Part 3 out of 8
years ago. It may be Mr. James Fitzgerald now. Gentlemen of your
profession have a knack of changing their names."=20
"My profession's as good as yours, anyway!" the little man exclaimed.
"We aren't all fools in it! My friend Mr. Peter Ruff said to me that
there was a young lady whom I used to know who was anxious to meet me
again, and would I step around here about eight o'clock. Here I am,
and all I can say is, if that's the young lady, I never saw her
before in my life."=20
There was a moment's breathless silence. Then the door was softly
opened. Violet Brown went staggering back like a woman who sees a
ghost. She bit her lips till the blood came. It was Peter Ruff who
stood looking in upon them - Peter Ruff, carefully dressed in evening
clothes, his silk hat at exactly the correct angle, his coat and
white kid gloves upon his arm. =20
"Dear me," he said, "you don't seem to be getting on very well!
Mr. Dory," he added, with a note of surprise in his tone, "this is
indeed an unexpected pleasure!"=20
The man who stood by the desk turned to him. The others were
stricken dumb. =20
"Look here," he said, "there's some mistake. You told me to come
here at eight o'clock to meet a young lady whom I used to know.
Well, I never saw her before in my life," he added, pointing to Maud.
"There's a man there who wants to arrest me - Lord knows what for!
And here's Miss Brown, whom I have seen at the theatre several times
but who never condescended to speak to me before, telling me not to
shoot! What's it all about, Ruff? Is it a practical joke?"=20
Peter Ruff laid down his coat and hat, and sat upon the table with
his hands in his pockets. =20
"Is it possible," he said, "that I have made a mistake? Isn't your
second name Spencer?"=20
The man shook his head. =20
"My name is James Fitzgerald," he said. "I haven't missed a day at
the Shaftesbury Theatre for three years, as you can find out by
going round the corner. I never called myself Spencer, I was never
clerk in a bookshop, and I never saw that lady before in my life."=20
Maud came out from her place against the wall, and leaned eagerly
forward. John Dory turned his head slowly towards his wife. A
sickening fear had arisen in his heart - gripped him by the throat.
Fooled once more, and by Peter Ruff! =20
"It isn't Spencer!" Maud said huskily. "Mr. Ruff," she added,
turning to him, "you know very well that this is not the Mr. Spencer
Fitzgerald whom you promised to bring here to-night - Mr. Spencer
Fitzgerald to whom I was once engaged."=20
Peter Ruff pointed to the figure of her husband. =20
"Madam," he said, "my invitation did not include your husband."=20
John Dory took a step forward, and laid his hands upon the shoulders
of the man who called himself Mr. James Fitzgerald. He looked into
his face long and carefully. Then he turned away, and, gripping his
wife by the arm, he passed out of the room. The door slammed behind
him. The sound of heavy footsteps was heard descending to the floor
Violet Brown crossed the room to where Peter Ruff was still sitting
with a queer look upon his face, and, gripping him by the shoulders,
shook him. =20
"How dare you!" she exclaimed. "How dare you! Do you know that I
have nearly cried my eyes out?"=20
Peter Ruff came back from the world into which, for the moment, his
thoughts had taken him. =20
"Violet," he said, "you have known me for some years. You have
been my secretary for some months. If you choose still to take me
for a fool, I cannot help it."=20
"But," she exclaimed, pointing to Mr. James Fitzgerald - =20
Peter Ruff nodded. =20
"I have been practising on him for some time," he said, with an air
of self-satisfaction. =20
"A thin, mobile face, you see, and plenty of experience in the art
of making up. It is astonishing what one can do if one tries."=20
Mr. James Fitzgerald picked up his hat and coat. =20
"It was worth more than five quid," he growled; "when I saw the
handcuffs in that fellow's hand, I felt a cold shiver go down
Peter Ruff counted out two banknotes and passed them to his
"You have earned the money," he said. "Go and spend it. Perhaps,
Violet," he added, turning towards her, "I have been a little
inconsiderate. Come and have dinner with me, and forget it."=20
She drew a little sigh. =20
"You are sure," she murmured, "that you wouldn't rather take Maud?"=20
THE LITTLE LADY FROM SERVIA
Westward sped the little electric brougham, driven without regard
to police regulations or any rule of the road: silent and swift,
wholly regardless of other vehicles - as though, indeed, its
occupants were assuming to themselves the rights of Royalty. Inside,
Peter Ruff, a little breathless, was leaning forward, tying his white
cravat with the aid of the little polished mirror set in the middle
of the dark green cushions. At his right hand was Lady Mary,
watching his proceedings with an air of agonised impatience. =20
"Let me tell you - " she begged. =20
"Kindly wait till I have tied this and put my studs in," Peter Ruff
interrupted. "It is impossible for me to arrive at a ball in this
condition, and I cannot give my whole attention to more than one
thing at a time."=20
"We shall be there in five minutes!" she exclaimed. "What is the
good, unless you understand, of your coming at all?"=20
Peter Ruff surveyed his tie critically. Fortunately, it pleased him.=20
He began to press the studs into their places with firm fingers.
Around them surged the traffic of Piccadilly; in front, the gleaming
arc of lights around Hyde Park Corner. They had several narrow
escapes. Once the brougham swayed dangerously as they cut in on the
wrong side of an island lamp-post. A policeman shouted after them,
another held up his hand - the driver of the brougham took no notice. =20
"I am ready," Peter Ruff said, quietly. =20
"My younger brother - Maurice," she began, breathlessly - you've
never met him, I know, but you've heard me speak of him. He is
private secretary to Sir James Wentley - "=20
"Minister for Foreign Affairs?" Ruff asked, swiftly. =20
"Yes! Maurice wants to go in for the Diplomatic Service. He is a
dear, and so clever!"=20
"Is it Maurice who is in trouble?" Peter Ruff asked. "Why didn't
he come himself?"=20
"I am trying to explain," Lady Mary protested. "This afternoon he
had an important paper to turn into cipher and hand over to the
Prime Minister at the Duchess of Montford's dance to-night. The
Prime Minister will arrive in a motor car from the country at about
two o'clock, and the first thing he will ask for will be that paper.
It has been stolen!"=20
"At what time did your brother finish copying it, and when did he
discover its loss?" Ruff asked, with a slight air of weariness.
These preliminary enquiries always bored him. =20
"He finished it in his own rooms at half-past seven," Lady Mary
answered. "He discovered its loss at eleven o'clock - directly he
had arrived at the ball."=20
"Why didn't he come to me himself?" Peter Ruff asked. "I like to
have these particulars at first hand."=20
"He is in attendance upon Sir James at the ball," Lady Mary answered.
"There is trouble in the East, as you know, and Sir James is
expecting dispatches to-night. Maurice is not allowed to leave."=20
"Has he told Sir James yet?"=20
"He had not when I left," Lady Mary answered. "If he is forced to
do so, it will be ruin! Mr. Ruff, you must help us Maurice is such
a dear, but a mistake like this, at the very beginning of his career,
would be fatal. Here we are. That is my brother waiting just
inside the hall."=20
A young man came up to them in the vestibule. He was somewhat
pale, but otherwise perfectly self-possessed. From the shine of
his glossy black hair to the tips of his patent boots he was, in
appearance, everything that a young Englishman of birth and athletic
tastes could hope to be. Peter Ruff liked the look of him. He
waited for no introduction, but laid his hand at once upon the young
man's shoulder. =20
"Between seven-thirty and arriving here," he said, drawing him on
one side - "quick! Tell me, whom did you see? What opportunities
were there of stealing the paper, and by whom?"=20
"I finished it at five and twenty past seven," the young man said,
"sealed it in an official envelope, and stood it up on my desk by
the side of my coat and hat and muffler, which my servant had laid
there, ready for me to put on. My bedroom opens out from my sitting
room. While I was dressing, two men called for me - Paul Jermyn and
Count von Hern. They walked through to my bedroom first, and then
sat together in the sitting room until I came out. The door was
wide open, and we talked all the time."=20
"They called accidentally?" Peter Ruff asked. =20
"No - by appointment," the young man replied. "We were all coming
on here to the dance, and we had agreed to dine together first at
"You say that you left the paper on your desk with your coat and
hat?" Peter Ruff asked. "Was it there when you came out?"=20
"Apparently so," the young man answered. "It seemed to be standing
in exactly the same place as where I had left it. I put it into my
breast pocket, and it was only when I arrived here that I fancied
the envelope seemed lighter. I went off by myself and tore it open.
There was nothing inside but half a newspaper!"=20
"What about the envelope?" Peter Ruff asked. "That must have been
the same sort of one as you had used or you would have noticed it?"=20
"It was," the Honorable Maurice answered. =20
"It was a sort which you kept in your room?"=20
"Yes!" the young man admitted. =20
"The packet was changed, then, by some one in your room, or some
one who had access to it," Peter Ruff said. "How about your servant?"=20
"It was his evening off. I let him put out my things and go at
"You must tell me the nature of the contents of the packet," Peter
Ruff declared. "Don't hesitate. You must do it. Remember the
The young man did hesitate for several moments, but a glance into
his sister's appealing face decided him. =20
"It was our official reply to a secret communication from Russia
respecting - a certain matter in the Balkans."=20
Peter Ruff nodded. =20
"Where is Count von Hern?" he asked abruptly. =20
"I must use a telephone at once," Peter Ruff said. "Ask one of the
servants here where I can find one."=20
Peter Ruff was conducted to a gloomy waiting room, on the table of
which stood a small telephone instrument. He closed the door, but
he was absent for only a few minutes. When he rejoined Lady Mary
and her brother they were talking together in agitated whispers.
