All except two of the stories in this collection made their first known appearance in The Blue Book Magazine, in 1915-1916. As in the book, the series began with "The Affair of the San Mona Spring" (February 1915) and ended with "The Last Quest" (March 1916). As can been seen from the bibliographic record of The Blue Book Magazine for the period in question, a complete copy of which is available at www.philsp.com, the 8th and 9th stories in the collection ("The Yellow Disk" and "The Inverted Message") did not appear in this publication. Since no other record of publication could be found it is possible that, unless they were re-writes of other stories under different titles, Oppenheim wrote them especially for inclusion in Mysteries of the Riviera.
Thanks and credit for making this work available for publication at RGL go to Gary Meller, Florida, who made and donated image files of his personal copy of the book. —R.G.
[Note by Colonel Green.—To the best of my ability, I have tried here to recount such few of the adventures of Mr. Edmund H. Martin as came under my personal notice. That I, Colonel Green, a retired medical officer, sixty-seven years old, of quiet habits but observant disposition, should have become the Boswell of this amazing young man, must always remain to me an insoluble puzzle. I have no explanations to offer—only these facts to present. I shall commence unfashionably at the beginning, I shall try to show how imperceptibly our companionship grew, and I shall find courage, as I proceed, to relate those more sensational adventures, my own share in which, even at the present moment, fills me sometimes with feelings of mingled apprehension and wonder.]
AT about nine o'clock on a brilliant February morning, the motor-omnibus which had been down to meet the train de luxe from England came into sight, ascending the winding roadway to the Paradise Hotel. About a dozen of us were loitering in front to watch the new arrivals. It had become quite a source of amusement with some of the habitués of the place to watch the confident arrival of newcomers, and to see them pass through the various grades of doubt to despair when they inquired what accommodation could be offered them in this highly popular caravanserai.
On this occasion, the omnibus contained a single passenger only, a passenger, however, of singular and noteworthy appearance. I am forced to admit that when he stepped out of the omnibus and looked around him, we were none of us favourably impressed with the appearance of Mr. Martin—Mr. Edmund H. Martin, as he preferred to call himself. He was large, and abominably dressed in a suit of impossible checks. He wore bright yellow boots with bulgy toes. His tie seemed to have gathered together every colour of the rainbow into its motley mesh. As he stood there gazing around him, I heard a little titter from Mrs. Moggeridge and her daughters, and I caught the supercilious look exchanged between two of our young men who were lounging against the pillars.
The newcomer, it must be confessed, did not conform in any way to recognized standards, yet even in those first few moments I found something about his appearance which attracted me. Notwithstanding his great size—he was six feet three and very broad—his face was innocent of any beard or moustache. He seemed, indeed, to possess the fresh-complexioned visage of a boy. He stood there, an incipient smile struggling for the least encouragement to take formal possession of his good-humoured face, looking around him for someone to whom he could address the remark which it eventually fell to my lot to receive.
'Say, this is a bully place!' he exclaimed, appealing first to me and then to us all generally.
Mrs. Moggeridge and her daughters—very lady-like young persons—turned around and strolled away. The two young men were gazing over the tops of the trees. An old lady who was knitting seemed to find some cause for personal offence in this simple expression of contentment. Unfortunately, an elderly gentleman of kindly deposition who was sitting on a garden seat, and who might have made some response, was stone deaf. It remained for me, therefore, either to welcome this young man or to contribute to the somewhat chilling silence.
'You see it quite at its best,' I remarked. 'With the wind in its favourable quarter, the climate here is almost perfection.'
'Guess I'll see about my room,' the young man went on, unwillingly giving over what I believe he called a 'grip' to an insistent porter.
'Are your rooms engaged?' I asked.
'Not yet,' the newcomer replied. 'I'll soon fix that all right.'
He disappeared with an air of easy confidence. There was a little exchange of smiles. The hotel was not only always impossibly full, but the whole business of getting rooms was immensely complicated from the fact that no one was ever willing to leave. We watched the disappearance of this young man into the office, and I distinctly saw signs of ill-natured but pleasurable anticipation in the faces of several people standing around.
'What an extraordinary person!' Mrs. Moggeridge exclaimed.
'American, of course,' the elder daughter observed. 'He may be very rich,' the younger one added reflectively.
'We don't want that sort of person here,' the dear old lady by my side snapped.
'Did you ever see such a get-up!' one of the young men yawned. 'Bet you they'll send him down to the Îles d'Or.'
Mr. Edmund H. Martin, however, was apparently possessed of some gifts of persuasion. When he finally emerged from the office, it was to superintend the collection of his baggage. He caught my eye and beamed upon me.
'See you later,' he promised amiably. 'I'm going to see if I can get some breakfast.'
The little air of disappointment was almost apparent. The old lady picked up her knitting and went off into the office to complain of anyone having been given a room when a friend of her cousin's, strongly recommended by herself, had been sent to another hotel only the day before. I nodded back to Mr. Edmund Martin as pleasantly as possible.
'See you down at the golf links,' I remarked.
'Sure!' he replied heartily. 'So long, all,' he added, as he moved steadily off in the direction of the restaurant.
I played my usual round of golf with an opponent of long standing. On looking up after successfully holing my putt on the last green, I found the horizon temporarily blotted out. Mr. Edmund H. Martin, looking larger than ever, was applauding my performance.
'Say, that was a dandy putt,' he declared, removing a large cigar from his mouth. 'You come right along in with me and I'll mix you a cocktail.'
Every natural instinct I possessed prompted me to refuse this—to me—somewhat extraordinary invitation. It was not my habit to take anything to drink in the morning except sometimes a little Dubonnet and soda, and I was already conscious of the somewhat supercilious interest aroused in my companion by the familiarity of this extraordinary young man. The refusal, however, seemed to wither away upon my lips.
'Thank you very much,' I replied. 'I shall have to offer my opponent a little refreshment in exchange for his five francs.'
'Why, that's all right,' the young man declared heartily, leading the way towards the pavilion. 'I'll mix for the whole crowd. I'll give you something that will put a little sting into your carcass.'
I am convinced that this young man was possessed of certain mesmeric powers. My opponent, who was in a very bad temper, and who was also a retired colonel, but a soldier, as he was sometimes pleased to explain, followed meekly in my wake. We watched the little bar being turned upside down and we watched the preparation of a concoction which I, for my part, was perfectly certain must inevitably prove highly injurious.
In the end, however, we not only drank the wineglassful of yellow-white liquid which was tendered to us, but I am bound to say that we enjoyed it. My opponent crossed his legs and began to explain his defeat. I myself was conscious of a pleasant sense of good-fellowship. I inquired our new friend's name and introduced him to several of the habitués.
'What about a round with me this afternoon, Colonel?' he suggested insinuatingly.
'I shall be delighted,' I assented promptly, abandoning without hesitation my principle of an hour's sleep after luncheon.
Our new friend mixed cocktails for several of the people to whom I introduced him, and we left him there, looking hungrily around for a new victim.
'Something about that drink,' my companion remarked lazily, as we strolled up to the hotel, 'which seems to have done me good, Green. You really did play a fine game this morning.'
'I was very lucky to beat you,' I declared modestly. 'You were driving much straighter than I was ... I never thought that these American drinks were so pleasant. Let us sit down and watch the tennis for a few minutes. Most becoming costume these young ladies wear nowadays.'
We sat there for some time, basking in the sunshine and chatting amiably. I enjoyed my lunch none the less for finding our new friend only a few tables off and receiving a very hearty greeting from him. I found him, according to arrangement, waiting upon the tee at two o'clock.
'What,' I asked him, 'is your handicap?' He grinned.
'Never mind about mine. What's yours?'
'I am twelve,' I replied diffidently; 'but I occasionally play a nine game.'
'I am about the same myself,' he announced. 'We'll start level, anyway.'
He insisted upon my taking the honour, and I drove what I considered to be an excellent ball, within forty yards of the green. My opponent, discarding the driver which the caddy offered him, took a light iron from his bag and hit a ball farther than I have ever seen it propelled by human means before. He carried the green and very nearly disappeared into the hedge beyond. As soon as I had recovered, I announced my intention of returning to the pavilion.
'I am not going to play with a Braid in disguise,' I told him. 'If you can do that sort of thing, you ought to have told me.'
He took me by the arm almost affectionately. Against my will, but without any desire for resistance, I was led along the course.
'Say, Colonel,' he confided, 'I'm a holy terror from the tee. You wait till you see me drive! But it's those rotten little shots I can't manage. And as to putting—well, you wait! I can't seem to keep the ball on the green, even.'
I played a very nice approach within a couple of yards of the pin. My opponent overran the green about sixty yards, cheerfully missed his third, and was nearly back again in the hedge with his fourth. I won the hole and recovered my good humour.
'It would be worth your while,' I remarked, as I watched him drive nearly three hundred yards, 'to give a little time to your short game.'
'I always mean to practise,' he agreed. 'No chance in New York, though.'
We had a very interesting match, which I succeeded in winning. I was then initiated into the mysteries of a Scotch highball, after which I felt it advisable to go and have a nap before dinner. When I descended to the lounge, a little earlier than usual, I discovered Mr. Edmund H. Martin, attired, to my relief, in conventional if somewhat eccentric dinner garb, seated in an easy chair with a cigarette in his mouth, and a small memorandum book, which he was studying in a puzzled fashion, held up in front of him. The moment I appeared he held up two fingers to a waiter, who disappeared as though by magic.
'That's all right, Colonel,' he exclaimed, as I watched the man's hasty exit. 'He's got a couple of the right sort on ice for us. Just sit down for a moment, will you? What is this game all the nice old ladies here want me to play with them?'
I took the memorandum book from his hand. Down the engagement columns, at intervals for the next fortnight, were such entries as—'Mrs. H.,' 'Mrs. A.,' 'Miss Fuzzy-Wuzzy,' 'Miss Giglamps,' and various other fancy pseudonyms, some of which I readily recognized.
'Had to put down something where I didn't catch the names,' he pointed out. 'What is the game, anyway?'
'Auction bridge, of course,' I told him. 'They are all crazy on it here. Can't you play?'
'Not that I know of,' he replied evasively. 'I never tried.'
'Then what on earth did you accept all these invitations for?'
I had clearly cornered Mr. Edmund H. Martin. He scratched his chin reflectively.
'What was I to do?' he grumbled. 'I like to be friendly with everyone, and I hate to say "No" when a lady comes up and asks me to join in a simple little game of cards.'
'That's all very well,' I objected, 'but you can't play the game. You'll spoil the rubber.'
'Not I,' he assured me cheerfully. 'Between you and me, there's nothing with cards I can't do. Just you watch here.'
He took a pack of cards from his pocket and for several moments I watched him, almost stupefied. Cards came up from his neck, down his trousers legs, they fell in little showers upon the table, apparently from mid-air. He even produced an ace of spades from my shirt-front.
'You see, I'm no mug,' he declared modestly. 'As for this particular game, why, I'll just look into the rules. You haven't got a book about it, have you?'
I sipped the most insinuating contents of one of the glasses which the waiter had just brought us, and afterwards I fetched him my Badsworth and left him studying it. That night I saw him, one of four solemn performers, seated, smileless and eager, at a card-table in a corner of the lounge. He joined me at about ten o'clock. He looked a little older and was glancing about feverishly for a waiter.
'Get through all right?' I inquired.
'I guess so,' he answered. 'I fell a bit behind now and then, but as soon as I tumbled to it that we weren't playing for money, I dealt my partner a hundred aces once or twice, and that made things all right because she kept on having to play the hands. They are talking about it all over the hotel. It seems that no one has had a hundred aces six times in one evening before.'
'Look here,' I begged him earnestly, 'you mustn't be up to any of those tricks here. The people wouldn't understand it. Bridge is a very solemn function, and they wouldn't take it as a joke, anyhow.'
'Joke? It wasn't a joke at all,' he assured me. 'I did it on purpose. If you'd seen my partner's face as she kept on picking 'em up—dear old thing about seventy, she was, with a blue ribbon in her hair—you'd have forgiven me fast enough. She clean forgot a kind of lapse I'd had, playing the hand before. Why, I tell you I made quite a hit. They've asked me to play with them every Tuesday till the hotel closes.'
'But you're only going to stay a fortnight,' I reminded him.
'That's their trouble,' he replied. 'Anyway, I've taken a fancy to the game.'
I induced him without difficulty to partake of a little refreshment with me, and left him, half an hour later, in a deserted corner of the lounge, with a large whisky-and-soda by his side and a freshly lit cigar in his mouth, dealing out four hands, and, after referring to Badsworth, carefully playing the cards.
'There's something in this game,' he declared cheerfully, as he bade me good night. 'I'll have the hang of it all right by to-morrow.'
For the next few days, although spasmodically I saw a great deal of my new friend, I was compelled to deny myself any close association with him owing to the presence of my sister, Lady Chalmont, who had come over from Cannes to stay with me. On the fourth day after her arrival, however, I took her to a little out-of-door restaurant at Carcaran. We were in the middle of a very excellent lunch when a familiar voice from the other side of a clump of rhododendron bushes attracted our attention. My sister listened for a moment.
'It is your delightfully original friend, Mr. Edmund H. Martin, as he calls himself!' she exclaimed. 'Do let us get him to come and join us.'
We both rose and moved towards the narrow path which led through a tangle of rhododendron shrubs to the next table. Then my sister, who was leading, stopped short and turned to me with a frown. A little peal of distinctly feminine laughter reached us from the other side of the shrubs.
'Perhaps you had better first ascertain who Mr. Martin's companions are,' she remarked dryly.
She returned to her seat, whilst I threaded the winding path and came out upon a little luncheon party in the small green enclosure. There were several pails from which protruded the necks of gold-foiled bottles. There was a profusion of food and fruit upon the table, and there was Mr. Edmund H. Martin, red in the face and very jovial in appearance, the central figure of one of the most disreputable companies I have ever set eyes upon. The ladies who sat on either side of him were, to use a mild adjective, cosmopolitan. Of the two men, one looked like a cross between a country bookmaker and a prize-fighter, and the other was a Frenchman whom I knew slightly, a man who notoriously lived by his wits in any place upon the Riviera where he found himself able to induce an hotel proprietor to give him credit.
My new friend, who was wearing a very light grey suit and another amazing tie, was in the act of indulging in a hearty laugh. Suddenly he saw me. The laugh faded away. He sat with his mouth wide open for a moment. Then he waved his hand with a feeble attempt at boisterous cordiality.
'Why, Colonel,' he exclaimed, 'I thought that you'd taken your sister back to Cannes to-day!'
'My sister has decided to remain with me a little
longer,' I told him, 'so I brought her over here to lunch.
I thought I heard your voice and it occurred to my
sister that if you were alone—'
'I'd like to introduce my friend,' Martin interrupted. 'This is Colonel Green—Major Grinley,' he began, indicating the Englishman of pugilistic appearance; 'Monsieur le Comte de Faux,' he went on, motioning towards the Frenchman; 'Mademoiselle—well, these French names fairly bother me,' he wound up confidentially, 'but these two young ladies are friends of the Comte.'
He looked at me wistfully, as though anxious to see how I should accept the situation. I contented myself with a general bow. It was perfectly easy to see that my arrival was disconcerting to the little party.
'Did you say that Lady Chalmont was with you?'
'She is on the other side of the rhododendron bush,' I told him.
The young man sprang to his feet.
'Say, isn't that bully!' he exclaimed, looking almost miserable. 'You'll excuse me, Comte and young ladies? I must just pay my respects to Lady Chalmont.'
'You'll come back?' they all cried in unison.
'Right away,' he assured them heartily. 'Now then, Colonel.'
I led him along the narrow path in silence. My sister really behaved quite charmingly. She had commenced, in fact, to share my unaccountable partiality for the young man, and although she shook her head reproachfully, her tone was still good-humoured.
'Mr. Martin,' she demanded, 'tell us exactly what you are doing here?'
'Just a few friends,' he exclaimed—'a little luncheon party got together on the spur of the moment.'
'I heard ladies' voices,' my sister insisted. 'Are your guests from the hotel?'
'Not exactly,' Martin admitted. 'The young ladies are friends of the Comte. We fixed this up down at the Casino last night. A very charming man, the Comte de Faux.'
'Where did you get hold of Major Grinley?' I asked dryly.
'An officer in your British Army, sir,' Martin reminded us. 'He is out here just now on a most important affair of business. He is representing, in fact, a syndicate of British financiers.'
I groaned. My sister leaned a little forward.
'Mr. Martin,' she asked kindly, 'how much have they had out of you already?'
The young man looked a little hurt.
'Lady Chalmont, I don't know why you should allude
to my friends—'
'How much?' my sister persisted.
'I was fortunate enough to run across the Comte,' Martin replied stiffly, 'last night when he was in urgent need of five hundred francs, and I have obliged Major Grinley by cashing a cheque for him—a friend's cheque.'
'For a large amount?' I inquired.
'A matter of forty pounds—a mere trifle.'
'It might have been worse,' I remarked laconically.
Our young friend stood before us with his hands in his pockets, looking very much like a guilty schoolboy who has been found out in some peccadillo.
'You don't seem to like my guests, Colonel,' he observed dejectedly.
I shook my head.
'I know both of them by reputation. Would you be annoyed if I told you exactly what I thought of them? In any case, I will risk it so far as to tell you that I think they are both crooks.'
'A French nobleman and a major in your British Army!' he protested.
'Excellent material in adversity,' I assured him.
Martin was looking rather like a spoilt child. My sister laughed outright at him.
'It's no use looking cross, Mr. Martin,' she declared. 'You know very well that my brother is only speaking for your good, and you must admit that you are just a little inclined to make friends easily, aren't you?'
'As a matter of fact,' I inquired, 'where did you meet them?'
'We met in the buffet of the Gare de Lyon and travelled down to Hyères together,' Martin explained. 'Most agreeable journey it was, too.'
'Did you play cards?' my sister asked innocently.
'A little poker game,' he admitted. 'I won a trifle.'
Knowing something of this young man's methods with cards, I turned away to hide a smile. He left us a few minutes afterwards, and we heard the enthusiastic reception accorded him by his little party of guests on his return. I paid the bill in silence and we strolled up to where the car was waiting for us.
'I am afraid that your interesting young American friend has got into rather bad hands,' my sister sighed.
'I am sure of it,' I agreed.
'We'll talk to him to-morrow,' she continued. 'He really is a most extraordinary young person, but I can't help feeling a certain amount of interest in him. He seems very simple to be wandering about the world alone.'
'He has lived in New York for some years,' I remarked dubiously.
'Oh, I am not saying that he is unintelligent,' she declared, 'but he is far too ingenuous and trusting.... Tell the man to drive very slowly, Henry, and take the road back through the peach orchards.'
We invited Martin to lunch with us the next day, and at about half-past twelve he duly arrived, the greater part of his person obscured by a bunch of violets as big as a bucket, which he gallantly offered to my sister. No allusion whatever was made to our meeting of the day before, but about half-way through the meal he leaned over the table a little confidentially.
'Say. Colonel,' he inquired, 'how do I get hold of money down here?'
'It depends upon the amount,' I replied dryly.
'Oh, not very much—say three thousand pounds.'
'You take the bus into the town and ask for the English bank,' I told him. 'You get them to wire to your bankers in London, and by this time to-morrow you would probably be able to draw it.'
'Capital!' he declared. 'We couldn't do much better than that at home.'
'But, Mr. Martin,' my sister asked seriously, 'what do you want three thousand pounds for?'
He beamed upon us both.
'To tell you the truth,' he confided,' I have had a very interesting speculation suggested to me.'
'By the Comte de Faux or Major Grinley?' my sister inquired.
'Say, how did you guess that?' Martin exclaimed. 'You're dead right, anyway. Like to hear about it?'
My sister sighed.
'And you. Colonel?'
He glanced around to be sure that our table was out of the reach of eavesdroppers. His voice became more rounded, even portentous.
'Say,' he began, 'there's one thing I don't want you two people to misunderstand. My friends the Comte and Major Grinley are on the square all right, but they've been badly treated. They showed me the whole correspondence, and they've been white all the way through. If what they are suggesting at the present moment seems to you a bit like sharp practice on the men who've sent them out here, you must remember that, after all, it's every man for himself in this world.'
'It is,' I agreed, 'and every man has to look out for himself.'
'Now the Comte and Major Grinley,' Martin continued,' have been sent out here on behalf of an English syndicate of capitalists to inquire into a wonderful mineral-water spring not many miles away from this spot, and to make terms for securing the same, providing everything was O.K. The purchase price was not to exceed thirty thousand pounds for the spring itself and the woods surrounding it—an estate of some two thousand acres. The Comte and Major Grinley, if they succeeded in bringing the thing off, were to have so much in shares and so much cash; I have seen that in writing. And there's another thing to be remembered. It was the Comte who discovered the spring, as it is only a few miles away from the boundary of his own property.'
'So the Comte has property here?' I interrupted.
'I should say so,' Martin declared. 'Now they've bottled some of the water and sent it to London and had a favourable report. They've interviewed the proprietor—he is little more than a French peasant—and they've managed to work the price down to twenty-five thousand pounds. It's a magnificent property and, believe me, there's a huge fortune in the mineral spring. The Comte and Major Grinley have given no end of time to this matter and spent a great deal of money. Now they've made their report and the men at the head of the syndicate are hesitating. They are grumbling about giving the Comte and Major Grinley any interest in the five thousand pounds they arc saving, and they talk of sending another man out to make a special report. The long and short of it is, there's no money in London. They can't raise the stuff. And here are my two friends committed to the purchase of that estate for twenty-five thousand pounds, and the deposit's got to be paid over this week.'
'A very awkward situation,' I admitted.
Martin nodded. He seemed encouraged by our sympathetic attitude.
'Well,' he proceeded, with an air of growing importance, 'they came to me and they asked my advice as an American man of business, and I guess I let them have it quick. What I said was, if the value is really there, get an offer elsewhere. If the syndicate don't act up to their promises, throw 'em overboard. That's their own look-out. At first I couldn't get either the Comte or Major Grinley to see it. The worst of these aristocrats and army folk is that they've an exaggerated sense of honour, you know. No use at all in business.'
I choked a little and hastily drank some wine. My sister did not even smile. She was hanging upon Martin's words.
'However, I talked 'em over,' he concluded, pulling his waistcoat down with an air of satisfaction, 'and here's the long and short of it. I'm going to buy that spring and estate, and if you two feel in any way interested—why, I'll take you both up there to have a look at it this afternoon.'
'As to the value—' I began.
'Wait till you've looked over the place,' Martin begged me. 'It's not more than half an hour's ride from here. What do you say?'
'I should be delighted to go,' my sister assented.
An hour or so later we arrived at a lonely spot on the top of a range of hills between Toulon and Hyères. We all descended, and our young friend led the way across a stony field, planted with a few unwholesome-looking vines, and past a whitewashed hovel in a wood.
'Is this the place?' I asked dubiously.
'This is the place,' Martin replied. 'The spring is just a little farther in.'
Some efforts had evidently been made to preserve the spring itself from trespassers. There was a barbed-wire fence around it, and a small gate secured by a padlock. A man who had presumably seen us approach issued from the hovel and with many bows produced a key. Martin drew out a phrase-book from his pocket.
'Ont les messieurs, Comte de Faux et Major Grinley visités ici aujourd-hui?' he demanded, speaking a little louder than usual, with the idea, apparently, of making his words more easily apprehended.
'Mais non, monsieur,' the man replied.
'C'est bien!' Martin declared, replacing the phrase-book in his pocket. 'Ouvrez la porte, s'il vous plaît.'
We were conducted into a glade and shown the spot where the water came bubbling up from an undoubted spring. Our guide produced a tin mug. We tasted the water and on the whole approved. It was, without doubt, excellent. Then we wandered a little farther through the wood and out on the other side. The land, so far as one could see, was stony and poorly cultivated, but the view was magnificent. At our feet lay the harbour of Toulon, and beyond, the blue Mediterranean. The peasant and my sister talked fluently, and Martin made unhappy attempts to follow their conversation with the aid of the phrase-book. Finally, we left the place and took our seats once more in the automobile.
'Pretty spot.' Martin remarked tentatively.
'Very,' I agreed.
'And the water seems good?'
'I am not much of a judge of water,' I replied guardedly, 'but I should say that it was good water.'
We drove down towards San Salvadour almost in silence.
'I am going to buy that place,' Martin announced presently.
It would appear that the time had arrived for plain speech. It had become perfectly clear to me, during my very brief acquaintance with this young man, that sooner or later he was foredoomed to become the prey of one or more of those many adventurers whom one meets in all places of the world.
My sister Mary and I had talked this matter over and we had both come to the same conclusion. His simple, trustful nature and complete guilelessness, while it made him, in a sense, an attractive companion, were a very evil equipment for a young man so completely alone in the world. Major Grinley and the Comte de Faux were both acquaintances of mine, but I felt it my duty to speak out.
'Martin,' I said, dropping at that moment and for ever afterwards any more formal habit of speech, 'I feel it my duty to warn you against doing anything of the sort. The very fact that these two men are concerned in the transaction makes me suspicious. They are, to speak frankly, nothing more or less than adventurers. They have selected you as a probable victim. Take my advice and have nothing whatever to do with them.'
The smile faded from our young friend's face. A look of deep dejection took its place.
'Say, you're not serious. Colonel?'
'My brother is not only serious,' Mary intervened, 'but I am bound to say that I entirely agree with him. You must take our advice, Mr. Martin, and have nothing more to do with the matter.'
'You must see for yourself,' I added,' that twenty-five thousand pounds for two thousand acres of wood and stony fields seems a little excessive.'
'It's the spring, Colonel,' Martin explained eagerly. 'It's astonishing the craze there is for water nowadays, even over on our side. People will pay anything for it—the right sort, that is. I tell you, sir, there are millions of dollars in that spring.'
'That may be so,' I replied dryly,' but I do not think that in any transactions with the Comte de Faux and Major Grinley, the millions, or any part of them, will come into your pocket.'
Our young friend relapsed into deep and gloomy silence. We drove back through San Salvadour and Costabelle into Hyères, and at his request dropped him at the bank. My sister returned to the hotel and I myself looked in at the Casino for an hour, as was sometimes my custom during the afternoon.
The first persons I saw when I entered the concert room were the Comte de Faux and Major Grinley, sitting at one of the small tables outside of the American bar and talking earnestly together. Both men recognized me when I entered, and I saw a meaning glance pass between them. Immediately afterwards they rose and approached me.
'Colonel Green, isn't it?' Major Grinley exclaimed, holding out his hand. 'We have not met for some time.'
'Monsieur the Colonel!' the Frenchman echoed, with a low bow.
I shook hands with them cordially enough—there was no particular object in betraying my suspicions. As soon as they perceived my attitude, they were most effusive and insisted upon my taking a whisky-and-soda with them.
'We were wondering,' Major Grinley said, 'what had become of our very interesting young American friend, Mr. Martin.'
'I left him in the town,' I replied. 'We lunched with him to-day and have just been out to see the spring.'
They were both decidedly anxious.
'Yes?' Major Grinley muttered interrogatively.
'A marvellous spring!' the Frenchman declared. 'Such water! Such purity! Such a flavour!'
'If we succeed in this little transaction of ours,' Major Grinley told me confidentially, 'it should mean at least a hundred thousand pounds in your young friend's pocket. Within two years it will be perfectly easy to float a company for ten times what Mr. Martin is giving for it.'
'I am not a financier,' I confessed, 'and I know nothing of the value of property out here, but twenty-five thousand pounds seems to me rather a large sum.'
Major Grinley set himself to efface that impression. He told me of the profits of Perrier water, he spoke of the fabulous fortunes which had been made by the most inoffensive-looking streams. Every now and then the Frenchman came to his aid in a sort of staccato chorus.
'Well, after all,' I concluded, 'it is Mr. Martin's own business. He seems very young to be travelling about the world alone and to have the control of his own money, but I suppose his guardians consider him competent.'
'He is a young man of great wealth, eh?' the Frenchman inquired. 'There is no doubt about his position?'
'I know nothing whatever about the matter,' I replied, a little stiffly. 'For anything I know, in fact, he may be an adventurer.'
I took my leave of the two men a few minutes afterwards, and returned to the hotel. For the next two days my time was fully taken up with golf and picnic engagements, and I saw nothing of my new acquaintance. I noticed that his table was unoccupied, and upon inquiry from the head porter I learnt that he was spending a day or two with the Comte de Faux, who had a villa in the neighbourhood. On the fourth day, he turned up at the hotel with his two friends. We all met in the hall and Martin insisted that I should join them for luncheon. I gathered that the little deal had been concluded with complete satisfaction to both parties. Major Grinley and the Comte de Faux were miracles of good humour and contentment, and Martin was full of the exuberant spirits of youth. Major Grinley, towards the close of luncheon, raised his glass.
'I drink,' he said, 'to the future of the sweet water of the San Mona Spring!'
'You have really bought it, then, Martin?' I asked.
'Mr. Martin,' the Comte de Faux explained, 'has this morning signed an agreement to purchase from us the San Mona Spring Estate for twenty-five thousand pounds. Your young friend, Colonel, is to be much congratulated. I venture to promise you that if in twelve months' time he should care to part with his interest, my friend Grinley here and I could turn the affair into a company with a capital of from a hundred to a hundred and fifty thousand pounds.'
I went on with my luncheon and said nothing. The Comte turned presently to me.
'You do not appreciate, I fear, this good fortune which has come to your young friend,' he remarked.
I shrugged my shoulders.
'I know nothing of land values out here,' I replied. 'To me it seems an awful price to pay for a barren hillside and a tiny spring.'
'It is the tiny spring,' the Comte de Faux declared, 'from which the money comes bubbling up. And then, behold! As the waters become known, hotels will arise like mushrooms, hotels and villas, golf courses, and why not a Casino? Upon whose land, I ask you? Upon the land of this young man! He has acquired it all. Considering his youth, Mr. Martin is a wonderful man of business. He is so keen upon his bargain that he has made us consent to a forfeit of ten thousand francs should we fail to hand over the title deeds to him this week. His only fear is lest he might lose this wonderful chance.'
'Mr. Martin doubtless knows his own business.'
'You bet!' my young friend agreed, solemnly winking at me from behind a vase of carnations. 'Of course, I'm a beginner at these sort of speculations, but the Mona Spring deal is going to be all right. I've lost a bit here and there—want of experience, you know, and all that—but you can bet your bottom dollar that I'm all right this time.'
I took leave of the three a little later on, and they all drove off together to the town in high good humour. I was sorry to part with Martin, for, curiously enough, during the last few days I had quite missed his company. About four o'clock, however, he returned alone. He was in a hired victoria, and, to my surprise, I saw that he was bringing all his luggage. I stepped out to meet him.
'Hullo!' I exclaimed. 'I thought you were going to stay with the Comte for a few days more?'
He overpaid his coachman disgracefully and laid his hand familiarly upon my shoulder.
'There was some talk about it,' he admitted. 'I felt like coming back, though.'
'Any trouble with your friends?' I inquired. 'I thought you all seemed so pleased with one another and your deal to-day.'
'That's just it,' Martin sighed. 'I rather expected to go on feeling pleased myself, but I am not so sure about those other two. We'll talk about it later. Say, is your sister still here?'
'She is out for a picnic to-day,' I told him.
'Then you'll both dine with me to-night?' Martin insisted. 'Not a word! I shall expect you at half-past seven.'
My sister and I were a few minutes late for dinner that evening. When we took our places, we found our table was covered with a perfect canopy of flowers. A magnum of champagne stood by its side in an ice-pail, and Martin welcomed us with a face like the rising sun.
'Just a little celebration,' he explained cheerfully, as we took our places... 'Gee whiz! Look what's coming!'
Down the middle of the room, unescorted by any waiter, approached in great haste Monsieur le Comte de Faux, followed by Major Grinley. They were still in morning clothes, and they had the appearance of having just left their automobile. They came straight to our table and they both forgot to bow to my sister. They stood over Martin, taking up positions one on either side of him.
'If you imagine for a single moment,' Major Grinley
began, his voice shaking with passion, 'that we, the
Comte and I, are going to be swindled in this manner
by a child of your years, let me assure you—'
'It is a public room, this,' the Comte interrupted, striking his hands together. 'Behold! I shall smack you on the face unless some instant and satisfactory explanation be tendered. I ask you, sir, is this a joke?'
Martin had been leaning back in his chair, turning from one to the other. His expression of blank amazement was wonderful.
'Say, I'm not exactly catching on,' he confessed pleasantly. 'Put it in plain words, will you—one at a time, if possible?'
'Behind our backs,' the Comte declared dramatically, 'you sought out the honest peasant, Jean Lecrois, and you have purchased from him the San Mona Spring Estate. You have paid Jean Lecrois two thousand one hundred pounds. I have seen the receipt.'
'Look here,' Martin suggested, 'let's talk this over. You came to me, didn't you, and you offered to sell me the San Mona Spring Estate for twenty-five thousand pounds?'
'You agreed to buy it!' they both exclaimed in unison.
'Let us put the matter down in black and white,' Martin continued smoothly. 'As a matter of fact, you had already the offer of the property from Jean Lecrois for two thousands pounds. You were out here to buy it for a syndicate who would have given five thousand pounds. Instead of concluding the deal and pocketing a very handsome profit, you were apparently led away by the prospect of making a fortune at one coup out of a mug. Now listen, gentlemen. Did you or did you not propose to sell to me for twenty-five thousand pounds an estate you were buying for two thousand, and which you were pledged to hand over to a syndicate for five?'
The Comte closed his eyes and waved his hands in frantic gesticulation.
'That has nothing to do with it,' he almost shrieked. 'The point remains that you intervened and bought the estate for yourself behind our backs.'
Martin grinned broadly.
'It was a shabby trick,' he confessed, winking furtively at me.
Major Grinley plunged into the discussion with a change of tactics.
'Look here,' he suggested, 'let us talk reasonably. We were perhaps foolish to try and make too big a thing of this. We honestly believed the estate to be of vast value. The five thousand pounds offered by the syndicate was a ridiculous price.'
'You would have made three thousand pounds profit,' Martin reminded them.
Once more the Comte's gesticulations were almost feverish.
'What is that?' he demanded. 'Such chances come in one's way but seldom. You have stepped in and bought the estate. Very well, we must accept defeat. You have bought it for two thousand one hundred pounds, so you will not buy it from us for twenty-five thousand pounds now. All that we ask is what you, as a man of honour, cannot fail to grant. Make it over to us at the price you bought it at.'
'So that you may still make your three thousand pounds profit,' Martin remarked. 'That's the idea, is it?'
'It is our affair entirely,' Major Grinley insisted. 'You knew nothing about the estate, nothing about the spring. It was we who took you there.'
Martin was suddenly grave. A change had come over his boyish face. His pink and white complexion seemed less manifest. He was the man of affairs, solemn and impressive.
'Look here,' he said, 'you took me out there to rob me. I wasn't quite the mug you thought me. I knew you, Comte de Faux, when you used to play billiards for a living at a little hotel off Fourth Avenue. As for you, Major Grinley, there's an Army List in the next room.
'You've some record, haven't you? What I think you'd both better understand is this. You set yourselves out to rob me, and you've had the worst of it. I have bought the San Mona Spring Estate and I am going to develop it. So there's an end of that. And now listen to me. You come here blustering, but the boot's on the other leg. You owe me a forfeit of ten thousand francs for not concluding your agreement to sell me the estate. Don't interrupt, please. And let me just remind you that the manager is over there with his eye upon you. He doesn't like brawlers in the dining-room. Take my advice. Go outside into the lounge. Sit down and think it over. If you've anything to say when we come out from dinner, I'll listen to it.'
They went out of the room like dazed men. We saw the lights of their automobile flash by the window a moment later. Martin's features gradually relaxed. Once more he became the ingenuous youth.
'We shan't see them again in a hurry,' he remarked. 'Waiter, open that magnum.'
[Note by Edmund H. Martin.—This is where I butt in. That story of me and the San Mona Spring deal was all right as far as it went, but I don't know that I am altogether satisfied with the Colonel's description of my personal appearance. He seems to have forgotten to mention that he himself is about five feet three, and though he has a kindly little face enough, he is nothing but a bag of bones to look at. I don't know, either, that I am looking for a chronicler of all my doings on this side. The Colonel may be glibber with his pen than I am, but there are one or two little affairs where I kept a bit up my sleeve. This is one of them. The story of my friendship with Mrs. Foster-Howes, and the murder in the golf course lane, is going to be told by me and me only. So here goes.]
[Note by Colonel Green.—I have contented myself by editing this young man's English.]
WE were crossing the road on our way to the third tee when my partner suddenly stopped short and gazed down the road. She was a very attractive little lady, fluffy-haired, blue-eyed, and with the daintiest little figure in the world. She had simple and appealing ways and she played a very good game of golf. She was not a favourite with the ladies in the hotel.
'Whatever is that, Mr. Martin?' she inquired.
There were about a dozen people and twenty caddie boys standing around something which was lying close to the hedge.
'Seems like a small crowd,' I remarked. 'Let's see what's doing.'
On our way we met the Colonel. His face was as white as chalk and his bony little knees were shaking together. He held out his hand and stopped us.
'I wouldn't go up there, if I were you,' he advised me. 'Take Mrs. Foster-Howes back at once,' he added, under his breath.
'What is it, anyway?' I asked.
He tried to speak, but his voice was half choked. He was one of the softest-hearted men I ever met.
'A man—been murdered, they say. They have dragged him on one side and they are waiting for the mayor.'
Mrs. Foster-Howes gave a little scream. She leaned up against me, and I supported her with my arm. Through the hedge I could see some of the old cats from the hotel looking at us.
'Take me back at once, please,' she murmured.
I obeyed, of course. As soon as we were in the next field she sank down upon the bench.
'You can go and find out what it is all about and come back and tell me,' she directed, letting go my hand as though with reluctance. 'I know you want to.'
I wasn't telling any unnecessary lies, so I didn't deny it. All the same, when I got there it wasn't a pleasant sight. The man was stretched out upon his back and the greater portion of him was covered by a rug. I have a pretty good nerve but I don't believe in harrowing details. Therefore, all I'll say is that he'd been killed by a blow on the head. By his side was a broken bicycle. On the other side of the road was another bicycle, lying just where it had fallen. A gendarme was keeping guard over this, and another was keeping the people back.
'Nasty awkward business, this,' I remarked to the latter, feeling in my pocket. 'When did it happen?'
The gendarme looked at me stolidly.
I remembered then that I was in a heathen country and brought out my phrase-book. Little Jenkinson, however, a lawyer fellow who was staying at the hotel and who had been chattering like a monkey to some of the bystanders, was full of particulars.
'They found him in the ditch only an hour ago,' he told me. 'His name is Philippe Moule and he lives at Bormes. They say he had been in Hyères late last night, gambling. This must have been done on the way home.'
'Any clue?' I asked.
'The place reeks with them,' Jenkinson replied. 'There's the other man's bicycle lying over there, a cap, a cigarette-case, and this poor fellow's pockets are turned out. They say that he had a lot of money with him, which he was showing at the café. Probably someone followed him out.'
I made my way back to where Mrs. Foster-Howes was waiting for me. She clasped at my hand and breathed a little sigh of contentment at my return.
'I have been so nervous,' she confessed. 'Tell me about it!'
'It's just an ordinary sort of crime,' I answered, 'common enough in these parts, they tell me. The man's dead, and the fellow who did it seems to have given himself away completely. He's left his bicycle in the ditch and his cap and cigarette-case in the road.'
She shivered and stood up.
'I am so sensitive,' she murmured. 'It is silly of me, isn't it?'
