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"GOOD morning, Pudgy. Gorgeous day, ain't it?" an insinuating voice remarked.
Peter Bragg glanced up from the volume he was studying and eyed his partner with a frown of disapproval. Angus's costume suggested a mind more fixed upon golf than the serious affairs of life.
"Thought I might run down to Ranelagh for the morning, if there's nothing fresh doing," the latter observed.
"Come in and shut the door," Peter Bragg insisted, throwing the volume he was reading to the further end of the room. "I am greatly disturbed. I fear that I shall have to get rid of Miss Ash."
"Get rid of Miss Ash, the perfect secretary, the little grey mouse of the building?" Angus exclaimed. "Why, what's she been up to?"
"Nothing at all," was the sombre reply. "The only thing is I've just finished the sixteenth volume of collected stories dealing with the operations of the amateur detective and in every one the chief marries his secretary. It's getting on my nerves, No one could possibly marry Miss Ash."
Angus strolled over and seated himself on the edge of the table.
"I'm not so sure," he reflected. "Miss Ash always seems to me to be rather living up to her idea of the perfect secretary when she is here. I should like to meet her out on the razzle-dazzle before I confirmed your point of view."
"You would never meet Miss Ash out on the razzle-dazzle," Peter Bragg declared confidently. "And as regards your round of golf you may have to postpone it until this afternoon, unless you choose to leave me alone to interview a French lady with a most intriguing voice--at least it sounded so over the telephone. I confess that I should prefer your presence."
"If there's anything doing," Angus conceded, with laudable resignation, "the golf can go hang. I haven't got a match, anyway. What is it?"
"A Mademoiselle Lenclos rang up about ten minutes ago to ask for an interview. I gathered that she was employed in a Hanover Square dressmaking establishment."
"That setting pleases me," Angus confessed, opening his cigarette-case. "I shall remain to help you. Have you any idea as to her particular line of trouble?"
"None whatever. She appeared distressed."
"They all do. There goes the bell! . . ."
Mademoiselle Julie Lenclos was somewhat of a revelation even to Angus, whose experience of her sex was wide and varied. She was a very beautiful young Frenchwoman, dressed, although it was barely half-past ten in the morning, in the very height of fashion. She crossed the room to the chair which Peter Bragg had invited her to take, with a swaying little movement of the hips which was the latest mode of progression amongst the sirens of the stage. Her use of cosmetics was judicious but manifest. She was without a doubt a strikingly attractive young person as she disposed of her long, slim body in the client's chair and, crossing her legs, displayed the lavish perfection of her silk-clad limbs. Angus felt his enthusiasm for golf wane.
"Mademoiselle Lenclos," Peter Bragg remarked, looking at the slip of paper upon his table. "What can we do for you, Mademoiselle? I am Mr. Bragg, and this is my partner, Mr. Angus."
Angus bowed and straightened his tie as he met the pleasantly challenging flash of a pair of wonderful dark eyes. Mademoiselle spoke very correct English, but with a strong French accent.
"I am in much trouble, Mr. Bragg," she announced. "I speak to you, do I not, in confidence?"
"In absolute confidence," they both assured her.
"I am the premier mannequin at Monet's, in Hanover Square," she continued. "I have been there for a year, and I have brought them much business. My--" she hesitated for a moment--"my husband lives in Paris. He searches there for models and brings them over to London."
"You are married?" Peter Bragg observed.
"In my profession," she confided, "it is very much as on the stage. We keep those little affairs to ourselves. You see, much is done by influence. You gentlemen will understand what I mean--" her eyes rested upon Angus--"when I say that a girl who is not known to be married has better opportunities of business in the world."
"Quite so," Angus murmured sympathetically.
"Um!" Peter Bragg interjected.
"Messieurs will understand also," she went on, after a moment's pause, "that in my business it is sometimes a little difficult to keep--I think you say at arm's length--all the offers one receives from gentlemen who profess to be admirers. My husband is of a jealousy enormous, and to keep friends with him I have to be very careful. There is employed at our establishment in Hanover Square a young man named Paul Bonnaire. He is, messieurs, a great artist."
"He designs ladies' clothes?" Angus suggested.
