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The Rome Express by Arthur Griffiths

Part 2 out of 3

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the recent effervescence when he was acting as the Countess's champion,
and he was perfectly--nay, insolently calm and self-possessed.

"You call yourself General Collingham?" went on the Chief.

"I do not call myself. I am General Sir Charles Collingham, of the
British Army."

"Retired?"

"No, I am still on the active list."

"These points will have to be verified."

"With all my heart. You have already sent to the British Embassy?"

"Yes, but no one has come," answered the detective, contemptuously.

"If you disbelieve me, why do you question me?"

"It is our duty to question you, and yours to answer. If not, we have
means to make you. You are suspected, inculpated in a terrible crime,
and your whole attitude is--is--objectionable--unworthy--disgr--"

"Gently, gently, my dear colleague," interposed the Judge. "If you will
permit me, I will take up this. And you, M. le General, I am sure you
cannot wish to impede or obstruct us; we represent the law of this
country."

"Have I done so, M. le Juge?" answered the General, with the utmost
courtesy, as he threw away his half-burned cigarette.

"No, no. I do not imply that in the least. I only entreat you, as a good
and gallant gentleman, to meet us in a proper spirit and give us your
best help."

"Indeed, I am quite ready. If there has been any unpleasantness, it has
surely not been of my making, but rather of that little man there." The
General pointed to M. Flocon rather contemptuously, and nearly started a
fresh disturbance.

"Well, well, let us say no more of that, and proceed to business. I
understand," said the Judge, after fingering a few pages of the
dispositions in front of him, "that you are a friend of the Contessa di
Castagneto? Indeed, she has told us so herself."

"It was very good of her to call me her friend. I am proud to hear she
so considers me."

"How long have you known her?"

"Four or five months. Since the beginning of the last winter season in
Rome."

"Did you frequent her house?"

"If you mean, was I permitted to call on her on friendly terms, yes."

"Did you know all her friends?"

"How can I answer that? I know whom I met there from time to time."

"Exactly. Did you often meet among them a Signor--Quadling?"

"Quadling--Quadling? I cannot say that I have. The name is familiar
somehow, but I cannot recall the man."

"Have you never heard of the Roman bankers, Correse & Quadling?"

"Ah, of course. Although I have had no dealing with them. Certainly I
have never met Mr. Quadling."

"Not at the Countess's?"

"Never--of that I am quite sure."

"And yet we have had positive evidence that he was a constant visitor
there."

"It is perfectly incomprehensible to me. Not only have I never met him,
but I have never heard the Countess mention his name."

"It will surprise you, then, to be told that he called at her apartment
in the Via Margutta on the very evening of her departure from Rome.
Called, was admitted, was closeted with her for more than an hour."

"I am surprised, astounded. I called there myself about four in the
afternoon to offer my services for the journey, and I too stayed till
after five. I can hardly believe it."

"I have more surprises for you, General. What will you think when I tell
you that this very Quadling--this friend, acquaintance, call him what
you please, but at least intimate enough to pay her a visit on the eve
of a long journey--was the man found murdered in the sleeping-car?"

"Can it be possible? Are you sure?" cried Sir Charles, almost starting
from his chair. "And what do you deduce from all this? What do you
imply? An accusation against that lady? Absurd!"

"I respect your chivalrous desire to stand up for a lady who calls you
her friend, but we are officials first, and sentiment cannot be
permitted to influence us. We have good reasons for suspecting that
lady. I tell you that frankly, and trust to you as a soldier and man of
honour not to abuse the confidence reposed in you."

"May I not know those reasons?"

"Because she was in the car--the only woman, you understand--between
Laroche and Paris."

"Do you suspect a female hand, then?" asked the General, evidently much
interested and impressed.

"That is so, although I am exceeding my duty in revealing this."

"And you are satisfied that this lady, a refined, delicate person in the
best society, of the highest character,--believe me, I know that to be
the case,--whom you yet suspect of an atrocious crime, was the only
female in the car?"

"Obviously. Who else? What other woman could possibly have been in the
car? No one got in at Laroche; the train never stopped till it reached
Paris."

"On that last point at least you are quite mistaken, I assure you. Why
not upon the other also?"

"The train stopped?" interjected the detective. "Why has no one told us
that?"

"Possibly because you never asked. But it is nevertheless the fact.
Verify it. Every one will tell you the same."

The detective himself hurried to the door and called in the porter. He
was within his rights, of course, but the action showed distrust, at
which the General only smiled, but he laughed outright when the still
stupid and half-dazed porter, of course, corroborated the statement at
once.

"At whose instance was the train pulled up?" asked the detective, and
the Judge nodded his head approvingly.

To know that would fix fresh suspicion.

But the porter could not answer the question.

Some one had rung the alarm-bell--so at least the conductor had
declared; otherwise they should not have stopped. Yet he, the porter,
had not done so, nor did any passenger come forward to admit giving the
signal. But there had been a halt. Yes, assuredly.

"This is a new light," the Judge confessed. "Do you draw any conclusion
from it?" he went on to ask the General.

"That is surely your business. I have only elicited the fact to disprove
your theory. But if you wish, I will tell you how it strikes me."