'Not at all,' I protested. 'Women ought to be like that. Would you like to go on with our game or should we walk home?'
'I think I'd like to go on,' she decided. 'We can get away now.'
We played the next few holes and were on our way to the fifth, where a lot of peasants were working on the flower-farm. My partner played a most unusual shot for her, a badly sliced one, which rested only about a foot from the boundary. Our ways parted, as I had hit rather a long ball with a slight pull.
'Don't wait while I play,' she called out. 'We are keeping them waiting.'
I nodded and strolled off. Presently, however—I don't know why—I turned my head. I suppose I was curious to see Mrs. Foster-Howes play her stroke—it couldn't have been for any other reason. Yet at the precise moment I looked around, I felt almost certain that I saw one of the peasants on the edge of the field, and, standing close to Mrs. Foster-Howes, throw what seemed to be a piece of paper just in front of her. She played her shot, a very correct one, on to the green, and moved forward. Suddenly she stooped down and stretched out her hand. I went on to my ball, missed my shot, fluffed my next, gave up the hole and joined her on the green.
'Your hole,' I said. 'That makes you one up.'
She looked at me a little questioningly. I wasn't going to say anything, however. After we had driven off the next tee, she came to me.
'Did you see me pick something up just now?' she asked, looking up at me.
'I did,' I answered. 'It was something which one of those men had dropped.'
She passed her hand for a moment through my arm—a delightful little way she had when we were walking together and comparatively unobserved.
'Do let me tell you about it,' she begged.
'Of course!' I assented. 'Go right ahead.'
'It's one of those men there—I think he is the owner of the farm—but every time I pass he comes up and tries to talk to me. Of course, I haven't taken it seriously, but to-day he dropped a note and stood watching me. I didn't mean to pick it up, but I thought perhaps it might have his name on, and I would get you or someone to either write him or go and see him. It is so hard for a woman who is quite alone,' she concluded a little pathetically.
I stopped short.
'Give me the note,' I suggested, 'and show me the man, and I'll make an end of him.'
'You silly person,' she laughed. 'You forget that you couldn't make him understand. You'd have to fetch out that awful phrase-book of yours!'
'I'd make him understand fast enough,' I answered grimly. 'There's a sort of Volapük I can use as well as most men. You'd better let me have the note.'
She shook her head.
'Not this time,' she said. 'If he annoys me again, I shall come to you. It is so nice,' she added softly, 'to believe that there is someone who would be kind and help if one were in trouble.'
I made some sort of foolish reply and we went on for some distance. Suddenly she clutched at the folds of her blouse and stopped short.
'Heavens!' she cried. 'I've lost the note!'
She stood feeling herself all over, feeling in her pockets, and her face grew whiter and whiter. We let the couple behind pass us while we retraced our steps.
'Does it matter much?' I asked her.
'Of course it does,' she replied sharply. 'Supposing it were picked up and people knew it was for me! The women at the hotel are bad enough as it is. Do find it—please find it, Mr. Martin.'
We did our best, caddies and all. I offered five francs reward, and there wasn't an inch of those two fields that we didn't go over. It was no use, however. The note seemed to have disappeared.
'Must have got down your clothes, somehow or other,' I told her. 'If you like, we'll walk back to the clubhouse and then you can have a proper search.'
She agreed at once and we walked slowly back, she keeping her eyes on the ground all the time to see if she dropped it. When we arrived at the club-house, she hurried into the ladies' dressing-room and was gone for almost half an hour. She came out shaking her head and looking a good deal more worried, I thought, than the occasion called for.
'I must have dropped it,' she announced. 'I am going back. Don't you bother to come unless you like.'
Of course I went, though I felt it wasn't much use. We searched for another hour and finally returned to the hotel. I tried hard to get her to point out the man, but she refused to do anything of the sort. On our way up the steep path to the hotel she clung to me almost nervously.
'I don't know what is the matter with me this morning,' she sighed. 'I don't think I ever felt so friendless and so terrified.'
'Look here,' I said, patting her hand, 'don't you be
a silly little woman. You've nothing to be terrified
about, and as to being friendless—well, we've only
known one another three or four days, but—'
'You really are sincere?' she asked, looking up at me with her big blue eyes full open. 'You mean it?'
'Of course,' I assured her. 'You can try me as soon as you like.'
She gave a little sigh as though of relief, and let go my arm reluctantly. We were by the entrance to the hotel now and a good many people were looking at us.
'We'll have coffee together after lunch, won't we?' she begged. 'I am going to hurry in now and search myself once more.'
I lit a cigar and walked up to where the Colonel was sitting with his sister. Lady Chalmont laid down her knitting and shook her head at me sternly. She was a very charming person and the image of her brother.
'Young man,' she declared, 'you are flirting.'
'Is that so?' I replied. 'Well, she's a nice little woman, anyway.'
'Is she?' Lady Chalmont murmured.
'Just a little shy,' I went on, 'rather timid until she gets used to you. That's why she makes so few friends. She waits always for other people to make the advances.'
'What a judge of character you are, Mr. Martin!' Lady Chalmont sighed.
'One of my hobbies,' I assented.
'Is there,' Lady Chalmont asked, her fingers suddenly idle and her eyes lifted to the skies, 'a Mr. Foster-Howes?'
'Something to do with one of the Services—retired from the Navy, I believe,' I told her. 'He doesn't care about the Riviera. Rather an unsympathetic brute, I should think.'
'Some people need so much sympathy,' she observed. 'You take care, young man. These shy ladies with unsympathetic husbands, who stay in large hotels and wear remarkably pretty clothes, are very amenable to kindness.'
'There's some sort of trouble,' I replied cheerfully, 'I am always looking for. Just one dry one before luncheon, Colonel,' I suggested, passing my arm through his.
He tried to shake his head, and glanced tentatively at his sister.
'Don't be silly, Henry I' she exclaimed. 'If you can't take a cocktail before lunch at your time of life and with your constitution, you ought to be ashamed of yourself. Give the boy some good advice while you are drinking it.'
We made our way to the American bar and the Colonel did his best to carry out his sister's instructions.
'Young man,' he said, with his eyes fixed upon the shaker, 'you must be used to American hotels, even if you are a stranger on this side, and you know very well that the principal amusement at a place like this is flirtation. What my sister was trying to make you understand, though, was that there are phases of it sometimes a little dangerous for a young man—er—in your position.'
'You don't say!' I murmured, raising my glass. 'Put me wise.'
'What I mean to point out,' the Colonel continued, as he sipped his cocktail, 'is that a little grass-widow like Mrs. Foster-Howes is a much more dangerous lady to play around with than you might think, judging her superficially. What should you do, for instance, if, in reply to one of your gallant speeches, she were suddenly to throw herself into your arms and declare that in you alone she found the sympathy she had been looking for all her life, and beg you to take her—well, take her anywhere?'
I set down my glass and made signs to the bar-keeper.
'What's that, Colonel?' I demanded.
'It's the sort of position you might find yourself in at any moment,' he assured me earnestly. 'I know that mild, florid type, with the silk stockings and melting eyes. They stick like leeches.'
I winked at him solemnly.
'I bet you've had a bit of experience, Colonel!' I said. 'I bet you have a look in yourself now and then, when your sister isn't along.'
The Colonel evaded the point, muttering something about its being altogether irrelevant. I noticed, however, that he had drawn himself up a little and was twirling his scanty grey moustache.
'We are talking entirely about yourself at the present moment,' he reminded me. 'From the little I know of you, I should say that you had a heaven-bestowed gift for getting out of scrapes, but, believe me, in the hands of a woman like Mrs. Foster-Howes, if she meant business you wouldn't have a chance.'
The luncheon gong sounded and I was instantly conscious of a remarkable appetite. I took the Colonel by the arm and led him upstairs.
'Colonel,' I said, 'I understand the situation entirely. I am being warned by my kindly friend and his sister, steeped to the finger-tips, both of them, with experience of the world. I am a foolish young man whose head is being turned by a fluffy-haired, designing widowette. You can make your mind easy and make your sister's mind easy, too—and listen. If there's any trouble ahead, you put your money on the greenhorn.'
That afternoon I spent in an exceedingly pleasant and interesting manner. Soon after luncheon I walked into Hyères with Jenkinson, who told me all the news of the tragedy in the golf course lane, so far as was known, It seemed that the murdered man was a widower, living in Bormes. He had been into Hyères early that morning to receive the last instalment of a legacy of forty thousand francs, which had been paid over to him at the office of an avocat in the place.
Notwithstanding many warnings, he had spent the whole of the rest of the day in treating his friends, or indeed anyone whom he happened to meet, at the various cafés. He had finished the evening at the Café de Coq d'Or, an establishment in the old portion of the city, which he had left on his bicycle at about midnight, with the remains of his legacy in his pocket. He had been found early in the morning with a bullet wound through his head, and also the marks of a blow which had completely fractured the skull.
The whole affair seemed, in its way, sordid enough, the motive for the crime obvious, the murderer glaringly apparent. A man name Paul Dérode, between whom and the dead man there had always been bad blood, had been his companion for the last two hours in the café, and had more than once tried to possess himself of one of the bundles of notes which Moule was freely flourishing about. He had followed the latter out after his final departure from the café, and it was his bicycle which was found broken in the hedge near the scene of the murder, his cap and cigarette-case in the road. Furthermore, he had disappeared.
'The only point about the affair worthy of comment,' Jenkinson concluded, after he had finished his very lucid statement, 'is, why did this fellow Paul commit the crime twice over? Either the bullet wound or the blow must have killed the man instantly.'
'Inartistic but thorough,' I observed. 'Let us go and find the café.'
Jenkinson consented eagerly. On the way he talked to me a good deal of the various criminal cases in which he had been mixed up. The café was packed, but we were fortunate enough to find a table and a garrulous waiter, who, in consideration of a five-franc piece, answered a good many questions which I got Jenkinson to put to him.
'Bit morbid yourself, aren't you?' the latter remarked, as we sipped our vermouth. 'You seem to be taking a tremendous interest in the details of a thing we already know all about—where they left their bicycles, and who else was here, and all that sort of thing.'
'To tell you the truth,' I confided, 'this place bores me some, and anything out of the common gives one a sort of stir-up. I'm going to walk home.'
'I am for the Casino,' Jenkinson replied.
We parted a few minutes later, and I walked home along the road instead of by the hills. I took the exact route pursued by the dead man and his murderer, until I arrived at the spot where the crime occurred. Then I passed on to the golf course and loitered about for a time by the side of the violet farm.
The man whom I had recognized as having dropped the note before Mrs. Foster-Howes was working nearest me. I stood and watched him for some minutes. Then I turned back and retraced my steps to the hotel. I found that it was time to change for dinner and made my way at once to my room. In the act of taking off my boots I stopped short. There was something in the turned-up portion of my trousers. I stooped down and drew it out. It was a little scrap of folded-up paper.
I was on the point of throwing it away when I realized what it was. Then I laid it down upon the dressing-table. It was, without a doubt, the note which the peasant in the field had dropped before Mrs. Foster-Howes during the morning.
Now this is a point in the story where the Colonel would have been no use. He would have taken that scrap of paper back to Mrs. Foster-Howes, holding it as far away as possible from him, and with his head turned up to the skies. I did nothing of the sort. I didn't look at it, because I wasn't quite prepared to go that far, but I folded it up and placed it in my pocket-book, and it was there later on when I went down to dinner.
I am afraid I must here confess that matters between Mrs. Foster-Howes and myself progressed. We spent the greater part of that evening and the few succeeding days together. We provided the whole of the hotel with abundant subject for gossip, not that they ever needed it, but the novelty of having something to talk about with a solid foundation almost turned their heads.
On the fifth day I walked up with the Colonel from an early round of golf, to find the little crowd of hotel guests, who usually spent the latter part of the morning basking in the sunshine of the piazza, standing about in groups and talking with the utmost animation. I noticed, also, that Mrs. Foster-Howes was not in her accustomed seat waiting for me, and that all eyes were turned in our direction as we approached. Lady Chalmont, with her knitting in her hand, left her seat and came rapidly down the steps towards us.
'Have you heard the news?' she asked, her eyes fixed severely upon me. 'You have not, of course. Mr. Foster-Howes has come out from England unexpectedly. His wife has gone down to the station to meet him.'
The news really gave me a big throb but I affected an air of unconcern.
'Well, now, that's quite interesting,' I declared. 'The poor little woman has been kind of lonely out here. I shall be curious to meet her husband.'
Lady Chalmont coughed and looked at me.
'Lonely, indeed!' she exclaimed witheringly. 'Of all the brazen young men I ever met! Well, anyhow, you are in for trouble now,' she went on. 'They are all saying that someone has sent him an anonymous letter. Mrs. Foster-Howes went off to meet him shivering with fear.'
'People will do such ill-natured things,' I said cheerfully. 'However, we'll soon set all that right, believe me.'
'I hope you may, my boy,' the Colonel remarked grimly. 'Seems to me you'll soon have an opportunity, for here they come.'
We stood and watched the little victoria drive up. I flatter myself that nothing in my appearance betrayed any perturbation I might have felt. Mr. Foster-Howes was dark, clean-shaven, and with an appearance which was quite in keeping with his profession as a naval man. The behaviour of the two, as they descended from the carriage, was ominous. It was evident that Mrs. Foster-Howes had been crying. Her husband, without assisting her to alight, strode quickly into the hotel and vanished in the office. I at once stepped forward.
'My dear Blanche!—' I began.
She pushed me away. Her eyes were fixed upon the door through which her husband had disappeared. She certainly did seem to be in a state almost of collapse.
'Don't,' she begged, in a frightened tone. 'Please don't talk to me just now. I don't want anyone to speak to me. My husband is simply furious. Someone has sent him an anonymous letter from here and told him the most abominable things about you and me. Please leave me quite alone and keep out of the way as much as you can.'
'Come now, that's too bad,' I declared, trying to soothe her by my tone and manner. 'Don't you fret about it, though. He'll soon calm down.'
We all went in to luncheon a few minutes later, and, as was as our frequent custom, I joined the Colonel and Lady Chalmont at their table. Mr. and Mrs. Foster-Howes sat quite near us, and we were able to observe the fact that throughout the meal the former maintained his attitude of grim anger. He scarcely spoke to his wife and her distress was apparent to everyone.
'That's your fault, young man,' Lady Chalmont whispered reproachfully, leaning across the table towards me. 'You Lothario!'
'The fellow needs a lesson,' I muttered.
'I shouldn't be surprised,' the Colonel remarked, 'if you weren't offered an opportunity of giving him one! If you take my advice, you'll go for a long motor-ride this afternoon.'
I decided, however, to face the music, and after luncheon we lounged about outside, taking our coffee in the sunshine, From the place where we were sitting I saw Mrs. Foster-Howes escape from her husband and disappear into the writing-room. She sat there for some moments with a pen in her hand and her eyes fixed upon the door. Then she wrote a few lines quickly, dashed the sheet of paper into an envelope and scrawled an address upon it.
Looking furtively about her, she passed into the lounge and vanished from my view, reappearing, however, a moment or two later, through the entrance to the hotel, only a few yards away from us. She paused there for a moment, looking around. Then she stepped hurriedly forward towards the concierge, who had been talking to the driver of the omnibus. Before she could reach him, however, her husband suddenly issued from the hotel and caught her up.
In full view of at least a score of people he seized her wrist and snatched from her fingers the note which she was carrying. Nearly everyone turned their heads at the sound of her little cry of dismay. Her husband held the note high above her reach. Then he stepped a yard or two on one side, broke the seal, and read. He glanced back at the name upon the envelope and called to the concierge.
'Just point me out Mr. Edmund Martin, will you?' he demanded in a loud tone.
'You're in for a nice thing,' Lady Chalmont whispered. 'Don't you wish you'd gone for that motor-ride?'
The concierge hesitated for a moment, with his eyes fixed upon our little group, but Mr. Foster-Howes was obviously not a man to be trifled with.
'If you don't answer my question at once,' he said, 'I shall report you for incivility.'
The concierge indicated our presence, and the injured husband strode promptly over to our table.
'I understand, sir, that your name is Martin?' he snapped, addressing me.
'That's so,' I replied. 'You are Mr. Foster-Howes, I believe? Glad to meet you, sir.'
'Then I'm damned if I can return the compliment,' Mr. Foster-Howes replied bluntly. 'I have just intercepted this note, addressed to you by my wife. Be so good as to explain it, if you can.'
I took the sheet of paper between my lingers, crossed my legs, and removed the cigar from my lips. Then I proceeded to read it aloud, which was evidently what he expected.
Lady Chalmont drew a little away from me.
'You wicked young man!' she exclaimed.
'I'll "dearest" you!' Mr. Foster-Howes muttered.
'Say, let me get on with this,' I begged, as soon as I had recovered from the shock. '"Don't come near me ",' I went on, resuming the reading. '"Someone has written to Richard, and he is furious. Be very careful, loved one, please. He will only stay a few days, and when he has gone, everything will be as before. Ever and only yours, Blanche."'
'I am waiting, sir,' Mr. Foster-Howes declared with a truculent air, 'for your explanation.'
I folded the note up and returned it. To me it was a far more interesting document than any of the little group could imagine.
'Explanation?' I repeated. 'Well, I don't know exactly what sort of explanation you expect from me.'
'I desire to know from your own lips, sir,' Mr. Foster-Howes demanded, 'upon what terms you are with the lady who writes you in that fashion?'
I replaced the cigar in the corner of my mouth and leaned back.
'Quite a friendly little note, isn't it?' I observed.
'A friendly little note, you call it?' Mr. Foster-Howes spluttered. 'Is that all you have to say?'
'Here are the facts, if you want them,' I replied. 'I talked to your wife for the first time about a week or ten days ago. I found her a very charming companion and we have had a very pleasant time together. I am sorry you have come to interrupt it, and I hope you'll soon go away.'
Mr. Foster-Howes appeared to be at a loss for words. The Colonel told me afterwards that he had never seen my bland and boyish expression assert itself so triumphantly. He added that I had the appearance of a man in a difficult position, who had spoken the truth not because it was the easiest, but because it was the most natural thing to do.
'Do you suppose,' Mr. Foster-Howes blurted out, 'that I shall put up with bluff like this?'
'I don't see what bluff there is about it,' I protested. 'What do you accuse me of? Paying attentions to your wife? I plead guilty. A very charming woman she is, too. Now what are you going to do about it?'
'You have made her the talk of the place, sir,' my antagonist declared angrily, 'so much so that people in this hotel sent me word of what was going on, and I have had to come out all the way from England.'
'Arriving this morning?' I asked, looking at him for a moment.
'Arriving by the Luxe this morning,' Mr. Foster-Howes assented, with a sudden, almost imperceptible start.
'Well, I'm sorry,' I assured him, 'very sorry indeed, but you really shouldn't take any notice of anonymous letters. There are always a lot of old cats in the world, you know, especially at a place like this, who've got nothing else to do but talk gossip. Don't you take any notice of 'em. Your wife's all right.'
Mr. Foster-Howes drew a little nearer.
'Bluff,' he said earnestly, striking the round table with his clenched fist, 'is the one national characteristic of you Americans, but it won't carry you anywhere. That note, sir, tells its own story!'
I tried all I could to soothe him.
'Say, you are taking this affair too seriously,' I insisted. 'Sit right down and have some coffee and a liqueur.'
'I'll see myself damned before I drink with you!' Mr. Foster-Howes exclaimed furiously. 'Will you be so good as to step with me into the wood there?'
'I'd rather not,' I replied. 'I make it a rule never to take much exercise after luncheon.'
'You are either,' Mr. Foster-Howes declared, 'going to have the thrashing of your life, or—'
'Say, I'm glad there's an alternative,' I interrupted, with an air of relief. 'What is it?'
For some time, the injured husband remained silent. I watched him steadily. I, too, was thinking a lot.
'There are things to be considered,' he went on gloomily. 'You have broken up my career, you have robbed me of my wife. She is a wealthy woman and I have nothing but my pension.'
'Cheque book or pistols, eh?' I murmured.
Forced to disclose his hand, Mr. Foster-Howes was at a disadvantage and he knew it. Nevertheless, he did his best
'You may scoff as much as you like,' he proceeded, 'but if you won't stand up to me like a man, the only way I can make you suffer is through your pocket. You can have this letter and peace for five thousand pounds.'
'Who gets the lady?' I asked.
I thought for a moment that the injured husband would have fallen upon me. He turned, however, upon his heel.
'You shall hear from my lawyer, sir,' he concluded. 'I will not waste my time discussing matters with you.'
We watched him disappear, in silence. There was a general air of relief all down the long line of chairs. Everyone had been straining so hard to listen.
'Say, that's an agreeable sort of person,' I remarked, relighting my cigar.
'I am not sure that I do not entirely sympathize with him,' Lady Chalmont said severely. 'Fancy a boy of your age being in the divorce court!'
'I'm not there yet,' I chuckled.
Lady Chalmont tugged at her knitting.
'H'm!' she remarked. 'That note sounded very compromising.'
'It certainly did,' I admitted. 'However, I've been in a worse fix than this before....'
>I spent the rest of the afternoon in Hyères, where I enjoyed myself exceedingly. When I returned to the hotel I found the Colonel walking up and down the lounge, waiting for me. He took me at once into the bar.
'Young man,' he began, frowning at me austerely, 'I have had a very distressing interview with Mr. Foster-Howes.'
'Is that so?' I answered, telegraphing my order to the bar-tender. 'I shall be having something of the sort myself with him before long!'
'The man's manners may not be ingratiating,' the Colonel continued, 'but he has, at any rate, a certain amount of right on his side. He has been to me as a friend of yours, and I have agreed to put the following facts before you. In the first place, Mr. and Mrs. Foster-Howes have decided to separate. They are leaving the hotel together this evening, but will separate at the railway station. Mr. Foster-Howes is going back to London, and immediately he arrives there he is consulting his solicitors with a view to procuring a divorce.'
'Isn't the evidence just a little thin?' I ventured, shaking up the ice in my whisky-and-soda.
'Not so thin as you may think,' the Colonel declared impressively. 'He must have found out a few things besides that letter, apart from which he declares that his wife has practically confessed.'
'Her affection for you,' the Colonel continued grimly. 'She has admitted that she could not stand cross-examination on the point. She has admitted as much to me in the presence of her husband. After that, there didn't seem to be much to be said. I can't say that I admire the man's attitude, but at least it is, to a certain extent, reasonable. He pointed out that his wife has two thousand a year, which hitherto they have divided. Now that they are separated, Mr. Foster-Howes will have nothing but his pension of a hundred and forty pounds a year. He is quite convinced that he would get heavy damages in the divorce court, but he is prepared, if you wish, to compromise for a certain amount down.'
'How much?' I asked.
'Three thousand pounds,' the Colonel told me.
I lit a cigar and leaned back in my chair.
'Three thousand pounds, eh? Don't they wish they may get it!'
'Of course, I don't know much about the affair,' the Colonel remarked a little stiffly. 'I don't know what evidence they would be able to produce, but that note sounded to me compromising enough, and Mrs. Foster-Howes would probably confess.'
I began to laugh softly. The Colonel regarded me severely. He had evidently made up his mind that I was a very black sheep.
'I have discharged my mission,' he said. 'It is for you to give an answer. Do you mean to pay?'
'Not a cent,' I declared.... 'My God, they're off!'
From my seat I could just catch a glimpse of the open space in front of the hotel. I suddenly realized what was happening. With a single bound I crossed the floor of the room, rushed up the stairs, across the lounge and down the hall. I burst through the doorway, scattering the people right and left.
'Fritz,' I shouted,' stop that omnibus! Stop it, I say!'
There was a little commotion outside. The omnibus, which was just moving off, came to a standstill. The white face of Mr. Foster-Howes looked out from the back window.
'Hold on a minute,' I called out. 'I want a word with you, Mr. Foster-Howes.'
'You have three days in which to consider the matter of my proposals,' Mr. Foster-Howes replied. 'I have left my address with the hotel management. Be so good as not to detain me. We have only just time to catch the train.'
'There'll be no train for you to-night, my friend,' I declared, clinging to the back of the omnibus. 'Hallo, you fellows there!'
There followed what was perhaps the most exciting five minutes I ever remember in my life. In response to my frantic summons, the two men who had been sitting upon a seat in front of the hotel came running up. Mr. Foster-Howes had let down one of the broad windows of the omnibus and was crouching upon the seat.
'Here's your man,' I cried, pointing to him. 'Prenez garde là, on the left-hand side. Look out, you idiots!'
My warning, only half understood, came too late. Mr. Foster-Howes was through the window of the omnibus. In full sight of a score or so of loungers in front of the hotel, he sprang across the avenue and plunged into the shrubbery. Both men followed him, and two others in uniform, who had been sitting in a small car drawn back near the shrubbery, joined in the chase. Fritz mounted guard over the omnibus, which we left in the avenue.
We spread out a little, I on the outside wing, and in a moment we saw Mr. Foster-Howes emerge a little way down the drive, and, turning sharp to the right, dash across towards the violet farm. One of his pursuers, however, was gaining upon him, and I was fast closing in on the other side. Suddenly he paused, his arm shot out. Through the dim light flashed a level stream of fire.
'Keep back, you others,' he shouted. 'I don't want to hurt you. Where's that damned American?'
I was within a dozen paces of him now. The others had stopped short and we formed almost a semicircle around him. Even in that moment of queer excitement, when I was taking what cover I could against the back of a small peach tree, I remember the perfume of the violets which we were crushing beneath our feet. The figure of the hunted man loomed up singularly large against the flat, empty background. His eyes were like points of fire.
'Stand out of the way, all of you!' he cried viciously. 'You come near me at your own risk. I'm going to settle with that devil Martin!'
From being the pursued, he suddenly swung around and advanced towards us. The emissaries from the gendarmerie, like brave men, after the first moment's hesitation, never wavered. They ran in towards him. Taking no notice of them, Mr. Foster-Howes raised his hand and fired point-blank at me. I had been half-prepared, waiting only for the angle of his pistol.
I dropped like lightning on one knee, and the bullet whistled over my head. Then I covered him low down with my own revolver, and a stream of light, only a foot or so from the ground, blazed across the blue-carpeted field. My antagonist threw up his arms with a yell of pain. Before he could recover himself, he was in the grip of the officers.
'I've shot him in the leg,' I called out. 'Be careful, you fellows. He killed a policeman in New York after they had closed with him. He was in Sing-Sing for it the last time I saw him.'
They gathered the sense of my words somehow, and they gave him very little chance. In a few seconds my own arm was around his neck, and the three of us were too many for Mr. Foster-Howes. He lay on the ground, gasping, as they handcuffed him.
'Who the devil are you, anyway?' he demanded, glaring up at me.
'Just Edmund H. Martin, of New York,' I told him cheerfully. 'I've had you pointed out to me more than once, you and Slick Sue, as they used to call the lady up at the hotel. Dancing halls in Fourteenth Street one night, you know, and Delmonico's the next. Quite a game while it lasted! I saw you, too, at Sing-Sing just before you broke out.'
'But what the devil's the meaning of this?' he gasped, looking around at the gendarmes. 'What am I charged with?'
'You'll find out all about that when you get down to the mayor,' I assured him. 'I've been looking into things myself the last few days. Found out, for instance, who it was who sat in the corner of that café the night when Philippe Moule was flaunting his legacy about, who it was that helped himself to Paul Dérode's bicycle and rode off after Moule. It wasn't so badly managed, either.
'Dérode came up, running, to find his victim, as he thought, delivered into his hands—lying in a drunken stupor upon the road. It was only after he had struck his blow that he discovered that the man was already dead and his pockets empty. How's that for a reconstruction, eh. Mr. Foster-Howes? A few little points to be cleared up, perhaps, but it's not far off the truth.'
They led him back towards the omnibus, sullen and a little dazed. People from the hotel were now streaming over the field. I was still slightly out of breath, and I was glad of the Colonel's support.
'It was a neat game, Colonel,' I told him, as we climbed the hill. 'The woman's been staying up here for weeks, keeping her eyes open, and the man's been living down in the slums of the town, disguised as a peasant, ready for anything that might come along.'
'But how the mischief,' the Colonel asked, 'did you get on to all this?'
'Partly luck,' I admitted. 'The man worked on that violet farm in the daytime—to escape suspicion, I suppose, and he dropped a note for his wife one day when we were playing golf. She lost it, and when I changed my clothes that evening I found it in the turned-up part of my trousers. There were only a couple of lines, but it gave the show away pretty neatly.'
The Colonel let go my arm.
'Then you mean to say that your flirtation with Mrs.
'You make me tired,' I interrupted. 'Let's get round the back way and have a dry one before we change.'
[Note by Colonel Green.—It has been mutually agreed between my young friend Martin and myself that the task of narrating the events connected with the really extraordinary disappearance of Mr. James Westthrop should fall to my lot. I have endeavoured to treat this story in as sober a fashion as possible, but as I read it over to myself, I become more and more amazed to think that I, an elderly person of humdrum life and quiet habits, should have become associated with events of such a character. However, the facts are simple enough, and I shall tell the story to the best of my ability in as few words as possible and without exaggeration.]
I think that no man ever entered into the spirit of Monte Carlo more thoroughly than did my young friend Martin. Within three days of our arrival there his table at Ciro's and his corner in the Café de Paris were sacred things. His favourite croupier at the Sporting Club hung upon his words and watched for his presence. The bar-tenders at the Hôtel de Paris, where we stayed, at Ciro's, and at the Sporting Club were thoroughly acquainted with the exact amount of bitters he liked in his cocktails. There was only one thing needed to fill his cup of bliss, and that was a compatriot of similar taste and age, and, perhaps I should add, constitution.
For although my feelings of friendship for this young man had increased to a quite extraordinary extent, and although they were shared to a singular degree by my sister, whose outlook upon life I had always considered even stricter and more rigid than my own, the fact remained that our habits of life were too set to be altogether uprooted by the overwhelming assaults made upon them by this wonderful young man. We did our best to humour him.
My sister, Lady Chalmont, who for many years had not touched alcohol in any form, had fallen into the habit of taking a cocktail before dinner solely for his gratification, and I myself, although it was impossible for me to desert the moderate principles of my lifetime, still found myself—without evil results, I am thankful to say—indulging far more freely than has been my custom in various forms of spasmodic refreshment. At the same time, supper at the Café de Paris, and a later meal at the Carlton in which hot lobster and champagne were inevitable appurtenances, was not a form of dissipation suited to our years, or one in which we could frequently indulge with impunity.
I think that Martin himself realized this fact, and it was probably accountable, to some extent, for the extraordinary enthusiasm which marked his meeting with Mr. James P. Westthrop of Springfield, Massachusetts. We were all three sitting upon the terrace, sunning ourselves, one morning about a week after our arrival, and Martin was giving us an enthusiastic description of a cocktail which a stranger had tendered him on the previous evening, when he broke off in the middle of a sentence.
He sat a little forward in his seat and stared down the terrace. An expression came into his face which I can only describe as seraphic. With a simple movement of the teeth he effected the retreat of his cigar into the extreme corner of his mouth. Finally he rose to his feet. His great hand was stretched out to its utmost capacity. Hastening along towards him was a little scrub of a man with gold-rimmed spectacles, clean-shaven, neatly dressed, and in his way as unmistakably American as our young friend himself.
'James, my boy!' Martin thundered to the newcomer, who was at least old enough to be his father. 'Well, well, put it right there!'
'Edmund H. Martin, as I'm alive!' was the prompt reply, higher pitched, but none the less enthusiastic. 'Gee whiz, but this is great!'
There followed a minute or two of strange exclamations and of vigorous handshakes, bravely borne by the little man.
'Mrs. Westthrop?' Martin began tentatively.
The little man, who had given me at first the impression of being something almost clerical, solemnly winked. I associated him no longer with any such pretensions.
'She durstn't come, Edmund, my boy,' he declared, 'durstn't face the folk at home if she'd been to such a sinful place. The Reverend Patmore—you remember that lantern-jawed parson all the folks are crazy about in Springfield?—admonished her before she sailed. I left her in London.'
The whereabouts of Mrs. Westthrop seemed to be a matter for mutual congratulation, for again the two shook hands. Then the little man rescued his crushed fingers and thrust them through our young friend's arm.
'Only reached here last night,' he explained. 'You know the ropes. We'll try the nearest.'
'One moment,' Martin begged. 'Must introduce you to some particular friends of mine. Mr. Westthrop, of Springfield, Massachusetts—Lady Chalmont; her brother, Colonel Green, late of the British Army.'
Mr. Westthrop was exceedingly pleased to make our acquaintance and did not fail to tell us so, but he was evidently a great deal more pleased to have found his friend Martin. In a very few minutes they marched gaily off together, and, following them slowly along the terrace, we saw them cross the front of the Casino and make a bee-line for Ciro's bar.
'I am so glad, for Mr. Martin's sake, that he has found a friend,' my sister remarked.
'So am I,' I assented heartily. 'What I propose, Mary, is that we give ourselves and our—er—constitutions a rest, under the circumstances, and motor out to San Remo for lunch. We can drink Evian water, and have a nap in the car on our way back. Martin will be quite all right for the rest of the day.'
My suggestion was received by Mary with less enthusiasm than I had expected, but we nevertheless carried it out.
For three days we did not see a great deal of our young friend. Mr. Westthrop, who we gathered had been a lifelong friend of Mr. Martin, Senior, a friendship which had been carried on with singular continuity to the present generation, moved down his belongings to our hotel, and by the exercise of wholesale bribery found a room next to Martin's. Compared with these two, Damon and Pythias were novices in the arts of friendship. Never were two men more inseparable. They breakfasted together, they paid their morning's visit to the barber's together, they sallied out into the sunshine each morning at the same time, arm in arm.
From then until the small hours of the next day they were scarcely parted for a moment. Martin's influence upon his companion was very soon marked by small changes in the latter's attire and general deportment.
Mr. Westthrop, in the course of the next few hours, lost a good deal of his semi-clerical appearance, and before many days had passed it had vanished altogether. His small wisp of black tie was replaced by a grey silk cravat with white flowered pattern, and embellished by a pearl pin which I suspected from the first to be a gift from his young friend. The small black bowler hat was discarded in favour of a grey Homburg of similar colour and design to Martin's, which his pupil in the sartorial arts soon learned to wear at the same somewhat rakish angle. His newly acquired custom of wearing a flower in his buttonhole was one, also, which was without doubt instigated by his more worldly companion. Altogether, when Martin had finished with him, Mr. Westthrop looked a very different man.
We used to come across them continually in the Sporting Club or at Ciro's, in the rooms or on the terrace, or seated before one of the open-air tables at the Café de Paris, seldom talking much, yet with an ever-flowing stock of the same kind of jokes, which seemed to keep them in a state of perpetual good humour. They were, in fact, steeped in a sort of placid contentment, born of complete geniality and satisfaction with one another.
On the fifth day after Mr. Westthrop's arrival my sister went to a woman's luncheon party at Mentone, and I accepted Martin's prompt and enthusiastic invitation to join him and his friend at Ciro's. I felt, somehow or other, that I was to a certain extent an inharmonious note, but they both did their best to set me at my ease. Martin ordered a luncheon which would have done service for a Lord Mayor's feast, and considering his size and his somewhat meagre frame, Mr. Westthrop's efforts to do it justice were truly admirable. About half-way through the meal, the latter suddenly leaned forward in a state of some excitement.
'Gee! He's come!' he exclaimed.
'Who?' I asked, looking up.
A note almost of awe crept into Mr. Westthrop's tone. He pointed to a tall, grey-headed man, wearing heavily-shaded glasses, who had been led down the room leaning upon the arm of a younger companion.
'Know who that is?' he demanded breathlessly.
I shook my head.
'That's Silas Frayne,' he announced, 'the Corset King.'
'The what king?' I asked, gazing at the somewhat dour-looking vision.
'Corset King,' Mr. Westthrop repeated. 'He's at the head of the Trust that controls all the corset factories in America, except two—mine and another. That man is worth fifty million dollars.'
'He doesn't look as though he derived much satisfaction from the fact,' I remarked dubiously.
'Poor devil!' Martin sighed, as he watched him pour out a glass of water.
Mr. Westthrop seemed suddenly to have grown in importance. His lips wore a self-satisfied smile.
'Silas Frayne's got one of the finest yachts that ever crossed the Atlantic,' he continued. 'Say, shall I tell you why he's here?'
'Well, I was beginning to wonder!' I murmured, looking at him.
'He is here to sec me,' Mr. Westthrop told us complacently. 'He called at my hotel in Paris just after I'd left, and his agent wired on to know how long I should be in Monte Carlo. That's Ned Brooks, his secretary, with him. He's just spotted us.'
I saw the secretary lean forward and whisper something to Mr. Frayne. A moment later the former rose to his feet and came over to our table. He held out his hand to Westthrop, who greeted him with transatlantic cordiality and promptly proceeded to introduce us.
'This is my friend, Mr. Edmund H. Martin of New York,' he said, 'and his friend, Colonel Green, late of the British Army. Make you both acquainted with Mr. Brooks. Mr. Brooks is private secretary to Mr. Silas Frayne.'
We all shook hands.
'Mr. Frayne wishes to know whether he can see you for half an hour this afternoon on a little matter of business,' Mr. Brooks announced, turning to Mr. Westthrop.
Mr. Westthrop showed a becoming hesitation.
'Business?' he repeated. 'I wasn't thinking of business much over this side. Plenty of corsets here in Monte Carlo, but not in our line exactly, eh, Brooks?'
Mr. Brooks smiled in sycophantic fashion.
'Mr. Frayne,' he continued, 'is very anxious to have a little chat with you, Mr. Westthrop. He missed you in New York and again in Paris last week. He declines to consider your last interview in Boston as final in any way.'
'Where are you staying?' Mr. Westthrop inquired.
'We sleep on the yacht every night,' the secretary explained. 'We go a mile or two out to sea and come back again in the morning. Mr. Frayne sleeps better that way. He found the noise in Paris intolerable.'
Mr. Westthrop nodded sympathetically.
'Well,' he said, 'I'm here on pleasure and I've no engagements. You might tell Mr. Frayne that I haven't changed my views since our last interview, but I'll have a chat with him with pleasure.'
Mr. Brooks, having accomplished his mission, shook hands with us all round and prepared to take his leave. Martin had spent the last few moments regarding the Corset King's preparation for luncheon with something like horror.
'Say, Mr. Brooks,' he asked, leaning forward in his place and detaining the secretary for a moment, 'does Mr. Frayne drink nothing but water?'
'Not a cocktail before luncheon, or a scotch-and-soda or a glass of wine, or anything of that sort?'
'Mr. Frayne is a world-known teetotaller,' the secretary replied. 'He has never tasted alcohol in any form. He is also a vegetarian.'
Martin buried his head in his hands. He did not recover himself until after Mr. Brooks had departed.
'So that's the Corset King, is it?' he muttered, a few moments later. 'Worth fifty millions, and he drinks water, eats vegetables, and goes about looking like nothing on earth.... Pass the decanter, Colonel.'
'There are only two factories,' Mr. Westthrop told us once more, impressively, 'manufacturing corsets to-day in the United States, which that man does not control. One belongs to a man named Hodgson, the other is my own.'
'Does he pinch you?' Martin inquired.
'He'd never hurt me in this world, sir,' Mr. Westthrop declared, with an air of self-satisfaction. 'I can make an article which no one else in the States can touch. He'd buy me out to-morrow and give me a million dollars for my goodwill, if I felt like it. Hodgson's in something like the same position but not quite so strong. So long as I keep out of the Trust, he can keep going.'
Mr. Brooks came over to us again a few minutes later.