"Divinely," Mademoiselle asserted with enthusiasm. "He never fails. His ideas are from heaven. His draperies, his curves, the simplicity yet elegance of his touch, it is all too wonderful. He is a great artist."
"And also a friend of Mademoiselle?" Peter Bragg asked.
"Also," she admitted, "a friend of mine. I accept his companionship often during my husband's absence because it gives me excuses for refusing others less desirable."
Her eyes rested first upon one and then upon the other of the two men as though seeking for encouragement and understanding. Nothing could penetrate behind the deep glasses of Peter Bragg, but Angus inclined his head slightly in gentle but regretful sympathy. Mademoiselle understood the inner meaning of that expression, and permitted a faint smile to part her lips.
"I have already, have I not, explained," she went on, "the terrible jealousy of my husband? When he comes to London we used often to dine at restaurants, and there were often scenes. I wear the dresses of the house--it is the wish of Madame--and I cannot help it if attentions are offered me which I do not encourage. That, however, makes my husband furious. Lately he has insisted upon dining at a little café off Shaftesbury Avenue, where we take a salon to ourselves. Here alone he is content. The cooking, I confess, is excellent, and it is something that Henri does not sit glaring round the place."
"What might be the name of this café?" Angus enquired diffidently.
Mademoiselle looked at him with reproof in her large brown eyes.
"It may have to be," she said, "that I must disclose it. For the present we wait. In a foolish moment, I speak, however, to Paul--to Monsieur Bonnaire--of the place. It was one night when we were plagued with too much crowd and too loud music. I consent to take him there. Afterwards I realise the imprudence, for my husband is too well known to the patron. However, the harm is done, we go, again and again. Three days ago Monsieur Bonnaire departs to visit important clients in Rome. Yesterday, to my great surprise, who should arrive in London, without models, without reason, but my husband."
Peter Bragg settled himself down in his chair with the air of one who would have said, "Now we come to something." Angus ventured upon a little murmur of sympathetic interest,
"My husband," she proceeded, "he arrives in a strange mood. I have known him when he has been furiously jealous and I have feared him less. He asks me a few questions. He is so silent that he terrifies. Last night we dine at the café and I am more than ever afraid. There are many little salons. Always he and I have occupied number thirteen. When I have dined with Paul it has been number fourteen. For no reason whatever that I can see, my husband last night insisted upon being served in number fourteen. We dine there, and he behaves very strangely. He is sometimes silent, sometimes he talks wildly. He drinks more wine than I have ever seen. He is absent for half an hour whilst he talks to the patron. He has no air of enjoyment, yet for to-night he has ordered the same salon. We dine there again. He will not listen to a theatre or one of the gayer places. Behold now, the tragedy arrives! To-night Monsieur Bonnaire returns, and I have appointed with him that he comes direct to the little restaurant where he will expect to find me waiting alone in number fourteen."
"An embarrassing situation," Peter Bragg admitted, "but surely you have many means of letting Monsieur Bonnaire know that it would be--er--better for him to stay away?"
"But I ask myself what it means?" she cried, holding out her hands. "I had his address in Rome, but he left there yesterday. Sometimes from Paris he flies, sometimes he comes from Ostend. All that I know is that I have promised to be in number fourteen at nine o'clock to-night, and he will surely be there."
"The affair appears to present no special difficulty," Peter Bragg observed. "In the first place, I presume it is impossible for you to meet the trains yourself?"
"Absolutely. This is the first time since his return that my husband has allowed me out of his sight for a quarter of an hour. Madame desired a consultation with him, and I jumped into a taxi to visit a client. I must be back again in a quarter of an hour, and from that moment I shall not even be able to speak to anyone without his overhearing."
"In that case," Peter Bragg advised, "you must write a few words to this Monsieur Bonnaire, and it will be our business to see that he gets them. You must describe him as accurately as you can, and provide us with a photograph, if possible. My agents shall be at Croydon and at Victoria, and will meet every incoming train and aeroplane. There appears to me to be very little chance that we shall not be able to intercept your friend."
For the first time she appeared a little relieved. She looked around the room for a moment as though seeking for some place of concealment and, finding none, stepped to the back of her chair, placed her foot upon another and, with a little apologetic murmur, thrust her hand down the top of her stocking and produced a small snapshot.
