Part 2 out of 6
"I was not aware," I said, "that this was a private restaurant."
"But these are private rooms," he answered. "Still, if it was a
mistake,--I trust mademoiselle always."
She held out her hands to him with a theatrical gesture.
"Henri," she cried, "you could not doubt me! It is impossible!"
"You are right," he answered quickly. "I was too hasty."
I smiled upon them both.
"Mademoiselle," I said, "I am sorry that our pleasant little
conversation has been interrupted. Believe me, though, to be always
your devoted slave."
I opened the door. Monsieur Bartot turned towards me. I am convinced
that he was about to offer me his hand and to call for that bottle of
wine. I felt, however, that flight was safest. I went out and closed
"The bill, monsieur?" a waiter called after me as I descended the
I gave him five francs for a _pour boire_.
"Monsieur there will pay," I told him, pointing towards the room.
I arrived at the Ritz to find Louis walking impatiently up and down
the stone-flagged pavement outside the entrance. He came up to me
eagerly as I approached.
"I have been waiting for you for more than an hour!" he exclaimed.
I looked at him in some surprise. I had not yet grown accustomed to
hear him speak in such a tone.
"Did I say that I was coming straight back?" I asked.
"Of course not," he answered. "After you left, though, I had some
trouble with Monsieur Grisson. There is a chance that we may have to
move Tapilow to a hospital, and he is just one of those fools who
talk. Monsieur Grisson insists upon it that you leave Paris by the
four o'clock train this afternoon."
I shook my head.
"I could not catch it," I declared. "It is half-past three now."
"On the other hand, you can and you must," Louis answered. "I took the
liberty of telephoning in your name and ordering the valet to pack
your clothes. Your luggage is in the hall there, and that automobile
is waiting to take you to the Gare du Nord."
I opened my mouth to protest, but Louis' manner underwent a further
"Captain Rotherby," he said, "it is I and my friends who save you,
perhaps, from a considerable inconvenience. Forgive me if I remind you
of this, but it is not fitting that you should argue with us on this
Louis was right. For more reasons than he knew of, it was well that I
should leave Paris.
"Are you coming with me?" I asked.
"I am crossing by the night boat," Louis answered. "I have not quite
finished the work for which I came over. I have some things to buy."
"Upon my word," I said, "I had forgotten your profession."
I went back into the hotel and paid my bill. Louis drove with me to
the station and saw to the registration of my luggage. Afterwards he
found my reserved seat, in which I arranged my rug and books. Then I
turned and walked down the corridor with him.
"I trust," he said, "that monsieur will have a pleasant journey and
I glanced into the _coupe_ which we were just passing. It seemed
curious that even as the wish left his lips I should find myself
looking into the dark eyes of the girl whose face had been so often in
my thoughts during the last few days! Opposite her was the
gray-bearded man Delora, already apparently immersed in a
novel. Every seat in the compartment was laden with their small
belongings,--dressing-bags, pillows, a large jewel-case, books,
papers, flowers, and a box of chocolates. I turned to Louis.
"Again," I remarked, "we meet friends. What a small place the world
We stepped down on to the platform. Louis, for some reason, seemed
slightly nervous. He glanced up at the clock and watched the few late
arrivals with an interest which was almost intense.
"Monsieur," he said, a little abruptly, "there is a question which I
should like to ask you before you leave."
"There are a good many I should like to ask you, Louis," I answered,
"but they will keep. Go ahead."
"I should like to know," Louis said, "where you spent the hour which
passed between your leaving the Cafe Normandy and arriving at the
I hesitated for a moment. After all, I had no reason to keep my
movements secret. It was better, indeed, to avoid complications so far
"You shall know if you like, Louis," I said. "I kept my appointment
with the young lady of the turquoises."
Louis' pale face seemed suddenly strained.
"It was my fault!" he muttered. "I should not have left you! You do
not understand how those affairs are here in Paris! If Bartot knew--"
"Bartot did know," I interrupted.
Louis' face was a study.
"Bartot came in while I was talking to mademoiselle," I said.
"There was a scene?" Louis inquired breathlessly. "Bartot threatened
monsieur? Perhaps there were blows?"
"Nothing of the sort," I answered. "Bartot blustered a little and
mademoiselle wrung her hands, but they played their parts badly.
Between you and me, Louis, I have a sort of an idea that Bartot's
coming was not altogether accidental."
"It was a trap," Louis murmured softly. "But why?"
I shook my head.
"Louis," I said, "I am the wrong sort of man to be even a temporary
dweller in this nest of intrigue. I do not understand it at all. I do
not understand any of you. I only know that I owe you and those other
gentlemen a very considerable debt, and I have been solemnly warned
against you by the young lady whom I met at the Cafe de Paris. I have
been assured that association with you is the first step toward my
undoing. Monsieur Bartot, for all his bluster, seemed very anxious to
"It was the girl!" Louis exclaimed. "Bartot was too big a fool to
"I fear that I am in the same position as Monsieur Bartot," I said. "I
do not understand!"
There was a warning cry. I had only just time to swing myself on to
the slowly moving train. Louis ran for a moment by the side.
"Those people are harmless," he said. "They merely wished, if they
could, to make use of you. Mademoiselle has tied other fools to her
chariot wheels before now, that Bartot may grow fat. But, monsieur!"
I leaned over to catch his words.
"If Monsieur or Mademoiselle Delora should address you," he said, "you
need have no fear. They are not of the same order as Bartot and
"I will remember," I answered, waving my farewells.
I regained my compartment, which I was annoyed to find had filled up
till mine was the only vacant seat. I had not had time to buy any
papers or magazines, but, after all, I had enough to interest me in my
thoughts. Of Tapilow I scarcely thought at all. He and I had met, and
I had kept my oath. So far as I was concerned, that was the end. I had
not even any fears for my own safety as regards this matter. My
interview with Decresson and his friend had had a curiously convincing
effect upon me. I felt that I had been tried for my crime, and
acquitted, in the most orthodox fashion. For me the curtain had fallen
upon that tragedy. It was the other things which occupied my mind. I
seemed to have found my way into a maze, to have become mixed up in
certain affairs in a most mysterious and inexplicable way. What was
the meaning of that place to which Louis had introduced me? Was it
some sort of secret organization,--an organization which assumed to
itself, at any rate, the power to circumvent the police? And Bartot,
too! Had he really the power which Louis had declared him to possess?
If so, why had he baited a clumsy trap for me and permitted me to walk
out of it untouched? What did they want from me, these people? The
thought was utterly confusing. I could find absolutely no
explanation. Then, again, another puzzle remained. I remembered Louis'
desire, almost command, that I should return to London by this
particular train. Had he any reason for it? Was it connected in any
way, I wondered, with the presence of this man and girl in the next
compartment? It seemed feasible, even if inexplicable.
I rose and strolled down the corridor, looking in at the _coupe_
where these two people sat, with all the banal impertinence of the
curious traveller. The girl met my eyes once and afterwards simply
ignored me. The man never looked up from his magazine. I passed and
repassed three or four times. The effect was always the same. At last
I resumed my seat. At any rate, they showed no pressing desire to make
At Boulogne I descended at once into the saloon and made a hasty
meal. When I came up on deck in the harbor I found that the chair
which I had engaged was lashed close to the open door of a private
cabin, and in the door of that cabin, standing within a few feet of
me, was the niece of Monsieur Delora. I racked my brains for something
to say. She gave me no encouragement whatever. At last I descended to
"We shall have rather a rough crossing, I am afraid," I said, touching
She looked at me as though surprised that I should have ventured to
address her. She did not take the trouble to be annoyed. She answered
me, indeed, with civility, but in a manner which certainly did not
encourage me to attempt any further conversation. There was a moment's
pause. Then she turned away and spoke to some one behind her in the
cabin. A moment or two later the door was closed and I was left
alone. After that it seemed ridiculous to imagine that there was any
special significance to be attached to the fact that we were fellow
The crossing was a rough one, and I saw nothing more of either Delora
or the girl. I had very little hand baggage, and I was one of the
first to reach the train, where I made myself comfortable in the
corner seat of a carriage towards the rear end. The inspector, whom I
knew very well, locked my door, and until the last moment it seemed as
though I should have the compartment to myself. The train, indeed, was
on the point of starting, and I had almost given up looking out for my
fellow passengers when they came hurrying up along the platform. I saw
them glancing into the windows of every carriage in the hope of
finding a seat. Two porters carried their small baggage. An
obsequious guard followed in the rear. Just as they were opposite to
the carriage in which I was sitting the whistle blew.