'Mr Frayne presents his compliments,' he said to Mr. Westthrop, 'and he would like to sit with you outside in three-quarters of an hour's time.'
'That goes,' Mr. Westthrop agreed.
Martin was staring at Mr. Frayne's plate in a fascinated manner.
'Say, Mr. Brooks,' he inquired, 'how old is Silas Frayne?'
'I'd like to meet him,' Martin declared. 'Seems to me he wants someone to take him in hand. What fun's he get out of life, anyway?'
The young man smiled a little grimly.
'Mr. Frayne doesn't live for fun,' he replied. 'There are only two things in life which appeal to him in the slightest—dollars, and the power that dollars bring.'
'No use asking him to come over here and be sociable, I suppose?' Martin persisted, almost wistfully.
The secretary shook his head.
'Mr. Frayne,' he said, 'has not made a new acquaintance, except in the way of business, for some years.'
Martin collapsed for a moment or two but revived as he sipped the still, yellow wine from the tall glass by his side. At the conclusion of luncheon, we passed within a few feet of the table at which Mr. Frayne and his secretary were seated. The former looked at us with sightless eyes. Not a muscle of his face moved.
'He isn't in the least blind,' Mr. Westthrop told us as we strolled down the Arcade. 'He can see just as well as you or I. He wears those glasses so that he should never be obliged to recognize anyone.'
'The fellow's getting on my nerves,' Martin remarked irritably. 'Let's go and have a flutter in at the Casino, Colonel, whilst James talks to his Guy Fawkes.'
We strolled across the Square and spent an hour in the Rooms. When we returned, we found Mr. Westthrop waiting for us. The interview was at an end. We sat down and Martin ordered some refreshment. For some time Mr. Westthrop was uncommunicative. Then he suddenly struck the table by his side with his clenched fist.
'That man,' he exclaimed, 'is a fiend!'
'He's anything you like to call him,' Martin assented heartily. 'I never disliked a human creature so much in all my life.'
'Ten years ago.' Mr. Westthrop went on, 'that fellow Hodgson quarrelled with him. I guess Hodgson was in the right. He's a square chap, anyway. I have always said that Silas Frayne formed this Trust for no other reason than to break him. Last month, in Boston, he made me a big offer to sell out. If I sell, if he gets control of my plant, he can smash Hodgson. That's what he wants to do. I refused.'
'Bully for you!' Martin declared. 'I don't know Hodgson and I don't know anything about the corset business, but I'm all for saying "No!" to any proposition that Mr. Silas Frayne might bring forward.'
'He's been at it again to-day,' Mr. Westthrop continued, in a tone almost of awe. 'Look here, Martin, you're a youngster, but you've got your head screwed on your shoulders all right. You'll know what this means. We met last, as I said, in Boston, and he offered then to buy my plant, stock and debts at valuation, less trade discount only, and give me a million dollars' worth of stock in the Trust as goodwill. Do you know what he offered me here, within a few yards of this place, only ten minutes ago? He offered me, sir, two million dollars worth of stock and a million dollars in cash—and darned if he didn't—or rather if that fellow Brooks didn't—lay the agreement and a fountain-pen down on that marble-topped table there, and a cheque for the million dollars!'
Martin fanned himself with his Homburg hat.
'Gee whiz!' he murmured. 'Sounds like a fairy-tale.'
'Here in Monte Carlo,' Mr. Westthrop went on, 'where I don't suppose there's a soul thinking of business, or any part of it, sitting out here in the sunshine, he makes me a proposition which would simply revolutionize the corset industry. A certified cheque, too, mind, to stuff into my waistcoat pocket for a million dollars—just pocket-money! It's my belief, too, he followed me here. It's the one thing in his brain just now—to crush Hodgson.'
'What are you going to do about it?' I inquired.
'I asked for twenty-four hours to think it over,' Mr. Westthrop replied. 'To tell you the truth, I wanted to get away. The fellow has such an infernal influence over you, sitting there with a face like a bit of metal, talking coldly of millions, and convincing one all the time that everything he said was sound common sense. I felt like a baby that didn't know its own mind, that was refusing its food when it was hungry. All I wanted to do was to get away. We are going to meet here to-morrow at the same time.'
'Dollars ain't everything, James,' he observed impressively.
Mr. Westthrop patted the back of his young friend's hand.
'I've got my bit, Edmund,' he said. 'I shan't spend my little lot in this world, and there's plenty for them that come after. Silas Frayne's used to buying men like cattle. He's up against it this time for once in his life. I've got my answer ready for him and he won't like it. He isn't going to smash Hodgson through me.'
The two men suddenly gripped hands across the table. I am not an emotional person, and the world of business is a sealed book to me, but when I strolled away, a few moments later, I was conscious of something tike a lump in my own throat....
About eleven o'clock that evening my sister and I, who had been dining with some friends, strolled across into the Sporting Club. Seated on one of the divans there, exactly opposite the door, was Martin. He greeted us almost eagerly.
'Say, have you seen anything of James Westthrop?' he inquired.
I shook my head.
'We've been dining at the Metropole.' I told him.
Our young friend's face was full of trouble.
'Most extraordinary thing.' he declared. 'We got back to the hotel soon after six and I went across the Square to the English tailor's. James was to meet me in half an hour at the American bar. I waited for him, sent up to his room, sent all round the hotel. But not a sign of him! I went across to Ciro's bar, although we always have our first in the hotel. They hadn't seen him. I've been up to his room. His things were all laid out for dinner but there was no sign of his having been there at all. No one remembers having seen him even enter the hotel.'
'Where did you leave him?' I asked curiously.
'On the steps just outside the hotel. As I turned away he seemed on the point of entering.'
'And you haven't seen him since that moment?'
'That's so,' Martin admitted. 'I've just been back to the hotel. His room was exactly the same and I can't find a soul who has set eyes upon him.'
'It doesn't seem like Mr. Westthrop,' I remarked, puzzled. 'He was rather a methodical person, wasn't he?'
'He was that,' Martin assented. 'A man more regular in his habits than James I never met. We did the same things day by day as though by clockwork. Change at a quarter-past six, first cocktail at a quarter to seven, over to Ciro's at seven for number two, and then decide about dinner. We've never varied the programme by even five minutes.'
'Has he any other friends?' I inquired. 'He may have gone out with them and left word for you to follow, and the note may have miscarried.'
'James didn't know a soul here,' Martin assured me. 'He was just as miserable as could be before we met that morning on the terrace.'
My sister had settled down to play chemin de fer with some friends, but Martin's distress was so apparent that I hadn't the heart to leave him.
'Let's go back to the hotel,' I suggested,' and set some more inquiries going.'
Martin acquiesced with alacrity and until midnight we hunted in vain for Mr. Westthrop, finishing up with a visit to the police station. The official in charge there was most polite but profoundly uninterested. That a gentleman should not have returned home to change for dinner and was still unaccounted for at midnight in Monte Carlo, was a thing which called for absolutely no comment. He bowed us out with a little assurance that we should doubtless soon hear of our missing friend.
On our return to the hotel. I accompanied Martin myself to the room which James Westthrop had been occupying. Although secretly I was very much of the same mind as the police official, there was yet something a little strange about the neatness of that undisturbed apartment, the clothes waiting to be put on, the boots standing side by side, the tie, collar, and handkerchief arranged upon the dressing-table.
'I tell you, Colonel,' Martin declared miserably, for the twentieth time, 'that James isn't the sort of chap to do a thing like this of his own accord. He knew very well exactly how we were going to spend the evening. Something must have happened to him.'
'But, my dear boy, after all, what could happen to him?' I asked. 'There's certain to be some silly explanation for it all. Monte Carlo at six o'clock in the evening, to a man like your friend Mr. Westthrop, is just as safe as, and safer than Piccadilly Circus.'
'That's all right, Colonel,' my young friend admitted dismally,' but where is he, anyway?'
As that was a question which I could not possibly answer, I left him a short time later and went back to the Sporting Club to look after my sister. When we returned, about two o'clock, Martin was still sitting in the hall, looking the picture of misery.
'No luck?' I ventured.
'None!' he groaned.
'You take my advice and go to bed,' I begged him. 'There's nothing else you can do.'
Martin shook his head gloomily.
'I guess I'll stay here,' he replied. 'They know what I'm waiting for in the office. If they get any message, I'll be on hand. I couldn't sleep, anyway.'
We left him there reluctantly, and there I believe he remained for the greater part of the night. The next morning was a repetition of the previous evening, except that every one of the usual haunts of the two men had now been thoroughly explored. We tried the police station again, and this time the official admitted that the case began to wear a curious aspect, and condescended not only to take notes of our statement hut to send an officer up to the hotel. His inquiries, however, absolutely failed to throw any light upon this mysterious affair.
We gave up our morning to Martin and provided him with the best luncheon we could think of, but he ate and drank mechanically. In spirits he was only the shadow of his former self. As we crossed the Square on our way hack to the hotel someone touched me on the arm. I turned around. It was Mr. Brooks, Mr. Frayne's secretary, and a few yards away Mr. Frayne was seated in a familiar attitude, looking out across the Square with sightless eyes and leaning a little forward upon his stick.
'Do you happen to know where Mr. Westthrop is just now?' Mr. Brooks inquired.
'I'd damned well like to!' Martin exclaimed. 'We haven't seen or heard a thing of him since last evening.'
Mr. Brooks seemed annoyed.
'That's all very well,' he said, 'but your friend promised faithfully that he would meet Mr. Frayne here again at three o'clock this afternoon. Mr. Frayne isn't used to people who break their appointments. I beg you, sir, as a friend of Mr. Westthrop, to make an effort to find him.'
'Find him?' Martin thundered, enjoying the full luxury of losing his temper. 'What sort of a gol-darned idiot do you think I am? I tell you that from half-past six last evening until now, I have done little else except search for James Westthrop. I left him whilst I went to the tailor's, and arranged to meet him at half-past six in the bar. He never came. He never went back to his room to change his clothes. He has disappeared, in fact. And now you ask me to hurry him along for Mr. Frayne as though I knew where he was: Damn Mr. Frayne!'
The secretary was obviously more interested.
'I beg your pardon, I'm sure,' he said. 'I just thought that he was keeping out of the way because he had already answered Mr. Frayne's propositions and did not care to discuss the matter further. Have you been to the police station?'
'We have, sir, twice,' I assured him, 'and the police have the case in hand at the present moment.'
'Would you be so very kind,' Mr. Brooks begged, 'as to stay where you are for one minute?'
We acquiesced—I don't know why—and the secretary returned to his master's side. In a moment or two he hurried hack to us.
'Mr. Frayne would be obliged if you would speak to him,' he announced.
We crossed the road. Mr. Frayne did not move his head as we approached, yet directly we were within speaking distance he addressed us.
'My secretary has told me a strange story as to Mr. Westthrop's disappearance,' he began in a thin, metallic tone.
I explained the situation. When I had finished, Mr. Frayne turned his head slightly.
'You do not believe, then,' he asked, 'that he is keeping out of the way?'
'Nor any such damned silly nonsense!' Martin retorted. 'James Westthrop isn't the man to keep out of anyone's way. If there was a difficulty ahead, he tackled it in a straightforward fashion.'
'But Monte Carlo is full of attractions for a certain type of man,' Mr. Frayne continued cynically.
'Well, James Westthrop wasn't that type, and that's all there is to say about it,' Martin declared. 'If he'd wanted to go on the spree—why, we'd have gone on it together, he and I. There's nothing of that sort happened.'
'Your story, on the face of it, is a remarkable one,' Mr. Frayne observed. 'You say that you left Mr. Westthrop on the steps of the Hôtel de Paris soon after six last evening, that he had arranged to meet you within half an hour, and that no one has seen him since?'
'That's the long and short of it,' Martin admitted. 'It's a busy hour at the hotel and the hall porter can't remember either seeing him come in or go out. The only thing is that he never went to the bureau for his key, so it don't look as though he went up to his room at all.'
'In which case,' Mr. Frayne remarked, 'he could not even have received any message or telegram.'
'That is so,' Martin agreed.
Mr. Frayne rose to his feet. His secretary hurried over with outstretched arm.
'Of late years,' Mr. Frayne said, 'I know of no one who has failed to keep an appointment with me, and I should not in any ordinary case give anyone a second opportunity. The circumstances, however, are extraordinary. Will you be so good, Mr. Martin, as to beg your friend, when he does return, to favour me with a note?'
'When he does return,' Martin echoed gloomily.
The two men moved off. Mr. Frayne, who offered no farewell greeting, walked slowly and with short, nervous steps. They entered an automobile which was waiting, and drove off towards Monaco.
'That man's obituary notice,' Martin declared bitterly, 'will make pleasant reading for me! I say, Colonel, couldn't I wire to Paris for a private detective?'
'I should wait another twelve hours,' I suggested.
'Come down to the police station once more with me, then,' he begged.
I consented at once. The official there received us with his usual politeness and glanced at a paper by his side.
'We have made some inquiries,' he announced, addressing me. 'Mr. James Westthrop was, without doubt, on the threshold of the Hôtel de Paris according to your information. Ten minutes later he was seen crossing the road with a lady.'
'With a what?' Martin gasped.
The official smiled the smile of one who knows his world.
'With a lady,' he repeated.
'What was she like?' my young companion demanded, almost fiercely.
The official shrugged his shoulders.
'She was not known to the police. She was well dressed and young.'
'And after that?'
'Messieurs,' the police official concluded dryly, 'our inquiries are still being prosecuted, but there are many villas around Monte Carlo, and many beautiful ladies who are charmingly hospitable. We have laid before us several hundred inquiries as to the disappearance of wealthy gentlemen for a time from their hotels, and the final result has been always the same. Your friend Mr. Westthrop will, without doubt, return, full of apologies for the trouble he has given you.'
Martin almost flung himself out of the place.
'A lady, indeed!' he muttered. 'Jim Westthrop to give me the go-by like that!'
'Couldn't have been his wife who had turned up unexpectedly, could it?' I ventured.
Martin considered the idea thoughtfully. To some extent I think that the suggestion appealed to him.
'You must remember,' I pointed out, 'that you've made rather a different man of Mr. Westthrop since his arrival. If his wife is one of those very religious ladies who abominate Monte Carlo and everything that it stands for, if she came here and found him dressed as you've dressed him and enraptured with the place, she might try very hard to take him right away without letting him even say good-bye.'
'It don't seem probable,' Martin objected, 'but if James Westthrop had one weak point, it was his tendency to being ruled by that wife of his. He's as easily led as a child.'
'It was just about the time that the train came in,' I pointed out. 'Look through your letters when you get back to the hotel. You haven't opened any to-day.'
Martin piloted me back at a pace which left me breathless. He tore through
his neglected correspondence. It was all in vain, however. There was nothing
from Mr. Westthrop. He made his usual inquiry in the office. The clerk shook
his head. Nothing had been heard of their missing client. There was the
little matter of the
'I'll pay it,' Martin promised quickly. 'Keep the room. Keep everything just as it is.'
My young friend continued to behave like a cow which has lost its calf. He wandered and mooned about the place in an utterly aimless fashion. He forgot his regular hours for cocktails, he forgot even to smoke. My sister and I found it very difficult to do anything with him. Just as I was getting ready for dinner that night, however, he came unexpectedly up to my room. There was a change in his expression.
'Colonel,' he asked wistfully,' what are you doing this evening?'
'Nothing special,' I replied. 'Mary and I were going to have a little dinner downstairs and a quiet evening.'
'Could you come with me on a wild-goose chase?'
There was something so pathetic about the way he asked me that I never hesitated for a moment.
'I'm your man,' I agreed. 'I'll come right away, if you like. Mary would just as soon have dinner in her room, and as a matter of fact I ate far too much for luncheon.'
'Finish your dressing and come along down, then,' he begged.
'I am ready now,' I told him. 'I'll just let Mary know.'
My sister agreed most readily to my suggested desertion. I took Martin by the arm and led him to the bar, where he drank a Scotch whisky-and-soda with the first sign of relish I had noticed for many hours. He even murmured some approving word concerning the quality of the whisky.
'Colonel,' he said, as we turned away, 'you'll laugh at me but I've a queer idea in my head. I want you to come down to the harbour with me.'
'That's all right,' I agreed. 'I'll come anywhere you say.'
We took an automobile down to the quay. Martin led me at a most uncomfortable pace along the roughly-paved stoneway. He pointed with his finger to where, about a couple of hundred yards out, lay Silas Frayne's magnificent yacht, the Iris.
'Colonel,' he said,'that's where I believe James Westthrop is.'
Incredulity, I suppose, was written in my face. Martin took my arm.
'Look here. Colonel,' he began earnestly, 'it sounds rotten, I know, but then isn't the whole thing rotten? James Westthrop must be somewhere. As to the police commissioner's idea that he is hiding up in one of those villas with a lady, I tell you that's a damned lie. It's simply because the fellow's speaking of a man he knows nothing of. James couldn't do it. He has disappeared. Whom does he know in Monte Carlo? Who's interested in him? No one except this chap Frayne, and Silas Frayne's interested enough to offer him a great fortune for a simple thing which he won't do.'
I looked across the glittering waters of the harbour towards the yacht.
'That's all very well, you know,' I protested; 'but they couldn't carry him off against his will.'
'No; but there might be a dozen ways of getting him down here peaceably,' Martin rejoined. 'Once on board, why shouldn't they be able to keep him, if they cared to run the risk? Silas Frayne's a martinet wherever he goes. I bet that every one of those men on board is trained down to the knuckle to absolute and implicit obedience.'
I struggled with the British common sense which told me that the idea of such an abduction was absurd. I tried, instead, to enter into my young friend's point of view.
'It sounds absurd,' I said; 'but then, as you point out, the whole thing is inexplicable. What do you propose doing?'
'Can you row, by any chance?' Martin asked.
'Certainly,' I assured him.
'I thought,' he explained eagerly, 'that we might take a boat—no lights, you see—and row quietly round the yacht and see if anything seems suspicious at all. People are always about in small boats in the harbour, and I don't think we should be noticed.'
'That's all right,' I agreed. 'Come on down the steps and find a boat.'
We hired a safe but clumsy-looking craft without difficulty and, taking the oars, I rowed slowly in the direction of the Iris. It was a dark evening but there were other boats about and we were able to draw in quite close without attracting attention. We rowed along the whole of the starboard side of the vessel. Just as we were turning around I heard a little cry from my companion.
'My God!' he exclaimed. 'What's that?'
I rested on my oars. I, too, had received the same impression. For a single moment, at one of the open port-holes, we had both caught a glimpse of a white face, gone again almost as soon as it had appeared.
'James?' Martin called softly.
There was no answer. Suddenly the port-hole was shut with a snap. Martin wiped the perspiration from his forehead.
'Gee whiz!' he muttered. 'I was right! They've got him there.'
I pulled the boat around with a few quick strokes. Darting out from the quay came a little pinnace. The canvas gangway was let down. Sailors seemed to appear from everywhere.
'It's Silas Frayne coming back,' my companion whispered. 'Keep out of sight.'
We remained in the shadow of the ship. We even watched Silas Frayne, a grim, motionless figure in the stern, watched him assisted on board by his secretary and disappear.
'What shall I do?' I asked. 'Shall I hail her?'
Martin shook his head.
'Row straight back, Colonel. I'll tell you something as we go.'
I obeyed him without hesitation. Martin leaned towards me.
'I've taken this for granted,' he said hoarsely. 'I've hired the Firefly there,'—pointing to another yacht a little distance down the harbour. 'I've found an English skipper who isn't going to ask questions. You see, he's got steam up, waiting for us, and the gangway down. Row straight for her. One of her men can take this tub back.'
I obeyed. I think that by this time I was almost as excited as my companion. We boarded the yacht which he had hired, and I found to my satisfaction that not only was the captain English but also the majority of the crew. She had been hired in Liverpool, it seemed, by a man who had been taken ill in Monte Carlo and paid forfeit for the rest of his cruise.
We explained to the captain what we wanted, and as soon as the Iris weighed anchor we followed her out. Directly we were clear of the harbour we extinguished all lights, steaming at the slowest possible speed. In about a couple of hours' time we had glided alongside the Iris, now anchored about three miles out. It was a dark night, and we were soon so close that the sound of voices was distinctly audible. We were promptly challenged.
'Who are you?'
'Steam yacht Firefly,' was our captain's answer.
'Where are your lights, and what are you doing alongside?'
'Who is your owner?'
No answer. The captain of the Iris, with a megaphone in his hand, repeated the question.
'What the devil are you doing in so close?' he shouted. 'If we swing round we shall foul you.'
'We're on the look-out.' was the reply. 'Tide's setting the other way.'
'But what do you want here, anyhow?'
There was a momentary silence. Then our captain replied:
'Send your owner up and we'll tell him.'
Now for the last hour—since we had been clear of the harbour, in fact—I had seen nothing whatever of Martin, as I had been on the bridge with the captain. I suddenly discovered him, coatless and hatless, a cigar in his mouth, standing by the side of a small, antiquated-looking cannon. The deck all around him was strewn with ammunition.
'Gee whiz! Such a find, old fellow!' he declared. 'We've loaded it.'
'It'll burst,' I warned him, looking at it doubtfully.
'Not it,' Martin assured me confidently. 'They've been using it regularly for signals. It's a kind of mortar. Anyway, I've found a chap who understands it—been used to letting it off. He's standing by now. I've promised him—eh, what's that?'
The captain leaned down from the bridge.
'The owner of the Iris—Mr. Frayne—wishes to speak to you, sir.'
Martin ran up the steps lightly. He stood with his hand on the rail. Very dimly across the little gulf of sea we could see the tall, straight figure of Mr. Frayne, hatless and attired in evening clothes.
'Are you the owner of that yacht?' he asked.
'I am, sir,' Martin replied.
'What is your name?'
'Edmund H. Martin,' was the answer.
There was a moment's silence. Peering intently through the twilight, I fancied I could see Mr. Frayne start.
'Will you explain what you mean, Mr. Martin, by following me out from the harbour and sailing your boat without lights?' Mr. Frayne demanded.
'I want my friend—Mr. James Westthrop of Springfield,' Martin announced.
'I know nothing of your friend,' was the calm reply.
'You're a liar,' Martin thundered, 'because I saw his face at a port-hole before you left the harbour, two hours ago. If you don't hand him over to me, I'll have your yacht searched by the police.'
Mr. Frayne emitted a little sound from his lips which might have been a laugh.
'What police will catch my yacht,' he asked, 'if I point her to Africa to-night?'
'You'll point her to hell,' Martin retorted, 'if you don't hand over my friend!'
'Your friend,' Mr. Frayne declared, 'is not on board.'
'Then let me tell you again,' Martin roared, 'that you're a liar! I haven't come out here to threaten only. If you don't agree to give up Mr. James Westthrop in thirty seconds, I'll blow a hole in that wonderful yacht of yours.'
Once more Mr. Frayne laughed mirthlessly. 'What with, my young friend?'
'Arc you sending James Westthrop on board?' Martin persisted.
Silas Frayne was eloquently and contemptuously silent. Martin turned and ran down the steps. He and the amateur gunner worked for a moment at the little cannon. Then they both moved back. There followed in another minute the most appalling noise I have ever heard. Martin, who in his eagerness had taken up a position not quite far enough away, sat down hard upon the deck. A sailor who was passing, and who shared the same fate, seemed to look upon the affair as a personal affront, and was with difficulty persuaded from prompt reprisals upon the amateur gunner. But on the Iris the result was far beyond our expectations.
A portion of the beautiful white railing was torn away, half a dozen luxurious steamer-chairs were practically destroyed, all the windows of the smoke-room were smashed, and one could see the mahogany door torn almost to splinters. Dense clouds of smoke hung around and the smell of gunpowder was overpowering. The yells, too, of mingled abuse and imprecations, from the other yacht, were almost deafening. Martin struggled to his feet. His grin was one of sweet and holy satisfaction.
'That's worth a ten-pound note to you, my boy,' he promised the sailor, who was looking a little frightened. 'Charge her up again. That's right. Ram the stuff into her.'
By degrees the confusion on the Iris subsided. One gathered that someone in authority was insisting upon silence. The captain spoke through a megaphone from the bridge.
'Mr. Frayne wishes to speak to Mr. Martin.'
Martin climbed the bridge once more, wiping the perspiration from his forehead. Mr. Frayne stood opposite to him.
'Are you a madman, sir?' the latter shouted.
'I'm not so mad as you will be if you don't give me up my friend Mr. James Westthrop of Springfield,' Martin replied at the top of his voice. 'We're loading up again—a double charge this time. There's no telling what'll happen to you when you get this little lot.'
Mr. Frayne stood quite still for a moment. Then he turned on his heel.
'Sheer off a little,' he said. 'I will send Mr. Westthrop on board. Keep that infernal machine of yours silent unless you want a gunboat out after us.'
'I'll give you five minutes,' Martin called out. 'We've got it trained on your cabin.'
Mr. Frayne looked over his shoulder.
'You've taught me a lesson, young man,' he declared. 'I shall never come to sea again without a couple of Maxims!'
'What you do next time I don't care,' Martin retorted. 'My popgun's good enough for you this journey, anyway.'
Mr. Frayne turned away. We heard him giving some orders. We saw the canvas gangway let down, and immediately followed suit with our own. In less than a minute a boat was lowered. A single hesitating figure came down the gangway steps, supported by a sailor. The boat pushed off towards us, and the lights from the saloon flashed upon the upturned face of the solitary passenger.
'My God!' Martin exclaimed. 'We've got him.'
We almost dragged Mr. Westthrop out of the boat and escorted him, one on either side, down to the saloon. He seemed paler and thinner than ever, and our speech for the first few minutes consisted of nothing but staccato exclamations. It was not until Mr. Westthrop, who was still extraordinarily nervous and seemed to speak with some difficulty, had drained the tumblerful of whisky-and-soda which I had been mixing that we even asked him a coherent question.
'James, my boy,' Martin demanded at length, 'how on earth did he get you aboard there?'
Mr. Westthrop sat up in his chair. Already he was looking better.
'Kind of long story,' he began weakly. 'You know when you left me on the steps of the hotel? Well, a lady came up to me, said would I speak to Mr. Frayne for a moment in his automobile? I stepped round the corner with her. Silas Frayne was there all right, and Ned Brooks. Mr. Frayne asked me to drive as far as the harbour with him. He had a proposition to make—something that would let Hodgson out, too. I said something about meeting you, but they promised the car should bring me back in ten minutes. I sat down between them, and suddenly, while Mr. Frayne was talking, I felt a faint prick in my arm. A hypodermic needle it must have been. I didn't remember anything else until I was on board the yacht.'
He pulled up his sleeve. There was a little blue mark upon his arm. Both Martin and I were speechless.
'When I began to take notice,' Mr. Westthrop continued, 'I was in a state-room on the yacht and the door was locked. Frayne came in to see me as soon as I rang the bell. "Old-fashioned methods, Mr. Westthrop," he said, "but here are all the papers. You only have to sign them, give me time to send them ashore, and I'll take you for one of the pleasantest cruises you ever had in your life, find you plenty of cheerful company, and, in short, see that you enjoy yourself. Just a matter of three weeks, that's all, while things are being put through. I'm taking no advantage of you," he went on,"—giving you everything I ever offered. But," he wound up, "no man has ever stood in my way for long successfully. You'll go underneath if you don't sign those papers, and the man who takes your place won't be so difficult, perhaps."'
Martin clenched his fists and opened his mouth three times, but his vocabulary failed him. Nothing, however, could have been more impressive than his silence. As for me, I felt impelled to pinch myself. Nothing in my hitherto well-regulated and uneventful life had prepared me for such adventures as this.
'I wasn't having any,' Mr. Westthrop proceeded, 'and I told Frayne so, just as eloquently as I could. They kept me there shut up, and this morning they pricked me again with that damned needle. I was unconscious afterwards for hours. Frayne had thought it all out. No one would believe my story of having been kept there on the yacht against my will. They were all ready to swear that I came on board drunk. He's got some women there, and a band, and though he's such an ascetic himself, he was ready to turn the cruise into a carouse for the rest of us at any time. It was a dangerous game, perhaps, but he reckoned that the chances were ten to one I should sign, and, if I had, no one would ever have believed my story afterwards.... Say, Edmund, old chap, you're only a youngster but you're the right sort. You're your father over again....'
Martin's presents to his friend the amateur gunner and the other members of the crew were of such nature that they cheered us when he alighted at the quay, and cheered us until the automobile which drove us back to the hotel was out of hearing. I alighted first and we all three passed into the entrance hall together. Martin glanced at the clock and took his friend's arm affectionately.
'James,' he said, 'it's five minutes to eleven. I think we'll have a bite as soon as we can get it. And meanwhile—' he added insinuatingly.
'I'm with you,' Mr. Westthrop assented heartily.
[Note by Mr. Edmund H. Martin.—This is my story. You'll see why when you've read it.]
DE MIEVILLE and I were sitting together sipping absinthe, or rather he was sipping his and I was looking at mine. De Mieville was a queer sort of chap I had run up against at the 'Austria' one night. He called himself a French-Romanian, and he seemed to know the worse half of every language under the sun. He was really nothing more nor less than a guide, and I don't suppose his name was de Mieville or anything like it, but he was mighty particular about being addressed properly, and you had to slip the money into his hand as though by accident, at the end of the day, when you'd made use of him. Ten francs an hour I used to pay the little beggar for sitting about with me, and sometimes I thought he was worth it. The Colonel and his sister had gone to stay with some friends who had a villa at San Raphael, and I had been taking the opportunity of seeing Nice and some of the other places with de Mieville. We were really discussing then how to spend the rest of the day.
We were seated upon one of those long seats just outside the glass partition which is a sort of annex to Ciro's American bar. There were very few people in the Arcade and it was too early for lunchers. Suddenly, in the road behind me, I heard the sound of a piano. I don't know that I should have noticed it particularly, but that de Mieville broke off in the middle of a story and his hand went up to his little black moustache, as it always did when he was excited. After that, though, believe me, I forgot all about him and everything else. A girl had begun to sing. It wouldn't be of any use in this world my trying to describe that voice. I only know what its effect was upon me.
I don't know anything about music, nor ever shall, and no one has ever accused me of being sentimental. De Mieville spends half his time wondering why these painted young French hussies whom he finds so chic, with their ugly dogs and their gold baggage and mincing walk, don't cut any ice with me, but that girl's voice did the trick, right enough. I just sat still, holding on to myself, and life seemed to slip away from me. I felt like a boy again, when he first begins to notice things, like the sea and the sun and the touch of the wind and the scent of flowers, that all sane and practical people take as a matter of course later on in life.
I was back in those clays before I knew where I was, with all manner of queer sensations tugging at my heart, feeling and looking for all the world like a great schoolboy. I suddenly felt that there was something in life I wanted passionately, something which I had either not known about or had forgotten, and Monte Carlo, with its blue sky and white casinos and its flaming, artificial life, might have been swallowed up in the sea for all that I cared. Outside that voice, the first thing I was conscious of was that de Mieville, a zealous Roman Catholic, had crossed himself and had risen hastily to his feet.
'My friend,' he said, 'we go. The absinthe is not so good as at a little place I know of.'
His voice broke the spell. I got up from the seat, indeed, but it was simply to turn round and look into the road. I didn't answer de Mieville. I was staring, with my mouth open, at the little group below. The girl seemed quite young. She was almost thin, and she wore a dress of the plainest black which looked somehow as though it were made all in one piece. She wore a black hat, and, to my disappointment, a little mask of black velvet. All that I could see was her girlish, swaying figure, though the air was still full of that throbbing music.
Drawn up by the kerb was a shabby little old-fashioned motor-car, from which the piano had evidently been lifted. A small man with an unusually large, pale face sat there playing. On the other side of the girl stood a man who must have been at least six feet and a half. He was doing nothing but just standing about. A foreigner, he seemed to be. I sort of guessed that he was looking after the girl.
De Mieville touched my arm once more.
'My young friend,' he repeated, 'we go. I am in a hurry. I take you to a very interesting place.'
'Shut up, you idiot!' I whispered half under my breath. 'Don't interrupt.'
I shook off his grasp a little roughly, perhaps. He stood on one side and I was dimly conscious that he was in a state of nervous agitation. But for myself I did not care. I just felt that the very air was full of music. There was something quivering all around me which made me feel at the same time like a perfect idiot and supremely, foolishly happy. I forgot everything in life that was ugly. But with all those feelings, or rather underneath diem, there was one very human one.
I wanted, like nothing else in life, to take the mask from that girl's face, to look into her eyes and try to tell her some of my confused tangle of thoughts. The song came to an end. The performers looked up. Then I pulled myself together and moved quickly towards the steps which led down into the road. Suddenly I felt de Mieville tugging at my arm again.
'Meester Martin,' he exclaimed, 'Meester Martin, you listen to me!'
'You can talk to me afterwards,' I answered, wrenching myself free. 'They may be gone.'
'But leesten,' he insisted, keeping by my side. 'Take my advice. I who know—I, Alphonse de Mieville—I tell you that I know life inside out, and men and women as well. Do not go near those people.'
We were in the road now. The big man, with his hat off, was collecting gratuities from the little crowd who had come together quickly, attracted by the extraordinary character of the girl's voice. I hesitated only for a moment.
'What the devil do you mean?' I asked de Mieville.
'Come with me away and I will tell you,' he answered breathlessly. 'Do not attempt to speak to them.'
I pushed him unceremoniously on one side. The big man had taken a step towards me. I flung a louis into his hat but I took no notice of him. I was within a yard or two of the girl. She had turned a little away, as though to speak to the man who had played her accompaniment.
'Mademoiselle,' I said, standing there with my hat in my band, I have never heard singing like yours in my life.'
Neither she nor either of the two men answered me for a moment. I became instantly conscious that in addressing her I had somehow or other annoyed them.
The big man pushed himself between the girl and me.
'Monsieur will pardon,' he interposed, in broken English. 'Mademoiselle sings but seldom in public, She does not like to be addressed.'
'But I mean no harm,' I answered eagerly. 'I have never heard such singing. I would like to hear mademoiselle sing again. I would like to speak to mademoiselle.'
I was suddenly aware that they were making preparations to depart. At a sign from the man at the piano, the driver of the motor-car had started his engine. The pianist—a very remarkable-looking figure he was now that he was standing up—was hastily closing his instrument. The girl had turned a little farther away, but I caught the side-long flash of her dark eyes as she glanced over her companion's shoulder.
'Mademoiselle will not sing again,' the big man announced stolidly. 'If monsieur is disappointed, if he feels that he has been too generous, he can have his louis back.'
To my surprise he offered it to me, but I flung it back into his hat.
'Listen,' I persisted, 'this is no affair of money. I am honest when I say that I have never heard such a voice as the voice of mademoiselle. I have never heard a voice which I desire so much to hear again. You go elsewhere to sing? Why? Look!'
I thrust my hand into my pocket. I had been winning at the Club the night before and I had plenty of gold. I held out fifteen or twenty pieces.
'I mean no harm,' I continued. 'You can go away afterwards, if you will. Let mademoiselle sing one song to me without her mask, and I will go back to my place in the Arcade and listen from there.'
The man who had been playing the piano gazed at the gold in my hand as though he were fascinated. There was an expression almost of pain in his face as he turned away. For the first time he spoke.
'Mademoiselle will sing no more,' he said. 'We are artists. Monsieur, if he is a gentleman, will understand. He will relieve us of his presence.'
I stood there, bitterly disappointed, bereft, for a moment, of words. In a very few seconds the little piano had been lifted to the back of the car. The two men stood one on either side of the girl.
'Mademoiselle,' I ventured, still standing there bareheaded, 'I thank you for the most wonderful five minutes of my life.'
She turned her head. The face of the elder of the two men was almost livid as he caught at her wrist. Nevertheless, she looked at me.
'Merci, monsieur' she whispered.
They drove off then—the two men talking together angrily and excitedly, while the girl leaned back as though a little bored. De Mieville plucked at my arm but I refused to move, and I had my reward. As the car swung round to the right, past the English bank, she turned her head. Ever so slightly she waved her hand. Then they disappeared, and I came down to earth to find de Mieville fussing around me. I turned upon him without giving him a chance to utter a word.
'Now then, young fellow,' I said, 'you call yourself a guide. You say you know Monte Carlo and the Riviera inside out. Tell me about that girl and her guardians. Who is she? Who are they?'
'But it is I who have been trying to tell you,' he replied bitterly.
'Well, I am listening now, anyway,' I assured him. 'We will return and finish our absinthe,' he declared gloomily.
I followed him up the steps, and to please him I commenced to drink my share of the stuff.
'Out with it,' I insisted.
'I am not a man,' he began, 'superstitious by nature, but I have my fears, I have my fancies. There are others like me. It is the siren voice to which you have listened. There was a young man, an Englishman, who heard it with me three months ago. He was very much like you. They repulsed his advances as they have done yours, but he made it a point of honour with me that I should discover their abode. I did so. The next night he was picked up not fifty yards from their little villa. It was an affair of robbery, everyone said. He had received a terrible blow at the back of his head and his pockets were empty.
'I went to him in the hospital. He would tell me nothing. He went back to England like a ghost. Then there was a young Frenchman, not a month ago. He, too, was the same. He sent roses and wrote letters, he followed them about when they came to sing, and one day he disappeared. His belongings are at the hotel now. He has never been to claim them. He was last seen climbing the hill at the back of the town. Their villa is that way.'
'You're getting at me, de Mieville,' I scoffed. 'You don't believe all this rubbish?'
'But it is the truth of God,' he insisted. 'And not only that, but each time after I have seen them, those three, the black luck has followed me. I have lost my clients, lost my money at the Casino. In many ways fortune has been cruel.'
I was beginning to feel awake again and I only laughed at my companion, His little nervous features were all twitching. There was even a drop of perspiration upon his forehead. He was smoking a cigarette furiously.
'Well, they've brought you no ill-luck this time,' I assured him, 'for I am going to give you ten louis just to tell me where they live, those three.'
The little man rose promptly to his feet. He summoned a waiter and threw down three francs upon the table.
'Monsieur,' he said, 'I refuse.'
I stared at him.
'Why, you're joking, man!' I exclaimed. 'Just the address, that's all. Do you know what you are talking about? Ten golden louis!'
I rattled them in my hand. Perhaps I was treating the fellow the wrong way. Perhaps, after all, his name was de Mieville. Anyway, he put his hat on his head with a little slam, picked up his gloves and drew himself up.
'Meester Martin,' he said, 'I wish you good morning. Between gentlemen that is enough. You will not address me further on this subject.'
He was half-way down the Arcade before I could stop him. Then I sat there, looking at my half-filled glass, looking at his little dapper figure, which seemed suddenly to have lost its swagger, looking down into the dusty, sunlit road at the spot where, a few minutes before, that little cavalcade had stood. I was half inclined to believe that the whole incident had been a dream, horn of the fumes of that strange, opalescent-coloured liquid which de Mieville had forced me to drink.
And then, as I sat there, the air was once more tremulous with that strange, heart-searching music. I seemed to feel it again, quivering in all my nerves. I felt once more a great helpless lout, blundering about in a world of new sensations. The memory was sufficiently poignant, however. I knew that the affair had been no dream. I got up and started off on my pilgrimage. . . .
Until six o'clock that evening I tramped steadily through the streets and squares at the back of Monte Carlo, without a gleam of success. I neither saw anything of that crazy motor-car, the little hand-piano, nor one of that mysterious trio. I ended my quest by turning into the Casino, a place which I very seldom visited, and here at last I had my first stroke of luck. Just after I had left my hat and gloves with the vestiaire and turned towards the Rooms, I was attracted by a solitary figure sitting at the end of one of the lounges in the vestibule. He seemed to be making some calculations upon a piece of paper, and there was a look in his face which already I had begun to recognize. I seated myself noiselessly by his side.
