Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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FROM the mottled front of the Gare du Nord in the gathering gloom of dusk, Mr. John Smith took his first look at Paris; and so far as he could see, it didn't have a thing on Passaic, New Jersey. No fine frenzy of imagination was kindled by this initial glimpse of the wonder city of the world; he merely pondered how, in the absence of trolley cars, he could get down to the Rue de Main Street, or whatever they called it, where the hotels were. No unspeakable emotion, born of a long cherished dream come true, struggled within his soul; the thing uppermost in his mind was a deep seated craving for a fifteen minute séance with a beef stew that had lots of potatoes in it. It would require many beef stews, he figured, to fill the aching void caused by his eight-day ocean trip.
So, meditatively, for a time Mr. John Smith stood looking upon Paris with comparative eye. And the longer he looked the worse it was for Paris. The time-stained, weather beaten buildings across the street were not one-two-nine with the new brick block back home; the rain drenched square before him was neither wider, nor grander, nor in any way more calculated to arouse his enthusiasm than was the square in front of the church at Passaic-ave. and Grove-st. Trim lines of trees edged the curbs straight away ahead of him; but they would be dwarfs if set down beside the trees back home. Awnings were flapping in the wind which drove the mist before it; but the awnings back home always flapped when the wind blew. The restless throng on the sidewalk was neither more restless nor more dense than the Saturday night crowd on Main-ave. And trolley cars! In the absence of these, Mr. Smith was surprised that Paris had even electric lights.
Back home in Passaic, New Jersey, Mr. John Smith was assistant paying teller of a bank. In person he looked precisely like the assistant paying teller of a bank in Passaic, New Jersey. His hair was wiry, straight, and of a dingy black; his face the rugged, strongly limned countenance of one who shaves often and scrupulously; and he had the direct, straight-staring, unerring eyes of a man who lives for, by, and with figures, accustomed to seeing all that is writ and no more. He had never seen Niagara Falls, had Mr. Smith; but he knew to an ounce their capacity in horsepower if properly harnessed, and wondered why some one had not harnessed them. He had never crossed the placid bosom of the majestic Hudson River without wondering why it had not been filled in and cut up into city lots. Of course the ocean was all right; they caught fish in that.
There were faint lines of weariness in Mr. Smith's face now, and the straight-staring eyes were somber; not because of any disillusionment at his first sight of Paris, but because he was tired and sleepy and hungry He wanted to stretch his long legs in a real bed again after his eight nights of fitful slumber on a folding shelf in a stateroom. It was good to stand on something that didn't wabble, and it would be better to draw up to a table, beyond the sound of the heaving ocean, and eat. Heaving! Mr. Smith shuddered at the word.
These physical comforts provided, Mr. Smith would be prepared to rise and shake Paris in his teeth, as a terrier shakes a rat; for he had a purpose in Paris, did Mr. Smith, a purpose fixed, immutable, as was every purpose that ever laid hold of him. Nothing short of a purpose would ever have dragged him so far away from dear old Passaic. The somberness passed from the straight-staring eyes and there came a glint of steel into them as that purpose recurred to him. It made him impatient to eat, to sleep, and to be at it. So the first thing was to find a hotel. He reentered the great railway station and approached a porter.
"Say, son," he began affably, "I want a hack."
The porter stared at him and shrugged his shoulders. "Non compren' pas," he said.
"A hack, a cab, a buggy," Mr. Smith explained.
The porter shook his head.
"A vehicle, a wagon, a truck."
The porter appeared to be suffering intensely in his efforts to understand. His shoulders were squirming, his arms writhing, the agony was depicted upon every line of his face.
"Something with wheels on it, you know, that turn round and round," Mr. Smith elucidated patiently. "An oxcart, a herdic, a bicycle, a wheelbarrow—something to ride in."
"Non compren' pas!" the porter wailed helplessly. Oh, the pain and sorrow in his face!
"Well, don't take it to heart so," Mr. Smith advised kindly. "I want to ride, do you understand? In a—a dray, or an omnibus, or a taxicab, or—"
The fuse had burned to the powder, and the explosion came; the serenity of a summer's day settled upon the porter's face. He seized upon Mr. Smith's suitcase and gently but firmly led him around to his right, where he ceremoniously bowed him into an automobile.
The chauffeur appeared at the door for instructions.
"Now, son, we're getting somewhere," Mr. Smith remarked pleasantly. "I want to go to a quiet little hotel where no one will think I'm a Standard Oil magnate. How about it?"
The chauffeur looked at the porter, and the porter looked at the chauffeur, They both seemed to be suffering.
"Non compren' pas!" the chauffeur complained.
Mr. Smith sighed deeply and prepared to go into details. "A hotel," he said distinctly, "a place where you eat and sleep. A hash house, a beanery?"
The chauffeur stared at him helplessly, then turned to the porter, and they rattled unanimously. Mr. Smith sat patiently waiting.
"A boarding house, a soup kitchen?" he told them. "A hotel? Why, dam it! isn't there such a thing as a hotel in Paris? Hotel! H-o-t-e-l!"
"Non compren' pas!" the porter and chauffeur bleated in unison.
Mr. Smith drew pencil and paper from his pocket and printed a word on it in large letters. "Hotel!" he bellowed at them suddenly.
They took the paper and read it. "Hôtel!" They burst into song triumphantly. The storm had passed; peace had come.
"Sure, a hotel," Mr. Smith agreed. "Now, son, that you're hep, understand me that I want a cheap little place where I can get a room and bath and something to eat at about two dollars and a half per, on the American plan?"
They seized upon the word they understood and bore it aloft. Mr. Smith was satisfied, and when the porter's palm was outstretched thrust his hand into his pocket. He had been doing that steadily ever since he left Passaic—good old Passaic! He dropped a coin into the waiting hand, then lounged back in the automobile.
"And bang went ten cents!" he quoted. The taxicab wriggled out into the Rue de la Fayette and went scudding along toward the Place de l'Opéra. Mr. Smith looked out the window with growing interest and wonder. 'Twas a biggish sort of place, after all, was Paris. Passaic would have to look to her laurels! He was whirled past the Opera House and into the Rue de la Paix.
THE car stopped in the Place Vendôme. Mr. Smith glanced up at the sign above the door of a hotel and felt a cold chill start at the base of his brain and run down his spinal column, after which it ran up again. It was one word, "Ritz!" That was no place for a young man with a hundred and seventy-three dollars, who might have to stay in Paris for five or six weeks. He leaned out and spoke to the chauffeur.
"Drive on!" he directed.
"Hotel Ritz," the chauffeur informed him complacently.
"I know it," said Mr. Smith. "Drive on! Giddap! Cluck-cluck!"
The chauffeur came around to the door to make it clear to Monsieur. This was a hotel, the Hotel Ritz.
"On your way!" Mr. Smith expostulated. "Sick him! Vamose!"
Three or four pedestrians paused to listen. Monsieur did not understand. They undertook to assist him. It was the Hotel Ritz! They assured Monsieur upon their words as gentlemen and upon the sacred honor of France that it was the Hotel Ritz. The three or four grew to a dozen, and they assured Monsieur it was the Hotel Ritz. Oh, là là! Mr. Smith sat patiently waiting for the hubbub to stop; and it only grew.
"I said a cheap hotel!" he roared suddenly, and that mighty voice from Passaic extinguished the jabber about him as the windstorm extinguishes a candle. "This is no place for me! Giddap! Skiddoo!"
Whereupon the chivalry of France bowed low and begged Monsieur to believe them when they assured him it was the Hotel Ritz. A sergeant de ville nosed his way through, and Monsieur could take it from him that these gentlemen were telling the truth. He gave way to an imposing individual who came out of the hotel, wearing more uniform than Napoleon ever saw. Mr. Smith thought he was the Chief of Police; but he was only the head porter, and he added his voice to the hubbub. Mr. Smith looked out upon the growing mob with amazement in his straight-staring eyes.
AND then came to him faintly the voice of an angel, an angel from the United States, who seemed to be slightly amused. The crowd fell back respectfully, and a young woman stood before him, a tailor made young woman, trig and trim and charming. Her blue eyes were alight with understanding, and a smile tugged at the comers of her rosy mouth.
"Can't I assist you, Mr. Smith?" she queried, and the sound of his own language stirred a responsive chord deep in Mr. Smith's heart. "There has been some mistake, I am sure. Perhaps I can right it for you?"
"Thank you, ma'am," said Mr. Smith humbly, and it didn't occur to him to wonder that she knew his name. "I told the driver to take me to some cheap American plan hotel, and he didn't seem to understand. If you'll tell him, please, ma'am, I'll be much obliged."
"Certainly." With perfect gravity the girl turned and spoke to the chauffeur. After a moment he touched his cap and climbed back into the seat. The machine whirred and started to move.
"Thank you, ma'am." Mr. Smith said simply.
The girl smiled, nodded brightly, and entered another automobile which stood at the curb. Looking back, Mr. Smith saw her car swing about the Colonne Vendôme, and then his own car turned into the Rue de Castiglione and she was lost.
"Why, Edna, how could you thrust yourself into a crowd like that?" a middle-aged woman inquired of the girl reprovingly. "It was not—"
"Why shouldn't I have done it, Aunty?" the girl interrupted. "Mr. Smith was a passenger on the steamer with us, and shipboard acquaintances are privileged to help one another when one is in trouble. And he was in trouble, wasn't he?"
She laughed a little, and then the mood passed and she sat for a long time staring out the window with sad, thoughtful eyes.
HERE and there across the Seine some prodigal giant has flung a handful of glittering stars in parallel arches; and these are bridges. As Mr. Smith's taxicab spun through the Garden of the Tuileries, and over one of these, where looking out he caught the reflection of ten thousand lights in the rippling waters, he was reminded of the bridge down near the orphan asylum back home in Passaic. It gave him a comforting sense of nearness to things he knew, and he found it good. Paris was looking up; there was nothing to it.
Then he was whipped round a comer, and as he struggled to steady himself he caught the words "Rue Bonaparte" on a street sign under the full glare of an electric light, and sat up straight in his seat, aroused by some swift recollection. Rue Bonaparte! Here was a thing that he had momentarily forgotten, perhaps a tangible starting point of a search that might take weeks, given over into his hands by sheer luck. There had been a time a few years previously when, in his capacity of private secretary, he had been called upon to write that phrase at least once a week for many months. And now here was the place, the street itself, rolling away under his feet!
There was a quick, tense tightening of his lips, and a narrowing of his straight-staring eyes as the thought the words had aroused grew in his mind, and he was just about to stop the taxicab, when he felt it slowing, and it came to a standstill half a block farther on. He stepped out and glanced up curiously at the six-story building towering above him. Yes, it was precisely as he expected, as he knew it ought to be, the Maison de Treville, which happens to be a quiet, eminently respectable place in the Latin Quarter, opposite the Beaux Arts. It was something more than a pension and not quite a hotel; but anyway a respectable place to live. Mr. Smith had known this for years; but it had slipped his memory.
He turned to the chauffeur with a mouthful of questions; then, suddenly remembering the disaster that had befallen his previous attempts at conversation with this individual, restrained himself and turned into the entrance. From behind the desk in the lobby a young man with delicately waxed mustache superimposed upon an ingratiating smile, greeted him. Mr. Smith, wholly absorbed in the things he was remembering, glared at the young man with a cold glint of steel in his eyes.
"Something tells me, son, that you don't speak English either?" he remarked questioningly.
The amiable young man's eyebrows disappeared into his hair, and the smile widened. "Pardonnez-moi?" he queried.
"I'd have bet eight dollars you didn't," Mr. Smith continued in calm resignation. "Well, anyhow, I want a room—a room. Are you next? And a bath—a washee-washee place. And meals—food, eats. Do you get it?"
The clerk shrugged his shoulders and bowed and scraped and smiled. These Americans! Oh, là là! They are that droll! The smile wavered a little under the steady scrutiny of Mr. Smith's straight-staring eyes; for he was thinking of other things, things that came to him afresh with the words "Rue Bonaparte."
"By the way, do you happen to know the name W. Mandeville Clarke?" Mr. Smith continued. "W. Mandeville Clarke? He isn't stopping here?"
"Qu'est-ce que c'est!" queried the clerk.
"W. Mandeville Clarke?" Mr. Smith repeated distinctly. He picked up a slip of paper and wrote the name on it, then passed it to the clerk. "W. Mandeville Clarke!"
"Oui! M. Clarke!" the clerk burst forth rapturously. Here was something he could lay his tongue to! "M. Clarke! Américain!"
"You don't know any more what I'm talking about than a jaybird," Mr. Smith declared unemotionally. "My name isn't Clarke; my name is John Smith. I'm looking for a man named Clarke."
"M. Clarke! Oui, oui!" The clerk clung tenaciously to the thing he understood.
Mr. Smith leaned over, pulled the slip of paper from the clerk's reluctant fingers, tore it into four pieces, and dropped them to the floor. "Forget it!" he advised. "I wanted to know if Clarke was stopping here, and I stand a fine young chance of ever finding out from you, son. And, understand, my name isn't Clarke; my name is John Smith. Gimme that book!"
He jerked the register from beneath the hand of the astonished clerk and signed his name in it with a large flourish—just like the assistant paying teller of a bank in Passaic, New Jersey.
"Now, never mind Mr. Clarke," he told the clerk. "We'll fight that out to-morrow. The thing I most want in the world is a room—a room with four walls and a bed in it—a bed—sleep." Mr. Smith made a pillow of his two hands, laid his weary head on it, closed his eyes, and snored.
The clerk beamed his delight. "Sommeil! Oui!" he exclaimed.
"If that means sleep, you're on," Mr. Smith agreed with a sigh of satisfaction. "Now, eats!"
He dexterously applied an imaginary knife and fork and rubbed his stomach with feigned delight.
"Manger! Oui! Oui!" There was the light of perfect understanding in the clerk's eyes.
"Now, son, you're showing symptoms of human intelligence," Mr. Smith remarked admiringly. "And now a bath—a swim—the Big Splash. Are you hep?"
Whereupon Mr. Smith laved his face and hands in the ambient air and splashed it all over the shop, after which he dried himself. The little clerk was delighted. Monsieur was an artist! There was nothing better in the Folies-Bergère! In other words the great Coquelin himself wasn't deuce high!
"Baigner!" he elucidated. "Oui, oui!"
And so, five minutes later, Mr. Smith found himself safely bestowed in a clean, sweet room five flights up, surrounded by his suitcase. Then came a small waiter with a large tray of food, and, sans collar, sans coat, Mr. Smith set himself to fill a long felt want. He did well.
WHETHER Paris has the most perfect police system in existence because it is the wickedest city in the world, or whether it is the wickedest city in the world because it has the most perfect—well, anyway, they do it differently in Passaic. In Paris the police have succeeded in establishing a cycle of tattletales, an endless chain which makes every man a spy upon his fellows, and the effect is a marvelous, albeit an unpleasant, system of espionage. That is, it is unpleasant when one comes to think of the manner of its existence; for its operation is noiseless, unostentatious. It would not be possible in any other part of the world.
Being blessed with such extraordinary facilities, Paris keeps close watch on the casual stranger, if for no other reason than that it keeps the intricate machinery in motion. Paris is not only always willing, but glad, to lend assistance to the police of any sister city of the earth.
So, when a cable despatch came from a private detective agency in New York asking the Paris police to locate one W. Mandeville Clarke, Paris doffed her hat and went to work. It was not surprising, therefore, that while Mr. John Smith of Passaic was peacefully snoring five flights up in the Maison de Treville, an agent of the police, M. Rémi, not without fame in his own calling, should appear in the office down stairs and make certain inquiries of the clerk.