"Plenty of room higher up!" the inspector exclaimed. "Take your
"We will get in here," the girl answered,--"that is to say, unless it
is a reserved carriage. Please to open the door at once."
The inspector hesitated, remembering the tip which I had given him,
but he had no alternative. The guard produced his key and opened the
door. It was not until that moment that the girl recognized me. She
stepped back, and the look which she threw in my direction was
certainly not flattering.
"Can you find us another carriage?" she asked the guard, imperiously.
"Quite impossible, miss," the man answered. "You must get in here or
be left behind."
They had barely time to take their seats. As my place was next to the
window, I felt bound to help the porter hand in the small packages.
The man Delora, who was wrapped up in a fur coat, and who looked
ghastly ill, thanked me courteously enough, but the girl ignored my
assistance. They took the two corner seats at the further end of the
carriage. Delora immediately composed himself to sleep.
"It was a wretched crossing!" he said to the girl,--"the most
miserable crossing I have ever had! And these trains,--so small, so
She shrugged her shoulders.
"When one travels," she said, "I suppose that one must put up with
inconveniences of all sorts."
I knew very well that the last part of her sentence not only had
reference to me, but was intended for my hearing. I affected,
however, to be absorbed in the magazine which I was reading, and under
cover of which I was able to make a close observation of the man, who
was sitting on the same side as myself. He had put up his feet and
closed his eyes, but he had evidently suffered badly from sea-sickness,
for his face remained almost deathly white, and he shivered now and
then as though with cold. He had lost the well-groomed air which had
distinguished him in Paris. His features were haggard and worn, and he
looked at least ten years older. His clothes were excellently made,
and the fur coat which he had wrapped around himself was
magnificent. For the rest, he seemed tired out--a man utterly wearied
of life. Before we had reached the town station he was asleep.
The train rushed on into the darkness, and after a time I ventured to
glance toward the girl. She, too, was leaning back in her place, but
her face was turned a little away from me towards the window, through
which she was gazing with the obvious intentness of one whose thoughts
are far away. I had all my life been used to observing closely people
of either sex who interested me, and I found now, as I had found
during those various accidental meetings in Paris, that the study of
this young woman afforded me a peculiar pleasure. Apart from her more
personal fascination, she was faultlessly dressed. She wore a black
tailor-made suit, perhaps a little shorter than is usual for
travelling in England, patent shoes,--long and narrow,--and black silk
stockings. Her hat was a small toque, and her veil one of those for
which Frenchwomen are famous,--very large, but not in the least
disfiguring. This, however, she had raised for the present, and I was
able to study the firm but fine profile of her features, to notice the
delicacy of her chin, her small, well-shaped ears, her eyebrows--black
and silky. Her eyes themselves were hidden from me, but their color
had been the first thing which had attracted me. They were of a blue
so deep that sometimes they seemed as black as her eyebrows
themselves. It was only when she smiled or came into a strong light
that they seemed suddenly to flash almost to violet. Her figure was
slim--she was, indeed, little more than a girl--but very shapely and
elegant. She could scarcely be called tall, but there was something
in her carriage which seemed to exaggerate her height. The very poise
of her head indicated a somewhat contemptuous indifference to the
people amongst whom she moved.
I had kept my scrutiny under control, prepared for any sudden movement
on the part of the girl; but after all she was too quick for me. She
turned from the window with a perfectly natural movement, and yet so
swiftly that our eyes met before I could look away. She leaned a
little forward in her place, and her forehead darkened.
"Perhaps, sir," she said, "you will be good enough to tell me the
meaning of your persistent impertinence?"
A TRAVELLING ACQUAINTANCE
Her words were so unexpected that for a moment or two I was
speechless. On the whole, I scarcely felt that I deserved the cold
contempt of her voice or the angry flash in her eyes.
"I am afraid I don't understand you," I said. "If you refer to the
fact that I was watching you with some interest at that moment, I
suppose I must plead guilty. On the other hand, I object altogether to
the term 'impertinence.'"
"And why do you object?" she asked, looking at me steadily, and
beating with her little hand the arm-rest by her side. "If your
behavior is not impertinence, pray what is it? We meet at the Opera.
You look. It is not enough for you that you look once, but you look
twice, three times. You come out on to the pavement to hear the
address which my uncle gives the chauffeur. We go to a restaurant for
supper, where only the few are admitted. You are content to be
brought by a waiter, but you are there! You travel to England by the
same train,--you walk up and down past my compartment. You presume to
address me upon the boat. You give a fee to the guard that he should
put us in your carriage. Yet you object to the term 'impertinence'!"
"I do," I answered, "most strongly. I consider your use of the word
absolutely uncalled for."
She looked across at the sleeping man. He was breathing heavily, and
was evidently quite unconscious of our conversation.
"Your standard of manners is, I am afraid, a peculiar one," she said.
"In Paris one is used always to be stared at. Englishmen, I was told,
She took up a magazine and turned away with a shrug of the shoulders.
I leaned a little further forward in my place, and lowered my voice so
as not to disturb the sleeping man.
"You are really unjust to me," I said. "I will plead guilty to
noticing you at the Opera House, but I did so as I would have done any
well-dressed young woman who formed a part of the show there. So far
as regards my visit to the Cafe des Deux Epingles, I went at the
suggestion of Louis, whom I met by accident, and who is the _maitre
d'hotel_ at my favorite restaurant. I had no idea that you were
going to be there. On the contrary, I distinctly heard your companion
tell your chauffeur to drive to the Ritz. I came on this train by
accident, and although it is true that I spoke to you as I might have
done to any other travelling companion, I deny that there was anything
in the least impertinent either in what I said or how I said it. So
far as regards your coming into this carriage," I added, "I feed the
guard to keep it to myself, and although I will not say that your
presence is unwelcome, it is certainly unsought for."
She was silent for a moment, watching me all the time intently. My
words seemed to have given her food for thought.
"Listen," she said, leaning forward. "Do you mean to say that that was
your first visit to the Cafe des Deux Epingles?"
"Absolutely my first visit," I answered. "I met Louis by accident that
night. He knew that I was bored, and he took me there."
"You met him at the Opera and you asked him who we were," she
"That is quite true," I admitted, "but I scarcely see that there was
anything impertinent in that. Afterwards we spoke together for a
little time. I told him that I was alone in Paris and bored. It was
because I was alone that we went out together."
Her forehead was wrinkled with perplexity. Her eyes seemed always to
be seeking mine, as though anxious to learn whether I were indeed
speaking the truth.
"I do not understand at all," she said. "You mean to tell me, then,
that you know nothing of Louis except as a _maitre d'hotel_, that
you were a chance visitor to Paris this week?"
"Absolutely," I answered.
Suddenly a thought seemed to occur to her. She drew away from me. In
her eyes I seemed to see reflected the tragedy of those few moments in
the Cafe des Deux Epingles.
"How can I believe you?" she exclaimed. "Remember that I saw you
strike that man! It was horrible! I have never seen anything like it!
You were like a wild animal! They tell me that he was very badly
hurt. Is it true?"
"I believe so," I answered. "I am afraid that I hope so."
"And you," she continued, "go free! You have not even the air of one
who flies for his life. Yet you tell me that you are not one of
"Those what?" I asked eagerly.
"Those who frequent the Cafe des Deux Epingles," she said
slowly,--"those who take advantage of the peculiar protection which
some of those behind the scenes there are able to extend to their
I shook my head.
"I know nothing of the place beyond that brief visit," I answered. "I
know nothing of Louis except as a _maitre d'hotel_ in my favorite
restaurant. I know nothing of the people who frequent the Cafe des
Deux Epingles except those I saw there that night. You," I added,
"were one of them. I can assure you that when I went with Louis to
that place I had not the slightest idea that I should meet the person
whom I did meet."
"What is your name?" she asked abruptly.
I handed her my card. She read it with a perplexed face. The man
opposite to her moved uneasily in his sleep. She crumpled the card up
in her hands and remained for a few moments apparently deep in
"You are an Englishman?" she asked, after a short pause.
"Decidedly!" I answered.
"I have not known many Englishmen," she said slowly. "I have lived in
the country, near Bordeaux, and in Paris, most of my days. It is very
certain, though, that I have never seen an Englishman like you. I was
looking into your eyes when that man came into the room. I saw you
rise to strike him."
She shuddered. I leaned across towards her.
"Listen," I said, "I do not wish you to think me worse than I am. You
sympathize with that man whom I struck down. You look upon me as a
sort of would-be assassin. You need not. I tell you, upon my honor,
that if ever a man in this world deserved death, he deserved it."