'Out of luck?' I asked casually.
He started violently. At first I do not believe that he remembered me, but looked upon my inquiry as part of the freemasonry of the gamblers' profession. He held out towards me a pile of figures.
'Two more coupshe declared, with a little gasp, 'and I should have been home. You see the figures—they cannot lie. You recognize the system? It is infallible. Two more coups, I say! And, behold—nothing!'
He held out his hands—beautiful slender white hands they were, and well-kept. His face was a strange combination of strength and weakness. There were the delicate lips, the fine features of the artist, and the heavy forehead and eyebrows, the deep-set eyes of a man of determination. Predominant over everything, however, there was the fever which had seized him. For the moment he was neither artist nor man. He was gambler, pure and simple. He moistened his lips with the tip of his tongue.
'It is Hell, that place!' he muttered. 'One comes within an ace of victory, and for the sake of a miserable handful of louis one must lose everything.'
'I am prepared,' I announced, 'to lend you that handful, or even two handfuls of louis.'
He almost sprang upon me with outstretched hands. Then a gleam of the man underneath flashed out. He recognized me, and sat for a moment as though turned to stone.
'You are the young man,' he exclaimed, 'it is you who annoyed us this morning and drove us home!'
'If I annoyed you,' I said, 'I can only apologize most humbly. I tell you now what I told you then. I never heard such music in my life. I was excited. I scarcely know what I said to you.'
'For the music it is nothing,' he declared slowly. 'To that you may listen and wonder, although the less her voice is talked about the better. But you came down, you wished to hear her sing without her mask.'
'Just now,' I asserted boldly, 'there is nothing else I want so much in the world as to see the owner of that voice face to face.'
He began hastily rolling up his papers.
'That,' he pronounced, 'is impossible. A day will come, perhaps, when you and all others—but no! I have no words to speak with you.'
He would have gone but I laid my hand upon his arm.
My other hand held my pocket-book. It was fat, and as he looked at it his eyes seemed to glow.
'Say, you've been losing,' I reminded him. 'You can win it all back. You can repay me, if you like. I will be your banker. I am rich. There is no shadow of disrespect in my thoughts towards your protegée, believe me. Her music simply made me feel what I have never felt before. I have a passionate desire to speak to her. Never mind, that can wait. How much shall I lend you?'
I have never seen a man's emotions more clearly written in his face. Side by side with that passionate and curious desire to escape from notice, to keep himself and the owner of that wonderful voice from all prying inquirers, was the tearing desire of the gambler, the feverish longing to make his way back into the room with my gold in his hands. From where we sat, we heard the little dick as the ball at the nearest table came to rest. We heard the croupier's voice:
'Vingt-neuf, noir, impair et passe.'
'The number next to mine!' the man suddenly exclaimed, springing to his feet. 'You shall lend me five hundred francs, monsieur. It is enough.'
'You will take a thousand,' I said, handing him a mille note, 'and you will tell me the name of the villa where you live. I give you my word of honour that for the present, at any rate, I will make no attempt to visit it save when you are there.'
'You must never come near it!' he replied harshly.
I held out the mille note.
'Nevertheless,' I persisted, 'the name of the villa?'
'The Villa Violette,' he said, speaking as though the words were absolutely torn from him. 'And you? To whom shall I repay?'
'My name is Edmund H. Martin,' I told him, and you will find me at the Hôtel de Paris. Come and look me up.'
He was gone, clutching my note in his hand, his head a little thrown back, his eyes unseeing. I looked after him curiously. Then, after a moment's hesitation, I turned my back upon the place and walked across to the Café de Paris. It had been my intention to sit there for a few moments and to go on to the Sporting Club for an hour before I changed, but, within a few yards of the chair where I usually sat, I came upon de Mieville, gloriously drunk.
'Hullo, de Mieville!' I exclaimed, moving over to his side.
He looked at me in stony silence. His Homburg hat was pulled a little over his eyes, his face was parchment white, and his eyes were full of a dangerous glitter.
'It is the fool American,' he said. 'Sit down. Drink with me. There may not be many more drinks coming to you. Who knows? Soon you may be, at best, in hospital, or perhaps with the young Frenchman. You follow the evil star.'
'Don't talk rot,' I answered. 'What you want is a brandy cocktail.'
I summoned a waiter and gave an order. De Mieville seemed as though he had not heard me.
'The siren voice!' he muttered to himself. 'To-day, for the third time, I listened to it. Look at me. I was a man this morning. Since then I have drunk—drunk in the quiet places, drunk at the cafés, drunk in my little room, and now I sit here and I shall drink again.'
'You're all right,' I told him. 'What you want is just a nip to steady you, and then get off home to bed. Take a bath, if you feel equal to it, and roll yourself up for an hour or two. Bless you, I know what a jag is!'
'This is not a jag,' he declared, slowly and steadily, keeping his head very straight. 'This is the fire-poison. This is what comes when I hear that voice, because I have a weight at my heart, because I am afraid, because I know!'
'Look here,' I remonstrated, 'you are beginning to fancy things.'
'I do not fancy anything,' he retorted. 'Look at my hands. Are they clean?'
I looked at them. There was nothing particularly the matter with them.
'They are all right,' I told him.
'You lie!' he answered. 'They have never been clean since the day when Ambroise lay dying and sent for me.
'"There is no one else to trust, de Mieville," he faltered, "so I trust you. Take Irvina to Paris, to my sister. The letter is written. It lies on my dressing-table."
'And then he died. My God! And I—'
The waiter set down our drinks upon the table. Then suddenly, without a moment's warning, de Mieville sprang up, dashed them on to the floor, threw the table after them and jumped at the waiter. It took three of us to hold him down, and all the time he talked and shouted in one of the most abominable languages I ever heard. I fancy someone told me afterwards that it was Romanian. They hauled him away between two gendarmes, screaming like a maniac, flung him into a closed voiture and rattled off. The waiter by my side brushed the dust from his clothes and looked disconsolately at his torn shirt and collar.
'Mais il est un diable, cet homme là,' he muttered.
I gave him ten francs and strolled back to the hotel. I consulted one of the young men in the office as to what could be done for de Mieville, and found that he would at any rate have to remain in prison until the morning. Then I went up and changed my clothes, and sallied down a little dejectedly, half an hour later, to fake a solitary cocktail. As I stepped out of the lift, a page-boy accosted me.
'A gentleman to see monsieur,' he announced.
I looked across the hall and there was the pianist, the man who had borrowed my thousand-franc note. I went eagerly over towards him and found myself received by an utterly changed person. He bowed a little stiffly but courteously.
'If I could have the pleasure of a few words with monsieur,' he murmured.
I led the way to the bar and he consented to take a mixed vermouth. Then he brought out his pocket-book and handed-me a thousand-franc note.
'I return my loan, with many thanks,' he said. 'All went as was certain. The system upon which I play is sometimes delayed, but in the end it always succeeds. It is thanks to you, sir, that I was able to escape to-day from a serious loss. I wish to express my thanks and to show my gratitude.'
'Well, you have the opportunity,' I reminded him, raising my glass.
He drank with me in silence, The storm had passed from his face and on the whole I found it almost prepossessing. He spoke to me very earnestly indeed.
'Sir,' he said, 'you are, as others have been, attracted by the young lady
whose voice you beard. I try to place myself in your position and therefore I
speak to you
tolerantly and with good intention. That young lady's
future is written. She has no need of admirers. She is
'Already what?' I interrupted breathlessly.
'She is promised to her patron, her great and illustrious patron, whose name I decline to mention. The care of her—the jealous, scrupulous care—is a charge upon me and my honour. I have the means to resent all intrusions upon her privacy. There have been young men like yourself, who have admired and who have been foolish and who have suffered.
'I had no opportunity of giving them a warning. With you it is otherwise. I am here for that purpose. I warn you, Mr. Martin, to make no use of that address I gave you; to remember the Villa Violette only to keep away from it. The young lady is never alone. You will never see her alone. As the possible heroine of an adventure she is as hopeless to you as one of those wonder-women who lean down from the stars or speak to us with the voice of the wind. That is what, for your own safety and your own good, I have come here to ask you to believe.'
The fellow's manner and tone were hatefully and depressingly convincing. The thing had grown too big with me, however, to heed any warning.
'I am much obliged,' I told him. 'I believe you are speaking what you believe to be the truth. If I were looking for an ordinary adventure, I'd chuck it. I am not. There is something more in it for me. I don't know what—I can't tell you. I only know that I am going to speak to the girl who sang with you this morning, before I leave Monte Carlo,'
He rose a little stiffly to his feet.
'You have been warned, sir,' he said, 'and that is more than the others were. We shall be prepared for your visit at the Villa Violette.'
'I shall call,' I announced, 'at three o'clock to-morrow afternoon.'
He made me a little bow as he left the room.
'Before then, monsieur,' he replied, 'I trust that you will have reflected. . . .'
There is no doubt that the next morning I missed Colonel Green. Things at the police station were kind of ravelled up for de Mieville, and it cost him two hundred francs, and ten francs extra for an interpreter, before I could get him out. He was the most miserable-looking object on earth when at last I brought him out into the fresh air. I put him in a corner of a taxi-cab and told the man to drive to the nearest barber's.
'Look here,' I said on our way up, 'I have seen men drunk before, but I'm not used to seeing them behave like madmen. If you are going to make a habit of that sort of thing, I should advise you to give your attention to soft drinks, to get on the water-wagon—you understand?'
'I do not understand anything,' be replied gloomily. 'It was the voice. It speaks to me—every time it speaks to met'
'That's all rot,' I declared. 'I have spoken twice since then with the man who played the piano, and I wouldn't mind betting you a hundred francs that before the week has passed I shall have seen and spoken with the girl.'
De Mieville crossed himself hurriedly.
'You will be the third!' he muttered.
I sat in the barber's while he was shaved, and afterwards I took him to my rooms and made him presentable. Then I gave him some luncheon, and at half-past two started out in search of the Villa Violette. I found it at last on the hill-side, a little below the Corniche Road. It was a tiny little place with quite an imposing approach and a large garden. I rang the bell at the front door, scarcely knowing what I expected. Nevertheless, I was certainly surprised when, after only a brief delay, the tall man, into whose hat I had thrown the money in the road, opened the door. He was dressed in plain black clothes and he might have passed very well as a butler. He did not wait for me to ask any questions, but ushered me at once into a little sitting-room. Then he closed the door after him and disappeared. So far my adventure was innocent of anything even unusual. I looked around the room with interest. Half of it was taken up by a grand-piano. The rest of it was a medley of flowers and books, piles of music and music scores. The furniture was poor in quality, and there was nothing in the room of any value except the piano. In a few moments the door was quickly opened and shut. It was my friend the pianist who had entered.
'So you have kept your word,' he remarked.
'Naturally,' I answered. He motioned me to sit down.
'My name,' he said, 'is Kohlan.'
'And the young lady—is she related to you?' I asked.
'She has no relatives,' my host answered coldly. 'I am her guardian. Sit still and I shall tell you her history.'
'Next to seeing her,' I observed, 'that is exactly what—'
'You will not see her now or at any future time,' was the cold reply. 'Listen!'
I took the chair to which he pointed, and folded my arms.
'The young lady,' he began, '—we will call her by her Christian name, which is Irvina—was the daughter of a bandmaster who died two years ago at Nice. He was a Hungarian who for many years had been chef d'orchestre to the greatest man in Germany, whose name, if you please, we will not mention, but to whom I will allude as "the Prince." The father of Irvina died penniless. The child, who was then fifteen years old, was left entirely at the mercy of strangers. I ventured to appeal on her behalf to the Prince.'
'Where did you come in?' I interrupted.
'I was a friend of the girl's father,' Kohlan replied. 'The Prince, fortunately, was at Cannes. He came over, he saw Irvina, I induced him to hear her sing. When I say that her voice made an impression upon him, I use impotent words. He tore himself away with difficulty. That night he was leaving for Germany. He placed her musical education in my hands. Not only that, but he engaged my sister, who lives in this house, as chaperon, and he laid his commands upon us both strictly. She was never to appear in public, to make no acquaintances until he returned. That was two years ago.'
'And he has not been here since?'
'Three times he has been coming and three times the Kaiser has forbidden him to leave Germany,' Kohlan explained. 'Now at last, though, we have certain news. The Prince is coming almost at once. If her voice does not disappoint him, she is to make her début at once in Grand Opera. We are to be prepared to hand her over to him upon his arrival.'
'That's all very well,' I said; 'but what about the young lady? How old is the Prince?'
'Does she remember him?' I asked.
'She knows that he is her patron. That is enough.'
'Is it!' I retorted. 'Well, that may be your point of view but it isn't mine. You talk about handing her over to the Prince as though she were some article of furniture.'
Kohlan shrugged his shoulders.
'You belong to a democratic country,' he observed. 'It is not so with us. Germany is an absolute despotism. My father was born on one of the Prince's estates, and we have been proud to be his servitors. He is one of the few men about the Kaiser who practically rule Germany. What he wills in this matter is to be done.'
'Well, I'm glad to know the story,' I said, 'because it makes me more determined than ever to make the acquaintance of Miss Irvina.'
The man stared at me as though I had taken leave of my senses.
'It is not to be permitted,' he declared. 'I have told you the truth so that you may act like a reasonable human being and give us no trouble. There have been others who were more foolish than you in the beginning, with whom we have dealt differently.'
'That may be so,' I answered, 'but there are limits to what you can do, even in Monte Carlo. I have heard about the young Frenchman and the young Englishman. I think another affair of that sort might land you in a little trouble.'
The man's face seemed to have become whiter than ever. He shrank back in his chair.
'What do you mean?' he faltered. 'You can have heard nothing.'
'On the contrary, I have,' I told him,' and I have been warned against you. I am here with a perfectly reasonable request, and I want you to remember that there is trouble in any quarter of the world if an American citizen is ill-treated. I want you to permit me a few moments' conversation with Miss Irvina, before yourself if you choose.'
He rose to his feet and rang the bell.
'My answer to all this is simple,' he said. 'I have finished with you. I have tried to be reasonable. It is useless.'
The butler answered the door. Kohlan turned to him.
'You will show this gentleman out,' he ordered.
I looked at the man whom they called the butler, and back at Kohlan. There was no mistaking their attitude. When it comes to a scrap I am as ready for it as most men, but that didn't seem the time or the place. I took up my hat.
'Very well, Mr. Kohlan,' I concluded, 'I am glad to have found out where you live and a little more about you, anyhow. You will hear from me again in a few days.'
'Let it be clearly understood,' Kohlan enjoined, as he followed me to the door, 'that no further visit of yours here will be tolerated.'
I took no notice but walked out. I looked up at all the windows of the place as I sauntered slowly down the avenue, but saw no sign of anyone, and I made my way back into Monte Carlo, restless and dissatisfied. I seemed to have made no progress, and the little I had learnt was only disquieting. And then, just as I was nearing the hotel, I came suddenly to a standstill. My pulses were beating fast, I was conscious of a queer sense of excitement. The tumble-down motor-car was standing outside a haberdasher's shop!
FOR several moments I could not believe in my good fortune. Then I crossed the street and strolled along the pavement, glancing in at the shop window as I passed. There was a stout woman at the counter, with her back turned to me. She was sitting down examining some material. Standing by her side was Irvina. I caught a glimpse of her face for the first time. She was a little pale, but her eyes and mouth were just as sweet as I had ever pictured them. There was an air of weariness about her attitude, as though the purchases which her chaperon was making interested her scarcely at all.
As I paused at the shop entrance, she turned her head and our eyes met. Her first glance was careless enough. Then she seemed to recollect. She started a little and looked down, but a second later she raised her eyes and glanced at me again. There was something in her face which puzzled me. Was she begging me to go away, or calling to me? I lingered at the shop window. Then I saw that a portion of it was devoted to men's haberdashery. Without any further hesitation, I walked in.
'I want some gloves, please,' I announced.
Fortune seemed to be doing its best to atone to me for my ill-spent afternoon. I was invited over to the counter before which Irvina was standing. I took my place, indeed, next to her. The old lady was making purchases with the air of one to whom a bargain is the dearest thing in life. The girl gave me one glance, and I knew then that what I had sometime thought must be a dream, was a reality. I knew that something had called to me from behind her mask, something which would call to me always, for my happiness or misery. We were standing within a foot or two of one another. The woman who was serving me was reaching up to a shelf, with her back turned towards us. I whispered the girl's name: 'Irvina!'
She looked at me, and her lips moved. That one look completed, whilst perhaps it altered, my subjugation. After all, she was only a child. Her face was the face of a child, though the trouble and fear which seemed to lurk in her eyes gave her a more womanly air. I tore a piece of paper from the lid of one of the boxes and wrote upon it hastily:
'My name is Edmund H. Martin, Hotel de Paris. Send for me if you are in trouble.'
I crushed it up in my hand. The woman was showing me the gloves. I found fault with them all—foolish fault it must have seemed—until she turned away for a fresh supply. Then I pushed the crumpled-up ball of paper along the counter. Irvina hesitated for a single moment and glanced at her chaperon. Then her fingers closed upon it. She slipped it into the little black silk bag she was carrying. It was fortunate I had taken this chance, for it was my last one. Her chaperon seemed to become suddenly conscious that it was a man who was standing next to her charge. She completed her purchases abruptly, threw an angry glance at me and hurried the girl out of the shop, I was very careful not to turn around or show any undue haste, and when I regained the street, the car had vanished. I walked back to the hotel, however, with a greater sense of contentment. At last I had taken the first step.
At the hotel I found a letter and a note—the former from the Colonel, announcing his return that evening, the latter from de Mieville, short and to the point:
'Come at once to Ciro's bar. I wait for you there.— De M.'
I hastened out again and found de Mieville sitting in front of one of the small tables, with an untasted glass of absinthe before him. He welcomed me eagerly and made room for me by his side.
'My young American friend,' he began, 'I have been a fool. I have given way to superstitions. It is not so that one advances oneself in the world. You are young and strong. You have, if not much, at least some intelligence. Why should you not, if you seek to, unravel the mystery of the siren voice, of the masked prima donna?'
'You are late at the show,' I told him. 'I know all about it. I have been to the Villa Violette this afternoon.'
De Mieville drew a little breath.
'And you are here, well and alive?' he gasped.
'Never better,' I declared. 'I have heard the history of the masked singer. I know that she is being trained for Grand Opera, and I know that she is a protegée of a great nobleman, who, if he is satisfied with her voice, will see that she has her chance.'
De Mieville rose abruptly to his feet. He was trembling with a sudden fit of rage. His small white teeth gleamed under his jet-black moustache. His face seemed to have contracted. There was hate burning in his narrow eyes.
'A great nobleman indeed 1' he muttered fiercely. 'My master once—Adalbert von Kruck.'
'Glad you know him,' I remarked. 'You may be able to help me.'
'I don't like the story,' I said. 'I don't like the people who are bringing up the girl. She seems to be living in the shadow of some fear. I saw it in her face when I spoke to her this morning.'
Quick as lightning he crossed himself.
'You spoke to her?'
'Certainly,' I replied.
'At the Villa Violette?'
'No. I stood next her in a shop. I told her my name. It seemed to me as though she might soon be in need of a friend.'
There was a look in de Mieville's eyes which I had noticed once or twice before. He scarcely knew what to make of me. He seemed, indeed, not to have made up his mind whether I was a fool or a person with gifts.
'There is no friend who can help her,' he said. 'Her future is written.'
'Is that so?' I remarked. 'Perhaps you know it?'
'I do,' he answered gloomily. 'Adalbert von Kruck will come, he will hear her sing, he will decide for himself whether she is to go into Grand Opera or not. For the rest, he will decide also for himself the other things.'
He saw a cloud in my face but he only shrugged his shoulders.
'There are just two things in life which the Prince cares for,' he pronounced, 'music and women. He has never denied himself anything to do with either of them. He never will. As for this girl, she is in the hands of his creatures, fed and clothed to-day by his bounty. She will be like the others of whom I have known.'
It was I now who was furious. I could have wrung the little man's neck but one could see that he had spoken in good faith.
'In Germany your Prince von Kruck may find things of that sort dead easy,' I said. 'It will be a different matter if he comes here, believe me.'
He looked at me out of the corners of his dark eyes.
'You imagine,' he asked, his voice shaking a little, 'you young American gentleman, you imagine that if he comes here and it pleases him, that you will be able to interfere?'
My blood was up and I answered him firmly.
'If Adalbert von Kruck, or anyone else in the world comes here,' I declared, 'the girl shall still be a free agent. I promise you that.'
De Mieville sipped his absinthe.
'It is the spirit of the new world which speaks,' he muttered. 'It is not for me to understand.'
My companion's voice had sunk to a whisper. I might have imagined that he had wearied of the subject, but a glance at him almost startled me. He was seated by my side, all hunched up, little drops of sweat upon his forehead, his fingers knotted together. I laid my hand upon his shoulder.
'Say, what's wrong with you, de Mieville?' I demanded. 'You look as though you'd got the ague.'
'What's wrong with me?' he repeated hoarsely. 'Wrong?'
He suddenly turned towards me, sat upright, and struck the table before him so that our glasses rattled. His eyes flashed.
'For my own sake I do this!' he exclaimed. 'I tell the truth. I tear the truth from my heart. You saw me shiver and creep away when the girl sang. It was my conscience that troubled me. Behold, my friend! It was into my care that old Ambroise confided his daughter as he lay dying. "Take her to Paris," he begged, "to my sister there." And then he whispered: "Don't let him see her or hear her sing." And I know whom he meant. He meant the Master!'
I drew a little back in my place.
'And you?' I asked, a sudden horror turning me almost cold.
'I meant to keep my word,' de Mieville continued, clutching at the air as he spoke. 'God knows I meant to! And the devil tempted me. I was the petted servant of the Prince. It was my business to keep him amused, and he rewarded me, in those days, magnificently. I asked for a fortnight's leave of absence to take the child to Paris. He listened to my story—he was in an idle humour. The devil laid the poison upon my tongue. I spoke to him of the girl's voice and of the girl herself. "Bring her to me before you go," he ordered. Then I knew what I had done, but I obeyed.'
'And afterwards?' I interrupted impatiently.
'He no sooner saw her than his mind was made up,' de Mieville groaned. 'He appointed Kohlan her singing master and bought them the little villa where they live.'
'But this singing in the streets?'
'Kohlan is a gambler,' de Mieville explained. 'He cannot keep from the tables. They are often penniless, notwithstanding the Prince's allowance. Then he makes her sing in the Square and the money rolls in. Now you know all the truth,' he wound up, clasping his head with his hand. 'Now you know why the sound of that voice fills me with horror, why with every note I seem to look around me and hear that dying man's prayer—and to remember. Just now it is more terrible than ever.'
'Because Adalbert von Kruck is on his way to this place, and because Irvina is no longer a child!'
I sat quite still for some minutes, with folded arms. I was conscious all the time that the little man by my side was watching me furtively.
'Why have you told me this?' I asked at last.
'Conscience! And because—well, you are different from the others. If there is anyone who might, perhaps—But no, that is impossible! Still, you are different.'
I put a muzzle upon my lips. There was so much that I was burning to say.
'How do you know,' I demanded, 'that the Prince is on his way here?'
De Mieville shrugged his shoulders.
'There are a hundred men working at the villa,' he declared. 'Vanloads of plate and wines have already arrived. They speak of his arrival this week. Step up the hill and you will see the blue Kruck liveries already in the gardens and about the house. I myself have worn that livery. It was in my younger days, before I was promoted to be valet and secretary.'
I kept de Mieville talking. I had always the idea that he might be of use to me. He told me the story of his disgrace and dismissal, which reflected little enough credit upon him. Then I rose to go.
'Look here,' I said, 'if this man comes from Germany, he will come by train and not by motor-car.'
'Assuredly,' de Mieville assented,
'If you bring me news of his arrival within half an hour of that event, it will be worth ten louis to you.'
'It is easy that,' he promised. 'This afternoon I will go up to the villa. There are still some of my friends amongst the servants. They will tell me when the Master is expected. . . .'
That night I dined alone with the Colonel and his sister, Lady Chalmont. Before the first course had been removed, I had told them everything about the girl with the siren voice. Lady Chalmont was sympathetic from the first. The Colonel, notwithstanding his dear, kindly old nature, was just a little suspicious. He has a habit of fancying himself worldly-wise, which tickles me to death.
'A singing girl in the streets, you know, and Monte Carlo, too,' he exclaimed, shaking his head at me, 'with a royal prince in the background! You haven't been at the bookstalls, have you, young man?'
'Don't tease him,' Lady Chalmont insisted. 'I can assure you that I am most interested, Mr. Martin.'
'I hope you will be,' I replied, 'for it seems to me that I may need your help before long.'
The Colonel looked at me over his pince-nez, which he had temporarily adjusted to inspect the menu.
'Are you serious?' he demanded.
'Absolutely,' I answered doggedly. 'I am going to get the girl away from that lot, if I can.'
'And if you do, what then?' Lady Chalmont asked gently.
'I don't know,' I frankly confessed. 'It depends.'
'Of course it does,' Lady Chalmont agreed. 'It seems to me that the first thing to do is to get the girl away from these people.'
After dinner, the Colonel, seeing that I was in earnest, became methodical.
'Let us,' he said, 'briefly review the position. The girl lives, you say, at the Villa Violette with her singing master, a bully who poses as or may be, indeed, the butler, and a stout lady who is the singing master's sister. They are pensioned by Prince Adalbert and are supposed to be training the girl's voice. Meanwhile the singing master gambles at roulette, loses his money, and makes it up by forcing the girl to sing in the streets.'
'Capital!' I murmured.
'Von Kruck is on his way here,' the Colonel continued. 'I saw that in the paper. His villa is being prepared for him. The girl will have to sing for his approval directly he arrives. I gather from your statement, Edmund, that she is presentable?'
'She's the prettiest thing on earth,' I declared enthusiastically.
The Colonel sighed. 'I am not one of those who listen to idle gossip,' he said, 'but it is notorious that Prince Adalbert is one of the greatest roués in Europe. The situation being defined, tell me exactly what you propose?'
'I wish I knew,' I confessed. 'I haven't the ghost of a plan. Until that man arrives, I think I shall do nothing. I shall just wait in case she should write me. When he arrives, well, then I think I shall force my way into the villa. Somehow or other, the girl must be made to know and understand, if she doesn't already.'
'All very vague,' the Colonel pronounced, 'but if our help is needed, you know that you can count upon us'....
There followed three days of restless inaction, and then a sudden climax. De Mieville came to me while I was taking my early breakfast. He was looking more serious than usual.
'The Prince,' he announced, 'arrives at midday.'
I pushed away my plate.
'The devil he does!'
'I have done much on your behalf,' de Mieville proceeded, with an air of modest triumph. 'I have spent much time and made a few little disbursements, to which I will refer later. I have made friends again at the villa. I am persona grata there, in and out just whenever I wish. I have discovered much.'
'Go on,' I begged.
'The Prince has issued cards for a reception to-night.
Mademoiselle is to sing. Haubert will be there, from
the Opera. Furthermore—'
He hesitated for a moment. I almost felt what was coming.
'Certain arrangements have been made at the villa,' de Mieville continued. 'It appears probable that the Prince is disposed to take up his guardianship.'
I sprang from my place and seized my hat and gloves.
'And now where do you go in such a hurry?' de Mieville inquired.
'To the Villa Violette,' I told him.
'Useless!' de Mieville exclaimed. "They are well prepared for your visit. This, too, I have discovered. The girl is locked in her room. You could never reach it. You could never pass that terrible man who is lent to Kohlan from the Prince's own household. But see what I have for you."
He drew a card from his pocket. I looked it over mechanically. It was in French and covered all over with lithographic flourishes. I gathered, however, that it was a card of invitation.
'You can go to-night,' de Mieville pointed out. 'For the rest, if you have a plan you can count on my aid. I have fought with my superstition. I will help, if need be. It shall be my atonement. In the meantime, there are the ten louis for apprising monsieur of the Prince's arrival, and a matter of at least five louis I have laid out amongst the servants of the villa. I am, indeed, out of pocket to more than that amount. I dislike very much to mention this matter—I, a de Mieville—but necessity compels.'
I counted out twenty louis and passed them over to him.
'If I need your help,' I said, 'I shall know where to send for you. I must think.'
De Mieville drew a little closer to me.
'I do not wish to excite you, Meester Martin,' he declared, shaking his head vigorously,' but you will take my advice. If indeed you are in earnest, it must be to-night.'
I almost pushed him from the room. His eyes were so clearly trying to confirm the horrible suspicion which his words had already implanted. And then, as though to complete my madness, the post was brought in, and there was a little common mauve envelope and half a sheet of ink-smeared note-paper, and a few lines scrawled upon it in pencil:
'Monsieur, I send you this. I do not know why. Can you help me? I am frightened. To-night I am to sing before Prince von Kruck, and they are packing my things. I am being sent away. I do not understand and there is no one who will answer my questions. I am so frightened.—Irvina.'
I took the note to the Colonel. He and I and Lady Chalmont, who was going to Paris by the night train, studied it and made plans the whole of the day. We met with no success, however. Early in the afternoon, the Colonel and his sister drove up to the Villa Violette. They announced themselves as friends of the late Monsieur Ambroise, Irvina's father. They wished to see the daughter. They were met with all politeness from Kohlan. To-morrow, he promised them, their visit would be most welcome. On that particular day mademoiselle was invisible. Her voice was to be tried for Opera that night. Nothing that they could say produced any effect.
We had agreed that no threat should be used, nothing to excite suspicion, so in the end they came away. Then de Mieville and I, in a powerful automobile which I had hired, drove up to the villa an hour before they were to start, and hid at a turn in the shrubbery. We left our car in the road, and if they had come out as I had expected, in the crazy little car they used in the town, I had made up my mind to accost them, and although de Mieville and I maintained a discreet silence as to my exact intentions, I knew very well, at the back of my head, what I meant to do.
When the time came, however, a closed automobile of the Prince's arrived, with two men on the box, and when it passed out, Irvina was escorted not only by Kohlan and the butler, but by a third man, who, de Mieville whispered to me, was connected with the police and travelled always with the Prince. We let the automobile pass. There seemed nothing to be gained by disclosing our presence. Presently we followed it to the villa itself. It was the hour for the reception and guests were beginning already to arrive.
'Alas, Meester Martin!' de Mieville sighed, as he prepared to alight, 'this time my wits have failed me. All day long I have racked my brains. No scheme could I think of. The Prince is so powerful. You see how they have kept the girl guarded. Perhaps it is best for you that you do not look at her again, that you do not listen to her sing, that you come away now with me. I will take you to a very charming place of amusement, where, let us hope, you may forget—'
'Go to blazes, de Mieville!' I interrupted, pushing him out of the automobile. 'This affair isn't finished yet, believe me.'
I instructed the driver of my hired automobile to wait for me in a particular spot, and I made my way with the others into the villa. At another time I should have wondered at the magnificence of the preparations, the profusion of flowers, the splendour of the rooms, but that night I was like a man in a dream. Though my senses were all the time on the alert, I had but one thought.
With a little crowd of others I made my way to where the Prince was receiving his guests. He was a tall man with an iron-grey moustache, closely cropped iron-grey hair, a protruding underlip, and little bags of flesh hanging under his eyes. As I was announced, I suddenly felt my right hand clenched instead of extended. I had a wild desire to fell him with a single blow. It was so easy. It might be possible even to escape afterwards in the confusion. The thought was momentary.
I held out my hand and received the same polite bow as the others, but I passed on a little comforted. If the worst came to the worst, there was always the last resource!
I behaved as the other guests did, except that I had no one to talk to. I loitered around and found my way early to the music-room. It was almost empty at that time, but Kohlan was on the platform, standing by the piano. He came at once towards me, and there was an evil look in his face.
'How did you get here?' he demanded.
I produced my card of invitation, but he turned as though to leave me and I read his intention in his face.
'Look here,' I said, 'this card came to me quite in the ordinary way and I have made up my mind that once more, at any rate, I will hear Irvina sing. If you interfere, listen. If you interfere in any way, do you think it will be a pleasant thing for the Prince to hear from me how you have made up your roulette losses?—that the masked lady with the siren voice whom people speak of here, singing in the streets, is none other than the girl whom he left in your charge to train for Grand Opera?'
The man's face was ghastly with terror. He gripped the back of one of the chairs, which were arranged in rows.
'You fool!' he muttered. 'You don't know. The girl in the streets wore a mask.'
'I not only know, but I can convince the Prince or anybody else of the truth,' I answered. 'Leave me alone. Believe me, it will be safer for you.'
He made his way back to the piano without a word and pretended to arrange some music there. Every now and then he took a handkerchief from his pocket. I could see that he was wiping the sweat from his forehead. As soon as he had disappeared through a little door, which apparently led to the room at the back of the stage, I moved my seat to the front row.
Presently the guests began to stream in and take their places in the arm-chairs. Almost last of all, the Prince came and seated himself only a few places from me. I thought that he glanced at me a little curiously as he passed, but in any case it was impossible for him to know all his guests by sight. Then there was a silence. Someone came in and arranged a stand upon the platform.
I felt my heart tearing away inside me, almost a mist before my eyes. The little door opened but it was Kohlan only who came, Kohlan followed by another man, a stranger with long black hair and a pale face. They ascended the platform together. The stranger played a violin solo. I believe it was wonderful music. Everyone applauded. As for me, I heard nothing. Very slowly I was making up my mind. The Prince was only a few paces from me. If there were no other way, I would kill him! I grew calmer as the stage was once more empty and the door again opened. Irvina came through and was handed by Kohlan on to the platform. I don't often tell my age. People say I look about twenty-two. I am really twenty-nine.
For the second time in my life I found my sight blurred with tears. There was a horrible new pain at my heart. All the quivering passion, the straining joy of seeing her, seemed to have passed away. In its place was a queer pity—I can call it nothing else—the most wonderful, the most compelling sentiment I think I ever felt. She was only a child. I was just realizing it. In her white frock, with her big black eyes, her little bosom rising and falling, her thin, unformed figure, she stood there just as a child from boarding-school might have stood, without a friend in the world, with vague terrors shining out of her face as her nervous fingers gripped the tiny little sheet of music she held.
She never saw me. I think she saw nothing. But the Prince, speaking loudly, clapped his hands and I saw an awful shiver pass through her frame. Then I knew quite well that, unless a miracle happened, I should kill the Prince that night!
Kohlan commenced the accompaniment. Irvina sang. Her voice was so tremulous at first that it scarcely carried the length of the room. As she felt the warmth of the music, as it grew and grew, I could see her beginning to forget, and as she forgot, her notes became richer and clearer.
Again I felt the thrill of that first morning when I had leaned over the balcony at Ciro's, only this time it was a different thing. . . . She finished, They all applauded wildly. She tried to leave the platform but the Prince sprang up and stopped her. He whispered something in her ear. She tried to smile but she simply obeyed as a child. Again she sang. It was in Italian and I knew nothing of the words. All the time, though, her voice was tearing at something inside me. I felt that there was something which only she and I, in all the world, understood—the terror. I saw Haubert—the man from the Opera—and the Prince exchange glances.
Then her song ended. She stood for a moment on the platform, her hands straight by her side, her eyes always fixed upon the far end of the room as though she were seeking something she could not find. They applauded her again wonderfully. This time she left the platform and passed through the little door, escorted both by the Prince and Kohlan. She passed within an inch of me, but I kept my head down. We all sat and waited there. The servants were handing around champagne and refreshments of various sorts.
Presently the door on my right opened. I heard a voice raised almost as though in anger. The Prince came slowly out, and as I saw his face, I felt that the time had come to kill him. I felt that no man with a look like that should go unpunished. There was a smile upon his lips—a hateful, derisive smile. Then I saw through the open door into the little room. The Prince, looking around, addressed a man sitting two rows back. He took him for an Englishman, and spoke to him in his own tongue.
'Are you by any chance, a physician?' he inquired 'The excitement has been too much for the young lady. She has fainted.'
I sprang up.
'I am a doctor,' I announced.
He held the door open for me and I passed through. They had opened the back door to get a current of air and below it, down a flight of steps, was the avenue. Kohlan had disappeared. I heard him in the background calling for water. Another man and woman wen bending over Irvina, who was lying back in an easy-chair.
'There is a case in my overcoat pocket, number twenty-seven in the hall,' I told the man. 'Fetch it quickly. There is some sal volatile there.'
He turned away. The room was now almost empty. I stepped back, closed the door which led into the music-room and turned the key, which by chance was in the lock. And then I caught her up in my arms and ran—yes, I ran down those steps! The wind seemed to come into my face like a hurricane. I think that I covered the forty or fifty yards between that back door and the spot in the avenue where I had left my automobile in less time than any man breathing. The man had obeyed my orders implicitly. The engine was purring softly. I sprang into the tonneau with Irvina still in my arms.
'Au gare!' I shouted. 'Drive like hell!'
Already there was a commotion behind. I heard shouts, but we were turning out of the avenue now into the Corniche Road. I laid Irvina by my side and put my head out of the window.
'Vitement!' I cried. 'Vous comprenez? Vitement au gare! C'est un affair de cinq louts—cinq louis pour vous!'
'Mais parfaitement, monsieur!'
We rushed on. Once more I passed my arms around Irvina. I pushed the hair back from her forehead.
'Irvina,' I whispered, 'listen. You are safe. I am taking you away.'
She opened her eyes. She looked at me. The rush of night air seemed suddenly to revive her.
'Mais, monsieur—' she began.
'For heaven's sake, talk English,' I interrupted.
'But that is easy,' she replied. 'I am half English. Where are we? What has happened?'
'You fainted,' I told her. 'I came into the retiring room—they thought I was a doctor. I am taking you away. They will be after us directly. We have just one chance. Will you go to Paris with a friend of mine?'
'Without you?' she faltered, clinging to my arm.
'Dear,' I reminded her, 'you are only a child, and it is not for me to take you there. But you will be safe—you shall be safe.'
'Oh, anywhere,' she pleaded, 'if I can get away—away from the Villa Violette, away from the Prince!'
'You shall,' I promised. 'We'll do it. I have a dear friend who leaves for Paris by the eleven o'clock train. We are on our way to the station and there are fourteen minutes before the train starts. I am going to make you wear my coat and you will sit in a corner of the carriage with the lady who is going to take you there. I shall be on the platform, but I will only come out if they try to stop you.'
'I understand,' she whispered. 'I will do everything you say. If only we were in the train! If only it would start! I have an aunt in Paris. She wanted me to go there, but she was too poor to send the money for my ticket.'
We rushed onward towards the station, and far away round the Bay of Mentone we saw the light of the approaching train and heard its whistle.
'Little girl,' I said, 'be brave. Everything depends upon how you behave now. It's a dear old lady who will take you. Wear my coat, so'—I wrapped it around her—'and this cap.' I drew a tweed cap from my pocket and thrust it over her head. 'Now,' I continued, 'they will think in the station that you have just come in from Nice to the tables and are going back. There is a local train presently. Lean on my arm.'
We were at the station. I jumped out.
'Wait for me,' I ordered the man, 'but get into a corner somewhere, where they don't see you.'
He understood, fortunately. We crossed the line, and amongst the little crowd of people almost the first I saw were the Colonel and Lady Chalmont. They saw us coming and realized everything. I must say that the Colonel took in the situation marvellously. He tore the travelling-coat from his sister, made me take my coat off Irvina, and exchanged them quickly. In less than a moment Lady Chalmont, too, had taken off her veil and had pinned it around my cap.