"I have brought this with the utmost difficulty," she confided. "Monsieur Bonnaire is slight and fair. He has blue eyes, delicate hands and features. He is always dressed with great perfection. He is a young man très elegant. The more I think of him the more it makes me shiver to imagine what might happen if the two should meet in Henri's present mood. My husband is a very large man, and exceedingly powerful."
Peter Bragg and Angus both studied the snapshot which the former had taken into his hands. It represented a peculiarly vapid-looking young man, foppishly dressed, with curly hair and an impertinent simper. Angus half closed his eyes with a suppressed shiver, whilst his partner pushed pen and paper towards their client and watched whilst she scribbled a few lines.
"With this and your description, Mademoiselle," Peter Bragg announced, as he accepted the note and placed it with the photograph under a paper-weight, "I think you may rest in peace. It is exceedingly improbable that Monsieur Bonnaire will present himself at your restaurant to-night."
She rose with a little sigh of relief.
"Your fee," she began.
"The matter may not be concluded. Come and see us when all is well."
"Please do," Angus echoed.
She looked across at him and smiled. Angus took it upon himself to see her to the door.
"Madame might tell me the name of the café," he begged, under his breath.
She looked up at him, a provocative little gleam in her eyes. "That, monsieur, might take someone else?"
"You know better."
"When I return, then," she whispered as she passed through the door. "Monsieur must be discreet."
She departed, leaving behind a trail of some delicate perfume and a distinct impression of disturbing femininity. Angus strolled back into the room.
"By Jove, I wouldn't have missed that!" he exclaimed enthusiastically. "Pudgy, old thing, isn't she a ripper?"
Peter Bragg was already busy with the telephone.
"We'll have Havers, Rivington and Bishop up here," he announced. "Between them they can cover all the ground. Of course, to have made an absolute certainty of the thing we should have insisted upon knowing the name of the restaurant and had a man outside there too.
"Disgusting-looking little bounder," Angus murmured, glancing at the snapshot, and throwing it down with a grimace.
"There's no accounting for tastes," was his partner's sententious comment.
No young man in the world was less liable to nerves or nervous apprehensions than the Honourable George Angus, yet he awoke the next morning with a start and a vivid sense of horror. It seemed to him in his waking dreams that he had seen a small man being beaten to death by one so much bigger and superior in size and physique that it was like a rat being pounded viciously by a man with a stick. He pictured to himself a stuffy little sitting-room, a waiter with only sufficient courage to shout from a safe distance for help, and the wonderful eyes of Mademoiselle Lenclos aflame with horror. He smiled to himself as he realised the source of his sudden hallucination, but its effect remained with him, and he descended to the consulting-rooms of the firm at least half an hour before his usual time. His partner had not arrived, but Miss Ash, the perfect secretary, presented herself almost at once with two folders under her arm.
"Reports from the Strand house this morning just come in, Mr. Angus," she announced. "They are all three identical. The young man whose description was given does not appear to have arrived. Headquarters are meeting all further trains and aeroplanes until further notice."
Angus was conscious of a sudden return of his sense of apprehension. He took up the morning paper and glanced it rapidly through. There was nothing in its contents of an alarming character.
"A lady has rung up," Miss Ash continued--"the young lady who was here yesterday morning. She urgently wished to speak to you. She said she would ring up again."
The telephone bell tinkled, and Angus picked up the receiver.
"It is the gentleman who was kind to me yesterday?" a distracted voice demanded. "Monsieur, I am terrified. Tell me at once--Monsieur Bonnaire?"
"All trains were met and both aeroplanes," Angus told her. "Monsieur Bonnaire did not arrive."
"It is impossible," was the quick reply. "You have failed. He would come--oh, I know he would come. Listen. I have a quarter of an hour. I take a taxi, I come at once."
"I shall be here," Angus replied.
She arrived, without a doubt in distress. There were dark lines under those beautiful eyes. Angus would have shown her the reports, but she waved them away.
"I know Paul," she insisted. "It was arranged that we dine together at nine o'clock yesterday evening. He would be there. Something has happened to him."
"Where were you and your husband last night?" Angus asked.