The latter turned towards him at once. =20
"Do you mean that you suspect Count von Hern?" he asked, doubtfully.
"He is a friend of the Danish Minister's, and every one says that
he's such a good chap. He doesn't seem to take the slightest
interest in politics - spends nearly all his time hunting or playing
"I don't suspect any one," Peter Ruff answered. "I only know that
Count von Hern is an Austrian spy, and that he took your paper! Has
he been out of your sight at all since you rejoined him in the
sitting room? I mean to say - had he any opportunity of leaving you
during the time you were dining together, or did he make any calls
en route, either on the way to the Savoy or from the Savoy here?"=20
The young man shook his head. =20
"He has not been out of my sight for a second."=20
"Who is the other man - Jermyn?" Peter Ruff asked. "I never heard
"An American - cousin of the Duchess. He could not have had the
slightest interest in the affair."=20
"Please take me into the ballroom," Peter Ruff said to Lady Mary.
"Your brother had better not come with us. I want to be as near
the Count von Hern as possible."=20
They passed into the crowded rooms, unnoticed, purposely avoiding
the little space where the Duchess was still receiving the late
comers among her guests. They found progress difficult, and Lady
Mary felt her heart sink as she glanced at the little jewelled
watch which hung from her wrist. Suddenly Peter Ruff came to a
"Don't look for a moment," he said, "but tell me as soon as you can=20
- who is that tall young man, like a Goliath, talking to the little
dark woman? You see whom I mean?"=20
Lady Mary nodded, and they passed on. In a moment or two she
answered him. =20
"How strange that you should ask!" she whispered in his ear. "That
is Mr. Jermyn."=20
They were on the outskirts now of the ballroom itself. One of Lady
Mary's partners came up with an open programme and a face full of
"Do please forgive me, Captain Henderson," Lady Mary begged. "I
have hurt my foot, and I am not dancing any more."=20
"But surely I was to take you in to supper?" the young officer
protested, good-humouredly. "Don't tell me that you are going to
"I am going to cut everything to-night with everybody," Lady Mary
said. "Please forgive me. Come to tea to-morrow and I'll explain."=20
The young man bowed, and, with a curious glance at Ruff, accepted
his dismissal. Another partner was simply waved away. =20
"Please turn round and come back," Peter Ruff said. "I want to see
those two again."=20
"But we haven't found Count von Hern yet," she protested. "Surely
that is more important, is it not? I believe that I saw him dancing
just now - there, with the tall girl in yellow."=20
"Never mind about him, for the moment," Ruff answered. "Walk down
this corridor with me. Do you mind talking all the time, please?
It will sound more natural, and I want to listen."=20
The young American and his partner had found a more retired seat
now, about three quarters of the way down the pillared vestibule
which bordered the ballroom. He was bending over his companion
with an air of unmistakable devotion, but it was she who talked.
She seemed, indeed, to have a good deal to say to him. The slim
white fingers of one hand played all the time with a string of
magnificent pearls. Her dark, soft eyes - black as aloes and
absolutely un-English - flashed into his. A delightful smile
hovered at the corners of her lips. All the time she was talking
and he was listening. Lady Mary and her partner passed by unnoticed.
At the end of the vestibule they turned and retraced their steps.
Peter Ruff was very quiet - he had caught a few of those rapid words.
But the woman's foreign accent had troubled him. =20
"If only she would speak in her own language!" he muttered. =20
Lady Mary's hand suddenly tightened upon his arm. =20
"Look!" she exclaimed. "That is Count von Hern!"=20
A tall, fair young man, very exact in his dress, very stiff in his
carriage, with a not unpleasant face, was standing talking to Jermyn
and his companion. Jermyn, who apparently found the intrusion an
annoyance, was listening to the conversation between the two, with
a frown upon his face and a general attitude of irritation. As Lady
Mary and her escort drew near, the reason for the young American's
annoyance became clearer - his two companions were talking softly,
but with great animation, in a foreign language, which it was obvious
that he did not understand. Peter Ruff's elbow pressed against his
partner's arm, and their pace slackened. He ventured, even, to pause
for a moment, looking into the ballroom as though in search of some
one, and he had by no means the appearance of a man likely to
understand Hungarian. Then, to Lady Mary's surprise, he touched the
Count von Hern on the shoulder and addressed him. =20
"I beg your pardon, sir," he said, "but I fancy that we accidentally
exchanged programmes, a few minutes ago, at the buffet. I have lost
mine and picked up one which does not belong to me. As we were
standing side by side, it is possibly yours."=20
"I believe not, sir," he answered, with that pleasant smile which
had gone such a long way toward winning him the reputation of being
"a good fellow" amongst a fairly large circle of friends. "I believe
at any rate," he added, glancing at his programme, "that this is my
own. You mistake me, probably, for some one else."=20
Peter Ruff, without saying a word, was actor enough to suggest that
he was unconvinced. The Count good-humouredly held out his programme. =20
"You shall see for yourself," he remarked. "That is not yours, is
it? Besides, I have not been to the buffet at all this evening."=20
Peter Ruff cast a swift glance down the programme which the Count
had handed him. Then he apologised profusely. =20
"I was mistaken," he admitted. "I am very sorry."=20
The Count bowed. =20
"It is of no consequence, sir," he said, and resumed his
Peter Ruff passed on with Lady Mary. At a safe distance, she
glanced at him enquiringly. =20
"It was his programme I wanted to see," Peter Ruff explained. "It
is as I thought. He has had four dances with the Countess - "=20
"Who is she?" Lady Mary asked, quickly. =20
"The little dark lady with whom he is talking now," Peter Ruff
continued. "He seems, too, to be going early. He has no dances
reserved after the twelfth. We will go downstairs at once, if you
please. I must speak to your brother."=20
"Have you been able to think of anything?" she asked, anxiously.
"Is there any chance at all, do you think?"=20
"I believe so," Peter Ruff answered. "It is most interesting.
Don't be too sanguine, though. The odds are against us, and the
time is very short. Is the driver of your electric brougham to be
"Absolutely," she assured him. "He is an old servant."=20
"Will you lend him to me?" Peter Ruff asked, "and tell him that he
is to obey my instructions absolutely?"=20
"Of course," she answered. "You are going away, then?"=20
Peter Ruff nodded. He was a little sparing of words just then. The
thoughts were chasing one another through his brain. He was
listening, too, for the sweep of a dress behind. =20
"Is there nothing I can do?" Lady Mary begged, eagerly. =20
Peter Ruff shook his head. In the distance he saw the Honourable
Maurice come quickly toward them. With a firm but imperceptible
gesture he waved him away. =20
"Don't let your brother speak to me," he said. "We can't tell who
is behind. What time did you say the Prime Minister was expected?"=20
"At two o'clock," Lady Mary said, anxiously. =20
Peter Ruff glanced at his watch. It was already half an hour past
"Very well," he said, "I will do what I can. If my theory is wrong,
it will be nothing. If I am right - well, there is a chance,
anyhow. In the meantime - "=20
"In the meantime?" she repeated, breathlessly. =20
"Take your brother back to the ballroom," Peter Ruff directed.
"Make him dance - dance yourself. Don't give yourselves away by
looking anxious. When the time is short - say at a quarter to two
- he can come down here and wait for me."=20
"If you don't come!" she exclaimed. =20
"Then we shall have lost," Peter Ruff said, calmly. "If you don't
see me again to-night, you had better read the newspapers carefully
for the next few days."=20
"You are going to do something dangerous!" she protested. =20
"There is danger in interfering at all in such a matter as this,"
he answered, "but you must remember that it is not only my profession
- it is my hobby. Remember, too," he added, with a smile, "that I
do not often lose!"=20
For twenty minutes Peter Ruff sat in the remote corner of Lady Mary's
electric brougham, drawn up at the other side of the Square, and
waited. At last he pressed a button. They glided off. Before them
was a large, closed motor car. They started in discreet chase. =20
Fortunately, however, the chase was not a long one. The car which
Peter Ruff had been following was drawn up before a plain,
solid-looking house, unlit and of gloomy appearance. The little
lady with the wonderful eyes was already halfway up the flagged
steps. Hastily lifting the flap and looking behind as they passed,
her pursuer saw her open the door with a latchkey, and disappear.
Peter Ruff pulled the check-string and descended. For several
moments he stood and observed the house into which the lady whom
he had been following had disappeared. Then he turned to the driver. =20
"I want you to watch that house," he said, "never to take your eyes
off it. When I reappear from it, if I do at all, I shall probably
be in a hurry. Directly you see me be on your box ready to start.
A good deal may depend upon our getting away quickly."=20
"Very good, sir," the man answered. "How long am I to wait here for
Peter Ruff's lips twisted into a curious little smile. =20
"Until two o'clock," he answered. "If I am not out by then, you
needn't bother any more about me. You can return and tell your
mistress exactly what has happened."=20
"Hadn't I better come and try and get you out, sir?" the man asked.