'Child,' she said, 'don't tremble so. Why, you're almost unrecognizable. I'll take care of you.'
The train came slowly in—very slowly indeed, it seemed to me. We all boarded it. The Colonel was busier than any man I had ever seen. Wild with impatience though I was, it seemed only a matter of a few seconds before Lady Chalmont and Irvina were shown into a little coupé. The man held the key in his hand.
'Lock them in and turn out the lights,' the Colonel insisted. 'The ladies are tired.'
The man, with the gold in his hand, did nothing but bow.
Suddenly Irvina turned to me. She tried to speak and couldn't. Her big black eyes were wet with tears, her lips were quivering. I took both her hands in mine and kissed them.
'Little girl,' I begged, 'don't say a word. Think of me. I'll come soon—and see how you're getting on.'
Then I hurried off, for fear my presence might give the thing away. I passed to a remote corner of the station. The seconds dragged by. It seemed to me that never a train had waited in a station so long. At last I heard the welcome cry of the guard, and almost at the same moment I saw them come streaming across the line—servants, Kohlan, and a crowd of others. I saw them run along by the side of the train. Kohlan would have boarded it but he was pushed back.
From the darkness of my corner I waved my hat, and I fancied that I caught the gleam of a white hand from a darkened compartment. Then I sank down upon a bench and I watched until the tail lights of the train had disappeared. I watched even afterwards, gazing into the black gulf which seemed to have swallowed it up. I took no notice of the little group upon the platform, all shouting and gesticulating together. Presently I felt a little tap on the shoulder.
'Edmund,' the Colonel said quietly, 'I think we'll take the lift up, and a whisky-and-soda would do you no harm.'
[Note by Colonel Green.—I tell this story with many misgivings. I feel that I shall not be believed. Yet this most extraordinary adventure actually befell my young friend Edmund H. Martin and myself, and, for all I know, may befall others who speak with casual acquaintances in the Casino at Nice, and who are possessed of the same inquiring spirit as that of my young friend.]
MARTIN'S methods with maîtres d'hôtel were a mystery to me. His appearance, although in its way striking, was not particularly distinguished, and I never to my knowledge saw him give a tip. Yet I certainly have never seen anyone, from an African millionaire to an English duke, who commanded more instantly their implicit and willing service. We walked into the Casino at Nice one evening, only a few minutes before the popular hour for dinner. The procession—it was Carnival night—was already being heralded in the streets below. The crowd of people clamouring for tables seemed endless, yet within five minutes, we, who had done nothing towards engaging one, were sitting at our ease, close to the window, watching the seething multitude below.
The whole scene was decidedly restless. There was a continual hubbub down in the square from the crowds of spectators and the advance guard of the Carnival procession. There was hubbub, too, in the room around us from people disappointed of their tables, clamouring for more space, badgering, bullying and cajoling the unfortunate waiters whose duty it was to dispose of fifty dining tables when a hundred and fifty were required. All this we sat and watched with contented minds.
'How do you manage it?' I asked my young friend wonderingly.
He smiled—a long, slow smile which seemed to start at the corner of his eyes and spread itself gradually over his smooth-shaven and somewhat considerable countenance.
'I have the manner, Colonel,' he confided. 'They understand me, these fellows. Within two minutes, see what will happen—cocktails! There are people at the next table who have been clamouring for cocktails long before we came into the room, and yet, behold!'
A wonderful person, with the smile of a courtier and the benign grace of a clerical dignitary, held a silver tray between us on which reposed two glasses filled with yellow, frosted liquid. Martin raised his to his lips and nodded to me. This time, however, I saw the flash of gold which passed into the man's hands.
'It is all so dead easy,' my companion continued, as he studied the menu. 'People are never tired of trying to get the best possible without paying for it. That's where they come a cropper. Pay—always pay—that's my motto. If you want something, don't expect to get it for a few civil words and a smile. People, especially down in this part of the world, and people connected with fashionable restaurants particularly, aren't used to it.... Here they come, you see, two waiters to receive my order. And here goes. I've thought out a dinner which I guess will keep us from starvation for a bit.'
Martin's order, translated by one waiter and scribbled down by another, commanded at once their joint respect and my wonder.
'Are we going to eat all that?' I asked when they had departed.
'We are not,' my young friend admitted. 'It is only part of my general principle—the principle of paying. Why should we expect the best table in the room and then turn around and order a simple dinner and a bottle of hock? Not at all. We wanted this table and it's worth the price of the best dinner the place can serve. That's about what I've ordered. We'll eat what we fancy and give the rest the go-by.... By gum, look who's coming! It's the Tortoiseshell Princess!'
She came straight towards us until intercepted by a watchful maître d'hôtel—the Princess Cara Sagastini, an Italian lady who occupied the adjoining table to ours at the Hôtel de Paris at Monte Carlo, and whom, from her peculiar taste in jewellery, my sister had christened 'The Tortoiseshell Princess.'
In that entire roomful of irritated people there was probably no one else quite so angry as our hotel acquaintance. Not that she showed it in any ordinary way. Her lined, waxen face was undisturbed by any flush of colour, her bright black eyes were half closed, her voice was as low as ever. Yet the waiter to whom she talked seemed to cower beneath her words like a whipped dog. He looked around the room as though praying that heaven might send him what there certainly was not—either an empty table or space to put one. And finally her gaze rested upon us. Martin, who had divined the situation, rose promptly to his feet
'Good evening, Princess,' he said. 'Say, I hope we haven't got your table?'
The Princess regarded us both steadfastly through her lorgnette. Martin did not for a moment flinch. At the end of her scrutiny his expression, if anything, was more bland than ever. She shut up her eye-glasses with a little snap.
'You have,' she replied curtly. 'It is a table which I occupy four nights a week.'
'Come now, that's too bad,' Martin regretted. 'You must join us, Princess. You are alone, I see, and there's heaps of room. We sit within a few yards of one another day by day at Monte Carlo. Let's join up and sit together for once.'
I am firmly convinced that the Princess for the next few seconds was really occupied in a strenuous effort to find some reply sufficiently crushing to reduce my young friend to pulp. However, she failed. She failed, and all the time Martin smiled genially upon her. Suddenly she broke into an unexpected little laugh.
'But why not?' she exclaimed.
She accepted the chair which I was holding for her. The relief of the maître d'hôtel was a thing beyond description. The Princess picked up the menu and studied it through a tortoiseshell-rimmed eyeglass.
'After all, one must eat,' she murmured, her soft Italian accent making her words sound almost musical.
'No need to bother about that, ma'am,' Martin declared genially. 'I have already ordered enough for four people as it is. You'll be my guest.'
The Princess leaned back in her chair and contemplated Martin through her wonderful lorgnette. I am convinced that this extraordinary young man represented to her a new type of being. His complete assurance, his natural belief that he was doing the usual and reasonable thing, were almost convincing.
'What is your name?' she asked. 'Colonel Green's I know, of course, but yours?'
Martin produced a card from his waistcoat pocket.
'Mr. Edmund H. Martin of Syracuse and New York City, ma'am—I mean Princess,' he corrected. 'Sorry, that's a kind of business card. My firm makes boots and shoes out there. Turn 'em out like apples at the busy season—three thousand pairs a day. It's some factory, ours, I can tell you.'
The Princess turned the card over in her delicate and wonderfully manicured fingers. Then she looked at me, and her thin lips relaxed into a smile.
'But he is inimitable, this friend of yours,' she declared, 'veritably an original! I dine with you. So be it, then. But I will not drink one of those nasty yellow things,' she added, pushing away the cocktail which Martin had ordered. 'A little red wine and some soda-water—no more.'
Martin surreptitiously withdrew the wine-glass from her plate, and after toying absently with it for a moment or two, swallowed its contents. Meanwhile the Princess talked to us politely of the season at Monte Carlo, the gambling and the people.
'It is seventeen years,' she told us, 'since I missed a season. Then my husband was in attendance upon the late King and we were kept in Rome.'
'You play roulette or baccarat?' I inquired.
She smiled a little.
'A bully game,' Martin declared enthusiastically. 'I can't follow that baccarat, and there's too much French going on about chemin de fer.'
'I do not understand your adjective,' the Princess said, but for me there is no excitement in the world like listening to the click of that little ball as it falls into its place. You bend over with straining eyes, you hear the croupier's voice—what a timbre! You realize that hundreds of thousands of francs are about to change hands.'
'Where do you play, Princess?' Martin asked curiously. 'I have only seen you once or twice at the Club.'
'Occasionally there,' she replied; 'occasionally at the Cercle Privé'. But—'
She broke off in her sentence, leaving it unfinished without either apology or explanation. The service of dinner had now commenced, and below, the carnival was in full swing. The procession had reached its final resting-place. The great heads swayed and leered at us. The crowd cheered or groaned at the little allegorical pictures as one by one they were drawn to their places. The Princess alone, of the three of us, remained indifferent to the hubbub and scarcely once glanced out of the window.
'Princess,' Martin inquired a little abruptly, didn't I understand you to say that you dined here four times a week?'
'I did say so,' the Princess assented.
'Now that seems kind of strange to me,' he continued reflectively. 'To tell you the truth, I can't exactly reckon this place up. It's always full, and yet there don't seem to be much to attract people except the shops. I'm all for Monte Carlo myself.'
The Princess smiled. She had the air of one possessing some knowledge which she preferred to keep to herself. Her smile puzzled me a little. She made no attempt to explain it, however. Dinner was almost at an end before she leaned forward in her chair.
'Mr. Martin,' she said, 'if I chose to do so, I could make you change your opinion about Nice.'
'Is that so?' he remarked politely, but entirely unconcerned. 'Of course, to-night's carnival night and all that—'
'I do not concern myself with the carnival,' the Princess interrupted. 'I will tell you something that will perhaps surprise you. I will tell you that within a few hundred yards of this place there is more excitement to be found than Monte Carlo itself could show you.'
'Now you're talking,' Martin declared, genuinely interested. 'I'd like to hear about it.'
The Princess fingered one of the quaint, uneven fragments of tortoiseshell which she wore strung around her neck in a long chain. Then she leaned back in her chair and called out softly to a man who was dining at the next table. He rose promptly to his feet and stood before her with a gallant little bow. I recognized him at once. It was Baron Ennesberg, a well-known figure upon the Riviera, the owner of immense estates in Russia, and reputed to be one of the greatest gambler in the world.
She talked to him for a few moments in Italian, her voice lowered, her hand resting upon his coat-sleeve. He listened, nodding gravely. His reply was evidently an assent. I noticed, however, that he glanced several times at us, and it was obvious that the Princess had, for some reason or other, introduced our names into the conversation. He resumed his seat. The Princess turned to my companion. Her lips wore a peculiar smile. The little lines in her waxen face seemed to have become more marked.
'It is permitted,' she announced, 'that I take you to a small club to-night. It will cost fifty pounds for you to cross the threshold. You find it too much?'
'Not in the least, Princess,' Martin assured her, 'if there is anything to be seen when we get inside.'
Again she smiled.
'You will at any rate understand,' she said, 'what it is that brings me here four times a week. Look around the room. Do you not recognize others here from Monte Carlo, whose presence might seem to you significant?'
We both obeyed. There certainly were several people there whose faces were familiar.
'I shall take you,' she promised, 'to a room where millions are won or lost, not in an evening but in a minute. I can show you the spot on which Baron Ennesberg set down his cheque for a million francs upon the red, and lost.'
'Say, that's some gambling!' Martin exclaimed, with bated breath.
'But I thought that roulette tables were forbidden here,' I ventured.
The Princess turned towards me.
'This is a private club,' she said, 'and those who belong to it raise it almost above the law. It has been in existence already for six months. If occasion arises that it must be closed, we shall have notice from the police and we shall move to another spot. Come, then, you are ready?'
We left the place with the Princess. Her own motorcar stood at the back entrance of the Casino, from which alone departure in vehicles was possible. She motioned us to enter. Martin, however, for a moment hesitated.
'Our own car is here,' he pointed out. 'We had better have that along. Then we can drive straight from the place, wherever it is, home.'
'I prefer not,' the Princess said firmly. 'I do not wish you to drive in your car to our destination. The fewer people who are in the secret, the better. I shall ask you, indeed, as gentlemen, to close your eyes as we pass through the streets.'
My companion dropped behind for a few moments to light a cigar, but he made no further objection. We stepped into a very beautiful limousine, upholstered in white, and we glided off.
'Remember what I have said,' the Princess enjoined in her thin, metallic voice. 'Your eyes closed, if you please. It is but a short distance.'
Personally, I felt very little curiosity as to our destination, and I kept my part of the bargain faithfully. We had been driving for scarcely five minutes when we alighted in a quiet street before a closed iron lattice-work gate. A small postern was opened by invisible means and we passed through into a court-yard. From a somewhat forbidding darkness the place was suddenly ablaze with electric lights. A concierge ushered us across a little open square into the hall of a moderate-sized house. The Princess led us up to a man who sat at a desk, and who scrutinized both Martin and me closely.
'These gentlemen are introduced by the Baron Ennesberg and myself,' the Princess announced. 'You will enter their names—Mr. Martin and Colonel Green. So!'
'Un mille deux-cent cinquante francs, monsieur,' the man murmured, with a bow.
Martin promptly produced some notes, which were swept unceremoniously into a drawer. Then the Princess led us farther on, and a footman touched a bell let into the wall. In a moment or two a door swung open before us. We passed into a vestibule and paused in front of another blank door. The same process was repeated. We entered then one of the strangest-looking apartments I have ever seen. It was much smaller than the room at the Sporting Club, and the centre was taken up by one roulette table, around which were rows of easy chairs, each one of which bore a visiting card let into a little ivory plate. The walls of the room were painted black and white, and the ceiling was decorated with some most amazing frescoes. The Princess sank into her chair and talked for a few moments to one of the managers. Then she turned to us.
'The seats here,' she explained, 'are all reserved for individual members, but the one on my right will be vacant for several hours, at any rate. You, Colonel Green, I am afraid may be disturbed. For the moment you can sit on my left.'
I did so, and I gazed around upon the strangest collection of faces I have ever looked into. Some of them were familiar—habitués of the Sporting Club. Others were unknown to me. They were all apparently of the same world as the Princess, but there was about them an air of deadly calm, of white, tense eagerness, a curious similarity of expression, indescribable but in its way singularly repulsive.
There was a Hebrew hanker, with grey hair and bushy eyebrows. He wore a very low collar, his neck was always thrust a little forward. His eyes had a restless habit of wandering over the board, as though he were taking note of all the chances. Next to him was a Russian, morganatically of royal birth, a man with snow-white hair and a straight, spiky, black moustache. His face was extraordinarily pallid, and so motionless that he seemed exactly like a waxen figure from some chamber of horrors.
A few places farther on was an old woman with a light golden wig. Her wrinkled neck and bony fingers were smothered with jewels. She sat watching the board with her underlip drawn back, looking for all the world like some bird of prey. There were chairs only for twenty-five people and about three-fourths of these were occupied. The Princess leaned towards me.
'You see here,' she whispered, 'the gamblers of the world. Behold, the wheel spins! There are fortunes passing, even during these few seconds.'
I looked down upon the table. I have never in my life beheld such a sight. There were rolls of bank-notes, stacks of hundred-franc plaques, cheques freshly written on the blotting-pad which pages were carrying around. On one carré lay a cheque upon which the ink was not yet dry. I rubbed my eyes as I looked at it. The signature was the name of one of the historical banking firms of the world, and it was for a thousand pounds.
'But what is the limit?' I asked the Princess.
'There is no limit,' she answered. 'Only at the stroke of each hour, the bank closes for ten minutes.'
'No limit!' Martin exclaimed softly.
'And the minimum stake?' I inquired.
'One hundred francs,' she replied. 'Behold!'
Before my eyes she thrust down five mille notes upon rouge. The ball dropped. The number was fourteen red. I looked around at the pile of notes, curiously fascinated. At a rough estimate, that single turn of the wheel must have cost the bank nineteen thousand pounds. Martin, with a cigar in the corner of his mouth and an air of great happiness, drew out a wad of notes.
'Say, this is something like a game. Colonel!' he declared. 'I'm coming into this!'
I staked a few five-louis pieces, winning and losing alternately. The smallness of my operations provoked a contemptuous smile from the Princess, who presently disregarded me altogether. Her eyes were fixed approvingly upon my companion, who was watching with calm composure the disappearance of a dozen mille notes. From that time she ignored me, and I found myself free to look about.
For some reason the place inspired me with a curious sense of uneasiness. The more I studied the faces of the people, the less I liked them. There was something un-human about them as they lolled back in their chairs, or watched the board with the grim fierceness of men and women who have cast away all ideas of pleasure and who gamble for their lives. There was scarcely any conversation.
Every movement, save the click of the ball as it fell into its place, was noiseless. The footsteps of the passers-by and the attendants sank noiselessly into the thick-piled carpet. Even the women's dresses seemed free from the faintest rustle. Only after each coup there was a queer little breathless tangle of strained voices. I leaned towards the Princess.
'Who is the responsible person here?' I asked. 'How does one know if one will be paid?'
'There are secrets,' she said, 'concerning which one must ask no question. This is one of them. Some say that we are subsidized from Monsieur Blond himself. One only knows that a hundred thousand pounds was paid out a few nights ago and the funds of the bank appeared untouched.'
I left my seat presently and strolled around. There were very few people indeed who were not gathered around the tables, but again these few whom I did meet gave me that curious impression of being supers in some play, unreal people passing backwards and forwards like shadows. There was a small American bar at the farther end of the room, the attendant of which had left his place and was standing on the threshold, looking curiously towards the tables. I recognized the man and spoke to him.
'Good evening, Charles,' I said. 'You have left the "Hermitage", then?'
He started at the sound of my voice, and moved back towards the bar. As he did so, however, he threw a last glance over his shoulder. I followed the direction of his eyes. It was obviously Martin in whom he was interested.
'I have been here for a fortnight, sir,' he replied. 'What can I give you, Colonel?'
I ordered a Scotch whisky-and-soda. After he had served it, the man came out from behind the counter and edged once more towards the threshold of the little room.
'Is Mr. Martin with you, sir?' he asked me softly.
I nodded. This time is was hard to ignore the concern in the man's face.
'Yes, he is with me,' I admitted. 'Why not? This place is all right, isn't it?'
'Oh, yes, it's all right,' the bar-keeper assented. 'Fortunes are made and lost here every few seconds. The place is all right. But—'
He drew a little nearer to me.
'It is the last word in gambling, this, sir,' he said. 'Men and women come here who are drunk with the lust of it. They bring their fortunes, all they raise, and fling them down upon a single coup.'
'If they lose,' Charles went on, 'and many of them lose, what can one not imagine? In eight days, monsieur,' he added, dropping his voice, 'there have been five deaths in the little courtyard there.'
I stared at him. The man's face, however, was strained and serious.
'One has read nothing of this in the papers,' I reminded him.
'Nor ever will,' Charles replied softly but emphatically. 'The bodies are taken away. They are found in various spots—never here. For the moment, the police are our servants. One may die out there and be found in the rue de Londres, a mile off. I should like to speak to Mr. Martin, sir.'
'I'll tell him,' I promised.
'Don't forget,' the man whispered, coming a little nearer to me. 'I've had enough of this place. You see the Russian gentleman over there?'
I followed the inclination of his head. It was the Baron Ennesberg who had just come in and was watching the table.
'Three nights ago,' Charles went on, 'he lost here seven hundred thousand francs. He was stripped, ruined, his last louis gone. That night a South American, who had been winning huge sums, was found dead two miles away in an evil quarter of the town. He was found there, but he was stabbed and robbed within fifty feet of the door here, against the fountain, and the next day Baron Ennesberg was here once more with a million francs to play with.'
I glanced incredulously at the man. He seemed on the verge of a nervous collapse.
'Have you been drinking?' I asked him sternly.
'Nothing to speak of, sir,' the man assured me. 'It isn't drink. It's fear. I've seen things during these last few days which I can't forget. I'm off to-morrow. They pay me more than double what I've ever been paid before but I can't stick it. No one drinks much. They are all drunk before they come, drunk with the sight of the gold and notes upon the table. They've no time for me. Look at their faces! When I leave this place tonight, I shall leave it for good.'
The man was speaking nothing but the truth. I looked at him closely and I was absolutely certain of it.
'To tell you the truth, Charles,' I admitted, 'I am more than half of your opinion. I don't like the place myself. But why are you watching Mr. Martin so?'
Charles leaned a little closer to me.
'Don't you see he's winning, sir?' he muttered. 'Send him in here for a drink, if you can. I want to warn him.'
I promised to do what I could and strolled along on the other side of the room. Martin was sitting in his easy chair, his cigar well home in his mouth, his hands in his pockets, his whole expression almost seraphic. Before him was the most enormous pile of notes I have ever seen. He sat looking down at them for several
'Faîtes vos jeux, messieurs,' the croupier called softly.
At first I thought that Martin was not going to stake at all. Then I saw him take a bundle of notes, so thick that he used both hands, and calmly arrange them around twenty-nine and all its combinations. The little pile grew higher and higher. People leaned forward to watch. The croupier delayed the coup. Then, when he had finished arranging his stake, Martin looked downwards, as though hesitating, at the pile of notes which still remained in front of him.
Suddenly he lifted them up and calmly placed them in the middle of his stack, upon twenty-nine en plein. Then for the first time I heard the sound of raised voices. A little murmur went around the table, a murmur that was almost a hiss. Men and women leaned forward and stared. The Princess looked at Martin almost with awe.
'Magnifique!' he murmured.
'I've a kind of fancy for that number,' he declared calmly, as the ball went clicking round.
'How much have you won?' she asked.
'A thousand pounds en plein,' he answered, 'and about five thousand on the carrés and chevaux'
'Magnifique,' she repeated. 'Little did I imagine, Mr. Martin, when I accepted a seat at your table this evening that I was being entertained by such a prince of gamblers. You have already won, is it not so?'
'Most of what I've put on,' the young man replied, 'is winnings. If I lose it, I shall still have had all my fun for nothing.'
The ball suddenly dropped into its place. One could almost feel the faint sob of indrawn breaths as men and women peered towards the board. Then came the croupier's voice, and even that shook a little:
'Vingt-neuf, noir, impair, passe.'
Again that curious sound of tremulous voices. For a moment everyone sat motionless. Even the croupier made no effort to pay. I stood with my eyes riveted upon the hoard. The thing seemed incredible. A woman almost opposite, who had been gazing at the number with distended eyes, suddenly burst into shrieks, beat upon the table with her hands, and was almost carried away by one of the attendants. The incident seemed to unloose all tongues. There were queer murmurs flashing backwards and forwards along the little line of men and women.
The croupier commenced his task. He paid first all the smaller amounts. He came at last to Martin's. Slowly he counted the notes and turned their faces towards my young friend, who each time nodded silently.
'Cinquante mille transversal,' he said softly at last. 'Cinq cents cinquante mille francs, monsieur.'
Martin accepted an enormous wad of notes and stuffed them into his coat pocket.
'Un carré de vingt mille francs,' the croupier continued. 'Cent soixante mille francs, monsieur. Aussi vingt-cinq mille cheval; quatre cent, vingt-cent mille francs, monsieur.'
Once more Martin stuffed two enormous wads of notes into his pocket.
'The en plein,' the croupier went on, 'dix mille francs. Trois cent cinquantes milles francs, monsieur.'
There was a queer vibration in the air. The pent-up feelings of every man and woman in that little crowd seemed to be escaping from their dried lips and parched throats. Their eyes seemed fastened with horrible intentness on the plump, good-natured figure of my beaming companion. The Princess came forward and tapped him on the shoulder.
'Mr. Martin,' she said almost solemnly, 'I congratulate you. It is the most magnificent coup I have ever seen.. Tell me, what have you won?'
'Sort of an idea,' Martin replied, 'that it works out at about a million and a half. I'll buy you a whisky-and-soda, Colonel.'
He slipped from his chair and took my arm. We passed down the room. A sudden impulse made me glance behind. Every head was turned towards us and the expression in every face was the same. A premonition of danger crept in upon me.
'Look as though they'd like to eat us!' I muttered.
Martin's eyes twinkled. There was not even the semblance of fear in his face.
'Colonel,' he said, 'dukes they may be, or princes, but a tougher lot of nuts than these I never set eyes upon, I guess I'm rather of your way of thinking.... Say, that's little Charlie from the "Hermitage", isn't it? Well, well!'
The anxious-looking little man in the white linen suit hastened behind the bar and bowed his acknowledgments of my young companion's recognition. I left them there, talking earnestly. Something impelled me to turn back into the main room. The game was still interrupted. The croupier was leaning back in his chair, playing idly with his rake. The cashier had gone from his desk.
There were barely thirty people in the place altogether, and these seemed to have broken up into little groups. Gradually one or two of these began to converge towards the bar. The Baron Ennesberg passed me, talking earnestly to another man of the same type, a man perfectly, even effeminately, dressed, but with a look about his mouth which I had once seen in the face of an apache in Montmartre on his way to the police station. Baron Ennesberg stopped me.
'Our charming young friend Mr. Martin,' he announced, smiling, 'has temporarily interrupted the proceedings here. He has achieved the desire of the world—he has broken the bank.'
'A temporary affair, doubtless,' I remarked.
'An affair of half an hour,' Baron Ennesberg continued. 'We have sent for more supplies. Meanwhile, in order to save delay, it has been suggested that Mr. Martin might be induced to lend the bank, say, a few hundred thousand francs of his winnings.'
'Mr. Martin is in the bar,' I pointed out.
Baron Ennesberg solemnly presented me to his companion, whose name I did not catch, but who I understood was officially connected with the place. They passed on then and I was on the point of following them, but a gesture from the Princess forbade me. She, too, had risen to her feet and was standing a little on one side. Against the black walls, her appearance gave me almost a shock. Her face was corpse-like, colourless, wrinkled, curiously Botticelli-like in its type and outline. She resembled a ghost, a reincarnation of something belonging to earlier days.
'Madame!' I murmured.
She leaned a little towards me.
'Where is your young companion?' she whispered.
'He is in the bar,' I replied.
'The bank,' she went on, 'is short of funds to-night. They have decided to ask him to lend a few hundred thousand francs.'
'A somewhat unusual course, surely?' I remarked.
'Perhaps,' she admitted. 'The place itself is unusual. The circumstances are unusual. The gigantic win of your friend was unusual. I would give you a word of advice, Colonel Green. Better for him to do as they ask.'
'I will tell him so,' I promised. 'Very likely he will not hesitate. On the other hand, if the idea does not appeal to him, he is likely to be obstinate.'
'It would be well for him to waive that obstinacy for once,' the Princess advised. 'I give you this word of warning because it is I who am responsible for your presence here. I had not anticipated a happening such as this, or I might perhaps have told you more about the place. You yourself, however, are doubtless acquainted with something of human nature. When I remind you that you are surrounded by men who are gamblers from the marrow of their bodies to their very souls, men drunk with the love of gambling, men to whom the proportions of life have disappeared, then I think that I may have said enough in warning. I have taken a fancy to your Mr. Edmund H. Martin, as he calls himself. Let him lend the bank, say, a half of his winnings, and slip away quietly a little later. He will do well then. It is my advice.'
She dismissed me and I turned back towards the bar. Even before I reached the little curtained archway which separated it from the main room, I was conscious of certain sounds which seemed, in a way, foreign to the place with its air of deathly quiet. I hastened on, entered the room, and my heart sank.
Martin was standing with his back to the counter, a large tumbler in one hand, whilst with the other he was making unsteady attempts to get a cigar into his mouth. His face was flushed. Although I had barely been parted from him for ten minutes, there was no mistaking the thickness of his speech.
'Colonel—my dear old Colonel,' he cried, welcoming me, 'come right in! A special whisky-and-soda, Charles, for my friend. Good fellow, the Colonel. One of the best. Gentlemen. Like you all to know my friend Colonel Green—late of the British Army.'
I acknowledged the salutes of seven men who seemed to have formed a sort of semicircle around Martin. To all appearance, they were seven very nicely behaved and very correctly attired members of the fashionable world. They were perfectly self-composed, quite courteous, and pleasantry amused by the obvious result upon their host of his libations. Nevertheless, it did not need the glance of almost frantic warning from Charles to help me to realize the position.
'These gentlemen,' Martin continued, 'friendsh of Baron Ennesberg here—want me to lend the bank quarter of a million francs. Shan't do it! Shan't do it, Colonel.'
'Well, I don't know, Edmund,' I replied. 'You've had an extraordinary win and you've broken up the game. I think I should be inclined to lend them something.'
'The affair is of no real consequence,' Baron Ennesberg said smoothly, 'but the proprietors regret so much keeping their clients waiting. It would be a convenience to them if Mr. Martin would comply with their request. The money could be returned in less than half an hour.'
'Unheard-of thing,' Martin declared stubbornly. 'Shan't do it. "Any limit?" I asked when I sat down. They all smiled at me, Colonel—sort of super-supercilious smile, you know,' he added, getting the word out with a gallant effort. '"No limit," I was told. All right. I played no limit. Devil'sh own luck, of course, but there you are. I've won a million and a half. Going to stick to it. Going to take it right back to Monte Carlo. Charles, where'sh my parcel?'
Charles handed across the bar an oblong brown-paper parcel, open at the ends so that the pink corners of the mille notes were clearly visible. Martin tucked it under his arm. Charles leaned across the bar.
'Mr. Martin,' he begged, 'don't you do it, sir. Don't you go out of the place with those notes like that. It wouldn't be safe in any place in Europe, sir. There's a fortune there.'
Baron Ennesberg nodded gravely.
'It is not my affair, of course,' he said suavely, 'but the advice of Charles is, without doubt, excellent. No man, Mr. Martin, has the right to carry a million francs' worth of notes in that way.'
'Ain't going to carry them that way,' Martin declared, with a triumphant smile, as he finished his whisky-and-soda and set down the empty tumbler. 'Look here—'
He opened his coat. One saw then that be had a huge inside-pocket into which he promptly dropped the parcel.
'Think I'm a jay,' he went on amiably, 'go brandishing a bundle of notesh about like that. Not me! Who's going to guess now? Come on, Colonel. Let's shay good-bye to the Princess.'
'You will honour us again some time, I trust, Mr. Martin?' Baron Ennesberg remarked.
'Sure!' Martin promised. 'This is some place, this is! Jolly good fellows, too, all of you. What shay just one more?'
I got him firmly by the arm, and as his invitation was met with a chorus of polite refusals, I managed to get him out of the bar. He insisted, however, upon making his adieux to the Princess.
'Very pleasant evening, ma'am,' he assured her, feeling in vain for the hand which she resolutely refused to offer him. 'Wish you luck.'
She looked at him and at me. There was an expression upon her face which I could not wholly fathom.
'I trust, Mr. Martin,' she said, 'that you will never regret your visit.'
I got him away then. The concierge helped us on with our coats and Martin distributed lavish gratuities in all directions. The porter in charge of the outside door, which remained inhospitably closed, stood with his hand upon the fastening.
'The taxi ordered for monsieur is there,' he announced.'Merci, monsieur! Merci bien!'
The door was suddenly opened, but we had no sooner crossed the threshold than it was closed behind us heavily and abruptly. We were now in the mysterious little court-yard in front of the house, and before we had taken a dozen steps across it, the electric lights on either side of us went out. Martin gripped my arm.
'Darned queer place, this, Colonel,' he muttered. 'Let's hurry.'
We reached the passage in safety and hurried on to the outside gate. The postern was locked. I thundered at the door of the concierge's office.
'Concierge!' I cried.
There was silence for a moment. Then from somewhere quite close we heard the soft pattering of footsteps. What followed was almost incredibly swift. We were suddenly surrounded. Not a word was spoken. Even the faces of our assailants were concealed by black masks. I felt my arms pinioned while a hand was passed over my clothes. Martin's coat was ripped open and the packet snatched away before he could even protest. Then the little postern gate in front of us was opened. Whilst we were still breathless, the figures of the men who had attacked us sprang through, one by one. The last of our assailants slammed the door, but I was just in time to get my foot in the opening. Nevertheless, by the time we had blundered on to the pavement, there was only one figure left. We saw him cross the street, clutching the packet under his arm. My blood was up, and I started to give chase. Martin, however, held me back.
'It's no good, Colonel,' he declared. 'They're too many for us. Damned swindle, all of it! Get in the taxi.'
I hesitated for a moment, but the man had already disappeared and I was conscious of a queer feeling that we were still being watched. I followed Martin, therefore, into the taxicab which was waiting in the street a few yards away, and we drove off at once in the direction of the town. We talked for the first few moments rapidly, and not very coherently. Martin examined his torn coat and gazed ruefully at the empty pocket.
'If you'd kept out of that bar—' I ventured to begin.
'I only had three drinks,' he protested.
'Then they were doctored,' I observed.
'Come to think of it,' he admitted, 'it does seem like that. Well, we're out of it with whole skins, anyway,' he added, as we turned into one of the brilliantly lit main thoroughfares.
We reached the Hôtel des Anglais. Our car was drawn up at the spot we had directed, waiting. I made towards it, but Martin, when he had paid the driver of the taxicab, took me by the arm.
'Just one little drink first, Colonel,' he begged.
'Certainly not!' I answered irritably.
I was not in the least inclined to share the philosophic resignation with which my young friend had apparently accepted the loss of a million and a half francs. With regard to the drink, however, Martin would take no denial. Exactly opposite the comer of the street where the car was standing there was a little bar, into which he led me. It was a cosy little room, well lit, and filled with a fair sprinkling of quite ordinary-looking people, the very sight of whom seemed to come as a relief after our exotic associations of the last few hours.
'We will take two whiskies-and-sodas,' Martin ordered. 'And now, if you like, Colonel,' he added, turning to me, 'I'll tell you just why I insisted upon one more drink before we start home. The reason is because it's the first I've had to-night.'
I stared at him.
'Why, I saw you drinking whiskies-and-sodas—'
'Not a bit of it, Colonel,' Martin interrupted, his thickness of speech altogether vanished and a new briskness in his manner. 'Charlie faked those drinks for me—just orange-water and soda.'
It suddenly dawned upon me that once again this most extraordinary young man had triumphed. He answered my gaze of eager inquiry with a little nod. Just at that moment a newcomer pushed his way hurriedly through the swing doors. He recognized Martin with an air of relief, and made his way towards us.
'Worked it all right, Charlie?' Martin inquired.
A packet, genuine enough this time, was drawn from the man's pocket and followed by several others. Martin retained one and handed the rest over to me.'
'Say, Colonel, you're the only one with whole pockets,' he remarked. 'Take care of these.'
'What about the other parcel, then?' I gasped—'the one they robbed you of?'
'Faked by Charlie here,' Martin explained, 'with a few of the genuine notes lopping out each end. The only way to get clear. Come on. I guess, perhaps, we'd best be making tracks. We'll take you along to Monte Carlo, Charlie. And here's your twenty-five mille to hug on the way over.'
The little bar-man wiped the perspiration from his forehead. His expression was beatific, even though his thanks were incoherent. We hurried out to the car, and in less than five minutes we were on the way back to Monte Carlo. Martin glanced back as we began to climb the hill.
'Say,' he exclaimed, stooping down to light a cigar, I guess the Tortoiseshell Princess knew what she was talking about! I've changed my mind about Nice.'
[Note by Edmund H. Martin.—I'm telling this story because it's one of those the Colonel always swears that he has forgotten. He's a pretty tough old proposition, but he came out of this adventure badly scared, and I humour him by never alluding to it or to any of the persons concerned. But it's got to be told, so here goes.]
NO doubt the Colonel was right about giving Monte Carlo a rest for a time, but I'm not sure that Grasse was exactly the spot I'd have chosen myself for a fortnight's breathing spell. By the time we'd done the scent factories and taken a few excursions around, we'd pretty well used the place up. The Colonel seemed to enjoy the rest all right, but three or four days of it was quite enough for me. To put the matter plainly, I soon became bored with Grasse.
I think that it was on the evening of our fifth day there that we took a short stroll before dinner on the little southern promenade, which fringes the principal street of the place and seems rather like a shelf cut out of the mountains. The Colonel was inclined to be a trifle chirpy. He had found another old Anglo-Indian in about the same stage of fossilization as himself, and the two had spent most of the day together, gossiping about their lurid pasts.
'It was here, my young friend,' he reminded me, as we paused in our promenade and looked down the valley, 'that the great Napoleon came to seek rest. I trust that appeals to you.'
'Read it all up in the guide-book, I told him gloomily. 'If it was rest he wanted, I guess he found it here right enough.'
'You cannot expect adventures in every corner of the world,' the Colonel insisted. 'Besides, look at the view.'
I gazed across the valley, down past the groves of blossoming peach trees, across the rich brown earth of the violet-farms and the vineyards, over the sunny slopes where flowers for the scent factories were cultivated, great patches of glowing colours melting into the pine-hung hills. In the background towered the mountains, and in the far distance were faint glimpses of Cannes and the blue Mediterranean.
'The view's all right,' I admitted, with a little sigh, 'but I've no use for a place on this earth that hasn't a decent American bar. Lukewarm mixed vermouth—.'
The Colonel turned briskly around and called to a waiter who was hanging about outside the café. I will say this for these one-horse French places, that wherever you do find what they call a promenade, you find a café and chairs right alongside.
'A mixed vermouth,' he remarked, 'may cheer us up.'
'Any sort of a drink,' I assented, 'is better than none. If only there was such a thing as a little ice to be had, and lemon!'
The Colonel fixed that all right, and it struck me, when I set my glass down, that the view wasn't so bad, after all.
'This place has its points,' I observed.'What's wanted here is a slap-up hotel with all the modern civilizations. A little American enterprise—'
'Quite out of place,' the Colonel interrupted testily. 'You haven't got the atmosphere quite yet, Edmund.'
I was on the point of answering him when I stopped short and half-turned my head. I distinctly heard my own name and heard it pronounced, too, by an unmistakable American voice. A young man and woman were strolling along the front towards us. A moment later I was shaking hands vigorously with both of them.
'Say, isn't this bully, Ned!' I exclaimed. 'Bessie, too! Why, of all places in the world, to think you should find your way here! Sit right down with us and look at the view, and we'll have a mixed vermouth. The view's great, but it's the only thing here worth looking at. Say, let me introduce my friend, Colonel Green, late of the British Army—Mr. Ned Kinsey and Mrs. Kinsey. Ned was at college with me, Colonel, and a fellow-passenger on the Olympic coming over, too.'
'We were second-class, though,' Bessie laughed, 'so we didn't see very much of Mr. Martin.'
The Colonel mumbled something which sounded moderately pleasant, but I never took much notice of him, for I knew he hated our American custom of introducing our friends to one another the moment we met. I managed to make a waiter understand what we wanted and we were pretty soon all chatting together in real friendly fashion.
'Ned, old fellow,' I exclaimed, 'I can't tell you how glad I am to see you two again without that chap Mulholland hanging around! Bessie was saying just now that you didn't see much of me on the steamer. That was simply because I couldn't bear the sight of the fellow and he never seemed to leave you for a moment.'
Ned seemed a little embarrassed and Bessie's face was suddenly grave.
'Sorry you don't like him,' Ned remarked. 'As a matter of fact, he is here with us now—brought us over in his car.'
'The dickens he did!' I muttered, 'Of course,' I blundered on, 'I thought he was just a steamer acquaintance. If he really is a friend of yours, I'm sorry.'
We all looked at one another a little uneasily for a time and conversation kind of hung fire. It was Bessie who steered it clear again.
'I suppose you know,' she sighed, 'that Ned's father won't have anything to do with us—wouldn't even let us go to Paris to see him?'