The Judge bowed assent.

"The bare fact that the train was halted would mean little. That would
be the natural act of a timid or excitable person involved indirectly in
such a catastrophe. But to disavow the act starts suspicion. The fair
inference is that there was some reason, an unavowable reason, for
halting the train."

"And that reason would be--"

"You must see it without my assistance, surely! Why, what else but to
afford some one an opportunity to leave the car."

"But how could that be? You would have seen that person, some of you,
especially at such a critical time. The aisle would be full of people,
both exits were thus practically overlooked."

"My idea is--it is only an idea, understand--that the person had
already left the car--that is to say, the interior of the car."

"Escaped how? Where? What do you mean?"

"Escaped through the open window of the compartment where you found the
murdered man."

"You noticed the open window, then?" quickly asked the detective. "When
was that?"

"Directly I entered the compartment at the first alarm. It occurred to
me at once that some one might have gone through it."

"But no woman could have done it. To climb out of an express train going
at top speed would be an impossible feat for a woman," said the
detective, doggedly.

"Why, in God's name, do you still harp upon the woman? Why should it be
a woman more than a man?"

"Because"--it was the Judge who spoke, but he paused a moment in
deference to a gesture of protest from M. Flocon. The little detective
was much concerned at the utter want of reticence displayed by his
colleague.

"Because," went on the Judge with decision--"because this was found in
the compartment;" and he held out the piece of lace and the scrap of
beading for the General's inspection, adding quickly, "You have seen
these, or one of them, or something like them before. I am sure of it; I
call upon you; I demand--no, I appeal to your sense of honour, Sir
Collingham. Tell me, please, exactly what you know."

CHAPTER X

The General sat for a time staring hard at the bit of torn lace and the
broken beads. Then he spoke out firmly:

"It is my duty to withhold nothing. It is not the lace. That I could not
swear to; for me--and probably for most men--two pieces of lace are very
much the same. But I think I have seen these beads, or something exactly
like them, before."

"Where? When?"

"They formed part of the trimming of a mantle worn by the Contessa di
Castagneto."

"Ah!" it was the same interjection uttered simultaneously by the three
Frenchmen, but each had a very different note; in the Judge it was deep
interest, in the detective triumph, in the Commissary indignation, as
when he caught a criminal red-handed.

"Did she wear it on the journey?" continued the Judge.

"As to that I cannot say."

"Come, come, General, you were with her constantly; you must be able to
tell us. We insist on being told." This fiercely, from the now jubilant
M. Flocon.

"I repeat that I cannot say. To the best of my recollection, the
Countess wore a long travelling cloak--an ulster, as we call them. The
jacket with those bead ornaments may have been underneath. But if I have
seen them,--as I believe I have,--it was not during this journey."

Here the Judge whispered to M. Flocon, "The searcher did not discover
any second mantle."

"How do we know the woman examined thoroughly?" he replied. "Here, at
least, is direct evidence as to the beads. At last the net is drawing
round this fine Countess."

"Well, at any rate," said the detective aloud, returning to the General,
"these beads were found in the compartment of the murdered man. I
should like that explained, please."

"By me? How can I explain it? And the fact does not bear upon what we
were considering, as to whether any one had left the car."

"Why not?"

"The Countess, as we know, never left the car. As to her entering this
particular compartment,--at any previous time,--it is highly improbable.
Indeed, it is rather insulting her to suggest it."

"She and this Quadling were close friends."

"So you say. On what evidence I do not know, but I dispute it."

"Then how could the beads get there? They were her property, worn by
her."

"Once, I admit, but not necessarily on this journey. Suppose she had
given the mantle away--to her maid, for instance; I believe ladies often
pass on their things to their maids."

"It is all pure presumption, a mere theory. This maid--she has not as
yet been imported into the discussion."

"Then I would suggest that you do so without delay. She is to my mind
a--well, rather a curious person."

"You know her--spoke to her?"

"I know her, in a way. I had seen her in the Via Margutta, and I nodded
to her when she came first into the car."

"And on the journey--you spoke to her frequently?"

"I? Oh, dear, no, not at all. I noticed her, certainly; I could not help
it, and perhaps I ought to tell her mistress. She seemed to make friends
a little too readily with people."

"As for instance--?"

"With the porter to begin with. I saw them together at Laroche, in the
buffet at the bar; and that Italian, the man who was in here before me;
indeed, with the murdered man. She seemed to know them all."

"Do you imply that the maid might be of use in this inquiry?"

"Most assuredly I do. As I tell you, she was constantly in and out of
the car, and more or less intimate with several of the passengers."

"Including her mistress, the Countess," put in M. Flocon.

The General laughed pleasantly.

"Most ladies are, I presume, on intimate terms with their maids. They
say no man is a hero to his valet. It is the same, I suppose, with the
other sex."

"So intimate," went on the little detective, with much malicious
emphasis, "that now the maid has disappeared lest she might be asked
inconvenient questions about her mistress."

"Disappeared? You are sure?"

"She cannot be found, that is all we know."

