The editor of Munsey's Magazine is as pleased as a host who offers an excellent dinner to present here the first in a series of eight great detective stories by E. Phillips Oppenheim, master of the craft. Not alone do these stories follow the science of crime detection and illumination in all its devious fascination; they present also a human detective, baring human frailties in his own logical, unique way. Better still, you will meet here the original woman detective—the only flesh-blood-and-tears woman detective in the army of detectives you have met and forgotten in fiction's march. You'll never forget the lady detective in Mr. Oppenheim's present series. You'll be like Mr. Stanley Brooke—you'll want to kiss her yourself before you've gone very far with her.
LORD WIMBLEDON was plainly out of sorts with everything and everybody. He looked gloomily across at the young man who shared the compartment with him in the Paris express, an expression of irritation on his severe face. The young man, quite oblivious to the fretful scrutiny, adjusted the golf-bag against the seat and turned to the pages of an illustrated sporting magazine.
"What on earth did you bring those things with you for?" the old gentleman asked, irritably.
The Hon. Stanley Brooke, scientific illuminator of crime, smiled up at him.
"They assist," he replied, "in giving an air of general negligence to our journey. No one would imagine, for instance, that reasonable men would take golf-clubs with them to Paris on an errand like ours."
Lord Wimbledon grunted, fumbled for a moment in his waistcoat-pocket, and finally produced a telegram which he smoothed out and passed across to Brooke.
"If only one could form any idea as to what our errand was!" he remarked irritably. "Read it aloud, please."
Brooke obeyed. The message had been handed in at Paris about midnight on the previous day, and was addressed to Lord Wimbledon:
Beg you to come over at once,
Am in great trouble.
"Can you make anything out of it?" Lord Wimbledon asked.
"Nothing," Brooke admitted.
"The most idiotic message I ever received in my life," his lordship continued.
"However, I suppose we shall know all about it presently. I hope to goodness he hasn't got himself into any trouble with his chief. Tell me honestly now, Brooke, how does it strike you?"
"To be candid," Brooke replied, "I should say that it does point to some sort of trouble at the embassy. If it had been a private matter, he would surely have written. I must confess, though, that I don't understand it at all. Sidney was always such a careful chap."
"He has never," Lord Wimbledon pronounced, "given me cause for one moment's anxiety."
"That," Brooke sighed, "is what makes it so disquieting. Paris is no place for a young man of that sort."
Lord Wimbledon relapsed into stony silence. It was not until they reached the outskirts of Paris that he spoke again.
"Well, we shall soon know all about it now," he remarked, as they collected their baggage. "Let me come to the window. I shall recognize Warren more easily than you."
The train glided into the Gare du Nord. There was the usual little rush of porters and the bustle of descending passengers. They made their way toward the barrier. The frown on Lord Wimbledon's face grew deeper. There was no sign at all of Warren.
"I can't understand it," he repeated, for the twentieth time. "The boy must know how anxious I feel, and I wired that I was coming on this train. Hello!"
A little dark man had touched Lord Wimbledon upon the arm.
"You are Lord Wimbledon?" he asked.
"I am, sir," was the curt reply. "If you are connected with the press, let me say at once that I am traveling incognito. I do not wish my presence—"
"I have nothing to do with the press," the little man interrupted. "I have come to you from your son, Mr. Warren Tyrrwell."
Lord Wimbledon looked him up and down with disfavor. He was neatly dressed, with pale face a little wizened, but his clothes and manners were of the middle class. He had the appearance of a respectable tradesman—perhaps a detective
"If you have a message from my son," Lord Wimbledon said, "please let me hear it at once."
"There is a little trouble," the man announced slowly. " It would be best, perhaps, not to speak here on the platform. You have registered luggage?"
"None," Lord Wimbledon replied. "I am proposing to return to-morrow."
"If you will come this way into the buffet," the little man said, "one can speak there with more freedom."
"Lead the way, then," Lord Wimbledon answered sharply. "This is my traveling companion, Mr. Brooke."
They passed hurriedly across the open space and mounted the stairs to the buffet. The little man led the way to a table in the corner.
"Coffee—bring anything," Lord Wimbledon ordered of the expectant waiter—"coffee and brandy will do. Now, sir," he added, "if you will be so good as to get on with your message. You can speak before my friend here; he is in my confidence."
"My name," the little man announced, "is Antin. For the last year your son has made use of me as a guide and interpreter. I am, at the present moment, having been unfortunate with my other work, occupying the position of his valet."
Lord Wimbledon frowned.
"I was not aware that my son had a valet here," he remarked.
"What I have told you is the truth, my lord," the man declared. "It is only during the last two months that I have filled this position, but the season has been a bad one in Paris, and it has provided me at least with a roof and an opportunity to look around me. If you will pardon my saying so, it will be better, for the present at any rate, if you will accept my statement."
Lord Wimbledon nodded.
"Very well, then," he said; "go on."
"Mr. Tyrrwell was, as you are doubtless aware, my lord," the little man continued, "fond of visiting the out-of-the-way corners of Paris and mixing with people of strange nationalities. Considering his official position in this city, it will probably occur to you to wonder whether such a course was altogether wise. In any case, the telegram, is the result of trouble into which Mr. Tyrrwell has fallen during one of these expeditions."
"Tell me at once," Lord Wimbledon begged, "the nature of this trouble—"
"I am coming to it," the man declared. "It is perhaps within your lordship's knowledge that Mr. Tyrrwell's special duties at the embassy lately have been connected with Russian affairs. Mr. Tyrrwell has had lessons in the language and is fairly proficient. He has taken great interest in the Russian colony, and he and I have visited together occasionally some places of which it is well not to speak too openly.
"Yesterday afternoon Mr. Tyrrwell brought back from the embassy a document consisting of about twenty pages of foolscap pinned together. He told me that he should not stir out until he had finished translating them from the Russian tongue. He set to work almost at once with the dictionary, and I made him some tea.
"I understood from him that he had been given special permission to bring the work away from the embassy, as a reception was going on there, and part of the premises being closed for repairs, it was difficult for him to find a quiet corner.
"In the course of his work Mr. Tyrrwell came across several phrases which he was quite unable to translate. He asked for my help, but my knowledge of the Russian tongue is very slight, and I was unable to assist him.
"He did then what at the moment seemed only natural. He sent for a taximeter automobile and drove to the address of the man from whom he received lessons in Russian. That was about eight o'clock last night. Since then I have not seen Mr. Tyrrwell."
"You have not seen him," Lord Wimbledon repeated. "You mean that he has not returned?"
"About half past nine last night," the man went on, "the telephone rang. I answered it, and the voice which spoke to me was the voice of Mr. Tyrrwell. I could tell at once from his tone that something was wrong. He told me that he was down at the café over which the man Grika lives, from whom he has received Russian lessons, and there was something going on which he did not understand.
"He was left alone for a moment, from what I gathered, and had rushed to a telephone in the back room. He seemed to be afraid that they were going to keep him there for some purpose. He begged me to come down at once, but to come quietly. In the middle of the last sentence the telephone was disconnected."
"Disconnected!" Lord Wimbledon exclaimed. The little man nodded.
"I heard Mr. Tyrrwell's voice suddenly choke," he said. "What happened, without doubt, was that some one had stolen up from behind and dragged him away."
"Good God!" Lord Wimbledon cried.
"What did you do?"
"I took an automobile to the place," the man replied. "I saw Professor Grika at once. He was sitting in the café, which occupies the lower part of the premises, with some friends. He seemed surprised, but not in the least discomposed, at my visit. As to your son, he assured me that he had not seen him for ten days.
"I bribed the waiters and a servant. I could learn nothing-. I sat for some time in the café, thinking. Then I followed Grika to his room. I spoke to him plainly. I told him that Mr. Warren Tyrrwell was an Englishman of high position; that any attempt to ill-use him or to tamper with any documents he might have had with him could only result in utter disaster.
"I threatened to go to the police. I spoke to him seriously. It was useless. Grika begged me to take any steps I liked, to have the place searched. He treated me as though I were a mild lunatic, and persisted in his statement that he had not seen Mr. Tyrrwell for ten days. Neither could I find any telephone upon the premises. Therefore I came away. I could think of nothing to do. I sent you the telegram in your son's name."
Lord Wimbledon sprang to his feet.
"Why didn't you go to the police at once?" he exclaimed.
"Because if the affair becomes known," Antin replied, "I presume that Mr. Tyrrwell will get into trouble at the embassy. He confided to me that the document which he had brought away from the embassy was one of great importance. It will scarcely be considered discreet that he should have gone to such an unsavory neighborhood with any portion of that document in his possession."
"In a sense that is true," Lord Wimbledon admitted. "On the other hand, my son's personal safety is the chief concern. What do you think, Mr. Brooke?"
"I should suggest," Brooke said, "that you allow me to pay a visit to Professor Grika. It can do no harm and will only delay matters a little."
Lord Wimbledon jumped at the idea.
"I place myself entirely in your hands, Brooke," he declared. "My own impulse, I must admit, is instantly to visit this man myself with a posse of gendarmes at my back. Warren's official position, however, must be considered. If that can be saved as well, so much the better. You have gifts in affairs of this sort, Brooke, which have been denied to me. We will await your return."
"Better go to Warren's rooms, I think," Brooke advised. "Get back there as quickly as you can, and wait for me. Now write down this man Grika's address, if you please," he added, turning to Antin. The little man tore off a piece from the menu and obeyed. Brooke turned to Lord Wimbledon, lowering his voice a little.
"If I were you," he said, "I should get back to -Warren's rooms as quickly as you can, and take this man with you. I hope I may be able to bring you a report of some sort or another in a very short time." Even the driver of the automobile hesitated when Brooke directed him to drive to 83 Rue de Mont Bleu.
"It is far, monsieur," he objected, "and the roads are very narrow and difficult. One does not often approach the Rue de Mont Bleu in an automobile."
"You will do so," Brooke assured him cheerfully, "and you will receive for pourboire another of these when our errand is accomplished."
The man pocketed the five-franc piece and mounted a little reluctantly to his box. He paused for a moment to roll a cigarette, and started off. Even though he drove with the customary recklessness of his class, they reached safely in time the district they sought.
Here their progress became slow. There were stalls out in the street, strange names transcribed in Jewish characters over the shops. The streets were ill-lit, the men and women had little of the air of French people. They were far removed, indeed, from the children of the city of pleasure. There was another turn, a long and silent boulevard filled with decaying houses, a steep climb, and another narrow street. At a café half-way along it the automobile came to a standstill.
"Voilà, monsieur," the man announced.
"You can wait," Brooke ordered.
The man looked about him with an air of contempt.
"If one can but obtain a drink in this hole—" he grumbled.
Brooke stepped through the swing-door into the café. The place had none of the characteristics of similar establishments on the other side of the city. It was, in fact, more like an English public house near the wharfs. The illuminations were dim and scanty, the sawdust on the floor was stale, the few customers were gathered together at a table in a remote corner, intent on watching a game of dominoes.
They turned their heads at Brooke's entrance and stared with something in their faces which reminded one of hungry vermin.
Brooke addressed himself to a lady of great size who stood behind the counter. She had very fat cheeks and small black eyes. Her hair was jet-black and showed no signs of any attempt at care or arrangement. Her dress was insufficient.
She looked at Brooke with the palms of her two hands stretched fiat upon the counter. She looked at him steadily, and the natural viciousness of her expression was overshadowed for the moment by a certain blank surprise.
Brooke, carefully dressed notwithstanding his journey, his smooth, boyish face unwrinkled, his mouth still a trifle open, his monocle in his left eye, was a type of person of whom madame had had no experience. As she studied him the many wrinkles in her face relaxed. Her lips parted a little and disclosed her yellow teeth. One might imagine that if indeed she were a partner in any nefarious scheme, the advent of the Hon. Stanley Brooke had failed to inspire her with forebodings.
"I understand," Brooke said, "that Professor Grika lives here and that he gives lessons in Russian. I should like to see him."
"Professor Grika has gone into the country for three days," madame declared. "He is not to be found here."
Brooke hesitated for a moment. Without turning his head, he was yet aware that the little group of men in the corner had suspended their game. Their faces were turned toward him. They were all listening.
"It is unfortunate," he continued, "as I have come so far. Madame will be so good as to give me a glass of cognac."
She moved slowly toward a row of bottles and served him. Brooke raised the thick glass to his lips. The liquor which he tasted was like fire. He coughed, and the woman laughed.
"Monsieur is used to milder drinks," she remarked scornfully.
"It is of no consequence," he replied.
"I must admit that I find the brandy a little fiery, but it is perhaps suitable for the tastes of your clients. Is it possible, may I ask, that you give me the address of Professor Grika?"
The woman was replacing the cork in the bottle.
"One never knows where he is to be found," she declared. "He comes and goes when he wills. A strange man! He is perhaps visiting the president or the King of England. It is as much as I know."
Brooke turned his head slightly. He could hear the sound of a man's footsteps coming across the sanded floor. A large, loosely built man, collarless and unshaven, wearing only a shirt and trousers, had approached.
"Monsieur was inquiring for Professor Grika?"
Brooke admitted the fact affably. The man pointed to a table.
"We will sit down, you and I," he said, "and for something to drink—"
"Serve monsieur, I pray, with what he desires," Brooke interrupted.
The woman grinned and half filled him a glass out of the bottle from which she had served Brooke. The man led the way to a little wooden table. They sat down before it.
"We speak plainly here," the man growled, folding his arms and looking steadfastly at Brooke. "What is it you want?"
"A few words with Professor Grika," Brooke replied.
His companion looked at him steadfastly. His face was coarse, brutal, vicious, and unwashed. His small eyes had contracted almost into points underneath his lowering brows. He seemed to be subjecting Brooke to a steadfast examination.
Presently he glanced across at the woman. She made a sign to him.
"There are many reasons," he said slowly, "why Professor Grika does not at once receive all those who may choose to visit him."
Brooke's mouth opened a little wider. He kept the monocle firmly in his left eye.
"Political?" he asked.
"Political," his vis-a-vis admitted gravely. "But why not—The professor was exiled from Russia. They called him a nihilist because he was of the people. That is why he came to France—France, which should be a country for the people. Bah!"
The man spat upon the floor. Then he crouched across the table, so close that Brooke leaned back to escape his garlic-laden breath.
"For a louis," he said, "you shall see Professor Grika."
"I don't understand," Brooke protested, "why I should pay a louis to see a man whom I have come to ask to teach me Russian."
"I tell you," the other replied, "that Grika is a difficult person to see. You might come here a dozen times and be refused. It is worth a louis. Come!"
He held out his hand. Brooke affected to hesitate for a moment. Then he placed the piece of gold upon the table. The man pocketed it and rose.
"Come this way," he directed. They left the front room of the café and passed through a door, the two upper panes of which were broken and stuffed with brown paper. They climbed a flight of uneven stairs and arrived on a landing. Brooke's guide, who had been whistling to himself all the way up, whistled a little louder. Then he knocked at the door of a room.
"You can go in," he said. "You'll find Professor Grika there."
Brooke entered the room without hesitation. He heard the footsteps of his guide departing as he closed the door behind him. To his surprise the apartment, though plainly furnished, was clean, the floor carpeted, the walls filled with books and pictures. A man sat writing before a table, with a green-shaded lamp by his side. He looked up at Brooke's entrance. He was a man with a white beard, hollows in his cheeks—a frail man, apparently very old. His voice, when he spoke, shook a little.
"Monsieur desired to see me?"
"If you are Professor Grika, yes," Brooke replied. "I was recommended to you some time ago by an English friend of mine—Mr. Warren Tyrrwell. I wish to take some lessons in Russian."
Professor Grika regarded his visitor thoughtfully. It was curious that, although Brooke's accent as a rule was a matter upon which he prided himself, he was speaking now with a curious, almost a guttural pronunciation.
"Mr. Warren Tyrrwell," Professor Grika repeated. "Yes, yes; I remember the young gentleman perfectly. Why do you wish to learn Russian, monsieur?"
"I am in the German army," Brooke replied. "Staff officers are required to know at least two languages. I have chosen Russian for one, and I wish to make use of my vacation to acquire, at any rate, the rudiments of the language."
The professor nodded gently. He seemed, indeed, a very quiet and harmless old man.
"Sit down, please," he invited.
Brooke took an easy chair close to the table. Professor Grika leaned back in his chair. The light now fell upon Brooke's face and left his in the shadow.
"A German officer, eh—a German officer?" the professor repeated thoughtfully.
"To me you speak French more with an English accent."
"I have studied in England," Brooke replied. "In my profession a knowledge of English is a necessity."
"Tell me, in a few words," Grika asked, lowering his tone, "why you chose to come to me for lessons in the Russian language. There are many others more fashionably located."
Brooke sat for a moment immovable. Then he rose from his place and walked carefully all round the room. Professor Grika made no effort to interfere with him. When he resumed his seat he moved a little nearer.
"Because," he said, "not only am I, as I have told you, a German officer, but I am in the Confidential Service. I know very well, among other things. Professor Grika, that you are a secret-service agent of a country which we will not mention.
"You, like all of us, have been working, without a doubt, to get at the truth of the new French mobilization scheme, the caliber of the new gun which has been made so secretly, and the disposition of the new batteries.
"It is possible that you may succeed where we others fail. Very well, I am here to deal with you. If by any chance you should light upon that scheme, or any part of it, it will be to. your interest to name the price to me."
The professor remained motionless in his chair. His eyes were fixed upon Brooke as though he would read his soul. Brooke, bland and insouciant, had the appearance of a man who had been talking about the latest fashion in cravats.
"What is your name?" he asked at last.
"Captain von Heldermann," Brooke replied promptly.
"I have not heard of you," Professor Grika said slowly. "You put before me a new idea. Such work as I have done I have been promptly paid for from another source. An exile from my country though I may be, I have preferred to use my small gifts in the interests of?"
"You use them more effectually," Brooke interrupted, "when you study the interests of Germany. This entente is an absurdity. No treaties in the world can bridge over the gulf which remains between Russian and English interests. What is your price for that scheme?"
"A quarter of a million francs." Brooke frowned slightly.
"I fear," he said, "that it will require consideration. The funds at my disposal—"
"One hundred thousand francs," the professor interrupted.
"If the scheme includes for certain the caliber of the gun," Brooke continued slowly.
"It does," the professor assured him. "I do not know. Captain von Heldermann, from whence you derived your information, but it is most assuredly a fact that a document containing all these particulars was received at the British embassy yesterday. I cannot say how they procured it, but, unlike all official documents, it was in Russian, not French. One page of it I have already seen. The remainder will be in my hands to-night."
"Then at midday to-morrow," Brooke said, "I will be here with a hundred thousand francs."
The professor sat quite quietly for several moments. His shoulders were hunched. He looked now down at the desk, now into Brooke's face.
"It is arranged," he declared at last. "Permit me."
He rose from his place and took Brooke by the arm. For a moment he listened. Then he opened the door. Unfamiliar though the sound seemed from his lips, he whistled softly.
"I shall descend with you," he announced. Brooke was conscious, as they reached the end of the passage, of retreating footsteps. He caught a glimpse of two men stealing away; caught a glimpse, even, of the knife in the belt of one of them. The door at the bottom of the stairs was locked. Again the professor whistled. The woman unlocked it. She stood there with lowering face.
"It is not an affair for our benefit, this, then!" she exclaimed shrilly. "Jean will be furious indeed—and I! For what are we here? Why should we let opportunities?"
The professor held out his hand. "Madame," he said, "all will be recompensed to you. This gentleman has my safe conduct."
He walked with Brooke through the café to the pavement outside and stood there as his visitor drove away. Brooke drove to the block of flats in which Warren's rooms were situated, changing his automobile twice during the journey. Antin admitted him and he found Lord Wimbledon walking up and down the little sitting-room.
"Well? Well?" the latter exclaimed eagerly. "Have you found him—Is he there?"
"I believe so," Brooke replied, handing his hat to Antin and drawing off his gloves, "To tell you the truth, I never asked." Lord Wimbledon stared at him.
"Don't you see," Brooke continued, "the great thing is to get Warren out of this without any trouble at the embassy. I have discovered at least this much—that he was not so rash as appeared. He took with him to that Russian one page only of the document in question."
"But where is my boy—What are they doing to him?" Lord Wimbledon demanded.
"One can only hazard surmises," Brooke replied thoughtfully. "I believe that our friend Grika has him safely under lock and key, and the neighborhood is certainly a horrible one. But on the other hand, Grika is much too clever to take unnecessary risks. In any case, we must play the game, for Warren's sake and every one's. You haven't communicated with the embassy at all, sir?"
"Certainly not," Lord Wimbledon replied.
"I have done nothing but wait here for you."
Brooke nodded, and for the first time made a careful survey of his surroundings. The small sitting-room in which they were bore every sign of a hurried departure. There were writing materials which had evidently been thrown hastily down upon the table and a small locked safe stood on one side. There were plenty of loose sheets of paper about; no written ones. Brooke nodded approvingly.
"The boy wasn't quite such a mug, then," he murmured. "He locked up the rest when he started out for Grika. Now, sir," he added, turning to Lord Wimbledon,
"I want you, if you don't mind, to go into the little dining-room, take Antin with you, and lock yourselves in. Very likely Antin will be able to find you something in the way of dinner. If you hear a ring, don't answer the bell; and if there is a bolt upon the door, don't draw it."
"It would be more satisfactory to me—" Lord Wimbledon began.
Brooke held out his hand. He spoke with unusual abruptness.
"I want you to do as I ask this moment," he insisted.
Lord Wimbledon made no further objection. He left the room at once, followed by Antin. As soon as they had departed Brooke lifted the curtains which divided the sitting-room from the bedroom, and drawing an easy chair up behind them, settled down to wait.
He had turned out the lights, both in the sitting-room and the bedroom, but he had pulled a small table up to his side on which was an electric reading-lamp which he could turn on at a moment's notice. For a little more than an hour he sat there waiting. Then the silence of the flat was suddenly broken by the shrill ringing of the electric bell. There was no reply. It rang again, and again there was no response. Then, a few moments later, Brooke beard the click of a key in the outer door, which was at once softly opened and closed. There was the sound of footsteps in the outer hall, the opening of the sitting-room door, and Grika's voice, low, yet commanding.
"Turn on the lights!"
Through the chink in the curtains Brooke saw the little room suddenly illuminated. Warren, white as a sheet, with rings under his eyes, was standing by the side of the switch. A few feet away, still in his hat and overcoat, was Grika. The latter spoke again.
"What are all these papers upon the table?"
"The beginning of my translation," Warren faltered.
"Where is the document itself?"
"In the safe," was the mumbled reply.
"Unlock it at once!" Grika directed. "You have the keys."
The young man hesitated. From where he was Brooke could see that his hands were shaking all the time. About a yard away from him Grika stood, and poised lightly in his fingers was a dull little bar of some springy metal with a leaden top.
"Remember," Grika said softly, "that if you give me the slightest trouble you will go down like a stone once and forever. I shall have the papers anyway—you know that. You know that I shall keep my word, and you know that all my arrangements are made for escaping from here. Unlock that safe."
The young man hesitated no longer.
With shaking fingers he adjusted the combination. The door swung open. Grika drew from it a little roll of papers which he thrust into his pocket.
"It is finished," he said softly. "You have escaped lightly. Others who have visited me in the Rue de Mont Bleu have suffered what you have suffered for a week and more instead of for a few hours only. A month's vacation or a short time in the hospital will put you all right again. See how thoughtful I am. I am going to save even your reputation."
He had drawn a cord from his overcoat pocket. With his hand upon Warren's chest, he was forcing him back into the easy chair.
"I shall tie you hand and foot," he announced. "You will be discovered in a state of collapse. Your reputation will be saved."
Brooke set his teeth. The moment had come. With his left hand he threw aside the curtain and stepped into the room.
"If you make the slightest movement," he said quietly, "I shall fire."
The little man seemed, for a moment, stiffened into some suspended form of life.
Then he turned his head very slowly and looked into Brooke's face. There was not the slightest sign of any expression in his features. It was as though he had been turned to stone. Yet Brooke knew all the time that he was thinking, that his brain was working rapidly and fiercely. Warren Tyrrwell, after one little sobbing cry, had fallen forward, stretched upon the floor in a dead faint.
"Take those papers from your overcoat pocket and place them upon the table," Brooke continued. "Don't hesitate. Listen. You are my man if I choose to take you. I don't. You are free. The papers, though—every one of them. You brought the missing sheet with you I notice. Leave it with the others."
Grika drew a little breath. Very slowly he began to empty his pockets. The roll of papers lay upon the table.
"So you mean to save your hundred thousand francs, Captain von Heldermann," he said slowly.
"That is the idea," Brooke admitted coolly. "Be careful there are no odd sheets left in your pockets. Turn the pockets inside out, please—so. Nothing left there, I see. Very well. Now, professor, I have nothing more to do with you."
The man looked at him. His cold blue eyes were filled with reluctant admiration.
"If I might be permitted," he said, "to give you a word of advice, I think, after all, you had better pull that trigger. You have outwitted me to-day and robbed me of a prize which was surely mine. It took only a few hours," he added scornfully, "to make pap of that young man. He was my broken creature."
"To the door, Professor Grika," Brooke ordered. "Leave it wide open and descend the stairs. I shall follow you."
The professor buttoned up his coat.
"I have no wish to stay," he said. "I only hope that we may meet again. Captain von Heldermann."
"Mr. Stanley Brooke," Brooke corrected him. "That young man is a relative," he added, pointing to where Warren lay upon the floor. "A family affair, you see. So you will understand why this little matter has to be kept secret."
The professor removed his hat.
"Sir," he said, "my congratulations are the more heartfelt. I depart. Only," he added, with a little flash of his eyes, "if ever the time should come when it is you whose hands are empty and my right finger where yours is now—"
"Exactly! " Brooke interrupted, as he stood at the top of the steps. " Good night, professor!"
He watched the man disappear and returned to the sitting-room. Lord Wimbledon and Antin answered his summons at once.
"You'll find Warren all right in a few minutes," Brooke assured them quickly. "The papers are all right, too."
The telephone-bell suddenly tinkled. Brooke took up the receiver himself.
"Hello!" he said. "Yes, these are Mr. Warren Tyrrwell's rooms. Yes, Mr. Tyrrwell is in. Who is it? Percival? That you, Percival? I'm Brooke—Stanley Brooke—remember me? Just ran over to look Warren up for a few days. Found him rather seedy, I am sorry to say, struggling with some extra work. Oh, no! He's all right. He's here—hasn't been out all day, he tells me. Right-o! Yes, we shall all be here. Lord Wimbledon is over for a few days, too. So-long!"
Brooke set down the receiver. Then he turned toward Lord Wimbledon. Warren was sitting up in his chair, drinking the brandy which Antin had brought.
"Listen," he said, "the chief has just found out that you were allowed to bring those papers away. They have had a fit of nerves. Percival's coming round at once. Remember, you haven't been out. You've been ill. You've been meaning to get on with the work, but you haven't been well enough because of this attack. That's all. Stick to it and you're safe. If any one thinks that they saw you out, they were mistaken."