"My husband's behaviour," she confided, "is of the most extraordinary. Again we dined at the café, in number fourteen. All the evening he was like a man noisy with wine. He laughed and shouted and kept opening champagne which we could not drink, and every now and then he broke off and listened as though he were expecting someone."
"I have every confidence in our agents," Angus assured her consolingly. "I cannot believe that Monsieur Bonnaire arrived yesterday."
"He might have come from Harwich," she answered. "He is like all artists, most unreliable. He wanders from place to place as it pleases him. But Monsieur, it is this which terrifies me: my husband he knows. I read it in his manner. He knows."
"How much is there to know?" Angus asked her.
She shrugged her shoulders.
"What does it matter?" she rejoined. "It is what he believes. If he knows that I have dined there alone with Paul, that I was expecting to dine with him there last night, it is enough. If he would speak I I could bear anything better than his present mood."
"What is he proposing to do to-night?"
She gave a little cry which was almost a sob.
"The same thing! He has ordered the dinner. He went to see the patron. He has even chosen the wines. And as for me, whilst he eats and drinks and watches me, I can do nothing. I am in torture. Last night, when nine o'clock struck I thought I should have called out, shrieked, at the horror of it. I am not hysterical, monsieur. I am a woman of common-sense, but I am afraid."
"But what do you suppose can have happened to Monsieur Bonnaire?"
"I can suppose nothing," she admitted. "That is the terror of it. I can imagine nothing. I know only that I am afraid."
"I think you had better tell me the name of the restaurant," Angus suggested. "We will have some enquiries made there. It is just possible that Monsieur Bonnaire will have sent a message direct."
"It is the Café Guido, in Half Dean Street," she confided. "It is rather a narrow opening, and the restaurant is on the left. Straight up the stairs are the salons."
"Is there any way in which we can communicate with you if we have any news of Monsieur Bonnaire?" She shook her head despairingly.
"I can think of none. Except for a few minutes or so like this, Henri never leaves my side. He is terrifying. When I have the chance I will ring you up. Always send a message if there is news. Your men may watch if you will, but I know, I feel Paul is in England. You do not understand, monsieur--he is a man of sentiment, not a man of commerce. We were to have dined together last night at nine o'clock, and there is nothing in this world would have kept him away. You will forgive, but I must hurry."
In the depths of her despair, she produced her vanity case on the way to the door, touched her lips for a moment with the stick, and glanced critically at the effect. She closed the case with a little snap, smiled up at Angus with mechanical coquetry, and departed.
Peter Bragg, when he arrived a few minutes later, listened to his partner's account of Mademoiselle Lenclos' visit, and studied the reports in silence.
"I find nothing here," he declared at last, "to justify any sort of concern. My agents make no mistakes. It is impossible that the young man should have arrived at Victoria or at Croydon. Ergo, I do not believe that he is in England. The young lady with the guilty conscience is alarming herself unnecessarily. I see no further scope for action on our part."
"I might be able to find out if he really has returned," Angus reflected.
"You can take over the affair if you wish to," Peter Bragg suggested. "It does not greatly concern me. There is nothing in it which appeals to the scientific side of our profession."
"Very well," Angus assented. "I will make a few enquiries on my own."
"Do. You're not a young man without experience, or I should perhaps feel it my duty to warn you that ladies of the type of Mademoiselle Lenclos with a husband in Paris and a lover in London are a little dangerous."
"I like dangers," Angus replied, taking up his hat.