"From you?" she asked.
"From me!" I answered firmly. "It was not, perhaps, a personal matter,
but I have a brother,--listen, mademoiselle!" I continued. "He is a
cripple. He was thrown from his horse--he was master of hounds in
those days--and he has never been able to walk since. He was married
to a woman whom he loved, a poor girl whom he had made wealthy, and to
whom he had given a great position. She loved him, and she was
content, after his accident, to give her life to him. Then that man
came, the man whom you saw me punish. I tell you that this was no
chance affair," I went on. "He set himself deliberately to win her
heart. How far he succeeded I do not know. I can only tell you that
she left my brother's home with him. The man was his guest at the
time,--was his guest from the beginning of the affair."
The girl's eyes blazed. Even in that dim light I could see the dark
blue fire in them.
"You did well!" she said. "For that I have no more to say. One who
wrongs the helpless should be punished. But I do not understand
this," she added. "I do not understand why those people at the Cafe
des Deux Epingles should shield you when you are not one of
them,--when you have no knowledge of any of them save the very
slightest. They are not philanthropists, those people. Some day or
other you will have to pay the price!"
I shrugged my shoulders.
"I have never refused to pay my just debts," I said. "If any one of
them comes to me with a definite request which I can grant, you may be
very sure that I shall grant it."
"You are not already their servant, then?" she asked. "You are sure,
quite sure of that?"
"In what way?" I asked.
"You look honest," she said. "Perhaps you are. Perhaps I have doubted
you without a cause. But I will ask you this question. Has it been
suggested to you by any of them that you should watch us--my uncle and
"On my honor, no!" I answered earnestly.
She was evidently puzzled. Little by little the animosity seemed to
have died away from her face. She looked at the sleeping man
thoughtfully, and then once more at me.
"Tell me," she said,--"do not think, please, that I am inquisitive,
but I should like to believe that you are not one of those whom we
need fear,--is Louis indeed an ordinary acquaintance of yours?"
"He is scarcely that," I answered. "He is simply the _maitre
d'hotel_ at a restaurant I frequent. I had never in my life seen
him before, except in his restaurant. When he spoke to me at the Opera
I did not for some time recognize him."
She appeared to be convinced, but still a little bewildered. She was
"Don't you think," I said, after a short pause, "that it is almost my
turn now to ask a few questions?"
She seemed surprised.
"Why not?" she asked.
"Tell me, you are not English," I said, "and you are not French. Yet
you speak English so well."
"My father was a Frenchman and my mother a Spaniard," she answered. "I
was born in South America, but I came to Europe when very young, and
have lived in France always. My people"--she looked towards the
sleeping man as though to include him--"are all coffee planters."
"You are going to stay long in London?" I asked.
"My uncle sells his year's crops there," she answered. "When he has
finished his business we move on."
"Will you tell me, then," I asked, "why you, too, were at the Cafe des
Deux Epingles? You admit that it is the resort of people of mysterious
habits. What place had you there?"
She looked away from me for a moment. My question seemed to disconcert
her, perhaps by reason of its directness.
"Well," she said, "my uncle has lived for many years in Paris. He
knows it as well as the Parisians themselves. He has always had a
taste for adventure, and I fancy that he has friends who are
interested in the place. At any rate, I have been there with him two
or three times, and he is always welcome."
"From what I have heard," I remarked, "I should imagine that you and I
are the only people who have been allowed to go there without
She glanced as though by accident at the sleeping man opposite. Then,
as though conscious of what she had done, a spot of color burned in
her cheeks. Since the anger which had first inspired her to speech had
died away, her manner had been a little shy. I realized more and more
that she must be quite young.
"Perhaps," she answered. "I do not understand the place or its
habitues. I only know that while one is there, one must be careful."
"Tell me," I asked, "what are you going to do in London while your
uncle looks after his business?"
"Amuse myself as best I can, I suppose," she answered
carelessly. "There are always the shops, and the theatres in the
"Where are you going to stay?" I inquired.
"At the Milan, I think," she answered.
Somehow her answer to my question struck me as ominous. To the Milan,
of course, where Louis was all the time predominant! The girl might be
innocent enough of all wrong-doing or knowledge of wrong-doing, but
could one think the same of her uncle? I glanced at him instinctively.
In sleep, his features were by no means prepossessing.
"I may come across you, then," I ventured.
She smiled at me. It was wonderful what a difference the smile made
in her face. To me she seemed at that moment radiantly beautiful.
"It would be very pleasant," she said. "I know no one in London. I
expect to be alone a great deal. You live in London?" she asked.
"As much there as anywhere," I answered. "I have never settled down
since I sent in my papers."
"Why did you do that?" she asked.
"I was badly knocked about at Ladysmith," I answered, "and I could not
get round in time. I haven't altogether finished soldiering, though,"
I added. "At least, I hope not."
"But where do you call your home, then?" she asked timidly.
"I am not one of those fortunate persons who possess one," I
answered. "I spend a great deal of time in Norfolk with my brother,
and I have just a couple of rooms in town."
The train had slackened speed. All around us was a wide-spreading arc
of yellow lights. The clearness had gone from the atmosphere. The
little current of air which came in through the half-open window was
already murky and depressing.
"It is London?" she asked.
"We shall be there in ten minutes," I answered, looking out.
She leaned over and waked her uncle. He sat up drowsily.
"We shall be there in ten minutes," she said.
"So soon!" he answered. "Do you know on which side we arrive, sir?" he
"On your side," I answered.
He rose to his feet, and commenced to wrap a scarf around his neck.
"You will be smothered," the girl remarked.
"I am cold," he answered, in a low tone. "I am always cold after I
have crossed the Channel. Besides, it is the damp air. You, too, will
find it so in London, Felicia. You must be careful."
Already he was peering out of the window into the darkness. I could
not help wondering whether it was sea-sickness alone which was
responsible for his haggard features, for that grim look of covert
fear which seemed to have settled around his mouth and eyes. To me he
seemed like a man who is about to face the unknown, and who fears!
The train began to slacken pace. We drew into the station. I noticed
that a man was standing by himself at this remote end of the platform,
and that as we passed he seemed to look intently into our carriage.
"Can I be of any service to you?" I asked the girl, as I collected my
small belongings. "I suppose, though, that your uncle is used to the
She glanced towards the man opposite. He turned to me, and I found his
appearance almost terrifying. He seemed to be suffering from more than
"I thank you, sir," he said rapidly. "You could, if you would, be of
"I should be delighted," I answered. "Tell me in what way?"
"I am exceedingly ill," the man said, with a groan. "I suffer from
heart attacks, and the crossing has altogether upset me. If you could
remain with my niece while our luggage is examined, and send her
afterwards to the Milan Hotel, you would do a real favor to a sick
man. I could myself take a hansom there without waiting for a moment,
and get to bed. Nothing else will do me any good."
I glanced across at the girl. She was watching her uncle with
"If you will allow me," I said, "it will give me very great pleasure
to look after you. I am going to the Milan myself, and I, too, have
luggage to be examined."
"It is very kind of you," she said hesitatingly. "Don't you think,
though," she added, turning to her uncle, "that I had better go with
you? We could send a servant for the luggage afterwards."
"No, no!" he objected impatiently. "I shall call at the chemist's. I
shall get something that will put me right quickly."
"It is settled, then," I declared.
Apparently Delora thought so. The train had scarcely come to a
standstill, but already he had descended. Avoiding the platform, he
crossed straight on to the roadway, and was lost amidst the tangle of
cabs. I turned to the girl, affecting not to notice his extraordinary
"We will have our small things put into an omnibus," I said. "There
will be plenty of time afterwards to come back and look for our
"You are very kind," she murmured absently.
Her eyes were still watching the spot where her companion had
I was fortunate enough to find a disengaged omnibus, and filled it
with our rugs and smaller belongings. Then we made our way slowly back
to the little space prepared for the reception of the heavier baggage,
and around which a barrier had already been erected. There was a
slight nervousness in my companion's manner which made conversation
difficult. I, too, could not help feeling that the situation was a
difficult one for her.
"I am afraid," I remarked, "that you are worried about your uncle. Is
his health really bad, or is this just a temporary attack? I thought
he looked well enough in the train on the other side."
"He suffers sometimes," she answered, "but I do not think it is
anything really serious."
"He will be all right by the time we get to the hotel," I declared.