Warren Tyrrwell blinked his eyes for a moment and looked around.
"That's all right," he said, a little more cheerfully. "I'm feeling better already. I'm glad it's Percival who's coming."
Lord Wimbledon crossed the room and rested his hand upon Brooke's shoulder. His voice shook a little.
"You have saved Warren's career and the honor of our family," he declared solemnly.
Warren's lips were suddenly quivering. He seemed on the verge of a complete breakdown.
"I should have given up the papers," he sobbed. "I was broken. I can't tell you what they did—"
" Hush!" Brooke interrupted sternly. "All you have to remember is this: You did not give up the papers. You had no real intention of giving them up. Be a man now and see this thing through. Remember that Percival will be here presently."
Brooke sat at supper an hour later with Percival in a fashionable Montmartre restaurant.
"I am afraid, after all, Paris doesn't agree with Warren," the latter remarked, as he sipped his wine. " If he gets the least strain upon him, or a few hours' extra work even, he knocks up."
"He is not strong," Brooke admitted; "but why on earth do you expect a chap to do a schoolboy's task like translating? Why don't you send it out to a teacher or some one?"
Percival smiled in a superior manner.
"My dear fellow," he said, "that document which we entrusted to Warren was a most important political paper. To tell you the truth, it was entirely a mistake that he was allowed to take it away from the embassy, and the chief was in a rare stew when he knew about it."
"Why?" Brooke asked, looking hungrily at the dish which was being prepared for them.
Percival dropped his voice.
"One has to be jolly careful over here, I can tell you," he declared. "There are lots of people in Paris—people whom we know quite well to be agents—secret agents for foreign powers—who would have given a fortune for a sight of those papers."
Brooke smiled at him doubtfully.
"Sort of thing we read about but don't believe," he remarked incredulously.
AS full of human weaknesses as his fellows, notwithstanding his gifts of perception, the Hon. Stanley Brooke sat losing his money with cheerful pertinacity at one of the two roulette tables in the Sporting Club at Monte Carlo.
Arrived, after an hour or so of play, at the end of his nightly limit, he, watched the disappearance of his last louis and, with a sigh, vacated his chair and seated himself on one of the divans which fringed the wall.
Here for some time he indulged in the occupation which, on the whole, he found more attractive even than the gambling. He watched the people as they went by—the women in their brilliant toilets and surfeit of jewels, looking as though the very air of the place had somehow fostered in them an insane rivalry in flamboyance, almost passionate, yet, in this particular corner of the world, not without its picturesque effect. By their side the men seemed more than ordinarily insignificant. There were some whom he recognized, a few with whom he exchanged greetings, many of a class hard to place, difficult even to guess at. On the whole, considering the nature of their surroundings, it appeared to Brooke, as he watched them, that their faces showed very little sign of the emotions.
Large sums were being won or lost, but none of the crowd who passed seemed to carry any indication in their features as to whether they belonged to the fortunate or unfortunate. There were little fragments of character which were, in their way, interesting. A well-known adventurer passed arm in arm with a rubber magnate of meteoric rise and uncivilized appearance. The heroine of a world-famous murder case, dressed in somber black, pale and emotionless, as she had seemed when she had waited for the news of her life or death, stood with a handful of mille notes in her hand, watching their dispersal without even curiosity.
A German prince passed, in eager attendance upon the lady who was reported to have enslaved his fancy for the moment, and who was walking round from the, baccarat rooms to change her luck. Brooke leaned back among his cushions, mildly amused by it all.... And then the first note of real drama!
A woman came slowly down the room, at whom most people turned their heads to glance. She was even more beautiful, more exquisitely dressed, more gorgeously bejeweled than those others. Her carriage was almost imperious. She looked around her with the insolent air of one accustomed to command.
Then, when within a few paces of Brooke, she paused, and he alone, perhaps, in the room, saw the change in her face, which was in itself an epitome of all the passions of life. She seemed suddenly to become rigid, her face chalk-like, her eyes set and staring.
Brooke glanced across the room. Her eyes were fixed upon the face of a middle-aged man who was looking over at the opposite table, craning his neck to watch the result of the turning wheel and quite unconscious of the woman's gaze. She stepped out of the throng and seated herself on the divan.
The little white ball had fallen into its place, the croupier's monotonous voice was heard announcing the number.
"Vingt, noir, pair et passe!"
A little buzz of voices arose from the crowd. The woman turned her head and glanced at Brooke.
"I had the honor of meeting you last night at the Duc de Mendosa's supper," he reminded her with a bow.
She inclined her head.
"I remember you perfectly," she admitted. "You are English, are you not, Mr. Brooke?"
"I am English, princess," he replied.
She looked at him for a moment appraisingly. It was a curious fact; but, in accordance with a recently developed instinct, directly he felt the significance of her look, his features seemed automatically to assume a somewhat fatuous immobility which, to one unacquainted with the quality of his mind, would readily stamp him a vacuous dawdler.
"Listen," she said. "I will tell you something. Come a little nearer to me, please."
He obeyed her at once. Her eyes traveled around the few people in their immediate vicinity. Her fingers played for a moment with the wonderful pearls which shimmered upon her white bosom.
"You know my history?" she continued.
"Every one who comes to Monte Carlo knows it. What was it they told me about you—that you were a novelist or an essayist, or that you were interested in people for some reason or other—I forget what. Listen."
Brooke remained silent. He did not specify the particular nature of his interest in his fellow creatures.
"Look across the room," she directed. "There is a man standing there watching the tables—a fairly good-looking, harmless, middle-aged Englishman."
"I see the person you mean," he assented.
"His name is Geoffrey Hardways," she went on. "Well, I will tell you something which may suggest a problem. Everything I possess and am in life I owe to that man."
He looked at her a little puzzled. Once more she played with her pearls.
"I am," she continued, "without a, doubt the best-dressed woman in this I room. I have a certain indefinite right to the title which I bear. There are no jewels in Monte Carlo to compare with mine. There are no men who would not come if I beckoned. This I tell you without conceit or false shame, and I repeat that everything I possess and everything I am I owe to that man."
She paused, as though expecting a question, but Brooke remained imperturbably silent. He had, however, the air of one who waits.
"You do not choose to commit yourself," she said quietly. "It is good. Therefore, I must put before you the problem which surely is not without its interest. What do you suppose are my feelings for him? Am I grateful? I have cause, have I not? Or do I wish that he had let me remain the very ill-treated and miserable governess of the lady in whose service I was when he found me?"
"Princess," Brooke replied, "you ask me a very hard question. Supremacy in any walk of life brings with it its own peculiar satisfaction."
"It is the answer," she declared, "of a diplomatist. Now give me the answer of Mr. Stanley Brooke."
"Princess," said he, "I think that if I were Geoffrey Hardways and you looked at me as you looked at him just now, would leave Monte Carlo."
Very slightly her lips moved. It was scarcely a smile, yet it seemed in some way an indication of her satisfaction with his reply.
"Who knows," she murmured softly, "but that you are right?"
She rose to her feet and left him. Very slowly she continued her perambulation of the tables. Almost every moment some man paused to speak to her. She dismissed every one with a word. She was in one of her moods, a German financier murmured, who had been hoping to introduce a friend. She passed on until she stood at the other side of the tables. She came to a standstill immediately behind Geoffrey Hardways.
Brooke caught a glimpse of her face—white, and with a somber shadow upon it—over his shoulder. Then he saw her fingers touch his arm, saw him turn around to receive a brilliant smile of welcome. They stood talking together. Finally they moved away.
Brooke, upon whom the incident had left a slightly unpleasant sensation, rose and made his way to the bar, where he found an easy chair and made himself comfortable with a whisky-and-soda and a cigarette. He had scarcely been there five minutes when the woman entered, with Hardways by her side. There were several empty places on the other side of the room, but after a moment's hesitation she led the way to v/here Brooke was sitting.
"Tired of the game already, my friend?" she asked Brooke. "Let me present an old friend of mine whom I have unexpectedly discovered here—Mr. Hardways, Mr. Brooke."
The two men shook hands. Hardways, although passable enough in appearance, was a little nervous and obviously not wholly in touch with his surroundings.
"All new to me, this, you know," he admitted a moment or two later, as they sat together. "Until I met—met the princess just now, I was feeling rather out of it. I've never been on the Riviera before in my life."
"You play, I suppose?"
"Don't understand the game. I play a little bridge at home."
"The Riviera and its life," the princess said calmly, "are all new to Mr. Hardways. He is disposed to be enthusiastic—why not? After all, there is little else like it, especially for those who love gambling. V/e must teach you to play roulette or chemin de fer, Mr. Hardways." He laughed.
"I'd be afraid of losing," he confessed. "I am a poor man."
"So few people lose if they play intelligently," she murmured. "Several of my friends took over a thousand pounds each away last evening. It is so simple. Besides, you can always stop if the luck is against you. Isn't that so, Mr. Brooke?"
"I am not so sure," Brooke replied.
"It rather depends upon one's strength of mind, doesn't it?"
Even as he spoke he found himself noticing the weak droop of the other man's lips, the somewhat covetous gleam in his eyes at the mention of money.
"If I were you," Brooke advised, "I don't think that I should play, unless you first of all put a fixed limit upon what you can afford to lose. It seems to me to be the only way to gamble in comfort." She laughed at him scornfully.
"You are a timid person, I fear, Mr. Brooke!" she exclaimed.
"If only I could afford it," Hardways muttered, gazing admiringly at his companion, "I'd like to have a plunge."
Brooke made his excuses a few minutes later and left the two together. Somehow the incident of meeting them continued to affect him in a slightly unpleasant manner. He felt a return of the same feeling when, the next evening, he came face to face suddenly with Hardways near one of the roulette tables. The latter greeted him vociferously.
"Hello!" he exclaimed. "Come and have a drink. Look here what I've won! Never saw such luck in my life! The princess stood behind me all the time—must have been my mascot, I think. I had three en pleins in six turns of the wheel."
Brooke walked with him to the bar. In a sense, he did so against his own inclinations, for the man failed to attract him in any way. Yet he felt an interest, the nature of which he could scarcely define. Hardways was talking all the time. "By Jove!" he continued. "I really think I am in luck! Never been in the place before, you know. Never understood the game until the princess explained it. I only came to the club by accident. Chap I traveled with in the train advised me to."
"Where are you staying?" Brooke asked for the sake of making conversation.
"Up at one of those little hotels on the hill," Hardways replied, mentioning the name of a second-rate hostelry. "I can't run to the swagger places. I've got a wife and family to look after, and my profession— I'm an architect, you know—doesn't mean big things at any time. By Jove, what a life out here, though! How the people do enjoy themselves! Whisky-and-soda, eh?"
Brooke nodded, and they sat down together. The princess was standing talking to some men on the threshold of the baccarat room. Hardways's expression, as he watched her, was almost fatuous. He stroked his mustache complacently.
"Loveliest woman I ever saw in my life!" he exclaimed. "Do you know," he went on confidentially, "she's an old pal of mine, the princess. I knew her when she was a little governess in Winchester and I was articled to a firm of architects there. She was a pretty little thing then, but I never expected her to blossom out like this. Jove! to think that I nearly married her!"
"In her way," Brooke remarked, "she has made a success of life."
The man laughed good-humoredly. He saw no second meaning in Brooke's words.
"Nothing like being at the top of the tree," he agreed. "She is that, and no mistake. They tell me all the men here are mad after her, but unless she takes a fancy to any one, she won't be seen talking to an ordinary person. Lucky for me I knew her in the old days!"
Brooke remained silent. The man went on talking in his simple, egotistical way of his life in the midland town where they lived, his wife's invitation to stay with an aunt at a hotel in Hyères, and his own visit to Monte Carlo, which he evidently looked upon as something exceedingly dashing.
"I was going back to-morrow," he announced, "but I think I shall hang on for a bit. I can afford it now, anyway. My Heavens, isn't she beautiful!"
The princess came slowly toward them. She was dressed in white chiffon, with less jewelry than usual save for that one rope of magnificent pearls. She smiled at the two men as she. approached. Hardways bustled to find a chair for her.
"You must sit down, Violet," he begged. "Do you know how much I've won? Over a thousand francs—forty pounds, mind!"
She looked at him through half-closed eyes; a faint smile of amusement curved her lips. A thousand francs! There was sometimes a hat which she could buy for the sum—not often!
"But you are satisfied with too small things," she laughed. "I have brought thirty mille with me to-night and I am going to risk it presently. Come with me and I will show you how to play."
"Thirty mille!" he gasped.
The whole little world, as he knew it, seemed dwindling away.
"With your luck," she said, "you should be a large winner. You are content with too small things. One must learn to be ambitious—is it not so, Mr. Brooke?"
"That depends," Brooke replied. "My advice to every man who comes to Monte Carlo would be to gamble strictly according to his means. Personally, I think that a mille is a very nice little win for the evening. I think that I should button it up in my pocket and go home." The contempt in her face was almost withering. She rose to her feet.
"You are both very small men," she declared. "I think that I will play chemin de fer. The grand duke is keeping a place for me."
"Come and play roulette," Hardways begged eagerly. "You promised to show me some new coups."
"If you have the courage," she replied.
Brooke passed in and out of the rooms once or twice that evening, and on each occasion he saw Hardways and the princess, the former always stooping a little over the table, the other at his elbow, sometimes advising, sometimes encouraging. Hardways's face had lost the sleek, self-satisfied appearance of earlier in the evening. He was alternately pale and flushed. His eyes seemed to have drawn closer together. He appeared to be winning, so far as one could judge from the pile in front of him. The princess and he both held little cards and were evidently playing upon a system.
Brooke left them there to stroll on the Terrace with some friends and did not return. The next morning, however, about twelve o'clock, he met Hardways in the street. The man looked tired but triumphant. He was wearing a new Homburg hat and carrying a great bunch of roses in his hand.
"Just going to leave these at the Paris for the princess," he announced, greeting Brooke. "Let's have a drink first. I want to tell you about last night."
They seated themselves at one of the tables in front of the Cafe de Paris. The change in Hardways was momentous. His hands twitched nervously, his eyes had grown narrow. He had already lost some portion of his fresh color.
"Last night," he declared, leaning over toward Brooke and speaking in a low, eager tone, "I won eight thousand francs. Just think of it! I'm a poorish man, you know. Think of what it means. Eight thousand francs! It was dead easy, too. The princess has a system. I simply followed. I've got a bit of a head for figures and the money rolled in. I am moving down to the Paris this afternoon."
"Glad you've been lucky," Brooke remarked; "but that sort of thing doesn't always go on, you know."
"Because people don't keep their heads," Hardways explained eagerly.
"Now this system of mine, or rather the princess's, if you know when to leave off, is infallible. You win so much a day and you stop. The moment you begin to lose, you chuck it. See what I mean?" Brooke smiled.
"I tell you frankly that I am no believer in systems," he confessed. Hardways seemed almost angry.
"Anyway," he continued, a little defiantly, "I have won eight thousand francs, and I've made up my mind to win a hundred thousand before I go home. It makes all the difference to me. Just fancy, the whole of my work last year barely brought me in as much as I have in my pocket at the present moment!"
"Supposing you had lost it," Brooke asked, "wouldn't that have been inconvenient?" Hardways finished his drink.
"I didn't lose," he said shortly, "and I'm not going to. No one need if they know how to play. I am just going to drop in at the Casino for half an hour."
He got up and walked away. Brooke strolled up as far as Ciro's to order a table for luncheon and back again toward the Terrace. He passed Hardways coming out of the Casino. The man's air of satisfaction was almost fatuous.
"A thousand francs," he remarked.
"Quite easily, too. The system again."
"Wonderful!" Brooke murmured.
The obvious did not at once happen.
Two evenings later Hardways walked into the bar about three o'clock in the morning with his hands in his pockets and a bright spot of color in his cheeks.
"I've done it!" he declared to Brooke.
"I've won two hundred thousand francs! I've finished. I'm off back to Hyères tomorrow morning."
Brooke congratulated him, and at that moment the princess came slowly into the room. She was all in black, with a diamond collar around her neck and a diamond star upon her bosom. Hardways watched her come with a peculiar expression in his strained face.
"That's the most maddening woman!" he muttered. "No wonder—"
"Did I hear you say," she asked slowly, "that you were going?"
"I have won two hundred thousand francs," he replied triumphantly. "I'm off back with it."
She smiled, so slowly that the contempt of her lips was scarcely noticeable.
"You have no use for money, then, beyond two hundred thousand francs?" she murmured. "How right I was! Let us talk no more of the matter. Give me some wine, will you? I am tired."
She sank into a chair and Brooke, after a few moments, departed. When he came back Hardways was seated at the table, playing, and behind him stood the princess, her face white and set. An hour later their places were vacant. The princess passed Brooke and paused to whisper in his ear.
"It is the beginning of the end! He has lost half his winnings. He will stay—until he has recovered them."
The next day Brooke played golf above the clouds at La Turbie and dined with some friends at Cap Martin in the evening. He looked in at the Sporting Club only for an hour on the following afternoon, but there were no signs of either the princess or Hardways.
He found a note from her, however, at his hotel, inviting him to a supper-party that night at her rooms. He accepted, owing to some faint curiosity which he could not help feeling as to the fate of the man Hardways.
The company was small but select—a Russian grand duke, a couple of very well-known French actresses, an Englishman with whom Brooke was acquainted, and an American whose yacht was in the harbor. There was no sign of Hardways.
Brooke, who was sitting near his hostess, whispered an inquiry about him toward the close of the meal. Once more that peculiar smile he had never wholly understood played for a moment upon her lips.
"It is finished," she murmured. "It was difficult, for the man's luck at starting was prodigious. It is all over now, though."
Almost as she uttered the words some one pushed on one side the footman who was entering the room. Hardways himself stood there—a broken, dejected, yet threatening figure. He was still in morning dress. He looked as though he had neither washed nor touched his hair for many hours. He glared at them all.
"Princess," he called out, "I want to speak to you at once."
She turned her head and looked at him.
"Gustave," she directed, "you had better remove that person. He has not the entrée here."
"Entrée be damned!" Hardways shouted.
"It's your fault I'm in this mess. The fellow you introduced to cash my checks has stripped me. I'm ruined! I tell you I'm not going back to face it. Lend me a few mille. Let me have one more try. If you don't, I'll shoot myself here."
He actually drew a pistol from his pocket. Not a soul moved.
"Will you lend me five mille?" he cried.
"If any one tries to take this away from me I'll shoot him first. Answer!" The princess's answer was a laugh. She had lowered her lorgnette and sat there, exquisite, maddening, laughing even with her eyes.
"But the man is mad!" she declared.
"Mad with presumption, too, to cross my threshold. Shoot yourself by all means, dear M. Hardways. Others have done it before you."
The silence which followed her words seemed to have become possessed of a quality intensely, breathlessly dramatic. One felt that the man's finger had stiffened upon the trigger of his pistol. Suddenly Brooke rose to his feet and walked calmly across the room.
"Give me that," he said quietly. Hardways hesitated, and that moment's hesitation weakened him. He was trembling now like a child. Brooke took the pistol from him and thrust it into his pocket.
"Not even a grain of pluck left!" the princess remarked scathingly. "Throw him into the street, Gustave. See that we are not disturbed again."
The servants, brave enough now, rushed him out. The princess turned round once more to the supper-table.
"A most impossible person," she declared. "I was unfortunate enough to have made his acquaintance when I was a girl, and he has made himself a nuisance to me. That, however, is ended now. Let us go into the salon and play." Two days later Brooke met the princess in the hall at the Paris. She beckoned him to her.
"I want to speak to you," she said.
"I am at your service, princess," he replied.
She moved toward the lift and they mounted to the fourth floor. She consulted the number of the key which she was carrying and led him to a room at the end of the corridor. It was a small apartment with windows looking out upon the back. There was a heap of masculine clothing upon the bed. The room had apparently been vacated in a hurry. Upon the mantelpiece were some photographs.
"It is Mr. Hardways's room," she remarked. Brooke nodded.
"What has become of him?"
"They do not know," she replied. "He does not appear to have returned here after he left my rooms two nights ago. You see, he has left his belongings. I inquired, and the manager permitted me to inspect his apartment."
Brooke looked grave.
"I suppose, then," he said hesitatingly, "he found the courage. Tell me what really happened to him."
"The tide turned," she answered slowly, "as I meant that it should. I stood over him and I watched him lose—lose all that he had won, all that he had with him. Then I introduced him to Felix, and Felix cashed his checks, one after the other, up to the amount that the man was worth."
"You mean that he is ruined?"
"Absolutely. To the last penny."
Brooke glanced at the photographs upon the mantelpiece. They were commonplace enough, except that the woman had a pleasant face. One was a family group in which Hardways himself was sitting in the garden with three children and his wife grouped around him. It was an undistinguished-looking picture. The princess looked at it through her lorgnette.
"I suppose," she said, "people find happiness in this sort of thing."
"Without a doubt they do, princess," Brooke agreed.
She remained silent. The picture seemed, in a way, to fascinate her.
"Do you know," she said presently, "that I was very nearly in that picture?"
"You were engaged to marry him?" Brooke ventured to ask.
"I was engaged to marry him," she admitted.
"He threw me over. I was only a governess. His people were of the small professional class. They considered that a marriage with me would have spoiled his chances. I wonder!"
She moved about restlessly for a minute or two. Brooke looked around the room once more. It was untidy, ordinary. The princess was gazing steadfastly at the photographs. She beckoned at last to Brooke.
"Come with me, please."
She led the way to her own apartments, a magnificent suite upon the first floor. From her desk she handed him a little packet.
"I have discovered," she remarked, "your reputation. You are supposed to be an amateur detective, are you not? You will please find this man Hardways, if he is alive, and give him this."
"If he is alive?" Brooke repeated doubtfully. She shrugged her shoulders.
"I t is for you to discover," she said, only her voice trembled a little.
"Give me a letter to the chief of the police here," Brooke suggested. "One can learn nothing without influence. It is no use my searching for Hardways if indeed he has his place already in the little plot." She wrote a few lines and gave them to him. Brooke took his leave. On the following evening Brooke entered the smoking-room of the .Paradise Hotel in Hyères from which Hardways had come. A familiar voice attracted his attention almost at once.
"Time of my life, my boy!" Hardways, who was the center of a little group sitting around the billiard-table, declared.
"Met no end of old pals. Absolutely top-hole, every minute of it."
"Did you make a bit?" some one asked him.
"Came out about level," was the nonchalant reply. "A few mille up one day and down the next. Nothing to speak of. Lost all my luggage on the way back, though."
Brooke strolled a little farther into the room. The man Hardways looked at him, and the hand which held his cigar began to shake. Brooke greeted him with moderate affability.
"How are you? Saw you in the Sporting Club a few evenings ago, didn't I?"
"Yes, I was there," Hardways admitted. "I remember you quite well."
They drifted apart, but when a few moments later Brooke left the room, Hardways followed him.
"Can I have a word with you?" he begged nervously.
"Come outside," Brooke replied. "I have something to say to you, too."
They strolled along the terrace until they came to a seat behind some trees.
"Look here," Hardways said, "I hoped no one would turn up here just yet who was at Monte Carlo when I was. You know what happened to me?"
"I know," Brooke admitted.
"I meant to shoot myself. I wasn't game. It was just the thought of the wife and the kids, if it happened there. I wanted to make it easier for them. I have begun bathing down at the Plage. A chap went with me this morning. I am going alone to-morrow. I sha'n't come back. You see? It won't seem quite so bad." The man was in earnest this time beyond a doubt. He was pale, and his face was twitching. Brooke produced the packet.
"I have come to Hyères to see you," he said. "The princess sent me. When you first appeared you reawakened in her some impulse of resentment. She did her best to make you lose at roulette. She did her best to break you."
"It is a judgment upon me!" the man muttered, looking steadily before him.
"The princess has changed her mind," Brooke told him, placing the packet in the man's hand. "There are your checks and your losings. You need not mind taking them. Her husband left her three millions." The man seemed as though turned to stone.
"I can't take her money," he faltered. "I behaved like a cad years ago."
"She has forgiven you," Brooke said calmly. "She can afford, perhaps, to forgive. You must take the money for the sake of your family."
The man's fingers tightened over the packet. His head drooped. Brooke glanced at his watch and rose to his feet.
"Any message?" he asked.
Hardways tried to speak, but he found it difficult. He sat there gripping the packet. Every moment his face began to look more natural.
"Thank her," he said simply. "I'll take the money. After all, she married a prince."
"CAN I speak to you for a moment, sir, if you please?"
The Hon. Stanley Brooke, who had just left the booking-office at Covent Garden Theater and was passing under the portico, turned around at the words, indifferently curious.
A man had touched him upon the arm and stood by his side now, patiently waiting for a reply. At first glance he seemed entirely of the usual type. His clothes were shabby, his expression furtive, his smooth civility of the servile order. He was small, almost undersized; pallid, with narrow lips and protruding chin. The more Brooke looked at him, the less he liked his appearance.
"Do I look the sort of person likely to give money to a man who is out of work, with a wife just recovering from an operation?" he asked patiently.
"It isn't your appearance made me speak to you," the man replied quickly. "It's the fact that you're the Hon. Stanley Brooke, sir."
"You have the advantage of me," Brooke remarked.
"My name wouldn't interest you," the man continued hurriedly. "I'm cadging, right enough, but not in the way you think. I've heard them talking about you—some one pointed you out in Herbert's bar. When I saw you coming out of the booking-office at the theater there I made up my mind to speak to you. You take an interest in queer things and places, don't you?"
"To a certain extent I do—and queer people," Brooke assented.
The man moved a trifle nearer. More than ever, as he stood there, with his overcoat buttoned up to his chin, looking half fearfully around, he seemed like some hunted animal.
"I could tell you something," he said, "if I had a chance. Will you come to my room to-night, any time after nine? No. 14 Hender Street, off Long Acre—straight up the stairs—There's my name chalked on the door—Robinson."
"What am I to come for?" Brooke asked.
"I'll put you onto something," the man replied, dropping his voice a little—" put you onto a job."
"I think," Brooke remarked thoughtfully, "that if any exchange of hospitalities is to take place between us, I would rather be host. You can come and see me, if you like, at my rooms—No. 10 Peter Street—between seven and eight this evening."
"It wouldn't be any good," the man replied. "What I want to tell you I can only tell you in my room. I dare not come up to the West End, either. I should be followed. You don't run any risk. It's simply a bit of money I want, and you shall have value for it, but I don't want to be seen with you."
Brooke scratched his chin thoughtfully for a moment. It was raining slightly, and he noticed that the man had crept beneath the shelter of his umbrella. His desire to avoid observation was certainly not assumed.
"I know nothing of you," Brooke remarked, "and there are obvious objections to my visiting you in Long Acre. For anything I know, you may be a blackmailer or a thief, or any sort of bad character. Will you come to me if I stand a taxicab?"
"I won't," the man answered. "I tell you it's only from my room you can understand what I want to put before you. You've nothing to be afraid of. I live alone there with my sister. There's no one else on the premises. You could double me up, if I tried to rob you, with one hand. Say you'll come to-night. Don't put it off. It's worth while."