"Begging your pardon, but her Ladyship told me that there might be
queer doings. I'm a bit useful in a scrap, sir," he added. "I do
a bit of sparring regularly."=20
Peter Ruff shook his head. =20
"If there's any scrap at all," he said, "you had better be out of
it. Do as I have said."=20
The motor car had turned round and disappeared now, and in a few
moments Peter Ruff stood before the door of the house into which
the little lady had disappeared. The problem of entrance was=20
already solved for him. The door had been left unlatched; only a
footstool had been placed against it inside. Peter Ruff, without
hesitation, pushed the door softly open and entered, replaced the
footstool in its former position, and stood with his back to the
wall, in the darkest corner of the hall, looking around him -=20
listening intently. Nearly opposite the door of a room stood ajar.
It was apparently lit up, but there was no sound of any one moving
inside. Upstairs, in one of the rooms on the first floor, he could
hear light footsteps - a woman's voice humming a song. He listened
to the first few bars, and understanding became easier. Those first
few bars were the opening ones of the Servian national anthem! =20
With an effort, Peter Ruff concentrated his thoughts upon the
immediate present. The little lady was upstairs. The servants had
apparently retired for the night. He crept up to the half-open door
and peered in. The room, as he had hoped to find it, was empty, but
Madame's easy-chair was drawn up to the fire, and some coffee stood
upon the hob. Stealthily Peter Ruff crept in and glanced around,
seeking for a hiding place. A movement upstairs hastened his
decision. He pushed aside the massive curtains which separated this
from a connecting room. He had scarcely done so when light footsteps
were heard descending the stairs. =20
Peter Ruff found his hiding place all that could have been desired.
This secondary room itself was almost in darkness, but he was just
able to appreciate the comforting fact that it possessed a separate
exit into the hall. Through the folds of the curtain he had a
complete view of the further apartment. The little lady had changed
her gown of stiff white satin for one of flimsier material, and,
seated in the easy-chair, she was busy pouring herself out some
coffee. She took a cigarette from a silver box, and lighting it,
curled herself up in the chair and composed herself as though to
listen. To her as well as to Peter Ruff, as he crouched in his
hiding place, the moments seemed to pass slowly enough. Yet, as he
realised afterward, it could not have been ten minutes before she sat
upright in a listening attitude. There was some one coming! Peter
Ruff, too, heard a man's firm footsteps come up the flagged stones. =20
The little lady sprang to her feet. =20
"Paul!" she exclaimed. =20
Paul Jermyn came slowly to meet her. He seemed a little out of
breath. His tie was all disarranged and his collar unfastened. =20
The little lady, however, noticed none of these things. She looked
only into his face. =20
"Have you got it?" she asked, eagerly. =20
He thrust his hand into his breast-coat pocket, and held an
envelope out toward her. =20
"Sure!" he answered. "I promised!"=20
She gave a little sob, and with the packet in her hand came running
straight toward the spot where Peter Ruff was hiding. =20
He shrank back as far as possible. She stopped just short of the
curtain, opened the drawer of a table which stood there, and slipped
the packet in. Then she came back once more to where Paul Jermyn
was standing. =20
"My friend!" she cried, holding out her hands - "my dear, dear
friend! Shall I ever be able to thank you enough?"=20
"Why, if you try," he answered, smiling, "I think that you could!"=20
She laid her hand upon his arm - a little caressing, foreign gesture. =20
"Tell me," she said, "how did you manage it?"=20
"We left the dance together," Jermyn said. "I could see that he
wanted to get rid of me, but I offered to take him in my motor car.
I told the man to choose some back streets, and while we were passing
through one of them, I took Von Hern by the throat. We had a
struggle, of course, but I got the paper."=20
"What did you do with Von Hern?" she asked. =20
"I left him on his doorstep," the young American answered. "He
wasn't really hurt, but he was only half conscious. I don't think
he'll bother any one to-night."=20
"You dear, brave man!" she murmured. "Paul, what am I to say to
He laughed. =20
"That's what I'm here to ask," he declared. "You wouldn't give me
my answer at the ball. Perhaps you'll give it me now?"=20
They sprang apart. Ruff felt his nerves stiffen - felt himself
constrained to hold even his breath as he widened a little the
crack in the curtains. This was no stealthy entrance. The door
had been flung open. Von Hern, his dress in wild disorder, pale
as a ghost, and with a great bloodstain upon his cheek, stood
confronting them. =20
"When you have done with your love-making," he called out, "I'll
trouble you to restore my property!"=20
The electric light gleamed upon a small revolver which flashed
out toward the young American. Paul Jermyn never hesitated for a
moment. He seized the chair by his side and flung it at Von Hern.
There was a shot, the crash of the falling chair, a cry from Jermyn,
who never hesitated, however, in his rush. The two men closed. A
second shot went harmlessly to the ceiling. The little lady stole
away - stole softly across the room toward the table. She opened
the drawer. Suddenly the blood in her veins was frozen into fear.
>From nowhere, it seemed to her, came a hand which held her wrists
like iron! =20
"Madam," Peter Ruff whispered from behind the curtain, "I am sorry
to deprive you of it, but this is stolen property."=20
Her screams rang through the room. Even the two men released one
"It is gone! It is gone!" she cried. "Some one was hiding in the
She sprang into the hall. The two men followed her. The front door
was slammed. They heard flying footsteps outside. Von Hern was out
first, clearing the little flight of steps in one bound. Across the
road he saw a flying figure. A level stream of fire poured from his
hand - twice, three times. But Peter Ruff never faltered. Round the
corner he tore. The man had kept his word - the brougham was already
moving slowly. =20
"Jump in, sir," the man cried. "Throw yourself in. Never mind about
They heard the shouts behind. Peter Ruff did as he was bid, and sat
upon the floor, raising himself gradually to the seat when they had
turned another corner. Then he put his head out of the window. =20
"Back to the Duchess of Montford's!" he ordered. =20
The latest of the guests had ceased to arrive - a few were already
departing. It was an idle time, however, with the servants who
loitered in the vestibules of Montford House, and they looked with=20
curiosity upon this strange guest who arrived at five minutes to two,
limping a little, and holding his left arm in his right hand. One
footman on the threshold nearly addressed him, but the words were
taken out of his mouth when he saw Lady Mary and her brother - the
Honorable Maurice Sotherst - hasten forward to greet him. =20
Peter Ruff smiled upon them benignly. =20
"You can take the paper out of my breast-coat pocket," he said. =20
The young man's fingers gripped it. Through Lady Mary's great
thankfulness, however, the sudden fear came shivering. =20
"You are hurt!" she whispered. "There is blood on your sleeve."=20
"Just a graze," Peter Ruff answered. "Von Hern wasn't much good
at a running target. Back to the ballroom, young man," he added.
"Don't you see who's coming?"=20
The Prime Minister came up the tented way into Montford House. He,
too, wondered a little at the man whom he met on his way out, holding
his left arm, and looking more as though he had emerged from a street
fight than from the Duchess of Montford's ball. Peter Ruff went home
THE DEMAND OF THE DOUBLE-FOUR
It was about this time that Peter Ruff found among his letters one
morning a highly-scented little missive, addressed to him in a
handwriting with which he had once been familiar. He looked at it
for several moments before opening it. Even as the paper cutter
slid through the top of the envelope, he felt that he had already
divined the nature of its contents.
MY DEAR Mr. RUFF:
I expect that you will be surprised to hear from me again, but
I do hope that you will not be annoyed. I know that I behaved
very horridly a little time ago, but it was not altogether my
fault, and I have been more sorry for it than I can tell you -
in fact, John and I have never been the same since, and for the
present, at any rate, I have left him and gone on the stage. A
lady whom I knew got me a place in the chorus here, and so far
I like it immensely.
Won't you come and meet me after the show to-morrow night, and
I will tell you all about it? I should like so much to see you
Peter Ruff placed this letter in his breast-coat pocket, and
withheld it from his secretary's notice. He felt, however, very
little pleasure at the invitation it conveyed. He hesitated for
some time, in fact, whether to accept it or not. Finally, after
his modest dinner that evening, he bought a stall for the
Frivolity and watched the piece. The girl he had come to see was
there in the second row of the chorus, but she certainly did not
look her best in the somewhat scant costume required by the part.
She showed no signs whatever of any special ability - neither her
dancing nor her singing seemed to entitle her to any consideration.
She carried herself with a certain amount of self-consciousness,
and her eyes seemed perpetually fixed upon the occupants of the
stalls. Peter Ruff laid down his glasses with something between
a sigh and a groan. There was something to him inexpressibly sad
in the sight of his old sweetheart so transformed, so utterly
changed from the prim, somewhat genteel young person who had
accepted his modest advances with such ladylike diffidence. She
seemed, indeed, to have lost those very gifts which had first
attracted him. Nevertheless, he kept his appointment at the
She was among the first to come out, and she greeted him warmly
- almost noisily. With her new profession, she seemed to have
adopted a different and certainly more flamboyant deportment.
"I thought you'd come to-night," she declared, with an arch look.
"I felt certain I saw you in the stalls. You are going to take
me to supper, are n't you? Shall we go to the Milan?"