"Very likely," she answered. "For myself, I think that I always feel a
little nervous when I arrive at a strange place. I have never been
here before, you know, and I could not help wondering, for a moment,
what would become of me if my uncle were really taken ill. Everyone
says that London is so big and cold and heartless."
"You would have nothing to fear," I assured her. "You forget, too,
that your uncle has friends here."
We leaned over the barrier and watched the luggage being handed out of
the vans and thrown on to the low wooden platforms. By my side a dark
young man, with sallow features and _pince nez_, was apparently
passing his time in the same manner. My companion, who was restless
all the time, glanced at him frequently, or I should scarcely have
noticed his existence. In dress and appearance he resembled very much
the ordinary valet in private service, except for his eye-glasses, and
that his face lacked the smooth pastiness of the class. For some
reason or other my companion seemed to take a dislike to him.
"Come," she said to me, "we will move over to the other side. I think
we shall get in quicker."
I followed her lead, and I saw her glance back over her shoulder at
the young man, who seemed unaware, even, of her departure.
"I do hate being listened to," she said, "even when one is talking
about nothing in particular!"
"Who was listening to us?" I asked.
"The young man next to you," she answered. "I could see him look up in
that horrid stealthy way from under his eyelids."
"You are a very observant person," I remarked.
She drew a little closer to me. Somehow or other I found the sense of
her near presence a delightful thing. All her garment seemed imbued
with a faint perfume, as though of violets.
"I think that I have only become so quite lately," she said. "Perhaps
it is because I have lived such a quiet life, and now things are so
different. My uncle has been so mysterious, especially during the last
few days, and I suppose it has made me suspicious. Wherever we go, I
always seem to fancy that some one is watching us. Besides, I am sure
that that young man was a South American, and I hate South Americans!"
"I fancy," I said, "that the attention he bestowed upon us was due to
a more obvious cause."
"Please do not talk like that," she begged. "I do not wish for
compliments from you. I have been told always that Englishmen are so
truthful. One has compliments from Frenchmen, from Spaniards, and from
South Americans. They fall like froth from their lips, and one knows
all the time that it means nothing, and less than nothing. It is such
"Why a pity?" I asked, more for the sake of keeping her talking than
anything. "Certainly it is a picturesque habit of speech."
She shrugged her shoulders.
"I do not like it," she said quietly. "By degrees, one comes to
believe nothing that any man says, even when he is in earnest.
Remember, Capitaine Rotherby, I hope that I shall never hear a
compliment from you."
"I will be careful," I promised her, "but you must remember that there
is sometimes a very fine distinction. I may be driven to say
something which sounds quite nice, because it is the truth."
She laughed at me with her eyes, a habit of hers which from the first
I had admired. For the moment she seemed to have forgotten her
"You are worse than these others," she murmured. "I believe--no, I am
quite sure, that you are more dangerous! Come, they are ready for us."
The barriers were thrown open, and a little stream of people entered
the enclosed space. My companion's trunks were all together, and
easily found. The officer bent over, chalk in hand, and asked a few
courteous questions. At that moment I became aware that the young man
in eye-glasses was standing once more by my side. Her trunks were
promptly marked, and I directed the porter to take them to our
omnibus. Then we moved on a little to where my things were. The young
man sauntered behind us, and stopped to light a cigarette. My
companion's fingers fell upon my arm.
"He is everywhere!" she murmured. "What does he want?"
I turned round sharply and caught him in the act of inspecting my
labels. I was beginning now to lose my temper.
"May I ask," I said, standing in his way, "to what we owe--this young
lady and I--your interest in us and our concerns?"
He stared at me blankly.
"I do not understand you, sir," he said.
I was foolish enough to lose my temper. A policeman was standing
within a few feet of us, and I appealed to him.
"This person annoys us," I said, pointing him out, "by following us
everywhere we go. The young lady is carrying a jewel-case, and I have
papers of some importance myself. Will you kindly ask him to move on,
or ascertain whether he is a _bona fide_ traveller?"
The young man smiled faintly. The policeman answered me civilly, but I
knew at once that I had made a mistake.
"This gentleman is well known to us, sir," he said. "I do not think
you will find him causing you any trouble."
"I hope, at any rate," I said, turning away, "that we have seen the
last of him."
Apparently we had,--for the moment, at any rate. I claimed my own
belongings, and had them sent down to the omnibus. Then I handed my
companion in and was on the point of joining her, when I saw walking
along the platform, within a few feet of us, the policeman to whom I
had appealed. I turned back to him.
"I wonder," I said, drawing him a little on one side, "if you would
care to earn a sovereign without committing a breach of duty?"
He looked at me stolidly. Apparently he thought that silence was
"You said that that young man who followed us about here was well
known to you," I said. "Who is he?"
"It is not my place to tell you, sir," the man answered, and passed
I stepped into the 'bus and we drove off. As we turned out of the
station I caught a last glimpse of our shadower. He was standing
close to the main exit with his hands behind him, looking up to the
sky as though anxious to discover whether it were still raining. He
looked into our 'bus as it clattered by, and my companion, who caught
sight of him, leaned back in her seat.
"I am sure," she declared firmly, "that that is a detective."
I was equally certain of it, but I only laughed.
"If he is," I said, "it is certainly not you who needs to be anxious.
There can be no question as to whom he is watching. You must remember
that although those mysterious people up at the Place d'Anjou may be
powerful in their way, they would have to be very clever indeed to
protect me absolutely. It is pretty well known over here that I had
threatened to kill Tapilow wherever I met him."
She looked at me for a moment, doubtfully, and then she shook her
"It is not you whom they are watching," she said.
"Who, then?" I asked.
"My uncle and me," she answered.
I looked at her curiously.
"Tell me," I said, "why you think that? Your uncle is a man of
position, and has legitimate business here. Why should he be watched
She shook her head.
"I suppose it is because we are foreigners," she said, "but ever since
my uncle fetched me from Bordeaux we seem to have been watched by some
one wherever we go."
"You will not suffer much from that sort of thing over here," I
remarked cheerfully. "England is not a police-ridden country like
Germany, or even France."
"I know," she answered, "and yet I have told you before how I feel
about arriving in England. There seems something unfriendly in the
very atmosphere, something which depresses me, which makes me feel as
though there were evil times coming."
I laughed reassuringly.
"You are giving way to fancies," I said. "I am sure that London is
doing its best for you. See, the rain is all over. We have even
continental weather to welcome you. Look at the moon. For London,
too," I added, "the streets seem almost gay."
She leaned out of the window. A full moon was shining in a cloudless
sky. The theatres were just over. The pavements were thronged with men
and women, and the streets were blocked with carriages and hansoms on
their way to the various restaurants. At the entrance to the Milan our
omnibus was stopped for several moments whilst motors and carriages of
all descriptions, with their load of men and women in evening clothes,
passed slowly by and turned in at the courtyard. We found ourselves at
last at the doors of the hotel, and I received the usual welcome from
my friend the hall-porter.
"Back again once more, you see, Ashley," I remarked. "I have brought
Miss Delora on from the station. Her uncle is here already. We came
over by the same train."
The reception clerk stepped forward and smilingly acknowledged my
greeting. He bowed, also, to my companion.
"We are very pleased to see you, Miss Delora," he said. "We were
expecting you and Mr. Delora to-night."
"My uncle came on at once from the station," she said, "He was not
feeling very well."
The clerk bowed, but seemed a little puzzled.
"Will you tell me where I can find Mr. Delora?" she asked.
"Mr. Delora has not yet arrived, madam," the clerk answered.
She looked at him for a moment, speechless.
"Not arrived?" I interrupted. "Surely you must be mistaken, Dean! He
left Charing Cross half an hour before us."
The clerk shook his head.
"I am quite sure, Captain Rotherby," he said, "that Mr. Delora has not
been here to claim his rooms. He may have entered the hotel from the
other side, and be in the smoking-room or the American bar, but he has
not been here."
There was a couch close by, and my companion sat down. I could see
that she had turned very white.
"Send a page-boy round the hotel," I told the hall-porter, "to inquire
if Mr. Delora is in any of the rooms. If I might make the
suggestion," I continued, turning towards her, "I would go upstairs at
once. You may find, after all, that Mr. Dean has made a mistake, and
that your uncle is there."
"Why, yes!" she declared, jumping up. "I will go at once. Do you
mind--will you come with me?"
"With pleasure!" I answered.
I paused for a moment to give some instructions about my own
luggage. Then I stepped into the lift with the clerk and her.
"Your uncle, I hope, is not seriously indisposed, Miss Delora?" he
"Oh, no!" she answered. "He found the crossing very rough, and he is
not very strong. But I do not think that he is really ill."