"I'll come," Brooke promised. The man moved away. Brooke turned around and watched him shuffle across the road.
"Let myself in for something!" he sighed.
It happened to be an evening without any engagements for Brooke. He dined in his rooms without changing his clothes, wrote a line or two upon half a sheet of note-paper, with the address to which he was going and the reasons for his visit, and left it upon the table, as was his custom when he was bound upon any unsavory errand.
At nine o'clock he walked eastward, turned into Long Acre, and discovered Hender Street without any particular difficulty. No. 16 consisted of an automobile showroom on the ground floor, which was now closed.
An open door by the side led him to a flight of stairs, at the top of which, as he had been advised, he found the word "Robinson" written in white chalk upon an uninviting-looking panel from which most of the paint seemed to have been scraped off.
He had scarcely knocked before the door was opened from inside. The little man who had accosted him in the street was standing there. He almost dragged Brooke in, stood for a moment listening, then closed the door.
"Did you happen to notice whether any one saw you come in?" he asked quickly.
"So far as I could see, the street was empty," Brooke replied.
He stood looking around him with some curiosity. The room was barely furnished, lit by one common lamp, close to which, upon an uncovered deal table, was a worn and battered typewriter. Seated before it was a girl.
She turned her head at his approach and looked at him. She was very pale, but there were about her appearance contradictions which puzzled Brooke. She wore a crimson serge dress, which gave her a general impression of tawdriness. Her hands were well-shaped and white, however; her hair neatly arranged.
The hat which hung on a peg by her side—a most dejected-looking piece of millinery—was trimmed with flowers of faded brilliance. Still when she looked at him, curiously, yet with a certain indifference, he was surprised at the quality of her eyes.
"It's my sister," the man explained. "She gets a little typing sometimes, as you see. One of the offices sends her some work."
"And what do you do for a living?" Brooke inquired.
The man hesitated.
"Anything," he replied, a little defiantly. "I've been in prison three times. I expect I shall be in again before long. Sit down, sir, if you will."
Brooke looked at the one wooden chair and shook his head.
"Thanks," he said, "I'd rather stand. Please be as brief as possible."
"You've nothing to be afraid of," the man declared, with the first note of resentment in his tone.
"Possibly not," Brooke agreed, watching the girl. "You brought me here, though, and I want to know what for."
The little man cleared his throat.
"It's the house next door," he said. "It's locked up in front—bolts and bars across the window. The back entrance is locked, too. It's been empty for months. The Miller Automobile Company had it and failed."
"Well?" Brooke remarked. "I saw that it was empty—dust all over the windows. What about it?"
"Step this way a moment, sir." Brooke obeyed the summons. The man was standing close to the wall by the side of the fireplace.
"This house and the next one were connected a few years ago," he said. "This wall has only been built up lately. It's nothing but lath and plaster. Look here." He removed a picture, cut out from some illustrated paper, which had been pinned upon the wall. From the spot which it had covered he took out a brick, thrust his arm in, and pulled out two more. He laid them softly upon the floor. All the time he was almost holding his breath.
"Stoop down and look!"
Brooke obeyed him. There was one more brick apparently still remaining, but the mortar had slipped away, and from all around it came a little gleam of dull light.
"Get your head as near as you can," Robinson whispered. "Listen!"
Brooke obeyed. At first he heard nothing, however. There was some sort of light in the room, but no sound. He was on the point of withdrawing his head when the silence was suddenly broken. A man's voice was heard—a man's voice which seemed to come with queer, rolling regularity. Brooke listened hard, but was unable to make out any word. Then there was silence, broken almost immediately by the sound of several voices speaking in unison. This time there seemed to be no doubt about it. The reply was a sort of monotonous chant. One man had spoken and others had replied. Brooke listened with more interest. The same thing happened several times. Then again there was silence. Brooke stepped away from the wall.
"What on earth is it all about?" he asked.
The man Robinson shook his head.
"I know nothing," he said, and his voice sounded weak and faint. "Only, if you go down-stairs, you will find that the entrance to the house is locked and barred, and the back entrance is locked, too. Neither I nor any one else sees people enter. And yet there is that!" Brooke brushed the dust from his clothes.
"It is certainly curious," he admitted. "What do you think about it, young lady?"
She raised her eyes and looked at him.
"All that I think of it is," she said, "that it is safer in this world, and in this little corner of London, to mind one's own business. That is what I tell my brother."
"Can one live by minding one's own business?" Robinson exclaimed excitedly.
"Don't laugh—I was a gentleman once. I'm anything you like now, down to a gutter thief, but I have something of the tastes left. I want money—God knows how I want it!"
"What is your proposition?" Brooke inquired.
"Not much of a one, anyway. There's a mystery there, and you're a lover of mysteries. I've disclosed it to you, as much as I know of or dare know. Help yourself and pay me. It ought to be worth a ten-pound note to you. You're rich, they say, and just go round looking for adventures. You can have all the adventure you like if you can get into that room. I know nothing about it, but I'll guarantee that. Give me a tenner."
"Do you propose to assist me in any further steps I might take toward the elucidation of this affair?" Brooke asked curiously.
The man began to shake as though he had an ague.
"Not for my life!" he declared. "I've seen too many queer things in this city. If you're curious, I'm not."
"What about your room here?"
"Your last visit," Robinson insisted feverishly. "I'm not going to be connected with anything that happens. Do you hear? I tell you I won't be I I just want a ten-pound note from you, and out you go and forget you've ever seen me. And if you want excitement—my God! you'll have value for your money!" Brooke shook his head.
"You are a little mistaken as to my vocation and tastes," he explained. "I am not a curious person. If any one consults me, and I can help him, I do so. On the other hand, I should say that an affair like this, with which I am not connected in any way, is a matter either for the police or for the tenants of the flat."
"You mean you won't do anything?"
"Nothing at all, thank you," Brooke replied, taking up his hat. "If you will accept a sovereign as a loan or gift or whatever you like to call it, it is yours, with pleasure. So far as I am concerned, that is the end of the matter."
The man was obviously disappointed. He accepted the sovereign, however, with eagerness.
"My advice to you would be," Brooke concluded, as he prepared to depart, "to give information to the police as to anything that may be going on in the next house. They will probably reward you, if your information turns out to be worth anything."
Robinson said nothing, but his face seemed to grow tense.
"I may have to," he muttered. "I'm up against it. I want money. After all, one's life isn't worth much if one starves. Go down quietly, please."
Brooke turned toward the girl, but she was already bending over her work. He lingered upon the threshold. There was a queer sort of tired grace in the stiff, unbending lines of her figure.
"Good night, young lady," he said pleasantly.
"Good night!" she replied, without raising her head.
Brooke strolled back down Hender Street into Long Acre and returned to his rooms. Once or twice he paused as though to look into a shop-window, but he was not able on that night to verify absolutely his suspicions.
Yet from the moment he left the little house in Hender Street he had the impression that he was being followed. The same idea came to him once or twice during the next few days. He had always the uncomfortable sense that he was under surveillance.
He thought little more of his visit. There were possibly law-breakers of some sort in the place—very likely by arrangement with the landlord. In any case, the affair did not greatly interest him. It was not until the third day, when he picked up the morning paper and read that a man named Robinson had been found dead on the Embankment, within a dozen paces of Scotland Yard, that he felt any real interest in the matter.
Late that afternoon Brooke found his way once more to the house in Hender Street. He passed along the passage, climbed the stairs, and knocked at the door. The girl's tired voice bade him enter. She did not rise from her seat. She simply glanced around as he entered. He noticed with a little thrill of horror that she was still wearing the crimson-colored gown.
"What do you want?" she demanded. He closed the door behind him. She awaited an answer to her question with her fingers still resting upon the keys.
"Is this true that I have read in the papers about your brother?" he inquired gravely.
"It is true," she answered. "What of it?"
Brooke was a little staggered. Her utter lifelessness of tone and manner was incredible. It was as though she were without feelings or any sort of emotion.
"It is a very terrible thing," he said. "I am very sorry for you."
"Why are you sorry?" she asked. "And why is it a very terrible thing? Death may seem terrible enough to you people who lead happy lives. To us, who are facing broken hour after hour upon the wheel, death is the night which is all we have to look forward to."
He sensed a chill in his blood. Somehow he felt that ordinary forms of speech were wholly out of place with this remarkable young woman. She had leaned a little back in her chair, however, as though willing to desist, for a moment, from her labors.
"Are you going to remain here?" he asked, a little diffidently.
She looked at him with cold scrutiny.
"Whether I live here or elsewhere, whether I choose to live at all or to die," she remarked, "is no concern of a stranger."
"I am sorry if I have offended you," he began.
"Will you kindly tell me why you have come?" she interrupted. "You will be able to go the sooner."
"I have come," he explained, "because 1 want to know what you think about your brother's death. The papers are divided in their opinion. Some say that he fell down and got concussion of the brain; others seem to think that he was murdered."
"If it interests you to know the truth," she said, "he was murdered on his way to give information at Scotland Yard about the next house."
Her matter-of-fact words, delivered in her quiet, tired tone, seemed to Brooke the most thrilling he had ever heard. He had never realized more completely the presence of tragedy. He moved a little nearer to her.
"Look here!" he exclaimed; "doesn't this thing move you? Doesn't it seem terrible to you? Can you sit there and tell me, without the slightest emotion, that your brother was murdered?"
"He knew very well what would happen," she replied. "He has known for weeks what would happen if he approached the police. That is why he chose rather to come to you; only, you see, you very wisely declined to meddle in an affair which has nothing to do with you."
"Then what, in God's name, is this affair?" he demanded. "Who are these people who murder rather than have information as to their doings given to the police? And how did your brother become connected with them?"
"Because," she replied, "my brother was employed by one of them until he was thrown out for unworthiness."
"For unworthiness?" Brooke muttered. She nodded.
"There is honor, you know, among thieves and criminals and sinners of every description," she said. "My brother had sunk so low that, although he was willing to pilfer himself, to rob in any way, to rob with violence if he had the strength or the courage, he was yet equally willing to make money by giving away those whose sins were of a different order to his. He had sunk so low that a man can sink no lower."
"He is dead!" Brooke whispered, shivering.
"Don't you think you should remember that?"
"I have no sentiment," she answered scornfully. "For this last year I have known him to be one of the lowest things that crawls. You are surprised, perhaps, that I am not in black, weeping over his memory. The earth is a cleaner place for his absence. That is all that I feel about his death."
"Perhaps one little spark of admiration," she replied defiantly, "for the men who have the courage to remove such as he from their path."
Brooke had lost his imperturbability. He was horrified, and showed it. He tried one counter stroke, however.
"If," he asked, "your point of view is as you suggest, why do you sit here grinding out a miserable living from that battered old typewriter? Why don't you join the great crowd of those who fatten upon the fools of the earth?"
She turned and faced him. Something very grim, but which might almost have developed into a smile, trembled at the corners of her lips.
"Because," she told him, "I do not happen to have come into contact with any illegal means of earning my livelihood. The ordinary methods of my sex, unfortunately, do not appeal to me. I have no ideals, I do not value character a straw, but I have certain tastes and preferences, the gratification of which keeps me from—any word you choose to give it," she added, looking him full in the eyes.
"I speak, perhaps, rather of the past than of the present," she continued. "I am older now and a little tired. There were times when I was considered good-looking. May I ask whether you intend to keep me much longer answering your questions?"
"I will pay you for your time," Brooke declared bruskly.
"Thank you," she replied, "I accept payment for the work I do. This isn't work."
"So you are proud," he remarked.
"You would like to be a criminal, but you won't take money, you tell me."
She shrugged her shoulders scornfully.
"You belong to those who don't understand," she said shortly. "Any one can see that you are half a fool."
"I am going to prove," Brooke retorted, "that I am a whole one. I am going to solve the mystery of the next house."
For a single second a shadow of something new appeared in her face.
"If I were you," she advised, "I wouldn't."
"You wouldn't care to help, then?"
"I should not!"
"Do you mind if I listen once more at the wall?"
"You can do as you like," she answered indifferently.
Brooke made his way to the spot which Robinson had showed him, carefully removed the bricks, and listened. There was, without doubt, some one in the adjoining room. One voice only was audible—the voice of one man apparently speaking in a monotonous singsong, as though he were delivering some sort of an address.
Punctuated by those level sentences, every now and then came a fainter sound, to which Brooke listened with something like dismay. It was like the moan of an animal—or was it a child in pain—He replaced the bricks.
"I wonder," he said to the girl, "whether the police have ever searched that house?"
"Why not save your own skin and go and ask them to?" she suggested. Brooke came and stood by the side of her typewriter.
"Listen," he continued; " I am going through with this little adventure myself. Isn't there anything you can tell me?"
"Why should I?" she asked defiantly. "If they are criminals who meet there, why should I be on your side more than theirs? I am a fragment of the debris of the world myself."
"You are not," he answered steadily. "You have courage. I believe that you have other gifts."
She set her teeth.
"In any case," she declared bruskly, "I have nothing to tell you. If you want my advice, you've had it, but I'll give it you again. Don't meddle in things that don't concern you."
"Will you do some typewriting for me?" Brooke asked.
"At nine-pence a thousand words and three-pence extra for carbon copies," she assented. "I'd rather do it for any one else. That doesn't matter."
"I will take the liberty, then," Brooke replied, moving toward the door, "of coming to see you later on."
Again, as he left the house, Brooke was conscious that he was being shadowed. He stopped once or twice and retraced his steps, but he was never able definitely to decide whence came the subtle, ever present feeling.
Finally, with a shrug of the shoulders, he abandoned his half-formed intention of examining the premises from the outside and, turning into Long Acre, took a taxicab back to his rooms.
On the hall table was a letter addressed to him in a bold masculine handwriting and with a London postmark. He opened it at once. A single line written in thick, black ink, with several notes of exclamation, seemed to stare up at him from the half-sheet of paper:
Keep away from Hender Street, Mr. Brooke!!!!
Brooke thrust the letter into his pocket. At last he had some definite proof that he was not wasting his time. In the morning he paid a visit to the house-agents and learned that the empty house in question had been leased to the manager of the defunct automobile company, who was now abroad. The agreement had one year to run, and the agents had had no notice of any sub-letting.
Brooke walked from their offices to Hender Street. Without any attempt at concealment, he examined the front of the house. It was not only locked and barricaded, but there was dust upon the fastenings. He made his way to the back entrance. The gate leading into the little strip of asphalt was fastened with a chain. There was no sign that it had been disturbed for a long time.
He made his way to the front again. Suddenly the door of the adjoining house was opened and a man was literally thrown into the street. Brooke caught a glimpse of a negro in the background—a stern and ferocious-looking figure. Then the door was closed.
A thin, weedy-looking young man picked himself up from the ground, took off his spectacles to be sure that they were not broken, and began to knock the dust off his clothes. He saw Brooke regarding him with astonishment, and smiled faintly.
"Just my luck to run up against this sort of thing!" he exclaimed. "All in the day's work, though."
"Did you annoy any one?" Brooke inquired.
"It seems so," the young man answered.
"I am a reporter on the Weekly Post, and I went to interview Kinsey Brand."
"The African traveler?" Brooke asked quickly.
The young man nodded. They had fallen into step together and set their faces southward.
"Yes," he replied. "That was his servant who just hurried me out. He's got two of them. He need never be afraid of burglars with two beauties like that on the premises!"
"Better have a drink," Brooke suggested—"pull you together."
The young man assented readily. They entered a bar and sat on high stools.
"What did you want to interview Kinsey Brand about?" Brooke asked.
"Oh, they say he's brought home a new religion—discovered it among the natives, where they have been practising it for two thousand years," the young man continued.
"All the magazines have tried to get him to write about it, but he won't, and every reporter in London has tried to get at him, unsuccessfully. They generally end where I did!"
"This," Brooke murmured, "is very interesting." The young man felt his back.
"What I should like to do," he declared, "would be to get Jack Johnson to stroll in there with a note-book and ask him a few questions. As a matter of fact, I never saw Kinsey Brand at all. I was just giving the negro half a sovereign when I heard a voice that sounded like a bellow, and out I went."
"Queer place for the man to live," Brooke remarked.
"He's got a bit of money, too, I should think," the reporter continued. "Lots of skins and things about the place. Smelled like a corner of the zoological gardens."
"What is this religion—do you know?" Brooke asked.
"No idea," the young man answered. "Seems to make 'em tolerably muscular! The only reporter who got Brand to say a word was Ted Foales, of the Express. He told him that all he wanted to do was to be left alone; that he wanted neither converts nor critics."
"It's not a money-making job, then," Brooke remarked thoughtfully.
"About the only religion that ain't," the young man murmured, looking into the bottom of his empty glass. "I don't know that I blame 'em, either. If I'd got a brand-new religion to foist on the world, I'd run it for all it was worth. One would be able to stand a gentleman a drink then, in return for any little civility one might receive." Brooke took the hint and the young man's glass was replenished.
"Between you and me," the latter said, moving his stool a little closer to Brooke's,
"if I had the time and the money and the physique and the courage I should like to stick to this Kinsey Brand. There are some queer stories going about.
"They say he went mad on the voyage home from West Africa, and that he brought home a negro and a native priest. If so, he's got 'em in that house. While I was there I heard a man making noises in a tongue which made you feel as though you were in a monkey forest. The only visitors he ever has are three or four old cronies, all West Africans, and they almost live in the place."
"It all sounds very mysterious."
"I was too scared to look about me much," the young man continued; "but just inside that passage what do you think there was, hanging down from the ceiling? A long, double-edged knife, hung by a piece of gold thread! The knife was stained all over, and I'll swear it was blood. Nice, cheerful sight to greet you when you step in!"
"I should imagine," Brooke remarked, "that Mr. Kinsey Brand's instincts are not hospitable."
The young man grunted.
"Anyway, I've done with him," he declared. "Any one else can take up the job!"
At ten o'clock that night Brooke sat in his rooms with an open letter and a pile of newspapers by his side. The former he had just received from the librarian of a large book-shop from whom he made occasional purchases. It was not very long, but its contents were interesting:
I am sending you the file of papers, procured with great difficulty, and I beg that you will take every care of them. It is a very remarkable circumstance that the letters from Mr. Kinsey Brand, for which the Times was paying a large sum, ceased abruptly on the eve of his projected visit to one of the most interesting spots in Africa. Since then, notwithstanding the large offers which have been made to him, Mr. Kinsey Brand has not, so far as we know, set his hand to paper at all, either in the form of articles or volume. It is understood that his health was affected by privations, and that he had no further inclination to write of his travels. The affair, however, is in some respects mysterious, and I may say that many efforts have been made, even up to the last few weeks, to obtain some explanation.
The interest of the newspapers culminated in the issue of latest date. For the second or third time Brooke was reading some extracts of a letter written about two years ago and signed "Kinsey Brand":
To-morrow I expect to reach the holy village of Nah-u-weh. If reports are true, I shall have an opportunity there of studying the primeval religion of these Western tribes, founded, they say, upon a contemplation of the extinction of life. They make a cult of watching the death struggles of animals and, on certain days of the year, human beings. The soul, as it escapes, is declared to be visible to the priest, who is able to transmit by it messages to the Supreme Being. This, however, is all hearsay. I shall know more about it in my next letter.
There was a knock at the door. Brooke's servant entered, bearing a note. Brooke took it and glanced at it, carelessly at first and then with a sudden interest. It was addressed to him in typewritten characters, and in the corner it was marked&mdash "Urgent." He tore it open and read the following:
If you are still interested in the house next door, you had better come here at once. Some thing is going on at the other side of the wall. It seems to me that they have discovered the opening and are enlarging it from their side.
Brooke sprang to his feet, made a few hasty preparations, took a taxicab to the corner of Hender Street, passed up the passage and the stairs, and knocked at the door above. There was no reply. He turned the handle and entered. The room was empty.
On the floor was the typewriter, lying on its side, broken. By the side of the wall were half a dozen loose bricks and a quantity of plaster. There was a hole in the wall, stuffed up with paper, large enough for a man to pass through. Brooke stood for a moment, rooted to the spot. Caught on a corner of the fender was a torn fragment of something red. He recognized it at once—it was a portion of the girl's dress.
Then, as he stood there slowly collecting his senses, he distinctly heard a low, half-stifled moan from the interior of the room beyond. The sound suddenly awakened his energies. He scarcely paused for thought.
He tore off his overcoat and coat, threw himself on all fours, and made one plunge at the mass of paper which alone blocked the opening. He was through in a moment and on his feet in the room on the other side of the wall before any one could seize him.
For a few seconds there was a grim and ghastly silence. Brooke looked around him wildly. The apartment was unfurnished, save that the floor was covered with thick rugs, and three benches were placed near the farther wall. There were six men present altogether, three of whom were sitting with folded arms upon the farthest bench. They had the air and attitude of spectators.
Directly facing them was a man as black as ink, dressed in a yellow robe, and holding a long knife of thin blue steel in his hand; not far off stood a gaunt, strange-looking person, with parchment-white skin and burning eyes, whom Brooke recognized in an instant, from his pictures, as Kinsey Brand, the explorer. Behind the two men a gigantic negro was standing with lamps in his hands, and in front of them the girl, bound with cords which cut deeply into her dress, was lying stretched upon a block of wood.
Her face was absolutely colorless, her eyes black and staring.
There was a curious, sickly odor which seemed to come from the lamps which the negro was swinging. All these things were before Brooke like a flash. For some reason or other, probably owing to the fact that the ceremony at which they were assisting had reached what to them was its most impressive stage, no one stirred from his place during those few seconds. Brooke had time to withdraw his hand from his hip pocket. He stood there with his feet firmly planted upon the ground and his back to the walk In his hand the revolver glittered like silver in the light of the red flame. Then, without removing his eyes from the priest, he shouted as though to unseen followers.
"Come on, you men! I've got them! They are all here! See that the house is surrounded!"
The priest, for such he seemed to be, suddenly raised the knife which he was holding and crouched as though for a spring at the intruder. Brooke, who had never shot at a human being in his life, felt scarcely a tremor as he pulled the trigger of his revolver and saw the man go swaying over with a hideous cry and his hands above his head.
His downfall, the flash and report of the revolver, seemed to spread confusion among the remaining occupants of the room. The three spectators, followed by the negro, rushed for the door. Brand remained for a single moment glaring at Brooke.
Then he muttered something, something which sounded to Brooke at first like gibberish, and afterward like music, something which ended in a little impressive cry—a denunciation, perhaps, for one hand was lifted to the ceiling. Then he, too, turned and left, walking with a strange dignity.
Brooke, for the first few seconds, was dazed. Then he seized the knife and commenced to cut the cords which bound the girl. Once he paused. The atmosphere had become unbearable.
The sound below was unmistakable—the crackling and roaring of flames. He glanced at the window. A long tongue of red fire had shot up. He hacked furiously at the rope. The girl was almost fainting.
"Get through the hole," he begged, "if you can. Can you crawl?"
She nodded. He dragged her toward the opening. As he pushed her through he glanced back. A great zigzag crack had spread itself out across the opposite wall and a hissing puff of smoke rushed in. Outside he could hear the calls in the streets and the throb of the fire-engine. The girl seemed suddenly inert. She was only halfway through.
"Make an effort!" he shouted.
She disappeared. He flung himself into the opening. He, too, reached the other side. The girl was half on her feet, swaying.
"Don't faint," he implored.
"Cling to me. We must make a rush for the stairs."
"Who said anything about fainting?" she replied.
They rushed for the stairs, his arm around her. Below they could hear the crashing of hatchets as the firemen forced their way into the next house. A volume of smoke met them, but they reached the street in safety. The crowds of people closing in on either side cheered as they emerged from the house and made way. Some one helped her into a taxi. They drove off. She was only half conscious.
"My typewriter!" she murmured.
"We'll get a new one from the insurance company," Brooke whispered comfortingly,
"Keep your courage up for a minute or two."
Her lips moved, but she had no strength to speak. Brooke drove to a nursing home, where the matron was a friend of his, and where they willingly took her in. At eleven o'clock the next morning Brooke called at the nursing-home. The girl was lying on the sofa in her room. She looked at him steadily as he came and sat by her side.
"Well?" she asked.
"The two Africans were burned," he told her quietly. "They had planned to destroy the place by fire if anything happened, but the flames spread too quickly and their own escape was cut off."
"What about the man Brand?"
"He was found dead in his room."
"And the three spectators?"
"They must have got away," he replied. "There were no other casualties. Tell me what happened."
"I was sitting at work," she said, "when I heard them boring at the wall. I wrote a note and went down into the street to find a boy to take it to you. When I got back the African was in the room. He seized me, put something over my mouth and dragged me through to the other side of the wall.
"They tied me to that block and chanted all sorts of strange things I couldn't understand. Just as you appeared the priest had lifted that knife as though he were going to stab me, and I heard Kinsey Brand cry out in English: 'Watch for her soul!'"
"They were all as mad as men could be," he declared.
"Will it be in the papers?"
He shook his head.
"No one would believe it! We'd better keep it to ourselves. Both houses were burned to the ground—completely destroyed."
She breathed a sigh of relief.
"What about my typewriter? asked weakly.
"Burned to ashes, and about time too," he replied briskly. "The 'g' crooked and the 'w' had a twist in the middle. You shall have a brand-new one and plenty of work as soon as you are able to start."
She fidgeted for a moment and frowned. Then she sighed. There was something a little pathetic in the abnegation of her ill manners.
"You are very kind," she said, her voice shaking a little, "you have been very kind indeed. You saved my life, too. I wanted to die, but not—like that!"
"You've got to make up your mind that it was all just a dream—a nightmare, if you like," Brooke declared cheerfully.
"The program is three days here, three weeks at a branch of this place at Bournemouth. After that as much typewriting as you like. I can get you bushels of work."
She covered her eyes with her handkerchief as though weary. Her lips trembled. Brooke stole away.
THE Hon. Stanley Brooke leaned back in his steamer-chair and yawned. A pleasant and bracing west wind blew in his face the white-topped waves were all aglint with sunshine. His surroundings were altogether delightful. There was, in fact, only one circumstance which made him inclined to regret this suddenly arranged trip across the Atlantic. This was his third day out, and he was bored.
The usual distractions were offered him.
"Care to make a fourth at shuffleboard, sir?" a bare-headed young man asked, pausing tentatively before his chair and brandishing a fearful looking implement with a scooped-out end.
Brooke shook his head.
"I'm not very keen on deck games," he confessed; "thanks all the same."
A head was thrust out from the smoking-room window. Its owner caught Brooke's eye.
"Will you come and make us up at bridge?" one of his table companions asked.
Brooke refused even more decidedly.
"I never play cards until after dinner," he declared.
He was left alone presently and fell to studying the people as they passed. He was beginning to realize that lately all other interests in life had become with him subordinate to this.
He appreciated the elasticity of one's powers of observation when properly ministered to, the possibility of tragedy and crime beneath the smoothest and most commonplace exterior. He had developed a habit of watchfulness. The lines about his mouth had tightened.