"It is as I thought, then. She it was who left the car!" cried Sir
Charles, with so much vehemence that the officials were startled out of
their dignified reserve, and shouted back almost in a breath: "Explain
yourself. Quick, quick. What in God's name do you mean?"

"I had my suspicions from the first, and I will tell you why. At Laroche
the car emptied, as you may have heard; every one except the Countess,
at least, went over to the restaurant for early coffee; I with the rest.
I was one of the first to finish, and I strolled back to the platform to
get a few whiffs of a cigarette. At that moment I saw, or thought I saw,
the end of a skirt disappearing into the sleeping-car. I concluded it
was this maid, Hortense, who was taking her mistress a cup of coffee.
Then my brother came up, we exchanged a few words, and entered the car
together."

"By the same door as that through which you had seen the skirt pass?"

"No, by the other. My brother went back to his berth, but I paused in
the corridor to finish my cigarette after the train had gone on. By this
time every one but myself had returned to his berth, and I was on the
point of lying down again for half an hour, when I distinctly heard the
handle turned of the compartment I knew to be vacant all through the
run."

"That was the one with berths 11 and 12?"

"Probably. It was next to the Countess. Not only was the handle turned,
but the door partly opened--"

"It was not the porter?"

"Oh, no, he was in his seat,--you know it, at the end of the car,--sound
asleep, snoring; I could hear him."

"Did any one come out of the vacant compartment?"

"No; but I was almost certain, I believe I could swear that I saw the
same skirt, just the hem of it, a black skirt, sway forward beyond the
door, just for a second. Then all at once the door was closed again
fast."

"What did you conclude from this? Or did you think nothing of it?"

"I thought very little. I supposed it was that the maid wished to be
near her mistress as we were approaching Paris, and I had heard from
the Countess that the porter had made many difficulties. But you see,
after what has happened, that there was a reason for stopping the
train."

"Quite so," M. Flocon readily admitted, with a scarcely concealed sneer.

He had quite made up his mind now that it was the Countess who had rung
the alarm-bell, in order to allow of the escape of the maid, her
confederate and accomplice.

"And you still have an impression that some one--presumably this
woman--got off the car, somehow, during the stoppage?" he asked.

"I suggest it, certainly. Whether it was or could be so, I must leave to
your superior judgment."

"What! A woman climb out like that? Bah! Tell that to some one else!"

"You have, of course, examined the exterior of the car, dear colleague?"
now said the Judge.

"Assuredly, once, but I will do it again. Still, the outside is quite
smooth, there is no foot-board. Only an acrobat could succeed in thus
escaping, and then only at the peril of his life. But a woman--oh, no!
it is too absurd."

"With help she might, I think, get up on to the roof," quickly remarked
Sir Charles. "I have looked out of the window of my compartment. It
would be nothing for a man, nor much for a woman if assisted."

"That we will see for ourselves," said the detective, ungraciously.

"The sooner the better," added the Judge, and the whole party rose from
their chairs, intending to go straight to the car, when the policeman on
guard appeared at the door, followed close by an English military
officer in uniform, whom he was trying to keep back, but with no great
success. It was Colonel Papillon of the Embassy.

"Halloa, Jack! you are a good chap," cried the General, quickly going
forward to shake hands. "I was sure you would come."

"Come, sir! Of course I came. I was just going to an official function,
as you see, but his Excellency insisted, my horse was at the door, and
here I am."

All this was in English, but the attache turned now to the officials,
and, with many apologies for his intrusion, suggested that they should
allow his friend, the General, to return with him to the Embassy when
they had done with him.

"Of course we will answer for him. He shall remain at your disposal, and
will appear whenever called upon." He returned to Sir Charles, asking,
"You will promise that, sir?"

"Oh, willingly. I had always meant to stay on a bit in Paris. And really
I should like to see the end of this. But my brother? He must get home
for next Sunday's duty. He has nothing to tell, but he would come back
to Paris at any time if his evidence was wanted."

The French Judge very obligingly agreed to all these proposals, and two
more of the detained passengers, making four in all, now left the
station.

Then the officials proceeded to the car, which still remained as the
Chief Detective had left it.

Here they soon found how just were the General's previsions.

CHAPTER XI

The three officials went straight to where the still open window showed
the particular spot to be examined. The exterior of the car was a little
smirched and stained with the dust of the journey, lying thick in parts,
and in others there were a few great splotches of mud plastered on.

The detective paused for a moment to get a general view, looking, in the
light of the General's suggestion, for either hand or foot marks,
anything like a trace of the passage of a feminine skirt, across the
dusty surface.

But nothing was to be seen, nothing definite or conclusive at least.
Only here and there a few lines and scratches that might be encouraging,
but proved little.

Then the Commissary, drawing nearer, called attention to some
suspicious spots sprinkled about the window, but above it towards the
roof.

"What is it?" asked the detective, as his colleague with the point of
his long fore-finger nail picked at the thin crust on the top of one of
these spots, disclosing a dark, viscous core.

"I could not swear to it, but I believe it is blood."

"Blood! Good Heavens!" cried the detective, as he dragged his powerful
magnifying glass out of his pocket and applied it to the spot. "Look, M.
le Juge," he added, after a long and minute examination. "What say you?"