Dark insinuations underlay his manner of questioning, and the beady black eyes of him scared the amiable smile out from under the little clerk's waxen mustache.
"M. Clarke—W. Mandeville Clarke?" the sleuth questioned.
Yes, the clerk remembered the name; he had heard it earlier in the evening; indeed, it had been written upon a slip of paper and handed to him, then snatched out of his hand—so—and destroyed.
"Ah!" It was a long aspirated expression of relief from M. Rémi; the Rémi reputation threatened to be crowned with new glory. "Ah! You will be so kind as to go on?"
The little clerk leaned forward dramatically. "I have reason to believe M. Clarke is here in the hotel even now," he declared. "I will go further, Monsieur. I will say I am positive he is here!"
"Ah!" The cunning black eyes were alive as flames. "Your reasons. Monsieur?"
"He came here, an American, early in the evening, and his conduct was suspicious in the extreme," the little clerk ran on volubly. "He used strange American words, and a great many of them, although he must have known that I could not understand—I, who speak only the language of my beloved France."
"I am awaiting details, Monsieur," remarked M. Rémi.
"When first he came he repeated the name W. Mandeville Clarke many times, and finally. Monsieur, I came to know that he was introducing himself. Ah! You must give me credit for the great acumen! I did not fully comprehend this, Monsieur, until finally he wrote the name upon a slip of paper; then, apparently realizing that he had committed a blunder and betrayed himself, he snatched the paper from my hand—so—,tore it into bits, and cast it away. It must be here even now."
Together they pounced on the four bits of paper which had been knocking about the floor all night, and patched them together again. It was perfect! W. Mandeville Clarke! Little cries of satisfaction escaped them as the name grew beneath their deft fingers, and when all was done they shook hands mutely, admiringly.
"Then, when he had torn up and cast away this so precious bit of paper," the clerk went on breathlessly, "he seemed not himself, and again he said many strange words. Then he seized the register—so—and wrote upon it another name."
"What name?" demanded the sleuth keenly.
"See for yourself, Monsieur."
He spun the book round on the desk, and M. Rémi read therein the large written:
John Smith, Passaic, N.J.
FOR a time M. Rémi looked, then there came into his beady black eyes a supercilious light, and finally he permitted a sneering smile to curl the corners of his mouth. "It is a strange thing, Monsieur," he told the little clerk easily, from the depths of his infinite wisdom, "that whenever and wherever an American is arrested or is threatened with arrest he gives his name as John Smith. If there had been any doubt as to this—er—M. Smith's attempt to hide his true identity, the mere fact that he signed the name John Smith would have tended to dissipate that doubt. A clumsy thing to do, Monsieur! He is a tyro, a bungler!"
"Oh, là là—là là là!" the clerk exclaimed. " A child in the hands of so distinguished a man as M. Rémi!"
The sleuth permitted the compliment to pass unheeded and produced from the depths of his cavernous pocket a large notebook. Fascinated, the clerk watched him as he deliberately turned the pages. Then:
"This, M.—er—er—Smith," the detective inquired with deep meaning,—"this M. Smith—he wears the full, square-cut beard?"
The eager anticipation of the clerk's face was wiped out as by the brush of a painter—a house painter.
"No, Monsieur!" he exclaimed, and all hope had fled. "I must tell you the truth. He is of the clean shave."
M. Rémi did not seem to be particularly cast down at this chilling bit of information; on the contrary the sneering smile came again to his lips, and there was something akin to pity in the depths of his black eyes. "There are razors in the world, eh, Monsieur?" he queried quietly.
"Out, oui, oui! Magnificent!"
M. Rémi took his time about the next question. "His hair is gray? Almost white?"
"His head is like the raven. Monsieur; but," and the little clerk poked the detective in his distinguished ribs, "there are hair dyes, eh. Monsieur?"
M. Rémi admitted it with the strange feeling of having lost something. His voice grew stern, accusing. "He is tall?"
"He is tall. Monsieur—so great tall."
"Weighing about one hundred and eighty pounds?"
"Powerful of physique?"
"Of the grand physique."
M. Rémi closed the book and replaced it in his cavernous pocket with an air of finality. "That is all, Monsieur," he said simply.
"You will arouse him and take him away with you now?" the clerk queried eagerly.
"I have no orders to arrest him, Monsieur." M. Rémi explained. "My orders were only to locate him and keep him under close surveillance."
Oh, là là! Here was disappointment indeed. The little clerk's waxen mustache began to droop. "But what has he done. Monsieur?" he demanded excitedly after a moment. "Is he the robber, the murderer? Is it safe to let him remain in the house? You must tell me, Monsieur!"
"He will remain here undisturbed," M. Rémi declared positively. "Who he is and what he is I may not tell you."
There were four reasons why M. Rémi could not tell. The first was he didn't know, and the other three are of no consequence.
Meanwhile, Mr. John Smith of Passaic, New Jersey, wrapped in the utter innocence of slumber, dreamed lightly of the voice of an angel—an angel from the United States—which came to him vaguely through a babble.
IN the midst of his shaving, Mr. John Smith paused and from the high-up windows of his room looked down meditatively on the sea of mist that veiled Paris. Far away, a snow-white island in the murk of morning, glistening spotlessly under the rays of a pale sun, was Sacred Heart; to his left was Eiffel Tower, that thin, spidery structure that thrust its flagpole straight toward the stars. What a fine young shot tower that would make back in Jersey! As the mists began to lift he could trace the serpentine sweep of the River Seine, winding from a point almost at his feet away, away, and disappearing like a silver ribbon in the distance—just like the dear old Passaic River! In front of him, at the far end of a trio of arched bridges, was the vast roof of the Louvre; it reminded him of the roof of the rubber works back home. And the Garden of the Tuileries! It made him almost homesick for another glimpse of First Ward Park.
Homesick! He shook off the shadowy suggestion; for there was work to be done in Paris, tedious work, the work of finding a man named Clarke, W. Mandeville Clarke, and his reward was to be the exquisite delight of pounding Mr. Clarke to a pulp. After which they would sit down calmly and discuss two or three matters of moment to both of them. He had come all the way to Paris to do this, and this he would do! It had never occurred to him that Clarke might be hopelessly lost in the labyrinthine wildernesses of the city, or that he might not be in Paris. He would find him, because it was meet and proper that he should find him, and Mr. Smith was blessed with a firm belief in the eternal justice of things.
He bared his great right arm and, looking down on it complacently, fell to imagining how Clarke would look when be had quite finished with him. The mental picture he conjured up pleased him so he smiled, and smilingly he finished shaving. After which came breakfast. Not a puny little thing of coffee and rolls, but breakfast with a couple of chops and three or four eggs, and innumerable rashers of bacon. The waiter, who spoke eating-English, allowed his eyes to grow round and rounder as Mr. Smith ordered, and he stood by in a sort of trance as Mr. Smith ate. These Americans! What gormands they were! No wonder zey aire zo beeg and zo husky!
THESE preliminaries disposed of, Mr. Smith planted his hat upon his head and started out to get a toothhold upon Paris. It was of no particular moment to him that, as he passed through the office, the new clerk on duty glanced at him suspiciously and greeted him with a servility that was wholly out of keeping with his station. It was of no particular moment that the clerk didn't speak English,—Mr. Smith looked at him once, and knew that,—because, when he had exhausted the hotels where he could make himself understood, he would hire an interpreter and do the others.
It was of no particular moment to him that the cunning black eyes of a loiterer in the lobby swept his rugged face in one comprehensive glance and took particular note of the color of his hair, after which the owner of the eyes leisurely strolled out.
Maison de Treville, Rue Bonaparte! The combination of words had aroused a cameo-cut recollection in his mind, because once, half a dozen years ago, that had been the home in Paris of Miss Edna Clarke, the daughter of the man he sought. It was odd that he should be stopping at the same place, odd; but upon reflection overnight Mr. Smith could find nothing in it, save its oddity. Miss Clarke had lived there for nearly two years with a chaperon while she was completing her education; but there seemed to be no reason why either she or her father should be known at the Maison de Treville now. He had been convinced by the night clerk's manner that Clarke was not living in the hotel, and, anyway, if he found it necessary, he could go into the matter further with the aid of an interpreter.
Edna Clarke! She must be twenty-four or twenty-five years old now, and for no reason he found himself wondering what she might look like. Once upon a time he had seen a little picture of her, one of a group of laughing girls on a terrace at Versailles, and he had wondered how anybody that far away from Passaic could laugh. The picture had lain for a day or so on Clarke's desk; that same desk where Clarke had practised his knavery and—His teeth closed with a snap and there came an unpleasant glare into his straight-staring eyes as he strode into the street and turned toward the river. From his cursory view of Paris at his windows it had seemed that all the big buildings were across the river, and where all the big buildings were the big hotels should be, and skulking in one of the big hotels somewhere, under some name, was W. Mandeville Clarke.
SMITH was halfway across the Pont du Carrousel, which so reminded him of the bridge down near the orphan asylum back home, deep in his own thoughts, when he was brought to an abrupt halt by a man who met him face to face, a shrewd-eyed individual who planted himself directly in his path.
"What is your name?" the stranger demanded suddenly in English.
Mr. Smith paused and regarded him questioningly for a moment. "Smith—John Smith," he replied at last, curiously. "Why?"
"Where do you live?" The second question came in the same curt, businesslike tone.
"Passaic, New Jersey," replied Mr. Smith. "What's the answer?"
Without another word, with not even a word of thanks, the stranger passed on and was lost in the throng on the bridge. The incident struck Mr. Smith as curious, nothing more, and a minute later, in thoughts of more importance, he had forgotten it.
Then began for him a systematic, wearying round. He didn't know, and it probably wouldn't have disturbed him if he had known, that M. Rémi was trailing him tirelessly, accurately, into and out of every hotel he entered. His questions at each place took the same form: "Do you speak English?" In the event of an answer in the affirmative, the conversation prospered, and there came other questions: "Is W. Mandeville Clarke stopping here? Has he been here? Do you expect him? Is there any American or Englishman with a full gray beard and white hair stopping here, anyone about my size?" In the event of a negative answer to the first question, the conversation ended abruptly, and Mr. Smith put the hotel on his blacklist, to be probed later on by an interpreter.
AT the Hotel Continental there came a pleasant break in the weary monotony of his search. He put the usual questions to the clerk. Yes, he spoke English, and he spoke it with an intonation that made Mr. Smith's heart go out to him. No, Mr. W. Mandeville Clarke was not there; he had not been there; they didn't expect him. There was no full bearded, white haired American or Englishman stopping in the hotel, no one about Mr. Smith's size. Mr. Smith was turning away.
"From the United States?" the clerk queried affably.
"Passaic, New Jersey," Mr. Smith boasted.
"Waterbury, Connecticut," said the clerk.
The kindred of country brought Passaic and Waterbury hand to hand in a long, hearty clasp, and Mr. Smith didn't understand why, but there seemed to be a slight lump in his throat.
"Funny thing," the clerk went on after a moment. "There was a young woman in here just a moment ago inquiring for Mr. Clarke. She was from the States too, I imagine—a slender girl dressed in black, rather tall."
Mr. Smith studied the clerk's face with questioning, interested eyes. "You don't happen to know what she wanted with him, do you?"
"No, she didn't say. She seemed to be much distressed about something."
"She didn't leave her name, or her card, did she?"
"No." There was a moment's pause. "If you'll let me have your name and address, and Clarke comes along. I'll let you know," the clerk went on obligingly.
"Bully!" Mr. Smith exclaimed heartily. "My name is John Smith. I'll write my address, because I can't pronounce it."
So a slip of paper passed, and with a word of thanks Mr. Smith went his way.
He had hardly vanished through the courtyard into the Rue de Castiglione when M. Rémi appeared before the clerk with an eager glitter in his beady black eyes.
"You will give me at once, Monsieur," he commanded, "the slip of paper which the American handed to you just a moment ago."
The clerk needed no introduction to this man; the type was common. He passed over the slip of paper without a word, and M. Rémi devoured it with his eyes. It bore the simple words:
Maison de Treville,
IT was mysterious—most mysterious! M. Rémi puzzled over it for a minute or more, then with keen, accusing glance turned to the clerk. "You will inform me, Monsieur," he commanded, "of the exact conversation you had with this—this M. Smith."
The clerk laid the whole matter before him. The while spidery wrinkles grew in M. Rémi's brow. At its end M. Rémi hastened away, leaving the clerk to imagine strange things of this big countryman of his, things that were not wholly complimentary. Mr.
Smith would have been amazed if he had even an inkling of what Waterbury, Connecticut, was thinking of Passaic, New Jersey.
MR. SMITH had just turned into the Place de l'Opéra when, for the second time, he was halted by the abrupt appearance before him of a man who blocked his way. Mr. Smith stopped, thrust his hands into his pockets, and looked him over. He was the same type of man, precisely, as the one who had stopped him on the Pont du Carrousel,—who, in a general sort of way, was a twin of M. Rémi,—and something told Mr. Smith he was going to ask the same questions.
"What eez your name?" demanded the stranger curtly. Yes, the same question—in worse English.
"What's it to you?" Mr. Smith queried belligerently.
Aha! He was not M. John Smith any more; he was M. Watts Ittooyu! It must be a Japanese name! Ze huge Américain must take ze police of la belle France for ze grand stupid! Oho!
"Where do you leeve?" came the question.
"At the corner of the United States and two o'clock," Mr. Smith declared hotly. "Now, look here, son, I don't know why you people in Paris stop a fellow and ask his name; but it's none of your business, and the next one who does it will get a good swift poke in the jaw."
Mr. Smith stalked into the lobby of the Grand Hotel with a grim expression on his face, which softened instantly into mild interest as he came face to face with a tall, slender young woman gowned in black and heavily veiled, coming out. She started a little at sight of him, hesitated a scant instant,—he thought she was going to speak,—then passed on hurriedly. There was something vaguely familiar in the trim figure, the walk, the tilt of the head, and he paused to look after her a moment. Whatever he thought of her was lost in the throes of his verbal wrestlings with a clerk who boasted that he spoke English and understood United States.
THE first day's search ended fruitlessly for Mr. Smith, but rich beyond the most optimistic dreams to the sleuths of Paris who were seeking W. Mandeville Clarke. M. Rémi listened to the reports of the men who were assisting him, and his mental convolutions were weird in the extreme. He sent them away and sat down to try to adjust all the odd facts in his possession.
John Smith, alias Watts Ittooyu, was W. Mandevilie Clarke. He was big enough, the rugged lines on his face made him look old enough, he kept clean shaven with the most scrupulous care, and his dingy black hair bore every indication of having been newly dyed—badly dyed. But why should W. Mandevilie Clarke set himself to search the hotels of Paris for W. Mandevilie Clarke? Why, when confronted the second time by one of M. Rémi's assistants, did he give that strange name, Watts Ittooyu? And that strange address—the comer of the United States and two o'clock? Who was the mysterious veiled woman in black who was also searching for M. Clarke? Was she a confederate? There was some deep laid plot somewhere, and seeking it the French sleuth acquired a headache, which he treated with many oversweetened Martinis. Result, more headache!
ON the second day Mr. Smith planned to take the Arc de Triomphe as a center and revolve around it. At his first point of inquiry, the Hotel Carleton in the Champs Élysées, he encountered for the second time the veiled woman in black. She was standing at the desk with her back toward him as he entered, talking in French with the clerk in charge. She finished and started away.
"Do you speak English?" Mr. Smith began monotonously.
"Yes, Monsieur, I speak him quite well," replied the clerk.