Peter Ruff assented without enthusiasm, handed her into a hansom,
and took his place beside her. She wore a very large hat, untidily
put on; some of the paint seemed still to be upon her face; her
voice, too, seemed to have become louder, and her manner more
assertive. There were obvious indications that she no longer
considered brandy and soda an unladylike beverage. Peter Ruff was
not pleased with himself or proud of his companion.
"You'll take some wine?" he suggested, after he had ordered, with
a few hints from her, a somewhat extensive supper.
"Champagne," she answered, decidedly. "I've got quite used to it,
nowadays," she went on. "I could laugh to think how strange it
tasted when you first took me out."
"Tell me," Peter Ruff said, "why you have left your husband?"
"Because he was dull and because he was cross," she answered, "and
because the life down at Streatham was simply intolerable. I think
it was a little your fault, too," she said, making eyes; at him
across the table. "You gave me a taste of what life was like outside
Streatham, and I never forgot it."
Peter Ruff did not respond - he led the conversation, indeed, into
other channels. On the whole, the supper was scarcely a success.
Maud, who was growing to consider herself something of a Bohemian,
and who certainly looked for some touch of sentiment on the part of
her old admirer, was annoyed by the quiet deference with which he
treated her. She reproached him with it once, bluntly.
"Say," she exclaimed, "you don't seem to want to be so friendly as
you did! You haven't forgiven me yet, I suppose?"
Peter Ruff shook his head.
"It is not that," he said, "but I think that you have scarcely done
a wise thing in leaving your husband. I cannot think that this
life on the stage is good for you."
She laughed, scornfully.
"Well," she said, "I never thought to have you preaching at me!"
They finished their supper. Maud accepted a cigarette and did her
best to change her companion's mood. She only alluded once more
to her husband.
"I don't see how I could have stayed with him, anyhow," she said.
"You know, he's been put back - he only gets two pounds fifteen a
week now. He couldn't expect me to live upon that."
"Put back?" Peter Ruff repeated.
"He seemed to have a lot of bad luck this last year," she said.
"All his cases went wrong, and they don't think so much of him at
Scotland Yard as they did. I am not sure that he hasn't begun
to drink a little."
"I am sorry to hear it," Peter Ruff said, gravely.
"I don't see why you should be," she answered, bluntly. "He was no
friend of yours, nor isn't now. He may not be so dangerous as he
was, but if ever you come across him, you take my tip and be careful.
He means to do you a mischief some day, if he can. I am not sure,"
she added, "that he doesn't believe that it was partly your fault
about my leaving home."
"I should be sorry for him to think that," Peter Ruff answered.
"While we are upon the subject, can't you tell me exactly why your
husband dislikes me so?"
"For one thing, because you have been up against him in several of
his cases, and have always won."
"And for the other?"
"Well," she said, doubtfully, "he seems to connect you in his mind,
somehow, with a boy who was in love with me once - Mr. Spencer
Fitzgerald - you know who I mean."
"He still has that in his mind, has he?" he remarked.
"Oh, he's mad!" she declared. "However, don't let us talk about
him any more."
The lights were being put out. Peter Ruff paid his bill and they
"Come down to the fiat for an hour or so," she begged, taking his
arm. "I have a dear little place with another girl - Carrie Pearce.
I'll sing to you, if you like. Come down and have one drink, anyhow."
Peter Ruff shook his head firmly.
"I am sorry," he said, "but you must excuse me. In some ways, I
am very old-fashioned," he added. "I never sit up late, and I
"Just drive as far as the door with me, then," she begged.
Peter Ruff shook his head.
"You must excuse me," he said, handing her into the hansom. "And,
Maud," he added - "if I may call you so - take my advice: give it
up - go back to your husband and stick to him - you'll be better
off in the long run."
She would have answered him scornfully, but there was something
impressive in the crisp, clear words - in his expression, too, as
he looked into her eyes. She threw herself back in a corner of the
cab with an affected little laugh, and turned her head away from
Peter Ruff walked back into the cloak-room for his coat and hat,
and sighed softly to himself. It was the end of the one sentimental
episode of his life!
It had been the study of Peter Ruff's life, so far as possible, to
maintain under all circumstances an equable temperament, to refuse
to recognize the meaning of the word "nerves," and to be guided in
all his actions by that profound common sense which was one of his
natural gifts. Yet there were times when, like any other ordinary
person, he suffered acutely from presentiments. He left his rooms,
for instance, at five o'clock on the afternoon of the day following
his supper with Maud, suffering from a sense of depression for which
he found it altogether impossible to account. It was true that the
letter which he had in his pocket, the appointment which he was on
his way to keep, were both of them probable sources of embarrassment
and annoyance, if not of danger. He was being invited, without the
option of refusal, to enter upon some risky undertaking which would
yield him neither fee nor reward. Yet his common sense told him
that it was part of the game. In Paris, he had looked upon his
admittance into the order of the " Double-Four" as one of the
stepping-stones to success in his career. Through them he had
gained knowledge which he could have acquired in no other way.
Through them, for instance, he had acquired the information that
Madame la Comtesse de Pilitz was a Servian patriot and a friend of
the Crown Prince; and that the Count von Hern, posing in England as
a sportsman and an idler, was a highly paid and dangerous Austrian
spy. There had been other occasions, too, upon which they had come
to his aid. Now they had made an appeal to him - an appeal which
must be obeyed. His time - perhaps, even, his safety - must be
placed entirely at their disposal. It was only an ordinary return
a thing expected of him - a thing which he dared not refuse. Yet
he knew very well what he could not explain to them - that the whole
success of his life depended so absolutely upon his remaining free
from any suspicion of wrong-doing, that he had received his summons
with something like dismay, and proceeded to obey it with
He drove to Cirey's caf=82 in Regent Street, where he dismissed the
driver of his hansom and strolled in with the air of an habitue. He
selected a corner table, ordered some refreshment, and asked for a
box of dominoes. The place was fairly well filled. A few women
were sitting about; a sprinkling of Frenchmen were taking their
aperitif; here and there a man of affairs, on his way from the city,
had called in for a glass of vermouth. Peter Ruff looked them over,
recognizing the type - recognizing, even, some of their faces.
Apparently, the person whom he was to meet had not yet arrived.
He lit a cigarette and smoked slowly. Presently the door opened
and a woman entered in a long fur coat, a large hat, and a thick
veil. She raised it to glance around, disclosing the unnaturally
pale face and dark, swollen eyes of a certain type of Frenchwoman.
She seemed to notice no one in particular. Her eyes traveled over
Peter Ruff without any sign of interest. Nevertheless, she took a
seat somewhere near his and ordered some vermouth from the waiter,
whom she addressed by name. When she had been served and the waiter
had departed, she looked curiously at the dominoes which stood
before her neighbor.
"Monsieur plays dominoes, perhaps?" she remarked, taking one of
them into her fingers and examining it. "A very interesting game!"
Peter Ruff showed her a domino which he had been covering with his
hand - it was a double four. She nodded, and moved from her seat
to one immediately next him.
"I had not imagined," Peter Ruff said, "that it was a lady whom I
was to meet."
"Monsieur is not disappointed, I trust?" she said, smiling. "If I
talk banalities, Monsieur must pardon it. Both the waiters here
are spies, and there are always people who watch. Monsieur is ready
to do us a service?"
"To the limits of my ability," Peter Ruff answered. "Madame will
remember that we are not in Paris; that our police system, if not so
wonderful as yours, is still a closer and a more present thing. They
have not the brains at Scotland Yard, but they are persistent - hard
"Do I not know it?" the woman said. "It is through them that we
send for you. One of us is in danger."
"Do I know him?" Peter Ruff asked.
"It is doubtful," she answered. "Monsieur's stay in Paris was so
brief. If Monsieur will recognize his name - it is Jean Lemaitre
Peter Ruff started slightly.
"I thought," he said, with some hesitation, "that Lemaitre did not
visit this country."
"He came well disguised," the woman answered. "It was thought to
be safe. Nevertheless, it was a foolish thing. They have tracked
him down from hotel to apartments, till he lives now in the back
room of a wretched little caf=82 in Soho. Even from there we cannot
get him away - the whole district is watched by spies. We need help."
"For a genius like Lemaitre," Peter Ruff said, thoughtfully, "to
have even thought of Soho, was foolish. He should have gone to
Hampstead or Balham. It is easy to fool our police if you know how.
On the other hand, they hang on to the scent like leeches when once
they are on the trail. How many warrants are there out against Jean
in this country?"
"Better not ask that," the woman said, grimly. "You remember the
raid on a private house in the Holloway Road, two years ago, when
two policemen were shot and a spy was stabbed? Jean was in that
- it is sufficient!"
"Are any plans made at all?" Peter Ruff asked.
"But naturally," the woman answered. "There is a motor car, even
now, of sixty-horse-power, stands ready at a garage in Putney. If
Jean can once reach it, he can reach the coast. At a certain spot
near Southampton there is a small steamer waiting. After that,
everything is easy."