It was more of an effort with him now to assume that bland aspect of juvenile imbecility which had stood him more than once in such good stead. Yet it certainly seemed that upon this voyage there was little enough to engage his interest. The boat was a medium-sized one and not one of the fastest. The people were mostly Americans of the tourist type, a handful of business men—and Gordon Black. Brooke, whenever he tried to think of any one of them, found himself always thinking of Black.
The man passed as he sat there—tall, hard-featured, his hands clasped behind him, his eyes bent upon the deck. The invalid who lay flat in a chair by Brooke's side stretched out a hand and touched his neighbor on the coat-sleeve.
"Tell me," he asked in a quavering voice, "is that really Mr. Gordon Black?"
"That is his name," Brooke replied. "He looks rather an interesting character. Do you know anything about him?"
The little man looked at his questioner wonderingly. He was a small, frail person, with white hair and wasted face, and there were rumors that he was dying. He had been carried on board at Southampton, and he only appeared on deck for an hour at a time.
"Know anything about Gordon Black!" he repeated. "Why, a year or two ago he was the most talked-of man in the States!"
"Why?" Brooke asked. "Is he a celebrity, then?"
The little man—he called himself Dr. Browning, but admitted that he was only a dentist—sighed.
"Of course, you're English," he remarked, "and you wouldn't read our papers. Gordon Black was the head of a great railroad trust. He ran up against another trust, controlled by Seth Pryor, and they had the greatest financial struggle that the history of American finance has ever known.
"In the end. Black was maneuvered into a false position. He broke the law and had to leave the country. It has always been understood that there was some sort of an agreement between him and his enemies that, if he left, his followers should be spared. That's the idea, at any rate.
"Anyway, during the last two months Seth Pryor has suddenly begun to squeeze Black's followers. Black is on his way back to fight him, and Seth Pryor has sworn that as soon as he sets foot in New York he'll have him arrested."
"It sounds interesting," Brooke confessed.
"It is interesting," the other declared. "It's a romance, sir—a wonderful romance. I have never spoken to Mr. Gordon Black myself, but he is going back to face the music because he thinks it his duty, and for my part I hope he pulls through."
He leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes with the air of one fatigued by conversation. Brooke took up his book and set it down again. Afterward he decided that it must have been some mesmeric instinct which prompted him at that precise moment to struggle up from his comfortable seat, throw aside his rug, and stroll along the deck.
On his second time around he came to an abrupt standstill at the aft extremity of the promenade-deck. A few yards away from him, but in the second-class portion of the ship, a girl, whose profile was turned toward him, was leaning over the rail, bending far forward with folded arms, in an attitude which seemed to him somehow familiar.
He stood perfectly still, watching her, and then a curious thing happened. The thrill was doubtless caused by the recollection of those few breathless moments of life and death through which they two had lived together, but it is certain that Brooke felt suddenly the rush of warm blood through his veins and the singing of strange things around his heart. Without a moment's hesitation he crossed the narrow plankway and stepped to her side.
"Miss Robinson!" he exclaimed eagerly. "It really is you, then!"
She turned and looked at him. She was a little startled. Taken so completely by surprise, she seemed to forget for the moment her somewhat uncompromising attitude. Her beautiful eyes were lit with something very like pleasure, her lips parted into almost tender Hues. The moment was a revelation. For the first time Brooke realized that she was beautiful.
"It really is you, then," she murmured.
"But what on earth?" he began. "I thought you were going to a post in the country."
Already her manner was stiffening. A touch of the old sullenness was in her tone. She had been taken by surprise.
"A new country," she corrected him. "I am tired of England."
"You are going to America for good?"
"Precisely," she replied. "I am an emigrant."
"I think that you might have told me," he protested.
She was already in revolt.
"And why?" she demanded. "I have already accepted charity from you. I have lived for twenty-four years in England, twelve of which have been blankly miserable. I am going to start again."
"Are you going to New York?"
"To New York," she assented.
"You have a position?"
She hesitated. She answered him grudgingly.
"I have a place," she admitted. "Forgive me, but you must go now. First-class passengers are not allowed here."
"I wonder," he said deliberately, "why you treat me as though I wanted to pick your pocket. I want to be your friend."
She turned away, her manner reluctantly ungracious.
"It is not possible," she said. "My friendship, anyhow, isn't worth having. Good-by!"
She disappeared through the companionway. Brooke retraced his steps slowly to his own deck. As he crossed the bridge he was conscious of being watched. He raised his eyes. Mr. Gordon Black was leaning over the rail, deeply interested now in the uncoiling of a rope below.
THAT night, or rather in the small hours of the morning, the silence of the great ship was broken by the sound of hurrying footsteps along the passage outside Brooke's stateroom, a hoarse murmuring of voices, the flying feet of an urgent messenger. Brooke put his head out of the alleyway leading to his cabin.
"Anything the matter?" he asked.
The steward whom he addressed seemed scarcely to hear him. Brooke made his way to the spot where the little group was congregated. Something dark was stretched across the passageway. Brooke looked down upon it with a shudder.
It was the body of a man—a crumpled-up heap, with the head half covered by one distorted arm. His white lips, from which the last groan had issued, were still parted. He could have been dead only a few seconds.
"Did any one see it happen?" Brooke demanded.
No one answered. No one even seemed capable of speech. Brooke turned on another of the electric lights and looked up and down the dimly lit gangway. There was not a soul in sight. The doors of every one of the adjacent staterooms were closed. The place seemed wrapped in gloomy silence; there was nothing to be heard but the thud and roar of the engines below. The only people in sight were the three who stooped over the body—Brooke's own bedroom steward, a bathroom steward, and a boy from the engine room still carrying a handful of waste.
"Didn't any one see it happen?" Brooke repeated.
The bedroom steward staggered to his feet and shook his head.
"I passed along here not three minutes ago, sir," he declared, "and there wasn't a sign of any one. I just put away some hot-water tins in the closet there. While I was doing it I thought I heard a funny noise. I came back again—and he was lying here. I couldn't have been away altogether more than sixty seconds."
"Do you know who he is?" Brooke inquired.
"He's got the end stateroom a little further along," the bath-room steward declared.
"I dunno his name."
Brooke looked steadily down, trying to fix the little scene in his memory. The man was lying on the right-hand side of the gangway and had, therefore, probably been attacked from the left. The blow on his head, too, was on that side. His coat was open and a letter was protruding from it. His right hand lay across his chest, as though he had striven to clutch at something there. There were few other details worth noticing.
Then the captain arrived, followed by the doctor, and presently Brooke retreated to his cabin.
A BRUTAL murder committed upon an ocean steamer on the high seas, where the passengers rely for their casual conversation upon an occasional marconigram or fragments of gossip concerning one another, is naturally an absorbing subject of discussion.
From early morning until the bugle sounded for luncheon all games were suspended and all conversation rang the different changes around this most extraordinary and dramatic happening. Brooke threw himself thoroughly into the role of careful and attentive listener. Apart from all manner of vague rumors, however, all that was definitely known was trivial. The man's name was Blessing. He was of cheerful and sociable disposition, and appeared to have talked to every one on board.
He had never mentioned his profession, but a card in his pocketbook bore the inscription of "Agent," with an address at an office on Broadway.
He had never been seen to quarrel with any one.
The half-torn letter in his pocket was domestic and unimportant.
The staterooms opposite the spot where he had been found were empty with the exception of two, one of which was occupied by a Mr. Baines, who was with the doctor in his room at the time the affair occurred; and the other by Dr. Browning. Robbery was an impossible motive, as the murdered man had frankly confessed himself short of money, had made application to the purser for a loan, and had despatched a marconigram for a clerk to meet him on the quay with funds.
The cause of death was a blow dealt with some blunt instrument which was not forthcoming.
Brooke listened to the gossip, listened to what every one had to say, and made a few inquiries on his own account. They led him, however, to nothing in the shape of a definite conclusion. Then, a little later, while talking with the captain in his room, the latter handed him a marconigram.
"What do you make of this?" he asked.
"It was addressed to Blessing. Under the circumstances, I felt justified in opening it."
Brooke glanced at the flimsy sheet. It consisted only of a few words:
LOOK OUT: T IS ON BOARD.
"Unsigned," he murmured.
"Unfortunately," the captain replied. "If we only knew who sent it, we might know who 'T' was."
"And 'T,'" Brooke added, "might be sitting in irons at this present moment."
"Precisely," the captain agreed dryly. "I don't like these things on my boat. I'm not a detective. I can't detain my passengers. The murderer will probably walk off the gangway at New York and no one will be able to stop him. I may even shake hands with him without knowing it."
"Hard luck!" Brooke declared. "Try one of these."
The captain accepted one of his visitor's cigarettes and parted from him, a few minutes later, without any very exalted opinion of his young friend's intelligence. Brooke paced slowly down the deck with his hands behind him. As he neared the spot where, on the preceding day, he had seen Constance Robinson, he glanced up. She was leaning against the rail in almost the same position, only this time she had turned a little sidewise. She was facing him, and, as he raised his cap in salutation, she beckoned him to her. He crossed the dividing bridge at once and stood by her side.
"You've heard about the murder, of course?" she asked bruskly.
"Naturally," Brooke admitted. She looked at him for a moment, a grim smile upon her lips.
"I forgot," she went on. "The solution of crime is rather in your line, isn't it? Solve this one."
"I can't," Brooke confessed.
"Who murdered Mr. Blessing?"
"And you on the spot!" she exclaimed derisively. "Fancy calling yourself a man of observation!"
Brooke looked at her steadfastly. Without a doubt she was a different person. Her hair, a little disordered in the wind, was unexpectedly luxuriant; her dark, splendid eyes were lit with gentle laughter; the glow of a new health was already stealing into her cheeks. In her plain, tight-fitting, blue serge costume, her entire absence of ornaments, she appealed to him in a subtle and entirely novel way.
"In this instance," he said simply, "I am afraid that I must confess myself a failure. I have made a great many inquiries, but they have led nowhere. Perhaps you can help me?"
She suddenly became grave.
"As it happens," she replied, "I can. Come nearer."
He stood close to her side. A few yards away an Italian squatted, playing a concertina; four men were throwing quoits; a mother was sitting with her three children. Constance glanced around and drew him to the side of the boat.
"Mr. Blessing was murdered by a man named Gordon Black," she told him. "Perhaps, as I can tell you the name of the guilty person, you can do the rest."
"How do you know?" Brooke asked. She frowned.
"Mr. Blessing was my new employer," she told him. "He was a private detective in New York. I did some typing for him, and he formed the idea that I was intelligent enough to be of use to him permanently."
"What do you know about Gordon Black?"
"I know that Mr. Blessing had been to England to collect evidence against him for complicity in the Jersey River Railway scandal, whatever that may be, and I know that he had succeeded. That evidence was in Mr. Blessing's possession when he boarded the steamer. I expect it is in Gordon Black's now!"
"I think," Brooke suggested, "that you had better come with me to the captain."
"What is the use?" she replied impatiently. "There is work to be done yet—your share of the work. I have pointed out the man. It is for you to forge the links. You start knowing who he is. You have only to work a little way backward."
"All the same," Brooke persisted, "I think that you ought to come with me to the captain."
"I'll come when I think best," she answered tersely. "Gordon Black has seen me with Mr. Blessing. If he sees me with you on the way to the captain he'll suspect something. See what you can do on your own. I'll come in afterward. "I'll tell you this much more, if you like. Less than forty-eight hours ago Gordon Black offered Mr. Blessing twenty-five thousand pounds for a document in his possession—an illegal transfer, or something of the sort. Mr. Blessing refused. He was acting for a client—Gordon Black's great enemy."
Brooke made his way back to his own part of the ship. He spent nearly an hour in putting a few cautious inquiries. Then he rejoined Constance, who was still sitting in her corner reading, and who watched his approach with evident displeasure.
"You are very foolish," she said, as she put her book down, "to come over here so often. I have told you that Gordon Black has seen Mr. Blessing talking to me. He will be on his guard."
"It does not appear to be of much consequence," Brooke remarked. "Listen. There is no doubt whatever as to the time when the murder took place. It was between half past eleven and five and twenty to twelve."
"From ten o'clock until the news of the affair was brought there Black was playing bridge in the smoking-room."
The girl frowned.
"Is that certain?"
"Absolutely," he assured her. "I have it from the smoking-room steward, and Major Bryce—who was one of the four. Without a doubt he was in the smoking-room when the affair took place."
She seemed a little staggered. For a few moments she said nothing.
"Failing Mr. Gordon Black," Brooke continued, "I presume you have no other suggestions? I'm getting rather keen." She shook her head.
"It must have been Gordon Black," she declared.
"But the man has a perfect, a truthful alibi," Brooke ventured to point out.
"I can't help it," she persisted obstinately.
"Mr. Blessing told me himself that he was afraid of him. Those papers included a forged transfer. He meant having them. He had offered Mr. Blessing twenty-five thousand pounds for them and was refused."
Brooke pointed to a school of porpoises.
"Let us talk about something else," he suggested. "What are you going to do when you get to New York?"
"Give evidence against Gordon Black at his trial for murder, I hope," she replied doggedly. "Afterward—well, I shall find something."
WHEN Brooke returned to his chair he found that his invalid neighbor had been brought on deck and was lying in the next one, smothered over with rugs. Brooke spoke to him pleasantly, and would have passed on but for the other's obvious disappointment.
"You're going to sit down for a few minutes, aren't you?" the fellow piped out, his thin voice shriller and weaker than ever. "I've had a bad night, and I'm nervous this morning. Say, what day do you reckon we shall fetch New York?" Brooke seated himself. The cheering up of the man seemed to be a charge upon the whole ship's company.
"About Friday morning," he replied cheerfully. "Nothing to make us late that I can see."
The little man began to count upon his fingers.
"Let me see—to-day is Tuesday. Then there's Wednesday and Thursday—two whole days! I reckon I'll last that long—somehow," he added wistfully. Brooke laughed at him.
"Of course you will," he declared encouragingly.
"Why, I heard you walked across the deck alone yesterday morning!" Dr. Browning smiled—a little vaingloriously.
"Not all the way—very nearly as far as the rail," he admitted. "My book blew away."
He was silent for a few minutes, looking out across the sea.
"You know," he continued, "when I started on this voyage I wasn't afraid, because I felt that I'd just as soon die at sea as anywhere else. I took kind of a fancy to end it all out here. Directly I got on board and looked through a port-hole I changed my mind, though. Queer thing, eh? I was afraid!"
"I wouldn't think about it at all, if I were you," Brooke advised. "Make up your mind that you're going to get better. That's the way."
A queer little smile flickered for a moment upon the gray lips. The man's face was almost ghastly.
"There isn't any chance of that," he said simply. "I'd like to live out the voyage—that's all."
"Have you friends who are meeting you in New York?" Brooke asked.
"Perhaps," the other answered. "I cannot say for certain. My people live out in the West."
The purser came along and paused to talk cheerfully for a few minutes to the ship's invalid. Afterward a benevolent old lady brought up her camp-stool to his side. Brooke lay with half-closed eyes, looking out upon the sea.
His thoughts wandered from the pathetic little figure by his side to Mr. Gordon Black, who was strolling up and down the deck smoking a cigar. Brooke felt a peculiar interest in studying the dark, handsome face.
That the man had been a bold adventurer, a buccaneer of finance, was true without a doubt. Was there really the shadow of that ghastly crime concealed behind the mask of those set features and level brows?
He stood smoking his cigar stolidly, one hand grasping the rail of the steamer, his eyes fixed upon the silver streak which fringed the horizon. Brooke felt that this quiet sea voyage had been touched unexpectedly with the hand of tragedy, and try how he would to put him in the background of his thoughts, this man stood out the central figure in it. There was a shrill blast from the foghorn; they had passed into a little bank of white mist. Immediately afterward a cabin steward came up, looked around the deck for a moment, and, finally advancing to Gordon Black, touched him on the shoulder and presented him with a note.
"For me?" Brooke heard him ask.
"Left in your cabin, sir," the man replied, as he turned away.
Brooke watched his neighbor break the seal of the letter and read its contents. They seemed to consist of a few lines only, yet the seconds passed into minutes and the eyes of the reader were still riveted upon the half-sheet of paper.
He seemed at first a little dazed; he had the appearance of a man who struggles with a message sent him in some foreign language. Then Brooke saw the blanching of the man's cheeks, the sudden shiver, the quick, stern effort to recover his self-control. There was no longer any doubt. Tragedy and Mr. Gordon Black walked hand in hand!
BROOKE went back again to Constance Robinson that evening. He found her promenading alone on the lower deck, her hands clasped behind her back. She welcomed him with a smile which, dubious though it was, gave him an unreasonable amount of pleasure. He fell into step by her side. It was a dark, windy night and the sea sang to them.
"Any progress?" she asked.
"None to speak of," he admitted frankly. "I fancy I'm not lucky this time."
She turned upon him almost fiercely.
"I wonder how you dare mention the word to me!" she exclaimed. "You have just the glimmering of an idea as to what my life has been up to now. Well, I get another chance—a good salary—a new profession in a new country—and this is what happens. My employer is murdered on the way out. I haven't even drawn my first week's pay!"
"No good brooding over it," Brooke remarked briskly. "You've health and strength, and you're bound for a country where those things count. Do you mind going a little slower? It's a treat to see you walk, but I'm out of breath."
She slackened her pace at once. She had been walking with the long, free paces and swift-footed grace of some forest animal. She glanced doubtfully at her companion. His tone seemed to indicate a certain change in his attitude toward her.
"Oh! I'm not afraid," she declared. "I'll find work—only—I wish to God, when I start out to look for it, that I were a man!"
He understood, and this time was silent. The mood passed, and he was careful to take no advantage of it. Presently she stopped at the end of the deck nearest to the first-class quarters.
"Good night!" she said. "I'm sorry you're not succeeding."
"By the bye," he asked, "you didn't, by any chance, send a note to Mr. Gordon Black, did you?"
"I—Of course not! Why?"
"He had one from some one which upset him pretty badly."
"Find out who sent it," she insisted eagerly.
"My idea," he replied. "I was just waiting till I'd spoken to you."
"It's very likely the beginning of negotiations," she declared. "Remember that whoever killed poor Mr. Blessing, even if it wasn't Gordon Black, has those papers and the forged transfers." Brooke sighed.
"I'm afraid," he said, "they'll begin to tumble to me soon, but I'll do my best."
THE next day they ran into a storm. The skies were leaden, the ship developed a very ugly pitch, the decks were deserted, swept with rain and spray. The steamer-chairs, even on the covered deck, were lashed to a rail. The whole outlook was unspeakably dreary. About eleven o'clock a cabin steward came to Brooke in the smoking-room.
"I beg your pardon, sir," he said. "Dr. Browning, the old gentleman who is ill, would take it as a great favor if you would step down to his stateroom for a moment. The poor gentleman's very bad indeed, sir," he added confidentially. "Don't look as though he'd last the day."
"Sure he meant me?" Brooke asked, a little puzzled. "I've only spoken to him once or twice on deck."
"Certain, sir," the man replied. "He wanted to speak to you most particular." Brooke made his way down below at once. The little man was lying half-dressed upon the sofa berth and his appearance was ghastly. He motioned Brooke to close the door.
"Sorry to find you queer," the latter remarked cheerfully. "This weather's enough to knock any one over."
"I'm nearly done." was the reply. "I didn't reckon upon this. Please listen."
"Anything I can do for you—" Brooke began.
"Two nights ago," Dr. Browning interrupted, "the man Blessing was murdered just outside my stateroom there—only a few feet away, mind. I was lying where I am now. I heard the scuffle, the blow, the groan."
"Great Heavens!" Brooke exclaimed. "You didn't see the fellow, did you?"
The doctor shook his head. He was speaking with the utmost difficulty.
"I saw nothing, but I heard the fall of something just outside my door, which was about a foot open. I dragged myself there. I picked up this."
He opened his coat; a long envelope, apparently stuffed with papers, was lying there. Brooke gazed at it with fascinated eyes.
"Why haven't you mentioned it before—told the captain or some one?" he asked.
The little doctor paused for several moments to recover his breath.
"I made up my mind that this packet should go straight from my hands to the chief of police in New York," he said.
"Everything is talked about on board ship. I decided to keep silent. Since then I have been terrified—almost to death. Last night and the night before a man has been in my room. My trunk, the cushions here, have been searched. I lay shivering in my bunk. The packet was between my two mattresses." -
"Who was the man?" Brooke asked.
"I couldn't reach the light—I dared not have turned it on if I could have done so," was the almost plaintive reply. "It might have been a steward. I had courage once—but now—you see what I am. I can't bear another night. I want you to take this packet."
Once more he produced the envelope. Brooke took it.
"What am I to do with it?"
"Keep it until we are safely off the steamer," Dr. Browning begged. "Bring it to me the moment after we land. I shall be at No. 387, the Waldorf-Astoria. My room is already engaged. I shall lie there and wait for you."
Brooke fingered the packet irresolutely.
"May I ask you this?" he said. "Why do you select me as your confidant? We are complete strangers, and many of the other passengers upon the ship have talked with you more."
"I choose you," Browning replied, "because you are an Englishman, and a person whose appearance, forgive me, renders you free from any suspicion of being mixed up in this affair. You are so obviously a young Englishman of good family, with no particular occupation and no particular interests in the world. There is a widespread plot which turns upon these papers, and if, before I die, I can help toward an act of justice, it will make me happy. You are just the person whom no one would suspect of complicity in it."
Brooke thrust the packet into the breast pocket of his tweed coat, which he buttoned up closely.
"Very well," he promised, "I'll do as you say."
The little man leaned back upon his sofa.
"I shall sleep now," he declared, with a sigh of content. "I never closed my eyes all last night."
Brooke tiptoed his way out of the stateroom and sat in his steamer-chair upon the deck for an hour without moving. Then he rose and made his way to the second-class portion of the ship, where he found Constance in a sheltered corner.
"Supposing," he said, "I was able to help toward the clearing up of this little affair, I take it that it would be a sort of satisfaction to you?"
"It would be more than that," she answered firmly.
"Very well, then," he continued. "I am by way of making a bargain. Supposing I succeed, will you lunch with me at the Waldorf-Astoria at one o'clock on the day after we arrive, and will you promise to let me know your whereabouts for the first month of your stay in New York?"
She looked at him, a little softened—and yet suspicious.
"I can't see what satisfaction that would be to you," she remarked.
"My lookout, that, isn't it?" he reminded her gently.
"I haven't any clothes to come out to luncheon in," she told him.
"If you will wear the clothes," he replied, "which you wore when you came on the steamer?"
"Well, I had to have a new frock," she interrupted, a little defiantly, "and I couldn't come abroad without a new hat, could I?"
"It's a bargain, then."
"Aren't you going to tell me anything?" she asked.
"Not at present," he replied. "To tell you the truth, there's so much that I don't understand myself."
THE end of the voyage, so eagerly looked forward to by many of the passengers, was certainly not disappointing in the matter of sensation.
The steamer was boarded in the harbor by two detectives, whose every movement was watched with intense interest. They made their way at once to the captain's cabin, where they remained for at least a quarter of an hour.
When they returned to the deck they came face to face with Mr. Gordon Black. He was smoking a large cigar and, so far from showing any signs of discomfiture, accosted the two men and shook hands with them. A slight sense of disappointment began to manifest itself among the passengers. They were now almost up to the landing-stage and nothing had happened. Mr. Gordon Black, whose arrest by the New York police had been looked upon as a certainty, remained very much at liberty. The two detectives were talking to no one nor showing any signs of imminent action. It seemed, too, as though the murderer of Mr. Blessing were to walk off the ship unmolested. Then there was a little commotion at the companionway. Two of the stewards emerged, carrying a steamer-chair upon which Dr. Browning was stretched out. He was wearing a shore-going hat, and, though his appearance was ghastly, he was doing his best to exchange farewells with those of the passengers whom he passed. His chair was set down close to the gangway and within a few feet of the detectives. At that moment Brooke strolled up. He pointed to the chair.
"I give that man in charge, officer," he said to the nearer detective, "for the murder of William Blessing on this boat."
Brooke had spoken without raising his voice in the least, but his words had been perfectly distinct. What followed seemed nothing short of miraculous.
With a single bound Browning was at the side of the ship. He sent sprawling a passenger who inadvertently barred his path, and a seaman who made an instinctive movement toward him he tripped up with a dexterity which was simply amazing.
They saw him for a moment and heard a splash. Then every one rushed to the side of the ship.
"Your man, right enough," Brooke remarked to the detective.
"That's Tim, sure," was the prompt reply.
"I wish to God I'd believed it, and we wouldn't have bungled the job!"
The steamer was within forty yards of the dock, and the only open space around was the space which had been left for her to clear. Two sailors dived, and a dozen boats were in the water within five minutes. Nevertheless, the passengers were obliged to disembark without learning what had become of their late steamer companion.
CONSTANCE arrived punctually at the Waldorf on the following morning. Brooke led her to the table which he had reserved and watched the color stream into her cheeks as she bent over the roses which were lying by her plate.
"Well," he announced cheerfully, "I've ordered luncheon—all manner of weird dishes, with just one or two we are sure of. I didn't order champagne because I thought you'd prefer that for dinner."
"What do you mean?" she asked, half indignantly.
"Never mind," he replied. "I can see you are bubbling over with questions. Read the papers this morning?"
She shook her head.
"I've been too busy."
"Then I'll have to tell you a few facts first," he said. "The whole affair hinges around the great struggle between Gordon Black and Seth Pryor. Black stepped over the line a bit and had to leave the country. The documents which would have incriminated him were in England.
"Blessing went over, as Pryor's agent, to buy them. Our little friend. Dr. Browning, who has a dozen aliases, and who is more wanted by the New York police than any other man on earth, was also on to the game, only what he wanted was to steal the papers. Very well. Blessing gets them. Gordon Black, acting on a hint he received from New York, sails for home.
"Dr. Browning—Tim, the New York police call him—books on the same steamer. Tim murders Blessing and gets hold of the documents. Having got them, he tries to think out the safest way to make use of them. Blessing was murdered outside his door. On the whole, it is safer for him to land in new York without those documents in his possession.
"He pitches on the most ingenuous-looking of his fellow passengers and hands them over to me to take care of. One or two little things about the man, however, during the last few days, gave me to think, as one says. I watched him like a lynx for the last twenty-four hours and was convinced that he was shamming. The rest is obvious."
"And what about Mr. Gordon Black?" she asked.
"Therein," Brooke replied, "lies the humor of the situation, if one can use such a word at all in connection with the affair. The two great factions headed by Black and Seth Pryor made peace one day last week. The documents for which our little friend hoped to get a million dollars, and for which Mr. Black had actually bid twenty-five thousand pounds, are valueless. Quite a dramatic little business, wasn't it?"
"What about the note which you saw Mr. Gordon Black receive on deck?"
"That was from Browning, although he didn't sign it," Brooke explained. "It was just a little reminder that those documents were still in existence."
"There isn't anything in life," she said softly, "so wonderful as to realize these things going on around you; to watch other people and wonder what secrets they are carrying about with them."
"I'm glad you feel like that," Brooke answered, "because that sort of thing is a bit of a hobby of mine, too. Found another post yet?"