"Do you happen to have with you a man known as W. Mandevilie Clarke?"
The clerk glanced involuntarily at the veiled woman, who turned quickly, inquiringly. At sight of Mr. Smith she became rigid where she stood, listening, listening!
"No, Monsieur. He is not here."
"Has he been here? Do you expect him?"
"He is not here. We do not expect him."
"There's no American or Englishman with a full beard and white hair here? No man about my size?"
Again the clerk glanced at the young woman, who, with fingers writhing within themselves, stood motionless half a dozen feet away.
"No, Monsieur," replied the clerk at last. "We have them wider and shorter, and longer and thinner; but none of your size."
Following the clerk's glance, Mr. Smith turned and recognized the veiled, woman with a sort of start. Her eyes met his squarely for a fraction of a second; then she turned and went out. A minute later he went out in the same direction. She was standing beside a taxicab at the curb waiting. He knew she would be. She faced him flatly, almost defiantly.
"I am not mistaken?" she asked in a tone so low he could just hear her. "This is Mr. Smith?"
"Yes, ma'am." Mr. Smith thought at first he knew the voice, knew it as one he had heard before; but there was some note in it that made it seem strange. He wondered if she was going to ask where he lived.
"You don't—don't happen to know who I am?" she went on, apparently with an effort.
She sighed a little; it might have been relief. "You are looking for Mr. Clarke, I believe?" There was a tense, eager note in the girl's question, a suggestion of fear. Her face was perfectly pallid behind the kindly veil, and her small fingers gripped her palms mercilessly.
"Yes, ma'am," Mr. Smith replied frankly. "You don't happen to know where he is, do you?"
"May I ask—pardon me if my question seems impertinent—may I ask why you are looking for Mr. Clarke?"
Mr. Smith thoughtfully stroked his chin. "It's a little personal matter, ma'am," and his voice hardened, "a little matter between us. If it's just the same to you, I'd rather not tell you."
The girl caught her breath sharply, and when she spoke again there was abject terror in her manner. "I should not have asked, of course," she apologized quickly, falteringly. "You—you come from the United States to find Mr. Clarke?"
"Passaic, New Jersey; yes, ma'am."
"And when you find him?"
Mr. Smith's straight-staring eyes grew steely, and there was a glint of danger in them; his powerful hands worked spasmodically, his white teeth were locked together. "When I find him!" he repeated grimly. Then quietly, "I'd rather not tell you, ma'am."
For an instant she stood staring at him, and twice she made as if to speak; then suddenly, silently, she turned and entered the taxicab. The car jerked and went speeding away up the Champs Èlysées. For a long time Mr. Smith stood gazing after it blankly, wonderingly.
SOME one has said that the corner table of the Café de la Paix, that table on the sidewalk, precisely at the intersection of the Boulevard des Capucines with the Place de l'Opéra, is the exact center of the earth. When he dropped into a chair at that particular spot. Mr. John Smith didn't happen to know that he occupied so important a geographical position: he only knew that this famous outdoor place, with its thin-legged tables and unsubstantial chairs, was something like Terry Maloney's Winter Garden back in Passaic, and that was enough. He was aweary of limb, battered by disappointment, and there was creeping over him resistlessly that longing for home which at sometime is the heritage of every man who travels.
For just a week Mr. John Smith had been tramping up and down Paris, cut off as effectively from home and countrymen as if he was in a dungeon, asking questions, always the same questions, listening to the meaningless, volatile babblings about him, and pondering moodily upon the hundreds of unused handshakes in Main-ave. back home. Not once had he met an American, save the clerk in the Hotel Continental. He had not seen the mysterious veiled woman again. There came a time at last when he felt he couldn't stand it any longer, and he dropped into the Continental to shake hands with Waterbury. Connecticut. But some change had come there. The clerk regarded him with frigid eyes, in which lay a shadow of suspicion.
"You haven't come across Clarke yet?" Mr. Smith inquired.
"Don't know a thing about him," replied the clerk tersely. That was all.
And once, in his great loneliness, he had paused to watch a child at play in the Garden of the Tuileries, a rosy-cheeked little chap who was whipping a top.
And he had spoken to the child. The answer was an incomprehensible jumble of sounds—just sounds.
Even the children in Paris spoke French! He had moved on wearily, and as he went a shrewd-faced man with beady black eyes—M. Rémi had come up and inquired of the child what the strange American had said and what had been the answer.
By noon of the seventh day Mr. Smith had exhausted those hotels where he could make himself understood, and now he had dropped down into a seat in the Café de la Paix to plan a continuance of his search, with the aid of an interpreter. Disappointment had been added to disappointment as he had gone on with not one clue; but the bulldog determination was in no way dulled, his purpose had not wavered. It had never occurred to him to give in—to quit. It never would occur to him while W. Mandeville Clarke remained to be found.
ACROSS the Place de l'Opéra from the Café de la Paix is a large sign in bold United States sort of letters, the sign of a great Chicago newspaper. Mr. Smith discovered it now for the first time, and the severe lines in his rugged face softened a little. It looked so homey and comfortable and United Statesy that it made him feel hungry all over, a hunger that took the form of an insane desire to see a United States flag, and to shake a United States hand, and to eat a United States pie—all of it, from upper crust to indigestion. Pie! Paris wouldn't be so bad if there was pie to be had. Chestnut fed Jersey pork and pumpkin pie! And perhaps just a smack of applejack, real, undiluted Jersey lightning!
He wondered if it was to be had.
A waiter came and inquired what Monsieur would be so pleased as to have, inquired in the lisping English that nearly every waiter in Paris speaks. How could he be so honored as to serve Monsieur?
"Say, son," queried Mr. Smith. "I wonder if by any chance you know what applejack is? Jersey lightning?"
"Applejack?" the waiter repeated painfully. "Jairsey lightning?"
"Applejack—it's a drink." Mr. Smith elucidated. "If you can find me a small glass of it—"
"Apple?" the waiter pondered. "Zat eez ze pointin'. Jack—zat eez ze Jacques in French, and Jacques eez ze James in English. Did it? Zerefore vat you want eez ze apple of ze James to drink? Eez it not so?"
Mr. Smith looked at him in amazement. "Oh, rats! If it's that much trouble, bring me beer," he directed.
Perched there in the center of the world, Mr. Smith meditated upon many things over his déjeuner,—dinner back in Passaic, regaling his drooping soul ever and anon by another glance at that wonderful sign across the way, the sign of a Chicago newspaper. He had never been to Chicago; but he loved it now.
He would go over to that office when he had finished, and perhaps some one there an American, oh, joy!—could give him some information as to where he might get an interpreter.
And, as he considered it all with rising spirits, there came to him indistinctly from a table a dozen feet away a few words in English—good United States English. The sound of that voice brought a quick, tense expression to his face and a spasmodic gripping movement to his hands. He knew it, knew it despite a certain whining quaver that had never been there before. He brushed the crumbs from his knees, folded his napkin carefully, à-la Passaic, paid the waiter, and rose. He had found Clarke!
He turned in the direction whence the voice had come, and, as yet unnoticed himself, stared, stared with frank surprise in his face. It was Clarke, all right—he knew the commanding, gleaming eyes of him—but a different Clarke, a Clarke minus the square-cut beard he had always worn, a Clarke whose head had been stripped of its glory of white hair, a Clarke who had shrunk from the robust, ruddy man he had known to a mere skeleton of himself, a Clarke with thin, yellow face and colorless lips; but Clarke it was—the man he had been seeking!
Mr. Smith strode straight toward him through the web of spidery tables and chairs, heedless of all else in the world, heedless even of the sudden appearance at his side of a strange man who said something to him in English. The slight commotion attracted Clarke's attention, and there, while still half a dozen feet separated them, the eyes of the two men met. Clarke's thin face went white beneath its sallowness and, leaning heavily on the table in front of him, he struggled to rise. It was an effort for him, a desperate effort; but he came to his feet at last and his burning gaze fastened itself upon Mr. Smith.
Some one laid hands on Mr. Smith's arm. He shook them off and took another step forward. Then, and not until then, he became conscious of the fact that Clarke was not alone. There was a young woman with him, a girl he knew, the girl who had directed his cab to the Maison de Treville on his first day in Paris, a girl in poise and in figure and in carriage strangely like the mysterious veiled woman in black. There was abject terror in her blue, wide opened eyes, a blanching of the rosy face, an involuntary movement of appeal in the slim, white hands appeal to him!
"Keep your seat. Edna." Clarke commanded in the thin, whining voice of a man who is ill, desperately ill. "There will be no scene."
For a second time Mr. Smith attempted to shake off the restraining grip on his right arm; but this time the encircling fingers closed like steel, and again he was conscious of some one mumbling in his ear—something that seemed to be of no consequence in the blinding anger that suddenly possessed him. He wanted to sink his fingers into the throat of this man, he wanted to smash that sickly yellow face, he wanted to scream the bitter rage that gripped his heart. And yet, looking into the troubled, pleading blue eyes of this girl, eyes that commanded with unspoken urgency, he stood silent, rigid.
Finally, after a great while, it seemed, reason came back to him, and vaguely he made out something that was being said in his ear:
"M. Clarke, you are my prisoner!"
CLARKE! Yet it was to him. John Smith, that the words were addressed! He turned to face the man who had spoken, the man who clung to him now with a grip of iron. It was the inquisitive stranger who hail asked his name that day on the Pont du Carrousel.
"Come along with the quietness, Monsieur!"
"What for? Mr. Smith demanded curiously.
"By order of the Prefect of Police."
"But my name isn't Clarke," Mr. Smith protested. "My name is—"
"W. Mandeville Clarke," interrupted his captor, "alias John Smith, alias Watts Ittooyu. You are my prisoner. You will come along with the great quietness."
Mr. Smith riveted his gaze upon the face of the real Clarke, and his mind, usually slow moving, whirled with the flood of things to be considered. He wasn't Clarke, of course, but if he exposed the real Clarke, and the real Clarke should be taken prisoner, it would bring chaos. Clarke must remain free, even at the temporary cost of his own freedom! It would he easy, once Clarke had opportunity to escape, to prove himself to be the John Smith he claimed to be, and he would he released. Then would come his reckoning!
His eyes shifted for an instant to the face of the girl, and some strange, subtle message passed between them. She had not spoken; yet she too seemed to understand, and the pleading, wistful eyes commanded him to do the right thing which happened to be at the moment submission to arrest!
"Oh, very well, Cap," Mr. Smith remarked at last, quietly, slowly, "as long as you know I'm Clarke, I don't suppose it will do any good to deny it. You fly cops in Paris are wonders, aren't you?"
WITH one of his wasted hands clasped in the cool, caressing fingers of his daughter, and with her plump, rosy cheek pressed tenderly against his own, withered and yellowed by a long, dragging siege of typhoid. W. Mandeville Clarke slept. It was a sleep of utter exhaustion, an exhaustion following closely upon the maelstrom of speculation and apprehension aroused by that unexpected encounter with Mr. John Smith in the Café de la Paix. Smith, of all men! What was he doing in Paris, so far away from his wicketed window? Why had he been arrested? And why had he submitted to arrest under the name of Clarke, with hardly a protest?
There was only one answer, of course, and that answered only part of the question: The disappearance of the United States bonds from the bank vault had been discovered. An order had been issued for his, Clarke's, arrest on a charge of having made away with those bonds. That order had been turned over to the police of Paris for execution, and they had blunderer! But how had they blundered? How was it possible to mistake Smith for Clarke? And why had Smith not delivered over to the arresting officer the real W. Mandeville Clarke, who was there under his very hands? It couldn't have been that Smith hadn't recognized him; the blazing, straight-staring eyes left no room for doubt on that score. Then why—why?
Pondering these things, aghast at the hideous possibilities that paraded before his distorter! vision in garish disorder, certain of nothing and fearful of all, Clarke had been lulled into uneasy slumber by the softly musical voice of his daughter, who talked of all things in the world save the strange meeting in the Café de la Paix.
Mr. Smith had been led away a submissive prisoner, and immediately he had gone Edna had hurried her father into a taxicab and they had been driven here—here to this shabby little apartment in the Rue St. Honoré where she had found him. where he had been quartered for weeks, and where by force of indomitable will and splendid physique he had conquered his illness.
FOR an hour or more after he had dropped asleep the girl sat beside him, motionless, vigilant, sensitive to his least movement, her clear blue eyes clouded by terror of some incomprehensible danger which threatened to overwhelm them. She had asked no questions; but a thousand were hammering insistently for answer. Why was her father, W. Mandeville Clarke, president of a bank and a financial power at home, skulking here in a pitiful little apartment under the name of Charles Roebling? Had there been some crime? She shuddered at the thought. If there had been no crime, why the necessity of this concealment? And who was this huge, hulking American, this so called John Smith, who, knowing Clarke, had submitted to arrest with scarcely a word of defense?
Her father—perhaps he was a thief! He had left home suddenly with the bare, bald statement that he was going to Paris, and once there he had utterly disappeared. Weeks and weeks had passed; then, tormented by an unnamed fear of some ghastly thing like this, she had come to find him. She had found him through a clue furnished by a friend of the family, found him just recovering from typhoid fever. If her father was a thief, then John Smith—John Smith—he was probably a detective! That was the only inference she had been able to draw from his answers to her questions that day in the Champs Èlysées. But, on the other hand, if he was a detective, why had he permitted himself to be arrested as W. Mandeville Clarke?
After awhile she detached her slim fingers from her father's feeble grip and rose noiselessly. For a minute or more she stood staring down on the emaciated frame of this man who was so much to her, who was so dependent upon her now in his helplessness, who was so near to her and yet so isolated by the pall of mystery which seemed impenetrable. Then suddenly there came a blinding, blurring rush of tears and she crept silently from the room.
The door squeaked faintly as she closed it; but, as slight as it was, the noise aroused Clarke. His feverish eyes opened wide and he sat up straight in bed. The bonds! He had dreamed of them, and fear for their safety had been born in that dream.—a strange, vivid vision of a desperate struggle with some straight-staring, rugged faced, hulking man, some man who seemed to be—to be John Smith! In the dream he had lost the bonds! For a long time he sat listening, listening, then started to rise from the bed. It was an effort. Illness had sapped his strength, he was weak as a child, but the will of him came to his rescue, that merciless, all compelling will against which no man or thing had ever stood.
Made giddy by the effort, with the world swimming about him hazily, he rested for a minute beside the bed, steadying himself by the support it gave; then, his eyes aglitter, his heart pounding, he went staggering, reeling, across the room. From a shelf high up in the rickety wardrobe he took down a little leather bag and opened it with fumbling fingers. Inside, folded separately, and placed one upon another, were many papers, bound into a package by a rubber band; he thrust his fingers into the bag. The papers crackled at his touch and he laughed senselessly. They were safe!
With trembling hands he slid one of the sheets out and opened it. It was a United States bond, printed in the golden yellow that one instinctively associates with things of great value. On its face it bore the figures $10,000. There were one hundred and fifty of those bonds in the bag one million five hundred thousand dollars! Here was not his fortune, but the means to a fortune that was to become millions and millions under his deft manipulations! Again he laughed, a mirth that was cracked, hollow.
After awhile he folded the bond, slipped it back under the rubber band, locked the little bag again, and stood swaying in the center of the room as if seeking a place to hide it. For weeks, during all the weary illness when he had lain unconscious, helpless, the little bag had remained safe and undisturbed. But now he had dreamed, and fear had been born in that dream. The bag must be hidden in some better, safer place safe from Smith, safe from chance discovery by his daughter!