'I'm sorry to hear that,' I told them.
'It's a bad job,' Ned interposed gloomily. 'I hope he'll come round soon or I don't know what we shall do.'
Bessie laughed hopefully.
'Well, we're making a living, anyhow,-' she announced.'Do you know what we are doing?'
'No idea,' I confessed.
'I've gone back on the stage and Ned is helping me. We've been promised an engagement in London later on. You've no idea how clever Ned is.'
'I know he used to amuse us all at college,' I told her, 'but of course I never dreamed of his taking it up seriously.'
'We are doing short stunts down at the hotels around here,' Ned explained, a little shamefacedly.'It keeps us going, anyway.'
'That's great! I declared. 'Why, you must be the Bessie and Jack Clayton who are to appear at the hotel to-night?'
The girl nodded.
'Of course we are, and we shall expect you to put ten francs in the plate when it comes round. They tell me that the place isn't very full up here,' she added dolefully.
'Never mind, we'll give you a good send off,' I promised. 'Say, can't you both dine with me first?'
For a moment Bessie looked as though she'd jump into my arms at the idea. Then she seemed suddenly to remember.
'There's Mr. Mulholland,' she sighed. 'He brought us over in his motor-car, you know.'
Now it's a whim of mine but I've no fancy for asking a man I don't like either to eat or drink with me, so at that I said no more. I made up my mind, however, to have a talk to Ned later on, for, considering that he was only a casual acquaintance, I don't think I ever met a man in this world I disliked more than Mulholland.
'Well, I shall see the show, anyhow,' I said, as we all strolled up to the hotel,' and we'll have a drink together afterwards. . . .'
The Colonel and I occupied our usual little table in a corner of the dining-room that night, and a few places away sat Mr. Mulholland and Mr. and Mrs. Kinsey. The Colonel looked at them once or twice through his eyeglass, and I could see that he was making up his mind about them.
'Your young friend Mrs. Kinsey,' he pronounced, 'seems to be a very delightful young person and remarkably pretty. Her husband seems a decent young fellow, too, but if the third person is the Mr. Mulholland you were speaking of, I am bound to say that I decidedly share your aversion.'
'Ned's all right,' I agreed.'He is three or four years; younger than I am, but we were at Harvard for nearly-a year together. He's a good sort but weak. He ran away with his wife and I was afraid there would be trouble about it. She's a dear little lady and as good as they make them, but she certainly was on the stage.'
The Colonel relapsed into silence, and, doubtless from the fact that there wasn't another soul in the room in whom it was possible to feel the slightest interest, I found myself paying a good deal of attention to my young friends and their companion. I was conscious of a feeling of some concern about them.
I remembered Ned Kinsey and his little girl wife, on the voyage over, as two of the happiest-looking young people on the ship. Evidently things had gone wrong with them since then. Ned had the restless look of a man with something on his mind which he couldn't get away from. He drank a great deal of champagne without seeming to get in the least degree more cheerful.
Bessie, too, seemed to have lost all her light-hearted girlishness, and somehow or other I found myself attributing everything, without knowing why, to their host's presence. The more I looked at Mulholland, the more I found myself disliking him. An American sportsman he called himself, because he'd owned a dozen racehorses, which he'd run like a crook, and knew his way about shady New York. He was a fellow about fifty years old, stout but unhealthy-looking, flashily dressed, and wearing a good deal of the wrong sort of jewellery in the wrong way.
I could hear his voice over where I sat, except when he was whispering to Mrs. Kinsey, which seemed to me to be pretty often. I knew a little about Mr. Mulholland, and for the life of me I couldn't see at first what his present game was. The Kinseys admitted that they were up against it, good and hard, without anything more in the world than what they earned from week to week, so there wasn't much that even a bloodsucker like Mulholland could make out of them. Then I happened to see him look down at Bessie once and I guessed. The rest of my dinner I sent away untouched.
We all came together in the lounge after dinner. I contrived to get Ned to myself for a moment or two, which was easy enough, as Mulholland had cornered Bessie and was making her drink a liqueur. I gave Ned a cigar and strolled round with him to the little stage which had been put up for the performance.
'Did you know anything of Mulholland before you met him on the steamer?' I inquired.
'Very little,' Ned admitted.'He came behind at one of our shows down Broadway.'
'Ned,' I went on, laying my hand on his shoulder, 'this is no affair of mine, but if I were a young fellow like you and had a wife as pretty as Bessie, I'd find a better pal than Mulholland.'
He seemed suddenly furious, although I had been flattering myself that I had put the matter tactfully.
'What the devil are you insinuating?' he demanded.
'I am insinuating nothing,' I replied, 'because I prefer plain-speaking. I want to tell you right here, Ned, that Mulholland is a dead out-and-out wrong 'un, and that your wife's a dear little lady who ought not to be brought into contact with such a beast.'
For a moment his lips quivered and I began to guess how the matter lay. His attempt at remonstrance, however, was very feeble and almost pathetic.
'You are mistaken about Mulholland,' he insisted.'He's a rough son of chap but he's all right, and I am under certain obligations to him. As for Bessie,' he added, with a kind of spurious dignity, 'she'd know how to treat any man who forgot himself for a moment.'
'No one doubts that,' I answered seriously.'I wanted to warn you, that's all. Mulholland isn't used to ladies' society.'
After that we parted and I sat with the Colonel and watched the show. It was good enough, of its sort, but nothing wonderful. Bessie danced and sang prettily, and Ned did the usual ventriloquist's business with the addition of a few conjuring tricks.
Mulholland sat in a comer and watched them, his cheeks puffed out and a big cigar in his mouth. His eyes were simply riveted upon the stage during Bessie's dance, and I saw something in his eyes which made the veins stand out on the back of my clenched fists. It was just then that I realized how understanding a person the Colonel really was. He touched me on the arm.
'Don't forget, Edmund,' he enjoined, 'that we are on a rest cure here. I'd let other people alone for a bit, if I were you.'
I tried to cool down and tell myself that it was the only thing to do, but all the same I got it in my mind that I meant to say a few words to Bessie before she left, and I managed that all right. After they had taken their poor little collection—it couldn't have amounted to more than a hundred francs, and half of that was mine—Ned and Mulholland went off to get a whisky-and-soda.
I stood in the portico of the hotel with Bessie, and I drew her across the avenue, away from the entrance altogether. Below us, the lights of the little houses dotted about in the valley were twinkling little fire-flies set in a dusky violet mantle, and a soft breeze swept up which seemed somehow to remind one of mimosa and peach blossom. Her eyes grew larger as she looked away into the shadows, and for a moment she seemed to forget. I'd like to have left her like that but the time was short.
'Bessie,' I whispered, 'I've said a few plain words to Ned and offended him. Now I am going to say a few to you.'
She started a little but she made no effort to stop me.
'I'll admit it's no concern of mine,' I went on, 'but the world would be a cold place if we only looked after our own affairs. That fellow Mulholland is a brute. If I were you, I wouldn't have him travelling around with you both.'
She clutched at ray arm.
'If only I could get rid of him! If only he would go!' she murmured, looking nervously over her shoulder.
'Why don't you tell him so, then?' I suggested. 'We've only a minute or two here, Bessie. You and I have been pals in a small way but we may never meet again, and you know very well what Mulholland's after. Why don't you cut him out altogether, and have done with it?'
She shivered all over and I felt that my words must have sounded a trifle crude, even when she remembered that we had only seconds to spare.
'You're young married people, you and your husband,' I reminded her. 'Don't you go and make the mistake of your life just because a brute like that has money to throw about on motor-cars and champagne, and to give you what he calls a good time. You're a good little woman at heart, I know, and there isn't much fun in these things, believe me.'
'Don't be foolish,' she interrupted breathlessly.'Can't you see that he's got hold of Ned? Ned gambles and gambles all the time, gambles away all the money we earn, and then he borrows more from Mulholland. He hasn't been used to living simply, either, and he won't. So it's been going on, ever since we left the steamer. He owes Mr. Mulholland now several thousand francs, and Mulholland doesn't mind. He simply waits.'
'You let him wait,' I told her emphatically.'He's taking his own risk. You haven't encouraged him?'
'Never for one moment,' she declared passionately.
'That's all right, then,' I continued. 'You keep your head up. Let him understand that he's doing you no kindness in lending your husband money.'
'He talks,' she went on nervously, 'of sending Ned to
London and making him a partner in one of his enterprises—'
'Cut it right out,' I interrupted.'Don't let Ned listen to it. If he doesn't see what the beast wants, send him to me. And as regards any money Ned's had from Mulholland, if that will rid you of him once and for all, it's yours for the asking. I shall be here for another week, and at Baring Brothers, London, at any time. . . . Don't answer. They're coming out.'
She flashed one wonderful look at me. Then we turned back to where the automobile was waiting. Mulholland, with a freshly-lit cigar in his mouth, scowled at us as he pushed forward and handed her in.
'You ride outside with the chauffeur chap, Ned,' he directed. 'I'll take care of the little lady in here.'
They drove off. I saw her shrink as far as possible into her corner, and her pathetic little look at parting haunted me. Then they vanished into the darkness.
It was just a queer little episode of real life, it seemed to me, life with a very simple but a very disturbing situation. The Colonel and I talked of it for a few minutes as we smoked a cigar out on the front before going to bed.
'It's the human triangle in its worst possible form,' was the Colonel's verdict. 'No room for you to butt in there, Edmund, my boy.'
I looked down the starlit valley towards the sea. There were some curious thoughts forming in my brain.
'Unless,' I murmured, 'the triangle is a little more complex than appears upon the surface.'
I am perfectly convinced that the Colonel was sincere when he pointed out that there was no room for our intervention in the matter of that triangle, but it is a curious thing that when, after a restless night, I knocked a little shamefacedly at his door about seven o'clock on the following morning, I found him, also, dressed and standing out on his balcony looking down towards Cannes with a queer expression in his face.
'You're early this morning, Colonel,' I remarked.
'So are you,' he replied.
We looked at one another for a moment. Then he glanced over the edge of the balcony. My car was just coming round to the door.
'We'd better have a cup of coffee first,' he said.
I drew a little sigh of relief.
'Right you are. We'll have it together downstairs,' I suggested. 'They serve it quicker there.'
We drove down to Cannes at a pretty good pace. On the way we talked the matter out thoroughly, but we agreed that there wasn't much to be done except in the obvious manner. At about eleven o'clock I was seated in an armchair in Ned's bedroom. Below, the Colonel was walking up and down in the garden with Bessie. Ned wasn't by any means a pleasant sight, and I should gather that he had been drunk on the night before.
'Nice time to come and pay calls, this,' he grumbled, with a very feeble attempt at good humour. 'I can't think how they let you up.'
'It's eleven o'clock,' I answered, 'and you ought to be out on the front like everybody else. Get up and have your bath, I'll wait here.'
He obeyed me sleepily and presently he reappeared, looking a little more like himself. There was about him still, however, an air of half-suppressed hostility. I could see that in his way he guessed at what I had come for, and obviously resented it.
'Ned Kinsey,' I began, 'I suppose you know that you are making a blithering idiot of yourself?'
'If I am,' he replied, 'I'm doing it because I choose to.'
'Further,' I went on, 'you are making a very unhappy woman of Bessie.'
'You're a liar!' he exclaimed.
'I'm nothing of the sort and you know it,' I told him pleasantly.'I'm not here to quarrel with you and you won't get me to. I am here to rid you and Bessie of that brute Mulholland, if I can.'
'Do you know that you are talking of my friend?' he protested angrily.
'Friend be damned!' I answered. 'That man's no one's friend, not even his own. He's got to go, old chap, so you may as well make up your mind to it. You've borrowed money from him. Well, I've got my chequebook with me and a credit here in Cannes. Let's pay him off and have a litde lunch together, you and I and Bessie. Maybe we could hit upon some scheme a litde better than this show business for you.'
'You mean well, Edmund,' he said, his voice trembling a little, 'but it's damned impertinent of you, you know, and it isn't any good. Mulholland's all right. You don't understand him, that's all.'
'Bessie hates the fellow,' I continued.'That ought to be enough for you. No man has the right to inflict the society of an unclean beast like that upon any decent woman—least of all his wife.'
He tried to whip himself into a temper but he only whimpered. I could see he was sadly broken up and as near hysterics as a man can come.
'You're all wrong,' he declared; 'and, anyway, Mulholland's my friend.'
'Cut it out!' I exclaimed impatiently.'You and I were both reasonably brought up, Ned, and we know where that sort of creature belongs. Been a bit weak, eh? It's the sort of scrape a lot of us get into. Look here, I'm not a poor man. Let's chuck this. If it's ten, thirty, fifty, thousand dollars, here you are. Wipe him out.'
Then all of a sudden a change came over Ned. He turned white and he began to shiver.
'Edmund,' he faltered, 'if you offered me a hundred thousand I couldn't get rid of Mulholland.'
I looked steadfastly at him. His eyes fell before mine. I saw his face twitch.
'What is it you've done?' I demanded.
'I've forged the governor's name to a draft. He's got it,' Ned declared, in a broken tone.
'Then why the mischief didn't you say so at first and save all this worry! How much?'
'It's only five thousand dollars,' Ned went on, looking up again.'Of course, I was the biggest fool that ever stepped. It was one night when I was half on, and he told me that I could have it back directly the luck turned and I began to win. He'd been letting me have plenty of money all the time. The next morning I was scared. I tried to get it back. I could even have raised some money towards it, but he wouldn't listen to me. He's got it and he means to keep it.'
'What for?' I asked grimly. 'What's his price?'
'God only knows!' Ned muttered.
I got up suddenly. I wasn't going to sit there and lose my temper.
'Mulholland is staying in the hotel, isn't he?' I inquired.
Ned nodded and I picked up my hat and gloves.
'Very well,' I said.'I will come and see you later....'
I ran Mr. Mulholland to earth in the bar, amongst a choice few of his acquaintances. I touched him on the shoulder, and although he recognized me with something which was more like a scowl than a greeting, he consented to accompany me into a corner.
'What,' I asked him, 'is your price for that forged draft of Ned's?'
He looked at me as a bully would look. His expletives were lurid. Divested of them, his reply merely indicated a desire to know what concern it was of mine.
'I'm Ned's friend,' I told him.'We are of the same order of human beings and we've got to stand by one another when there's anything to be done with a creature like you. You'll part with that draft in return for a cheque for the money you've received, or I'll hammer the life out of you.'
He grinned maliciously.
'The draft,' he said, 'is deposited in my bank at Monte Carlo. You can go through my pockets if you like.'
I felt that the man was telling the truth.
'Will you give me your promise,' I persisted, 'to hand it over in return for the cash?'
He stood up, and there was the wickedest look in his face I have ever yet seen on any human being's.
'When I've got what I want,' he answered.
That was, in a way, the moment of my life. Without a doubt he had calculated upon feeling the weight of my arm and the subsequent trouble, for there were a dozen of his friends in the room, as tough-looking a lot as ever I set eyes upon. I felt myself trembling in every limb but I never even clenched my fist.
'Twice the face value wouldn't induce you to change your mind, I suppose?' I asked him very quiedy.
'Nor five times,' he assured me viciously.
I got up, pushed the table on one side, walked out and left him. I made my way into the gardens, where the Colonel was seated on a bench, talking to Bessie. He was holding her hand and I could see that there were tears in her eyes. They both looked round at me eagerly.
'I've seen Ned,' I announced. 'Mulholland's got hold of some paper of his that might mean trouble.'
The colour stole from Bessie's cheeks. I knew very well that she understood.
'He won't sell it,' I went on.'Very well. This is my scheme. The Colonel and I aren't going to leave you to be worried to death here. We'll adopt you till these men come to their senses. Come back to Grasse and stay with us. You'll be safe enough.'
'And very welcome, my dear young lady,' the Colonel promised. 'It will give us an opportunity to come to some arrangement with your husband and this fellow Mulholland.'
She shook her head.
'I can't do that,' she said.'Ned wants me all the
time. He doesn't take care of himself as he ought and
I have to look after him. If I were to leave him alone
She shivered a little and did not finish her sentence. We tried to reason with her but it was useless. She made us even see that our own scheme was scarcely practical.
'How long do you intend to stay here?' I asked.
'We leave for Hyères either to-day or to-morrow,' she replied.'I am not sure which—I think to-day.'
'And do you honestly think there's nothing more that we can do?'
Her eyes filled with tears.
'There is absolutely nothing to be done,' she sighed. 'My only hope is that he—that Mr. Mulholland—will get ured of both of us soon and leave us alone. . . . Listen. Ned is calling me now.'
We looked up towards the hotel. Ned was leaning out of one of the windows, beckoning. She rose reluctantly to her feet and held out both her hands to us.
'You have been so kind,' she said simply. 'Thank you both. And—I shan't forget,' she added, looking the Colonel in the eyes.
She left us there and we walked disconsolately away. We talked the matter over from every point of view, but it was very hard indeed to hit upon any practical scheme which would bring help to Bessie. We took a table for luncheon in the Casino but neither of us had very much appetite. Our interest in the excellent meal which was served us, and in our surroundings, was absolutely negligible until we were suddenly confronted with a coincidence.
Mr. Mulholland appeared, making his objectionable way down the stairs, followed by Bessie and her husband. Our greeting all round was a little strained. Mr. Mulholland especially seemed to resent our presence. I made up my mind, however, to seize any opportunity that this meeting might present, and I talked to the little party occasionally from my place.
'When are you off, Ned?' I asked, leaning a little on one side and addressing my question to both him and Bessie.
'To-day,' she replied.
'What, are you off to Hyères this aftenoon?' I exclaimed.
She looked straight at me, and if ever there was despair written in a woman's face, it was written in hers.
'We are starting directly after lunch,' she said.'I am going with Mr. Mulholland in his car, and Ned is coming on by the train with the luggage.'
Mulholland moved his chair a little, interposing his person between Bessie and me. He leaned forward and addressed her in a significant undertone. The Colonel and I finished our lunch almost in silence and walked dejectedly outside. In front, waiting for us, was my car, and next to it another two-seater. I regarded the latter gloomily.
'The beast is going to drive her himself,' I muttered.
The Colonel sighed.
'I'm afraid we have done all we can, Edmund,' he remarked. 'We'd better get back to Grasse and let them work out their own destiny. I am sorry for the little woman.'
They came out almost at that moment. She was wearing a long motoring coat and veil. Mr. Mulholland had lit a large cigar and was drawing on his gloves.
'We'll be there before you, Ned, old fellow,' he declared confidently. 'You bring the luggage along, and don't miss your train,' he added significantly. 'I'll look after Bessie.'
He pushed his way insolently down the steps, took the driving-seat and held up the rug for his companion. I saw a sudden shade come into Ned's face.
'Where's the chauffeur riding?' he asked quickly.
'I'm not taking him,' Mulholland replied, looking Ned straight in the eyes.'I hate a dicky seat, going round those corners, and I can manage the car all right.'
Ned stood, for a moment, irresolute. For the first time I saw gleams of hope. Ned was, at any rate, not utterly lost. Bessie, too, seized upon the hope.
'Don't you think he had better come?' she said anxiously.'I have no doubt Mr. Mulholland is very careful but I should feel much safer with a chauffeur behind.'
Mulholland laughed noisily.
'I've made my own plans,' he announced. 'Here, George.'
The chauffeur went round to the other side of the car. Mulholland gave him some instructions and handed him a telegram. Then he slipped in his clutch.
'So long!' he called out.'Take care of yourself, Ned, and don't go and miss that last train.'
The car glided away. It seemed to me that Mulholland's last glance behind was one of evil triumph. Bessie never looked at us at all. Her head seemed to have sunk a little forward and she had lowered her veil. We watched them pass out of sight. Then I went up to Ned.
'What time does your train go?' I asked.
'Four o'clock,' he replied.
I looked towards the hills over which the motorists must pass, and then looked back at Ned.
'I suppose this is good-bye,' I said; 'but listen here. Of all the fools that ever walked this earth, Ned Kinsey, I think you are the greatest!'
'Why?' he demanded uneasily.
I moved my head towards the hills.
'You know,' I told him.
I left him there and moved towards the car. It is probable that, but for a fluke, the Colonel and I would have taken our places, motored back to Grasse and many things might have happened differently, but as I went I passed Mulholland's chauffeur, and I saw him with the open telegraph form in his hand, grinning. I stopped short. I was almost by the side of the fellow, and the four words of the message were there, clear and distinct, I touched him on the arm.
'Are you Mr. Mulholland's chauffeur,' I inquired.
'Yes, sir,' he replied, taken by surprise.
I held out my hand and took the telegram from his open fingers before he could protest.
'There is something I think Mr. Mulholland meant to add to this,' I remarked. 'Wait a moment, will you?'
The man acquiesced without a moment's hesitation, and I took the telegram back to where Ned was standing with his eyes still fixed upon the mountain road.
'Ned,' I said, 'you haven't believed my warnings. This is the telegram which Mulholland has just handed to his chauffeur. Read it.'
I held it out. We read it together. It was addressed to the St. George's Hotel, San Raphael:
TWO ROOMS TO-NIGHT. MULHOLLAND.
'San Raphael,' I told him, 'is half-way to Hyères.'
The man in Ned had taken a little reaching, but thank heaven that it blazed out at last. His lips came firmly together, his face became suddenly the face of a man.
'Where can I hire a car?' he demanded.
'There's mine right here,' I replied, pointing below.'The Colonel and I will go with you. If we don't catch them, we'll come to San Raphael before night. What about your luggage?'
'The luggage can go to hell!' Ned muttered.
I handed back the telegram to the chauffeur. We all three entered my car and I took the wheel.
'Colonel,' I asked, 'do you mind a long run?'
'What is is?' he inquired.
I told him in a few whispered words. His face grew set and stern. He muttered something under his breath which, for one who eschewed profanity, was fairly expressive.
'I am with you, Edmund,' he declared. 'Have we plenty of petrol?'
'Full up, and three spare tins,' I answered.'Give me plenty of room at the wheel, you fellows.'
We were blocked all through Cannes, and we were scarcely clear away on the sea road before we found the tyre of one of our hind wheels punctured. We got the other wheel on in something under four minutes and we started away again on our chase. Higher and higher we raced round the spiral road. Cannes soon lay like a phantom city, far away behind. The sun sank behind the mountains and the air grew colder. Still, though the marks of an automobile were always in front of us, we saw nothing of it. It was almost impossible to get up any pace but we took our risks, and there wasn't one of the three of us who even started as we more than once shaved the side of the precipice.
Nevertheless, the lights were coming out below and the faint dusky twilight was falling when at last we came tearing around an abrupt bend and saw a car not fifty yards ahead. I jammed on my brakes. It was the car we had been pursuing right enough, but at first it looked as though it were empty in the middle of the road.
We ran to within a few yards of it and then all three jumped out. Ned tore like a madman to the side of the road, where Bessie was lying, her arms stretched out, her hat fallen a little away. I paused to look at the crumpled-up figure in the car. What did it all mean? What manner of tragedy was this? There had been no accident—the engine of the car, in fact, was still beating softly—but Mulholland was a dead man, if ever I had seen one, and Bessie was lying white and still by the roadside. In those first few seconds I must admit that it was the Colonel who grasped things.
'She's shot him, Edmund!' he cried. 'Look!'
Then I saw the place where the bullet had entered Mulholland's body, close to his shoulder. There were cartridges scattered about in the bottom of the car. To my horror I saw that her fingers were still gripping a small revolver. We stood like dummies, Ned and I. The Colonel seemed to grow larger. He stood in the middle of the road and he looked in every direction.
'This has only just happened,' he said. 'There is no one in sight. Touch nothing till I tell you.'
He bent over Bessie's prostrate body, felt her heart for a moment and gently took the revolver from her hand. He held it up—one barrel had been discharged. Quickly he picked up another cartridge from the bottom of the car, slipped it into the empty place and thrust the revolver into the pocket of her coat. Then he bent once more over Mulholland, and, stepping gingerly to the side of the road, looked down. It was the steepest place we had yet encountered, and the sheer fall to where a little brook was trickling over the stones below must have been three or four hundred feet. He came back and stood thinking for a moment.
'The man is stone dead,' he announced.
I saw Ned shiver, but for my own part I never flinched. I believe that I was even glad.
'Will you both of you do what I think best?' the Colonel continued.
We did not hesitate for a moment. The Colonel bent over the car.
'Hold down the clutch and put her in first speed,' he directed. 'Turn the steering handle—so. Now let her go.'
I obeyed, and in another moment the car moved forward. There was one second's expectancy, a crashing of stones and bracken, then over the side it went. The Colonel had buttoned the water-proof apron across the front. We watched the car turn over and over until a shapeless mass crashed against the rocks at the bottom. The Colonel lifted his hat.
'May God have mercy upon him!' he murmured softly.
I was beginning to wake up.
'The bullet wound!' I reminded him—'they'll find that.'
The Colonel shook his head.'I think not,' he said gravely.
He left us then and devoted his attention to Bessie. She had moved once or twice and in a few minutes she stirred uneasily and sat up. Even now that the colour was streaming back into her cheeks, the terror came with it. She clutched at me and clutched at the Colonel. Then she saw Ned and began to sob. She looked all around and gazed almost fearfully at the spot in the empty road where the car had stood.
'Tell me,' she begged, 'tell me at once what happened. I was asleep and I felt his arms! Oh—tell me!' she shrieked.
'We can only surmise,' the Colonel replied.'We followed you because after your departure we were able to convince your husband that he had done an unwise thing in trusting you with Mr. Mulholland. There are signs in the road as though the car had skidded—as though Mr. Mulholland, perhaps, had released one hand from the steering wheel. At any rate, the car is lying at the bottom of the precipice and Mulholland with it, and we found you just at the edge.'
She stared at the Colonel and there was a strange, struggling light in her eyes.
'I was asleep,' she murmured.'I was tired out and I fell asleep. Tell me, did I dream things?... Tell me!'
She suddenly snatched at her pocket and tore out the revolver.
'I shot him,' she cried, 'when he put out his arms! Tell me, did I kill him?'
The Colonel smiled reassuringly. There was never a lie so splendidly told.
'I think,' he said, 'that you must have been dreaming when the accident happened.'
'But I—I thought I shot him,' she persisted.
He bent over the revolver and showed her, with a little smile, the six chambers. She stared at them and began to sob.
'It was all a dream, then—a dream!' she faltered.
'Except that Mr. Mulholland and the car have gone over the precipice, 'the Colonel said gravely. 'If you feel strong enough, I think we ought to try to make our way to the next village. We will send a search party down.'
She stood up without assistance. Her husband's arm was around her. The Colonel and I moved off together.
'Do you think this will go through, Colonel?' I whispered.
'I believe so,' he replied.
The Colonel knew what he was talking about.
Mulholland's body was found pinned under the remains of the car and crushed out of all recognition. A parapet has been erected upon the spot—admittedly a dangerous one—where the car commenced its mad descent. Sometimes the peasants passing along the road point downwards, speak of the terrible motor accident and of the Englishman whose body is buried in the little churchyard below. Bessie's recollections are only of a hideous dream.
[Note by Colonel Green.—I have insisted upon recounting this incident myself, as I consider it an extraordinary proof of the capacity which my young friend Edmund H. Martin seems to have developed for digging out adventures from the most unpromising beginnings. ]
I SAT upon the terrace at Monte Carlo with Edmund on the morning of our arrival, and I talked to him seriously.
'Young man,' I said,'I am getting tired of this nomad existence. It seems to me that we are chivied from place to place on account of your extraordinary proclivity for tumbling into adventures. Understand me now, if you please, that I should like a little rest. We may very reasonably look upon this place as already worked out. What with your rescue of Mr. James P. Westthrop, and the romantic abduction of the young lady whom you snatched from the clutches of the musical prince, I think that we have sufficiently distinguished ourselves in this place. Let us for a few weeks, at any rate, take life calmly and contemplatively, and interfere in nobody's business except our own.'
'Bully for you, Colonel,' my young friend replied, glancing up from a letter which he had been studying, 'but what should you do about this?'
I adjusted my eyeglasses and took the communication from his hand. There were a dozen lines or so, written in a neat, feminine hand upon half a sheet of plain note-paper:
'Dear Sir,—If you are the Mr. Edmund H. Martin who at one time employed Alphonse de Mieville as guide, please call and see the writer of this note at number 9, rue St. Denis, Monte Carlo. This is not a begging letter, I have nothing to gain by this invitation, and, as you perceive by my writing, I am English. Only there is an adventure here, a mystery which I cannot solve. If you are interested, come soon.—Faithfully yours,
I folded the note up and handed it back to him.
'I always thought de Mieville was a doubtful sort of person,' I observed.
'He was a queer lot, right enough,' Edmund admitted. 'All the same, he'd kind of got a touch upon things. Always something interesting in the day's work.'
'What I presume you are longing to do is to call upon Madame Grandet?'
'I know where the rue St. Denis is,' Edmund remarked, rising briskly. 'Come along. It won't hurt you to stretch your legs.'
I left, with a sigh of regret, the sun-bathed terrace and followed my young companion in his somewhat impetuous progress through the gardens, across the main street towards the back part of the town. He paused at last in a narrow thoroughfare near the Hôtel du Prince de Galles, and finally came to a standstill before a tiny little shop, the square plate-glass window of which was filled with gloves of all sorts. I glanced at the sign to which Edmund pointed. It was simply inscribed:
'This seems to be the place,' he announced. 'Come along, Colonel.'
We descended a single step, pushed open a door which rang a bell, and found ourselves inside the shop. The place was a little dark, as it was slightly below the level of the street, and the smell of leather was particularly strong and insistent. The counter, however, the two chairs, the floor, and the cupboards containing the merchandise, were all marvellously and spotlessly clean. So was the woman who presented herself in a moment or two through a door at the back. She appeared to be of little more than middle age, she was quietly dressed in black, and but for her own statement as to her nationality, I should certainly have taken her for a Frenchwoman.
'Messieurs desirent?' she began. Edmund held out the letter.
'Are you Ellen Grandet?'
She nodded gravely.
'I beg your pardon,' she said. 'I did not recognize you at first. The light here is not too good. You have come because of my letter?'
'That's so,' Edmund admitted.
'And the other gentleman?' she inquired, looking, I thought, a little suspiciously at me.
'My friend Colonel Green,' Edmund explained. 'He was with me when I opened your note. I thought, if you didn't mind, I'd bring him along.'
She lifted the flap of the counter and opened the door through which she had issued.
'Will you come this way, please?' she invited.
We followed her into a tiny hall and up a flight of narrow stairs which led to a small square landing. She lifted the latch of one of the rooms and ushered us in. It was a small bedchamber, furnished with the utmost simplicity, but, like everything else about the place, spotlessly and almost delicately clean. The hangings of the narrow bed were of white chintz tied back with blue ribbons. There was a little row of boots, neatly treed, a pile of garments carefully brushed, a set of battered but carefully preserved toilet articles displayed upon the table. Upon the mantelpiece there was a little pile of money, a cigarette-case and a battered yellow disk.
'It is the bedchamber of Monsieur de Mieville,' Madame Grandet announced, with a sweep of the arm. 'I have brought you to see it for a certain reason.'
The certain reason was already, in a measure, apparent to us. Our first impressions of the room were exactly as I have stated them. Our second ones were all absorbed by a very curious circumstance. Over the mantelpiece was hanging the photograph of a woman, on either side of the bed was an enlargement of the same picture, and on the plain whitewashed walls there must have been at least a hundred rough reproductions of the same face, sketched mostly in charcoal, here and there with a pencil.
They were crude, in a way, and in many respects they varied, but, curiously enough, in nearly every one of them there was the same expression. They seemed to represent a young woman with unremarkable features, but with a queer little curl of the lips, a little contraction of the eyes, something which was half insolent and half cruel, prepossessing up to a certain point, and yet, from another point of view, the representation of a woman not even good-looking. We looked around at the extraordinary walls and then at Madame Grandet.
'To me, madame,' I declared, 'this room appears to resemble the apartment of a madman.'
'You may be right, sir,' she replied. 'Until he met this young woman, Alphonse de Mieville was a sane and reasonable person. Since that day, however, there has been a streak of something in his behaviour which one might call madness. I would direct the attention of both of you gentlemen to the photographs themselves.'
We bent forward to regard them more closely. Edmund whistled softly. A black-headed pin had been thrust through the figure of the girl, exactly over the heart. In the centre photograph, the pin had been driven in with such force that it was more than half buried. Madame Grandet directed our attention, also, to several of the other reproductions upon the wall. They had been treated in the same manner.
'Sometimes,' she told us, her tone becoming more confidential. 'Alphonse would come in late, or he would go out as though he intended to be away for the evening, and return unexpectedly, pale and trembling. He would come up here and I would hear the sound of soft hammering. In the morning I would find that he had driven one of those pins into another of his pictures.'
'Who's the girl?' Edmund inquired.
'I do not know,' the woman confessed.
We both looked a little surprised.
'She must be his sweetheart,' Edmund remarked. 'Don't you even know her name?'
'I do not,' Madame Grandet assured us. 'I have asked him questions about her and he has told me nothing. It is an affair, this, of a couple of months only. Before, Alphonse was as sane as anyone. I asked him to tell me about his new friend at an unfortunate moment. He answered me in such terms that I have scarcely since spoken to him.'
Edmund was standing before the photograph with his hands in his pockets.
'Curious sort of love affair,' he murmured. 'But tell us now, Madame Grandet, what about de Mieville? Where is he?'
'That, sir, I do not know,' Madame Grandet replied. 'It may be for you, if you care to take the trouble to discover. All that I can tell you is very simple and yet mysterious. Two evenings ago, Alphonse returned, as was his custom, at about five o'clock. He went to his room, where his clothes were laid out for him. He was always exceedingly particular about changing for the evening, as he often accompanied strangers to the restaurants and the night cafés as a guide. Instead of dressing at once, however, he sat down and wrote a letter. He came into the shop bareheaded, and without stick or gloves.
'"I am going across the street, Madame Grandet," he said. "Will you be so good as to ask Jean"—Jean is the name of the boy who comes for two hours a day to prepare the firewood and do errands in the shop—"to clean my patent shoes. I am dining with two gentlemen to-night. I shall return in a few minutes." He walked out with the letter in his hand. It was five minutes past five then, on Thursday afternoon. It is to-day, Saturday. I have not seen or heard of him since.'
'Is Mr. de Mieville,' I inquired, 'in the habit of absenting himself in this mysterious fashion?'
The woman glanced towards me impatiently.
'If he were,' she answered, 'I should not be worrying about him now. Considering his occupation, Mr. de Mieville is a young man of extraordinarily methodical habits. It was his intention, without a doubt, when he left the house, to return within five or ten minutes. He has been gone exactly two days.'
'Have you made any inquiries?' Edmund asked.
'Only those which would occur to any person of common sense,' Madame Grandet replied. 'At the police station they know nothing of him, nor at the hospital. Neither has there been any report of an accident in the neighbourhood.'
'Has anyone called here to see him?' Edmund continued.
'No one, sir.'
'No callers or messages of any sort since his disappearance?'
Edmund turned towards the door.
'Come along, Colonel,' he said. 'We'll talk the matter over, Madame Grandet, and if anything occurs to us—any possible solution, I mean, of de Mieville's disappearance—we will let you know. If you hear anything further, you know where to find us.'
She seemed a little disappointed as she let us out. She cheered up, however, at the sight of the gold piece which my young companion forced into her hand.
'Keep the room just as it is,' he advised her. 'I'll be responsible for the rent, if you like. I might want to come back again when I have thought the matter over.'
'Just as you please, sir,' the woman replied. 'I should not have thought of letting it, in any case.'
We made our way back towards the hotel. Edmund was, for him, unusually silent. Arrived at the Café de Paris, however, he took my arm and led me to a table.
'Colonel,' he confided, as he gave an order to a waiter, 'I feel like a cow in a maze.'
'The circumstances connected with this man's disappearance,' I observed, 'are certainly inexplicable.'
'All the ordinary hypotheses in this instance fail,' Edmund continued thoughtfully. 'It appears absolutely certain that when he left his room, hatless, with even, his money lying upon the mantelpiece, he intended to return within the course of the next few minutes. I cannot think of any commission likely to have been offered him which necessitated his leaving behind his hat, his money and an anxious landlady. Illness, sudden death, or any ordinary accident, seem out of the question, because a report of them would be instantly forthcoming. There remains but one thing.'
'The girl?' I asked.
'The girl,' Edmund assented, 'and by thunder, look!'
A young woman was passing within a few yards of our chairs, on her way to the Casino. She was dressed very plainly in a grey tailor-made costume, and she carried a small bag in her hand. Her figure was good and her clothes were not badly cut. She had the appearance of a superior shop-girl of unassuming manners. As she passed, she gave us a slight side glance, a little insolent, scarcely inviting. Her lips remained without a smile. It could not be said that her glance was in any way provocative, yet both my young companion and myself were impressed with the same idea, the same conviction. Edmund paid our bill in a hurry.
'That is the girl herself,' he whispered, watching her mount the steps to the Casino. 'Unless de Mieville's pencil has deceived us, I would swear to it.'
We followed her without words into the Casino, and came up with her at last, standing at one of the tables. She had a prepared card in her hand, upon which she made several calculations. Then she commenced to stake, apparently upon a system. She laid down always the same amount, a ten-franc piece which she drew from the bag she was carrying. For some time she took no notice of us. Then a lucky win of Edmund's—he had thrown a louis upon number thirty-four—attracted her attention. Her pale eyes rested for a moment upon the little pile of gold which he was gathering up. I spoke to her casually in French.
'A fortunate stake,' I remarked.
She answered in very slow and drawling English.
'Very fortunate. It is always those who do not need
it who have luck like that. As for me—'
She shrugged her shoulders. I saw that the contents of her bag had diminished.
'You have a system?' Edmund inquired.
'I have one which cannot fail,' she replied. 'You need not laugh, because it is true. The trouble is that I can never bring enough capital to survive my first losses.'
'Explain it to me,' Edmund suggested. 'I'll have a little flutter at it if seems any good.'
She turned away and beckoned him imperiously to follow her. They sat for some time side by side upon a settee. Afterwards I found them back at the table.
Edmund was staking and the girl was pricking the card. They appeared to be winning. I strolled on into the Cercle Privé. When I came back they were in the act of quitting the table.
'Mademoiselle won't play any more,' Edmund announced. 'She says that we have completed our coup.'
She turned towards me with a word of explanation.
'My system,' she said, 'involves only thirty stakes. We have completed them, and, thanks to your friend's capital, we have won twenty louis each. That is sufficient for me. I do not care to play any more.'
'Come and take an apéritif,' Edmund suggested.
She looked as though she were going to refuse, but rather to my surprise she assented, a little unwillingly.
'By the by,' Edmund asked, as we took our places at a small table, 'do you happen to know of a man named de Mieville?'
I had been looking at her a moment before, and I had come to the conclusion that I had never seen a young woman with a countenance so devoid of expression. At that moment, however, any little animation which there had been seemed to die out of her face. It became absolutely wooden, a study in negativeness. I fancied, however, that Edmund as well as I was realizing that his question had struck home.
'De Mieville?' she repeated. 'Yes, I know whom you mean. Is he a friend of yours?'
'He has been useful to me here once or twice,' Edmund replied. 'I was wondering what had become of him. I haven't seen him for the last two or three days.'
'You only arrived in Monte Carlo yourself yesterday,' she reminded him.
'How did you know that?' Edmund asked quickly. She shrugged her shoulders.
'One recognizes newcomers. Besides, I understood you to say so yourself.'
'Did I? Very likely,' Edmund admitted carelessly. 'You don't happen to know where I can find de Mieville, I suppose?'