"It is a year since we last had the pleasure," the clerk continued.
"My uncle was over then," she remarked. "For me this is the first
time. I have never been in England before."
The lift stopped.
"What floor are we on?" the girl asked.
"The fifth," the clerk answered. "We have quite comfortable rooms for
you, and the aspect that your uncle desired."
We passed along the corridor and he opened the door, which led into a
small hall and on into a sitting-room. The clerk opened up all the
"You will see, as I told you before, Miss Delora," he said, "that
there is no one here. Your uncle's rooms open out from the right. The
bathroom is to the left there, and beyond are your apartments."
She peered into each of the rooms. They were indeed empty.
"The apartments are very nice," she said, "but I do not understand
what has become of my uncle."
"He will be up in a few minutes, without a doubt," the clerk
remarked. "Is there anything more that I can do for you, madam? Shall
I send the chambermaid or the waiter to you?"
"Not yet," she answered. "I must wait for my uncle. Will you leave
word below that he is to please come up directly he arrives?"
"Certainly, madam!" the clerk answered, turning towards the door.
I should have followed him from the room, but she stopped me.
"Please don't go," she said. "I am very foolish, I know, but I am
"I will stay, of course," I answered, sitting down by her side upon
the couch, "but let me assure you that there is nothing whatever to
fear. Your uncle may have had a slight cab accident, or he may have
met with a friend and stopped to talk for a few minutes. In either
case he will be here directly. London, you know, is not the city of
mysteries that Paris is. There is very little, indeed, that can happen
to a man between Charing Cross Station and the Milan Hotel."
She leaned forward a little and buried her face in her hands.
"Please don't!" I begged. "Indeed, I mean what I say! There is no
cause to be anxious. Your uncle spoke of stopping at a chemist's. They
may be making up his prescription. A hundred trivial things may have
happened to keep him."
"You do not know!" she murmured.
THROUGH THE TELEPHONE
There was no doubt about it that Delora had disappeared. I followed
the reception clerk downstairs myself within the space of a few
minutes, and made the most careful inquiries in every part of the
hotel. It did not take me very long to ascertain, beyond the shadow of
a doubt, that he was not upon the premises, nor had he yet been seen
by any one connected with the place. I even walked to the corner of
the courtyard and looked aimlessly up and down the Strand. Within
those few hundred yards which lay between where I was standing and
Charing Cross something had happened which had prevented his reaching
the hotel. It may have been the slightest of accidents. It might be
something more serious. Or it might even be, I was forced to reflect,
that he had never intended coming! Presently I returned to the suite
of rooms upon the fifth floor to make my report to Miss Delora. I
found her calmer than I had expected, but her face fell when I was
forced to confess that I had heard no news.
"I am sorry," I said, "but there is no doubt that up to the present,
at any rate, your uncle has not been here. I am quite sure, though," I
added, "that there is no cause for alarm. A hundred slight accidents
might have happened to detain him for half an hour or so."
She glanced at the clock.
"It is more than that," she said softly.
"Tell me," I asked, "would you like me to communicate with the police?
They are in touch with the hospitals, and if any misfortune has
happened to your uncle--which, after all, is scarcely likely--we
should hear of it directly."
She shook her head vigorously. The idea, for some reason, seemed to
"No!" she said. "Why should we appeal to the police? What have they to
do with my uncle? I am quite sure that he would not wish that."
"I presume," I said, "that nothing of this sort has ever happened
before?--I mean that he has not left you without warning?"
"Not under the same circumstances," she admitted. "And yet, he has a
very queer way of absenting himself every now and then."
"For long?" I asked.
"It depends," she answered. "Never for any length of time, though."
"After all," I remarked, "you cannot have seen such a great deal of
him. He lives in South America, does he not, and you have never been
out of France?"
"It is true," she murmured.
"I noticed," I continued thoughtfully, "that he seemed disturbed as we
She drew out the pins from her hat, and with a little gesture of
relief threw it upon the table.
"Please sit down for a minute," she said. "I want to think."
She leaned forward upon the couch, her head buried in her hands. I
felt that she desired silence, so I said nothing. Several moments
passed, then there came a sudden and unexpected interruption. The bell
of the telephone instrument, which stood between us upon the table,
commenced to ring. Her hands fell from before her face. She looked
across at me with parted lips and wide-open eyes. I made a movement
towards the instrument, but she checked me.
"Stop!" she said. "Wait a moment! Let me think!"
She had risen to her feet. We stood looking at one another across the
table. Between us was the telephone instrument and the bell which had
just rung out its summons.
"Are you not going to answer it?" I asked.
"I am afraid!" she answered. "I do not know what has come over me. I
am afraid! Take up the receiver. Tell me who it is who speaks."
"You are sure that you wish it?" I asked.
"At once!" she insisted. "They will have gone away."
The bell rang again. I took the receiver into my hands.
"Who is there?" I asked.
"Is that the apartment of Mr. Delora?" was the reply.
"Yes!" I said.
"I wish to speak to Miss Felicia Delora," the voice said.
"Who are you?" I asked.
"It does not matter," was the answer. "Be so good as to tell her to
come to the telephone--Miss Felicia Delora."
I held the receiver away from me and turned to her.
"Some one wishes to speak to you," I said.
"Who is it?" she asked.
"The person gave no name," I answered.
"Did you recognize the voice?" she asked.
"I was not sure," I said. "It was like your uncle's."
She took the instrument into her hand. What passed between her and the
person at the other end I had, of course, no means of telling. All I
know was that she said, at short intervals,--"Yes! No! Yes! I
promise!" Then she laid the instrument down and looked at me.
"The mystery is solved," she said. "My uncle has met some friends, and
stayed with them for a little time to discuss a matter of business. I
am sorry to have been so troublesome to you. My anxieties, of course,
are at an end now."
I bowed, and moved toward the door.
"If there is anything else that I can do--" I said.
"I shall ask you," she answered, looking at me earnestly. "I shall,
"My number is 128," I said. "I am two floors above you. Please do not
forget to make use of me if you need a friend."
"I shall not forget," she answered softly.
Then, as though moved by a sudden impulse, she held out her hand,--a
small white hand with rather long fingers, manicured to a perfection
unusual in this country. She wore only one ring, in which was set a
magnificent uncut emerald. I held her fingers for a moment, and raised
them to my lips.
"I shall be always at your service," I answered quietly, "however
much--or however little you may care to tell me. Goodnight!"
I went to my rooms and washed. Afterwards I descended and ordered some
supper in the cafe.
"Louis is not back yet?" I remarked to the waiter who attended to me.
"Not yet, monsieur," the man answered. "We expect him some time
to-morrow. Monsieur is also from Paris?"
I nodded, and did not pursue the subject. On my way back to my rooms
half an hour later I stopped to speak for a few minutes with the
"Mr. Delora has not arrived yet, sir," he remarked.
"No!" I answered. "I dare say there has been some slight mistake. I
fancy that he has telephoned to his niece."
The hall-porter looked a little puzzled.
"It is rather a curious thing, sir," he said, "but there seem to be a
good many people who are wanting to see Mr. Delora. We have had at
least a dozen inquiries for him during the last few days, and all from
people who refuse to leave their names."
"Business friends, perhaps," I remarked. "Mr. Delora comes over to
keep friends with his connections here, I suppose."
The hall-porter coughed discreetly but mysteriously.
"No doubt, sir," he remarked.
I went on my way to my rooms, not caring to pursue the conversation.
Yet I felt that there was something beneath it all. Ashley knew or
guessed something which he would have told me with very little
encouragement. Over a final cigarette I tried to think the matter
out. Here were these people, remarkable for nothing except the
obviously foreign appearance of the man, and the good taste and beauty
of the girl. I had seen them at every fashionable haunt in Paris, and
finally at a restaurant which Louis had frankly admitted to be the
meeting-place of people whose careers were by no means above
suspicion. I had crossed with them to England, and if their presence
on the train were not the cause for Louis' insisting upon my hurried
departure from Paris, it at any rate afforded him gratification to
think that I might, perhaps, make their acquaintance. During the whole
of the journey neither of them had made the slightest overture towards
me. That we had come together at all was, without doubt, accidental.
