," she replied. "What a relief to have spent even a few seconds with someone who hasn't told me that the bank has offered a thousand pounds reward for the return of their money."
"You can't exactly blame the chatterboxes," he observed. "As a matter of fact, though, I hadn't heard about the reward."
"You're still interested in the affair, though?"
"Yes, aren't you?" he rejoined.
There had been a momentary pause in the music. It recommenced, and they danced in silence. She walked with him into the saloon afterward, and they drank a glass of champagne.
"What was it you asked me," she reflected, "just before we began to dance again? Oh, I remember—whether I wasn't interested in the bank robbery. Of course I am. Have you any fresh theories?"
"There doesn't seem room for any, does there?" he answered, a little evasively. "One hears that the two men are run to earth in Italy and will be arrested directly the necessary authority comes along."
"You are hopelessly out of date," she told him. "The two men at San Remo have been questioned, and were easily able to prove that they had nothing whatever to do with the affair. The gendarmes returned this afternoon."
"Then they will have to begin all over again," he remarked. "How they must curse me for having led them off on a false scent!"
A partner found her out and claimed a dance. She rose to her feet reluctantly.
"Are you going to join in the hunt again?" she asked.
"Perhaps a partnership?" he suggested.
She shook her head.
"I am like you," she said. "I prefer to work alone."
A sudden change took place in the weather before the dance was over. A drifting rain rolled in from the sea, and the decks were soon damp and uncomfortable. People began to leave, in a thin stream at first, and afterward in a procession. Among the tail-enders, Peter Hames caught up with young Christian.
"Sporting Club?" he asked, as the two fell into step on the quay.
The young man nodded.
"I want some of my money back from last night," he confided. "I am playing for a friend, too, so I can afford the big table."
"High play there!"
"I'm really playing for three of us. I didn't come to any serious harm last night, and I feel like winning tonight."
Peter Hames drew a pipe from his pocket, and began to fill it. A little abruptly, he turned to one side, and sought the shelter of a buttress.
"Go on. I'll catch you up in a minute," he called out to his companion.
The latter nodded and continued his way. Peter Hames had difficulty. The air was damp, and his place of shelter drafty. Just as he succeeded in lighting his pipe, however, he heard a shout from the darkness, and the sound of a fall. A man came running toward him. Young Christian called out:
"Stop him, Hames! Stop that fellow! He tried to rob me."
Peter Hames watched the man come lumbering on, but if he made any effort to interfere with his progress it was a very half-hearted one.
"Why did you let the fellow go?" Christian demanded.
"Too quick for me," was the indifferent reply. "What happened?"
"He came out from behind that wall there," the young man explained, in some excitement, "and snatched at my coat, trying to get my pocket book."
"Did he get it?"
"No, fortunately he slipped on the pavement there, and went over—right on his back. Seems to me you might have pulled him up, though."
"Sorry. I didn't quite understand that it was as serious as that," Hames apologized.
They climbed the steps, and crossed the road to the Sporting Club, Christian's opinion of his companion having undergone a definite change. Nevertheless, he accepted his invitation to have a drink at the bar. They were almost alone, as the hour was late. A man, seated on a stool at the further end, however, in obedience to a gesture of invitation from Hames, joined them. He was a broad-shouldered, strong-featured Frenchman of swarthy complexion and flashing brown eyes. At the moment, however, he seemed singularly nervous.
"Christian," Hames said, "I want to Introduce you to an old acquaintance of mine, who has lately come to Nice to open a Boxing and Sporting Academy. Mr. Christian—Monsieur Paul Redoux."
The color slowly left the young man's face. He looked at Hames, and he was afraid.
"You two should be interested in one another," the latter continued. "Monsieur Redoux, I believe, commenced life on the stage, and you, Christian, I noticed from that framed photograph in your room, were once a member of the Thespian Society at Cambridge. Nothing like an early start in amateur theatricals to give you a good grounding in the art of making up. You don't remember me, Monsieur Redoux," Peter Hames went on, turning toward him, "but I came to you seven years ago when you taught me that trick of throwing a man on his back. You taught it to young Christian, too. I saw him do it to a man I hired to try to steal his pocketbook a few minutes ago.
"Yes, you ought to be interested in each other," he continued meditatively. "Christian here speaks of being half an invalid, but I observed in his room he uses the same weight dumb-bells as I do, and you've only to shake hands with him to know what sort of a grip he's got. But perhaps, after all, this introduction is unnecessary. Some of those afternoon dashes of yours, Christian, on your motor bicycle, may have led you toward Nice and Monsieur Redoux's Academy."
"We have had quite enough," Christian gasped. "What are you going to do?"
"We are all going to have one long drink together," Hames announced, "and afterward we are going into the corner there to talk business."
AT a quarter to twelve the next morning. Peter Hames strolled into the bank, and, finding the manager disengaged, took him by the arm and led him into his office.
"Pontifex," he asked, "what would be your attitude supposing some anonymous person returned to you that ten thousand pounds in Bank of England notes, a million in francs, and a bundle of bonds?"
"Speak plainly," Pontifex begged.
"What I mean, then, is this," Peter Hames said. "You have offered a thousand pounds reward, not for the apprehension of the robbers, I notice, but for a return of the money. If the money and the bonds are forthcoming, would you be satisfied?"
"I should thundering well say so," Pontifex agreed emphatically.
Peter Hames threw a brown-paper package, which he had been carrying, onto the table and cut the strings.
"Count 'em out," he enjoined. "They are all there. No questions, mind. As a matter of fact, I picked 'em up in the street."
PETER HAMES climbed the steps to the Royalty bar as the clock struck twelve. As usual the place was crowded. This time, a new form of excitement prevailed. Before he had even reached a table, several young women bore down upon him. Sybil, however, brushed them lightly to one side.
"This is my pet victim," she insisted, producing a square card, decorated with ribbons. "You know what you're in for, I suppose, Mr. Hames?"
"Not the slightest idea."
"It's collection day for the English and American Hospital."
She presented the card. He looked down at the list of names. Then he felt in his waistcoat pocket and produced a slip of paper.
"You relieve me," he confided, of an embarrassment."
She unfolded it, carelessly enough. Then, as she looked at the draft, the color slowly faded from her cheeks.
"The whole affair is wonderfully arranged," he said, smiling and dropping his voice a little. "The bank has its money—and no questions asked. The matter is closed and your hospital is a thousand pounds better off."
She looked at him mistily.
"And I have gained a wonderful friend!"
"You didn't know. I am convinced of that," he assured her.
"There was a terrible, haunting guess in my brain all the time," she whispered.
"The thousand pounds on your card," he suggested, as they went off to lunch, "had better be anonymous."