"My task, then," Peter Ruff said, thoughtfully, "is to take Jean
Lemaitre from this caf=82 in Soho, as far as Putney, and get him a
"It is enough," she answered. "There is a cordon of spies around
the district. Every day they seem to chose in upon us. They search
the houses, one by one. Only last night, the Hotel de Netherlands
- a miserable little place on the other side of the street - was
suddenly surrounded by policemen and every room ransacked. It may
be our turn to-night."
"In one hour's time," Peter Ruff said, glancing at his watch, "I
shall present myself as a doctor at the caf=82. Tell me the address.
Tell me what to say which will insure my admission to Jean Lemaitre!"
"The caf=82," she answered, "is called the Hotel de Flandres. You
enter the restaurant and you walk to the desk. There you find
always Monsieur Antoine. You say to him simply - 'The Double-Four!'
He will answer that he understands, and he will conduct you at once
"In the meantime," he said, "let it be understood in the caf=82 - if
there is any one who is not in the secret - that one of the waiters
is sick. I shall come to attend him."
She nodded thoughtfully.
"As well that way as any other," she answered. "Monsieur is very
kind. A bientot!"
She shook hands and they parted. Peter Ruff drove back to his
rooms, rang up an adjoining garage for a small covered car such as
are usually let out to medical men, and commenced to pack a small
black bag with the outfit necessary for his purpose. Now that he
was actually immersed in his work, the sense of depression had
passed away. The keen stimulus of danger had quickened his blood.
He knew very well that the woman had not exaggerated. There was
no man more wanted by the French or the English police than the man
who had sought his aid, and the district in which he had taken
shelter was, in some respects, the very worst for his purpose.
Nevertheless, Peter Ruff, who believed, at the bottom of his heart,
in his star, went on with his preparations feeling morally certain
that Jean Lemaitre would sleep on the following night in his native
At precisely the hour agreed upon, a small motor brougham pulled up
outside the door of the Hotel de Flandres. and its occupant - whom
ninety-nine men out of a hundred would at once, unhesitatingly, have
declared to be a doctor in moderate practice - pushed open the swing
doors of the restaurant and made his way to the desk. He was of
medium height; he wore a frock-coat - a little frayed; gray trousers
which had not been recently pressed; and thick boots.
"I understand that one of your waiters requires my attendance," he
said, in a tone not unduly raised but still fairly audible. "I am
"Dr. Gilette," Antoine repeated, slowly.
"And number Double-Four," the doctor murmured.
Antoine descended from his desk.
"But certainly, Monsieur!" he said. "The poor fellow declares that
he suffers. If he is really ill, he must go. It sounds brutal, but
what can one do? We have so few rooms here, and so much business.
Monsieur will come this way?"
Antoine led the way from the caf=82 into a very smelly region of
narrow passages and steep stairs.
"It is to be arranged?" Antoine whispered, as they ascended.
"Without a doubt," the doctor answered. "Were there spies in the
"Two," Antoine answered.
The doctor nodded, and said no more. He mounted to the third story.
Antoine led him through a small sitting-room and knocked four times
upon the door of an inner room. It suddenly was opened. A man -=20
unshaven, terrified, with that nameless fear in his face which one
sees reflected in the expression of some trapped animal - stood
there looking out at them.
"'Double-Four'!" the doctor said, softly. "Go back into the room,
please. Antoine will kindly leave us."
"Who are you?" the man gasped.
"'Double-Four'!" the doctor answered. "Obey me, and be quick for
your life! Strip!"
The man obeyed.
Barely twenty minutes later, the doctor - still carrying his bag -=20
descended the stairs. He entered the caf=82 from a somewhat remote
door. Antoine hurried to meet him, and walked by his side through
the place. He asked many questions, but the doctor contented
himself with shaking his head. Almost in silence he left Antoine,
who conducted him even to the door of his motor. The proprietor
of the caf=82 watched the brougham disappear, and then returned
to his desk, sighing heavily.
A man who had been sipping a liqueur dose at hand, laid down his
"One of your waiters ill, did I understand?" he asked. Monsieur
Antoine was at once eloquent. It was the ill-fortune which had
dogged him for the last four months! The man had been taken ill
there in the restaurant. He was a Gascon - spoke no English - and
had just arrived. It was not possible for him to be removed at the
moment, so he had been carried to an empty bedroom. Then had come
the doctor and forbidden his removal. Now for a week he had lain
there and several of his other voyageurs had departed. One did
not know how these things got about, but they spoke of infection.
The doctor, who had just left - Dr. Gilette of Russell Square, a
most famous physician - had assured him that there was no infection
- no fear of any. But what did it matter - that? People were so
hard to convince. Monsieur would like a cigar? But certainly!
There were here some of the best.
Antoine undid the cabinet and opened a box of Havanas. John Dory
selected one and called for another liqueur.
"You have trouble often with your waiters, I dare say," he remarked.
"They tell me that all Frenchmen who break the law in their own
country, find their way, sooner or later, to these parts. You have
to take them without characters, I suppose?"
Antoine lifted his shoulders.
"But what could one do?" he exclaimed. "Characters, they were easy
enough to write - but were they worth the paper they were written on?
"Not only your waiters," Dory continued, "but those who stay in the
hotels round here have sometimes an evil name."
Antoine shrugged his shoulders.
"For myself," he said, "I am particular. We have but a few rooms,
but we are careful to whom we let them."
"Do you keep a visitors' book?"
"But no, Monsieur!" Antoine protested. "For why the necessity?
There are so few who come to stay for more than the night - just
now scarcely any one at all."
There entered, at that moment, a tall, thin man dressed in dark
clothes, who walked with his hands in his overcoat pockets, as
though it were a habit. He came straight to Dory and handed him a
piece of paper.
John Dory glanced it through and rose to his feet. A gleam of
satisfaction lit his eyes.
"Monsieur Antoine," he said, "I am sorry to cause you any
inconvenience, but here is my card. I am a detective officer from
Scotland Yard, and I have received information which compels me
with your permission, to examine at once the sleeping apartments
in your hotel."
Antoine was fiercely indignant.
"But, Monsieur!" he exclaimed. "I do not understand! Examine my
rooms? But it is impossible! Who dares to say that I harbor
"I have information upon which I can rely," John Dory answered,
firmly. "This comes from a man who is no friend of mine, but he is
well-known. You can read for yourself what he says."
Monsieur Antoine, with trembling fingers, took the piece of paper
from John Dory's hands. It was addressed to -
Mr. JOHN DORY, DETECTIVE:
If you wish to find Jean Lemaitre, search in the upper rooms of
the Hotel de Flandres. I have certain information that he is to be
"Never," Antoine declared, "will I suffer such an indignity!"
Dory raised a police whistle to his lips.
"You are foolish," he said. "Already there is a cordon of men about
the place. If you refuse to conduct me upstairs I shall at once
place you under arrest."
Antoine, white with fear, poured himself out a liqueur of brandy.
"Well, well," he said, "what must be done, then! Come!"
He led the way out into that smelly network of passages, up the
stairs to the first floor. Room after room he threw open and
begged Dory to examine. Some of them were garishly furnished with
gilt mirrors, cheap lace curtains tied back with blue ribbons.
Others were dark, miserable holes, into which the fresh air seemed
never to have penetrated. On the third floor they reached the little
sitting-room, which bore more traces of occupation than some of the
rooms below. Antoine would have passed on, but Dory stopped him.
"There is a door there," he said. "We will try that."
"It is the sick waiter who lies within," Antoine protested.
"Monsieur can hear him groan."
There was, indeed, something which sounded like a groan to be heard,
but Dory was obstinate.
"If he is so ill," he demanded, "how is he able to lock the door on
the inside? Monsieur Antoine, that door must be opened."
Antoine knocked at it softly.
"Francois," he said, "there is another doctor here who would see
you. Let us in."
There was no answer, Antoine turned to his companion with a little
shrug of the shoulders, as one who would say - "I have done my best.
What would you have?"
Dory put his shoulder to the door.
"Listen," he shouted through the keyhole, "Mr. Sick Waiter, or
whoever you are, if you do not unlock this door, I am coming in!"
"I have no key," said a faint voice. "I am locked in. Please break
open the door."
"But that is not the Voice of Francois!" Antoine exclaimed, in
"We'll soon see who it is," Dory answered.
He charged at the door fiercely. At the third assault it gave way.
They found themselves in a small back bedroom, and stretched on the
floor, very pale, and apparently only half-conscious, lay Peter Ruff.
There was a strong smell of chloroform about. John Dory threw open
the window. His fingers trembled a little. It was like Fate - this!
At the end of every unsuccessful effort there was this man - Peter
"What the devil are you doing here?" he asked.
Peter Ruff groaned.
"Help me up," he begged, "and give me a little brandy."
Antoine set him in an easy-chair and rang the bell furiously.
"It will come directly!" he exclaimed. "But who are you?"
Peter Ruff waited for the brandy. When he had sipped it, he drew
a little breath as though of relief.
"I heard," he said, speaking still with an evident effort, "that
Lemaitre was here. I had secret information. I thought at first
that I would let you know - I sent you a note early this morning.
Afterwards, I discovered that there was a reward, and I determined
to track him down myself. He was in here hiding as a sick waiter.
I do not think," Peter Ruff added, "that Monsieur Antoine had any
idea. I presented myself as representing a charitable society, and
I was shown here to visit him. He was too clever, though, was Jean
Lemaitre - too quick for me."