I did not for a moment doubt the girl's first attitude of irritation
towards me. It was just as certain that her uncle had shown no desire
whatever to make my acquaintance. I remembered his curious agitation
as we had reached London, his muttered excuse of sea-sickness, and his
somewhat extraordinary conduct in leaving his niece alone with me--a
perfect stranger--while he hurried off to the hotel at which he had
never arrived. Presumably, if that was indeed he who had spoken to
the girl upon the telephone, she understood more about the matter than
I did. He may have given her some explanation which accounted for his
absence. If so, he had obviously desired it to remain a secret. What
was the nature of this mystery? Of what was it that he was afraid? Who
was this young man who, after his departure, had taken so much
interest in his niece and myself at Charing Cross? Was it some one
whom he had desired to evade?--a detective, perhaps, or an informer?
The riddle was not easy to solve. Common-sense told me that my wisest
course was to fulfil my original intention, and take the first train
on the morrow to my brother's house in Norfolk. On the other hand,
inclination strongly prompted me to stay where I was, to see this
thing through, to see more of Felicia Delora! I was thirty years old,
free and unencumbered, a moderately impressionable bachelor of
moderate means. Until the time when the shadow of this tragedy had
come into my life, which had found its culmination in the little
restaurant of the Place d'Anjou, things had moved smoothly enough with
me. I had had the average number of flirtations, many pleasant
friendships. Yet I asked myself now whether there was any one in the
past who had ever moved me in the same way as this girl, who was still
almost a perfect stranger to me. I hated the man, her uncle. I hated
the circumstances under which I had seen her. I hated the mystery by
which they were surrounded. It was absolutely maddening for me to
reflect that two floors below she was spending the night either with
some mysterious and secret knowledge, or in real distress as to her
uncle's fate. After all, I told myself a little bitterly, I was a
fool! I was old enough to know better! The man himself was an
adventurer,--there could be no doubt about it. How was it possible
that she could be altogether ignorant of his character?
Then, just as I was half undressed, there came a soft knock at my
door. I rose to my feet and stood for a moment undecided. For some
time my own personal danger seemed to have slipped out of my memory.
Now it came back with a sudden terrible rush. Perhaps the man Tapilow
was dead! If so, this was the end!
I went out into the little hall and opened the door. The corridors
outside were dimly lit, but there was no mistaking the two men who
stood there waiting for me. One was obviously a police inspector, and
the man by his side, although he wore plain clothes, could scarcely be
anything but a detective.
I looked at the two men, and they returned my gaze with interest.
"Are you Captain Rotherby, sir?" the inspector asked.
"That is my name," I said.
"We shall be glad to have a few words with you, sir," he declared.
"You had better come inside," I answered, and led the way into my
"We have been sent for," the inspector continued, "to inquire into the
disappearance of Mr. Delora,--the gentleman who was expected to have
arrived at this hotel this evening," he added, referring to his notes.
To me, who with a natural egotism had been thinking of my own affairs,
and had been expecting nothing less than arrest, this declaration of
the object of their visit had its consolations.
"We understand," the inspector continued, "that you travelled with
Mr. Delora and his niece from Folkestone to Charing Cross."
"That is quite true," I answered. "The guard put them in my carriage."
"Did you converse with them during the journey, sir?"
"The man was asleep all the way," I answered. "He never even opened
his eyes till we were practically in London."
"You talked, perhaps, with the young lady?" the man inquired.
"If I did," I answered serenely, "it seems to me that it was my
The police inspector was imperturbable.
"When was the last time you saw this Mr. Delora?" he asked.
"At Charing Cross Station," I answered. "He left the carriage directly
the train stopped and went to get a hansom. He had been sea-sick
coming over, and was anxious to get to the hotel very quickly."
"Leaving his niece alone?" the man asked.
"Leaving her in my care," I answered. "We were all coming to the same
hotel, and the young lady and I had been in conversation for some
"He asked you, then, to take care of her?" the man inquired.
"The request as he made it," I answered, "was a perfectly natural
one. By the bye," I continued, "who sent for you?"
"We were advised of Mr. Delora's disappearance by the proprietor of
the hotel," the inspector answered.
"How do you know that it is a disappearance at all?" I asked. "Mr.
Delora may have met some friends. He is not obliged to come here. In
other words, if he chooses to disappear, he surely has a perfect right
to! Are you acting upon Miss Delora's instructions?"
"No!" the inspector answered. "Miss Delora has not moved in the
"Then I consider," I declared, "that your action is premature, and I
have nothing to say."
The inspector was temporarily nonplussed. My view of the situation was
perfectly reasonable, and my assumption that there was some other
reason for their visit was not without truth. The man in the plain
clothes, who had been listening intently but as yet had not spoken,
"Captain Rotherby," he said, "I am a detective from Scotland Yard,--in
fact I am the head of one of the departments. We know you quite well
to be a young gentleman of family, and above suspicion. We feel sure,
therefore, that we can rely upon you to help us in any course we may
take which is likely to lead to the detection of crime or criminals."
"Up to a certain point," I assented, "you are perfectly right."
"There are circumstances connected with these people the Deloras,
uncle and niece," the detective continued, "which require
"I am sorry," I answered, "but I cannot at present answer any more
questions, except with Miss Delora's permission."
"You can tell me this, Captain Rotherby," the detective asked, looking
at me keenly, "do you know whether Miss Delora has been in
communication with her uncle since she reached the hotel?"
"I have no idea," I answered.
"There is a telephone in her room," the detective continued, without
removing his eyes from my face. "We understand from the hall-porter
that a message was received by her soon after her arrival."
"Very likely," I answered. "I should suggest that you go and interview
Miss Delora. She will probably tell you all about it."
They were both silent. I felt quite certain that they had already done
so. At that moment my own telephone bell rang. The two men exchanged
quick glances. I took up the receiver.
"Is that Capitaine Rotherby?"
I recognized the voice at once. It was Miss Delora speaking.
"Yes!" I answered.
"I thought I should like to let you know," she continued, "that I am
no longer in the least anxious about my uncle. He is always doing
eccentric things, and I am sure that he will turn up,--later to-night,
perhaps, or at any rate to-morrow. I do not wish any inquiries made
about him. It would only annoy him very much when he came to hear of
"I am very glad to hear you say so, Miss Delora," I answered. "To tell
you the truth, there are some men here at present who are asking me
questions. I have told them, however, that you are the only person to
whom they should apply."
Her voice, when she answered me, showed some signs of agitation.
"I have not asked the help of the police," she declared, "and I do not
need it! They would have come to my rooms, but I refused to receive
"I quite agree with you, Miss Delora," I answered. "Good night!"
"Good night, Capitaine Rotherby!" she said softly. I laid down the
"You have probably overheard my conversation," I said to the
inspector. "After that, I can only wish you good night!"
He moved at once to the door in stolid, discontented fashion. The
detective, however, lingered.
"Captain Rotherby," he said, "I cannot blame you for your decision. I
think, however, it is only fair to warn you that you will probably
find yourself better off in the long run if you do not mix yourself up
in this affair."
"Indeed!" I answered.
"There are wheels within wheels," the man continued. "I have no charge
to make against Mr. Delora. I have no charge to make against any
one. But I think that so far as you are concerned, you would be well
advised to remember that these are merely travelling companions, and
that even the most accomplished man of the world is often deceived in
such. Good night, sir!"
They left me then without another word. I heard their footsteps die
away along the corridor, the ring of the lift bell, the clatter of its
ascent and descent. Then I undressed and went to bed.
I awoke the next morning rather late, dressed and shaved in my rooms,
and descended to the cafe for breakfast. The waiter who usually
served me came hurrying up with a welcoming smile.
"Monsieur Louis," he announced, "returned early this morning."
"He is not here now?" I asked, looking around the room.
The waiter smiled deprecatingly.
"But for the early breakfast, no, sir!" he said. "Monsieur Louis will
come at one o'clock, perhaps,--perhaps not until dinner-time. He will
be here to-day, though."
I unfolded my paper and looked through the list of accidents. There
was nothing which could possibly have applied to Mr. Delora. I waited
until eleven o'clock, and then sent up my name to Miss Delora. A
reply came back almost at once,--Miss Delora had gone out an hour ago,
and had left no word as to the time of her return. Once more I was
puzzled. Why should she go out unless she had received some news? She
had told me that she had no friends in London. It was scarcely likely
that she would go out on any casual expedition in her present state of
uncertainty. I made my way to the manager's office, whom I knew very
well, and with whom I had often had a few minutes' talk. He received
me with his usual courtesy, and gave me a handful of cigarettes to
try. I lit one, and seated myself in his easy-chair.
"Mr. Helmsley," I said, "you know that I am not, as a rule, a curious
person, and I should not like to ask you any questions which you
thought improper ones, but you have some guests staying here in whom I
am somewhat interested."