"I offer you one," he declared, filling her glass with hock. "Secretary, companion, and—"
She put out her hand, checking him, as if his words had smitten her with poignant edge,
"No, no," she pleaded, her soft eyes appealing to him sorrowfully; " wait, please wait!"
He lapsed into thoughtful silence. Perhaps he was pushing the matter rather indelicately, somewhat hastily. So he reasoned, after a minute's cogitation. Better wait, indeed, than ruin it all.
"You had joined Blessing," said he slowly, looking at her with frank directness, "and meant to help him in his detective work."
She nodded, the flush of excitement, due to the crisis which she had staved off, brightening her cheeks and lips. Brooke wanted to kiss her. He wanted to tell her so. But it might be wiser—of course it would be wiser—to wait.
He leaned his elbows on the table, talking across to her confidentially. "What do you say to a partnership—business—with me as the other member of the firm?" he suggested. "Let's open a detective bureau in London—there's a world of work waiting—on equal terms."
She shook her head. "I have no capital for such a venture," said she. "I must stay here and fight."
"You have your brains and your typewriter," said he, his face glowing with the heat of his new idea. "You can't remain here friendless, with no business connection, you know. Say that you'll put your typewriter and business experience against my capital and join the venture."
"There's a great field—with your well-known talent as a business asset," she admitted, catching some of his fire.
"Then let's call it done!" he exclaimed "We'll return by the next steamer, and I'll have you near me, at least, while I—" he caught himself, his face paling, as if afraid.
"While you?" she smiled.
"Wait," said he.
She offered her hand. "A strictly business partnership, Mr. Brooke," she blushed. "And you must promise me not to mention—not to—to-" There was a supplication almost painful in her solemn eyes.
"I'll wait," said he.
SIX months had passed since the day that unique partnership was entered into across the breakfast table in the Waldorf-Astoria, New York. To all appearances Constance Robinson had resumed her vocation as public typist, except that the contrast between her comfortable office of the present, and the bare room in Render Street in which Brooke first met her, was pleasantly sharp. Brooke sat by, watching her fingers dance through the transcription of a page.
"What we want," he declared, from the depths of her easy-chair, "is a holiday—a proper summer holiday."
"What you may want," Constance asserted, with emphasis, "has nothing to do with me. What I want is to finish this typing."
He glanced at the machine contemptuously.
"I cannot understand," he exclaimed, "why you go on grinding away at that wretched copying! You get ninepence a thousand words for it. It isn't in the least worth your while."
"Perhaps not," she admitted, "and yet I fancy that I know my own business best. I have explained to you before that it is not the money it brings me in so much as the fact that it gives me a definite station in life. If any inquiries are made about me, I can easily prove that I am a professional typist, with work coming in all the time. It would be very much better for you if you had some corresponding occupation." Brooke evaded the point.
"Will you come out somewhere for a drive this afternoon?" he asked.
"I will not," she replied calmly. "You ought to have gone down and played golf. As you did not, I wish you would go round to your club or somewhere. You distract me."
He shrugged his shoulders and left her. He found Constance sometimes almost unendurable. Her resolution, her indomitable front towards all his attempts to alter in any way their relations, was beginning to tell upon him.
It was impossible, however, to believe that she was not like other girls. There had even been moments when he had fancied that she had looked at him more kindly, moments when he had certainly permitted himself to hope. Only it was a long time! Personally he felt as far away from her now as on that first day.
She had begun by piquing his curiosity. His vanity had been a little ruffled by her calm resistance of his advances. Then the other things had come—not all at once, but gradually. To-day he knew that there could never be any other woman in the world for him.
At the club he was distrait. He wandered from the card-room, which bored him, abandoned the billiard-room without an effort to play, and finally found himself in the library, the most deserted spot in the club. Its only other occupant laid down his paper at his approach and welcomed him.
"Mr. Brooke," he said, "your coming is rather a coincidence. I was on the point of ringing the bell to ask whether you were in the club."
Brooke looked at the speaker in surprise.
"I didn't even know that you remembered me, Sir William," he remarked, a little dryly.
Sir William Dennison smiled as he drew up his chair. He was a tall, gray-bearded man, well groomed, his beard trimmed Vandyke fashion, a single eyeglass in his left eye. He held an official position under the government, and was quite the most distinguished member of the club.
"On the contrary, I remember you very well," he declared. "It was in Vienna that I last met you."
"I am flattered," said Brooke, easily, "to have remained in your memory so long."
Sir William glanced around the room as though to make sure that they were alone.
"I have heard of you once or twice lately," he announced, "through a friend of mine whom I need not name—you and a young lady—Miss Constance Robinson, I think."
Brooke sat quite still.
"I am told that in one or two cases," Sir William continued, "you have shown, between you, an unusual amount of determination and ingenuity. I have a commission to offer you. Are you prepared to take it?"
"Without a doubt," Brooke answered.
"It doesn't seem, on the face of it, a very interesting affair," Sir William went on. "One can't tell, however, what it might lead to. These are the facts.
"About a fortnight ago a Monsieur Dupoy came over to this country, indirectly on behalf of the French government. I may say that we have received from them, within the course of the last few months, a strong protest against our neglect in the matter of war balloons and aeroplanes generally.
"Dupoy was sent here to attend some experiments at Aldershot, and to be entrusted by us with a complete scheme of our proposed reorganization. He was to have received these at the War Office at twelve o'clock last Friday week. He presented himself at the appointed place at that time but we were not quite ready, and we asked him to call again the next day.
"Dupoy was perfectly willing. I happened to be there myself, and I invited him to dine with me that night, an invitation which he accepted at once. Since then nothing whatever has been seen of Monsieur Dupoy."
"Are you sure that he did not return home?"
"Quite," Sir William replied. "We have communicated with the French government, and through them with his relations. No one has seen or heard anything of him since he left here last Friday week."
"I haven't noticed anything about it in the papers," Brooke remarked.
Sir William smiled.
"The disappearance of Monsieur Dupoy," he said softly, "is not one of those cases which are advertised in the press. It may, of course, have been due to an accident in the ordinary way. The hospitals, however, have been thoroughly searched, and no trace discovered of him. It is a significant fact that, so far as anybody knew, he left the War Office a week ago last Friday with our proposals and our complete scheme in his pocket."
"Where was he staying?" Brooke asked.
"At Delacher's Hotel, on the Embankment."
"Some inquiries have been made there, of course?"
"Naturally. Dupoy was reported to have paid his bill on the Friday morning, to have ordered his bag brought down, and to have gone out for half an hour to buy, he told the hotel clerk, a present for his wife. Since then he has not been heard of."
"Do you suspect any one?" Brooke asked next.
Sir William shrugged his shoulders. He had risen to his feet and was lighting a cigarette from a case which he passed over to Brooke.
"Not with any reason," he answered.
"Curiously enough, however, this is the third disappearance from Delacher's Hotel within the last six weeks. It is possible that something may have happened to Dupoy quite apart from the fact that he was supposed to be carrying with him very important political documents.
"I don't know whether the affair appeals to you. If it does, my department will pay exceedingly well for any satisfactory elucidation of the mystery, and will, in any case, be responsible for your expenses if you care to have a look round."
"I am awfully obliged to you, sir," Brooke replied. "Perhaps in a day or two I may have something to report."
Brooke sought no longer to distract himself at bridge or billiards. He took a taxicab and drove back to his rooms, calling, on his way, to see Constance. She looked up at him ominously as he entered, but he only smiled.
"This," he declared, "is no idle visit. Work! Do you know anything about Delacher's Hotel?"
"I know that a few weeks ago there was a diamond merchant from Hamburg who disappeared from there; and a little time before that, a mysterious young woman from St. Petersburg, who had come over to look for a situation as a teacher of languages, went out one morning and never returned."
"Good!" Brooke exclaimed. "There has been a third disappearance—a Frenchman this time."
"How did you hear of it?" she asked quickly.
"A friend of mine," he explained, "a member of the government now, has placed the affair in my hands."
"He has probably heard of you," she remarked quietly, "as my assistant."
"He will hear of me some day as your—" Brooke began.
"Don't be rash," she interrupted. "What are you going to do?"
"I am going to stay at Delacher's Hotel," he replied. "And you?"
"I am going to finish this typing. Tell me, before you go, about this man who has disappeared?"
Brooke imparted to her in a few words all the information he had gained from Sir William. She listened thoughtfully. When he had finished, she turned back to her work.
"I wish you luck. Don't get into trouble," she advised him.
Brooke opened his lips, but the click of the typewriter drowned his words. He moved slowly away. At the door he looked back. Constance was absorbed in her work. He could see only the top of her light brown hair and the flashing of her fingers. With a muttered word he went up to his room.
An hour later he made his way to Charing Cross and, waiting until the arrival of the Continental train, mingled with the little stream of alighting passengers and took a taxicab to Delacher's Hotel. A hall porter received his bag and ushered him in. Brooke, whose French was perfect, asked for a room in the name of Monsieur Dupoy. The clerk stared at him for a moment. The head porter, who was a tall, olive-skinned person, with a black mustache, also leaned forward with interest.
"Monsieur Dupoy!" the clerk repeated, with the pen in his hand.
Brooke nodded, and glanced around as though to make sure that no one else was within hearing.
"To tell you the truth," he announced, "I come here on behalf of the family. Only the week before last, a cousin of mine was staying in this same hotel. He was to have returned to Paris last Friday week. He did not arrive. We have sent him many messages and letters. There has been no reply. It was arranged that I should come over to make inquiries."
"We have already written," the clerk remarked, "informing Madame Dupoy that her husband left here on the Friday morning, for the purpose, he said, of buying her a present. He did not return. He had so little luggage that we imagined he had been kept until the last moment and then had taken the train without it, sooner than be delayed." Brooke nodded.
"Up till last night," he declared, with a little gesture, "my cousin had not returned. Therefore, I am here. Give me a room. I do not know what I can do, but we shall see. One must try the police."
The clerk handed him a round ticket.
"You can have the room which your cousin occupied. Monsieur Dupoy," he said—"No. 387, on the third floor. As to the police, it is, of course, your affair, but I trust you are satisfied that nothing happened to Monsieur Dupoy under this roof?"
"Entirely," Brooke replied. "All the evidence goes to show that he left here, as you have told me, to buy this present."
Brooke was ushered to the lift. Until he disappeared, he noticed that the head porter was watching him with ill-concealed curiosity. He was shown into an ordinary hotel bedroom on the third floor, with an outlook on the Thames.
The furniture was of the plainest, and there was no communicating door into another room. Brooke opened his bag, took out his clothes, and glanced at his watch. It was a quarter to eight. He decided to dine in the restaurant down-stairs without changing, and accordingly rang the bell and ordered some hot water. The chambermaid wished him good evening pleasantly. He slipped a half-crown into her hand.
"I may leave at any moment," he explained. "I give you this now."
She grabbed the money and beamed at him.
"The gentleman is very gracious," she declared, with a strong German accent. Brooke broke into fluent German.
"You knew the occupant of this room," he inquired, "who was here the week before last—Monsieur Dupoy?"
"He left his bag behind him," she said.
"He departed in a great hurry."
"You didn't happen to see him before he started, I suppose?" Brooke asked.
"Yes!" she answered. "Yes! He came in and washed his hands. It was the middle of the morning. He went out to eat. I know because he said to me: 'The food down-stairs,' he said, 'it is good, but the room is dull. I will go somewhere more lively.' He said that to me while I poured out his hot water."
"Nothing about buying a present for his wife?" Brooke inquired. The girl shook her head.
"Not to me did he speak of such a person."
Brooke whistled softly as he went downstairs. As he crossed the hall he heard the sound of voices raised in altercation. The head porter was speaking angrily to a subordinate, who had apparently come late to relieve him. Brooke bought a paper and went into the restaurant.
He dined fairly well, but his surroundings were certainly depressing. A band, not of the first order, was playing. There were only a few diners, and these were obviously foreigners of the commercial type. One or two of the men seemed to be talking business. There were barely half a dozen women in the room. As soon as he had finished his meal, he strolled out into the hall. The man who had relieved the head porter was standing on the door-step. Brooke strolled up to him and lit a cigarette.
"Disagreeable looking fellow, your head porter," he observed.
"It is a wonder," the man grumbled, "that any of us stay here with him. If the management only knew?"
He hurried off to procure a taxi for a departing guest. Brooke awaited his return.
"Queer-appearing fellow altogether," he said softly. "He looks more like a head-waiter than anything."
"He was a waiter before he took on this job," the porter remarked. "He has got a restaurant of his own now, they say. Shouldn't care to go to it myself."
"Why not?" Brooke inquired.
The man hesitated. He looked more closely at his questioner.
"No particular reason, sir. I don't like Paul, that's all. You'll excuse me, sir."
He walked off to attend to some alighting passengers. Brooke noticed that he seemed rather to avoid returning. When he was disengaged, however, Brooke called softly to him.
"Tell me, what is your name?" he asked.
"My name is Fritz, sir," the man replied.
"Do you happen to know mine?" Brooke continued.
"My name is Dupoy."
"Indeed, sir—We had a Monsieur Dupoy here quite lately."
"My cousin," Brooke declared. "He was to have returned to Paris last Friday week. He never came, and we have been very anxious. That is why I am here." The porter edged a little away.
"I should go to the police, sir, and make inquiries," he suggested.
"There are certain reasons," Brooke said slowly, "why I would rather not do that. I thought I might be able to pick up some information here. I am willing to pay for it."
The man smiled in somewhat mysterious fashion.
"If I were you, sir," he whispered, confidentially, "I should ask—"
"Whom?" Brooke demanded.
Again he went about his business, and again Brooke waited. When he came back, however, he was uncommunicative. He kept looking behind toward the office.
"You will forgive me if I speak plainly, sir," he said. "My first instructions when I got the job here were to keep my mouth shut. I've got a wife and children and I can't afford to run any risks. If they see you here with me and know you're making inquiries, they'll think I'm gassing." Brooke slipped a sovereign into his hand.
"What time does Paul come on duty?"
"Not for another hour, sir," the man replied. "He is having his dinner."
Brooke strolled back into the hotel and asked for the manager, Mr. Delacher, who turned out to be a very polite but somewhat somber-looking personage. Brooke introduced himself as a cousin of Monsieur Dupoy.
"I don't know," he said, "whether you remember my cousin? He stayed here for a day or two, and then, on the day when he should have returned home, he absolutely disappeared."
"I remember Monsieur Dupoy perfectly," the manager admitted. "It is true that he did not return, but as he had paid his bill and said that he was going by the two-twenty, we concluded that he would send for his luggage afterwards."
"You cannot help me in any way, then?" Brooke asked. "He has a wife who is altogether in despair at his absence." Mr. Delacher was only mildly sympathetic.
"My guests," he explained, "come and go. Of their doings I keep no count. How Monsieur Dupoy spent his time I cannot tell. All that I know is that he paid his bill, which seems to prove that he meant to depart. You will probably find, sir, that he will return presently. He is perhaps at home by now."
"I thank you very much," Brooke said. "By the bye, the face of your head porter seemed to me so familiar. Have I seen him at any of the hotels on the Continent, I wonder?"
Mr. Delacher shook his head.
"Paul has been with me for twelve years. Before that, he was at the Savoy in Berlin. He is a very valuable servant."
"Without a doubt," Brooke assented. "I suppose, then, if I want to find my cousin you would advise me to apply to the police?"
Mr. Delacher shrugged his shoulders.
"I can see no other course, monsieur."
Brooke strolled out along the Embankment for half an hour. When he returned, Paul was on duty—tall, austere, magnificent. He saluted Brooke in a dignified manner, but he watched him all the time as one who was scarcely satisfied. Brooke came to a standstill.
"Paul," he said, "it is a saying in Paris that the chief porter at a London hotel can tell you anything in the world you may want to know."
"It is an exaggeration, monsieur," the man replied.
"It may be," Brooke admitted. "Who can say? I search everywhere for my cousin, Eugene Dupoy. It is you who saw him last. You cannot even tell me where it was that he intended to lunch before he returned for his bag?"
Paul regarded his questioner in melancholy fashion.
"I cannot tell monsieur that," he admitted.
"You did not know, even, how he spent his time here?"
Paul shook his head.
"He seemed to be occupied with affairs," he announced. "On the morning of his unexpected departure, he left in a state of some excitement. He had an important engagement, he said, at twelve o'clock."
"That is so," he said, confidentially. "The appointment, however, was postponed."
Paul turned slowly round. His manner, in a sense, was changing.
"Some papers which my cousin was expecting were not completed," Brooke continued. "A little affair of business. I myself am to fetch them to-morrow from the same place. That, however, is beside the point."
There was no doubt but that Paul was an altered man. His frigidity of demeanor had departed. He apparently took the liveliest interest in his questioner.
"I am very sorry indeed, sir," he said, "that I cannot help you. Monsieur Dupoy was a charming guest. He will, I am sure, return home safely. Monsieur remains with us long?"
Brooke shrugged his shoulders.
"What is the good?" he demanded. "Where am I to look for my dear cousin? I cannot tell. I shall finish the little matter of business which he was obliged to leave undone, and return to Paris."
"You are not anxious, then, about your relation, sir?" Paul asked.
Brooke shook his head.
"This," he declared, "is London. Things do not happen here. It may well be an affair of a letter, ill-directed or missing. Eugene may have gone on the Continent. Who can tell?"
Paul was standing with his hands behind him. It was between nine and ten o'clock and there was nothing whatever doing.
"It seems strange, monsieur," he remarked, "that your cousin did not finish his business here, after all."
"It is nothing," Brooke answered. "Certain papers were not ready. I myself take possession of them at eleven o'clock to-morrow. I think that I shall do exactly what Eugene would have done—pay my bill when I leave here in the morning, return for my bag, and catch the two twenty."
"I will give orders, sir," Paul said. "You will lunch here, sir?"
"Probably," Brooke replied. "It is not amusing but, although I speak English so well, I am almost a stranger in London."
"If I might venture," Paul suggested slowly, "there is a little restaurant in a street leading off Shaftesbury Avenue—I could give monsieur the address—where the cooking is altogether French. A most interesting place! Monsieur might see there a great singer, a dancer, an artist. The French ladies who have succeeded in London, they go there at midday. It is worth a visit."
"The place for me, Paul!" Brooke exclaimed. "Write it down on a piece of paper."
Paul obeyed promptly.
"It is called the Café Hollande, monsieur," he said, handing over the card.
"There are two floors. You go downstairs and ask for Jean Marchand. You will, I think, be exceedingly well served."
"I'll try, at all events," Brooke decided. "I suppose I shall have plenty of time to return here and catch the two-twenty?"
"It would be advisable, monsieur," Paul proposed, "if your bag were sent to the station to meet you. The account could be paid before you leave in the morning."
"It is excellent," Brooke declared. "Good night, Paul!"
The man saluted.
"Good night, monsieur!"
Brooke slept well, was called at a reasonable hour in the morning, visited the hairdresser after his breakfast, and at eleven o'clock strolled out to the front and instructed Paul to procure him a taxicab.
"I shall do as you suggested, Paul," he remarked. "I have paid my bill. After I have finished my business, I shall call at Scotland Yard and inquire about my cousin."
The man assented gravely.
"I trust, monsieur," he said, "that you will receive good news. Also that you will like my little restaurant. Bonjour et bon voyage, monsieur!"
Brooke was driven in a taxi to the War Office. Sir William, who happened to be in the building and disengaged, received him at once.
"Any news?" he asked, laconically.
"Not yet," Brooke replied. "So far, it has been an affair of routine. I am supposed to be here to receive a document from you—drawings, and all that sort of thing. Can I have a bundle made up?" Sir William nodded and gave a few instructions.
"When one comes to think of it," he said thoughtfully, "it is rather a serious thing that this fellow Dupoy should have disappeared in the heart of London. Where are you going when you leave here?"
"I am going exactly where Dupoy went. I am going to lunch in a little restaurant off Shaftesbury Avenue, strongly recommended to me by a person whom I suspect was interested in Dupoy's disappearance. I expect there to obtain at any rate a hint." Sir William nodded in an interested manner.
"You fellows do get some fun out of life," he remarked, a little enviously. "I should rather like to lunch with you." Brooke shook his head.
"I wouldn't, Sir William," he advised. "If I am on a clue at all, it is a very thin one, and this sort of people are easily put off. I think I had better go alone."
"Anyhow," Sir William suggested, "you'd better let me know the name of the restaurant, in case you do the disappearance trick, or anything of that sort."
Brooke scribbled it down upon a piece of paper. Then, with a sealed packet in his hand which he had the air of endeavoring to conceal as much as possible, he left the building and reentered his taxicab.
He drove first to Scotland Yard where, for the sake of appearances, he made a few aimless inquiries about Inspector Simmons, who was out of town. At a quarter to one he was set down outside the Café Hollande. He entered the place and looked around him for a minute. Although it was early, a great many of the tables were occupied, nearly all apparently by foreigners. There was a small orchestra playing from somewhere below, a large desk at which an elderly woman was busy making out accounts, mirrored walls, muslin curtains not absolutely clean, the usual appurtenances of a restaurant on the borders of Soho. A little dark man came hurrying towards him, his face wreathed in smiles.
"Jean Marchand?" Brooke asked.
"But certainly, monsieur," the little man replied. "It is Monsieur Paul who has sent you here?"
"Paul of Delacher's Hotel," Brooke admitted. Jean glanced around the room.
"Up here, monsieur," he confided, "it is at all times a little noisy—not entirely comme il faut. I recommend to monsieur my favorite table below. This way."
Brooke followed his guide down the stairs into a large and somewhat empty apartment, in which were set a few tables only. At the bottom of the stairs an orchestra of three musicians was playing. At the farther end of the room was a long table covered with bottles, watched over by a maître d'hôtel. There were only one or two people lunching.
"It is not yet one," Jean explained. "Between one and half past this room will be crowded. There are celebrities who come here. I myself will point them out to monsieur. I recommend this table—the one in the corner."
"But it is already occupied," Brooke remarked, glancing with a slightly puzzled air at the girl in the corner, who seemed on the point of raising her veil.
"The adjoining table, then, monsieur," Jean begged. "Monsieur may make himself comfortable. I myself will return to take his order for luncheon."
Jean retreated with smooth haste. Brooke advanced slowly towards the corner of the room indicated. Then he stopped short. The girl had raised her veil.
"Constance!" he exclaimed.
"You!" she echoed.
Brooke took a seat opposite to her.
"What on earth does it mean?" he cried.
She tore open a letter which lay on the table by her side. She glanced through the few lines and passed it across to him.
"A man called upon me this morning," she explained. "He asked for my aid in a certain private matter. The first step was that I should lunch here at a table which should be pointed out by a maître d'hôtel named Jean Marchand, and that I should open this letter if a neighbor should take the adjoining place. Read."
Brooke snatched at the half sheet of note paper. Across it was written in a bold, sprawling hand—
Good fortune and good appetite to Monsieur Dupoy from Paris, and mademoiselle, his charming partner!
Brooke looked up at Constance and met her eyes steadily fixed upon his.
"This means?" he said slowly.
The wrinkles began to form around her eyes. She was beginning to laugh.
"It means that you have run up against some one even cleverer than we are," she declared. He looked at her with a little of that old-time cast of imbecility on his face.
"A philosophical attitude," Brooke insisted at length, "is our best role. We came here to lunch—we will lunch. We will lunch well."
Certainly there was nothing to be complained of in the cooking at the Café Hollande. The service was a little slow and there was a queer sense of emptiness in the room. All the time there was a great tumult of voices and footsteps up-stairs, but Jean's prophecy as to the filling up of this particular room was in no way carried out. As though by mutual consent, neither Constance nor Brooke talked of the disappearance of Dupoy. It was only over their coffee, during the last few moments, that the subject was mentioned.
"I made a mistake, of course," Brooke confessed. "It was foolish of me even to show myself at Delacher's Hotel."
She nodded. Soon afterwards they rose and, Brooke having paid the bill, they ascended the stairs and walked out into the street, without having seen anything further of Jean Marchand. As they passed along Shaftesbury Avenue, Constance, who had been looking into a shop-window, touched Brooke on the arm.
"We are being followed," she whispered.
"A man who stood on the other side of the street as we came out, is trailing us now."
"What is he like?" Brooke asked, with a sudden hope.
"He looks like a porter of some sort at an hotel or club," she answered. "He has on dark blue trousers, an ordinary coat, and a cap. He is rather florid—"
Brooke gently guided her down a narrow street which they were passing.
"It is the man I wanted to see," he declared softly. "Is he still following us?"
She nodded. Almost directly he stepped up.
"You want to speak to me, Fritz?" Brooke inquired.
"Yes, sir," the man replied, "but not here. If you please—"
He plunged through the door of a public-house. Brooke and Constance, without hesitation, followed him. It was an ordinary little place, half café, half public house, almost empty. They sat at a small table away from the window. 'Brooke ordered something to drink. Fritz leaned forward.
"This morning," he announced, "after you left, I was dismissed. That man Paul, he thinks that all are fools. He thinks that one sees nothing. He is wrong. Monsieur Dupoy, I am here to speak of your cousin."
"It is good," Brooke said, nodding. "Go on."
Fritz looked around him.
"I am a poor man," he continued. "I had a good place until one day Paul he took a dislike to me. Now I am turned away. Places are hard to get. I have a wife and children. I must do the best I can. It is for that reason that I said to myself—'Why should I not profit by the things which I have observed?'"
Brooke brought out his pocketbook.
"You are an exceedingly sensible fellow, Fritz," he declared. "Now tell me what information you have to offer, and we will talk business."
"Directly," he said, "but first, monsieur, what were you doing so long in the Café Hollande?"
"I had lunch there," Brooke told him, dryly.
The face of Fritz seemed suddenly blanched. He stared at them both.
"Monsieur lunched there!" he repeated.
"Down-stairs," Brooke admitted.
Fritz took the glass of brandy which had been offered, and drank it off.
"You have the good fortune, monsieur," he muttered. "It was not so with your cousin when he lunched there downstairs."
"What happened to him?" Brooke asked quickly.
Fritz shook his head.
"There are things," he declared, "which, if I knew, I would not dare to speak of. Indeed, I do not know. This is my offer to monsieur. For twenty pounds I will take him to his cousin."
Brooke placed the money without hesitation upon the counter. Fritz buttoned it up in his pocket and rose.
"Understand, monsieur" he said in the doorway, "that when I point to the house where you will find Monsieur Dupoy, I have finished. If you seek for me, it will be useless. I know nothing. I keep my bargain when I show you the house which shelters Monsieur Dupoy."
"It is agreed," Brooke assured him. They walked out into the street. Fritz kept about a dozen yards ahead. They crossed Shaftesbury Avenue, traversed another narrow street for a short distance, and then turned abruptly to the right. There was a news agent's shop, with a notice in the window—"Rooms to let for single gentlemen." Fritz pointed to it.
Almost as he uttered the words he stepped aside to avoid a passing dray. When it had gone, Fritz, too, had disappeared. He had plunged once more into the throng of people.
Brooke and Constance entered the shop. A Frenchwoman was behind the counter, stout, untidy, with black hair all over her face. Brooke took off his hat.
"Have you, madame," he asked, "a lodger here of the name of Dupoy?" She stretched out her hands.