"You were a fool to come alone!" John Dory said. "Don't you know
the man's record? How long ago did he leave?"
"About ten minutes," Peter Ruff answered. "You must have missed
him somewhere as you came up. I crawled to the window and I watched
him go. He left the restaurant by the side entrance, and took a
taxicab at the corner there. It went northward toward New Oxford
Dory turned on his heel - they heard him descending the stairs.
Peter Ruff rose to his feet.
"I am afraid," he said, as he plunged his head into a basin of water,
and came into the middle of the room rubbing it vigorously with a
small towel, "I am afraid that our friend John Dory will get to
dislike me soon! He passed out unnoticed, eh, Antoine?"
Antoine's face wore a look of great relief.
"There was not a soul who looked," he said. "We passed under the
nose of the gentleman from Scotland Yard. He sat there reading his
paper; and he had no idea. I watched Jean step into the motor.
Even by now he is well on his way southwards. Twice he changes
from motor to train, and back. They will never trace him."
Peter Ruff, who was looking amazingly better, sipped a further glass
of liqueur. Together he and Antoine descended to the street.
"Mind," Peter Ruff whispered, "I consider that accounts are squared
between me and 'Double-Four' now. Let them know that. This sort of
thing isn't in my line."
"For an amateur," Antoine said, bowing low, "Monsieur commands my
Mrs. BOGNOR'S STAR BOARDER
In these days, the duties of Miss Brown as Peter Ruff's secretary
had become multifarious. Together with the transcribing of a vast
number of notes concerning cases, some of which he undertook and
some of which he refused, she had also to keep his cash book, a
note of his investments and a record of his social engagements.=20
Notwithstanding all these demands upon her time, however, there
were occasions when she found herself, of necessity, idle. In one
of these she broached the subject which had often been in her mind.
They were alone, and not expecting callers. Consequently, she sat
upon the hearthrug and addressed her employer by his Christian name.
"Peter, she said softly, "do you remember the night when you came
through the fog and burst into my little flat?"
"Quite well," he answered, "but it is a subject to which I prefer
that you do not allude."
"I will be careful," she answered. "I only spoke of it for this
reason. Before you left, when we were sitting together, you
sketched out the career which you proposed for yourself. In many
respects, I suppose, you have been highly successful, but I wonder
if it has ever occurred to you that your work has not proceeded
upon the lines which you first indicated?"
"I think I know what you mean," he said. "Go on."
"That night," she murmured softly, "you spoke as a hunted man; you
spoke as one at war with Society; you spoke as one who proposes
almost a campaign against it. When you took your rooms here and
called yourself Peter Ruff, it was rather in your mind to aid the
criminal than to detect the crime. Fate seems to have decreed
otherwise. Why, I wonder?"
"Things have gone that way," Peter Ruff remarked.
"I will tell you why," she continued. "It is because, at the bottom
of your heart, there lurks a strong and unconquerable desire for
respectability. In your heart you are on the side of the law and
established things. You do not like crime; you do not like criminals.
You do not like the idea of associating with them. You prefer the
company of law-abiding people, even though their ways be narrow. It
was part of that sentiment, Peter, which led you to fall in love with
a coal-merchant's daughter. I can see that you will end your days
in the halo of respectability."
Peter Ruff was a little thoughtful. He scratched his chin and
contemplated the tip of his faultless patent boot. Self-analysis
interested him, and he recognized the truth of the girl's words.
"You know, I am rather like that," he admitted. "When I see a
family party, I envy them. When I hear of a man who has brothers
and sisters and aunts and cousins, and gives family dinner-parties
to family friends, I envy him. I do not care about the loose ends
of life. I do not care about restaurant life, and ladies who
transfer their regards with the same facility that they change their
toilettes. You have very admirable powers of observation, Violet.
You see me, I believe, as I really am."
"That being so," she remarked, "what are you going to say to Sir
Peter Ruff was frank.
"Upon my soul," he answered, "I don't know!"
"You'll have to make up your mind very soon," she reminded him.
"He is coming here at twelve o'clock."
Peter Ruff nodded.
"I shall wait until I hear what he has to say," he remarked.
"His letter gave you a pretty clear hint," Violet said, "that it
was something outside the law."
"The law has many outposts," Peter Ruff said. "One can thread one's
way in and out, if one knows the ropes. I don't like the man, but
he introduced me to his tailor. I have never had any clothes like
those he has made me."
"You are a vain little person," she said.
"You are an impertinent young woman!" he answered. "Get back to
your work. Don't you hear the lift stop?"
She rose reluctantly, and resumed her place in front of her desk.
"If it's risky," she whispered, leaning round towards him, "don't
you take it on. I've heard one or two things about Sir Richard
Peter Ruff nodded. He, too, quitted his easy-chair, and took up a
bundle of papers which lay upon his desk. There was a sharp tap at
"Come in!" he said.
Sir Richard Dyson entered. He was dressed quietly, but with the
perfect taste which was obviously an instinct with him, and he wore
a big bunch of violets in his buttonhole. Nevertheless, the spring
sunshine seemed to find out the lines in his face. His eyes were
baggy - he had aged even within the last few months.
"Well, Mr. Ruff," he said, shaking hands, "how goes it?"
"I am very well, Sir Richard," Peter Ruff answered. "Please take
Sir Richard took the easy-chair, and discovering a box of cigarettes
upon the table, helped himself. Then his eyes fell upon Miss Brown.
"Can't do without your secretary?" he remarked.
"Impossible!" Peter Ruff answered. "As I told you before, I am her
guarantee that what you say to me, or before her, is spoken as though
to the dead."
Sir Richard nodded.
"Just as well," he remarked, "for I am going to talk about a man who
I wish were dead!"
"There are few of us," Peter Ruff said, "who have not our enemies."
"Have you any experience of blackmailers?" Sir Richard asked.
"In my profession," Peter Ruff answered, "I have come across such
"I have come to see you about one," Sir Richard proceeded. "Many
years ago, there was a fellow in my regiment who went to the bad
- never mind his name. He passes to-day as Ted Jones - that name
will do as well as another. I am not," Sir Richard continued, "a
good-natured man, but some devilish impulse prompted me to help
that fellow. I gave him money three or four times. Somehow, I
don't think it's a very good thing to give a man money. He doesn't
value it - it comes too easily. He spends it and wants more."
"There's a good deal of truth in what you say, Sir Richard," Peter
"Our friend, for instance, wanted more," Sir Richard continued.
"He came to me for it almost as a matter of course. I refused.
He came again; I lost my temper and punched his head. Then his
little game began."
Peter Ruff nodded.
"He had something to work upon, I suppose?" he remarked.
"Most certainly he had," Sir Richard admitted. "If ever I achieved
sufficient distinction in any branch of life to make it necessary
that my biography should be written, I promise you that you would
find it in many places a little highly colored. In other words, Mr.
Ruff, I have not always adhered to the paths of righteousness."
A faint smile flickered across Peter Ruff's face.
"Sir Richard," he said, " your candor is admirable."
"There was one time," Sir Richard continued, "when I was really on
my last legs. It was just before I came into the baronetcy. I had
borrowed every penny I could borrow. I was even hard put to it for
a meal. I went to Paris, and I called myself by another man's name.
I got introduced to a somewhat exclusive club there. My assumed
name was a good one - it was the name, in fact, of a relative whom
I somewhat resembled. I was accepted without question. I played
cards, and I lost somewhere about eighteen thousand francs."
"A sum," Peter Ruff remarked, "which you probably found it
inconvenient to pay."
"There was only one course," Sir Richard continued, "and I took it.
I went back the next night and gave checks for the amount of my
indebtedness - checks which had no more chance of being met than if
I were to draw to-night upon the Bank of England for a million pounds.
I went back, however, with another resolve. I was considered to have
discharged my liabilities, and we played again. I rose a winner of
something like sixty thousand francs. But I played to win, Mr. Ruff!
Do you know what that means?"
"You cheated!" Peter Ruff said, in an undertone.
"Quite true," Sir Richard admitted. "I cheated! There was a
scandal, and I disappeared. I had the money, and though my checks
for the eighteen thousand francs were met, there was a considerable
balance in my pocket when I escaped out of France. There was enough
to take me out to America - big game shooting in the far West. No
one ever associated me with the impostor who had robbed these young
French noblemen - no one, that is to say, except the person who
passes by the name of Teddy Jones."
"How did he get to know?" Peter Ruff asked.
"The story wouldn't interest you," Sir Richard answered. "He was
in Paris at the time - we came across one another twice. He heard
the scandal, and put two and two together. I shipped him off to
Australia when I came into the title. He has come back. Lately,
I can tell you, he has pretty well drained me dry. He has become
a regular parasite a cold-blooded leech. He doesn't get drunk now.
He looks after his health. I believe he even saves his, money.
There's scarcely a week I don't hear from him. He keeps me a pauper.
He has brought me at last to that state when I feel that there must
be an ending!"
"You have come to seek my help," Peter Ruff said, slowly. "From
what you say about this man, I presume that he is not to be
"Not for a single moment," Sir Richard answered. "The law has no
terrors for him. He is as slippery as an eel. He has his story pat.