Mr. Helmsley nodded, and by his genial silence invited me to proceed.
"I mean Mr. Delora and his niece," I continued.
The smile faded from the manager's face.
"The gentleman who did not arrive last night?" he remarked.
"I travelled up with them," I said, "from Folkestone, and certainly
Mr. Delora's behavior was a little peculiar as we neared London. He
seemed nervous, and anxious to quit the train at the earliest possible
moment. I brought his niece on here, as you know, found that he had
not arrived, and I understand that, up to the present, nothing has
been heard of him."
"It is quite true," Mr. Helmsley admitted thoughtfully. "The matter
was reported to me last night, and very soon afterwards an inspector
from Scotland Yard called. I gave him all the information I could,
naturally, but on reference to the young lady she declined to consider
the matter seriously at all. Her uncle, she said, had probably met
some friends, or had made a call upon the way. Under the
circumstances, there was nothing else to do but to drop the matter, so
far as any direct inquiries were concerned."
"But the man himself?" I asked. "What do you know of him?"
"I have always understood," Mr. Helmsley said slowly, "that he was a
gentleman from South America who had large coffee plantations, and who
came over every year to sell his produce. He has stayed at the hotel
about this time for the last four years. He has always engaged a good
suite of rooms, has paid his accounts promptly,--I really do not know
anything more about him."
"Has his niece accompanied him always?" I asked.
"Never before," Mr. Helmsley answered,--"at least, not to my
"You do not know what part of South America he comes from?" I asked.
"I have no idea," Mr. Helmsley declared. "His letters are always
forwarded to an agent."
"So practically you can tell me nothing," I said, rising.
"Nothing at all, I fear," Mr. Helmsley answered. "I shall make it a
point of calling upon the young lady within an hour or so, to inquire
again about her uncle."
"The young lady has gone out," I remarked. "I have just sent my own
Mr. Helmsley raised his eyebrows. He, too, was surprised.
"Then she has probably heard something," he remarked.
"Perhaps," I answered. "By the bye, I understand that Louis is back."
"He came by the night train," Mr. Helmsley answered. "I scarcely
expected him so soon. You will probably see him in the cafe at
I took my leave of the manager and returned to my own side of the
"If Miss Delora should come in," I said to the hall-porter on my way
to the lift, "please let me know. I shall be in my room, writing
"Miss Delora came in just after you crossed the courtyard, sir," the
man answered. "She is in her room now."
"Alone?" I asked.
"I believe that she came in with a gentleman, sir. Shall I ring up and
ask for her?"
I hesitated for a moment. I was recalling to myself her statement that
she had no friends in London whatsoever.
"Yes!" I answered. "Send up my name, and say that I should like to see
The man went to the telephone, and emerged from the box a moment
"Miss Delora would be much obliged," he said, "if you would kindly go
to her room in a quarter of an hour."
I nodded, and turned away for the lift. The cigarette between my lips
was suddenly tasteless. I was experiencing a new sensation, and
distinctly an unpleasant one. With it was coupled an intense
curiosity to know the identity of the man who was even now with
LOUIS, MAITRE D'HOTEL
I measured out that quarter of an hour into minutes, and almost into
seconds. Then I knocked at the door of the sitting-room, and was
bidden enter by Felicia Delora herself. She was alone, but she was
dressed for the street, and was apparently just leaving the hotel
again. Her clothes were of fashionable make, and cut with the most
delightful simplicity. Her toilette was that of the ideal Frenchwoman
who goes out for a morning's shopping, and may possibly lunch in the
Bois. She was still very pale, however, and the dark lines under her
eyes seemed to speak of a sleepless night. I fancied that she welcomed
me a little shyly. She dropped her veil almost at once, and she did
not ask me to sit down.
"I hope that you have some news this morning of your uncle, Miss
Delora?" I asked.
She shook her head.
"I have not heard--anything of importance," she answered.
"I am sorry," I said. "I am afraid that you must be getting very
She bent over the button of her glove.
"Yes," she admitted. "I am very anxious! I am very anxious indeed. I
scarcely know what to do."
"Tell me, then," I said, "why do you not let me go with you to the
police and have some inquiries made? If you prefer it, we could go to
a private detective. I really think that something ought to be done."
She shook her head.
"I dare not," she said simply.
"Dare not?" I repeated.
"Because when he returns," she explained, "he would be so very, very
angry with me. He is a very eccentric man--my uncle. He does strange
things, and he allows no one to question his actions."
"But he has no right," I declared hotly, "to leave you like this in a
strange hotel, without even a maid, without a word of farewell or
explanation. The thing is preposterous!"
She had finished buttoning her gloves, and looked up at me with a
queer little smile at the corner of her lips and her hands behind her.
"Capitaine Rotherby," she said, "there are so many things which it
seems hard to understand. I myself am very unhappy and perplexed, but
I do know what my uncle would wish me to do. He would wish me to
remain quite quiet, and to wait."
I was silent for a few moments. It was difficult to reason with her.
"You have been out this morning," I said, a little abruptly.
"I have been out," she admitted. "I do not think, Capitaine Rotherby,
that I must tell you where I have been, but I went to the one place
where I thought that I might have news of him."
"You brought back with you a companion."
"No, not a companion," she interposed gently. "You must not think
that, Capitaine Rotherby. He was just a person who--who had to come.
You are not cross with me," she asked, lifting her eyes a little
timidly to mine, "that there are some things which I do not tell you?"
"No, I am not cross!" I answered slowly. "Only, if you felt it
possible," I added, "to give me your entire confidence, it seems to me
that it would be better. I will ask you to believe," I continued,
"that I am not merely a curious person. I am--well, more than a little
She held out both her hands and raised her eyes to mine. Through the
filmy lace of her veil I could see that they were very soft, almost as
though tears were gathering there.
"Oh! I do believe you, Capitaine Rotherby," she said, "and I would be
very, very happy if I could tell you now all the things which trouble
me, all the things which I do not understand! But I may not. I may
"Whenever you choose," I answered, "I shall be ready to hear. Whenever
you need my services, they are yours."
"You do trust me a little, then?" she asked quickly.
"Implicitly!" I answered.
"You do not mind," she continued, "that I tell you once more that I am
going out, and that I must go out alone?"
"Why, no!" I answered. "If you do not need me, there is an end of it."
"You are very good to me," she said. "Perhaps this afternoon, if you
have a few minutes to spare, we might talk, eh?"
"At any time you say," I answered.
"At four o'clock, then," she said, "you will come here and sit with me
for a little time. Perhaps this evening, if you have nothing to do--"
"I have nothing to do," I interrupted promptly.
"I do not know how I shall feel," she said, "about going out, but I
would like to see you, anyhow."
"I shall come," I promised her. "Some time within the next few days I
must go down to Norfolk--"
"To Norfolk?" she interrupted quickly. "Is that far away?"
"Only a few hours," I answered.
"You will stay there?" she exclaimed.
I shook my head.
"I think not," I answered. "I think I shall come back directly I have
seen my brother."
She lifted her eyes to mine.
"Why?" she whispered.
"In case I can be of service to you!" I answered.
"You are so very good, so very kind," she said earnestly; "and to
think that when I first saw you, I believed--but that does not
matter!" she wound up quickly. "Please come to the lift with me and
ring the bell. I lose my way in these passages."
I watched her step into the lift, her skirts a little raised, she
herself, to my mind, the perfection of feminine grace from the tips of
her patent shoes to the black feathers in her hat. She waved her hand
to me as the lift shot down, and I turned away....
At exactly half-past one I went down to the cafe for lunch. The room
was fairly full, but almost the first person I saw was Louis, suave
and courteous, conducting a party of guests to their places. I took my
seat at my accustomed table, and watched him for a few moments as he
moved about. What a waiter he must have been, I thought! His movements
were swift and noiseless. His eyes seemed like points of electricity,
alive to the smallest fault on the part of his subordinates, the
slightest frown on the faces of his patrons. There was scarcely a
person lunching there who did not feel that he himself was receiving
some part of Louis' personal attention. One saw him in the distance,
suggesting with his easy smile a suitable luncheon to some bashful
youth; or found him, a moment or two later, comparing reminiscences of
some wonderful sauce with a _bon viveur_, an habitue of the
place. Such a man, I thought, was wasted as a _maitre d'hotel._
He had the gifts of a diplomatist, the presence and inspiration of a
I had imagined that my entrance into the room was unnoticed, but I
found him suddenly bowing before my table.