Without any particular difficulty he was able to persuade his sister, Lady Ella Moningham, to accompany him to the establishment Monet where she was a valued client. The information he casually sought was readily vouchsafed. Monsieur Bonnaire was without a doubt the artist of the place. He was at present on the Continent. He had been expected home last night, but so far had not arrived. He might possibly be at his rooms, and putting in a late appearance. He was not of punctual habits, The address of his rooms was easily obtained, and during the afternoon Angus presented himself at a sedate little block of flats in Bayswater, and received the information that Monsieur Bonnaire had been expected to return last night, but had not done so. By this time Angus was in a more reasonable frame of mind. He had decided that his partner's view of the case--that the affair was not likely to contain any elements of possible interest--was the correct one. Nevertheless, he carried out his original intention. At nine o'clock that evening he excused himself from dining with a friend, and made his way to Half Dean Street. He found the café, passed up the passage, where a commissionaire relieved him of his coat and hat, and stood upon the threshold of the restaurant gazing around. The place was crowded with a throng of apparently the better-class tradespeople of the district, with a sprinkling of less easily distinguishable clients. There was scarcely a table vacant, and for a moment his presence was unnoticed. Then two people entered behind him and pushed their way forward. A fat little man with a black moustache, seated at a desk, sprang to his feet and hastened to greet them. Angus found Mademoiselle Lenclos standing by his side, and with her a great bearded Frenchman--a man gross almost in his size, with masses of black hair and resonant voice. There was a gleam of fear in Mademoiselle Lenclos's eyes as she recognised her neighbour, but Angus looked coldly away without any form of interest or recognition. Meanwhile the patron and her companion stood shaking hands and talking rapidly. Angus, without appearing to listen, heard every word. It was a conversation of the usual type--congratulations from Madame's husband upon the prosperity of the place, a remark or two about mutual friends in Paris. All the time Madame stood listlessly by. A waiter approached Angus, but he waved him away. He was better content to linger where he was for the moment.
"The salon, monsieur," the patron went on, concluding his conversation with his friend, "awaits you. Dinner is prepared--all that you desire. Louis himself arrives. It is well."
A maître d'hôtel from upstairs came hurrying into the room. With bows and smiles he preceded monsieur and madame as they turned away. The patron went back to his desk. Attracted, however, by the sight of an unusually distinguished-looking visitor, he paid his respects to Angus. The latter leaned towards him confidentially.
"You are very full here," he said. "I should like a salon. I'm expecting a lady."
The patron smiled. It was quite possible. Monsieur could certainly be accommodated. Would he give himself the trouble to mount?… Angus followed him outside, and Louis, who had completed his task of escorting his other clients to their salon, was summoned. He conducted Angus to the first floor.
"Number fourteen," the latter observed, pausing as they passed along the passage--"my lucky number at roulette--it is free?"
"Alas, monsieur," the maître d'hôtel regretted, "number fourteen is occupied."
"Thirteen also. Monsieur can have number twelve."
Angus was shown into a salon--an unwholesome-looking little apartment with red plush couch, drawn blinds, a bare table-cloth, bare walls, and two exceedingly uncomfortable easy-chairs.
"Monsieur is expecting a friend, perhaps?"
"Leave the door open, and I will receive her when she arrives," he said. "In the meanwhile show me the menu."
He ordered the best dinner the place could offer, with champagne and a cocktail for himself, the latter to be served immediately, and slipped a pound note into the man's hand.
"The lady may be delayed," he explained. "Put the caviare on the table, and leave me alone."
The maître d'hôtel, with a liberal tip in his pocket, was all amiability. Angus lit a cigarette and waited for his cocktail. Through the open door he could hear continually the sound of the Frenchman's booming voice, the occasional laughter, the jingle of glasses. He listened at first idly, afterwards with a growing curiosity. There was something about the tone of the man, its note of forced though uproarious gaiety, the continual popping of corks, which seemed to him somehow unnatural. Mademoiselle Lenclos' description of the previous evening, and her terror, suddenly surged back into his mind. All the time there came no sound from number thirteen.
Louis presently reappeared. His attitude was sympathetic.
"The lady monsieur was expecting has not arrived?" he enquired.
Angus shrugged his shoulders.
"I am afraid," he said, "that it will be no use waiting for her now. You had better serve dinner."
The manner of the man underwent a change. His tone became apologetic.
"It is impossible to serve monsieur alone," he announced. "It is a rule of the house."
"Why the devil not?" Angus demanded. The man shrugged his shoulders.
"Our salons are nearly always taken," he confided, "and there was at one time a little trouble with the police. It is established now as a rule of the house that any gentleman dining here must be accompanied by a lady."
"But supposing she doesn't come," Angus protested. "Surely I'm allowed to eat my dinner."
"It will be served downstairs, monsieur."
There was a knock at the door which Louis at once threw open. Outside was a woman, a slim, attractive figure in her plain black evening gown and small hat. The maître d'hôtel drew a sigh of relief.