'I have not seen him for some days,' she asserted. 'I understood that he was in attendance upon two American gentlemen who were strangers here.'
We left the subject of de Mieville, but it was very apparent that our companion was now only anxious to finish her wine and depart. She rose to her feet a moment or two later.
'You'll let me see you home?' Edmund begged.
'Certainly not,' she answered firmly. 'I am much obliged to you for your assistance. Good evening!'
'Oh, come!' he protested. 'You promised to show me your apartment.'
'It was indiscreet,' she declared, 'and to-day, at any rate, it is impossible. We may meet again.'
She left us abruptly, with the slightest of farewell salutations. Edmund resumed his seat by my side.
'Getting on, aren't we, Colonel?' he remarked. 'If there really is any mystery about de Mieville's disappearance, that young woman could put us on the track if she chose. Well, well!'
He drew a card from his pocket and laid it on the table:
Miss Anna Robins,
17 rue Helda, 2nd Étage.
Manicure and Face Massage.
10 till 4.
'Did she give you that?' I asked.
Edmund shook his head, 'I helped myself to it from her bag when we were fixing up the stakes. 17 rue Helda! Anything strike you as peculiar about that address, Colonel?'
'It's within a few yards of where we were this afternoon,' I observed.
Edmund thrust the card into his pocket thoughtfully.
'People are kind of queer,' he went on. 'Now that young woman's as clever as they make them, and yet she goes and gives it away, not only that she is a friend of de Mieville's, but that she doesn't want it known.'
'It may be,' I pointed out, 'that if she were trying to make an impression upon you she scarcely cared to claim intimacy with a man in de Mieville's position.'
'That wouldn't account for her suddenly dropping me in this fashion,' Edmund pointed out. 'Half an hour ago I was to have been a very welcome visitor at her apartment. The incidental mention of de Mieville's name shut her up like a clam.'
'It is a little past my usual time for changing,' I reminded him, 'and at my time of life one's digestion is not a thing to be trifled with.'
Edmund finished his mixed vermouth and stood up.
'I'm with you, Colonel,' he declared. 'Anyway, this little affair will he none the worse for a night's sleep on it.'
During the rest of that evening and the early part of next morning, Edmund, although he seemed at times preoccupied, did not once refer to the matter of de Mieville's disappearance. At about eleven o'clock, however, he called a victoria, and we drove together up to the little glove shop. Madame was serving a customer. We waited until she was disengaged.
'Any news, madame?' Edmund asked, as soon as were alone.
'None at all,' she answered.
'No one has inquired for de Mieville?'
'No one, monsieur. Last night I could not sleep for thinking of it. Something indeed must have happened to him.'
'It does seem like it,' Edmund assented, toying with a box of the gloves. 'By the by, madame, did you happen to notice to whom the letter was addressed which de Mieville went out to post?'
The woman shook her head.
'I could not say exactly,' she declared, 'but the name was Russian—something like Krantin.'
I noticed a little gleam in Edmund's eyes. For some reason or other, the information seemed to please him.
'Have you ever noticed whether Mr. de Mieville has written before to the same person?'
'Very often indeed,' Madame Grandet replied. 'It is for that reason that I recognized the name.'
'I want some gloves,' Edmund announced suddenly; 'eights, if you please, best quality, chamois for the daytime and white kid for the evening.'
He made, his purchases deliberately and with a certain amount of care. Then he paid for them and seemed on the point of departure.
'By the by, madame,' he asked, 'you say that no one has inquired for de Mieville at all?'
'No one, monsieur.'
'Then my second question is useless. I was about to ask you if anyone had, upon any pretext whatever, attempted to go into his room?'
Madame Grandet paused in the act of putting away her glove-boxes upon the shelf.
'There has been a young man,' she said, 'who called the day before yesterday, and yesterday, because he heard I had a room to let. I told him that he had been misinformed, but he insisted upon it that I had an empty room from which my tenant had just gone. He was willing to pay a good price. He tried very hard to persuade me to let him see it. I got quite angry with him at last and almost turned him out.'
'Did he tell you his name?' Edmund asked.
'Müller,' Madame Grandet replied. 'He is a barber in the Metropole Toilet Rooms in the Arcade.'
We left Madame Grandet a few minutes later, and Edmund glanced at his nails.
'Colonel,' he decided, 'I am going to stand you a manicure.'
'Nothing of the sort!' I exclaimed hastily. 'My sister always does my nails.'
'Can't be helped,' Edmund persisted. 'We are going to call at number 17 rue Helda.'
I sighed and resigned myself to the inevitable. A few minutes later we mounted to the second floor of a somewhat imposing building and rang the bell at a door upon which appeared the name of Miss Robins. Our summons was answered almost immediately by a very trim-looking parlourmaid, and without any inquiry we were ushered into a small reception room in which were several easy chairs and small, glass-topped manicure tables.
'Miss Robins will be here in one moment, sir,' the maid announced.
The young lady herself entered the room almost before we had had time to look around us. She was very neatly dressed in black, and I was forced to admit that her appearance was far from unprepossessing. She eyed us, however, after the first start of surprise, with obvious disfavour.
'What do you wish?' she asked coldly.
Edmund held out his hands.
'A manicure,' he announced—'also my friend.'
For a moment she stood quite still. It seemed to me that she was trying to think of some excuse for sending us away. At the end of that time, however, she rang a bell, and, going to a little silver tap which overhung a marble basin in the corner, poured out some hot water.
'Sit down, please,' she directed.
Edmund obeyed and she came over to his side. In less than a minute another girl appeared, dressed also very correctly in black. Miss Robins glanced up.
'Take this gentleman,' she ordered, pointing to me.
I sat down by another table. The young lady under whose care I was placed was French and vivacious. She indulged in a constant stream of light conversation, to which I supplied an amiable and monosyllabic background. Edmund, however, seemed to find it absolutely impossible to engage Miss Robins in conversation upon any subject whatever. Once or twice the young lady who was attending to me glanced up as though in surprise.
'My friend doesn't seem to be getting on very well with your principal,' I remarked softly. She shrugged her shoulders.
'Anna is sometimes very peculiar,' she whispered. 'There are times when she will not talk. This morning is one of them. But I do not understand.'
She was clearly puzzled, and certainly if Edmund expected to derive any information from the young woman at his side, he was doomed to be disappointed. She finished his nails quite ten minutes before mine were ready, and rose at once to her feet.
'You will excuse me now,' she said. 'I have a client waiting in the private room. Five francs, if you please.'
Edmund handed her the exact amount and looked at his nails critically.
'Seems as though you'd hurried some over these,' he observed. 'However, that doesn't matter. I'll be in again in a day or two.'
She glanced at him as though about to say something, but swung round on her heel and left the room. Edmund relapsed into his easy chair and lit a cigarette.
'Now that's what I call a pleasant, sociable young lady,' he declared. 'Makes things nice and comfortable from the start.'
The girl by my side laughed gaily.
'Monsieur,' she said, 'Anna is seldom like that. For the last two or three days she has been gloomy and depressed. She has some trouble, I think.'
'Is that so?' Edmund murmured. 'Love affair, I suppose?'
The girl nodded meaningly.
'But perhaps,' she admitted. 'There is a gentleman of whom Anna is certainly very fond, and he does not seem to be pleased with her just lately.'
'Come, that's too bad I' Edmund exclaimed. 'Is he in Monte Carlo?'
The girl glanced towards the door and put her finger to her lips. She dropped her voice slightly.
'Anna is so peculiar,' she told us confidentially. 'She does not like us to talk. It is a German gentleman who comes here sometimes. He is a very important person in his own country, I believe.'
'Miss Robins looks a little like a German herself,' Edmund remarked.
The girl—who, by the by, had told me that her name was Marie—nodded mysteriously.
'Always,' she whispered, 'she calls herself English, but she speaks German, too, like a native. And her name—she calls herself Robins. Her real name is Kluck.'
The door was suddenly opened. Miss Robins stood looking in upon us.
'If you have quite finished, Marie,' she announced, 'there is a lady waiting in the other room.'
The girl gave a final rub with the polisher to my nails. Then she rose. I paid my bill and followed Edmund towards the door.
'Good day,' he said, 'I'll send some of my American friends up here, Miss Robins.'
'They will be very welcome,' was the quiet, almost satirical reply.
We walked slowly down the hill.
'So far,' I remarked, 'notwithstanding a very pleasant half-hour, we do not seem to have come much nearer discovering the whereabouts of your friend de Mieville.'
Edmund paused to light a cigarette.
'I'm not so terribly sure of that,' he declared. We shall perhaps know more after dinner-time tonight.'
'Is anyone dining with us?' I inquired.
'The little manicure girl.'
I looked at him, puzzled.
'But you never asked her!'
'Don't you worry about that,' Edmund replied. 'I wrote a note when you were having your nails done, and slipped it into her hand. She can tell us a few interesting things unless I am mistaken.'
'I am not sure,' I said doubtfully, 'that at my time of life it is seemly for me to be dining with manicure girls.'
'Don't you fret, old son,' Edmund adjured me. 'I'll be chaperon enough for you....'
After all, I was successful in persuading Edmund that a tête-à-tête dinner with his little manicure girl was more likely to be productive of information than one in which I might prove a restraining element. I was able to spend a quiet evening, therefore, and revert to my former habits of gastronomic prudence. I saw nothing of Edmund until about eleven o'clock on the following morning, when he came up to my favourite seat upon the terrace with an open note in his hand.
'Come along, Colonel!' he exclaimed, thrusting his arm through mine and hoisting me somewhat unceremoniously to my feet. 'We've got to go up to the glove shop. Madame has sent for me.'
'And what about last night?' I asked.
'There were one or two little pieces of information, or rather suggestive remarks of the young lady's,' Edmund confessed, a far-away look stealing into his eyes, 'which I hope to be able to make use of.'
'You had a pleasant time, I trust?'
'The young lady was quite agreeable,' Edmund assured me. 'Come on, we'll take this little victoria. The message is urgent.'
We found Madame Grandet alone in her little shop. She took us into a sitting-room at the back, and she laid on the table before us a hastily scrawled note in rude pencil:
'Dear Madame,—Will you come to me? I am ill. In haste.—Yours, Alphonse de Mieville.'
'Well?' Edmund asked.
'A boy brought the note,' Madame Grandet explained. 'He escorted me on foot to a small convalescent home, nearly a mile away. He left me at the gate. I showed them the note and inquired for Alphonse de Mieville. They knew nothing of him. They had received no patient at all for more than a fortnight. I hastened back, bewildered. Come this way, please.'
We followed her upstairs. The little chamber, whose extraordinary neatness had impressed us both, looked as though a tornado had struck it. Pictures had been cut from their frames and thrown upon the floor. The mattresses had been ripped open, the carpet turned back, the lids prised from various boxes, and articles of clothing lying in every direction.
'When I returned,' Madame Grandet continued, pointing around, 'this is what I found!'
'Whom did you leave in charge?' I asked.
'No one,' Madame Grandet admitted. 'I put a notice up—"Back in half an hour"—and closed the door. It has, as you may remember, a spring lock.'
'And how did anyone get in?' Edmund inquired.
'By a key,' Madame Grandet told us. 'The door had been unlocked and locked again. There was no other way.'
'Has de Mieville a key?' Edmund asked quickly.
Madame Grandet assented.
'It was necessary,' she explained. 'He comes in so late, and sometimes I myself am out.'
'Yon have no idea, I suppose,' I interposed, 'what property de Mieville could have possessed of sufficient value to account for this thorough-going search?'
'Absolutely none,' Madame Grandet assured us emphatically. 'As for money, he had little enough, save what he carried in his pocket, which you see still upon the mantelpiece there. And jewellery—well, there were just his studs and links—merely trifles. And such a search too! The room is cut to pieces. My first thought was of the police—"Now perhaps, they may assist me." Then I said to myself, "No! I will appeal once more to Mr. Martin."'
'Well,' he decided, 'if de Mieville isn't back in an hour I'll go to the police station with you. Come along, Colonel.'
She watched us depart with wondering eyes. Edmund led the way across the street to the rue Helda.
'Another manicure?' I asked, as we climbed the steps of the block of flats.
'Perhaps,' Edmund grinned.
The same parlourmaid answered our summons. There was a difference, however, in her greeting. She explained with regret that mademoiselle was out—that both mesdemoiselles were out—that it was impossible to receive their attention to-day. Monsieur would please come again. Edmund, however, in bland non-comprehension, stepped past the girl, and in obedience to a wink from him, I too listened to her voluble French with the air of a non-comprehending Briton. Edmund threw open the door of the little manicure-room. The French girl was there, lolling in a chair with a cigarette between her teeth. She welcomed us gaily at first, but afterwards with a little look almost of fear.
'But it is not permitted that you enter here!' she exclaimed softly to Edmund. 'For the moment I had forgotten, I was so glad to see you. For some reason or other, Miss Robins has taken the most foolish of dislikes to you both.'
'That's all right,' Edmund interrupted. 'You and I will have a little talk presently, Miss Marie. You can come round and dine again to-night, if you like. But meantime, I want to see Miss Robins.'
'But cher monsieur,' the girl protested, 'she will not come! She will not see you.'
'If you will kindly give a message to that hysterical parlourmaid of yours—just tell her to say that Monsieur Edmund Martin is here and remains until she sees him. You and I will look in the jewellers' shops to-morrow,' Edmund declared. 'Run along, there's a good girl.'
With a final protesting shrug of the shoulders, she obeyed. From one of the rooms above we heard the sound of muffled but angry voices. Mademoiselle Marie did not return. We were left alone, in fact, for nearly a quarter of an hour. Just as Edmund was beginning to get uneasy, the door was opened and Anna Robins entered. She stood looking at us, her eyes a little contracted, an angry frown upon her forehead.
'Will you explain why you have forced yourself here?' she demanded, addressing Edmund. 'I have told you that I do not care for your acquaintance or your custom. Our establishment does not exist for such as you.'
'You're dead right,' Edmund assented. 'It doesn't. I'm quite willing to admit that it probably exists for other purposes, but, in the meantime, I am looking for Alphonse de Mieville. Perhaps you can help.'
'You talk,' she replied scornfully, 'like one who has lost his senses.'
Edmund took a sudden quick step across the room. He slipped in between the girl and the door.
'Look here,' he said, 'I hate a row. De Mieville is in one of your upstair rooms. Why not take me to him?'
For several moments it seemed as though she were incapable of speech. The signs of her passionate anger were curious. The little colour of which she had been possessed left her cheeks, her eyes were full of a most uncomely glitter.
'What have you to do with Alphonse de Mieville?' she demanded.
'Nothing much,' Edmund admitted. 'I promised to find him, that's all, and—I know where he is.'
She shrugged her shoulders.
'You make needless mysteries,' she said coolly. 'There are many who know that Alphonse de Mieville is my lover so far as I permit him to be. It is true that I have allowed his presence here. Why not? Go to him, if you will.'
'So much more sensible, my dear young lady,' Edmund remarked soothingly. 'Come along.'
She led us up the next flight of stairs, unlocked a door in the back of the building and threw it open. De Mieville staggered to his feet from an easy chair near the window. He was fully dressed and looking very much as usual, except that he was deathly pale. The room was hung with cigarette smoke and the atmosphere was almost unbearable, but otherwise it was luxuriously furnished and the table was piled with newspapers and magazines.
'You see him,' the young woman exclaimed. 'Does he look so much of a prisoner? He is free to come and go when he wills, as he knows. Is it not so, Alphonse chéri!'
It must have been at least thirty seconds before he replied, a time which seemed longer still as he stood looking at us. Then he moved in our direction.
'It is as mademoiselle has said,' he faltered, 'and yet, since you're here, Monsieur Martin, if mademoiselle permits I will take a little walk with you.'
Anna Robins laughed hardly.
'As I have always told you, dear Alphonse,' she said, 'you are free to come and go at any time.'
We left the room. I noticed that de Mieville clutched at Edmund's arm. On the landing opposite the manicure rooms, we all turned around and looked upwards. Anna Robins was leaning over the banisters. She waved her hand.
'Au revoir, cher Alphonse,' she called out. 'Au revoir, too, you very wonderful Mr. Martin!'
She disappeared. De Mieville shivered a little. Out in the street he seemed ghastlier than ever. We were crossing the road towards the little glove shop but he shook his head.
'A carriage,' he begged.
We called one and climbed in.
'To the Casino,' he directed.
We both looked a little surprised. His manner, however, was insistent.
'What there is to tell I will explain,' he declared. 'To the Casino first, if you please. . . . But ah, no! One moment.'
He gripped at my arm.
'My rooms,' he continued, his voice shaking, 'you have been there? They have been searched, is it not so?'
'They have indeed,'.I told him. 'The place looks as though an earthquake had struck them.'
'On the mantelpiece,' he faltered, 'there was a little handful of money—not much—a cigarette-case, and—and a yellow disk.'
'Still there,' he declared, 'or rather they were a few minutes ago.'
De Mieville drew a long breath of relief.
'You are strong,' he exclaimed. 'You will go quickly. Fetch the disk while we wait here in the carriage. The air is good for me. Fetch the disk!'
Edmund hurried off to the little glove shop and reappeared within a few seconds. He held out the disk, which de Mieville clutched in his trembling fingers.
'To the Casino—the Casino at once,' he begged.
We arrived there within a few minutes. De Mieville seemed to have regained his strength in an extraordinary manner. He hurried on in advance to the cloak-room inside the building where a charge is made. He placed the little yellow disk upon the counter. After a moment or two's delay the man appeared with a black overcoat, which he pushed across. De Mieville seized it, felt at the breast-pocket and suddenly began to laugh.
'Come along, dear friends!' he exclaimed. 'But it is wonderful, this!'
Again he laughed. We followed him out of the place and he led us without a word of explanation but obviously recovering with every step, towards Ciro's bar. In a little corner there near the window, he placed the coat upon a table and drew a thin black portfolio from the breast-pocket. With trembling ringers he opened it, and, after a careful glance around the place, produced what appeared to be about a dozen sheets of tracing paper pinned together, from one of the compartments.
'It is for this,' he cried exultantly,' that Anna has kept me there, a prisoner, for three days. For this she has held her lips so close to mine and yet withheld them, has stolen to me at all manner of times in the night and the day, has tempted—my God, how she has tempted! And now it is finished. That woman,' he went on, looking at us both, 'has tortured me for two months. This is the end of it. I am free. I feel no more the madness.'
He sipped the absinthe which Edmund had ordered. His voice growing stronger at every moment.
'From you, my friend,' he said to Martin, 'I have no secrets. You know me well as a chevalier d'industrie. You can call me if you will, also, a spy, but I work for my own country. I have a brother who for two years has been striving to secure these plans, the plans of the great German fortress of Thurm, which stands like a black menace before any Russian entry into Silesia. Behold! here they are, arrived now almost at their destination. From my hands they pass but into one other's, and that other is here in Monte Carlo.'
His face was alight with triumph. Edmund and I exchanged bewildered glances.
'Say, I don't quite see,' Edmund ventured, 'why they are in your possession. Monte Carlo isn't exactly on the way from Thurm to Russia.'
De Mieville smiled a smile of subtle and complacent satisfaction.
'It is wonderfully done,' he declared. 'My brother, he was chased for his life as far as the Italian frontier.
To attempt to convey these plans into Russia was impossible. Every postal packet has been under observation. They were posted to me here, and from St. Petersburg comes Krantin, a secret-service agent of the Government, here in Monte Carlo at this moment. The direct way, you perceive, is not always safe. This was my brother's scheme and it has succeeded.'
'And the young woman?' Edmund asked.
'A German spy,' de Mieville replied tersely, 'on my track all the time. I have been madly in love with her for months. I told her more than was prudent. For these plans she was willing to give me all. She met me in the street on Thursday night, She spoke to me as she has never spoken before. She invited me back to her rooms. She took me upstairs. She charged me there with having the plans. I neither admitted nor denied it. Then she offered me everything—money, fifty thousand marks, and—the rest. And I refused, and she kept me there. I forced my way out of the room on the second night, but there was a man watching upon the landing, and two locked doors between me and the street. There was no chance for me to escape.'
'And meantime,' I remarked, 'they searched your rooms inside out'
De Mieville grinned.
'That afternoon,' he told us, 'I had a presentiment. I had left the Casino and I returned. "After all," I said to myself, "what place is so safe?" I left my coat, with the pocket-book unprotected, in the cloak-room, and received in return just that little disk. I left it, as you know, on the mantelpiece of my room, and whoever searched the place ignored it—a thing of no value! It was a stroke of genius. It was magnificent. Monsieur Martin, for your rescue I remain as ever your eternal slave. I have triumphed. I have shown ingenuity the most remarkable. I have triumphed where Samson might well have fallen. Monsieur Martin, Monsieur le Colonel, I will take another absinthe. We will all drink together. Bien!'
[Note by Colonel Green.—The following incident is another remarkable example of the instinct for adventures possessed by my young friend Martin. Without any personal effort, by what can be described, indeed, as merely a fluke, he contrives to wreck the schemes of a world-famed diplomatist and to defeat a plot which might have altered the map of Europe.]
THERE were times when, without being captious, I felt inclined to complain of Edmund's propensity for transmuting casual travelling acquaintances into old friends at a moment's notice. In the case of Sir John Rastall, however, I had no complaint to make. I not only found Sir John an agreeable companion, but I very soon discovered that we had a number of mutual friends. Like many Englishmen whom one meets travelling, he was ready enough to talk of these, but apparently quite indisposed to speak of himself or of his profession. I found myself wondering more than once in what work he could have been engaged which had brought him into contact with so many distinguished and interesting people. On one memorable Wednesday I asked him. We were seated together upon the terrace and he had just told me a remarkably intimate anecdote of a well-known person about the Court, with whom I had some slight acquaintance.
'How do you come to hear of all these interesting things, Sir John?' I inquired. 'You have never been, by chance, the editor of a Society paper?'
He shook his head.
'For seventeen years,' he told us simply, 'I occupied a position in the Foreign Office. I should have been there now but for my health breaking down.'
'Say, that's where you're dead wrong,' Edmund put in. 'There's nothing the matter with you. You're all right but you don't know it. Liver, indeed! Why, I'd guarantee to cure you in a week.'
Sir John smiled a rather faint smile. He certainly had the appearance of a very delicate man. He was tall, very thin, and he walked with a slight stoop. His complexion had a grey, unwholesome tinge, and his manner was always a little tired.
'You talk, my young friend,' he declared, 'with the sublime ignorance of aggressively healthy youth. You say that you can cure me. Do you realize that I have run the whole gamut of medical science, starting from the most distinguished specialists, halting a little in the schools of mud baths and massage, and concluding ignominiously with patent medicines as advertised in the halfpenny Press?'
'Wonder you're alive at all!' Edmund remarked. 'Just come along and I'll start your cure. I've made a different man of the Colonel there in less than six months.'
Sir John rose wearily and I followed his example.
'You are taking me to a chemist's, I presume?' he sighed.
'Sure!' Edmund assented. 'Some chemist, too, I can tell you!'
We landed at Ciro's bar a few minutes afterwards. Sir John glanced suspiciously around him.
'You know that I never take stimulants in the morning,' he explained hastily.
'You sit down and do as you're told,' Edmund directed, making his way to the counter and giving an order.
Sir John, as it chanced, was in an obedient frame of mind, and I had learnt to have a certain amount of confidence in my young friend's discrimination. We were in due course presented with tapering glasses full of a faint, rose-coloured liquid with a little froth on the top.
'We'll start you on these,' Edmund announced, holding his glass up to the light.
'I am not the only sufferer, I perceive,' Sir John observed dryly.
'Prevention,' Edmund declared, throwing his head back, 'is better than cure.'
I never learnt the exact constituents of that most subtle beverage, but it is quite certain that in about twenty minutes' time, when we were well through the second edition, Sir John had all the appearance of a changed man. His manner was more animated, his eyes brighter, and his outlook upon life distinctly more optimistic.
He was telling us a most amusing story in his quiet, drawling fashion, when suddenly the words died away upon his lips. For a single moment his face became so expressionless that it seemed as though it were carved out of a block of grey stone. Then, with an ease which betrayed some diplomatic training, he finished his story. His tone, however, had become lifeless. There were things stirring at the back of his brain.
I followed the direction of his eyes. The man at whom he had glanced was, to all appearance, an undistinguished person. He was blond, with sandy hair and moustache streaked with grey. He wore quaintly-cut clothes of sombre black, a white linen shirt and collar and a black wisp of a tie. I need only add that he wore brown boots to indicate his exact nationality.
'That's the sort of German who doesn't do this place any good,' I remarked casually.
Sir John dropped his voice. He had the art of speaking very softly yet very distinctly. He employed it now to such a purpose that what he said was inaudible even to the next table.
'That person,' he pronounced, 'whom you dismiss so lightly, that sandy-haired, insignificant little man, is perhaps, at the present moment, the greatest and the most dangerous enemy England ever had.'
'Shucks!' Edmund murmured.
'Are you serious?' I asked.
'Very serious indeed,' Sir John continued, and there was no mistaking the quiet tremble in his tone. 'Neither Philip of Spain nor Napoleon ever looked across the seas at our little island with the cold malice and venom concealed and stored up in that man's brain.'
'Say, who is he?' Edmund demanded.
'The name may mean little to you,' Sir John went on. 'He is the Baron Kleist. His title is a ready-made one, and I believe that the man himself was the son of a pork-butcher. Yet he not only mingles in that very intimate circle of military aristocrats who revolve around the Kaiser, but he holds a unique and foremost place amongst them. It was he who inspired the volume which no doubt you have read—Germany's Future on the Continent. He thrust the authorship upon a comparatively little-known professor at a Berlin university. That is always his way. Nothing that he ever does or inspires comes directly from him. He is the mole of German diplomacy.'
'I am afraid that at the moment neither Edmund nor I was altogether convinced.
'Can't see why he wears yellow boots with black clothes if he's such a nut,' Edmund muttered.
'His appearance,' I ventured, 'scarcely indicates familiarity with the best circles.'
Sir John smiled a little satirically.
'In Berlin,' he said, 'you would find no man more correctly dressed. Abroad it is often his pleasure to pose as a harmless member of the bourgeoisie of his country. What I cannot quite understand,' our companion continued, his voice gaining interest, 'is what he is doing in Monte Carlo. He has no amusements, no tastes, no hobbies. Monte Carlo is the last spot on earth in which I should have expected to have found him.'
'He may be all that you say,' Edmund remarked, a little dubiously, 'but I can show you one or two hotels up the back end of the town chock-full of guys like him. They spread themselves out all over die place.'
'He may look like them,' Sir John admitted, 'but he isn't. That man is the fire-brand of Europe. His torch may be smouldering for the moment, but my own impression is that before many years, perhaps many months, have passed, he will be waving it furiously enough.'
I don't think that either Edmund or I, even then, were prepared to take our new friend altogether seriously. We left the bar a few minutes later, and it would have been difficult to conceive anything more insignificant than the little sandy-haired man who sat hunched up in his corner, reading a German newspaper. When we reached the Arcade, Edmund took command of us.
'It really is a very pleasant morning,' Sir John declared, in a more animated tone than usual. 'It is some years since I ventured upon any alcoholic refreshment at this hour in the morning, but I am inclined to think that it has agreed with me.'
'You wait till I've done with you!' Edmund threatened. 'And you, too, Colonel. I know you've neither of you anything to do to-day. In you get.'
We climbed obediently into Edmund's car, and he promptly drove us up into the clouds. We pulled up outside the club-house at La Turbie. There were little patches of white mist all around us, but the air was like champagne and the sunshine was pouring down into the valleys.
'First tee and look sharp, all of you,' Edmund ordered, 'or we shall be late for lunch. We are going to play nine holes. The Colonel and I have our clubs here, and I am borrowing some for you, Sir John.'
'But, my dear fellow,' the latter protested, 'I have
given up golf. I find the exercise much too vigorous.
'Come along,' Edmund insisted. 'We shall be late for lunch, as it is.'
We played nine holes, breathing all the time what is perhaps the most exhilarating air in Europe. Sir John, who started indifferently, improved rapidly towards the end and eventually halved with me and defeated Edmund, who gave us both two up. There was a distinct tinge of colour in our patient's cheeks as we made our way to the club-house.
'Wonderful place, this' he declared. 'Wonderful air. I feel almost hungry. I hope there are some plain things upon the menu,'
'You'll eat what I order,' Edmund retorted, 'and drink what you're told to. This is my day, you know. I don't mind telling you that if we were at the Knickerbocker, in Broadway, it would be a beefsteak and a pint of porter.'
'Geographically,' Sir John murmured fervently,' I feel that I have something still to be grateful for!'
We lunched at a small table in the window, and Edmund would listen to none of his new friend's cautious objections to various viands. He made us both drink beer, and black coffee afterwards. Ten minutes later he led Sir John off to the tee.
'Another nine holes,' he insisted. 'We'll let the Colonel off, because I know he always rests after lunch, but you're under my orders, Sir John.'
They went off together and I found a sunny seat on the veranda, sheltered from the wind, and with the whole panorama of Monaco and the Mediterranean at my feet. I lit my pipe and had just commenced to smoke when a man came round the edge of the terrace, dragging a wicker chair, which he placed within a few feet of mine.
To my surprise I suddenly recognized him. It was the little sandy man at Ciro's. He stretched himself out, paying very little attention to me, lit a long cigar and sipped the coffee and liqueur which a waiter brought out to him. I took the opportunity of examining him more closely. His eyes were small and unpleasant and red near the lids. It seemed to me that I looked in vain for any sign of strength in his face. To my surprise, after he had sat there for some time he addressed me.
'A very fine view,' he remarked.
'Magnificent,' I replied enthusiastically, 'and I should think about the finest air in the world.'
'I have never been a great traveller,' he continued, 'but I can well believe it. In my country we certainly have nothing like this.'
'You are a German, are you not?' I inquired.
'I am a German,' he admitted; 'and you are an Englishman?'
I nodded, and he looked at me, holding his cigar a little away, with something which was almost curiosity.
'Yes,' he repeated, 'you are an Englishman. I think I heard you addressed as Colonel. You are in the English Army?'
'Army Medical only,' I told him, 'and retired.'
'Still,' he persisted, 'you have lived in the atmosphere. Do you belong to the school, may I ask, of those who look upon my country as your natural enemies? Or are you of those who look towards the future and see in Germany your one safe friend?'
'Twenty years of my life,' I explained, 'have been spent in India, and there one rather gets out of touch with European politics and conditions.'
'But you must have your convictions?' he insisted.
'Perhaps,' I admitted. 'I must confess that I have never gone into the matter deeply, but my impressions are that a lasting friendship between Germany and England is impossible, at any rate until after a trial of strength has taken place between them. Germany wants what England has, and unless Germany means some day to try and help herself, I cannot see why she spends the whole of her immense revenues arming, and is content to borrow money for commercial expansion.'
'Very sound,' my companion agreed approvingly. 'Theoretically, we ought to fight you. All the same, I doubt whether we ever shall.'
'Perhaps not in my lifetime,' I remarked, 'but still—'
'In your lifetime,' he interrupted. 'How old are you?'
'I am sixty-one,' I told him, a little surprised.
'Look at me,' my companion invited, a little abruptly. 'How old am I?'
'Fifty, perhaps,' I ventured.
'Forty-nine,' was the reply. 'You, you say, are sixty-one. You are hard and healthy. You will live, without doubt, to be seventy or seventy-five. You will live during the next ten years. You will see the things that happen. Tell me, you have heard of a physician in London called Sir James Hinton?'
'Yes, he is supposed to be quite one of our cleverest men.'
'Good! I visited him last week. He was the eleventh specialist whose advice I have sought. It is owing to what he told me that I am here. "If you rest," he said, "smoke but three cigars a day, live in pure air and take care of yourself, you may live—for twelve months."'
I looked at him in surprise. I suddenly saw that he was speaking the truth. I saw things in his face which are seldom to be seen in any man's.
'You are not serious!' I exclaimed.
'Absolutely,' was the reply. 'I am suffering from an incurable complaint. Every doctor in Germany has done his best to cure me. They have all failed. I know the worst now. I am going to die without seeing the slightest result from my life's work.'
I murmured a word or two of sympathy. He seemed scarcely to hear me. His eyes were fixed upon some space between the clouds and the sea, I realized that he had spoken to me scarcely as a human being, but as a nonentity.
'You wonder that I tell you this, a stranger,' he went on, as though reading my thoughts. 'It is because you are a stranger I do tell you. I went alone to England and I came alone here. I have no wife, nor family, nor friend. My work has taken the place of all these. And now I have an ugly companion, sitting on my shoulders night and day, pressing down my heart, dimming all my views and thoughts of the future.
'No word has passed my lips of these things since I walked from your doctor's room in Harley Street and drove to my hotel. You have been my first confidant. I do not even know your name. I do not wish, to know it. I do not ask for your sympathy. If you are an Englishman, perhaps I do not deserve it. You do not know who I am. You have no idea as to what my life's work has been. But unless—unless,' he added, with a sudden strange light in his face, 'the great chance comes next month, I must pass into nothingness and know nothing, and the work which I have done will count for nothing.'
'What is your work?' I ventured to ask.
He turned his head towards me. For the first time I recognized that there was a certain piercing intensity in his gaze, which gave, if not strength, a certain cunning to his face.
'I am a chemist,' he said quietly, 'and I was on the brink of a great discovery. I am obliged to you for listening to me. The circumstances under which I felt inclined to enter into conversation with a stranger were, you will admit, peculiar. I wish you good day.'
He rose and shambled down the terrace, disappeared presently around the corner. I blinked for a moment and felt inclined to pinch myself to make sure that I had not been dozing. A moment or two later, however, I saw my late companion leaning back in a great car, descending the winding road....
On our way home that afternoon I recounted my conversation with the Baron Kleist. Both Edmund and our new friend listened with the utmost interest. Sir John, indeed, made me repeat a certain part of the conversation several times.
'I think,' he pronounced finally, 'that this is one of the most curious coincidences I ever remember. Kleist has always had the reputation of being a man who delighted to enter into conversation with foreigners of all classes, and to try and get, through them, an idea of their country's tendencies. I wish no man ill, but if what he told you is really the truth, all I can say is that Europe will be a stage nearer peace when his twelve months are up. The one thing, Colonel, that rivets my attention upon his conversation is his "Unless." He spoke, did he not, as though there were still one chance that the dream of his life might come true before his death?'
'Exactly,' I assented. 'The man's face positively shone for a moment as he thought of it.'
'And he is here in Monte Carlo instead of in Berlin,' Sir John muttered to himself.
We drove the rest of the way down into Monte Carlo almost in silence. Then Sir John, who had been deep in thought, suddenly sat up.
'Young man,' he said to Edmund, 'as a physician I bend the knee to you. What is the next prescription?'
Edmund glanced at his watch. It was now five o'clock.
'A hot bath,' he decided promptly,' lie down for half an hour or an hour and read the papers, dress leisurely and meet me in the American bar at seven o'clock.'
'After which,' Sir John insisted, 'you will both dine with me.'
'No boiled chicken and rice pudding,' Edmund stipulated.
'You shall order the dinner yourself,' Sir John promised. 'I am beginning to have confidence in you. I have indulged in some pink and stimulating beverage before luncheon. I have drunk beer and eaten beef. I have played eighteen holes of golf. Any one of these things should have made a wreck of me. I am feeling unaccountably and extraordinarily well. I am even contemplating the possibility of taking a glass of champagne for dinner to-night.'
'You may put it down as a cert,' Edmund replied.
We carried out the programme and spent a very pleasant evening. Afterwards we adjourned to the Sporting Club, where we played roulette and strolled around until midnight. The rooms were crowded and we were continuously meeting acquaintances. Suddenly Edmund, who was walking a little behind, leaned over and touched Sir John on the shoulder.
'Say, look at that little German bounder!' he exclaimed. 'He's going it some for a man with one foot in the grave!'
Both Sir John and I glanced cautiously towards the settee indicated by Edmund. Kleist, in old-fashioned dinner clothes of quaint cut, a green stud in his shirt-front and an unusually large black tie, was seated side by side with a very beautiful though somewhat passée lady, whose neck and shoulders were smothered with marvellous jewels. She was waving a fan softly in front of her face, and although her expression was indifferent, she was evidently listening closely to what her companion was saying. Nothing in Sir John's manner betrayed any particular interest in either Kleist or his neighbour. His face never once lost its slightly bored expression—his eyes, even, did not linger upon them for more than a second or two—but I felt the clutch of his fingers upon my arm.
'Let us,' he suggested, 'go and sit down for a few minutes. Perhaps your young friend can recommend us some refreshing drink. There will be more room in the bar, at any rate.'
We made our way there and found a corner seat. Edmund entered into earnest conversation with the bartender, a conversation which resulted in our being presently served with three tumblers filled with some beverage which looked like orangeade but tasted more inspiring. Sir John glanced cautiously around to be sure that we were unobserved. Then he leaned towards me.
'Colonel Green,' he began, 'that woman who is talking to Baron Kleist is the one person in the world, if my view of the present situation is correct, who could send him to his death-bed happy.'
'Shouldn't think he's got an earthly,' Edmund remarked. 'She's no end of a swell.'
Sir John smiled faintly.
'I was not referring to an amour,' he said. 'Do you know who the lady is, then?'
'I know that she is a princess something or other,' Edmund explained casually. 'I chased one of her rotten little brown dogs on the promenade yesterday and she thanked me for about five minutes. She had a maid and a companion and a manservant walking behind, and I heard the companion call her "Princess." Besides, she sent me a little note afterwards.'
Sir John, whom I should not have accounted a curious person, was very much interested.
'You haven't it with you, by any chance?' he asked.
Edmund felt in his pocket and a moment later produced a perfumed sheet of thick note-paper with a coronet at the top. He spread it out upon the table and we all read:
I feel, monsieur, that I owe you thanks for your great kindness this morning. I receive my intimate friends from six to seven in suite number 100.
Beatrice di Sifursto.
'Not I,' Edmund replied. 'I found out all about her when I got in, though. She is an Italian princess, and half the first floor of the hotel is reserved for her and her servants.'
'And the other half,' Sir John remarked dryly, 'for the Marquis di Fabricate.'
'Who's he?' Edmund demanded.
'He,' Sir John explained, 'is Italy. He is the one great statesman Italy has produced during the last twenty years.'
'Any relation to the Princess, or are they just pally?' Edmund inquired.
'She is his mistress,' Sir John told us. 'It is one of those affairs which all Europe knows of. She has been his political inspiration.'
Edmund's attention began to wander.
'She must have been jolly good-looking,' he remarked, looking around the room.
'In my younger days,' Sir John told us, 'I was attaché at Rome. I used to see a great deal of her then. She is without exception the most brilliant and the most fascinating woman I have ever met. She has only two faults.'
'Bit below the average for a woman,' Edmund murmured.
'She is the most extravagant woman in Europe, and they say that her love affairs are legion,' Sir John continued. 'How she keeps Fabricate in ignorance of them no one can imagine.'
'These little flashes of international life,' I observed, 'are most interesting.'
'They are more interesting than you can imagine,' Sir John insisted earnestly. 'History is made in such interviews as that one which is taking place at this moment upon the settee in there. Kleist represents fully and wholly the despotism of Germany. That woman has moulded the destinies of Italy for years. What was it you told me, Colonel, that Kleist said to you this afternoon—I mean about his mortal illness? He spoke, did he not, of the disappointment of death before he could achieve the one desire of his life?'
'Something of that sort,' I admitted.