"The _Plat du Jour_," he remarked, "is excellent. Monsieur should
try it. After a few days of French cookery," he continued, "a simple
English dish is sometimes an agreeable relief."
"Thank you, Louis," I answered. "Tell me what has become of
My sudden attack was foiled with the consummate ease of a master--if,
indeed, the man was not genuine.
"Mr. Delora!" he repeated. "Is he not staying here,--he and his niece?
I have been looking for them to come into luncheon."
"His niece is here," I answered. "Mr. Delora never arrived."
Louis then did a thing which I have never seen him do before or
afterwards,--he dropped something which he was carrying! It was only a
wine carte, and he stooped and picked it up at once with a word of
graceful apology. But I noticed that when he once more stood erect,
the exercise of stooping, so far from having brought any flush into
his face, seemed to have driven from it every atom of color.
"You mean that Mr. Delora went elsewhere, Monsieur?" he asked.
I shook my head.
"They travelled up from Folkestone," I said, "in my carriage. At
Charing Cross Mr. Delora, who had been suffering, he said, from
sea-sickness, and who was certainly very nervous and ill at ease,
jumped out before the train had altogether stopped and hurried off to
get a hansom to come on here. It had been arranged that I should bring
his niece and follow him. When we arrived he had not come. He has not
been here since. I have just left his niece, and she assured me that
she had no idea where he was."
Louis stood quite still.
"It is a most singular occurrence," he said.
"It is the strangest thing I have ever heard of in my life," I
"Monsieur is very much interested, doubtless," Louis said
thoughtfully. "He travelled with them,--he expressed, I believe, an
admiration for the young lady. Doubtless he is very much interested."
"So much so, Louis," I answered, "that I intend to do everything I can
to solve the mystery of Delora's disappearance. I am an idle man, and
it will amuse me."
Louis shook his head.
"Ah!" he said, "it is not always safe to meddle in the affairs of
other people! There are wheels within wheels. The disappearance of
Mr. Delora may not be altogether so accidental as it seems."
"You mean--" I exclaimed hastily.
"But nothing, monsieur," Louis answered, with a little shrug of the
shoulders. "I spoke quite generally. A man disappears, and every one
in the world immediately talks of foul play, of murder,--of many such
things. But, after all, is that quite reasonable? Most often the man
who disappears, disappears of his own accord,--disappears either from
fear of things that may happen to him, or because he himself has some
purpose to serve."
"You mean to suggest, then, Louis," I said, "that the disappearance of
Mr. Delora is a voluntary one?"
Once more Louis shrugged his shoulders.
"Who can tell, monsieur?" he answered. "I suggest nothing. I spoke
only as one might speak, hearing of this case. One moment, monsieur."
He darted away to welcome some newcomers, ushered them to their
table, suggested their lunch, passed up and down the room, stopping
here and there to bow to a patron, to examine the dishes standing
ready to be served, to correct some fault of service. It seemed to me,
as I watched him, that he did a hundred things before he returned. Yet
in a very few moments he was standing once more before my table,
examining with a complacent air the service of my luncheon.
"Monsieur will find the _petits carots_ excellent," he
declared. "My friend Henry, he tries to serve this dish, but it is not
the same thing; no! Always the vegetables must be served in the
country where they are grown. Monsieur will drink something?"
"A pint of Moselle," I ordered. "I dare not order whiskey and soda
before you, Louis."
He made a little grimace.
"It is as monsieur wishes," he declared, "but it is a drink without
_finesse,_--a crude drink for a man of monsieur's tastes. It
shall be the Moselle No. 197," he added, turning to the waiter. "Do
not forget the number. 197," he added, turning to me, "is an
absolutely light wine,--for luncheon, delicious!"
We were alone once more. Louis bent, smiling, over my table.
"Monsieur is much interested," he said, "in the disappearance of an
acquaintance, a passing travelling companion, but he does not ask of
affairs which concern him more gravely."
"Of Tapilow!" I exclaimed quickly.
"Tapilow is in an hospital and he will live," Louis declared slowly,
"but all his life he will limp, and all his life he will carry a scar
from his forehead to his mouth."
I nodded meditatively.
"It is, perhaps," I answered, "a more complete punishment."
I fancied that in Louis' green eyes there shot for a moment a gleam of
something like admiration.
"Monsieur has courage," he murmured.
"Why not?" I answered. "We all of us have a certain amount of
philosophy, you know, Louis. It was inevitable that when that man and
I met, I should try to kill him. I had no weapon that night. I simply
took him into my hands. But there, you know the rest. If he had died,
I might have had to pay the penalty. It was a risk, but you see I had
to take it. The thing was inevitable. The wrong that he had done some
one who is very dear to me was too terrible, too hideous, for him to
be allowed to go unpunished."
"When he recovers," Louis remarked thoughtfully, "monsieur will have
"A great man, Louis, once declared," I reminded him, "that one's
enemies were the salt of one's life. One's friends sometimes
weary. One's enemies give always a zest to existence."
Again Louis was summoned away. I ate my lunch and sipped my wine.
Louis was right. It was excellent, yet likely enough to be overlooked
by the casual visitor, for it was of exceedingly moderate price.
So Tapilow was not likely to die! So much the better, perhaps! The
time might have come in my life when the whole of that tragedy lay
further back in the shadows, and when the thought that I had killed a
man, however much he had deserved it, might chill me. I understood
from Louis' very reticence that I had nothing now to fear from the
law. So far as regards Tapilow himself, I had no fear. It was not
likely that he would ever raise his hand against me.
I dismissed the subject from my thoughts. It was just then I
remembered that, after all, I had not gathered from Louis a single
shred of information on the subject in which I was most interested. I
almost smiled when I remembered how admirably he had contrived to
elude my curiosity. The only thing which I gathered from his manner
was that Mr. Delora's disappearance was unexpected by him. Never mind,
the end was not yet! I ordered coffee and a liqueur, and laid my
cigarette case upon the table. I would wait until Louis chose to come
to me once more. There were certain things which I intended to ask him
Louis returned of his own accord before long.
"Monsieur has been well served?" he asked genially.
"Excellently, Louis," I answered, "so far as the mere question of food
goes. You have not, however, managed to satisfy my curiosity."
"Monsieur?" he asked interrogatively.
"Concerning the Deloras," I answered.
Louis shrugged his shoulders.
"But what should I know?" he asked. "Mr. Delora, he has come here last
year and the year before. He has stayed for a month or so. He
understands what he eats. That is all. Mademoiselle comes for the
first time. I know her not at all."
"What do you think of his disappearance, Louis?" I asked.
"What should I think of it, monsieur? I know nothing."
"Mr. Delora, I am told," I continued, "is a coffee planter in South
"I, too," Louis admitted, "have heard so much."
"How came he to have the _entree_ to the Cafe des Deux Epingles?"
"I myself," he remarked, "am but a rare visitor there. How should I
"Louis," said I, "why not be honest with me? I am certainly not a
person to be afraid of. I am very largely in your hands over the
Tapilow affair, and, as you know, I have seen too much of the world to
consider trifles. I do not believe that Mr. Delora came to London to
sell his crop of coffee. I do not believe that you are ignorant of his
affairs. I do not believe that his disappearance is so much a mystery
to you as it is to the rest of us--say to me and to mademoiselle his
Louis' face was like the face of a sphinx. He made no
protestations. He denied nothing. He waited simply to see where I was
"I am not sure, Louis," I said, "that I do not believe that you had
some object in taking me to the Cafe des Deux Epingles that night. Be
honest with me. I can be a friend. I have influence here and there,
and, as I think you know, I love adventures. Tell me what you know of
this affair. Tell me if you had any motive in taking me to the Cafe
des Deux Epingles that night?"
Louis looked around the room with keen, watchful eyes. Without
abandoning his attitude of graceful attention to what I was saying, he
seemed in those few moments to be absorbing every detail of the
progress of the affairs in the restaurant itself. The arrangement of
the service at some tables a little way off seemed to annoy him. He
frowned and called one of his subordinates, speaking in a rapid
undertone to him, and with many gestures. The man hurried away to obey
his instructions, and Louis turned to me.
"Monsieur," said he, "there are many times when it is not wise or
politic to tell the truth. There are many times, therefore, when I
have to speak falsehoods, but I will confess that I do not like
it. Always I would prefer the truth, if it were possible. When I saw
you at the Opera in Paris I thought of you only as one of my best and
most valued patrons. It was only as we stood there talking that
another idea came into my head. I acted upon it. There was a reason
why I took you to the Cafe des Deux Epingles!"
"Go on, Louis," I said. "Go on."