An idea came! He could place the bag beside him, under the covers! There it would always be at hand, and with a revolver under his pillow—
IT was an hour later, perhaps, that the door opened with the slight squeak that had aroused him, and his daughter entered softly. The mist of tears was gone now, the lingering, doubtful fear had passed from the blue eyes, and the scarlet lips were smiling bravely.
"Edna," he said, and for a moment there was a return to the terse, masterful tone she had always known, "does it happen you have seen any account in the Paris edition of The Herald of trouble in one of the banks back home? An embezzlement, perhaps?"
"No. Daddy. Why?"
So, whether or not there had been an order sent to the Paris police for his arrest, nothing had come out back home! There was yet a chance, in spite of Smith! A chance? No, an absolute certainty! Clarke closed his eyes and lay back smiling.
DUSK had drawn a veil over Paris when Clarke awoke, and the only thing he was conscious of for a time, in the darkness of the shabby little room, was a vague white splotch, elusively outlined against the shadows. With an effort he focused it with his eyes, and after a long, long time he came to know it was the face of his daughter.
"Edna!" he said feebly.
"You are awake, father?" and a white hand, chilling as ice, rested for a moment on his brow. "Do you feel better?"
"I'm all right, girly," he assured her. "I was a little upset, that's all."
There was silence. He moved slightly, and something under the covers bumped against his side. One hand, exploring, came in contact with the little leather bag. The bonds! He smiled. They were safe yet! Smith hadn't been able to get them!
"I'm quite well." he continued, and there was a steadier note in the quavering voice. "In another week I'll be good as new. It takes more than a little typhoid to knock out your daddy, girly."
Edna didn't stir. After one quick glance she didn't even look at him. Instead she sat motionless, with pallid face, staring out the mottled window for a minute or more. The clear blue eyes had become somber and tense in the rigidity of their gaze.
"A gentleman called to see you while you were asleep," she said irrelevantly at last. "I told him, of course, that he couldn't see you; that you were ill."
"Who was he?" Clarke asked quickly.
"He said he was the Marquis d'Aubigny," the girl told him with deadly listlessness in her tone, "and he inquired for Mr. Charles Roebling."
"But I should have seen him—I must see him!" Clarke blazed with a note of excitement in his voice. "You shouldn't have sent him away! You should have—"
"He will return this evening; he said he would," the girl interrupted. Then, after a pause, "Father, why Charles Roebling instead of Clarke?"
"For reasons you wouldn't understand—business reasons." he explained tersely. "Did he set an hour?"
"Eight o'clock," she replied. "And why this dreadful little place instead of one of the hotels? We have always stopped at a hotel before, and—"
"Girly, you are asking about things now that I couldn't explain—to you. Some day you'll know; until then you wouldn't understand."
"And why that strange scene at the Café de la Paix?" Edna rushed on with sudden, dogged violence. "Why should Mr. Smith, or whatever his name is, be arrested under the name of Clarke—under your name? He seemed to know you, and you knew him. Why didn't one of you explain that there had been a mistake? And why should W. Mandeville Clarke—you—be arrested at all?"
She stopped with an odd, cold feeling of numbness and, leaning forward with her elbows on her knees, stared moodily at the floor. The scarlet had gone from her lips; her teeth were clenched desperately.
"Edna, don't disturb yourself with things you don't understand." Clarke reproved tartly. "Don't ask silly questions."
"I must know what it all means. Daddy—I must know!" The tenacity of purpose that characterized the father was born anew in the daughter. "I suppose Mr. Smith is locked up somewhere now under your name. How long is he to stay there? What has he done? What have you done?"
This was a new mood in his daughter. Clarke stared at her in sheer amazement, mingled with uneasiness. She had missed nothing of the meeting at the café! When he spoke again it was in the old voice of command she knew, the merciless, abrupt, triumphant business tone.
"If Smith remains locked up for a week, it means a fortune for me—a fortune of millions," he said. "If by any chance he is released and finds me the second time, it means—it means ruin, absolute ruin!"
"But why?" the girl insisted.
He didn't answer the question, and for some reason she didn't press it. Instead:
"You are not a rich man, are you, Daddy?" she asked curiously. "I mean rich in the sense of the great rich men of New York?"
"I'm a pauper, compared to the Wall Street crowd." Clarke replied steadily. "I am worth perhaps three hundred thousand dollars, perhaps less. However, if Smith stays in jail for a week, just a week. I'll be worth millions! Millions, girly! Do you understand?"
There was some inarticulate noise in the girl's throat, a sort of gasp, and he rose. Her slim hands closed tightly behind her back; she Stood rigid.
"I shall not ask you. Daddy, why it is to your advantage for Mr. Smith to remain in jail: nor shall I ask you why he should have submitted to arrest under your name. But there is one thing I will ask, and I have a right to an answer! Why should anyone by your name be arrested? What have you done?"
Clarke picked nervously at the sheets with one hand, while the other gripped the little leather bag. "There's nothing I can say to that question now," he remarked slowly.
"I was afraid you wouldn't answer it. Will you answer this: Has there been any act of dishonesty?"
The words came hollowly, with an effort.
Clarke stared at her for a long time. Finally, "It is useless to continue such a conversation. I will see the Marquis d'Aubigny when he calls."
"Is it possible for a man in your position, a banker, to raise a large sum of money, a very large sum of money, or to have it intrusted to him for—well, say, for investment?"
"Why, girly, that is my business."
His fingers dosed more tightly on the little leather bag as his eves searched her face for the meaning of that singular question. And as he looked she seemed to be overcome suddenly by a violent revulsion of feeling and he found her on her knees beside the bed, her wet face buried in the sheets, sobbing.
"Forgive me. Daddy!" she pleaded. "Forgive me! It's all so strange, so unreal! I can't understand. I don't suppose I ever shall. I think I am not—not quite myself."
CLARKE rested his hand on her radiant hair until the storm of sobs had passed and fiercely fought back some powerful emotion that halted his words. "Do you know what you need more than anything else in the world?" he queried gently at last, and this was the father speaking. She looked up expectantly.
"You need a good cry. Run along now, and don't disturb yourself about horrid things you don't understand."
THAT night Marquis d'Aubigny, a little man of indeterminate age, immaculate, foppish even in dress, with that singularly loathsome expression of the eyes that one grows accustomed to seeing in the cafés of the Champs Élyseés, called and remained with Clarke for an hour. Edna, in person, admitted him to the poor little apartment, and under his stare flushed crimson with intangible anger, a helpless rebellion against the thing she saw there. With hot cheeks she turned away into the little cubbyhole of a room adjoining that in which her father lay and flung herself across the bed.
It was no fault of hers that she heard the conversation in that room, separated from that of her father by only a flimsy door which would not close perfectly; but when the Marquis had gone she stood for a time staring after him, then entered the room where her father lay. He was sitting straight up in bed in the act of opening the little leather bag. He tried to conceal it.
"What do you want?" he demanded harshly.
She stood silent an instant, swaying a little. "Nothing, Daddy," she said falteringly. "I don't want anything. I don't think I am quite well."
As he glared she stretched out her hands to him imploringly, her lips moved silently, and she fell prone.
MEANWHILE, Mr. John Smith was having troubles of his own, and rather enjoying them. He was sitting in a small office of the prefecture of police—police headquarters in Passaic—on the Île de la Cité, facing M. Baudet, a grim-visaged man of middle age who perfumed his whiskers and smoked vile cigarettes. Mr. Smith wondered if he perfumed his whiskers to kill the odor of the cigarettes, or if he smoked the cigarettes to kill the odor of his whiskers. M. Rémi was there, along with two or three other French sleuths, who glowered at Mr. Smith individually and collectively and babbled incomprehensible asides. Mr. Smith stood it for a long time: then, to M. Baudet, who seemed to be the chief:
"Well, Cap, you got me," he remarked pleasantly. "Now would you mind telling me what it's all about?"
Evidently this was what they had been waiting for, the prisoner to break the silence. M. Baudet stabbed him with a glance of his piercing eyes and remained silent. It was a highly effective method of his own, this silence, to reduce a man to fear and awe in the beginning. It sapped his courage and left him weak and flabby.
"If you're going to ask any questions, begin," Mr. Smith requested.
"I shall ask the questions, Monsieur, at the proper time." M. Baudet's tone was cold, incisive, steely.
"And all I have to do is to answer 'em?"
"That is all, Monsieur."
"Well, son, we'd better understand each other in the beginning," Mr. Smith remarked easily. "If you don't answer some of my questions right now. I don't answer any of yours. In other words, it you hold me here without telling me why, I'll get a man down here from the American Embassy and let out a scream they'll hear all the way to Washington. In the first place, I want to know why I was pinched."
There was a note of calm assurance in Mr. Smith's voice, utter composure in the powerful hand which lay idly on the arm of his chair. His straight-staring eyes were fixed squarely upon those of M. Baudet.
"Understand me, I'm not going to start any roughhouse or anything; but you've got to tell me why I'm here," he concluded.
"You shall answer my questions, Monsieur!" A slender, manicured hand, delicate as a woman's, tugged complacently at the perfumed beard; there was a merciless glitter in the eyes above it. "You are W. Mandeville Clarke!"
"Well, suppose I am?" queried Mr. Smith. "What has he done? Is there an order for his arrest from the United States?"
"Ah! You do not deny it! So you are Mandeville Clarke, alias John Smith, alias Watts Ittooyu!"
"I'm not denying anything." Mr. Smith returned placidly. "If I'm Clarke, what have I done? Have I murdered someone, or wrecked a train, or burned a barn, or robbed a safe?"
"You admit that you are Clarke?"
"I'm not denying it, am I? I want to know why I'm here. What's Clarke done?"
It was most disconcerting, really, quite unprisoner-like! M. Baudet had anticipated denial. This man denied nothing—merely wanted to know. That precipitated an embarrassing situation. Why had Clarke been arrested? Why was he being held?
"Your arrest was necessary, Monsieur."
And he hoped Mr. Smith would read, some deep, underlying threat in the words.
"Why?" Mr. Smith bellowed at him suddenly, belligerently. "Who ordered it? Have I committed a crime in Paris? If not, then the order for an arrest came from the United States. Who ordered it?"
M. Baudet blinked a little, and a long silence tell. These burly Americans! What monstrous voices they had, to be sure! And how evil they could look about the eyes! Alter a little M. Baudet glanced at M. Rémi blankly.
"Tell it to me now: I want to know," Mr. Smith insisted in a voice as if he was rooting for the home team. "You can't hold me here forever without telling me why, and if you don't tell me you've got to tell the American Ambassador!"
There was a little nervous twitch in M. Baudet's delicate hand as lie tugged at the perfumed whiskers again. Here was a situation unprecedented, an American, a pig of an American, without hope or honor in his soul, bawling at him. M. Baudet, as if he was a stevedore! When he spoke his own voice was like velvet.
"We knew you to be M. Clarke almost from the first." He said, and as he went on the velvety purr merged into frigid dramatics. "For instance, in introducing yourself at the Maison de Treville, you wrote your name, W. Mandeville Clarke, on a slip of paper: then, realizing your error, destroyed it. Here are those hits of paper, Monsieur."
He produced them. Mr. Smith stared.
"When one of my men met you on the Pont du Carrousel the following morning and asked your name, you hesitated before you answered. The assumed name of John Smith did not spring into your mind as readily as would have your own. It is an infallible test! Again, when another of my men accosted you in the Place de l'Opéra and asked the same questions, you gave a different name. In other words, Monsieur, when taken unawares you forgot the name you had assumed, and, realising only the necessity of giving some name other than your own, you gave the name Watts Ittooyu, and your address as the corner of the United States and two o'clock. I have the direct information, Monsieur, that there is no such address; therefore you are Clarke!"
THERE it was, all of it, as clear as mud! Mr. Smith didn't smile, because the one question to which he had been seeking an answer was not answered. He returned to it unwaveringly.
"Was there an order from the United States to arrest Clarke?"
"Well, Monsieur, the fact is—" and M. Baudet hesitated a little, "the fact is our instructions from the United States were not so complete as we should have wished: so—"
"Was there an order from the United States to arrest Clarke?"
"Well, there was no direct order; but—"
Mr. Smith drew a long breath, a very long breath. "But you did have a request from some one, possibly a private detective agency, to keep a lookout for Clarke?" he continued. "And a description of Clarke?"
"That is true. Monsieur: but you must understand—"
"Now." Mr. Smith interrupted abruptly, "you yourself say you had no order to arrest Clarke. Your men had evidently been watching me pretty closely since I have been in Paris. Have I committed a crime then?"
"You went on and on endlessly in the farce of searching for yourself. Monsieur. We knew you were Clarke, and it was necessary to bring the matter to a conclusion. So you were arrested. I shall notify the agency in New York immediately, and—"
"No charge against me in the United States, not even a charge against me in Paris, and still you pinched me!"
M. Rémi leaned forward suddenly and mysteriously whispered into the pearl-like ear of his chief, whereupon a glad smile split the perfumed whiskers, and the piercing eyes grew cunning.
"If you are thinking you are to be freed immediately. Monsieur, you are mistaken." M. Baudet remarked suavely. "There is a charge against you in Paris, and even your American Ambassador cannot aid you until that charge is disposed of. That is that you have violated our laws by living here under an assumed name and in disguise!"
THEN Mr. Smith smiled. He leaned back in his chair, crossed his sturdy American legs, and continued to smile. Away back of that smile was the consciousness that Clarke's perfidy had not been discovered in the bank; that it had not been reported to the police; that the supposed package of United States bonds in the vault was still unbroken; and that so long as those things were true, he, Mr. John Smith, was not only in no danger himself, but was at liberty to pursue the task he had set himself, of finding and returning those bonds. If their loss was discovered, it meant the collapse of the bank, inevitably.
"Well, Cap," and Mr. Smith was purring like a tickled kitten. "I'll just bet you ten dollars to the hole in a pretzel that I am not in Paris under an assumed name, nor am I disguised! Sad as it may seem, this is my own face."
"Not disguised!" exclaimed M. Baudet. "Not under an assumed name! But you are M. Clarke!"
"Who told you so?"
"You did. Monsieur."
"Wrong, Cap. I merely didn't say I wasn't Clarke. You must have a pretty accurate description of Clarke. He's a man about my size?"
"Just your size. Monsieur."
"With gray hair?"
"You have dyed it. Monsieur. It has that dingy look of dyed hair."
"Thanks! If you know of anything that will take the dye off. get busy. Your description probably said too that Mr. Clarke has a full, square-cut beard?"
"A razor, Monsieur." M. Baudet smiled.
"But your description did say a gray beard?"
"Yes, gray, almost white."
"Well, take it from me. I'm not Clarke. All you've got to do to convince yourself is to sit right still then for the next ten hours and watch my whiskers grow. They'll come out black."
There was silence, dead silence, a silence fraught with tragedy. After a long time M. Baudet turned upon M. Rémi with a sinister glare in his eye.
"If that is true, M. Rémi," he said reassuredly, "it is evident that you have made the mistake."
M. Rémi bowed his head in shame and sorrow; then another idea came. He spoke aside to his chief, who in turn addressed Mr. Smith.
"Your name is John Smith, then?"
"John Smith, of Passaic, New Jersey."
"You have been looking for M. Clarke, too. Who are you? Why have you been searching?"
"Because I wanted to find him," replied Mr. Smith. "Now you fly cops in Paris are pretty nifty, Cap. Can't you imagine why I came all the way from the United States to find Clarke, the same man you are after? Doesn't it suggest anything to you?"
Gradually a light of understanding grew in M. Baudet's eyes, and for a second time the perfumed whiskers parted in a smile. "Perhaps," it came in a thrilling whisper, "perhaps you too are a detective!"