"But, monsieur," she said, "I have a lodger here whom I do not know. His name is as likely to be Dupoy as anything else. Monsieur would like to see him?"
Brooke followed her up the crazy stairs. Constance came behind. They were ushered into a tiny bedchamber. A man, partly dressed, lay upon a sofa, his head propped up by two or three pillows. He stared at them eagerly as they came in, and his lips moved, but he said nothing. His clothes hung about him shapelessly. He had a beard of a week or so's growth upon his chin. His head was tied up with a bandage.
"Dupoy?" Brooke exclaimed.
The man stared at him but remained speechless. Madame shook her head.
"He talks only nonsense," she declared. "All the time he asks who he is. But listen, it is the doctor who comes. You shall speak with him yourself."
The doctor knocked at the door and entered. He bowed with a little flourish to Constance.
"Ah!" he exclaimed, "it is perhaps the friends of the unfortunate monsieur?"
"Tell me what has happened to him?" Brooke asked.
The Frenchman stretched out his hands.
"Madame can tell you as much as I," he said. "Last Friday week he tottered into the shop, very much as he is now, his head bound up, desperately ill. She fancies that an unseen hand propelled him. That may or may not be so. His pockets were cut open as though he had been searched. She brought him up-stairs and sent for me. Since then I have attended him every day. He was suffering from a terrible blow on the head, which has unfortunately produced, as you see, a complete loss of memory."
"If his head was bound up, he had already been treated for the blow when he came in?" Brooke remarked. "It was not an accident, then, which had happened in the street?"
The doctor shook his head in most mysterious fashion.
"Monsieur," he said, "almost I felt it my duty to communicate with the police. The wound when I examined it—it is beginning to heal now—gave me the impression of having been made by a surgeon's knife. It takes a certain course. Its effect has been this loss of memory and apprehension. The poor fellow knows nothing. The wound is healing, but for the rest, who can tell?"
There was a brief silence in the room.
"He had money?" Brooke asked slowly. The woman's eyes were suddenly covetous. She exchanged a rapid glance with the doctor, who coughed and looked away.
"He had money," she admitted slowly. "There is little left now, though. We have taken for his board and the doctor has taken for his bills. There is little remaining."
Again there was silence. The doctor was affecting to examine his patient. Brooke walked to the window—dusty, and smothered with a filthy muslin blind. He looked across the housetops for a moment. The instinct of the detective was suddenly crushed by a stronger feeling—a passionate sympathy with this poor stricken creature, an angry craving for revenge.
The woman had sidled out of the room. They could hear her heavy footsteps upon the stairs. The doctor was bending over his patient. Brooke turned back to Constance.
"We have found Dupoy," he said, "after all, but there are other things to be done."
Within a week, several things happened. Dupoy was formally identified, and died without having recovered his memory. The Café Hollande was searched quietly but closely from floor to ceiling, without the slightest result. The body of Fritz was discovered floating in the Thames. Paul was so much upset by these and other happenings that he was confined to his room for a fortnight with a severe nervous breakdown. Ultimately, however, to the great satisfaction of a large number of travelers, he was able to take up once more his duties as head porter at Delacher's Hotel.
BROOKE missed the sound of the typewriter as he entered her room, but, to his immense relief, Constance was there. She was sitting back in her easy-chair, her eyes were half closed, she seemed pale and tired. The windows were wide open but the air of the little room was stifling.
"Constance!" he exclaimed, "I beg your pardon, Miss Robinson—you see I am back again."
She seemed suddenly to pull herself together. The lines were still under her weary eyes, but she held herself upright and she spoke briskly.
"So I observe," she remarked. "I am sorry—"
She hesitated, looking at his dark clothes and black tie. He came over to her, dragging a chair with him.
"I am not going to try and be a hypocrite," he said. "It was an uncle whom I have seen only half a dozen times in my life, and he has left me a little money. He was eighty-one years old. Why on earth should I be sorry?"
"No reason at all that I can see," she admitted, smiling. "I suppose you have come to tell me, then, that our partnership is at an end?"
"On the contrary," he answered swiftly,
"I have come to beg for a new one."
She was conscious, almost as soon as she had spoken, of the opportunity which her words had given him. She shrank a little away but he caught at her hands and held them boldly.
"Constance," he said, "you've known all the time, of course. You're horrid to me, and I haven't cared to say much before because, after all, I had only what I could earn with you and through you. I've a reserve fund to fall back upon now. Will you marry me, please, dear?"
She drew her hands firmly away.
"Most certainly and decidedly not," she declared.
"It sounds a little uncompromising," he remarked.
"It is exactly how I feel," she assured him. "I have not the slightest desire to marry you or any one. What I've seen of married life," she went on, a little sadly, "has been quite enough to prevent my ever thinking about it for myself as long as I live."
"But surely'" he pleaded, "you do not allow yourself to be influenced by one, or even two, unfortunate marriages?"
She shook her head.
"I cannot discuss it," she said. "Fortunately for me, I am one of those people who are able to take care of themselves, who can live alone and not feel the want of any one's society. You see, I am not at all the sort of girl men like. I am a little hard, a little bitter. There have been things in my life which have made me so. The world is full of girls, Mr. Brooke, who would make you excellent wives, and who are only waiting for the opportunity. Please put away all such thoughts in connection with me."
He sat in silence for a few moments.
"I wonder," he remarked, "is there anything in your life which accounts for your unnatural attitude towards matrimony?"
"Some day," she answered, "I may tell you—certainly not at present. Now, please, get all these foolish ideas out of your head. There is some business to talk about."
"I will talk business in five minutes," Brooke said. "Before I do so, I insist upon knowing what has happened to this room."
He looked around him wonderingly. Constance sat quite still, but her lips were quivering.
"I have got rid of a few articles of furniture which I did not require," she declared.
"Nothing else has happened to it that I know of."
"Your little water-colors have gone," he pointed out, "your two bronzes, all the china from your cabinet, all the silver from that little what-not. Were you thinking of moving, or—"
"Have you sold them?"
"I do not consider, Mr. Brooke," she said, "that this matter concerns you at all."
"We are partners," he objected.
"We are partners inasmuch as we divide the profits of certain of our undertakings," she replied. "We have done that, and there is an end of it."
"If we are partners in good fortune," he insisted doggedly, "we are also partners in ill fortune."
"I am not prepared to grant anything of the sort," she rejoined. "Since you are so ill-bred as to be inquisitive, I will admit that I have sold some of my things. I had a pressing claim and I had to satisfy it."
"But why on earth couldn't you telegraph me?" he exclaimed. "You knew where I was."
"Why on earth should I?" she replied.
"You know very well that what I have—"
"What you have has nothing to do with me," she declared firmly. "I have a burden to carry through life and I mean to carry it myself. What it is I have no idea of telling you—at any rate for the present. If you find out, it will be against my will. Sometimes it keeps me poor. At other times it is no trouble at all. Whatever it is, it is my affair and mine alone. Now, will you please sit quite still? I want to talk to you about something else."
Brooke kept silent with an effort.
"Very well," he muttered. "For the present, then—only for the present. You can go on."
"I suppose," she began, "I have been wasting my time the whole of the fortnight you have been away. I couldn't help it. 1 am going to make a confession. That down-stairs room in the Café Hollande has fascinated me. I haven't been able to keep away from it. I think what makes it the more attractive really is that they hate the sight of me there."
"The place has been thoroughly searched, hasn't it?" he interposed.
"From cellar to attic. Directly the manager was spoken to and it was hinted to him that suspicions had been aroused concerning the restaurant, he placed all his keys at the disposal of Mr. Simmons, and he insisted upon their searching every room and cross-questioning whomever they chose.
"Not a single suspicious circumstance came to light, not a single thing to connect the place with Paul of Delacher's Hotel, or with any other person, Mr. Simmons himself told me that he was sure there had been some mistake. I told him about Fritz, the man whose dead body was found in the Thames. I told him how genuinely terrified he was when he heard that we had lunched there. Mr. Simmons only shook his head. You know how obstinate he is. He had made up his mind.
"Very well, I said no more. But since then the Café Lugano has seen little of me. I have lunched in that gloomy room downstairs at the Hollande nearly every day. Sometimes I have dined there as well. They keep on charging me more and more. They bring me indifferent things to eat. They keep me waiting an unconscionable time. I say to myself 'Never again will I set foot inside this place!' and in a few hours I am back again."
"This isn't like you," he remarked, wonderingly.
"Not a bit," she admitted. "I have never believed in presentiments. I haven't cared about anything but direct methods. Yet I am going to tell you something. I know perfectly well that there are things connected with the Café Hollande which have never been discovered. Do you know what I call it to myself—the Spider's Parlor! Things go on there which no one has any idea of."
"But in what part of the place?" Brooke asked.
"I do not know," she answered, "only I feel quite sure that there is something mysterious about that half-underground room, with just those few tables and the three musicians. They are turning people away all the time up-stairs. It would be perfectly easy to add fifty more tables down-stairs, instead of which they keep it empty. The few people who are there seem either to have drifted in by accident, or to have some special interest in the place. However, there is something more to tell you."
She glanced at the clock, which was just striking four.
"To-day," she went on, "as I came out, I stopped to give something to the musicians. The man who plays the piano was the only one there. The other two had turned away for a minute. I wonder whether you remember him? He was a strange, dark-looking creature, with queer eyes."
"I remember him perfectly."
"He seemed to have a sudden idea when I spoke to him," she went on. "There was no one within hearing. He asked me in an undertone for my address."
"The infernal cheek—" Brooke began. Constance shook her head.
"Don't be absurd," she said quietly.
"He did not ask in that sort of way. The only other two words he said were 'Four o'clock.' Now suppose you go to the door and open it."
There was a sound of knocking outside. Brooke obeyed. It was indeed the musician who stood there. He wore a long black overcoat, notwithstanding the heat of the day, and he carried a soft black hat in his hand. He stared hard at Brooke with one eye, and blinked rapidly with the other.
"Miss Robinson?" he asked.
"She is here," Brooke replied. "Come in."
The man came into the room. Constance rose to her feet.
"This gentleman," she said, indicating Brooke, "is a friend of mine. You need not hesitate to speak before him. What is it you wish to say?"
The man laid his hat upon the table.
"Young lady," he began, "I do not quite know why I spoke to you. I was beside myself this morning. They have dismissed me, those people at that rathole. I sat there thinking when you passed. You, too, have been in that place often, and I wondered, as the others wonder, for what purpose. I said to myself that we would speak with one another. Who can tell what may come of it?"
"I have nothing whatever to conceal," she told him. "I have been so often into that wretched little room at the Café Hollande because the place seems to me so mysterious, and because I am interested in unraveling queer things and visiting strange places. I have always a fancy that there are secrets almost within the reach of one's hands there."
The man leaned forward. He was English enough, and yet there was a strain of some foreign blood in him. His gestures were theatrical but natural.
"It is the truth!" he exclaimed. "There are things going on there which no one knows of. There are certain visitors who are brought with much ceremony to the little room down-stairs, and on those nights we are sent away early. What happens? Who knows? But that visitor never comes another time. He is never seen again.
"You," he went on, pointing to Brooke, "were brought down there one day, and the young lady. Nothing happened. The young lady has been often since. Yet believe me or not, as you choose, never do I remember any one else escorted down those stairs by Jean whose face I have ever seen again!"
"But there are always a few customers there," Constance objected.
"Dummies!" the musician declared.
"They are creatures of the restaurant. There is barely a single genuine customer. Why should they come? The place is nearly empty. Only one or two tables are set there; it is cold and drafty, the service is slow. Mademoiselle is the only one from the outside world who has been there often, and I have seen them watch her—watch her from up-stairs, watch her from the other places. Sometimes I have had it in my mind to speak to her."
"Tell me," Brooke asked, "you seem to have been suspicious of this place for some time. Have you discovered anything?"
"A trifle which may not be a trifle," the musician answered. "It was only yesterday. There was a wine merchant who called. Jean complained bitterly of some wine. We could hear them upon the stairs.
"It was arranged that Jean should go into the cellars and bring up several bottles at hazard. Jean passed us, went behind the bar, opened the trap-door and stepped down. I saw him disappear with my own eyes. In a moment or two the wine merchant came down the stairs. He inquired for Monsieur Jean. I pointed to the open trap-door.
"'Ah!' he exclaimed, 'he has gone to fetch the wine. I will help him.' He hurried across the room and began to descend the steps. Presently he returned. 'There is no one there,' he declared.
"It was in the intervals of playing. I myself descended with him. The cellar was empty. We searched it everywhere. Then we both ascended. While we spoke of this thing we heard footsteps. Jean appeared with the bottles. I turned away. I heard Jean explain that he had been behind a bin in the corner, but I know better. Jean was not in the cellar at all."
"But surely it is not impossible," Brooke interposed, "that there should be another way out of the cellar?"
"There is a way for letting cases down from the street," the man replied, "but that is almost perpendicular, and Jean could not have been hidden there or gone out that way. I know a short time ago there came men who searched those cellars, searched them carefully, yard by yard. They found no other exit. It was for that they were looking. To-day I know that they were wrong. There is another exit. That is all I have to say."
"I do not quite understand, after all," Constance remarked, "why you have come to me. You have realized that I was interested in the restaurant, but is that all?"
The man took up his hat slowly.
"I know," he declared, "that you are an enemy of the place. I have seen Jean's face grow black when you have entered. I have heard orders given that you were to be served slowly and badly. I know that for some reason they are afraid of you there. Therefore, it seemed to me that, hating the place as I do, you were the person to whom I might bring the little information I have."
Brooke put his hand in his pocket.
"If a trifling loan," he suggested, "while you are out of work—"
"I shall accept it with pleasure, sir," the man replied. "And if anything should come of this?"
He wrote down his address upon a piece of paper.
"There may be other questions," he continued, "matters which have seemed to me unimportant."
"There is just one thing I should like to ask you," Constance said, as he turned to go. "Besides myself there seems to be one habitué of the place from the general public—a little man with gold glasses, who is always reading a paper. They treat him almost as rudely as they do me."
The musician nodded.
"He is a doctor, miss," he told her, "who has a surgery near. That is all I know. I have seen them look at him., also, as though they wished him somewhere else. He comes in, I think, because it is near his place. They serve him, too, badly, but he takes no notice. He reads always more than he eats. Good day, miss! Good day, sir!"
"Entirely as a matter of business," Brooke proposed, as the door closed behind their visitor, "I suggest that we dine to-night at the Café Hollande."
"It would perhaps be advisable," Constance assented.
They were met at the head of the stairs by Jean, who hurried along the crowded room towards them.
"If I could only persuade mademoiselle," he begged, "to dine here! I will arrange a round table for two. Downstairs it is so triste and damp."
"Another time, Jean," Brooke declared.
"I have been away, and we have a little matter to talk over, mademoiselle and I. We like the quiet down there."
Jean shrugged his shoulders. It was unaccountable. However, it must be as mademoiselle preferred. He escorted them down the stairs himself.
"We are having plans made," he confided to them, "for turning this into a large grill-room. It is only the kitchen accommodation which is difficult. Mademoiselle will like her accustomed seat?"
They decided to move farther into the corner, however, and found themselves at the next table to the little gentleman with the gold spectacles, who favored them with a bland but benevolent stare. He called Jean to him.
"Waiter," he said, in a smooth, cultivated voice, "I have dined here for two months and I have never made a complaint."
"I am glad that monsieur has been so well served," Jean remarked.
"I have been abominably served," was the indignant reply. "I care little for my food. I come here only because it is quiet and because I may read and because it is near my work. But even a worm will turn. I desire to inform you that your food is the worst I have ever tasted, that it reaches me half cold, that your service is abominable and your charges exorbitant. After to-night I shall look for another restaurant. It is all."
The natural instinct of the maître d'hôtel seemed for the moment to triumph in Jean. He started to make apologies, but the little man waved him away.
"It is my first complaint," he declared.
"It is my last."
Jean departed. The little man was settling down again to his papers. He glanced for a moment, however, at Constance.
"I trust," he said, "that I have not made myself objectionable? You, madam, also have been, I believe, an habitué here. I must confess that I wonder at it." Constance smiled.
"I certainly have not come here to dine—well or cheaply," she admitted. "I think really I have come because I am fond of the unusual and because there is something about the place which rather mystifies me."
"In what way?" the little gentleman asked.
She shook her head.
"Just an idea."
The little gentleman drew his newspaper closer to him.
"Madam," he said, "I have no faith in ideas. I am a physician. Science is at once my mistress and my hobby. It provides me with all the mysteries I require. As for this place, it is nothing but a drafty, ill-managed hole. I have finished with it. Pardon me."
He plunged into his paper with the air of one who has concluded a conversation. There were only two other customers in the room—one a powerful, sunburnt man in tweed clothes, who sat with a bottle of wine in front of him and a newspaper propped up against it, dining, apparently, entirely to his satisfaction. The other had the appearance of being one of the staff. The dinner was a little better than usual, and curiously enough it was served almost precipitately.
"One would imagine," Brooke remarked, "that they wanted to get rid of us."
Constance looked around the room. The tablecloths had been removed from the other tables and there were no signs of any other diners being expected.
"What about our friend there?" she inquired, moving her head slightly towards the sunburnt man.
"A countryman or colonial," Brooke decided, "wandered in here by accident. Probably didn't care for it up-stairs because of his clothes and thick boots."
"He looks like that," she admitted. They finished their dinner presently. There seemed to be nothing to wait for. The little doctor had lit a pipe and was reading over his coffee. The sunburnt man was leaning back in his chair, apparently thoroughly satisfied with his dinner. As they passed out, Brooke obeyed a sudden impulse and spoke to him.
"Do you mind if I take one of your matches?" he asked.
The man pushed them to him without a word. Brooke made some difficulty about striking one.
"Everything down here seems damp," he remarked. "Gives one the feeling of being half underground, doesn't it?"
The sunburnt man looked up at Brooke and frowned. Then he turned a little away, crossing his legs, and took up his paper again.
"Hadn't noticed it," he declared, shortly.
Brooke caught Constance up, smiling.
"Your friend with the red cheeks," he told her, "has about the worst manners of any man I ever knew. He seemed afraid of being spoken to." She laughed.
"I noticed that he didn't .seem to take to you," she remarked. "At any rate, he seems very well able to take care of himself." They passed Jean, descending the stairs with a bottle of old brandy in his hand. Brooke left the place almost reluctantly.
"Well?" Constance asked.
"I suppose that fellow's all right," Brooke said thoughtfully. "The little doctor was just getting up to go as we came away. He will be the last one in the room."
"I never saw any one who looked better able to take care of himself," Constance murmured.
The night was hot, the streets were light as day. As though by common consent, they walked. At the corner of Piccadilly Circus, Brooke halted.
"What do you say to a ride on the top of a motor omnibus?" he suggested.
"It would perhaps be pleasant," she assented.
"There's one at the corner there, for Hampstead," he said. "Come."
They were crossing the road when Constance felt a light touch on her arm. She turned quickly around. Inspector Simmons of Scotland Yard was walking by her side.
"Stroke of luck, seeing you. Miss Robinson," he remarked.
"I am glad you think so," she answered.
"You know Mr. Brooke, don't you?"
Mr. Simmons bit his lip.
"Of course I do. Sorry! I only caught sight of you that moment. Are you in a hurry, Miss Robinson?"
"I am never in a hurry," she replied, "if there is anything to be done."
"Will you please both step into the Monico with me, then?" he begged. "We will have some coffee. I want to show you a letter."
"Certainly," Constance agreed.
Mr. Simmons escorted her politely to the door of the restaurant. Brooke looked a little regretfully at the top of the motor omnibus, and followed. They found a small table against the wall and Mr. Simmons ordered coffee. Then he drew from his pocket a letter, which he did not, however, at once open.
"I wonder," he said, "if you have either of you heard of the Eburian Copper Mine?"
"Of course," Brooke replied. "The annual meeting is to-morrow, isn't it? They say there's going to be an awful row."
"There probably will be," Mr. Simmons assented. "I know we've orders to draft a hundred police down to the Cannon Street Hotel. Let me remind you of the facts. Miss Robinson may not know them.
"There have been six hundred thousand pounds' worth of shares issued and paid for on the strength of certain reports. A month ago there was a sensational article in the Financial Times, absolutely discrediting the mine. There was a fearful panic, of course, and the company sent out the greatest known mining expert—a man named Haslem—to make an independent report. He has not been allowed to send a telegram or a letter. He arrived in London secretly to-night. The meeting is to-morrow."
Brooke and Constance were both interested now. Their coffee stood before them, neglected.
"To-night," the detective continued, slowly unfolding the letter, "I was in my office when this was brought in—this with an enclosure. I will read the letter first. It seems to be from Haslem and it is written from Delacher's Hotel:
"I received the enclosed letter on my arrival in London this evening. I am sending it on to you as a matter of form, for I think 1 can take care of myself. You may know me by name. I have to give evidence at the Cannon Street Hotel tomorrow with regard to the Eburian Mine.
Brooke and Constance had exchanged swift glances.
"Delacher's Hotel!" she murmured.
"Now for the enclosure," Mr. Simmons continued. "Here it is—the usual sort of thing—plain paper, typewritten, and all the rest of it. Let me read it:
"To-morrow you are going to give evidence which will practically ruin half-a-dozen of the most unscrupulous company promoters in London. .Read the advice of a friend. Take care of yourself to-night. London is not altogether the city of safety one is apt to believe.
"FROM ONE WHO KNOWS."
"What have you done about this?" Brooke asked quickly.
"I sent a new man whom no one would recognize, to Delacher's Hotel," Mr. Simmons announced. "He did his work quite satisfactorily. Haslem arrived at about five o'clock and must have sent that note off to me very soon afterwards. He took a bedroom and asked Paul, the head porter, for some quiet place where he could dine without being noticed, as he didn't wish to be seen in London at all till next day. Paul directed him to—where do you think?"
Constance was sitting quite still. Her eyes seemed to have grown larger.
"To the Café Hollande!" she cried. The inspector smiled a little indulgently.
"I know you have that place on the brain, Miss Robinson," he said. "Personally, as I've searched it plank by plank, I don't exactly—why, what's the matter?" Constance was already half-way towards the door. Brooke dragged the inspector to his feet.
"Haslem was at the Café Hollande when we left," he exclaimed, "and, by Heaven, he wasn't there for nothing! Quick! We'll explain on the way." They hurried into a taxicab.
"Look here," Brooke said, "notwithstanding your search Mr. Simmons, there's something wrong about that place. Paul sent Dupoy there, and you know what happened to him. Haslem is another man with enemies. I tell you he was sitting down there twenty minutes ago. They'd got him."
Mr. Simmons was an unprejudiced person. To a certain extent he believed in Constance, and he believed in Brooke.
"We'll fetch him out, then, at any rate," he declared. "Is there likely to be any trouble, I wonder?"
"If so, we can deal with it," Brooke replied. "Miss Robinson can stay outside and bring in a policeman or two after us, if we don't reappear."
"Miss Robinson will do nothing of the sort," she retorted. "If this is any one's affair, it's mine."
The taxicab pulled up at the corner. They all three hurried across the pavement. The upper room was still filled with a cheerful crowd. They hastened towards the staircase. A waiter intercepted them.
"It is closed down-stairs, monsieur," he announced.
Brooke flung him out of the way. They descended quickly. The band had ceased to play, half the lights were out, the doctor had left.
Only Jean was there, standing by the table at which Haslem had been sitting. There was a broken glass upon the floor, the tablecloth seemed to have been dragged sideways. Jean himself was swiftly setting things to rights.
He started and turned round as he heard footsteps. His face was suddenly almost ghastly. He clutched at the table and stared at them.
"Where is the man who was sitting at that table?" Brooke demanded.
"He has left, monsieur," Jean faltered, "five minutes ago. He had had too much to drink."
Brooke glanced towards the other vacant table.
"And the doctor?" he asked.
"He left at nine o'clock, as usual, sir," Jean answered. "He never varies his time. He has patients to receive." For one second Brooke hesitated. His first impulse was to plunge down into the cellar. Then Constance seized him by the arm.
"Quick!" she almost sobbed into his ear. "Quick!"
She tore up the stairs and they followed her. She flashed through the restaurant, through the swing doors, out into the street and turned sharply down the narrow thoroughfare past the left hand side of the building.
Brooke and Simmons were only a few yards behind. At the end of the restaurant premises stood a narrow house, on the door of which was a brass plate. Outside in the street an ambulance wagon was standing.
Constance leaned with her finger upon the bell. The man looked over from the box seat of the ambulance. He was half frightened, half angry.
"Don't do that!" he cried. "There's some one ill inside."
They took no notice of him. They heard footsteps in the hall. The door was cautiously opened by a woman dressed like a hospital nurse. They broke past her and Brooke threw open the door of the room on the left.
Haslem was there, unconscious, breathing heavily, stretched out on what seemed to be an operating table. The little doctor with the gold spectacles, dressed now in a long linen smock, turned and faced them. Outside, they could hear the ambulance galloping away.
"Drop that knife," Brooke shouted, "or, by Heaven, I'll wring your neck!"
The knife slipped from the man's fingers. For a moment there was silence. A draft was blowing through the room. Brooke glanced away for a single second; a door in the wall stood a little ajar.
"Take that fellow, Simmons," Brooke ordered. "We must get a doctor at once."
The little man with the gold glasses beamed upon them.
"My friends from the Café Hollande!" he remarked. "After all, then, the young lady has wits. Pardon!"
His fingers flashed from his waistcoat pocket to his mouth. He waved Brooke away as he sank into an easy-chair.
"Quite unnecessary," he murmured.
"I shall be dead within five minutes. Another martyr to the cause of science! I never could resist these little affairs. One learned so much."
MR. HASLEM was able, after all, to give his evidence at the Cannon Street Hotel on the following day, but would-be lunchers at the Café Hollande were disappointed. The doors of the restaurant were closed, without any reason with which the public was ever made aware other than the painfully sudden death of the proprietor, and Jean—his chief maître d'hôtel.
The disappearance of Paul was wrapped in mystery. He received a telephone message late in the evening and strolled away from the hotel in his full uniform a few minutes later. When the police arrived, he was not to be found. His escape was one of those episodes not mentioned by persons of tact before Inspector Simmons. Brooke and Constance stood outside the restaurant the next morning and watched the locked doors with complete satisfaction.
"At last," she sighed, "I can go back to my dear little café. Already I am longing for one of Charles's omelettes."
"On this occasion only," Brooke started to plead.
"Very well," she acceded, "you may come."
ON the first Sunday in May there occurred in the heart of London a tragedy simple enough in itself, yet with a strange and sinister meaning for those who cared to study life a little way beneath its exterior crust. Among the well-dressed crowd of London's fashionable people swarming in Hyde Park between midday and one o'clock on Sunday a woman, whose rags were only partially concealed by a rusty black shawl, was seen suddenly to reel and fall. She was picked up dead. Upon the bosom of her threadbare gown were pinned a few words of writing, which afforded to the smug press of the country an opportunity for many rhetorical flourishes. They led, too, to other and more serious things, for there were those who accepted them as a message.