He even has his witnesses ready. I can assure you that Mr. Teddy
Jones isn't by any means an ordinary sort of person."
"He is not to be bluffed," Peter Ruff said, slowly; "he is not to
be bribed. What remains?"
"I have come here," Sir Richard said, "for your advice, Mr. Ruff."
"The blackmailer," Peter Ruff said, "is a criminal."
"He is a scoundrel!" Sir Richard assented.
"He is not fit to live," Peter Ruff repeated.
"He contaminates the world with every breath he draws!" Sir Richard
"Perhaps," Peter Ruff said, "you had better give me his address,
and the name he goes under."
"He lives at a boarding-house in Russell Street, Bloomsbury," Sir
Richard said. "It is Mrs. Bognor's boarding-house. She calls it,
I believe, the 'American Home from Home.' The number is 17."
"A boarding-house," Peter Ruff repeated, thoughtfully. "Makes it a
little hard to get at him privately, doesn't it?"
"Fling him a bait and he will come to you," Sir Richard answered.
"He is an adventurer pure and simple, though perhaps you wouldn't
believe it to look at him now. He has grown fat on the money he
has wrung from me."
"You had better leave the matter in my hands for a few days," Peter
Ruff said. "I will have a talk with this gentleman and see whether
he is really so unmanageable. If he is, there is, of course, only
one way, and for that way, Sir Richard, you would have to pay a
"If I were to hear to-morrow," Sir Richard said quietly, "that Teddy
Jones was dead, I would give five thousand pounds to the man who
brought me the information!"
Peter Ruff nodded.
"It would be worth that," he said - "quite! I will drop you a line
in the course of the next few days."
Sir Richard took up his hat, lit another of Peter Ruff's cigarettes,
and departed. They heard the rattle of the lift as it descended.
Then Miss Brown turned round in her chair.
"Don't you do it, Peter!" she said solemnly. "The time has gone by
for that sort of thing. The man may be unfit to live, but you don't
need to risk as much as that for a matter of five thousand pounds."
Peter Ruff nodded.
"Quite right," he said; "quite right, Violet. At the same time,
five thousand pounds is an excellent sum. We must see what can be
Peter Ruff's method of seeing what could be done was at first the
very obvious one of seeking to discover any incidents in the past
of the person known as Teddy Jones likely to reflect present
discredit upon him if brought to light. From the first, it was
quite clear that the career of this gentleman had been far from
immaculate. His researches proved, beyond a doubt, that the
gentleman in question had resorted, during the last ten or fifteen
years, to many and very questionable methods of obtaining a living.
At the same time, there was nothing which Peter Ruff felt that
the man might not brazen out. His present mode of life seemed
- on the surface, at any rate - to be beyond reproach. There
was only one association which was distinctly questionable, and it
was in this one direction, therefore, that Peter Ruff concentrated
himself. The case, for some reason, interested him so much that he
took a close and personal interest in it, and he was rewarded one
day by discovering this enemy of Sir Richard's sitting, toward five
o'clock in the afternoon, in a caf=82 in Regent Street, engrossed in
conversation with a person whom Peter Ruff knew to be a very black
sheep indeed - a man who had been tried for murder, and concerning
whom there were still many unpleasant rumors. From behind his paper
in a corner of the caf=82, Peter Ruff watched these two men. Teddy
Jones - or Major Edward Jones, as it seemed he was now called - was
a person whose appearance no longer suggested the poverty against
which he had been struggling most of his life. He was well dressed
and tolerably well turned out. His face was a little puffy, and
he had put on flesh during these days of his ease. His eyes, too,
had a somewhat furtive expression, although his general deportment
was one of braggadocio. Peter Ruff, quick always in his likes or
dislikes, found the man repulsive from the start. He felt that he
would have a genuine pleasure, apart from the matter of the five
thousand pounds, in accelerating Major Jones's departure from a
world which he certainly did not adorn.
The two men conducted their conversation in a subdued tone, which
made it quite impossible for Peter Ruff, in his somewhat distant
corner, to overhear a single word of it. It was obvious, however,
that they were not on the best of terms. Major Jones's companion
was protesting, and apparently without success, against some
course of action or speech of his companion s. The conversation,
on the other hand, never reached a quarrel, and the two men left
the place together apparently on ordinary terms of friendliness.
Peter Ruff at once quitted his seat and crossed the room toward
the spot where they had been sitting. He dived under the table
and picked up a newspaper - it was the only clue left to him as
to the nature of their conversation. More than once, Major Jones
who had, soon after their arrival, sent a waiter for it, had
pointed to a certain paragraph as though to give weight to his
statements. Peter Ruff had noticed the exact position of that
paragraph. He smoothed out the paper and found it at once. It
was an account of the murder of a wealthy old woman, living on
the outskirts of a country village not far from London. Peter
Ruff's face did not change as he called for another vermouth and
read the description, slowly. Yet he was aware that he had
possibly stumbled across the very thing for which he had searched
so urgently! The particulars of the murder he already knew well,
as at one time he had felt inclined to aid the police in their
so far fruitless investigations. He therefore skipped the
description of the tragedy, and devoted his attention to the last
paragraph, toward which he fancied that the finger of Major Jones
had been chiefly directed. It was a list of the stolen property,
which consisted of jewelry, gold and notes to a very considerable
amount. With the waiter's permission, he annexed the paper, cut
out the list of articles with a sharp penknife, and placed it in
his pocketbook before he left the caf=82.
In the course of some of the smaller cases with which Peter Ruff
had been from time to time connected, he had more than once come
into contact with the authorities at Scotland Yard, and he had
several acquaintances there - not including Mr. John Dory - to
whom, at times, he had given valuable information. For the first
time, he now sought some return for his many courtesies. He drove
straight from the caf=82 to the office of the Chief of the Criminal
Investigation Department. The questions he asked there were only
two, but they were promptly and courteously answered. Peter Ruff
left the building and drove back to his rooms in a somewhat
congratulatory frame of mind. After all, it was chance which was
the chief factor in the solution of so many of these cases! Often
he had won less success after months of untiring effort than he
had gained during that few minutes in the caf=82 in Regent Street.
Peter Ruff became an inmate of that very select boarding-house
carried on by Mrs. Bognor at number 17 Russell Street, Bloomsbury.
He arrived with a steamer trunk, an elaborate traveling-bag and a
dressing-case; took the best vacant room in the house, and dressed
for dinner. Mrs. Bognor looked upon him as a valuable addition
to her clientele, and introduced him freely to her other guests.
Among these was Major Edward Jones. Major Jones sat at Mrs.
Bognor's right hand, and was evidently the show guest of the
boarding-house. Peter Ruff, without the least desire to attack
his position, sat upon her left and monopolized the conversation.
On the third night it turned, by chance, upon precious stones.
Peter Ruff drew a little chamois leather bag from his pocket.
"I am afraid," he said, "that my tastes are peculiar. I have been
in the East, and I have seen very many precious stones in their
uncut state. To my mind, there is nothing to be compared with opals.
These are a few I brought home from India. Perhaps you would like
to look at them, Mrs. Bognor."
They were passed round, amidst a little chorus of admiration.
"The large one with the blue fire," Peter Ruff remarked, "is, I think,
remarkably beautiful. I have never seen a stone quite like it."
"It is wonderful!" murmured the young lady who was sitting at Major
Jones's right hand. "What a fortunate man you are, Mr. Ruff, to
have such a collection of treasures!"
Peter Ruff bowed across the table. Major Jones, who was beginning
to feel that his position as show guest was in danger, thrust his
hand into his waistcoat pocket and produced a lady's ring, in which
was set a single opal.
"Very pretty stones," he remarked carelessly, "but I can't say I am
very fond of them. Here's one that belonged to my sister, and my
grandmother before her. I have it in my pocket because I was
thinking of having the stone reset and making a present of it to a
friend of mine."
Peter Ruff's popularity waned - he had said nothing about making
a present to any one of even the most insignificant of his opals!
And the one which Major Jones now handed round was certainly a
magnificent stone. Peter Ruff examined it with the rest, and under
the pretext of studying the setting, gazed steadfastly at the inside
through his eyeglass. Major Jones, from the other side of the table,
frowned, and held out his hand for the ring.
"A very beautiful stone indeed!" Peter Ruff declared, passing it
across the tablecloth. "Really, I do not think that there is one
in my little collection to be compared with it. Have you many
treasures like this, Major Jones?"
"Oh, a few!" the Major answered carelessly, "family heirlooms,
most of them."
"You will have to give me the ring, Major Jones," the young lady
on his right remarked archly. "It's bad luck, you know, to give it
to any one who is not born in October, and my birthday is on the
"My dear Miss Levey," Major Jones answered, whispering in her ear,
"more unlikely things have happened than that I should beg your
acceptance of this little trifle."
"Sooner or later," Peter Ruff said genially, "I should like to have
a little conversation with you, Major. I fancy that we ought to be
able to find plenty of subjects of common interest."
"Delighted, I'm sure!" the latter answered, utterly unsuspicious.
"Shall we go into the smoking-room now, or would you rather play a
"If it is all the same to you," Peter Ruff said, "I think we will
have a cigar first. There will be plenty of time for bridge
"May I offer you a cigar, sir?" Major Jones inquired, passing across
a well-filled case.