"Ah!" It was most noncommittal. Mr. Smith rose and stretched his long legs. "There is the native shrewdness of France, Monsieur!"
They shook hands.
Late that night Mr. Smith returned to his room in the Maison de Treville with an odd smile of satisfaction on his face.
ON the following afternoon five men met with W. Mandeville Clarke in the shabby little apartment in the Rue St. Honoré, and important business papers, involving millions, were signed. By the terms of the deal Clarke was temporarily to hypothecate United States funds valued at one and a half million dollars. Smiling triumphantly, he opened the little leather bag.
It was empty!
FOR the major part of the day and all the evening following the mysterious disappearance of one million five hundred thousand dollars' worth of United States bonds from the shabby little room in the Rue St. Honoré Mr. John Smith hovered about the lobby of the Maison de Treville like an uneasy bill collector. He had been expecting something, he didn't know what. A letter? Perhaps. A telegram? Maybe. A call in person? Not at all unlikely. Whatever form it might take, it was something coming from the void, an illuminating, star-like light to lead him through the maze. He was perfectly convinced of it, albeit the conviction was based upon nothing more substantial than a well developed Passaic hunch.
Shortly after nine o'clock he strolled around the corner into the Rue de Seine to invest fifty centimes of hard earned American cash in a bad cigar, all cigars being bad in Paris. As he re-entered the lobby, the night clerk, that astute young man with the smile and the delicately waxed mustache, ingratiatingly picked up a letter and held it aloft.
"Billet pneumatique, Monsieur," he announced.
"Who?" asked Mr. Smith.
"You can search me, son; I don't know him."
The clerk shrugged his shoulders hopelessly, walked round the desk, and placed the letter in Mr. Smith's hand. Mr. Smith glanced at the superscription.
"Oh. For me. I thought you said it was for Billy somebody."
The handwriting was a woman's. Now that it had had come, Mr. Smith knew that it was precisely what he had been expecting.
Of course it was from a woman! He had known all along that it would be! He dropped into a settle in a corner and opened the letter.
It was like this:
To-night at 10:30 taxicab will pick you up at the north side of obelisk in Place de la Concorde. Matter of greatest importance to you.
There was no signature. Mr. Smith had expected none. He glanced at his watch—it was nine-twenty-seven—after which he sat for a long time with utter blankness in his straight-staring eyes. His meditations were not unpleasant, if one might judge from a certain softness about his mouth, almost a smile. Perhaps he was dreaming of Passaic.
Whatever it was, he was brought back to cold, sordid earth by the approach of a stranger who had entered, a small man of indeterminate age, immaculate, even foppish, in dress, with a pair of evil eyes in the head of him.
"Pardon me," said the stranger in English, "this is M. John Smith?"
"Of Passaic, New Jersey. Yes, sir."
"Permit me to introduce myself. Monsieur. I am the Marquis d'Aubigny."
He bowed low and presented his card. Mr. Smith read the name and bowed lower. There was a certain uneasy air of surprise in his manner. To his broad, democratic mind, Kings and Queens and Dukes and Marquises were persons who walked the face of the earth with exalted crowns on their heads. This chap had on a silk hat.
"It is the great pleasure. Monsieur, to meet you."
"Same to you, sir." Mr. Smith was holding up one foot awkwardly with a crushing sense of having failed in the formalities. "Have a seat, Mr... er—er—er—Sit down."
M. le Marquis disposed himself gracefully, on the settle. He reminded Mr. Smith, languidly, of some one, strangely. Suddenly he knew who it was. It was Richard Mansfield as Baron Chevrial. That was it, that disgusting, loathsome, marvelous creation of an actor's art! Verily, here was Bill Roue in person; so, to Mr. Smith's unembroidered Passaic mind. Mr. Smith sat down gingerly.
"I have come to you on a little matter of business. Monsieur," the Marquis said slowly, impressively. "I come from M. Clarke."
"Oh!" Mr. Smith stared at him for an instant, then rose and paced the length of the lobby twice with his fingers gripped behind him. When he paused in front of the Marquis, his eyes had grown steely, his powerful jaws were set. "What business?" he demanded abruptly.
Marquis d'Aubigny permitted his wicked little eyes to wander about the lobby. There was no one in sight except the night clerk.
"He doesn't speak English," said Mr. Smith shortly. "Go on!"
"It is not for us, Monsieur, to ask you how you got possession of the bonds, or to go into trivial details to show how we came to know that you have them. Neither is it necessary to touch upon your personal relations with M. Clarke. It is enough to say that you have misunderstood him. He is an honest man, as you are. A vast business deal has been interrupted by your unexpected interference. It is a deal that will bring an enormous profit. It must be consummated! I come to you, therefore, direct from M. Clarke, to offer you a share of the profits that may accrue, upon the condition that you return the bonds immediately, you to go back at once to the United States.—we know you have engaged passage from Cherbourg on Wednesday; so this fits in with your plans,—and once in the United States you are to take necessary action to protect M. Clarke until such time as he can get there, and then—is it necessary to go on?"
"Engaged passage from Cherbourg on Wednesday!" There was an odd little intonation in Mr. Smith's voice. "You are hep to my plans, all right, aren't you? How much profit do I get, if I do all this?"
"One hundred thousand dollars. Monsieur."
"One hundred thousand dollars!" Mr. Smith was speaking with irritating deliberation. D'Aubigny's keen eyes searched the rugged face and found nothing.
"And if there are no profits?"
M. le Marquis shrugged his shoulders. "Then nothing, Monsieur. You take your chance with the rest of us. There are ninety-nine reasons why we should make a profit, and only one why we shouldn't; if we fail, of course M. Clarke is ruined. I am ruined, all of us; but we won't fail."
"If you get the bonds," Mr. Smith stipulated.
"We have the utmost faith in your discretion. Monsieur. One hundred thousand dollars is a great fortune."
"You seem to have no doubt that I have the bonds," Mr. Smith observed calmly. "May I ask how you came to know I have them?"
"Details are tiresome. Monsieur," remarked the Marquis evasively. "There were only three persons in Paris, in the world, I may say, who knew the bonds were in this city, these being M. Clarke, you, and myself. He hasn't them, I didn't get them; therefore—do you see?"
"But how did you come to know I have them?" Mr. Smith insisted. "I want to know."
"Well, the trained nurse—his disappearance gave us the clue." The Marquis seemed to be tremendously bored. "After M. Clarke's meeting with you, he was ill, and it was necessary to reengage this nurse. He came to the house, remained there just two hours, then disappeared utterly. M. Clarke kept the bonds in the little leather bag under the sheets. Only the nurse could have found them."
"Perhaps you give me too much credit." Mr. Smith protested. "Maybe the nurse pinched them on his own account."
The tentative suggestion startled the Marquis for a moment; then he smiled shrewdly as he stared into the impassive face before him.
"It is idle to talk so, Monsieur. Besides, the nurse does not speak or read English and, while he might have been bribed to get the bonds for you, he on his own account wouldn't have known what they were about. We don't underestimate your activities since you have been in Paris. We admit that you are clever, and we are willing to pay for that cleverness—pay one hundred thousand dollars."
"Other people might have known about the bonds," Mr. Smith insisted; "his daughter, for instance."
"She could not know. Monsieur." The Marquis was quite positive about it. "She is innocent as a child; she would not have understood, anyway."
There was a slight pause. "I have heard it said, Monsieur, that America had no beautiful women. It is not true."
Something in his tone caused Mr. Smith to turn squarely in his seat and stare: something in the loathsome eyes of him caused Mr. Smith's powerful hands to close spasmodically. Oh, if he had M. le Marquis d'Aubigny in Passaic, out in the Second Ward, with Sweeney on the beat, what he would do to him! He couldn't have said why this sudden fierce hatred flamed within him; he only knew it was there.
"One hundred thousand dollars?" the Marquis was saying insinuatingly.
"One hundred thousand dollars," Mr. Smith repeated dully. It meant independence, wealth, power, back in Passaic.
"It is a fortune, Monsieur."
"It is a fortune," agreed Mr. Smith.
"You will return the bonds?"
Mr. Smith rose and stretched his long legs as he stared down on this withered little man. "I'm awfully glad Clarke sent you to me." he said slowly. "Go back and tell him that you saw me, that you put his proposition up to me, then present my compliments to him and tell him that I said he could go to blazes."
M. le Marquis D'aubigny came away from that inoffensive settle as if he had suddenly found it full of red-hot needles. The shriveled face went white, then scarlet. "Monsieur, you will remember—" he began violently.
"And so far as I am concerned, you can go with him!" interrupted Mr. Smith.
Petrified by amazement, his claw-like hands trembling with rage, the Marquis stood still and permitted Mr. Smith to stroll out the door into the street.
HELTER-SKELTER came a taxicab out of the Rue de Rivoli into the Place de la Concorde. It swished to the right around the obelisk and stopped abruptly. Mr. John Smith stood forward from the shadows. A woman, heavily veiled, thrust her head out of the open window of the cab.
"Quick, quick!" she exclaimed. "I am being followed!"
Mr. Smith knew the voice perfectly. The haste in the command quickened his sturdy legs, and he flung open the door of the vehicle just as another cab came whizzing round the corner. Mr. Smith glanced back once, dropped down into the seat beside the veiled woman, and banged the door.
"All right, son," he called to the chauffeur. "Hit it up!"
The driver evidently understood; for there was the clatter of a gear, hastily enmeshed, and the taxi began to move. Immediately behind them the other taxi was coughing as it slowed up. The woman's hand, chilled with terror, met Mr. Smith's in the darkness and clung. An odd thrill shot up Mr. Smith's spinal column and he laughed nervously.
"I guess that was going some!" he remarked triumphantly. Then, "Who is it following you? Why?"
"I don't know; but I—Look!"
She interrupted herself with a cry of dismay. Mr. Smith whirled in his seat, and there, peering in the open cab window, directly over his shoulder, was the face of—M. Rémi! He had jumped for it and was standing on the running board outside. The girl's fingers gripped Mr. Smith's desperately, her slender body all a-tremble.
"Get down from there!" Mr. Smith commanded sharply.
"Mademoiselle et Monsieur—" M. Rémi began.
"Get down from there!" Mr. Smith commanded the second time.
"Ah! M. Smith!"
The note of triumph in M. Rémi's voice gave notice that he had recognized the man, even had he not used the name, and he peered intently into the face of the girl. Evidently he had not the slightest purpose of getting off the running board.
The cab gained speed. The girl, pressed closely against Mr. Smith's side, was moaning a little. Suddenly that mighty arm from Passaic swung, and a fist, hard as nails, landed squarely on the point of M. Rémi's chin.
JUST as M. Polichinelle vanishes in the Theatre Guignol, so vanished M. Rémi. He tumbled backward without a sound. The thud of his fall on the pavement startled the chauffeur, who seemed to awake suddenly to the extraordinary happenings in his cab, and the taxi began to slow. Mr. Smith thrust his head out the window over the chauffeur's shoulder.
"You understand English, don't you?"
"Oui, oui! Yes, sir."
"Well, this is a revolver here in my right hand—this, I mean." and Mr. Smith prodded him in the small of the back with his huge forefinger. "A gun, do you understand? Now it's up to you to run like the deuce. Beat it!"
"But, Monsieur, ze gentleman—"
There was no disobeying that order, particularly as it was emphasized by two more vigorous pokes in the back. Monsieur had said it was only a revolver! Oh, là, là! François' frenzied imagination pictured it as a cannon. He fumbled with his clutches and levers, and the taxi went speeding up the Champs Élyseés. Mr. Smith, looking back a block or more, saw two men assisting M. Rémi to his feet. With a sigh of content he settled down into his seat beside the girl.
"I am not going to faint, really I am not," she stammered; but the tone of her voice, the icy grip of her fingers, convinced Mr. Smith that she was going to faint. "I hope—I hope the gentleman was not hurt!"
"Of course not," Mr. Smith assured her in nervous haste. "I just gave him a little tap; sort of pushed him, that's all. If you think you are going to faint, I wish you'd tell me first where we're going, unless the chauffeur knows."
Whereupon she did faint. Mr. Smith felt the lithe figure grow suddenly rigid, then crumple up, and she sank almost into his arms. Vaguely he knew that a person in a fainting condition required air; so he stripped off the heavy veil that hid the girl's face. It was Edna Clarke! Of course! He knew that! Edna Clarke, pallid as death, limp, motionless! He sat staring at her hopelessly, waiting and wondering at the strangeness of it all.
MEANWHILE the taxicab sped like the wind up the Champs Elysees, darted round the Arc de Triomphe, and straightened out into the Avenue Victor Hugo. Mr. Smith hadn't the faintest idea where they were going; but they were on their way. François had not forgotten ze beeg American wiz ze beeg cannon. The little car was rocking with speed, and the muffler fairly boomed with the power he was crowding on.
For a mile or more past the Arc de Triomphe they sped on, Edna still lying against him inert, helpless. Then it occurred to Mr. Smith to look back. It so happens that the Avenue Victor Hugo is not a crowded thoroughfare after half-past ten o'clock at night; so he could see clearly—see another taxicab rocking, swaying along in pursuit at breakneck speed. He watched it, fascinated, for an instant, and then he knew! M. Rémi was in that car, and it was gaining on them! Mr. Smith's massive jaws closed with a snap; he leaned out and poked François in the back.
"Faster!" he commanded.
"She no go faster," François wailed in dire distress. "She no go faster!"
Suddenly they went reeling across a wide avenue with a jounce that made Mr. Smith plop up and down inside like a pea in a cigar box, and then they seemed to be in the midst of a forest—it was the Bois de Boulogne following a ribbon-like road. Just before they swung round the first turn Mr. Smith glanced back again. He wasn't positive, but his impression was that the cab in the rear had gained substantially. And that called for more thought. After twenty full seconds spent in consideration of the matter, he thrust his head out of the cab to hold converse with François. "Now, see here, son." he began, "don't stop driving, but listen to me. The harder you listen the less liable you are to get shot up."
"Oui, oui, Monsieur!"
"Here's a one hundred-franc note—that's twenty whole dollars in the country where folks live. I'm sticking it into your outside coat pocket here."
"Now you are to drive just as fast as you know how until you come to some place where there is a sharp curve and lots of woods," Mr. Smith continued crisply. "Immediately you round that turn, out of sight of this taxi that's following, you are to stop for one second and let me get out. Do you get it?"
"When I get out of the cab, you're to drive! You've been piking along here like a three-legged goat. After I'm out of the cab, drive, do you understand? Go a long way, and go fast!"
"Oui, oui. You want me to—to—what you call him?—shake ze cab?"
"There's a detective in that cab, and if you don't shake it you're pinched."
Another hundred yards, and Mr. Smith saw a glint of water straight ahead.
"Ze curve. Monsieur," François announced. They swished round a corner, and the taxi stopped. Mr. Smith, with a feeling almost of sacrilege, gathered up the limp, inert figure of the girl in his powerful arms and leaped out.
"Now, son—skiddoo for you! Twenty-three!"
The little taxi fairly leaped out of its tracks, and was lost instantly in a cloud of dust. Mr. Smith, holding his precious burden close, dodged back into the woods just as the pursuing taxi swerved round the corner and flashed past. Sheltered by the gloom of the trees, he stood looking after it for a moment, then, grinning cheerfully, strode off through the forest.