"It has that appearance. Only medical evidence can positively decide,
but I believe it is blood."

"Now we are on the right track, I feel convinced. Some one fetch a
ladder."

One of these curious French ladders, narrow at the top, splayed out at
the base, was quickly leaned against the car, and the detective ran up,
using his magnifier as he climbed.

"There is more here, much more, and something like--yes, beyond question
it is--the print of two hands upon the roof. It was here she climbed."

"No doubt. I can see it now exactly. She would sit on the window ledge,
the lower limbs inside the car here and held there. Then with her hands
she would draw herself up to the roof," said the Judge.

"But what nerve! what strength of arm!"

"It was life and death. Within the car was more terrible danger. Fear
will do much in such a case. We all know that. Well! what more?"

By this time the detective had stepped on to the roof of the car.

"More, more, much more! Footprints, as plain as a picture. A woman's
feet. Wait, let me follow them to the end," said he, cautiously creeping
forward to the end of the car.

A minute or two more, and he rejoined his colleagues on the ground
level, and, rubbing his hands, declared joyously that it was all
perfectly clear.

"Dangerous or not, difficult or not, she did it. I have traced her; have
seen where she must have lain crouching ever so long, followed her all
along the top of the car, to the end where she got down above the little
platform exit. Beyond doubt she left the car when it stopped, and by
arrangement with her confederate."

"The Countess?"

"Who else?"

"And at a point near Paris. The English General said the halt was within
twenty minutes' run of the station."

"Then it is from that point we must commence our search for her. The
Italian has gone on the wrong scent."

"Not necessarily. The maid, we may be sure, will try to communicate with
her mistress."

"Still, it would be well to secure her before she can do that," said the
Judge. "With all we know now, a sharp interrogation might extract some
very damaging admissions from her," went on the detective, eagerly. "Who
is to go? I have sent away both my assistants. Of course I can telephone
for another man, or I might go myself."

"No, no, dear colleague, we cannot spare you just yet. Telephone by all
means. I presume you would wish to be present at the rest of the
interrogatories?"

"Certainly, you are right. We may elicit more about this maid. Let us
call in the porter now. He is said to have had relations with her.
Something more may be got out of him."

The more did not amount to much. Groote, the porter, came in, cringing
and wretched, in the abject state of a man who has lately been drugged
and is now slowly recovering. Although sharply questioned, he had
nothing to add to his first story.

"Speak out," said the Judge, harshly. "Tell us everything plainly and
promptly, or I shall send you straight to gaol. The order is already
made out;" and as he spoke, he waved a flimsy bit of paper before him.

"I know nothing," the porter protested, piteously.

"That is false. We are fully informed and no fools. We are certain that
no such catastrophe could have occurred without your knowledge or
connivance."

"Indeed, gentlemen, indeed--"

"You were drinking with this maid at the buffet at Laroche. You had more
drink with her, or from her hands, afterwards in the car."

"No, gentlemen, that is not so. I could not--she was not in the car."

"We know better. You cannot deceive us. You were her accomplice, and the
accomplice of her mistress, also, I have no doubt."

"I declare solemnly that I am quite innocent of all this. I hardly
remember what happened at Laroche or after. I do not deny the drink at
the buffet. It was very nasty, I thought, and could not tell why, nor
why I could not hold my head up when I got back to the car."

"You went off to sleep at once? Is that what you pretend?"

"It must have been so. Yes. Then I know nothing more, not till I was
aroused."

And beyond this, a tale to which he stuck with undeviating persistence,
they could elicit nothing.

"He is either too clever for us or an absolute idiot and fool," said the
Judge, wearily, at last, when Groote had gone out. "We had better commit
him to Mazas and hold him there in solitary confinement under our hands.
After a day or two of that he may be less difficult."

"It is quite clear he was drugged, that the maid put opium or laudanum
into his drink at Laroche."

"And enough of it apparently, for he says he went off to sleep directly
he returned to the car," the Judge remarked.

"He says so. But he must have had a second dose, or why was the vial
found on the ground by his seat?" asked the Chief, thoughtfully, as much
of himself as of the others.

"I cannot believe in a second dose. How was it administered--by whom? It
was laudanum, and could only be given in a drink. He says he had no
second drink. And by whom? The maid? He says he did not see the maid
again."

"Pardon me, M. le Juge, but do you not give too much credibility to the
porter? For me, his evidence is tainted, and I hardly believe a word of
it. Did he not tell me at first he had not seen this maid after
Amberieux at 8 P.M.? Now he admits that he was drinking with her at the
buffet at Laroche. It is all a tissue of lies, his losing the
pocket-book and his papers too. There is something to conceal. Even his
sleepiness, his stupidity, are likely to have been assumed."

"I do not think he is acting; he has not the ability to deceive us like
that."

"Well, then, what if the Countess took him the second drink?"

"Oh! oh! That is the purest conjecture. There is nothing whatever to
suggest or support that."

"Then how explain the finding of the vial near the porter's seat?"

"May it not have been dropped there on purpose?" put in the Commissary,
with another flash of intelligence.

"On purpose?" queried the detective, crossly, foreseeing an answer that
would not please him.