Peter Ruff sighed.
"I am afraid, Major," he said, "that there is scarcely time. You
see, I have a warrant in my pocket for your arrest, and I am afraid
that by the time we got to the station - "
Major Jones leaned forward in his chair. He gripped the sides
tightly with both hands. His eyes seemed to be protruding from
"For my what?" he exclaimed, in a tone of horror.
"For your arrest," Peter Ruff explained calmly. "Surely you must
have been expecting it! During all these years you must have grown
used to expecting it at every moment!"
Major Jones collapsed. He looked at Ruff as one might look at a
man who has taken leave of his senses. Yet underneath it all was
the coward's fear!
"What are you talking about, man?" he exclaimed. "What do you mean?
Lower your voice, for heaven's sake! Consider my position here!
Some one might overhear! If this is a joke, let me tell you that
it's a d-d foolish one!"
Peter Ruff raised his eyebrows.
"I do not wish," he said, "to create a disturbance - my manner of
coming here should have assured you of that. At the same time,
business is business. I hold a warrant for your arrest, and I am
forced to execute it."
"Do you mean that you are a detective, then?" Major Jones demanded.
He was a big man, but his voice seemed to have grown very small
"Naturally," Peter Ruff answered. "I should not come here without
"What is the charge?" the other man faltered.
"Blackmail," Peter Ruff said slowly. "The information against you
is lodged by Sir Richard Dyson."
It seemed to Peter Ruff, who was watching his companion closely,
that a wave of relief passed over the face of the man who sat
cowering in his chair. He certainly drew a little gasp - stretched
out his hands, as though to thrust the shadow of some fear from him.
His voice, when he spoke, was stronger. Some faint show of courage
was returning to him.
"There is some ridiculous mistake," he declared. "Let us talk this
over like sensible men, Mr. Ruff. If you will wait until I have
spoken to Sir Richard, I can promise you that the warrant shall be
withdrawn, and that you shall not be the loser."
"I am afraid it is too late for anything of that sort," Peter Ruff
said. "Sir Richard's patience has been completely exhausted by your
"He never told me so," Major Jones whined. "I quite thought that
he was always glad to help an old friend. As a matter of fact, I
had not meant to ask him for anything else. The last few hundreds
I had from him was to have closed the thing up. It was the end."
Peter Ruff shook his head.
"No," he said, "it was not the end! It never would have been the
end! Sir Richard sought my advice, and I gave it him without
hesitation. Sooner or later, I told him, he would have to adopt
different measures. I convinced him. I represent those measures!"
"But the matter can be arranged," Major Jones insisted, with a
little shudder, "I am perfectly certain it can be arranged. Mr.
Ruff, you are not an ordinary police officer - I am sure of that.
Give me a chance of having an interview with Sir Richard before
anything more is done. I will satisfy him, I promise you that.
Why, if we leave the place together like this, every one here will
get to know about it!"
"Be reasonable," Peter Ruff answered. "Of course everyone will get
to know about it! Blackmailing cases always excite a considerable
amount of interest. Your photograph will probably be in the Daily
Mirror tomorrow or the next day. In the meantime, I must trouble
you to pay your respects to Mrs. Bognor and to come with me."
"To Sir Richard's house?" Major Jones asked, eagerly.
"To the police-stations" Peter Ruff answered.
Major Jones did not rise. He sat for a few moments with his head
buried in his hands.
"Mr. Ruff," he said hoarsely, "listen to me. I have been fortunate
lately in some investments. I am not so poor as I was. I have my
check-book in my pocket, and a larger balance in the bank now than
I have ever had before. If I write you a check for, say, a hundred
- no, two! - five!" he cried, desperately, watching Peter Ruff's
unchanging face - " five hundred pounds, will you come round with me
to Sir Richard's house in a hansom at once?"
Peter Ruff shook his head.
"Five thousand pounds would not buy your liberty from me, Major
Jones," he said.
The man became abject.
"Have pity, then," he pleaded. "My health is not good - I couldn't
stand imprisonment. Think of what it means to a man of my age
suddenly to leave everything worth having in life just because he
may have imposed a little on the generosity of a friend! Think how
you would feel, and be merciful!"
Peter Ruff shook his head slowly. His face was immovable, but there
was a look in his eyes. from which the other man shrank.
"Major Jones," he said, "you ask me be merciful. You appeal to my
pity. For such as you I have no pity, nor have I ever shown any
mercy. You know very well, and I know, that when once the hand of
the law touches your shoulder, it will not be only a charge o
blackmail which the police will bring against you!"
"There is nothing else - nothing else!" he cried. "Take half my
fortune, Mr. Ruff. Let me get away. Give me a chance - just a
"I wonder," Peter Ruff said, "what chance that poor old lady in
Weston had? No, I am not saying you murdered her. You never had
the pluck. Your confederate did that, and you handled the booty.
What were the initials inside that ring you showed us to-night,
"Let me go to my bedroom," he said, in a strange, far-away tone.
"You can come with me and stand outside."
Peter Ruff assented.
"To save scandal," he said, "yes!"
Three flights of stairs they climbed. When at last they reached
the door, the trembling man made one last appeal.
"Mr. Ruff," he said, "have a little mercy. Give me an hour's start
- just a chance for my life!"
Peter Ruff pushed him in the door.
"I am not a hard man," he said, "but I keep my mercy for men!"
He took the key from the inside of the door, locked it, and with
the key in his pocket descended to the drawing-room. The young
lady who had sat on Major Jones's right was singing a ballad.
Suddenly she paused in the middle of her song. The four people
who were playing bridge looked up. Mrs. Bognor screamed.
"What was that?" she asked quickly.
"It sounded," Peter Ruff said, "very much like revolver shot."
"I see," Sir Richard remarked, with a queer look in his eyes, as
he handed over a roll of notes to Peter Ruff, "the jury brought it
in 'Suicide'! What I can't understand is - "
"Don't try," Peter Ruff interrupted briskly. "It isn't in the bond
that you should understand."
Sir Richard helped himself to a drink. A great burden had passed
from his shoulders, but he was not feeling at his best that morning.
He could scarcely keep his eyes from Peter Ruff.
"Ruff," he said, "I have known you some time, and I have known you
to be a square man. I have known you to do good-natured actions.
I came to you in desperation but I scarcely expected this!"
Peter Ruff emptied his own tumbler and took up his hat.
"Sir Richard," he said, "you are like a good many other people. Now
that the thing is done, you shrink from the thought of it. You even
wonder how I could have planned to bring about the death of this man.
Listen, Sir Richard. Pity for the deserving, or for those who have
in them one single quality, one single grain, of good, is a sentiment
which deserves respect. Pity for vermin, who crawl about the world
leaving a poisonous trail upon everything they touch, is a false
and unnatural sentiment. For every hopelessly corrupt man who is
induced to quit this life there is a more deserving one, somewhere
or other, for whom the world is a better place."
"So that, after all, you are a philanthropist, Mr. Ruff," Sir Richard
said, with a forced smile.
Peter Ruff shook his head.
"A philosopher," he answered, buttoning up his notes.
THE PERFIDY OF MISS BROWN
Peter Ruff came down to his office with a single letter in his hand,
bearing a French postmark. He returned his secretary's morning
greeting a little absently, and seated himself at his desk.
"Violet," he asked, "have you ever been to Paris?"
She looked at him compassionately.
"More times than you, I think, Peter," she answered.
"That," he exclaimed, "is very possible! Could you get ready to
leave by the two-twenty this afternoon?"
"What, alone?" she exclaimed.
"No - with me," he answered.
She shut down her desk with a bang.
"Of course I can!" she exclaimed. "What a spree!"
Then she caught sight of a certain expression on Peter Ruff's face,
and she looked at him wonderingly.
"Is anything wrong, Peter?" she asked.
"No," he answered, "I cannot say that anything is wrong. I have
had an invitation to present myself before a certain society in
Paris of which you have some indirect knowledge. What the summons
means I cannot say."
"Yet you go?" she exclaimed.
"I go," he answered. "I have no choice. If I waited here
twenty-four hours, I should hear of it."
"They can have nothing against you," she said. "On the contrary,
the only time they have appealed for your aid, you gave it - very
valuable aid it must have been, too."
Peter Ruff nodded.
"I cannot see," he admitted, "what they can have against me. And
yet, somehow, the wording of my invitation seemed to me a little
ominous. Perhaps," he added, walking to the window and standing
looking out for a moment, "I have a liver this morning. I am
depressed. Violet, what does it mean when you are depressed?"
"Shall you wear your gray clothes for traveling?" she asked, a
"I have not made up my mind," Peter Ruff answered. "I thought of
wearing my brown, with a brown overcoat. What do you suggest?"
"I like you in brown," she answered, simply. "I should change, if
I were you."
He smiled faintly.
"I believe," he said, "that you have a sort of superstition that as
I change my clothes I change my humors."
"Should I be so very far wrong?" she asked. "Don't think that I
am laughing at you, Peter. The greatest men in the world have had
Peter Ruff frowned.
"We shall be away for several days," he said. "Be sure that you
take some wraps. It will be cold, crossing."
"Are you going to close the office altogether?" she asked.
Peter Ruff nodded.