IT was nearly midnight when Mr. John Smith ushered Edna Clarke into a small private dining room of a quaint little place back in the Latin Quarter, a place where they might talk undisturbed. She had roused herself from the faint, to find that she was being carried through a forest, borne lightly as a child in great arms which were rigid as steel, arms that held her close, close as a mother holds a frightened little one. Her pallid face went scarlet as she slipped to the ground. Mr. Smith gave a word of explanation, and then they had taken a taxicab back the way they had come, and beyond to the Latin Quarter. They had both been strangely silent on the long ride. She had asked only two questions, and he had answered them—no more.
"Are you a detective?"
"No, ma'am. Some people in Paris may think I am; but I am not."
Edna gasped, it was a sigh of relief, and Mr. Smith leaned toward her suddenly. He thought she was going to faint again.
"Then, what is your business?" curiously.
"I am assistant paying teller in your father's bank in Passaic, New Jersey.
Then followed a long, moody silence, unbroken until Mr. Smith offered his hand to assist her from the taxi. In the small dining room a sip of wine brought the color back to her cheeks, and a certain tense fear passed, leaving the blue eyes clear again. To Mr. Smith the last hour had seemed all a dream. He couldn't believe it had happened, and yet here—here before him was the girl. He waited, waited patiently for her to speak.
"It's all very—very strange, isn't it?" she queried at last, as their eyes met.
"From the time I knew you were searching for my father I thought you were a detective. It's strange that I should never have seen you in the bank."
"It's stranger that I didn't see you, ma'am. I'm tucked away in a cage all the time, where you wouldn't see me unless you looked for me. I don't believe I ever saw you in the bank; but I know who you are. Years ago, when you were in Paris, I used to write letters to you at your father's dictation. I was his private secretary. And once I saw a picture of you. I don't recall ever having seen you, though, until that first day in Paris, in front of the Hotel Ritz."
"You didn't see me on ship-board?"
"No, ma'am. I don't recall that I saw anybody on board ship. All the time I wasn't worrying about the business that was bringing me to Paris I was trying to invent a way to hold my breakfast down. I was quite busy."
The girl's eyes had been softly aglow; but now the old troubled look that Mr. Smith had seen in them before came back.
"It is of that business that I want to speak to you now," she said slowly.
"Yes, ma'am. I know it."
For an instant she sought to read the straight-staring eyes; there was nothing there save masterful assurance. "You are not a detective, Mr. Smith. You have told me that, and I believe it. Then why did you come all the way to Pans to search for my father? Were you sent?"
"No, ma'am. I was not sent."
"Then why did you come?"
"I'd rather not tell you, ma'am. It's a little personal matter between us."
"And why, that day at the Café de la Paix, did you permit yourself to be arrested under the name of my father, when my father was there within reach, and you knew he was there?"
"I'd rather not tell you, ma'am. It wouldn't do any good for you to know."
"I must know, Mr. Smith! Either I have done my father a great injustice, or you have. He will tell me nothing. It seems to be within your power to make it all clear to me, and certainly it is within my power to rectify a—a grave error, if it all means what I'm afraid it means." She came back to the original question. "Why did you follow my father to Paris? I must know. Don't think you must spare my feelings. I must know!"
MR. SMITH squirmed uneasily in his seat and after a moment rose and stared out the window for a long time. "I am thirty-three years old," he said at last, irrelevantly. "Twenty years of that time I have worked for your father. I was his office boy first. Then I studied shorthand and used to help the stenographers in the bank. One day I was called upon to assist your father in some special work. He liked the way I did it, and a year or so later I became his private secretary. I held down that job until about six years ago, and in that time, of course, ma'am, I learned a great deal about his personal business. It was then that I used to write letters to you, here in Paris." He paused.
"Go on," the girl urged.
"The bank's business grew, ma'am, and finally there was need of an assistant paying teller. Mr. Clarke gave me the job, and I have held it ever since. Being assistant paying teller isn't of any particular importance; but it carries responsibilities. That is, ma'am. I don't mean that the fate of the world hangs upon a man in such a position; but in the course of a month he will handle, perhaps, millions and millions of other people's money. That's the sort of responsibility I mean. All paying tellers have that kind; but I had another kind. For instance, sometimes stocks and bonds are left with a bank as security for a loan, say. Those securities are in my care; I am responsible for them. They are sealed by the president of the bank in my presence, and my own seal is added in his presence before the securities are placed in the vault. It comes down to this, ma'am: there are two persons responsible for the safety of such securities, and either can call the other to an accounting in the event of any irregularity."
He stopped suddenly, struck by the frightened, haunted look in her eyes. Her slim white fingers, bare of gloves, were interlocked fiercely.
"Well?" she insisted.
"I guess I hadn't better go on, ma'am."
"You must!" she commanded. "I must understand it!"
"It will hurt you, ma'am." After a little pause, "I'd hate to feel that I had hurt you."
The girl rose and went to him pleadingly. Her hands were at rest on his arm, her face, white again, upturned to his, the faint perfume of her hair was in his nostrils. "You must go on!" she commanded. "Whatever you may say cannot be worse than this agony of suspense, uncertainty."
"WELL, about four months ago one hundred and fifty ten-thousand-dollar United States bonds—that is, a million and a half dollars in negotiable securities—were left in our keeping." Mr. Smith continued. "They were sealed by your father in my presence; I added my seal in his presence. They were put into the vault. About two months ago your father, as you know, came to Paris. About three weeks ago I had occasion to rummage around in the vault, and I discovered that mice had gnawed a hole, as big as a silver dollar, say, in that sealed package. Then I discovered, ma'am, that the bonds were gone. There was only blank paper inside the package."
"They were stolen, you mean?" The words came with an effort.
"They were missing, ma'am. The seals had been tampered with, broken, and new seals affixed. It had been done cleverly, so cleverly that even I should not have detected it if I hadn't known that the bonds supposed to be inside were gone. I had no choice in reaching a conclusion, ma'am. The bonds were missing, and your father was gone." His voice softened suddenly. "I don't mean to hurt you, ma'am; I'm telling you merely because you insist."
"I understand." Edna said faintly. "What else?"
"I patched up the hole in the package, replaced it where it was, and the following day I asked for leave of absence for several weeks. I remained there a couple of days while experts went over my books,—they wouldn't dare to open the package of bonds in your father's absence,—then I sailed for France. I came, as you know, to find your father." His tone hardened suddenly. "I believe that day in the café, if I had not seen that he had been ill, and you had not been with him, I should have killed him! I want you to understand, ma'am, what all this meant to me."
"Killed him!" the girl repeated. "And yet, when he was in danger of discovery and arrest, you permitted the officer to take you. Why?"
"That requires some more explaining. Bear in mind, please, that the fact that those bonds are missing is not known to any person connected with the bank, except your father and myself. If I could come to Paris, find your father, compel him to return the bonds and replace them in the vault, no one connected with the bank need ever have known.
"When the detective came and arrested me as Clarke, I allowed him to do it for the reason that I knew I should find your father the second time. If I had pointed out the real Clarke to the detective then, your father would have assumed that the loss of the bonds had been discovered, and brought about a snarl that these funny little policemen in Paris would never have solved. It would have meant his arrest and mine ultimately on a charge of embezzlement, where, if I could keep them away from him, it meant nothing particularly, unless of course the theft—er—the bonds had been missed. As a matter of fact, that arrest eased my mind a lot, because I learned from the police that there was no charge against your father, which means that the bonds have not been missed, and there was no charge against me. Some one in the United States has asked a private detective agency to locate your father, and the police, thinking I was Mr. Clarke, pinched me to bring the matter to a climax."
"That search was instituted. I imagine, at the direction of my uncle in New York." the girl explained. "We knew father had come to Paris, and then we had been unable to hear from him for weeks. It was because he was ill with typhoid, and unconscious, of course."
"Yes, ma'am. It sounds awfully complicated; but it isn't. The theft—I don't quite mean that, ma'am—the disappearance of the bonds has not been discovered. That is all, ma'am, I think."
FOR a long time the girl stood, her hands gripping his, staring, staring into the rugged face. "I think I am beginning to understand." she said slowly at last. "If the bonds are returned, it means that my father is not a—a thief? It means that this matter would never become public? It means—"
"It means the saving of your father's business reputation, and the saving of mine." Mr. Smith interrupted. "Frankly, the saving of his reputation was not the first thing in my mind when I came to Paris; it was the saving of my own. I am leaving the bank within a few months to become cashier of another bank. It is a promotion, ma'am. If this matter comes out, not only is your father ruined, but I am ruined. I am ambitious, ma'am," he apologized.
"I understand, Mr. Smith," said the girl softly. "Suppose—suppose those missing bonds should be placed in your hands? Is it too late to save my father, to save yourself?"
"It isn't too late, unless they have found out at the bank that the bonds are gone." Mr. Smith replied. "If they were placed in my hands, I should do the thing I intended to do,—take them back, replace them in the vault, and—that's all."
"A million and a half dollars!" the girl mused. "Suppose I should tell you. Mr. Smith, that my father hasn't the bonds now?"
"I know it, ma'am."
She seemed startled. "How did you know it?" He didn't answer. "Perhaps you know where they are?"
"You have them."
THE girl turned away suddenly with a meaningless gesture of her slender hands and dropped into a chair at the table. At last she looked up resolutely, defiantly. "Yes. I stole them, Mr. Smith—stole them from my father!" she said. "He kept them in a little leather bag in his bed. I heard a strange conversation between my father and Marquis d'Aubigny, and afterward—"
"I have met him," interposed Mr. Smith grimly.
"—and afterward I found the key to the bag and removed the bonds," Edna rushed on. "I didn't know what I intended to do with them then; but I knew they had been—I knew they were not my father's, and—" She spread her hands in a little helpless movement. "My father was very ill again after that meeting with you. He is ill now, and it was necessary to have a nurse, the man who nursed him during all those weeks when we didn't know where he was. The nurse came. I was afraid he would discover that the bag was empty, and—and I sent him away, bribed him to go. Now my father knows the bonds are gone and another nurse has come. I stole the bonds. Mr. Smith!"
Mr. Smith stared as if expecting her to go on. She dropped her head on her hands, and her shoulders shook with a storm of emotion. He took a step toward her, then stopped. "Yes, ma'am." he said helplessly.
"I sent the note to you because I thought—I knew—you would understand." she continued. "When I left the house to meet you. I was followed. I don't know why, but it frightened me."
"I know why," said Mr. Smith. "I'll tell you sometime."
"I'm going to place the bonds in your hands, because I know you will do the necessary thing, whatever it is." Edna rose suddenly and came to him. "I don't know why," she said frankly, "but I have more faith in you than any person I ever met. You will take the bonds home, and you know what else to do. I don't. You will?"
Mr. Smith nodded.
"And you will do all you can to protect my father until he is well enough to return?"
Mr. Smith had come to Paris with the avowed intention of pounding Clarke to a pulp. He was being asked to protect him now—and he nodded a promise that he would!
"I was so sure of you," and Edna's pleading hands fluttered and came to rest on his arm, "that I engaged passage for you from Cherbourg on Wednesday."
"Yes, ma'am. I know that."
She didn't ask how he knew. From the folds of the light coat she wore she produced a package, carefully wrapped. "Here are the bonds," she said simply. "Whatever your motive in returning them, you are doing me—doing my father—the greatest favor that one can do. Some day it may be within my power to repay you, after a manner. You'll have to take my word that I shall do it if the opportunity ever offers."
For the first time in his business life Mr. John Smith forgot the bank, forgot his commercial integrity, forgot all else in the world save this wonderful woman, with eyes aglow, with hair shimmering in the soft radiance of the light, with scarlet lips pleading. She read the hungriness in the straight-staring eyes and impetuously extended both hands. Bending low, he kissed them.
MR. JOHN SMITH was interrupted in the task of addressing envelopes—there seemed to be sixty or seventy of them of all sorts, shapes, and sizes—by a call to the telephone.
"This is M. Baudet at the Prefecture of Police," he was informed over the wire.
"Hello, Cap," Mr. Smith responded cheerfully. "How are you?"
"Will you so honor me. Monsieur, as to come to my office on a trifling little matter that happened last night?" M. Baudet requested.
"Oh, you mean that thing in the cab? I'll be over there in about an hour and a half; sometime before noon, anyway."
"I was just on the point of calling you up," Mr. Smith went on. "There's something I want to see you about."
"Indeed! What did it so please Monsieur as to have on his chest?
"I have found Clarke. I thought you might be interested; so I was coming down to tell you about it."
The telephone wire fairly buzzed with a sudden burst of questions. Mr. Smith listened for an instant: then, with a grin: "I'll be over and tell you all about it."
Whereupon he hung up the receiver and returned to his task of addressing envelopes.
HE chose a long, circuitous route to the Prefecture of Police, pausing in the office to drop three or four envelops into the mailbox: thence along the Quai d'Orsay, past the Hotel du President, and on up beside the curving river as far as the Eiffel Tower. He crossed there and leisurely sauntered up the Avenue Kléber toward the Arc de Triomphe, stopping ever and anon to drop a few more envelops into the mailboxes. Just beyond the Arc de Triomphe he climbed on a bus, and stepped off at Montmartre. Here he mailed more letters, after which he took a taxicab for the Prefecture of Police.
Directly in front of the entrance to the building is a mailbox. Mr. Smith looked at it thoughtfully, dropped two or three letters into that, then went inside. M. Baudet rose to greet him. A smile of welcome parted his perfumed whiskers, and he offered a delicately manicured hand. Mr. Smith shook it.
"Be seated, Monsieur. It is welcome news that you have succeeded in locating M. Clarke. I suppose it is another compliment to the police of your country for you, one man, to have found M. Clarke, when I, with half a dozen, failed?"
"Oh, not necessarily," Mr. Smith responded loftily. "Between me and you, Cap. I don't believe there's another police system in the world like this one in Paris."
"Thank you. Monsieur," and M. Baudet beamed his gratification. "And now where is M. Clarke?"
"Before we get to that, Cap, I believe there's something you want to talk to me about, isn't there? Suppose we take things in order. What is it?"
Baudet shrugged his shoulders. "It is of no consequence, a mere trifle," he explained. "I suppose it arises from a difference in police methods, a difference between your country and mine. In your country. Monsieur, we understand perfectly that it is occasionally necessary for men in our profession to use force. Here it is very different. A blow in the face is a criminal offense. I am referring, Monsieur, to the incident in the cab last night."
"Yes, I understand," Mr. Smith nodded.
"The other day, when we discovered that you are who you are, we allowed you to go. Monsieur, and said nothing about the girl who also has been seeking M. Clarke. If you were not M. Clarke, then M. Clarke remained to be found. The girl was one of our clues. We lost track of her for awhile; but last night, quite accidentally, M. Rémi saw her and followed her in a taxicab."
Mr. Smith began to look surprised.
"M. Rémi, of course, was not aware that you, by some ruse, had inveigled the girl into coming to meet you. We do not blame you. Monsieur; we admire the skill with which you brought about this, so difficult a thing: but we were not aware of your connection with it. Understand, M. Rémi was following the girl. When you got into the cab he assumed it was M. Clarke, and jumped upon the running board. Then, Monsieur, you struck him—M. Rémi!"
"Well, well!" remarked Mr. Smith. "Was that M. Rémi?"
"So it was, Monsieur. He gave chase in another cab, as you know; but when he caught it, it was empty. It was clever. Monsieur, very clever; but from M. Rémi's viewpoint it was also painful. Neither M. Rémi nor myself desires to be unpleasant about the incident, recognizing in you, as we do, a master of the craft; but, in all the circumstances, we agreed that it might be advisable to warn you against employing such—er—such forcible tactics. We trust you will understand our position?"