"On purpose to bring suspicion on the lady?"

"I don't see it in that light. That would imply that she was not in the
plot, and plot there certainly was; everything points to it. The
drugging, the open window, the maid's escape."

"A plot, no doubt, but organized by whom? These two women only? Could
either of them have struck the fatal blow? Hardly. Women have the wit to
conceive, but neither courage nor brute force to execute. There was a
man in this, rest assured."

"Granted. But who? That fire-eating Sir Collingham?" quickly asked the
detective, giving rein once more to his hatred.

"That is not a solution that commends itself to me, I must confess,"
declared the Judge. "The General's conduct has been blameworthy and
injudicious, but he is not of the stuff that makes criminals."

"Who, then? The porter? No? The clergyman? No? The French
gentlemen?--well, we have not examined them yet; but from what I saw at
the first cursory glance, I am not disposed to suspect them."

"What of that Italian?" asked the Commissary.

"Are you sure of him? His looks did not please me greatly, and he was
very eager to get away from here. What if he takes to his heels?"

"Block is with him," the Chief put in hastily, with the evident desire
to stifle an unpleasant misgiving. "We have touch of him if we want
him, as we may."

How much they might want him they only realized when they got further in
their inquiry!

CHAPTER XII

Only the two Frenchmen remained for examination. They had been
left to the last by pure accident. The exigencies of the inquiry
had led to the preference of others, but these two well-broken and
submissive gentlemen made no visible protest. However much they
may have chafed inwardly at the delay, they knew better than to
object; any outburst of discontent would, they knew, recoil on
themselves. Not only were they perfectly patient now when summoned
before the officers of justice, they were most eager to give every
assistance to the law, to go beyond the mere letter, and, if needs
be, volunteer information.

The first called in was the elder, M. Anatole Lafolay, a true
Parisian _bourgeois_, fat and comfortable, unctuous in speech,
and exceedingly deferential.

The story he told was in its main outlines that which we already
know, but he was further questioned, by the light of the latest
facts and ideas as now elicited.

The line adroitly taken by the Judge was to get some evidence of
collusion and combination among the passengers, especially with
reference to two of them, the two women of the party. On this
important point M. Lafolay had something to say.

Asked if he had seen or noticed the lady's maid on the journey, he
answered "yes" very decisively and with a smack of the lips, as
though the sight of this pretty and attractive person had given
him considerable satisfaction.

"Did you speak to her?"

"Oh, no. I had no opportunity. Besides, she had her own friends--
great friends, I fancy. I caught her more than once whispering in
the corner of the car with one of them."

"And that was--?"

"I think the Italian gentleman; I am almost sure I recognized his
clothes. I did not see his face, it was turned from me--towards
hers, and very close, I may be permitted to say."

"And they were friendly?"

"More than friendly, I should say. Very intimate indeed. I should
not have been surprised if--when I turned away as a matter of
fact--if he did not touch, just touch, her red lips. It would have
been excusable--forgive me, messieurs."

"Aha! They were so intimate as that? Indeed! And did she reserve
her favours exclusively for him? Did no one else address her, pay
her court on the quiet--you understand?"

"I saw her with the porter, I believe, at Laroche, but only then.
No, the Italian was her chief companion."

"Did any one else notice the flirtation, do you think?"

"Possibly. There was no secrecy. It was very marked. We could all
see."

"And her mistress too?"

"That I will not say. The lady I saw but little during the
journey."

A few more questions, mainly personal, as to his address,
business, probable presence in Paris for the next few weeks, and
M. Lafolay was permitted to depart.

The examination of the younger Frenchman, a smart, alert young
man, of pleasant, insinuating address, with a quick, inquisitive
eye, followed the same lines, and was distinctly corroborative on
all the points to which M. Lafolay spoke. But M. Jules Devaux had
something startling to impart concerning the Countess.

When asked if he had seen her or spoken to her, he shook his head.

"No; she kept very much to herself," he said. "I saw her but
little, hardly at all, except at Modane. She kept her own berth."

"Where she received her own friends?"

"Oh, beyond doubt. The Englishmen both visited her there, but not
the Italian."

"The Italian? Are we to infer that she knew the Italian?"

"That is what I wish to convey. Not on the journey, though.
Between Rome and Paris she did not seem to know him. It was
afterwards; this morning, in fact, that I came to the conclusion
that there was some secret understanding between them."

"Why do you say that, M. Devaux?" cried the detective, excitedly.
"Let me urge you and implore you to speak out, and fully. This is
of the utmost, of the very first, importance."

"Well, gentlemen, I will tell you. As you are well aware, on
arrival at this station we were all ordered to leave the car, and
marched to the waiting-room, out there. As a matter of course, the
lady entered first, and she was seated when I went in. There was a
strong light on her face."

"Was her veil down?"

"Not then. I saw her lower it later, and, as I think, for reasons
I will presently put before you. Madame has a beautiful face, and
I gazed at it with sympathy, grieving for her, in fact, in such a
trying situation; when suddenly I saw a great and remarkable
change come over it."

"Of what character?"

"It was a look of horror, disgust, surprise,--a little perhaps of
all three; I could not quite say which, it faded so quickly and
was followed by a cold, deathlike pallor. Then almost immediately
she lowered her veil."