'It is all very interesting,' Sir John muttered, speaking
half to himself. 'I wonder whether our young friend—'
He turned round, but Edmund had disappeared.
'He went out a moment or two ago,' I remarked.
Sir John drew a little nearer to me.
'Colonel Green,' he said, 'as you know, I have retired from the active service of my country, but we are Englishmen, both of us. Since I left Downing Street I have had but one hobby, a constant and unremitting study of the European situation. The conclusions I have come to during the last few weeks lead me to attach unusual importance and significance to any intercourse which might be taking place at the present moment between responsible Germany and responsible Italy.'
'But Italy,' I reminded him, 'is an ally of Germany already.'
'Exactly,' Sir John agreed, 'but just what is that alliance worth? What would Italy's position be to-day if Germany went to war with France and Russia?'
'Undoubtedly she would have to join in,' I suggested.
'But would she?' Sir John asked eagerly. 'There is supposed to be a great bond, a secret clause, even, to the Triple Alliance. Italy is said to have made one proviso that she will never fight against England.'
'Very sensible of her,' I ventured.
'But don't you see,' Sir John continued, 'that supposing the war which that little beast in the next room has worked all his days to bring about should come, it would be just Italy that would turn the scale? Germany and Austria could put up a splendid fight against France and Russia. They could put up a very good fight against France and Russia with England intervening. The last straw would be Italy. She would be able to aid Austria in the earlier stages of the war to resist Russia, and Germany would be able to pay her whole attention to France. If, on the other hand, Italy stood out, Germany would have to divide her forces, as Austria alone would never be able to resist for any length of time the Russian advance.'
'But even if Italy threw over the alliance,' I argued, 'the worst would be that she would remain neutral.'
'Colonel,' Sir John said seriously, 'there are very many countries who at the beginning of a great war have announced their neutrality. There are very few who have been able to carry it on to the end. Italy is in just that position. She might start as a neutral Power, but in the event of a European war she would be forced, in her own interests, sooner or later to enter the fray. Now perhaps you can understand what that little conversation on the settee there means to an Englishman who, like myself, has made a study of European politics.'
'But you don't believe,' I asked, 'that we are really threatened with war?'
Sir John rose to his feet.
'There is nothing in the world,' he declared, 'which will keep back Germany for many more months. Her present hesitation is simply due to the necessity for forming her plan of campaign according to the Powers which may become involved. What she is trying to do now is, by means of diplomacy, to get to know exactly which of the Powers will be against her, which on her side and which neutral. . . . Come, let us go and look for your young friend.'
We passed out into the other room. There, to my surprise, we found Edmund in an easy attitude upon the couch, talking volubly to the Princess whilst the Baron looked on with an exceedingly sour expression. We passed by unnoticing, made a tour of the room and returned to the bar. In about ten minutes Edmund joined us. He went through some sort of facial grimace in the direction of the bar-tender and was promptly served with a whisky-and-soda.
'Say, I've been straightening things out for you,' he remarked, as he sat down. 'I hung around for quite a long time before the Princess spoke to me, and I heard a few scraps of what they were talking about.'
'If they see us together, Kleist will be on his guard at once.' Sir John warned him in a quiet voice.
'Not a bit of it,' Edmund assured us cheerfully. 'The Princess thinks that I am a victim to her charms. She believed that I was hanging around to speak to her, and in the end she asked me to sit down.'
'What were they talking about?' Sir John asked.
'Money,' Edmund replied. 'I only heard scraps, but I gathered that she was trying to arrange a loan with the German gentleman, or rather that he was offering it.'
'What was the condition?' Sir John demanded.
'Something to do with her pal Fabricate,' Edmund told us. 'I couldn't seem to be listening but I gathered that if she could get Fabricate to promise something or other, she was to be made rich beyond the dreams of avarice. Ten millions I heard whispered of—it may have been marks, though. One definite thing I did hear, because the Princess raised her voice a little. She is to give her answer by eight o'clock to-morrow night, after she has talked the matter over with the Marquis di Fabricate.'
'At least,' Sir John pronounced, as we rose to go, 'there is one thing I can do. I can write to our ambassador in Rome and warn him of what is going on.'
'What do you think it all means, then?' I asked, as we strolled along towards the hotel.
Sir John paused for a moment.
'It means this,' he said earnestly. 'Germany is ready for war, and if she can be convinced of Italy's help under any circumstances she'll start the ball rolling at once. And the word of Italy will come from the lips of that woman. Of that you can be certain.'
'We don't do things like this in the States,' Edmund remarked.
'Why should you?' Sir John replied. 'You are outside all the broil of European politics. You are a country by yourselves. You have no ancient feuds at your doorsteps. Geographically you are free from all the complications which make Europe a hotbed of intrigue.'
'Jolly interesting, all the same,' Edmund declared. 'I think I shall drop in and see the Princess to-morrow evening.'
Sir John looked at his watch for the fifth time. A maître d'hôtel, hovering around our table, glanced at the clock. I myself was a little peevish.
'I have taken,' Sir John remarked, 'a great fancy to
your young American friend, but there are some things
in life which no man can bear with equanimity. We
agreed to dine here at eight o'clock. It is now close upon
half-past. I propose—'
'A dry Martini cocktail!' a familiar voice suddenly exclaimed in our ears. 'I second the motion. Three, waiter, and look sharp with them. And serve the dinner,' he added, throwing his coat over the arm of the vestiaire who had followed him into the room. 'Say, I'm not late, am I?' he added.
'Thirty-five minutes,' Sir John grunted, once more consulting his watch.
'What have you been up to, young man?' I asked a little irritably.
'Saving England,' Edmund replied, glancing thirstily around. 'Never stopped even for a drink afterwards.'
I think at the same moment we both remembered that in the small hours of the morning Edmund had announced his intention of calling upon the Princess. We gripped him, I by one arm and Sir John by the other.
'What do you mean?' I demanded.
Edmund watched the waiter appearing with three wine-glasses upon a tray.
'Shan't say a word until I've had a drink,' he declared.
We waited impatiently whilst Edmund drained his glass. The fingers which raised Sir John's to his lips were trembling.
'Sort of queer how things turn out,' Edmund began, after a casual glance around. 'Well, at seven o'clock this evening I called on the Princess. I tell you she has the finest suite of rooms there you ever saw, and flowers and servants and lap-dogs—why, the place was like something out of the Arabian Nights. She held out both her hands to me when I went in. "You shall save me, my young friend," she declared. "All day long I have thought of serious matters. I am weary—weary of them. Come and talk nonsense to me."'
Edmund paused to make a raid upon the hors d'oeuvre. The moment the waiter had gone we both leaned forward.
'Go on. Go on, Edmund,' I begged.
'Well, I did my best,' he continued. 'A gay old thing she is, too. We were sitting talking when her maid brought a note in. She was pretty angry at being disturbed but she tore it open, and as I was seated by her side I couldn't help seeing what was in it. It was something like this:
'"Am expecting the word by a trusty messenger before nine. I wait at the place arranged."
'The Princess crumpled up the note and turned back to me. For a moment she seemed thoughtful. However, she brightened up again, and we were just planning for a little dinner to-morrow night when her maid came in a hurry and whispered something about the Marquis begging permission to come round. The Princess seemed all upset. She talked in Italian to her maid, but I gathered that she hadn't been expecting her friend until about ten. She put her arm through mine and walked to the door with me.
'"You will come to-morrow evening," she begged. "And—I wonder whether I could trust you to perform a little commission for me? It is not of great importance but I wish to send no one of my people, and unexpectedly I shall be engaged and cannot seek for a messenger."
'"Anything in the world," I promised her. Pass me those stuffed olives, Colonel.'
I nearly threw the olives at him, and I thought Sir John would have choked.
'Say, you fellows seem impatient,' Edmund went on. 'Well, I've very nearly finished.'
'"I want you," she whispered to me in the doorway, "to go to the Café de Paris, and at one of the tables on the outside you will see the German gentleman who was with me last night. Just say this, will you—that I have tried and failed. You can remember?"
'"Perfectly," I told her.
'"And to-morrow evening," she added, "you will come and we shall be alone. Hurry, please!"'
'Well, go on,' Sir John begged. 'What next?'
'I kissed her fingers and came out,' Edmund concluded.
'But the message?' I asked.
Edmund had turned round and was looking hungrily at the sole which was cooking in a silver dish by our side. He touched the maître d'hôtel on the arm.
'Just a little more of the sauce,' he suggested. 'These gentlemen like rich things.'
'The message?' I almost shouted in my eagerness to know.
'Of course,' Edmund sighed. 'Well, I found that piece of sauerkraut sitting there with something that looked like a glass of water beside him. I paused in front of him and took off my hat. He scowled for a moment and then he seemed to recognize me. He stood up and waved his hat. I did the same.
'"You are the friend," he said, "of the Princess, is it not so?"
'"Sure!" I answered. "She asked me just to leave a message as I passed."
'"Quick!" he begged.
'"The Princess has tried and has succeeded," I told him. Say, you should have seen that fellow's face! He looked up to the skies for a moment as though heaven were sitting right there.'
'But that wasn't the message!' Sir John gasped.
'Of course not,' Edmund agreed, settling down to his fish. 'Seemed to me they were both wrong 'uns, anyway, so I thought the safest thing to do was to deliver the message upside down.'
'What became of Kleist?' I faltered.
'He has gone back to Germany by the night train,' Edmund replied.
We talked for hours that evening. Towards midnight Sir John, in the little smoking-room of the Sporting Club, condensed all that we had been able to think and say.
'This is how I read it,' he announced. 'Kleist offered the Princess a huge bribe to get Fabricate to promise that, in the event of war, whatsoever its cause, Italy should fulfil the terms of the Triple Alliance. What Fabricate promises will be done. Kleist believes that he has succeeded. He has gone back to Germany. Now, if in the course of the next few months Germany finds the excuse for which she has been longing, and goes to war, it will be, thanks to our young friend here, in the belief that Italy is pledged to fulfil her contract and to fight with Germany and Austria. As a matter of fact, that is just precisely what the Princess has failed to get Fabricate to promise. Germany will enter upon the war under a great delusion.'
'Then if she does,' Edmund declared, 'she's up the pole!'
[Note by Edmund H. Martin.—It's hard just now to remember that these exploits of ours were entered upon in a frivolous vein. The Colonel and I have both found our great adventure. For a time he has disappeared from us, enveloped in the fog of war. Here, while I sit and wait for him in London, the curtain must fall upon the story of our exploits.]
WE reached Paris at about five o'clock in the afternoon, and on our arrival at the hotel, the Colonel began to mumble something about a hot bath, a cup of tea and bed. By the dint of a little persuasion, however, I got him into evening clothes and on to the Armenonville.
'There's no telling when we shall see Paris again as it ought to be seen,' I pointed out, as we took possession of a small table near the great glass front. 'These war scares are ticklish affairs. Most of them burst like bubbles, but this one looks uncommonly like the real thing.'
The Colonel looked grave, as he always did when war was mentioned. He'd had a pretty bad gruelling out in South Africa and he was one of the kindest-hearted old fellows breathing. It was hard, however, in those surroundings to talk about anything else. The restaurant was half-filled with officers in uniform, and there was a universal atmosphere of suppressed excitement. Out here, however, it was less noticeable than in the city proper.
We were dining a little late. The air was very cool and sweet, hidden lights flashed out from amongst the shrubs, the sound of water falling from the fountains had a peculiarly soothing effect. It was a marvellous change after the heat and turmoil of Paris. The Colonel brisked up wonderfully under the influence of his surroundings and an excellent dinner.
'By the by,' he asked me suddenly, 'what are we doing in Paris?'
'Stopping over on our way to London,' I replied.
He looked at me with a queer little smile.
'I want to make sure that Irvina's all right.'
'Any fool could have seen through your little game,' he told me candidly. 'I suppose you know what you are letting us in for? Every hour will make it more difficult to get away from Paris.'
'Are you in a hurry?' I asked him pointedly.
'I don't know that I am,' he admitted,
'Of course you're not,' I assured him. 'Why, you're sniffing up all the war rumours as though you had a nosegay of flowers to smell. I expect I'll have to drag you out of Paris when you do go.'
The Colonel changed the conversation.
'Have you heard from that child lately?' he inquired.
A sense of apprehension which had troubled me for some time, returned at his question.
'Not for more than a month,' I replied. 'To tell you the truth, Colonel, I am afraid that she never settled down with her aunt here.'
The Colonel grunted.
'Of course,' he said, 'if you will go about rescuing young women of an impressionable age from German princes, and, after the excitement of it all, consign them to the care of dull but elderly relatives, you must expect them to find it hard to settle down afterwards. Now you are going to unsettle the child again.'
I patted the back of his hand for a moment.
'You don't need to worry about that,' I promised him. 'If I find her this time, believe me, I mean to find a better guardian for her than that aunt.'
The Colonel grinned at me across the table.
'So that's why you are staying in Paris, and why you admit that you don't want to go on the bat to-night,' he observed.
'That's exactly it,' I assented. 'I've kind of lost my taste for that sort of thing.'
The Colonel sighed, but he remained discreetly silent. We were finishing our dinner when a thing happened which for a moment took away my breath. A waiter from another part of the room approached our table and, with a bow, presented me with a note upon a salver. It was written upon a half-sheet of the restaurant paper, doubled up and folded crossways.
'Some mistake,' I declared. 'I don't know anyone here.'
'For monsieur,' the man repeated emphatically. Since he insisted, I opened the note and stared at the few lines written there:
'If you should fail in the quest which has brought you to Paris, call at number 17 rue du Faubourg St. Michel and ask for Monsieur Rédan.'
I read this extraordinary sentence twice over. Then I looked up for the waiter. He had disappeared. I called another one.
'Find out who brought me this note,' I directed.
The man bowed and hurried away. I passed the scrap of paper over to the Colonel. He read it carefully and he, too, looked around the room as though to form some idea as to the sender's identity. After his first shock of surprise his manner was almost irritable.
'I'm hanged if I don't believe you are in for another adventure, Edmund!' he exclaimed. 'I told you when we left Monte Carlo that I wanted a little rest. All these excitements are bad for me at my time of life.'
'Get out!' I retorted. 'You're as keen as mustard yourself when there's anything doing. What I've got to discover is, who sent me this note?'
The waiter to whom I had given my commission came back presently, accompanied by a maître d'hôtel.
'The gentleman who sent monsieur the communication,' the latter explained with a little bow, 'has left the restaurant a few minutes ago.'
'But who is he?' I demanded. 'Can't you tell me anything about him?'
'Nothing, monsieur, except that he is a man of wealth and an esteemed client,' was the reply.
'Jolly queer thing,' I muttered, as I carefully tucked the note away into my pocket. 'Well, I've got the fellow's address, anyway.'
We took a little carriage and drove back to our hotel, through the Bois with its mystical lights and violet shadows and automobiles flashing around us on every side, and down the Champs Elysées into the city itself, where the streets were crowded and the cafés filled to overflowing, and every man and woman seemed to be carrying a newspaper.
There was the same look of tense expectancy in all their faces, and notwithstanding the ever-moving throngs, the boulevards seemed, in a way, quiet, as though an air of suspense were keeping men's tongues silent. The Colonel went off to his room with half a dozen papers under his arm, and I followed him very soon afterwards. Before I went to bed, however, I read over once more that queer little note, although I knew its contents by heart.
There was one gleam of comfort about it. If, by any chance, I found it difficult to trace Irvina, there was someone who had knowledge about her, whether that knowledge was a friendly one or not. I sat at my open window for more than an hour, looking out over the city and thinking. That scrap of paper more than anything else had convinced me that my quest of Irvina was a very serious thing.
Early on the following morning, the Colonel and I sallied out and were driven in a little shaky, rubber-tyred victoria to the address from which Irvina's few letters to me had been written. Directly I saw the place, I had a queer sort of feeling that we were in for trouble. It was a tall, dirty white house, half-way down a narrow, busy street, with a greengrocer's shop on one side of it and a café on the other. The concierge, whom we found in the court-yard, seated in his shirt-sleeves upon a wooden stool, a greasy and unbuttoned waistcoat inadequately concealing his immense proportions, wasted very little time over our inquiry. Madame Hénault, the aunt of mademoiselle, was gone. Mademoiselle, also, had departed. Their rooms were let to others. He knew no more.
It took five francs to elicit the further information that madame some weeks ago had married a German and that her departure from the city had therefore been advisable, if not compulsory. It was true that mademoiselle had not accompanied her, but she had left on the next day and alone, in great haste. The fellow insisted upon it that no address had been left by either of them, in confirmation of which he led us to his lodge and pointed to a collection of three or four letters, which, with a few fragments of burnt-out tobacco, half a dozen cigarette ends, and the remnants of a glass of stale vermouth, adorned his mantelpiece. One of the letters was the last one which I had written to Irvina from Monte Carlo. We passed back again into the streets and re-entered our victoria.
'Nothing for us but our mysterious friend of the restaurant,' I declared. '17 rue du Faubourg St. Michel, cocher.'
We drove to our destination through streets which seemed as full of traffic and as busy as ever, yet over which there brooded a curious silence. The pavements were thronged, but nearly every man and woman was reading a newspaper. There was no elation in their faces—very little, indeed, of what might pass for enthusiasm. On the other hand, there was not a single person who seemed to know what fear was. The Colonel was much impressed.
'For the first time in my life,' he confided to me, as we paused for a moment in a block, 'I begin to wonder whether, after all, the French are not a serious nation.'
We bought a newspaper from a shrieking urchin. Germany's insolent ultimatum to France was set out there in flaring type. The Colonel's eyes were bright as he looked down the crowded streets.
'I was here, too, in 1870,' he cold me, 'but what a difference!'
We pursued our way across what seemed to be an interminable tangle of boulevards and narrower streets, and reached at last a solid but somewhat austere-looking building in a quiet thoroughfare off one of the easterly boulevards. We ascended by lift to the second floor, and on a small brass plate we found the name of:
We rang the bell and were admitted almost at once by a manservant. He ushered us into a waiting-room, plainly but handsomely furnished. Through a glass-topped partition on one side we could see an office in which several clerks were at work. On the other side, leading out of the waiting-room, was an apartment marked 'Private', upon which was painted the name, Monsieur Rédan.
Into this we were ushered in a few moments. Monsieur Rédan turned out to be a short, rather stout person with a little black beard, an immovable eyeglass, and an air of great precision about his clothes, and, as we subsequently discovered, his speech. He was seated before an open table covered with papers. At our entrance he rose to his feet, glanced towards the Colonel with a slight gesture of surprise, and addressed me in perfect but deliberate English.
'I have the pleasure,' he began, 'of speaking with Mr. Edmund Martin?'
'That is my name,' I replied, 'and this is my friend Colonel Green, late of the British Army.'
Monsieur Rédan bowed and shook hands with us both. Then he motioned us to be seated, crossed his legs, and, after a momentary frown at a speck of dust on his patent boots, which he promptly removed with a flick of his silk handkerchief, addressed me.
'Mr. Martin,' he said, 'you were surprised to receive my message at the Armenonville last night?'
'That's so,' I confessed. 'I don't understand how you knew my name or what I wanted in Paris.'
'A coincidence,' he assured me, smiling blandly. 'From your visit here I presume that I am correct in supposing that you have not succeeded in discovering the whereabouts of the young lady?'
There was a note of eagerness in his question which puzzled me. However, I answered him at once.
'We have been to the rue de Montmartre,' I told him. 'Madame Hénault appears to have married a German recently and left Paris. As to mademoiselle, well, the concierge could tell us nothing about her.'
'In which case,' Monsieur Rédan declared smoothly, 'it is, perhaps, as well for your sake that I can.'
He drew a sheet of paper towards him and wrote rapidly a few words upon it. This he passed over to me. It was simply an address in a neighbourhood of Paris which was unknown to me.
'The young lady,' he said, 'is very strictly chaperoned. It will be necessary for you to announce the hour of your visit. If it is convenient for you to call there at six o'clock this evening, I will arrange it.'
'It is convenient for me to call at any time,' I assured him. 'The sooner the better.'
'If I might suggest such a course,' Monsieur Rédan continued, 'might I recommend that your friend Colonel Green accompanies you? The fact that you have for a companion a gentleman of such distinction'—he bowed towards the Colonel—'will inspire confidence in the minds of those responsible for the young lady.'
The Colonel acknowledged the bow, but there was a queer look about his face which I had noticed at times when he was disturbed or disapproving.
'I should be glad to accompany my young friend,' he said. 'May we inquire with whom and under what conditions the young lady is living?'
Monsieur Rédan leaned back in his chair.
'The question is a natural one,' he admitted. 'At the same time, I trust that you will not persevere in it too strenuously. The young lady has found friends, friends for whom I act in the capacity of legal adviser. How much they may choose to tell you rests with themselves. You will understand, I am sure, that it is not permitted to me to disclose my clients' business.'
The Colonel took the paper from my hand.
'We are to call here, then at six o'clock this evening?' he remarked.
'If that hour suits you,' the avocat replied, 'the matter shall be arranged for you.'
He rose to his feet and bowed us out with all cordiality. We descended to the street almost in silence. For my part I was curiously elated. I think that I was beginning to realize how eager I was to see Irvina again. The Colonel, on the other hand, was thoughtful.
'Queer place this, Edmund,' he observed, as we stepped out of the lift. 'Queer chap, too, Monsieur Rédan.'
'Dressy old buck,' I murmured absently, with my thoughts still fixed upon Irvina.
'I must confess,' the Colonel continued thoughtfully, 'that he is not my idea at all of the type of a French lawyer, and his offices are situated in a queer part of the city for anyone of his profession.'
We resumed our places in the victoria. Just as we were starting off, I noticed two Frenchmen who had paused apparently to shake hands and light a cigarette, glance in our direction. I thought no more about them until twenty minutes later, when we pulled up at the Café de la Paix and made our way to a table upon the pavement. Immediately behind us another victoria drove up, and from it descended two men who took possession of the adjoining table. The Colonel and I ordered mixed vermouth. The older of our two neighbours, as soon as the waiter had disappeared, suddenly turned towards us and raised his hat. As his overcoat fell back, I saw a little piece of red ribbon in his buttonhole.
'Gentlemen,' he said, holding out a card, 'I beg pardon for addressing you. I present you, if you wish, with my card and credentials. I am an officer engaged in the Intelligence Department here. My companion is a police official.'
The Colonel and I removed our hats in response to his greeting.
'We haven't had time to do anything wrong in Paris,' I returned. 'We only arrived here last night.'
Our new friend bowed gravely.
'Is it permitted to ask the nature of your business with Monsieur Rédan?' he inquired.
I was a little taken aback.
'I don't know that it's any particular secret,' I told him, 'but if you'll forgive my pointing it out, I don't see what concern the nature of my business with a lawyer can be to anyone.'
'Monsieur Rédan,' was the cautious reply, 'is a suspected person.'
'Suspected of what?' the Colonel demanded, a little abruptly.
For the moment our companion evaded the question.
'Gentlemen,' he asked, 'may I inquire your names?'
'Mine is Edmund H. Martin and I come from New York,' I told him. 'This is Colonel Green, late of the British Army.'
'You have doubtless some papers?'
We had plenty, and I think that in a few minutes our questioner was not only satisfied but impressed. He handed back our combined evidences of respectability with a little bow.
'Gentlemen,' he observed, 'you visit Paris in troublous times, times when the duties of my department are onerous and far-reaching. Monsieur Rédan is one of the many hundreds of residents in this city who are being watched day by day. Those who come in contact with him are perforce subject in some measure to the same suspicion. So far as regards you two gentlemen, there is nothing left to be said,' he added, with a low bow, 'but if you will accept my word of honour and my promise of secrecy, I can assure you that it might possibly be to your advantage to explain to me what the nature of your business with Monsieur Rédan may have been.'
'I cannot see the slightest objection,' the Colonel remarked, turning to me.
'If you say so, Colonel,' I agreed, and I promptly told our story. The official listened with a large amount of interest. When we had finished, he held out his hand.
'An entirely private matter, gentlemen, I perceive,' he concluded. 'Naturally, I have nothing more to say except to beg of you for the name of your hotel and to ask you to keep this interview to yourselves.'
'We are staying at the Chatham,' the Colonel announced.
The official touched his companion upon the shoulder, and with very polite bows they both of them departed. The Colonel and I looked at one another.
'Queer times, these,' I remarked, as we sipped our vermouth.
'Very,' the Colonel assented, his eyes following the departing figures of the two men. . . .
Taxi-cabs in Paris were scarce that evening, and we contented ourselves once more with a small victoria, in which at some time before six o'clock the Colonel and I drove to the address which Monsieur Rédan had given us. The neighbourhood was a somewhat remote one, but the outside of the house, when we reached it, was in every way prepossessing. Its front had been freshly painted white and there were flower-boxes before all the windows.
A fat and smiling concierge admitted us at once through the iron gates and passed us on to a very correctly-attired butler, who in his turn ushered us through the portals of the house into a very pleasant reception-room. The apartment was filled with flowers, there were books and magazines lying about, a canary singing in the window, a great bowl of roses on a side-table, many evidences of feminine occupation. We glanced around us with a good deal of interest and some relief.
'Irvina seems to have found her way into comfortable quarters,' the Colonel remarked, with a little sniff.
I was on the point of replying when an unsuspected door, opposite to the one by which we had entered, opened at the farther end of the apartment. A lady, quietly but well dressed, with grey hair and a pleasant smile, stood upon the open threshold. She glanced a little questioningly at the Colonel, and then at me.
'It is you,' she asked, 'who wished to see Miss Irvina?'
'If you please,' I admitted.
'You will both come this way, if you do not mind,' she invited.
She motioned us to follow her and we passed along a passage in which we seemed to breathe, somehow, a different atmosphere. There was a curious sort of close odour, an odour suggestive of some anaesthetic or disinfectant. Presently our guide threw open a door on the left-hand side.
'Irvina is here,' she announced.
I stepped past her and then stopped short, but it was too late. The Colonel had followed close on my heels, and the door, which had shut behind us with a click, caught him in the middle of the back. He picked himself up from the bottom of the third step and his language was awful. He rubbed his leg and swore at me solidly for five minutes.
'You young idiot!' he exclaimed, winding up at last. 'You call yourself one of Nature's detectives and you walk into a trap like this! And, what's far worse, you lead me into it, at my time of life!'
I was standing with my hands in my pockets, looking around me. We were in a room devoid of any single article of furniture, and several feet lower than the passage we had quitted. The floor was of hardwood and the walls were distempered, with a fresco near the ceiling, and hung with several engravings which in the dim light seemed to be of value. The only window was up near the roof and protected with strong bars. There was no possibility of misunderstanding our position. The locked door behind us, and the character of the apartment, were undeniable.
'Say, this is some sort of a mess we've stumbled into,' I remarked, lighting a cigarette and passing my case to the Colonel. 'No use fretting. We are here and we've just got to sit down and wait until something happens.'
'Sit down on what?' the Colonel demanded gruffly, still hugging his leg.
I was forced to admit that the question had point and proceeded to a closer examination of this remarkable apartment. There were two trap-doors in the floor, secured apparently by a key, and at the farther end was something which looked as though it might have been a door. I was on my way to examine it when the panels were rolled back. Monsieur Rédan stood in the empty space. He welcomed us amiably. I noticed, however, that he was watching our movements with intense care.
'I am sorry to have kept you waiting, gentlemen,' he said. 'Will you come into my room?'
We crossed the floor briskly.
'Anything to get out of this!' the Colonel mumbled, sniffing.
In silence Monsieur Rédan stood on one side and we found ourselves in a very comfortable man's sitting-room. There were books and pictures, easy-chairs, and all the resources of civilization in abundance. Our host motioned us to sit down. I noticed that as we advanced he retreated. He was careful always to keep a few yards between us, and his right hand was all the time behind his back and concealed by his coat.
'We did not understand,' the Colonel snapped, 'that we should have the pleasure of seeing you here, Monsieur Rédan.'
'There were many things which you did not understand.' the avocat replied, 'when you paid that visit to me, which it is my intention now to make clear to you.'
'The sooner the better,' I intervened; 'but first of all, where is mademoiselle?'
'Wherever she may be,' Monsieur Rédan assured us, 'she is certainly not here.'
'Then why the mischief are we?' I demanded impatiently. 'You told us—'
'You are here, young man,' Monsieur Rédan interrupted, 'because you have come under the displeasure of a very great personage. Your companion is here—well, because he has the misfortune to be your companion.'
'What are we to understand by that?' the Colonel asked grimly.
Monsieur Rédan shrugged his shoulders.
'I will be brief,' he promised. 'There is no reason to play with words. I am the agent in this country of His Royal Highness Prince Adalbert von Kruck.'
The Colonel suddenly stiffened and I felt my own muscles grow tense. The man's speech was like a thunderbolt in the darkened room.
'You, young man,' he continued, 'had the misfortune seriously to affront my master. You had the sublime impertinence to abduct from his care the young lady of whom you have ventured to come here in search. You are here to expiate that fault.'
'You mean.' I demanded, 'that we are prisoners?'
Our host bowed ironically.
'Let us say guests,' he suggested.
I took one step towards him, but the revolver with which he covered us was held by a hand as steady as a rock.
'It will save us all trouble if you attempt violence,' he said coolly. 'No one will hear the shot down here, and there are plenty of ways of disposing of you both in the destruction which is to come. You would not be the first, by many dozens, who have disappeared in these apartments.'
I thrust my hands into my pockets.
'Come,' I begged, 'don't let us leave untold any part of this interesting explanation. What is your game exactly?'
'You speak with a frankness,' our host declared, 'which I will most certainly imitate. In your present situation there is nothing, indeed, which you may not know. This house in which you find yourselves has been used for many purposes in its time. To-day it is the headquarters of certain German political agents in this city. It has many advantages as a place of detention, including, by the way, a subterranean passage which leads to an oubliette into which no gendarme of Paris has ever peered. That oubliette has taken its toll already of those who have dared to range themselves amongst the enemies of my master.'
'And now that we are here?' I began.
'You will remain prisoners until the arrival of the Prince.'
'The Prince is coming here?' I exclaimed.
Monsieur Rédan glanced at a calendar.
'The Prince,' he informed us, 'will be here on August the fifteenth. He is commanding the Second German Army, which will occupy Paris on that day. When he arrives, you gentlemen will be handed over to him. In the general disorder and destruction of those days, any accident which deprived Society permanently of your presence would scarcely be accounted a remarkable thing.'
I glanced towards the Colonel and he looked back at me. There was no doubt that our host was in earnest, but his words were hard to grapple with.
'So we are to stay here until August the fifteenth,' the Colonel remarked.
'Until that date,' was the suave reply. 'Of course, there is always the possibility that my Imperial master's plans may be altered by a few hours. The fifteenth, however, is near enough.'
'And what about the young lady whom we came to see?' I asked bluntly.
Monsieur Rédan looked at me steadfastly. There was something in his gaze which I did not quite understand.
'The young lady,' he repeated slowly, as though anxious to gain time—'Mademoiselle Irvina?'
'You are not going to tell me that after all she is in this hospitable house of yours?' I asked, struggling against the fear which from the first I had felt.
Monsieur Rédan assumed an air of great frankness.
'My young friend,' he confessed, tapping a cigarette against the edge of the table, 'you touch upon a sore point. I am perfectly certain that the young lady you mention is in Paris, but her discovery has been the one failure of my life.'
'That brute of a Prince hasn't got her, then?' I exclaimed in triumph.
Monsieur Rédan shrugged his shoulders.
'So far as you are concerned, at any rate,' he said grimly, 'I have met with success. As regards the young lady, I know perfectly well that she is hiding somewhere in Paris. It will not be for much longer that she will be able to elude me.'
'Monsieur Rédan,' the Colonel intervened, 'let me ask you this. Are you aware that my friend Mr. Martin is an American citizen, and that I am an Englishman?'
Monsieur Rédan appeared unmoved.
'With England,' he declared, 'we shall be at war within a few years and we shall crush her completely. She will not have the courage to fight until she is attacked, and we shall not attack her until our own moment. As for this young man, this young American, I flatter myself that no news of his fate will ever create bad blood between our two countries. He must be taught, this vaunting young democrat, that it is not a slight thing to affront a Royal Prince of Germany.'
Now this room, also, was well below the level of the street, and the sounds of traffic reached us only very faintly, but at that moment both Monsieur Rédan and ourselves received a shock. From the neighbourhood of the next apartment, which we had just quitted, came the tread of heavy feet, and from the higher regions of the house two revolver shots rang out. Events followed one another with incredible rapidity. There was a thunderous clatter at the door and a man's imperative voice:
'In the name of the law, open!'
The cigarette dropped from our host's fingers and I saw his hand shoot towards his coat. In his anxiety lest I should take advantage of this diversion, he completely forgot my companion. With a sudden spring the Colonel threw his arms around Rédan's neck. Before he could recover he was in my power. His revolver fell clattering to the ground and I had him upon his back.
'Now, my friend,' I said, 'we will discuss this matter a little further. I don't know who these opportune visitors are, but you may as well open the door, Colonel.'
Rédan struggled like a rat, but his number was up. The Colonel found the spring-lock and opened the door. Our friends from the Café de la Paix entered, and the room behind seemed full of soldiers. Two of them marched quickly forward. There were no signs, even, of a gendarme. An officer, after a whispered word from our friend of the Intelligence Department, pointed to Rédan.
'Arrest that man,' he ordered, pointing to Rédan, whom I had suffered to scramble to his feet.
Rédan broke into a stream of angry expostulations, to which no one appeared to pay the slightest attention. He was led off with very scant ceremony. We all trooped out after him.
'The city,' our rescuer remarked, as we made our way together towards the street, 'is, I thank heaven, under martial law. We do not need to formulate charges or to enter upon a lengthy trial of prisoners. This place, from what we have just gathered, has been the headquarters of German intrigue and the meeting-place of German spies, for years.'
I pointed to where Rédan was being thrust into a motor-car.
'What will happen to him?' I asked.
Our friend glanced at his watch.
'He will be shot within a quarter of an hour,' he informed us coolly. 'Have you any objection to telling me what has happened to you since you paid your promised visit here?'
I told him all. He listened with a grim smile.
'Messieurs,' he said, 'they are confident, these Germans, but one never knows. It is not to be an affair of 1870, this. We are now a different nation....'
The Colonel and I dined with appetites undisturbed by our adventure, and we spent the rest of that evening; and most of the next few days, wandering around the streets. It was indeed an altered Paris in which we found ourselves. Taxi-cabs full of soldiers were streaming all the time up towards the Gare du Nord.
The cafés were crowded with throngs of people whom one hardly recognized as French. There was scarcely a laugh or a boasting speech to be heard anywhere. The farther we wandered, the stranger the whole scene appeared to us. There were no loiterers upon the boulevards. Everyone who passed seemed to have found a mission. Even in the faces of the women there was an air of troubled, half-formed purpose. Their heads seemed lifted a little higher, and everywhere along the streets and down the boulevards, like a dull background to the slowly unfolding drama, we heard the tramp of marching men.
On the Tuesday evening, we sat in the Café de la Paix till midnight. It was our last chance, the waiter told us. On the morrow Paris was to be a changed city, with new enactments and regulations now being printed. We sat and talked together, the Colonel and I, and for a time I had forgotten even my great purpose. There was something else oppressing us, some fear the shadow of which rested upon all these tense crowds of men and women. Then—it was a moment which I shall never forget—a stream of newspaper boys seemed suddenly to appear from the earth. The strained silence was broken by their shrill cries. We snatched for the journals, paying for them in any coin which came handy. On all sides of us men sprang to their feet.
There was only one cry on everyone's lips. I have never seen such a change in any human being as there was in those few seconds in the Colonel. All the anxiety passed from his face. He folded up the paper with trembling fingers, and there were tears standing in his eyes. The strain was over. It was the one wild moment of enthusiasm which the people permitted themselves. The shouts of 'Vive I'Angleterre!' rolled like thunder down the boulevard. England had declared war against Germany!
There were tears still in the Colonel's eyes when we walked off together a little later, after having shaken hands with several hundred perfect strangers.
'Edmund,' be confided to me, 'the last two days have been like a nightmare. A Liberal Government, you know, and Germany with her bands full of bribes. One felt that it must come right, and yet, there were bare possibilities which one didn't like to think of. Whether we win or lose now, we've done the right thing. Thank God for it!'
Under our windows, all night long, we heard still that steady tramp, tramp of soldiers. Early on the morrow, the Colonel made his way to the proper department to offer his services to the chief of the hospitals. He joined me at luncheon-time and we continued together that curious quest, of which we seldom spoke but which we never relinquished. Somewhere in the city I felt sure that Irvina must still be in hiding. I walked the streets of Paris in those days as no Baedeker-engrossed tourist has ever done.
On the fourth day after the crisis, the Colonel came to me with news.
'I've got a job, Edmund,' he announced, with face beaming like a boy's. 'You must come to the shops with me, please. I shall have to get some togs. I am going out with the Field Hospital, quite close to where the English lines will be. We are off next week.'
He trotted along by my side, looking about ten years younger. On our way to the boulevard we passed along a narrow street, down which a detachment of soldiers came swinging along. The tramp of their feet seemed to beat with a splendid rhythm upon the hard, cobbled stones, and the Colonel and I squeezed ourselves against the wall to watch them as they went by. Suddenly, as the first men passed, from a row of open windows above our heads, on the other side of the way, we heard the first bars of the 'Marseillaise' being sung by girls. We looked up. It was some sort of workroom, apparently. We could see their heads, some bending over the sewing-machines, others raised for a moment as the soldiers went by. And then suddenly one voice rang out, clear and wonderful, above the others. The effect of it was electric. Everyone near us in the street was thrilled with wonder. The other voices became instantly hushed. Gathering force and sweetness at every bar, we who listened in that gloomy street heard the 'Marseillaise' sung as it seemed to us that it had never been sung before. I gripped the Colonel's arm.
'My God!' I muttered. 'Listen! Listen to that note!'
The glory of it broke through the discipline even of those marching troops. Heads were upraised towards the window. There was a sudden word of command. An officer, marching by the side of his men, faced round towards the open casement. His sword was raised in salute, and at once, as though in obedience to the unspoken appeal of men and officer alike, the singer came slowly into sight, the last bars of that wonderful anthem pealing from her lips as she stood there, slim and dark, her arms outstretched.
There were shouts all down the street, once more the tramp of the soldiers as they resumed their march, but I was already half-way up those crazy stairs, through the wooden door upon which was pinned a card bearing a dressmaker's name, across the bare floor with its strips of dress material and its queer odours. Irvina had turned away from the window, shaking with the excitement of her effort. Then she saw me and she had breath enough still almost to shriek my name, strength enough to stretch out her hands.
'Ah, but how long you have been!' she cried. 'How long I have waited!'
I knew very well then what had brought me to Paris, and what would have kept me there until the end if I had not found her.
In some respects, no country in the world is so civilized in its institutions as France. We were married that evening, and the Colonel himself saw us off to Havre after luncheon the next day.
'We'll be waiting in London for you, Colonel,' I promised. 'Irvina and I both want to see this thing through before we take our trip across to the States.'
The Colonel smiled as he gave us a hand each.
'But remember,' he impressed upon me, 'no more wandering in strange places. The great adventure has come for both of us.'
I grasped his hand warmly.
'The best of luck to you, Colonel,' I wished him. 'I don't know what'll happen to you without me to keep you out of scrapes.'
He shook his fist at me indignantly.
'You're not attempting to insinuate,' he exclaimed, 'that I have had anything to do with our exploits together during the last few months!'
I found no words with which to answer him. To the end of his days I believe that the Colonel will imagine that it is I who am responsible for most of the events recorded in these pages.