"I think I'm hep, Cap. I'm sorry I hit him. You see, I'd framed this thing up, and when the girl came she told me she was being followed. I didn't know who was following her; but I couldn't afford to take any risk of having my plans knocked sky west and crooked, so when a man came sticking his nose in the cab I hit it."
M. Baudet considered the matter in detail and smiled. "Your explanation is quite satisfactory, M. Smith. However, in your future work in France it might be well to remember that striking a man with your fist is a criminal offense. You may kick a man, or slap him, I mean if violence is absolutely necessary; but you must not hit him." There was a pause. "And now, M. Clarke. You say you have found him. Where?"
"He is living in a little apartment in the Rue St. Honoré," Mr. Smith told him frankly, and he gave the street number, "under the name of Charles Roebling. The girl in the cab with me was his daughter Edna. Mr. Clarke came to Paris on a matter of personal business, and it was not advisable that his real identity should be known until this business was disposed of. Immediately after his arrival he was stricken with typhoid fever and lay for several weeks practically unconscious. His friends in the United States, unable to reach him, not knowing the name he had assumed, grew uneasy about him, and so you were asked to find him. His daughter, meanwhile, was uneasy, and she came to find him. I came to find him in the course of my duty."
M. Baudet nursed his perfumed whiskers for a minute or so in silence. This American detective, who spoke not a word of French, who had worked alone, had discovered the man whom half a dozen of his own detectives, speaking four and five languages each, had not been able to find! It was a reflection upon the boasted efficiency of his system. He looked quite sad about it.
"I tell you what I'll do, Cap," Mr. Smith volunteered magnanimously. "Suppose you cable to the people who asked you to find him and say that you have found him. I've made no report as yet; so you'll get first crack at it. I don't mind, because, as I say, it was all in the day's work. It might mean something to you."
M. Baudet rose and shook Mr. Smith's hand. The honor of his beloved France was saved through the generosity of this so big American!
ONE of M. Baudet's satellites entered with a card. M. Baudet nodded, and the satellite vanished through the door. Immediately M. le Marquis d'Aubigny entered. He stopped short at the sight of Mr. Smith and stood for an instant gazing at the two men in turn. Then his evil eyes lighted up triumphantly.
"This meeting is most propitious," he said to M. Baudet. "I just came to ask that this man Smith be taken into custody on a charge of theft."
"Theft!" exclaimed M. Baudet. "Why, M. le Marquis, there must be some mistake! M. Smith is a detective."
"M. Smith is an impostor," the Marquis declared hotly. "Says he is a detective, eh? Ask him to show you his credentials, his badge. On behalf of M. W. Mandeville Clarke, I accuse him of the theft of seven million five hundred thousand francs in United States bonds from an apartment in the Rue St. Honoré, and I demand his arrest!"
Mute, motionless, Mr. Smith stood, as the structure he had painfully erected to save himself, and incidentally Clarke, from ruin and a prison cell came clattering down about his ears. This was the end, an airing of the whole malodorous thing in the press and in court, discovery by the bank officials in Passaic of the huge theft, and the inevitable collapse of the bank in consequence. This, and more, it meant.
"Well, M. Smith," demanded M. Baudet curtly, "what have you to say?"
Mr. Smith faced M. le Marquis. "Well—you—idiot!" he remarked.
FOR an hour or more, M. Baudet, grim-visaged, artful, domineering, showered questions upon Mr. John Smith, and to all of them he received the same answer, utter silence. Threats, pleadings, cajolings, taunts, they all came to the same. He twined his manicured fingers in his perfumed whiskers and plucked at them until devastation seemed imminent; he smoked vile cigarettes fiercely and continuously. If only this pig of an American, this impostor, would say something—just one word!
Apparently undisturbed, Mr. Smith permitted his straight-staring eyes to linger upon M. Baudet meditatively, and occasionally, at some unusual outburst, there was a flicker of interest in them; but his lips were sealed. At first he had seen a possible avenue of escape, both for himself and for Clarke, a way of staying the avalanche that d'Aubigny was bringing down on them. If he could have reached Clarke before the police reached him, and closed his mouth! That was the hope. It died when d'Aubigny, accompanied by M. Rémi, rushed away to bring Clarke. Not understanding the true condition of things, Clarke would babble, and then chaos would come. Hopelessly enough, Mr. Smith sat waiting for it.
Immediately after his arrest—arresting him seemed to be a habit with the police of Paris!—Mr. Smith submitted gracefully to a search. The bonds should have been on his person; M. Baudet had said it. They should have been on his person, because no man in his senses would leave seven and a half million francs knocking about his room. But they were not on his person.
Upon discovery of this fact, M. Baudet had despatched two of his men to the Maison de Treville to search Mr. Smith's room.
"I am informed," he told them, "that there are one hundred and fifty of these bonds, in denominations of ten thousand dollars each. They should make a package four or five inches thick. And, since I think of it," he went on shrewdly, "the bulk of the package probably accounts for the prisoner not carrying it about with him. That package is somewhere in that room. Find it!"
Alone with M. Baudet, who sat at his desk with a revolver beside him, Mr. Smith waited, while he stared placidly out the window. A short distance away, across the Place du Parvis, was the cathedral of Nôtre Dame. It reminded him of the granite church back home, the one with the double spires.
Home! Passaic! In contemplation of that heavenly thought Mr. Smith temporarily forgot his troubles, and the questions of M. Baudet fell on deaf ears.
FINALLY there came a clatter at the door, followed by the reappearance of Marquis d'Aubigny and M. Rémi. Mr. Smith glanced around quickly; they were alone.
"M. Clarke?" demanded M. Baudet. "Where is he?"
"He is ill, dangerously ill," replied the Marquis. "There has been a relapse. Two physicians and a nurse are with him. They refused to let us see him, or even to send word to him. It may be three or four days, even a week, before anyone is permitted to talk to him."
Mr. Smith almost smiled. Here was a respite! There was still a possibility of reaching Clarke and shutting him up!
"Were the bonds found?" the Marquis asked.
"They will be found, Monsieur," replied M. Baudet confidently. "My men haven't returned; but I am expecting them any minute. They will tear the room to ribbons if necessary; but they will find them!"
M. le Marquis d'Aubigny went over and stood in front of Mr. Smith with a sneering smile about his thin lips, the evil eyes aglitter with triumph. "And how does Monsieur the Thief feel about it now?" he taunted.
Mr. Smith didn't alter his position; he didn't even look up. His powerful hands lay idly on the arms of his chair. "Look here, Cap," he remarked calmly to M. Baudet, "if you let this little, dried up, shriveled shrimp come around here making unpleasant remarks to me. I'll get up and push him all about."
It was the first word Mr. Smith had uttered. Its effect was electrical upon M. Baudet. "Ah! You have decided to talk?"
Mr. Smith didn't say.
"Will you admit that you stole the bonds?"
Mr. Smith didn't say.
"Will you deny it?"
Mr. Smith didn't say.
M. Baudet dropped down at his desk again. M. le Marquis, with a malignant grin distorting his pasty face, addressed him:
"This man," and he pointed at Mr. Smith, "has threatened me. You heard, Monsieur. He is a dangerous man. I demand that he be handcuffed!"
"But, M. le Marquis, I hardly—"
"I demand that he be handcuffed!"
Mr. Smith extended his hands without a word of protest, and at a nod from M. Baudet the slender steel bands were slipped about his wrists by M. Rémi.
SO he sat, until the door opened again, this time to admit one of the two sleuths who had been sent to search his room. He seemed crestfallen.
"Nothing, Monsieur," he said simply.
"Nothing. We searched the room as no room was ever searched. We ransacked the closets, took the wardrobe to pieces, destroyed the mattress, took up the carpet, tore out the baseboards, examined M. Smith's belongings, and found nothing! The bonds are not there. I came for further orders."
M. Baudet rose with an exclamation, and for half a minute he stood staring down on Mr. Smith, placid, unruffled; then, commandingly, "Where—are—those bonds?"
Mr. Smith didn't say.
Then came another interruption. A voice of protest was raised suddenly outside the door. It ceased as the door was flung open. There was a rush of skirts, and Edna Clarke, with flaming face, stood before them.
"They told me at the Maison de Treville that Mr. Smith was under arrest here," she explained hurriedly. "I must—"
Then her eyes, defiant, met the straight-staring gaze of M. Smith. Mutely he extended his hands, bound together by the slender bands of steel. For an instant she shrank from him in horror, shuddering at what she saw, then rushed to him, clasping his hands in her own. "What does it mean?" she asked tensely.
"It means that I am under arrest, charged with the theft of one million five hundred thousand dollars' worth of bonds from your father," Mr. Smith told her simply. Here was his salvation, this girl!
"You!" she gasped. "You the thief?"
"Of course you know I did not steal the bonds. Miss Clarke." he went on calmly, and a warning flashed in his eyes. "I did not steal the bonds, and," meaningly, "I haven't them now. The police have searched me and my room. They found nothing."
Fascinated, bewildered, yet knowing there was some hidden message in his words, the girl was silent. Finally the light of perfect understanding illumined her face. "Of course I know," Mr. Smith went on placidly, with his eyes rigidly fixed upon hers, "that your father does not have any bonds in Paris with him; but I haven't told the police. If your father will tell them—"
"How do you know it?" interrupted the Marquis.
"Shut up, or I'll throw you out the window!" replied Mr. Smith unemotionally. Then to M. Baudet, "If you want to know how I know it, I'll tell you that I'm paying teller in the bank of which Mr. Clarke is president, and if you'll inquire of him you'll find that he had no bonds for me to steal."
"But how—why—" d'Aubigny stammered. "He was to invest a million and a half dollars in—He was to invest it! He said the bonds had been stolen! So, why—how—"
"I'll remain here in the jug, Cap," and, heedless of the bewilderment in Marquis d'Aubigny's manner, Mr. Smith turned to M. Baudet, "until Mr. Clarke is able to speak for himself. If he tells you there were no bonds to be stolen, that ends it, doesn't it?"
"Well," remarked M. Baudet after a puzzled pause, "if no bonds were stolen, of course—"
"Well, Cap, that's the answer. He'll tell you none was stolen." He faced Edna again for an instant, and a whimsical smile curled the corners of his mouth. "My address will be the town calaboose for the next few days. I'll be in any time you or your father choose to call."
MR. JOHN SMITH spent the next four days behind prison bars—just like the prison bars in dear old Passaic. He was irritatingly cheerful about it, and met new avalanches of questions from M. Baudet with a pleasant smile and—silence.
Twice M. Baudet called, and twice he stormed about the cell, only to be beaten back, defeated, angered, by the unholy calm of his prisoner. Mr. Smith stood broadly upon the general principle that the less he said the less he might have to explain, and this policy, combined with the fact that he was locked up, seemed to insure him at least temporarily from further trouble.
Meanwhile, M. le Marquis d'Aubigny buzzed about with a bewildered expression on the pasty face of him, seeking the true inwardness of it all. It had a true inwardness somewhere, else why all this maze of contradictions and untoward happenings? But he couldn't lay his delicate fingers to it. There was one thing he could do, keep the police constantly on the search for the missing bonds, and he did that. They needed no urging. There were bonds, because M. Clarke had intended to use them in a great business deal. He had even signed the preliminary papers, and had opened the leather bag to produce the bonds, only to find it was empty. There were bonds—certainement! Mr. Smith had said to the contrary; but he was—what you call him?—the big bluffer.
M. Baudet and his satellites were singularly receptive to the suggestion that Mr. Smith was a big bluffer. On two separate occasions he had compelled them to shove their cards in the pack and ask for a new deal. They had him in their hands just at that psychological moment when he must have been maturing plans for the theft of seven and a half million francs—and they had released him! M. Baudet had swallowed hook and line the idea that Mr. Smith was a detective. He couldn't remember that Mr. Smith had ever said he was a detective; but—Oh, là, là! It made his head ache! Now the only thing to do was to wait until Clarke recovered sufficiently to give the facts in the case.
ON the morning of the fifth day M. Baudet called upon Mr. Smith in his cell, with the information that the physicians would permit a very short interview with Mr. Clarke. Mr. Smith rose and put on his hat.
"It is most irregular, this thing of allowing you to be present at the interview," M. Baudet explained; "but M. Clarke has refused to talk at all unless you are present. Besides, the circumstances are unusual, and I have consented."
"Good!" remarked Mr. Smith. "Has Clarke been allowed to see anybody yet?"
"Only his daughter. She was with him last night for half an hour."
Looking straight into the inquisitive eyes of M. Baudet, Mr. John Smith of Passaic New Jersey, laughed. "Cap," he queried enigmatically, "what is French for lemon?"
"Citron," M. Baudet informed him after a puzzled pause. "Why?"
"Well, that's what you're going to get—a citron," remarked Mr. Smith.
M. Baudet pondered it all the way to the little apartment in the Rue St. Honoré where M. le Marquis was waiting. Citron! What had that to do with this most mysterious case? He doesn't know yet.
Worn, haggard, white, feeble as a child, helpless in bed, yet with that same old commanding glitter in his eyes that Mr. Smith knew so well, Mr. Clarke received the three of them. M. Baudet. M. le Marquis d'Aubigny, and plain John Smith of Passaic. The physician had withdrawn; Edna stood beside the bed watchfully. Her eyes met Mr. Smith's as he entered and she smiled bravely.
"Father," she said softly, "here is Mr. Smith."
The gaze of the sick man lingered for an instant upon the keen, inquiring face of M. Baudet, thence shifted to the Marquis, and finally was halted by the straight-staring eyes of Mr. Smith. For a second, perhaps, they stared each at the other, and Clarke lifted a wasted hand.
"Hello, Smith," he said. "I'm glad to see you."
"Same to you, Mr. Clarke," and Mr. Smith shook the proffered hand. "I'm sorry you've been ill, sir."
Again Clarke looked at M. Baudet. "Well," he questioned abruptly, "what is it? My physician has given me only ten minutes to talk to you."
"THIS gentleman, as you may know," and M. Baudet indicated Mr. Smith, "is now being held prisoner on the charge of stealing seven and a half million francs worth of United States bonds from you. He was arrested on complaint of M. le Marquis d'Aubigny, who gave me to understand that he was acting in your behalf. M. le Marquis said you had these bonds in denominations of ten thousand dollars each; that you told him they must have been stolen. He said further that you and he had agreed that M. Smith must have stolen the bonds with the assistance of a trained nurse who was here, this assumption being based principally upon the fact that only three persons in Paris knew the bonds were here—M. le Marquis d'Aubigny, yourself, and M. Smith. Frankly, we have been unable to connect M. Smith directly with the disappearance of any bonds, although there are many mystifying things connected with his presence here. Certain it is that M. Smith did not have the bonds on him at the time of his arrest immediately following the report of the theft, and certain it is they were not hidden in his room. Where they are, we do not know. You are ill, Monsieur; I am stating it briefly."
Clarke's tense gaze shifted to d'Aubigny. "You reported a theft," he said. "By whose authority? Did I ask you to report a theft?"
"The bonds were gone, Monsieur. You said so yourself. We even agreed that M. Smith took them. I reported it on my own authority."
"The bonds were gone, you say?" Clarke questioned sharply. "How do you know they were gone? How did you know there were any bonds? Did you ever see them?"
"I didn't see them; but—"
"In view of all the circumstances in the case and the unwarranted arrest of Smith here, I suppose I'll have to go into the details." Clarke was talking to M. Baudet. "The Marquis was in the United States six months ago and came to see me in Passaic about a business matter. We had had previous financial relations, and this one he suggested seemed attractive. I told him I would consider it, and I did consider it. This is what brought me to Paris three months ago. Immediately after I arrived I was stricken with fever and lay here for weeks practically unconscious, and because of the name I had assumed my friends and relatives in the United States lost track of me and grew uneasy. It had been my purpose to investigate quietly this matter the Marquis suggested, and even he wasn't to know that I was in Pans. This illness threw all my plans out of gear. When I became convalescent I had a friend look into the situation for me, and on the strength of his report I was willing to go ahead.