"Could you form any explanation for what you saw in her face? What
caused it?"

"Something unexpected, I believe, some shock, or the sight of
something shocking. That was how it struck me, and so forcibly
that I turned to look over my shoulder, expecting to find the
reason there. And it was."

"That reason--?"

"Was the entrance of the Italian, who came just behind me. I am
certain of this; he almost told me so himself, not in words, but
the mistakable leer he gave her in reply. It was wicked, sardonic,
devilish, and proved beyond doubt that there was some secret, some
guilty secret perhaps, between them."

"And was that all?" cried both the Judge and M. Flocon in a
breath, leaning forward in their eagerness to hear more.

"For the moment, yes. But I was made so interested, so suspicious
by this, that I watched the Italian closely, awaiting, expecting
further developments. They were long in coming; indeed, I am only
at the end now."

"Explain, pray, as quickly as possible, and in your own words."

"It was like this, monsieur. When we were all seated, I looked
round, and did not at first see our Italian. At last I discovered
he had taken a back seat, through modesty perhaps, or to be out of
observation--how was I to know? He sat in the shadow by a door,
that, in fact, which leads into this room. He was thus in the
background, rather out of the way, but I could see his eyes
glittering in that far-off corner, and they were turned in our
direction, always fixed upon the lady, you understand. She was
next me, the whole time.

"Then, as you will remember, monsieur, you called us in one by
one, and I, with M. Lafolay, was the first to appear before you.
When I returned to the outer room, the Italian was still staring,
but not so fixedly or continuously, at the lady. From time to time
his eyes wandered towards a table near which he sat, and which was
just in the gangway or passage by which people must pass into your
presence.

"There was some reason for this, I felt sure, although I did not
understand it immediately.

"Presently I got at the hidden meaning There was a small piece of
paper, rolled up or crumpled up into a ball, lying upon this
table, and the Italian wished, nay, was desperately anxious, to
call the lady's attention to it. If I had had any doubt of this,
it was quite removed after the man had gone into the inner room.
As he left us, he turned his head over his shoulder significantly
and nodded very slightly, but still perceptibly, at the ball of
paper.

"Well, gentlemen, I was now satisfied in my own mind that this was
some artful attempt of his to communicate with the lady, and had
she fallen in with it, I should have immediately informed you,
the proper authorities. But whether from stupidity, dread,
disinclination, a direct, definite refusal to have any dealings
with this man, the lady would not--at any rate did not--pick up
the ball, as she might have done easily when she in her turn
passed the table on her way to your presence.

"I have no doubt it was thrown there for her, and probably you
will agree with me. But it takes two to make a game of this sort,
and the lady would not join. Neither on leaving the room nor on
returning would she take up the missive."

"And what became of it, then?" asked the detective in breathless
excitement. "I have it here." M. Devaux opened the palm of his
hand and displayed the scrap of paper in the hollow rolled up into
a small tight ball.

"When and how did you become possessed of it?"

"I got it only just now, when I was called in here. Before that I
could not move. I was tied to my chair, practically, and ordered
strictly not to move."

"Perfectly. Monsieur's conduct has been admirable. And now tell
us--what does it contain? Have you looked at it?"

"By no means. It is just as I picked it up. Will you gentlemen
take it, and if you think fit, tell me what is there? Some
writing--a message of some sort, or I am greatly mistaken."

"Yes, here are words written in pencil," said the detective,
unrolling the paper, which he handed on to the Judge, who read the
contents aloud--

"Be careful. Say nothing. If you betray me, you will be lost too."

A long silence followed, broken first by the Judge, who said at
last solemnly to Devaux:

"Monsieur, in the name of justice I beg to thank you most warmly.
You have acted with admirable tact and judgment, and have rendered
us invaluable assistance. Have you anything further to tell us?"

"No, gentlemen. That is all. And you--you have no more questions
to ask? Then I presume I may withdraw?"

Beyond doubt it had been reserved for the last witness to produce
facts that constituted the very essence of the inquiry.

CHAPTER XIII

The examination was now over, and, the dispositions having been
drawn up and signed, the investigating officials remained for some
time in conference.

"It lies with those three, of course--the two women and the
Italian. They are jointly, conjointly concerned, although the
exact degrees of guilt cannot quite be apportioned," said the
detective.

"And all three are at large!" added the Judge.

"If you will issue warrants for arrest, M. le Juge, we can take
them--two of them at any rate--when we choose."

"That should be at once," remarked the Commissary, eager, as
usual, for decisive action.

"Very well. Let us proceed in that way. Prepare the warrants," said
the Judge, turning to his clerk. "And you," he went on, addressing
M. Flocon, "dear colleague, will you see to their execution? Madame
is at the Hotel Madagascar; that will be easy. The Italian Ripaldi
we shall hear of through your inspector Block. As for the maid,
Hortense Petitpre, we must search for her. That too, sir, you will
of course undertake?"

"I will charge myself with it, certainly. My man should be here by
now, and I will instruct him at once. Ask for him," said M. Flocon
to the guard whom he called in.