These were the words, written -very correctly in faint but straggling characters upon a half sheet of coarse white paper:
I am thirty years old. I am going to die. I am tired out. There is no hope in this world for the poor. I have done my best. I have a husband and four children. My husband earns twenty-one shillings a week. I cannot feed him, myself, and four children on twenty-one shillings a week. I have tried.
My children are thin and hungry. My husband never smiles. He, too, is losing his strength. I myself am the withered remnant of a woman. I have no hope. I know that there is a life, but, for some reason, I am not asked to share in it. This morning, for once, I go to see the sunshine. I go to see the other women. Perhaps I shall understand what it is they have done to deserve life and I have not done. And then I shall rest.
When the newspapers had finished with their stories, and a satisfactory fund had been raised for the children of the dead woman, things began to happen.
A millionaire employer of labor, who had closed his yards and turned seventeen hundred people into the streets because one of the commodities used by him had reached a price which he declared made his business unprofitable, was shot dead as he crossed the pavement from his house in Park Lane to step into his motor-car. His murderer turned out to be one of his unemployed work people whose wife had gone on the streets to find bread for her starving children. The man defended himself from the dock with a rough eloquence which paralyzed even the law.
Within a few days other events happened which pointed to some systematic effort. Four factories in different parts of the country, whose owners were deservedly unpopular, were destroyed either by dynamite or fire. A trades-union official, who was reported to have accepted a bribe from a federation of employers to prohibit a strike, even though he was in possession of large funds subscribed by the work people, was missed for several days and discovered with a cord around his neck in the Thames.
Then a leading daily paper published a mysterious document which had been dropped into its letter-box by an unknown hand. It was headed:
TO THE PEOPLE OF ENGLAND!´
There are millions who have been waiting for a sign. Eleven days ago a woman died in Hyde Park, and the message found pinned to the rags which covered her withered body has been accepted as that sign. England is governed by laws—laws ill-made by man for his kind. The old laws are hard to break; the new laws are difficult to frame. From our place in the wilderness we who send this message have spent many weary hours pondering over the great subject—how and in what fashion shall we make heard the voice of the sufferers?
A short time ago hundreds of women, nourished in comfortable homes, educated, civilized, apparently respectable, called attention to a grievance from which they imagined themselves to be suffering by great and wanton destruction of property. Their grievance is to ours as the light of a candle to the burning of the sun. There are those who have approved their methods. They have taught us a lesson. Cause and effect shall be dissociated in our minds. Until you listen to us we will kill, burn, and destroy. When the moment has come we will point to you the way to freedom.
To-morrow the king drives through the city to the Mansion House. The king to-morrow will be safe. But between Ludgate Bridge and St. Paul's Cathedral one of the horses drawing his coach will be destroyed.
THE SILENT PEOPLE.
This document was scoffed at by nearly every one who read it. Even the editor of the paper was derided for publishing an anonymous hoax. That morning, however, half-way up Ludgate Hill, a spectator was seen to break through the little line and, taking a deliberate aim, to shoot one of the horses of the king's coach through the head.
He was at once arrested—in fact, he made no effort to escape. He made no reply to the charge and remained absolutely dumb, both at the time and subsequently. He was committed to prison during the king's pleasure, a fate to which he submitted with the utmost indifference. On the following day the letter-box of the Daily Observer was watched by the cleverest detectives in London. The subeditor, however, discovered in the morning another communication among the rest of his correspondence. This document was headed in the same way:
TO THE PEOPLE OF ENGLAND!
We have a thousand men like William Clarke ready to do our bidding; ready to kill, burn, or destroy, as we choose. We are tired of our labor members and our magazine-writing socialists. The people speak now for themselves. We adopt the tactics of a more educated class. On Thursday one of the masterpieces in The National Gallery will be destroyed.
THE SILENT PEOPLE.
This time, short of closing the National Gallery, every possible precaution was taken, but about three o'clock in the afternoon the Madonna of Giotto was discovered cut into strips.
The perpetrator of the deed was easily arrested. His name was Johnson. He was a weaver by trade, out of work, and poorly dressed.
He made no reply to the charge, no reply in the police court, and, refusing to answer the simplest questions, he was committed to prison indefinitely.
On the third day another communication was received and published in The Observer:
We of the people have been accused always of ranting, of shouting our wrongs from the house-tops. Let us hope that our new tactics will be approved. We have left off words. We have come to deeds, and those who do our bidding have learned silence. To-morrow there will be wrecked the house of one whose name is held by us as the name of an enemy.
THE SILENT PEOPLE.
Throughout London a certain thrill of anticipation seemed to quiver in the air from hour to hour. Who was there who could be called an enemy of the people? In great black head-lines the evening papers told the story.
In a suburb of London the house of a member of the government who had risen from the ranks, and to whom such measures for the relief of the poor which a temporizing government had devised had lately been entrusted, was completely wrecked.
The man himself had escaped, but his house was in ruins. He stood branded as an enemy of the people. On this occasion the thrower of the bomb remained undiscovered. The house was one of those which had been left unwatched.
IT was about this time that Stanley Brooke made a thrilling and amazing discovery, which at first threatened seriously to alter his relations with his partner. He arrived home unexpectedly early one night to find a note asking him to call in and report. He discovered the door of her flat unfastened and the door of the inner room wide open. Hearing his footsteps, she called out:
"Please come here at once."
After a moment's hesitation he obeyed. He advanced even to the threshold of the inner room and, for the first time, saw inside. He stood quite still, transfixed with surprise.
Every detail of her sitting-room was always rigidly reminiscent of Constance herself. Even the easy chairs were a little severe, and the furniture which she had added from time to time was of a somber and decorous type. Her color-scheme was gray; the pictures which hung upon the walls were nearly all landscapes; her whole environment always seemed so thoroughly in keeping with her clothes, her manner of speech itself of prim, almost Quakerish simplicity.
He had pictured her own room as something like this: a simple bedstead, a few prints, an apartment clean and bare and chaste. He looked instead into a chamber utterly unlike anything he could have imagined.
The walls were colored a faint rose-pink, and there was a carpet on the floor of almost the same hue. The bedstead was of white, with a top of hooded muslin tied up with ribbons. There was an easy chair and a large divan, chintz-covered, luxurious; a dressing-table covered with dainty trifles; and on the bed, by the side of an empty basket, a little heap of garments which seemed to him like a sea of lace and muslin, with blue ribbons stealing from unexpected places.
Everything was spotless, exquisitely dainty. It might well have been the sleeping apartment of a princess.
Brooke stood rooted to the spot. His final shock of amazement came when he realized that Constance herself was wearing a dressing-gown of white muslin, that she seemed like a bewildering vision of fluffiness and laces and ribbons. He was absolutely incapable of any form of speech. He simply stood and stared while her face grew darker.
"How dare you?" she exclaimed, advancing rapidly toward the door.
"You called me," he declared. "I got your note and hurried down. When I came inside you called me."
"I thought it was Susan, you idiot!" she retorted, slamming the door in his face.
He walked slowly away. The maid whom Constance had recently engaged for several hours a day entered hurriedly, almost at the same moment, from the outside door. She smiled at Brooke as she passed.
"I am afraid that Miss Robinson will think I have been gone a long time, sir," she remarked. "I could not find the shop."
She disappeared, closing the door behind her. Brooke threw himself into an easy chair. So there was another Constance, after all, a Constance who loved the things a woman should love, a Constance who was as dainty and sweet as anything he could have conceived in his most sentimental moments.
He felt his heart beating with the pleasure of it. Her life, then, was to some extent a pose. At heart she was like other girls. He sat with half-closed eyes, dwelling upon those few seconds—seconds full of exquisite imaginings.
It seemed to him that he had never in his life looked upon anything more beautiful than that little chamber and its contents. Even Constance, when she at last appeared, could not dispel his dreams. She was dressed in severe and homely black, unrelieved even at the neck. A vision he seemed to have had of silk stockings was dissipated by the sight of her square-toed shoes. She came toward him in an absolutely matter-of-fact way. He rose, a little embarrassed.
"If I was rude just now," she said calmly, "I am sorry. The fault, I suppose, was mine."
"I certainly," he explained, "would not have dreamed of—"
"That will do," she interrupted. "We will not discuss the subject again, ever. I hope you will humor me so far as to forget the occurrence. I sent for you because I wanted to talk."
"It is three weeks since we did anything."
"I have nothing definite to propose now," she went on. "I wanted to speak about the Silent People."
"There is a reward of a thousand pounds offered this morning," he remarked.
"They are doing all they can to break the thing up," she said. "People are growing uneasy. The question is whether, supposing we were successful where others have failed, we. could take that thousand pounds' reward with a clear conscience."
"What do you mean?" he asked.
"I mean that I am not at all sure," she continued, "that my sympathies are not with the Silent People."
Brooke, whose habits of mind were conventional, even though his views were broad enough, shook his head.
"One may see weak points in our laws, in our whole social system," he observed, "but the attacks made upon it must be legitimate. I say that it is the duty of every one to uphold the law."
"Yours," she replied, "is the point of view of the man in the street. I will not tell you exactly what I think. Only this—if you join with me in a certain scheme which I am about to propose, it must be on this one condition only: that in the event of success, the claiming of that reward—that is to say, the denouncing of these people—must rest with me."
"I do not mind that," he assented.
"You understand," she repeated.
"Even if we are successful—supposing we find out who it is that writes those notices and who has planned these outrages—if I decide that the knowledge is to be forgotten, it must be so."
"I agree," he said. "I think that your instinct will be too strong for your humanitarianism."
"We shall see," she rejoined. "There are a good many threads hanging loose, a good many which have been tried already and thrown on one side. Now tell me, you have done what I asked you this afternoon?"
"I was at the House of Commons at four o'clock. I heard Cammerley bring in his bill."
"What did you think of him?" Brooke hesitated.
"At first," he said thoughtfully, "I was disappointed. Then he began to impress me. His is rather a curious personality. Nothing about him suggests in any way a leader of the people. He has a thin frame, he stoops, and he wears gold-rimmed spectacles. He spoke almost without gestures and his voice at times was quite low. It was not until he had been speaking for some time that one realized that he was, after all, in his way an orator.
"He had no notes, he spoke with perfect assurance, and he said some startling things. But he didn't attempt to make the points that these labor men nearly always do. There wasn't a touch of rhetoric in anything he said. He simply spoke of the coming of the people as though it were written."
"He believes that," she murmured.
"On the whole," Brooke concluded, "I should put him down as a dangerous man."
"He is a revolutionary. One could almost imagine him a Robespierre."
"Even that," she remarked, "may come."
"And now," he asked, "tell me exactly why you wanted me to hear him. You had some reason."
"I had," she admitted. "I think that if you could see inside his brain you wouldn't have much trouble in earning that thousand pounds."
"He is one of the Silent People!" Brooke exclaimed.
Constance waited for a moment.
"You know," she said then, "that I am a member of the Forward Club?"
"You told me so the other night," he replied. "I remember how surprised I was."
"There is nothing for you to be surprised at," she continued calmly. "Anyhow, I was there the other afternoon. Cammerley was having tea with a woman at the next table. They were talking together earnestly. You know how acute my hearing is. I caught a single sentence. It was enough."
Brooke was obviously interested.
"If Cammerley is really mixed up with those people," he said, "it would cause a sensation if it were known. He has been getting quite a little following of his own lately. The other side have rather taken him up. The Daily Mail had a leading article on him one day last week."
"Why not? He is a strong man. In a few years' time, unless accidents happen, the country will have to reckon with him."
"I mean if he does not come to grief," she explained. "It is his pose at present to be a moderate man. They say that at heart he is a red-hot anarchist, ready to sacrifice the country, the lives of millions, if necessary, to his principles. That is why I wonder whether we should not be doing good rather than harm if we were to take that thousand pounds' reward."
"You would have to get your proofs first," he reminded her.
"We might fail," she admitted. "On the other hand, we might succeed. What I cannot make up my mind about is whether we might not do more harm by succeeding."
"But you are not a socialist yourself!"
"I am not so sure about that," she answered.
He shrugged his shoulders. It was certainly not the place or the time for arguments.
"In any case," he begged, "tell me just what you have in your mind."
"You are still in touch with the Daily Observer people," she said. "Well, go and interview Mr. Cammerley on their behalf. Talk to him in his own house. See if anything occurs to you."
"None. I am not keeping anything from you. I simply heard a sentence pass between him and a woman whom I know very well by repute. Go and see what you think of him."
Brooke glanced at the clock.
"I'll go to-morrow," he promised; "—but in the mean time?"
"I am going to dine at my club tonight," she interrupted, a little ruthlessly. "I shall be leaving in a few minutes."
"You wouldn't like to take me with you, I suppose?" he suggested.
"I should dislike it very much indeed," she replied. "I don't see the slightest reason why I should pay for your dinner."
"It's only eighteen pence," he ventured hopefully.
"The amount is not so serious, perhaps," she admitted. "It is the principle. Besides, I want to make a few inquiries there about Mr. Cammerley's friends. I shall be better alone."
"Constance," he began, suddenly inspired by a recollection of that little room. Her eyes flashed a warning.
"I consider the use of my Christian name a liberty, Mr. Brooke!" He turned on his heel and went out. It was not until he had left the room that her lips relaxed in the least. Then she smiled.
BROOKE presented himself at two o'clock the next day at a large and gloomy-looking house in Bermondsey, a house which had once belonged to a manufacturer of leather who had chosen to live near his works, but which stood now in almost pitiful isolation, with a tan-yard at the back of it and a row of small shops on either side.
A woman admitted him, a woman who was neatly dressed but who wore no cap and had not the manners of a servant. He passed along a bare hall and was shown into a large, untidy-looking study. Mr. Cammerley looked up from his desk as Brooke approached, but did not offer his hand or attempt any form of conventional greeting. He pointed, however, to a plain deal chair close at hand.
"I do not understand," he said, "why you have come to see me. Your card says that you are a journalist. One paper has already turned me inside out and indulged in a photographic representation of the person I am not, and given a faithful description of the things I did not say and the views which I do not hold. Surely one is enough?"
"These are curious days," Brooke remarked, setting his hat upon the table.
"The whole reading public is crazy for personalities."
The man behind the desk looked at him steadfastly. It seemed to Brooke that those light-colored eyes were growing larger behind his spectacles.
"What is the name of your paper?" he asked.
"I am a reporter on the Daily Observer," Brooke told him.
"You are also a liar," Mr. Cammerley said calmly. "Your name is Brooke, and, with a certain young lady as your partner, you have been teaching Scotland Yard its business for the last few months. Now, sir, what the devil do you mean by coming to see me under false pretenses? Is there any mystery connected with me or my life? Is there anything you wish to discover?"
Brooke shut up his note-book. He had the curious sense of being in the presence of a man who could read his innermost thoughts.
"To tell you the truth," he confessed, "I was wondering whether you could not give me some information with regard to the Silent People?"
Mr. Cammerley continued to look steadily at him.
"Supposing I could," he asked, "why should I? You are a stranger to me. There is a thousand pounds' reward, I believe, offered for information about these people. Why should you associate me with them in any way?"
"You are a socialist," Brooke reminded him. "You speak with wonderful restraint, but that very restraint is impressive. I heard you yesterday afternoon in the House of Commons. I may be wrong, but to me you seemed to represent the type of man who would go to any lengths if he considered himself justified by his principles."
"For an inquiry agent," Mr. Cammerley declared, "you certainly do seem to be possessed of a certain amount of perception as regards elementary facts. How much of this interview is going in your paper, Mr. Brooke?"
"Not a word," Brooke replied.
"So I imagined," Mr. Cammerley remarked dryly. "Then listen. You are right. I am an anarchist, if you like to use the word. That is to say, I would, if I had the power, rend this country from north to south that the better days might dawn. I would do evil that good may come."
"It is a dangerous doctrine."
Mr. Cammerley raised his eyebrows.
"A surgeon cuts off your leg that he may save your life."
"He obeys fixed laws," Brooke retorted, "and disease is a matter of fact, not principle."
Mr. Cammerley smiled indulgently. He glanced at the papers before him.
"Mr. Brooke," he said, "you are wasting my time. I have no desire to make a convert of you."
"Tell me something about the Silent People," Brooke persisted, "and I will go."
Cammerley rose slowly from his place and moved to the door. He held it open and turned his face toward the stairs.
"Lucy!" he called.
An answer came from above. Cammerley remained with the door open. In a few moments a woman appeared, a woman broadly built, with a dark, square face, a slight down upon the upper lip, and beautiful eyes—the eyes of an enthusiast. Her hair was parted simply in the middle. It was black and shiny, and there were large quantities of it. Her dress was plain in the extreme. She looked from Cammerley to Brooke.
"It is a young man," Cammerley explained softly, "who has come here in the guise of a reporter to know if I can tell him anything about the Silent People." Not a muscle of her face changed, only a sudden light shone in her eyes. Brooke, who was glancing at her, shivered. For some mysterious reason he felt that he was in danger.
"This visitor of ours," Cammerley continued, looking at Brooke dispassionately, "has been associated with a young lady in various investigations during the last few months. He would call himself, I suppose, a private-inquiry agent, or something of the sort. He has become interested in the craze of the moment. He is exceedingly curious about the Silent People." The woman sighed. When she spoke it was with a slight foreign accent.
"What is it that one hears about them?" she murmured. "There have been others who have sought to discover their identity—others who are themselves silent now forever."
"The young man," Cammerley said thoughtfully, "is of a harmless type."
Brooke, as he stood there, was conscious of soft footsteps in the hall—footsteps which seemed to gather volume all the time, not the footsteps of one or two people, but the footsteps of dozens.
"You were looking for adventures, perhaps, my young friend," Cammerley continued.
"You have been successful. Some one who visited me once remarked that this might well be a house of mysteries, so strangely situated in "such a neighborhood. Perhaps it is. Look!"
He pushed the door a little further open. The hall seemed filled with men—men who were waiting patiently, men who exchanged not a syllable, pale-faced most of them, dressed in the garb of operatives, with something curious about them which, although he did not understand it, made Brooke shiver. Cammerley closed the door again.
"As I think you already knew before you came," he said quietly, "you are in the presence of the Silent People—Lucy Fragade and I myself. Those outside have also learned the gift of silence. They are some of those who do our bidding."
Brooke stared at the woman. The name was well enough known to him—Lucy Fragade, who had been expelled from Russia, imprisoned in America, imprisoned again in Germany, and forced to escape from France; the daughter of an anarchist, a woman who preached force and bloodshed with an eloquence which no man of her cause had ever approached. He recognized her from her portraits. She was gazing at him fixedly. She was more like them now than ever.
"There is a room at the back of this house," Cammerley continued, "into which others have been invited who have come as you have come, and the world has seen no more of them. The river flows within forty yards of my back door, and the tanyard is empty at night. I am afraid, Mr. Brooke, that the public will have to wait a little time for that interview with me which you proposed writing."
Brooke looked from one to the other. Up to the present moment, at any rate, he had felt no fear. Yet there was something a little disquieting in the expression with which they regarded him; something ominous, too, in that sense of men waiting without. He remembered several disappearances lately. He knew suddenly that murder had been done in this place. Yet he was still without fear. Perhaps he was, to some extent, a fatalist. Death seemed to him always a thing so unlikely.
"I shall be missed," he remarked affably. "Miss Robinson knows that I have come to see you."
"The young lady who overheard our conversation at the Forward Club," he explained to Lucy. "It is a pity that she did not accompany you, sir."
"Perhaps," Brooke replied, "she is better where she is!"
The telephone-bell rang. Cammerley held the receiver to his ear.
"This is Mr. Cammerley speaking," he declared. "What can I do for you? Yes, Mr. Brooke is here. You are Miss Constance Robinson."
Brooke made a movement toward the telephone, but stopped.
"No, I am afraid that I cannot say," Cammerley continued, "what time Mr. Brooke will return. He will leave this room in a few minutes. As for the rest, it is difficult. Yes, I understand." He listened for some time. His face showed no change of expression. He glanced toward the clock.
"Very well," he said, "the course you suggest will be quite agreeable to me. It would give me great pleasure to meet you personally. Yes, pray, come. As you say, it is only an affair of ten minutes in a taxicab."
Brooke sprang toward the telephone.
"She shall not come here!" he shouted.
Mr. Cammerley handed him the receiver.
"Really," he said, "you people are wasting a lot of our time this afternoon. Tell her yourself to keep away, then."
Brooke snatched the receiver.
"Miss Robinson!" he called out. "Constance, are you there? Constance!"
"Miss Robinson is here," was the calm reply.
"You are not to come to this man's house!" Brooke exclaimed. "If you do, don't come alone! You understand?"
"Quite well. There is probably a slight misunderstanding. Au revoir!"
"Listen!" Brooke begged.
The connection was gone. Cammerley removed the instrument out of reach with a little sigh.
"My dear Mr. Brooke," he said, "the young lady is evidently accustomed to having her own way. Who can blame her? Miss Fragade is a little like that, too. Now how shall we spend the time until Miss Robinson arrives? Would you like to see around the place? Would you care to stroll through the tan-yard down to the river? There is a room here which Lucy calls our chamber of horrors. Perhaps you would like to see that? Or would you like to make the acquaintance of our bodyguard—fifty strange-looking men? Most of them now, I suppose, have gone back to their posts, but there will be a few remaining."
He swung open the door. There were a dozen men still in the hall, standing against the wall almost like statues. Their eyes were fixed upon Cammerley. They seemed ready to obey his slightest gesture. Brooke glanced at the door; Cammerley smiled.
"The only modern thing about the place," he remarked. "A double lock of really wonderful pattern. Would you like to see some of my books? Or would it amuse you to hear Lucy talk of her Continental experiences?"
The telephone-bell rang again. Cammerley spoke, apparently, to a whip in the House of Commons.
"I shall be in my place at four o'clock," Brooke heard him say. "The division, I suppose, is not likely to come on before dinner-time? Thank you!
"An interesting thing, the telephone," he continued, replacing the receiver and turning to Brooke. "It seems to bring one so into touch with the outside world from the most impossible places, doesn't it? Ah, the taxicab! Stay here, please, Mr. Brooke. Miss Robinson will be properly received, without a doubt." Constance was ushered into the room, a moment later, by the gray-haired woman who had admitted Brooke. She was, as usual, exceedingly quiet in her manner and very self-composed.
"It is Mr. Cammerley, is it not?" she inquired, holding out her hand. "And I am sure that this is Lucy Fragade? It is very interesting to meet you both." Cammerley smiled.
"Without flattery," he remarked, "I may say that there have been many who have found it interesting."
Constance was standing between Lucy Fragade and Cammerley. She seemed very small.
"I have come," she announced, "to take Mr. Brooke back with me."
Lucy Fragade looked at her curiously. Cammerley smiled.
"Mr. Brooke was a little lonely," he said. "I have no doubt that he will find your coming of benefit to him."
"Ours must be only a flying visit," Constance continued quietly. "Before I go, there is a question I have wanted to ask Mr. Cammerley ever since I knew of his existence. This will probably be my only chance. Should I be too exacting if I begged for—say, thirty seconds in which to ask it?"
"I have no secrets," Cammerley replied. "Pray ask your question."
Constance looked at him intently.
"It was a question," she murmured, "which occurred to me first when I heard that Blanche Fragade was indeed—"
"Lucy Fragade," the woman interrupted. Constance accepted the correction, but she did not at once continue. She was looking steadfastly at Cammerley. There was perhaps no one else in the room who noticed any change in him. Yet Brooke, who was nearest, and who found the temperature of the apartment on the cold side, was suddenly surprised to see two little drops of perspiration standing out on the man's forehead.
Cammerley looked toward the woman and said something to her in a tongue which neither Brooke nor Constance understood. She nodded and left the room.
Cammerley leaned, a little toward Constance as she passed out.
"Go on," he said.
"Is there any need?" she asked calmly. "I have a friend in Cyril Mansions. The letter is ready for the post—if we do not return."
Cammerley's face was, for a moment, like the face of a skeleton. His eyes shone large behind his spectacles. His lips had parted, showing his strong, yellow teeth.
"Your terms?" he whispered.
"This is not our affair," Constance said softly. "I was wrong to send him here," she added, motioning toward Brooke. "I, too, am of the people. So long as it is not life you take, he and I are silent."
Cammerley asked for no pledge. He understood. For a moment he listened.
Then he led the way toward the door. In the hall several shadowy figures came stealing toward them. He waved them back and opened the front door.
"You will find a taxicab at the corner," he said.
At the corner of the street they stopped to look around them. Brooke glanced back at the house they had left. Behind it was the tan-yard, and a little farther away they could see the masts in the river.
"A queer place," Constance observed composedly. "They say that he is a real philanthropist. His house is filled with all sorts of outcasts from the streets, to whom he gives temporary shelter. That is the reason he lives there."
"Is it?" Brooke replied dryly. "There is nothing would please me better than to go over it with half a dozen policemen at my back."
She shook her head.
"It is forbidden. I think those two people, mistaken though they may be, represent things with which we do better not to interfere."
"At least," Brooke asked, "I may inquire who Blanche is?"
"But for Blanche," Constance told him, "I should never have suffered you to go to that man's house, because I know that they are suspicious of you and of me. Blanche is Lucy Fragade's sister. She left her home mysteriously some years ago. Lucy does not know where she is. Philip Cammerley does. There are only two things in life greater than that woman's devotion to her cause. One was her love for her sister; the other her passion for Cammerley. I should say that he was a man who feared but one thing in the world. When I spoke he saw the possibility of it."
Brooke handed her into a taxicab.
"There seems to be a weak spot in the life of every strong man," he remarked, "and that weak spot is always a woman. Even with myself—"
"Don't talk nonsense!" she interrupted
BROOKE was conscious of a variety of most disquieting sensations. In the first place, he had completely lost his appetite. Furthermore, he was furiously and unreasonably angry. Charles hung around him continually, aware that all was not well with his favorite patron.
"It is not one of monsieur's regular days for luncheon here," he ventured. Brooke was scowling across the room toward the small table against the wall, at which Constance and a companion were seated.
"It isn't," he admitted. "That accounts for it."
"Accounts for it, monsieur? But for what?"
Charles glanced wonderingly across the room—and understood. The perplexity upon his face disappeared.
"Monsieur perceives that the young lady in whom he was interested has found a companion," he remarked confidentially.
"They sit together to-day for the third time. On Tuesday evening he dined with mademoiselle!"
"The devil he did!" Brooke muttered.
"One notices these things," the waiter continued, glancing around to be sure that his services were not required elsewhere.
"For so many months the young lady has been so retired, so lonely. It was monsieur who first spoke of her. Always she sits alone, she is reserved, she avoids notice. It is not until one looks carefully that one realizes that mademoiselle has an appearance. The gentleman who is with her now," Charles went on, leaning a little closer toward Brooke and dropping his voice, "he asked about her one day last week very much as monsieur did." Brooke muttered something between his teeth and poured himself out a glass of wine.
"The young lady would probably object to our discussing her," he remarked grimly. "You can fetch me my coffee. And this afternoon I will take a liqueur—the old brandy."