"Now comes the thing that so complicated affairs and indirectly resulted in Mr. Smith's arrest. It was my original purpose to raise funds in the United States to go into this enterprise. I lost so much time, however, that when the Marquis came to me with a statement that the deal must be consummated within a day or so it was impossible to get funds from the United States in time. I was confident, however, that I could get the funds from London. I was so confident that I told the Marquis I had the bonds, and even told him their denomination, and showed him the bag that was supposed to hold them.
"There are tricks in your profession, M. Baudet, just as there are in mine. I didn't get the funds from London as I expected; but I permitted the deal to go ahead up to the point where I was to pay a million and a half dollars as my part. Then I opened the bag to produce the bonds, and it was empty. It was a trick by which I calculated to hold up the deal for a couple of weeks,—in other words, to gain time.—enabling me to come in later. So, you see. I had no bonds; no bonds were stolen; I didn't even report the bonds were stolen. I'm sorry I have to put myself in this position; but it's only fair to my good friend Smith. He is an official in my bank at home, and the last man on earth that one could associate with theft."
MR. SMITH'S eyes were bulging with admiration. He had never known the old man to fail in a crisis, and he hadn't failed now. Edna was smiling softly as she stroked the emaciated hand she held. M. Baudet's face was corrugated with wrinkles of perplexity.
"It was a trick, then?" demanded the Marquis curtly.
"That's a pretty good guess," and Clarke smiled benignly.
"A contemptible, disreputable—" the Marquis began.
"Never mind details, son," interrupted Mr. Smith. "Mr. Clarke is not well. Any time you want to discuss this matter further, come to me. I'll talk it over with you."
M. Baudet shrugged his shoulders helplessly. "There is nothing to be done, then, M. le Marquis," he queried; "that is, unless you have been misled, and this is not M. Clarke."
The Marquis shook his head. "It is M. Clarke," he said. "I know him well. I have known him for years."
"And if you have any further doubt about it," Clarke added, "go ask the American Ambassador. He's an intimate friend of mine. He will vouch for my identity, for my personal integrity, and for anything else you like."
The door opened and the physician came bustling in. "Eleven minutes!" he announced. "That is all. Messieurs."
"It's enough. Doc," remarked Mr. Smith, and he turned to face M. Baudet. "You know I told you you'd get a—a citron out of this."
WITHIN the week Mr. John Smith made several amazing discoveries. For instance, he discovered that the sky was blue over Paris, and that trees were green, and grass was velvety, and that birds sang—of course, not so well as they sang in Passaic; but there was much to commend in their efforts. Things must have been that way all along. Odd. how he had overlooked it! In other ways too Paris was looking up. Nôtre Dame, as compared to the granite church back home, had, perhaps, a shade the best of it, and he came to admit that Pont Alexander III. put it all over the bridge down near the orphan asylum. As for the Louvre—well, he had been hasty in his judgment. Now that he had had a chance to look at it, it didn't remind him at all of the rubber works back home.
All of which meant that Mr. Smith had reached that point of a man's life when the external aspect of all things is softened and beautified by some new-born quality within himself. Always the change is wrought by some trivial thing, like the lingering touch of a slender hand, or the haunting curl of scarlet lips, or the shy upward glance of timid eyes. Mr. Smith didn't know precisely when or where the great change came. He only knew that on the second day after his release from arrest he had talked an hour or more with Edna Clarke, and since then his vision had cleared. When he bade her goodby he was preparing to catch the steamer at Cherbourg for home. At his hotel he found a note that stayed him. It said:
The Lord loveth a cheerful liar. I hope you are satisfied. You must remain in Paris until I am able to talk with you. The doctor says it may be five days yet. Things are not so bad as you think. W.M.C.
Mr. Smith was content to stay; in fact, it was with a feeling of exultation that he unpacked his suitcase. Even his unholy passion for Passaic was held in check. Four or five days more in Paris! That meant further talks with Edna, and that meant—He didn't care if he never saw Main-ave. again. And he did see Edna half a dozen times. Twice they were alone together, and at other times a frumpy old Aunt Emma appeared. Aunt Emma, deeply beloved of herself, had refused to tuck herself away in a shabby little apartment in the Rue St. Honoré; she had been living at the Ritz. Her presence shadowed Mr. Smith's happiness at first; then he forgot she was in existence, and it wasn't so bad. Those were the halcyon days! Mr. Smith dreamed through them, light-hearted as a lark.
AT last came the summons from Mr. Clarke, and Mr. Smith went to him. The trained nurse had been sent away, and Edna, at a nod from her father, withdrew. Mr. Clarke was propped up in bed, his masterful eyes alight, his lips set, and a tinge of color again in his withered cheeks.
"Now, Smith, just between you and me," he began without preliminary, "where the deuce are those bonds?"
"Bonds?" Mr. Smith repeated blandly. "Bonds? I thought you said you had none?"
"Never mind that," said Clarke impatiently. "You beat me; I admit it. There's no need to taunt me. You put me in a position where I had to lie, and I did it. Now where are the bonds?"
Mr. Smith paced the length of the room a couple of times, then turned and faced the banker with a gleam of danger in the straight-staring eyes.
"Now, look here, Mr. Clarke," he said deliberately at last, "we might just as well understand each other now as at any other time. The bonds are beyond your reach, and will remain beyond your reach until they are back in that package in the vault at home where they belong. Once they are there, my resignation is in. I've worked for you for twenty years. Mr. Clarke, and in that time I've saved a few thousand dollars. I put it into real estate and have turned it over now and then. I'm leaving your bank as soon as this matter of the bonds is adjusted, to become cashier of a new bank in which I own some stock."
He sat down, and for a time they stared, each at the other, with a challenge in their gaze.
"All this is not particularly to the point; but I'm telling it to you to make my position perfectly clear." Mr. Smith went on. "Now we might as well call things by their first names. You stole bonds for which I was personally responsible. Now, don't interrupt! I recovered them to save myself, not you, and once they are placed where they belong I finish with you. It was purely by accident that I discovered this theft, which endangered all my future, and I came all the way to Paris, not only to get the bonds but to give you one sound whaling. I got the bonds, and I've changed my mind about the whaling. I made you lie, as you say, to save me. That's all I have to say about it. Now you may go as far as you like."
THERE was a long pause. Mr. Clarke's bony fingers clawed nervously at the sheets while he studied the rugged face of this man before him.
"Smith, you've misunderstood this thing from the jump," he said, not unkindly. "I haven't stolen anything; I have had no intention of stealing. A very attractive proposition by which I could earn three, possibly four, million dollars within a few months was put up to me. I'm worth no more than three hundred thousand dollars,—a pauper as rich men go,—and I've earned every penny of it. It was within my power to increase that fortune enormously. In order to do it, it was necessary for me to put up for only a few weeks a million and a half dollars. If I took in some one else on the proposition, my share would have been trivial, and here in my bank was a million and a half dollars that I could use. I took it, to put the deal through. There's no doubt in the world that I should have been able to return it, and no man would have been the wiser except for the accident, whatever it was, by which you learned the bonds were missing.
"Now, I'm not trying to whitewash myself at all. I violated the laws, because I took money that did not belong to me to make money for myself. You upset all my plans, and it cost me millions. Understand that, millions! That day I saw you at the Café de la Paix I knew intuitively why you were in Paris; so when the bonds disappeared from this room I knew you had them, though how they came into your possession I couldn't figure. I don't know yet. I sent d'Aubigny to you and offered you one hundred thousand dollars to keep your hands off. You are pleased to think that you have saved my business reputation by saving your own; but there was never a moment when my business reputation, or yours, was in danger. That's all I have to say. Your resignation will be accepted."
MR. CLARKE had not raised his voice at all, nor had there come the slightest change in the expression of Mr. Smiths face. It was all as if they were discussing some trivial thing of utter inconsequence.
"Unfortunately, Mr. Clarke, I am honest," remarked Mr. Smith. "I've worked for you for twenty years—you know I'm honest. Being honest, I can't get to your viewpoint, and after all it's of no importance."
He rose. "Any further discussion of this matter between us may lead to unpleasant personalities. Fortunately, it was not permitted to get into the newspapers here, so there is no danger, and I'm sailing for home by the first boat. I'll contrive to place the bonds where they belong, and immediately upon your return I'll tender my resignation formally. So far as I'm concerned, the thing is over. I'm sorry you've been ill, sir, and sincerely hope you'll be in your usual good health soon. I'm going back home—back to Passaic!"
He turned away toward the door. Mr. Clarke proffered a shriveled hand; apparently Mr. Smith didn't see it.
"Smith, I'm sorry," he said simply.
"So am I, Mr. Clarke," was the response. "It means more to me than you understand." He was thinking of Edna. Again he turned away, as if to go.
"And the bonds?" queried Clarke. "Where are they? How did you manage to keep them hidden from the police? Are you carrying them about your person?"
"Oh, the bonds," Mr. Smith said listlessly. "Just at this moment most of them are in charge of the French Government, and the others are in charge of the British Government."
"In charge of the—" began Mr. Clarke, amazed. "How—what—"
"The first thing I did when they came into my possession was to get rid of them," Mr. Smith informed him. "I'd already had one little run-in with the police, as you know, and I felt safer to dispose of them immediately."
"But in charge of the French Government! How do you mean?"
"I knew I couldn't pass the customs inspectors in New York with a million and a half dollars' worth of bonds in my possession without at least attracting attention. They would have had to know who I was, where I got them, and all the rest of it. That would mean questions at the bank, and inevitable discovery of the facts in the case. I knew too that mail matter in the form of letters is never opened; so," Mr. Smith waved his hands deprecatingly, "so I mailed the bonds."
"Mailed them!" There was a note of uneasiness, excitement even, in Mr. Clarke's voice. "Do you mean that you wrapped a million and a half dollars in a package and mailed it? Don't you know that all packages from foreign countries, by mail or otherwise, are opened and examined by customs officials?"
"I didn't mail them in a package," Mr. Smith explained. "I addressed some seventy or eighty envelopes, of different sizes and colors and shapes, put one or two or three of the bonds in each, and mailed them that way."
"All to the same man? That's just as bad."
"They were not all addressed to the same man. I sent some of them to John Smith in Passaic, and some to Tom Jones in London, and some to Jack Robinson in Southampton, and Bill Spiwins in Brooklyn, and Pete Brown in Jersey City, and somebody else in New York and Hoboken and Weehawken, all over the shop, each by a different name, to be held till called for. It will take some time to get them together again, and I'll have to go by Southampton and London to remail those that are waiting for me there. I thought it was a pretty good scheme." He was silent a moment. "These funny little fly cops over here would never get hep in the world. While they were searching me down at headquarters there were two or three of the envelops containing bonds in the mailbox directly in front of the door."
For a time Mr. Clarke, lost in admiration of the utter simplicity, the audacity of the idea, said nothing. "There is still danger, of course," he remarked finally. "However, it is safer that way than taking them in through customs." There was one other question. "Smith, how did you get hold of those bonds anyhow?"
"Don't you know?" Mr. Smith queried.
"No, I haven't an idea, unless the trained nurse—"
"Well, if you don't know, I'll never tell you," replied Mr. Smith.
MR. SMITH was not the kind of man who would ask a woman if she would marry him—he'd tell her she was going to. He told Edna Clarke, between the soup and the fish, in a cozy little dining room off Montmartre—Aunt Emma was at home—the night before he was to leave Paris. They had been talking about the weather. He didn't introduce the subject of matrimony; just spilled it out. There were exclamations of surprise, blushes, embarrassment, and protestations. Mr. Smith waved them aside in that masterful way of his.
"My train leaves in the morning about ten o'clock," he said. "I'll run by and see your father about nine. I'm not very strong with him, and I imagine he may—he may—"
That old troubled, haunted look dashed in the girl's eyes for a second. There was still the possibility that all the desperate chances they had taken would come to naught, that open dishonor would come, that her father would be—
"I'm sorry, Miss Edna," Mr. Smith said simply. "I didn't mean to—er—everything is coming out all right. So long as none of it became public at the time of my arrest, and now I'm free, everything is all right. Nothing can go wrong."
"Of course I know it," she faltered; "but—but—the bare thought of it frightens me. I know, you've made me sec that my father isn't a—a thief, as I thought at first; but there is still a chance of discovery, and if it came—"
"It won't come," interrupted Mr. Smith. "Do you remember you once told me that you had more confidence in me than any person you ever met? Now prove it by believing me. There's no earthly way by which the customs people in New York can find those bonds, and, as for the police of Paris, I've got them euchred to a standstill. Now that's all over. Let's not talk about it. As I said. I'll see your father in the morning about nine, and then—"
Edna arched her brows disdainfully. "It's perfectly absurd!" she declared irrelevantly. "Such a result of our chance meeting never occurred to me. I'd never even thought of it."
"Oh, well, you'll have lots of time to think of it before you get back home," Mr. Smith informed her easily. "After that—"
"But we hardly know each other—just a couple of weeks! Think of it!"
"Two weeks and three days," Mr. Smith amended. "I may say, without boasting, that we've known each other pretty well during that time."
EDNA recalled that instant when she had returned to consciousness to find herself being carried, as a child, in the powerful arms of this man, and the memory brought roses to her cheeks. Her clear blue eyes flickered for an instant, then grew suddenly grave. "It's been splendid of you, Mr. Smith, all of it," she said at last, seriously. "You have tried to make it appear that it was all done for your own sake; but—but somehow I don't quite believe it. I believe yet there was something deeper behind what you've done. I believe—" She paused.
"You were very fond of my father once, weren't you?"
"He made me what I am. I am grateful, yes."
"But something more than that?" she insisted. "I know from the way he speaks of you that—"
Mr. Smith laid two hands upon her own. "Never mind all that," he said quietly. "You seem to think I have done something wonderful. It is within your power to repay me. Will you?"
Edna didn't move her hand; merely faced him without a word. If there had been any doubt in his mind it was dissipated by the misty light that grew in her eyes, by the happy curl of her lips.
"Once I promised to repay you, if it was ever within my power," she said gently.
"Then I may see your father in the morning before I go?"
After a long time the girl nodded. One of her hands still lay a prisoner beneath his own.
"Isn't it wonderful." she said dreamily after a moment, "how our lives have become so entangled, each with the other? Almost from the first I saw you aboard ship I knew it would be so. I don't know why—I only knew. I understood, too, perfectly. what I must do, and I made my father do it."
"Those handcuffs! You know that reminds me of something I want to do before I leave Paris. I want to look up the Marquis and slap all the wrinkles out of his face. I think that's legal."
"No!" exclaimed the girl, alarmed.
"There's too much at stake. It might mean arrest again, and—"
"I'm not going to do it." Mr. Smith assured her. "It took your father and a half dozen of his banker friends and the American Ambassador to get me loose last time. When they found there were no bonds, they wanted to hold me for smashing Rémi in the nose." He paused. "I wouldn't take chances again. These detectives in Paris would like a reasonable excuse to send me up for about a hundred years."
FROM the mottled front of the Gare du Nord, in the growing gloom of dusk, Mr. Smith took his last look at Paris, the wonder city of the world; truly a wonder city, for was not Edna Clarke there, Edna Clarke, whose promise, sanctioned by her father, he held? For a long time he stood meditatively, then:
"I love my Paris," he said slowly; "but oh, you Passaic!"
Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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