"The inspector is there," said the guard, pointing to the outer
room. "He has just returned."

"Returned? You mean arrived."

"No, monsieur, returned. It is Block, who left an hour or more
ago."

"Block? Then something has happened--he has some special
information, some great news! Shall we see him, M. le Juge?"

When Block appeared, it was evident that something had gone wrong
with him. His face wore a look of hot, flurried excitement, and
his manner was one of abject, cringing self-abasement.

"What is it?" asked the little Chief, sharply. "You are alone.
Where is your man?"

"Alas, monsieur! how shall I tell you? He has gone--disappeared! I
have lost him!"

"Impossible! You cannot mean it! Gone, now, just when we most want
him? Never!"

"It is so, unhappily."

"Idiot! _Triple_ idiot! You shall be dismissed, discharged from
this hour. You are a disgrace to the force." M. Flocon raved
furiously at his abashed subordinate, blaming him a little too
harshly and unfairly, forgetting that until quite recently there
had been no strong suspicion against the Italian. We are apt at
times to expect others to be intuitively possessed of knowledge
that has only come to us at a much later date.

"How was it? Explain. Of course you have been drinking. It is
that, or your great gluttony. You were beguiled into some
eating-house."

"Monsieur, you shall hear the exact truth. When we started more
than an hour ago, our fiacre took the usual route, by the Quais
and along the riverside. My gentleman made himself most pleasant"

"No doubt," growled the Chief.

"Offered me an excellent cigar, and talked--not about the affair,
you understand--but of Paris, the theatres, the races, Longchamps,
Auteuil, the grand restaurants. He knew everything, all Paris,
like his pocket. I was much surprised, but he told me his business
often brought him here. He had been employed to follow up several
great Italian criminals, and had made a number of important
arrests in Paris."

"Get on, get on! come to the essential."

"Well, in the middle of the journey, when we were about the Pont
Henri Quatre, he said, 'Figure to yourself, my friend, that it is
now near noon, that nothing has passed my lips since before
daylight at Laroche. What say you? Could you eat a mouthful, just
a scrap on the thumb-nail? Could you?'"

"And you--greedy, gormandizing beast!--you agreed?"

"My faith, monsieur, I too was hungry. It was my regular hour.
Well--at any rate, for my sins I accepted. We entered the first
restaurant, that of the 'Reunited Friends,' you know it, perhaps,
monsieur? A good house, especially noted for tripe _a la mode de
Caen_." In spite of his anguish, Block smacked his fat lips at
the thought of this most succulent but very greasy dish.

"How often must I tell you to get on?"

"Forgive me, monsieur, but it is all part of my story. We had
oysters, two dozen Marennes, and a glass or two of Chablis; then a
good portion of tripe, and with them a bottle, only one, monsieur,
of Pontet Canet; after that a beefsteak with potatoes and a little
Burgundy, then a rum omelet."

"Great Heavens! you should be the fat man in a fair, not an agent
of the Detective Bureau."

"It was all this that helped me to my destruction. He ate, this
devilish Italian, like three, and I too, I was so hungry,--forgive
me, sir,--I did my share. But by the time we reached the cheese, a
fine, ripe Camembert, had our coffee, and one thimbleful of green
Chartreuse, I was _plein jusqu'au bec_, gorged up to the beak."

"And what of your duty, your service, pray?"

"I did think of it, monsieur, but then, he, the Italian, was just
the same as myself. He was a colleague. I had no fear of him, not
till the very last, when he played me this evil turn. I suspected
nothing when he brought out his pocketbook,--it was stuffed full,
monsieur; I saw that and my confidence increased,--called for the
reckoning, and paid with an Italian bank-note. The waiter looked
doubtful at the foreign money, and went out to consult the
manager. A minute after, my man got up, saying:

"'There may be some trouble about changing that bank-note. Excuse
me one moment, pray.' He went out, monsieur, and piff-paff, he was
no more to be seen."

"Ah, _nigaud_ (ass), you are too foolish to live! Why did you
not follow him? Why let him out of your sight?"

"But, monsieur, I was not to know, was I? I was to accompany him,
not to watch him. I have done wrong, I confess. But then, who was
to tell he meant to run away?"

M. Flocon could not deny the justice of this defence. It was only
now, at the eleventh hour, that the Italian had become inculpated,
and the question of his possible anxiety to escape had never been
considered.

"He was so artful," went on Block in further extenuation of his
offence. "He left everything behind. His overcoat, stick, this
book--his own private memorandum-book seemingly--"

"Book? Hand it me," said the Chief, and when it came into his
hands he began to turn over the leaves hurriedly.

It was a small brass-bound note-book or diary, and was full of
close writing in pencil.

"I do not understand, not more than a word here and there. It is
no doubt Italian. Do you know that language, M. le Juge?"

"Not perfectly, but I can read it. Allow me."

He also turned over the pages, pausing to read a passage here and
there, and nodding his head from time to time, evidently struck
with the importance of the matter recorded.

Meanwhile, M. Flocon continued an angry conversation with his
offending subordinate.