"Monsieur shall be served," Charles murmured, and hastened away. It was not until he had served the coffee and generously filled the liqueur-glass above the line with the deep-brown brandy that he spoke again. He leaned forward confidentially.
"It is for monsieur's private ear, this," he whispered. "We do not, as a rule, speak of such things. The gentleman who is with her now—he wrote a little note to mademoiselle here in the restaurant at luncheon one day. Mademoiselle replied, and he took his coffee at her table." Brooke waved the man away impatiently.
"That will do, Charles," he said. "There is probably some explanation. It certainly is not our business."
Brooke lit his cigarette, and while he smoked he looked across the room. The man was apparently a little less than middle-aged, dark, with small, black mustache, well-groomed, well-dressed. He would, without doubt, rank as good-looking. His manner indicated an interest in his companion which to some extent, at any rate, she seemed inclined to return. Constance was certainly more animated than usual. The pallor of her cheeks was undisturbed, but her eyes were exceptionally bright, and she was listening with obvious interest to all that her companion had to say. Beyond the faint uplifting of her eyebrows and the grave nod with which she had acknowledged his greeting upon his entrance, she had taken no further notice of Brooke.
That no more familiar intercourse should take place between them in public beyond that form of recognition was a condition to which she had rigidly adhered ever since their strange partnership began. Brooke hated it and obeyed. To-day he was more than ever a rebel.
Presently he paid his bill and went. Constance, although without doubt she saw his preparations for departure, took not the slightest further notice of him. She was talking all the time, and her manner, for her, toward this new acquaintance, was positively friendly. Brooke jammed his hat upon his head and walked round to the club.
"Bridge!" he muttered to himself. "A debauch at bridge, and the Lord help my partner!"
The morning had been hopelessly wet, which was the reason Brooke was not playing golf. There was plenty of bridge; there were also billiards and other sane amusements to be found at the club. Brooke passed the time away as well as he could, but he found it a task of some difficulty. His usual cheerfulness seemed to have deserted him. He revoked at bridge, lost two games of billiards, and contradicted a member of the committee; altogether a disastrous afternoon. About five o'clock, just after he had sent his tea away for the second time, a page came in search of him.
"Wanted on the telephone, sir," he announced. Brooke rose promptly.
"Any name?" he asked.
"There was no name, sir," the boy replied.
"The gentleman is waiting on the line now."
Brooke hurried down-stairs, passed into the telephone-box, and took up the receiver.
"This is Brooke," he said. "Who are you?"
"I am Inspector Simmons," the voice answered. "I am speaking from Miss Robinson's rooms."
"Is Miss Robinson there?" Brooke asked.
"She is not here at present," the man replied. "I rang up to ask whether it would be quite convenient for you to step round here."
"Of course I'll come," Brooke assented. "There's nothing wrong, is there?"
The voice hesitated a moment.
"Not that I know of. Perhaps it would be as well if you came round."
Brooke rang off, put on his hat and coat, caught a taxicab, and in a few minutes' time presented himself at Constance's rooms. To his surprise the inspector, who admitted him, was still alone there.
"Where is Miss Robinson?" Brooke demanded.
"That's exactly what I'm not sure about," the inspector explained. "I had an appointment with her here this afternoon at three o'clock. I arrived quite punctually, rang the bell, and as there was no answer, I went away. I came again half an hour ago, and as there was still no one here, I took the liberty of entering. Miss Robinson, as a rule, is very particular about her appointments."
"She was lunching with a friend today," Brooke remarked gloomily.
"Where? What sort of a friend?" the inspector asked.
Brooke hesitated. The inspector's tone was eager, almost impatient.
"It was a man I think she met at the Café Lugano, just a restaurant acquaintance."
"Was he dark, with a small, black mustache, brown, freckled complexion, well-dressed, looked like a military man?" the inspector asked quickly.
"That is an exact description of him," Brooke admitted. "Who is he? What do you know about him?"
The inspector glanced at the clock.
"What time did you say they were lunching?" he asked.
"Between half past one and two," Brooke replied. "I left them there."
"That confirms my information," the inspector said, half to himself, "It is now past five o'clock. You'll excuse me for a minute, if you please."
He went to the telephone and gave a few rapid orders. Then he turned round to Brooke.
"You've heard of the Glen Terrace tragedy, Mr. Brooke?" he asked.
"Of course! What about it?"
"The man whom you saw lunching with Miss Robinson is the man we are shadowing for it," the inspector declared. "We can't arrest him at the moment because there isn't sufficient evidence. All that we can do is to watch and see that he doesn't get away. I'm as confident that he did it as that I'm standing here at this moment, but if we try to put our hands on him too quickly, and he once gets away, he is safe for life.
"Miss Robinson took the matter up entirely on her own account. She had an idea that she could get the evidence we are lacking. I told her it wasn't a proper case for her to mix herself up in. She only smiled at me. She is a determined young lady, as I dare say you know. Anyway, she has been meeting this man for the last few days, and she told me to be here at three o'clock. She expected, I believe, to have something definite to say. I don't mind confessing that I am a little worried about it. It seems—"
"You say your men are shadowing him?" Brooke interrupted quickly. "Can't we find out exactly where he is?"
"They lost him after leaving the restaurant," the inspector replied. "It seems he went in by the hotel and must have come out by the restaurant entrance. We could have had our hand upon his shoulder any time during the last three months, and there isn't the least chance of his being able to escape out of the country. But where he is at this precise moment I must admit I don't know."
"Shall I go to the restaurant," Brooke asked, "and find out if any one remembers their leaving?"
"I have gone as far as that myself," the inspector remarked. "What I was told bears out what you say. Miss Robinson and Delamoir left the Cafe Lugano together in a taxicab at five minutes to two." Brooke glanced at the clock.
"My God!" he muttered. "That was more than three hours ago!"
THE sun was shining between the showers and the sky was unexpectedly blue when Constance and the man with whom she had been lunching left the little restaurant in Old Compton Street. They stood for a moment upon the pavement, and Constance, with a farewell nod, prepared to turn away.
"Good morning, Mr. Harold," she said.
"We must have another talk some day about these fancies of yours."
"Why not this afternoon?" he asked.
"Don't you see how beautiful it is just now? Couldn't you spare—say, one hour? Do you know what I was going to do? I was going to take a taxicab and drive about alone. Come with me." She looked at him thoughtfully for a moment. Her hesitation made him the more insistent.
"Do come," he begged. "You know how nervous and broken-down I am. To have any one near as calm and self-centered as you are is like a sedative. Please come, just for one hour."
"I will come," she agreed.
He called a taxi and handed her in.
"Is there anywhere you wish to go particularly?" he inquired eagerly.
She shook her head.
"I have no choice," she replied, "only we must not be longer than an hour."
"To Putney," he told the driver. "I will direct you again."
He took his place by her side. In this clear sunlight there were things to be noticed about him not easily apparent in the dimmer light of the restaurant. He was dressed in mourning, with a black tie, and a black band around his hat. There were lines upon his face and a strange restlessness in his deep-set eyes. Every now and then his lips twitched. He looked about him all the time with little abrupt movements of the head.
"If I were you," she suggested, "I should see a doctor. Overwork should never make any one quite as nervous as you seem to be. It is so easy to cure oneself if one has the will."
"It is not only overwork," he muttered. "Let us forget it for a few minutes. How wonderful to be so calm and collected as you are always! Do you never feel emotions, little lady?"
She turned her head and looked at him.
"My name," she said, "is Miss Robinson."
"I beg your pardon!" he exclaimed quickly. "It shall be just as you say. Only, somehow or other, I have been feeling so lonely, and you are such a strange, quiet little person. You have such a gift of making one talk and of listening."
"If you will keep your part of the bargain," she promised, "I will stay with you; not otherwise."
"I will keep it," he agreed.
They were passing through St. James's Park, toward Buckingham Palace. Now that they had left the more crowded streets behind, he seemed a little more at his ease.
"Let me advise you seriously," she begged, "to go and see a nerve specialist. There is a man in Harley Street—I could give you his address—to whom ever so many barristers go, and members of Parliament."
He laughed curiously.
"You think it is overwork only," he groaned. "I wish—oh, I only wish I dared tell you!"
She looked steadily ahead. There was so little about him that she did not know—one thing only.
"Why don't you?" she murmured."
"You are so sensible," he muttered. "You would not go into hysterics."
"I am certainly not given to that sort of thing," she assured him.
"You are a woman, too," he went on—"very different from her, but still a woman. In a way you would understand. Promise not to jump out of the taxicab?"
"I promise you that under no circumstances will I attempt anything of the sort," she replied.
"My name is not Harold," he confessed, gripping the strap by his side and shaking as he spoke. "My name is Richard Harold Delamoir—Delamoir, you know!"
She turned her head.
"I seem to have heard the name lately," she murmured.
"Heard it!" he exclaimed. "Haven't you heard it at every street corner, seen it on every newspaper placard?"
"Of course," she assented. "You are the Richard Delamoir whose wife was found poisoned in your house at Putney."
He looked at her, his lips parted, his eyes blinking rapidly.
"You don't mind?" he cried. "You are not terrified?"
"Not in the least," she assured him calmly. "Why should I be?"
"You don't know the worst," he told her. "The police are watching me all the time. They think I did it. They think I murdered her. Everybody thinks so. The bus drivers, the tradespeople, the children in the street—they all stare at me curiously as I go by—the man who poisoned his wife! The women look at me from behind the curtains. The men hurry when they pass. It's worse than overwork, this, Miss Robinson."
"Yes," she admitted, "it is worse than overwork."
"There isn't a soul," he continued, "except the doctor, whom I've dared to speak with about it. I haven't been near my club, I've had to leave my favorite restaurants alone—that's why I turned up at the Lugano, where I first saw you. I thought the doctor might have talked to me now and then. We used to be quite friendly once. I went to see him the other night—just dropped in to have a pipe, as I used to. He only said a few words, but it was the way he looked at me. I understood. I remembered his evidence at the inquest. Did you read about the inquest, Miss Robinson?"
"I did," she confessed. "It rather interested me."
"Ah!" he groaned. "They say that after the doctor's evidence it was a toss up whether I was arrested or not. Do you know why I wasn't? Do you know why I am free now? They are waiting to get a little more evidence. They are afraid they might try me and I might get off, and then they'd find out too late. Evidence! I could give them all the evidence they wanted."
"Then why don't you?" she asked. He laughed harshly.
"Why should I? Is it my business? Let us talk about something else. Miss Robinson. I want to get away from it for a little time. You know the worst now. I've nothing to hide from you. You know that I am Richard Delamoir."
She watched him from her corner without flinching.
"Is it true," she asked, "that you have inherited a large sum of money by your wife's death?"
"Quite true," he answered; " quite true. Oh, I am rich! I hadn't much before I married her, but she left me everything. I thought of stealing out of the country, but they are so clever, these detectives. They'd think I was running away. I should feel a hand on my shoulder just as I was getting into the train. Ugh! If only there was some one to go with me! If only I could get away from this infernal solitude!"
He looked at her eagerly. There was very little encouragement in her emotionless face.
"Have you no friends or relatives at all?" she asked.
"No relatives—not one," he replied. "I was born in Australia. Most of my friends over here were my wife's friends, and—"
His voice seemed to leave him for a moment. He tried to speak and failed.
"They keep out of my way," he went on, after a moment's pause. "I don't know why. Can you think? They can't believe—not all of them. Let us talk about something else. Have you ever been a nurse, Miss Robinson?"
"Certainly not," she answered. "Why do you ask that?"
"I don't know, except that you are so restful and so strong," he declared. "You make me feel almost like a child. That's because my nerve is gone, of course. Are you very well off, I wonder?"
"I am not at all well off," she told him. "I am a typist."
"If I were to give you a large sum of money," he went on eagerly, "would you go abroad with me—just as my nurse," he explained hurriedly, "just to be with me and to keep me from being frightened always? You could have plenty of money, beautiful dresses. Dresses would make such a difference to you—dresses and hats. You are queer-looking, you know. You look old-fashioned and dowdy, and your face is so still and quiet that one forgets that you have really beautiful eyes. It would change you tremendously to be well-dressed."
Her eyes were half closed with silent laughter. There was something about the laugh a little cruel.
"You are afraid of me!"
"Who—I?" she asked. "I afraid?"
"I didn't mean that!" he exclaimed.
"I mean that you are afraid I should want to make love to you. Do you know, sometimes I think that I shall never want to make love to another woman."
"How old are you?" she inquired.
"Thirty-nine," he replied. "I was twenty-six years old when I married Maggie. She hadn't her money then. She was just a chorus-girl."
"Is it true that you used always to quarrel?"
"We used to quarrel a good deal," he admitted. "I am afraid I was impatient and a little jealous. Maggie was always having flirtations. She was crazy for admiration." Constance sighed as she looked away. After all, there were all the commonplace elements of tragedy here.
"You really wish to talk about something else?" she asked. "Come, I will try. You shall tell me about your life in Australia. I think you said that you were born there."
"It isn't any use," he answered. "I want to talk about something else and I can't. It always comes back."
"Then if you won't talk about anything . else," she said, "tell me what you meant when you said that you could give the police the evidence they needed." He shook his head.
"No," he muttered, "I couldn't trust anybody with that, not even you!" She was silent. He sat by her side, and his manner gradually became calmer.
"It is odd," he went on, half to himself, "how much I have told you, really; you—just a little stranger whom I spoke to in a restaurant. Why did you let me speak to you?"
"You looked lonely," she answered. "I am never afraid to speak to any one. I can take care of myself."
"Yes," he admitted, "I should say that that was true. You can very well take care of yourself. Would nothing terrify you, Miss Robinson? Would nothing shake your nerves?"
"I have no opportunity of judging. My life is a very uneventful one."
"Try them this afternoon," he begged eagerly. "You see where we are? We are close to Putney. The third turn to the left, then another turn, and the fourth house is where I live. Not a soul has crossed the threshold since that day. Come in with me. Sit with me for a little time. Perhaps it will help. Perhaps after that I shall not be so terrified. If only I can feel another human being breathing the same air in that sitting-room where We used to be! Will you come?"
She did not hesitate. She had no fear. She felt easily his master.
"If it is any satisfaction to you," she assented, "I will come."
His eyes flashed. He gave a direction to the driver, who looked at him curiously. In a few moments they turned off the main street. In less than five minutes the taxicab was pulled up outside one of a little row of villas. As they stepped out Constance was half conscious of people peering from behind the windows. Some women opposite, who had been pointing out the place to a stranger, stared open-mouthed. Constance followed her companion composedly into the house, the door of which he opened with a latch-key. He closed it behind them.
"Why have you sent away the taxicab?" she asked.
"You won't hurry?" he pleaded. "Why should I keep it there? People always gather round if they think I am here. They stare so. Come!"
He opened the door of a little drawing room, a queer apartment, half Oriental, with a tented divan in one corner and a curious smell of incense. The wall-paper was of bright yellow and the curtains black. There were withered flowers in the vases and cigarette-ash upon the carpet. The atmosphere was almost unbearable.
"Do you mind opening a window?" Constance begged. "I couldn't possibly sit here like this."
He nodded and threw up one of the side windows.
"I have only just put my head in here since," he explained hoarsely. "I couldn't bear it. This is where we used to sit. Maggie had such queer taste. I don't think," he went on, "that she had really a healthy nature. She liked everything exotic and unnatural. Poor woman! You see the black curtains and the black carpet. She thought they went with the bright yellow walls and that they helped her complexion.
"She was older than I am, you know, and she used to fancy sometimes that she was losing her looks. Yes, I can breathe now there is some one in the room with me! Sit just where you are, please. Miss Robinson. She used to sit over in that corner, and often she would lie down on the divan there.
"I couldn't bear all the stuffy hangings, but she loved them. Now shall we talk about something? Shall I show you some views? There's an album there of my wife's notices. Or shall we talk about—Australia?"
She shook her head.
"You know very well, Mr. Delamoir," she said, "that, however hard you were to try, you couldn't talk—about anything except—"
"Of course you are right," he interrupted. "It isn't any use. I can no more talk about anything else than I can think about anything else. If you want to see her picture, there it is on the corner of the mantelpiece. I can't look—I don't know why—I can't!"
He had turned his back upon her. Constance moved to the mantelpiece and took up the picture. It gave her at first almost a shock. It was the picture of a woman, haggard, painted, with darkened eyebrows, false hair, in a ball dress cut absurdly low, and a satin skirt absurdly tight. She remembered the words Inspector Simmons had used in speaking to her of the case:
"A woman any man would be glad to be rid of!"
Her companion drew the curtain a little.
"There are some boys outside!" he exclaimed irritably. "And those women? their eyes seem never off the place. Do you mind the blind being down?"
She shook her head. There was still a long shaft of sunlight piercing the gloom of the room. Presently he came and sat opposite to her.
"If there were any way," he said, "of ending this?"
"What way could there be?" she interrupted. "You must travel soon and try to forget."
"Forget!" he repeated. "Would you forget, I wonder? Could you carry about with you the horrible knowledge I have locked in my heart, and forget? No one could."
"Well, then, why not tell the truth and have it over?" she asked calmly.
He sprang from his seat. She sat quite still, unflinching. His passion, however, was not one of anger.
"If only I could!" he moaned. "If only—"
He stopped short.
"Stay where you are, Miss Robinson," he implored. "Stay just where you are. Don't move. I shall be back in a moment."
He left the room. She heard him climb the stairs and remained where she was, looking about her. It seemed to her that in all the adventures of her life she had never found herself in such an atmosphere. She looked at the picture of the woman, worthy presiding genius of such an apartment. And yet there was something in the eyes—was it terror or despair—something piteous shining out from the midst of the wreck; just in the same way that, on a table only a few feet away, a little marble statuette of exquisite design struck a strange note in the midst of the flamboyant furniture and vulgar gewgaws with which the place was littered.
She heard his footsteps descending the stairs. He entered the room. There was a new look in his face, white and strained. He carried in his hand a little volume, bound in violent purple arid tied up with ribbon. He held it out to her.
"The evidence," he muttered—"I spoke of the evidence! Only a page or two, mind. You can read; then you will understand. You will be the only person in the world except myself who understands. Don't begin at the beginning—that's all rubbish. Begin there—there!"
His forefinger showed her the place. She began to read. The entries were sprawled all about the book in a loose, untidy handwriting, and without regard to keeping within the limits of the dates.
Began to-day worse than ever. I got up at twelve and passed the looking-glass on my way to the bath. I almost shrieked. I can't be like it! I had forgotten my hair! I dressed very quickly. Such beautiful things I put on. Then for a long time I could not make up my mind. I put on my lilac dress and my ermine, with a new hat that came last night, and a thick veil. I spent quite an hour with madame in her parlor. Then I walked slowly away down Bond Street. At first no one looked at me at all. Then a man and a woman passed and I heard the man laugh!
I looked in at a shop-window—perhaps my front was a little crooked. I went down to the theater. I thought to-day, perhaps, there might be a chance. Madame had taken a lot of pains. The stage-doorkeeper smiled when he told me that Bunsome was out. Liar! Bunsome came down the passage just a minute later. I told him what I wanted. He looked at me in a queer sort of way.
"Can't see whom I'm talking to," he muttered.
"Take off your veil." I took it off. Perhaps my fingers trembled, perhaps I took it off clumsily. He turned away. I could have sworn that he was laughing!
"My good woman," he said, "we want girls!"
. . . . I got out somehow, crossed the road. I went into a public house. I had two glasses of port—filthy stuff, but they won't sell me drugs in quantities big enough. Never mind, when I got home I forgot!
Constance looked up. He was still standing over her.
"Go on," he ordered. "Turn to the next page. Turn quickly."
She obeyed him.
Last night I cried myself to sleep. It doesn't matter crying in the night-time. I was in the West End all day, and I wore my new tailor made gown, the patent shoes with the gray suede tops, and gray stockings. I met Peter face to face. It doesn't seem long ago since he used to beg me to go out to luncheon with him. He hurried on. I tried to stop him, but he muttered something about an appointment, looked at me as though there were something wrong about my appearance, and kept glancing around nervously, as though he were afraid that some one would see us.
I went in to madame's and looked at myself in a glass. Glasses are such liars. I know I don't look like that. Every woman has to use a little rouge and a little false hair nowadays to keep in the fashion. I hate looking-glasses! . . . I lunched at Prince's; got rid of Dick. No one ever takes any notice of a woman if she's with a man younger than herself. I am going to write the truth. I can't bear it! I don't think I will ever lunch there alone again. The men glanced at me as they came in, and then looked away. There wasn't one who had that expression in his face I used to see always when I lunched alone and men passed. It frightened me.
I couldn't eat anything. I went into the ladies' room afterward and I ventured to look in the glass. It was madame's fault. She had put too much rouge on my left cheek. Yes, it must have been madame's fault! I shall try again.
Constance put the book away from her. Her voice was not altogether steady.
"I don't want to read any more," she said.
"One more page," he insisted. "One more, please. You are beginning to understand. One human person in this world understands besides myself! I think that I shall go about with a lighter heart."
She turned the page.
To-day I feel will be different. Laroche has sent me home the most wonderful white velveteen gown. I have rested until twelve o'clock. Now I have just put it on. It fits me divinely. One would say that I had the figure of a girl. It is marvelous. I have put on my big black hat with the feathers and a thinner veil. Yes, I am going to risk a thinner veil!
I shall go to madame for an hour, and then I will take all my courage in my hands. I will go once more to Prince's. I know that Stephen will be there. I will stop him as he passes my table, and I will watch him. I shall see. He used to love me in white. Somehow or other I feel younger myself to-day. As to being old, it is absurd. I am not old.
I have sent Susan for a taxi, and I have made Richard go away for the day. He bothers me so, wanting to go about with me. What admiration can a woman have who has a young husband with her! He doesn't seem to understand.
. . . .I don't know why I feel so excited to-day. I think it is the white velveteen gown. I shall put on my white silk stockings. It is a little daring, perhaps, but Stephen loves white. . . . Now I am going. I don't think, after all, I shall ever need to use that little packet.
The writing sprawled down to the end of the page. Constance looked up. Delamoir's eyes were upon her.
"Turn over," he ordered.
I can scarcely hold my pen. My God! I have seen the truth! It is the end! Madame called in little Emilie to look at me before I left. "Madame," she declared, "is ravissante!" I paid her and went out. Just as I reached the door I fancied I heard a laugh. At the time I thought that it must be fancy. Now I am not so sure! I went to Prince's, I got my table just inside. I waited. Every one who passed seemed to be in such a hurry.
Bunsome came in, and Elliman, and Captain Jenks, but they none of them appeared to see me. And then Stephen! He saw me, and he was alone, but he was going to pass. I held out my hand and I smiled at him.
"Stephen," I said, "won't you stop and speak to me?" He seemed quite awkward about it, but he stopped. I looked at the place by my side.
"Are you alone?" I asked very softly. He muttered something about having to join a party. I looked at him intently; he used to say that he liked me to look at him like that.
"Why are you in such a hurry?" I asked him. "Can't you stay for a little time and talk?" He shook his head. Then I felt suddenly queer and giddy. Something came into my heart and I held him when he wanted to get away. I said,
"Stephen, tell me the truth. Why do you avoid me? Why do those others hurry by? You men used to crowd around me, not so very many years ago. Why is it?"
He hesitated for a moment. Then he looked me straight in the face.
"Since you've asked me that question, Maggie," he said, "I'll tell you, as much for your husband's sake as your own. It's because you are close upon sixty years of age and you dress up to make yourself look like a girl and sit about and expect men to behave as though you were still attractive. And you're not. You're an old woman, and you know you are. Leave off painting yourself and wearing clothes thirty years too young for you and we'd all be glad to see you now and then and talk to you. But no man likes to be seen talking to a guy. . . . I don't mean to be unkind," he went on, for I suppose I was looking at him in a queer sort of way. "I've just told you this from myself and the others, for Richard's sake as well as your own. Now be a sensible woman and give it up."
I think that he went away then. I am not quite sure what happened to me. I found myself in a taxicab, and here I am—here I am! Fortunately, I didn't have to buy anything. I've had the stuff with me for years. I am leaving this in case there should be any trouble. Whoever reads this, if it shouldn't be Richard, please tell him there's a letter for the coroner on the next page. . . . I don't know what it's going to be like on my next page, but it won't be worse than to-day. I'm going to—turn over!
He took the book from her fingers. Constance suddenly felt cold.
"I loved her!" he muttered hoarsely.
"Don't you understand that I shall have to hang before I could show that book?"
She gave him both her hands.
"Yes," she said, "I think I understand."
CONSTANCE walked into her rooms at a few minutes after six. Brooke and Inspector Simmons were on the point of leaving. She looked at them in some surprise.
"May I ask what you are doing in my apartments?" she inquired, beginning to take off her gloves.
"You forget that you had an appointment with me here at three o'clock," Simmons remarked.
"Quite right," Constance admitted. "I had forgotten it."
"And as we had information," Brooke continued, "that at five minutes to two this afternoon you left the Cafe Lugano with a certain notorious person called Delamoir, you may understand that we were becoming a little uneasy."
She sank into her easy chair. The two men looked at her. Every muscle in Brooke's body seemed to stiffen. "Something has happened!" he exclaimed. She drew a little brown-paper parcel from her pocket.
"Mr. Simmons," she said, "I started out this afternoon to try to trap a man into a confession of his guilt. I have instead succeeded in becoming acquainted with his innocence. The proofs are here."
Simmons moved swiftly forward, but Constance retained possession of the parcel.
"This," she went on quietly, "is his wife's diary. It is my belief that Delamoir would have gone to the gallows sooner than have given it up. I have talked to him for some time, and he has let me have it for two hours, on one condition.
"You are to read it, and the superintendent. Beyond that, no other person. Not a word of it is to be breathed to the press. Sooner than have had a single line appear in any newspaper, Delamoir would have hung.
"There is no doubt," she continued, "about its being his wife's diary. You will find inside some of her letters, in her own handwriting, and there is also one addressed to the coroner, which is in itself conclusive.
"If, however, you have any remaining doubts as to the genuineness of this diary, you have only to go down to the Hilarity Theater and interview some of the young women who are mentioned in the earlier pages. Remember, however, that I part with the book only on the terms I have mentioned."
Simmons accepted the parcel and his charge.
"Queer," he remarked. "I know quite a lot of people who never believed in Delamoir's guilt; who even declared that he had an odd sort of affection for his wife, weird creature though she was."
Constance's eyes suddenly shone. For a single moment she was beautiful.
"There are many strange ways," she said, "in which a man may love a woman."
The inspector took his leave. Brooke turned to her earnestly, her last words sounding in his ears.
"But his task is," said he, "to make the woman believe and understand."
Constance felt her cheeks burn. Her eyes would no longer stand to their posts, arrogant sentinels, cool defenders against love's assaults. They turned, cowardly, in that moment, and took refuge behind their fringed curtains, while she answered, softly, very, very softly indeed:
"But I have known, Stanley, dear boy, all along. I have known—and understood."
"And the other partnership that I have proposed before to-day," said he, eagerly as a thirsty man, "the closer partnership, Constance?"
"I think," she answered slyly, "that we may have the papers drawn."