"The lady, monsieur," he announced. "Dinner shall be served at once."
Angus, who had risen to his feet, stared at the newcomer in amazement. There was something familiar about her inscrutable smile and the quiet grace of her movements, but for a moment he was unable to believe his senses. She came a little further into the room, and smiled up into his face.
"I hope you were expecting me," she said calmly. "I'm not very late, am I?"
The waiter had departed. Angus permitted himself to be astonished. "Miss Ash!" he exclaimed.
"Of course," she murmured, taking the vacant chair and raising the glass which contained his untasted cocktail to her lips. "You seem to have made your plans quite well, Mr. Angus," she continued, "but you cannot know much of this sort of place or you would understand that it is not permitted for a man to dine alone in a private room."
"So the waiter was just telling me. But how on earth did you know I was coming here--how on earth did you know anything about it?"
"I read Mr. Bragg's précis of the case this evening," she explained. "I came to the conclusion that he was wrong, and you were right in following it up. I knew, of course, what you would do. I thought I had better come in case I was wanted."
For a moment he had forgotten even why he was there. He was finding out new things about Miss Ash. She had grey eyes with dark lashes, a sensitive mouth, a wonderfully clear complexion, the delicacy of which was enhanced by the slight touch of colour upon her lips. She was eating caviare now, and watching him with something of that inscrutable look in her eyes.
"Tell me how far you have got?" she invited.
He accepted what had seemed to him the impossible. He was dining alone with Miss Ash in a very shabby salon, and Miss Ash was no longer a nonentity, but a very attractive person.
"They are in the next room but one, this Lenclos woman and her French husband," he confided. "Can't you hear them? It's the intervening room I'm wondering about. You notice how quiet everything is there, and yet they tell me that it is occupied."
The door was opened by a waiter bringing the first course of their dinner. Louder than ever they could hear the laughter of the Frenchman, the semi-hysterical voice of his companion, the jingling of glasses. As soon as they were alone Miss Ash looked up at her companion.
"There is something going on," she declared with conviction. "That man is not talking naturally--neither is the woman."
Angus rose impulsively to his feet, but she waved him back.
"There is no hurry for a few minutes--and I am very hungry. Petite marmite is my favourite soup. Whatever is happening had better develop a little."
He sat down again.
"But what can be happening?" he demanded.
"In five minutes," she proposed, "you can try to discover."
She finished her soup, rose to her feet and opened the door, noiselessly, as usual. She listened for a moment.
"You did well to come here," she acknowledged. "There is no one about at present. I will keep guard, and let you know if anyone comes up the stairs. See who is in the room between."
He stole past her and softly turned the handle of number thirteen, only to find the door locked. He looked back at her, and she nodded understandingly, stepped into their own salon, drew the key from the inside of the door and handed it to him. It turned in the lock of number thirteen without difficulty, and together they crossed the threshold. The room was in darkness, but from the first Angus felt the presence of some other person. He touched the switch and flooded the room with light. A smothered exclamation broke from Miss Ash's lips. In an easy-chair placed close to the wall which separated the room from number fourteen was a puny little man, ghastly pale, with frightened eyes, gagged and tied hand and foot.
"What the devil!" Angus began.
The young man moaned faintly. It was evident that his strength was nearly exhausted. Miss Ash, who had slipped out of the room for A moment, returned with a knife. Angus cut through the cords and released the gag. The victim staggered to his feet with a groan, only to immediately collapse. Between them they supported him into their salon, forced a few spoonfuls of soup between his teeth, and followed them up with a glass of wine.
"Are you Paul Bonnaire?" Angus asked.
The young man nodded. He drank more of the wine thirstily.
"How long have you been in that room?"
"Since yesterday evening. I came to order dinner. Whilst I was sitting there, they did this."
Paul Bonnaire mclined his head towards the wall. Monsieur Lenclos was laughing more loudly than ever. There was the sound of the popping of yet another cork.
"He and the patron. I want to get away. Will you go downstairs with me and put me into a taxi?"
"What are you going to do about it?" Angus asked. "Shall you report to the police?"
The young man considered for a moment.
"There is something to be done," he muttered, "At present I am not sure."
He took a few more spoonfuls of soup and another glass of wine, and then rose to his feet with a little sob. The voice of the Frenchman in number fourteen, harsh with meretricious gaiety, was once more audible.
"I can't stand any more," he faltered. "Take me down and find me a taxi, please."
Angus wrapped him in his own overcoat and led him down the stairs. They passed the entrance to the restaurant unnoticed. The commissionaire was momentarily off duty, but Angus found a taxi, and gave the address. The young man sank into a comer wearily.
"I don't know who you are, sir," he said. "You have been very kind."
"That's all right," Angus assured him. "I'll send for my coat sometime."
The taxi-cab drove away, and Angus once more climbed the stairs. He found Miss Ash engaged upon her second course. He seated himself opposite her, and laughed softly.
"Well," he said, "having completed the business of the evening, let us now drink to our better acquaintance, Miss Ash."
She raised her glass composedly.
"You didn't recognise me at first, did you?"
"I certainly did not," he acknowledged. "There has never been anything, if you will allow me to say so, in your deportment at Bellevue Mansions to suggest your--er--your present self."
"I have always been told," she said, "that the first duty of a secretary was to leave her individuality at home--physically and temperamently."
"You certainly succeed," he observed.
"It gives one only a few hours in which to live one's natural life," she sighed. "One has to make the most of them."
Dinner became almost a cheerful meal. Angus was amazed to find himself embarked upon a mild but pleasant flirtation. With the arrival of coffee she broke it off to ask an abrupt question upon a subject which they had hitherto almost ignored.
"What did you think of that young man?" she asked.
"A pitiful little bounder," Angus pronounced--"frightened out of his life, too."
She stirred her coffee reflectively.
"I'm not quite so sure. I watched him when he was sitting here. He was thinking hard all the time. When you led him out of the room he half turned his head towards number fourteen."
"All that I noticed about him was his anxiety to get away," Angus olmnrvrd dryly.
She remained silent. Presently she shrugged her shoulders. Whatever her ideas might have been she dismissed them.
"A dress designer, a man milliner and a mannequin!" she murmured. "Why should one worry about them, except professionally? May I have one of your cigarettes, please, Mr. Angus."
It was about an hour later, just as Angus was preparing to ask for the hill, when they became aware of the sound of stealthy footsteps outside. Miss Ash was the first to hear them. She listened for a moment, and then, crossing the room towards the door, opened it softly. Angus, close behind her, realised that someone had turned out the light. He felt for the switch and found it. Outside number fourteen, with his hand upon the door knob, was Paul Bonnaire, carefully, almost foppishly, dressed in dinner-clothes. Even at that distance they could see the light flash upon his jewelled buttons and studs. They saw it flash, too, upon something else--something which he gripped tightly in his right hand. Even as they stood there he threw wide open the the of the room.
"Quick!" Miss Ash cried.
Angus sprang forward. The little scene was there framed in the doorway--scene of drama and terror. His companion's scoffing words flashed through Angus's brain at that moment. "The dress designer, the man milliner and the mannequin " were for that moment at least human beings. The great bearded Frenchman was cowering back upon the sofa, his mouth open, his eyes staring and filled with horrible fear;. The woman stood upright as a marble figure, her arms outstretched towards Bonnaire. Her cry was the first thing that broke that terrible stillness, Then the shots! The Frenchman had leapt up with the pain of the first bullet crashing into his body, only to collapse a moment afterwards, a shapeless, distorted mass of flesh, the frenzied fear of death glaring from his eyes. By this time Angus had reached Bonnaire--too late, however, to avert the tragedy. The woman was standing after her first shriek, silent, her arms still outstretched towards her lover. Whether she had been doomed in his thoughts or not, no one could surmise. As he realised the presence of the newcomers, Bonnaire turned the pistol upon himself, pulled the trigger, and sank into the arms of the woman by his side, his dying fingers yielding without a struggle the weapon which Angus wrenched away. The woman looked across at the latter, and there was a light of incipient madness in her eyes, in the sound of her laugh. She snatched up her vanity-case, gazed into it critically, dabbed powder on to her cheeks, touched her lips with salve.
"Get me a taxi, please," she directed.