"You will have to find him, Block, and that speedily, within
twenty-four hours,--to-day, indeed,--or I will break you like a
stick, and send you into the gutter. Of course, such a consummate
ass as you have proved yourself would not think of searching the
restaurant or the immediate neighbourhood, or of making inquiries
as to whether he had been seen, or as to which way he had gone?"

"Pardon me, monsieur is too hard on me. I have been unfortunate, a
victim to circumstances, still I believe I know my duty. Yes, I made
inquiries, and, what is more, I heard of him."

"Where? how?" asked the Chief, gruffly, but obviously much
interested.

"He never spoke to the manager, but walked out and let the change
go. It was a note for a hundred _lire_, a hundred francs, and
the restaurant bill was no more than seventeen francs."

"Hah! that is greatly against him indeed."

"He was much pressed, in a great hurry. Directly he crossed the
threshold he called the first cab and was driving away, but he was
stopped--"

"The devil! Why did they not keep him, then?"

"Stopped, but only for a moment, and accosted by a woman."

"A woman?"

"Yes, monsieur. They exchanged but three words. He wished to pass
on, to leave her, she would not consent, then they both got into
the cab and were driven away together."

The officials were now listening with all ears.

"Tell me," said the Chief, "quick, this woman--what was she like?
Did you get her description?"

"Tall, slight, well formed, dressed all in black. Her face--it was
a policeman who saw her, and he said she was good-looking, dark,
brunette, black hair."

"It is the maid herself!" cried the little Chief, springing up and
slapping his thigh in exuberant glee. "The maid! the missing
maid!"

CHAPTER XIV

The joy of the Chief of Detectives at having thus come, as he
supposed, upon the track of the missing maid, Hortense Petitpre,
was somewhat dashed by the doubts freely expressed by the Judge as
to the result of any search. Since Block's return, M. Beaumont le
Hardi had developed strong symptoms of discontent and disapproval
at his colleague's proceedings.

"But if it was this Hortense Petitpre how did she get there, by
the bridge Henri Quatre, when we thought to find her somewhere
down the line? It cannot be the same woman."

"I beg your pardon, gentlemen," interposed Block. "May I say one
word? I believe I can supply some interesting information about
Hortense Petitpre. I understand that some one like her was seen
here in the station not more than an hour ago."

"_ Peste!_ Why were we not told this sooner?" cried the Chief,
impetuously.

"Who saw her? Did he speak to her? Call him in; let us see how
much he knows."

The man was summoned, one of the subordinate railway officials,
who made a specific report.

Yes, he had seen a tall, slight, neat-looking woman, dressed
entirely in black, who, according to her account, had arrived at
10.30 by the slow local train from Dijon.

"_ Fichtre!_" said the Chief, angrily; "and this is the first we
have heard of it."

"Monsieur was much occupied at the time, and, indeed, then we had
not heard of your inquiry."

"I notified the station-master quite early, two or three hours
since, about 9 A.M. This is most exasperating!"

"Instructions to look out for this woman have only just reached
us, monsieur. There were certain formalities, I suppose."

For once the detective cursed in his heart the red-tape,
roundabout ways of French officialism.

"Well, well! Tell me about her," he said, with a resignation he
did not feel. "Who saw her?"

"I, monsieur. I spoke to her myself. She was on the outside of the
station, alone, unprotected, in a state of agitation and alarm. I
went up and offered my services. Then she told me she had come
from Dijon, that friends who were to have met her had not
appeared. I suggested that I should put her into a cab and send
her to her destination. But she was afraid of losing her friends,
and preferred to wait."

"A fine story! Did she appear to know what had happened? Had she
heard of the murder?"

"Something, monsieur."

"Who could have told her? Did you?"

"No, not I. But she knew."

"Was not that in itself suspicious? The fact has not yet been made
public."

"It was in the air, monsieur. There was a general impression that
something had happened. That was to be seen on every face, in the
whispered talk, the movement to and fro of the police and the
guards."

"Did she speak of it, or refer to it?"

"Only to ask if the murderer was known; whether the passengers had
been detained; whether there was any inquiry in progress; and
then--"

"What then?"

"This gentleman," pointing to Block, "came out, accompanied by
another. They passed pretty close to us, and I noticed that the
lady slipped quickly on one side."

"She recognized her confederate, of course, but did not wish to be
seen just then. Did he, the person with Block here, see her?"

"Hardly, I think; it was all so quick, and they were gone, in a
minute, to the cab-stand."

"What did your woman do?"

"She seemed to have changed her mind all at once, and declared she
would not wait for her friends. Now she was in quite a hurry to
go."

"Of course! and left you like a fool planted there. I suppose she
took a cab and followed the others, Block here and his companion."

"I believe she did. I saw her cab close behind theirs."

"It is too late to lament this now," said the Chief, after a short
pause, looking at his colleagues. "At least it confirms our ideas,
and brings us to certain definite conclusions. We must lay hands
on these two. Their guilt is all but established. Their own acts
condemn them. They must be arrested without a moment's delay."

"If you can find them!" suggested the Judge, with a very
perceptible sneer.

"That we shall certainly do. Trust to Block, who is very nearly
concerned. His future depends on his success. You quite understand
that, my man?"

Block made a gesture half-deprecating, half-confident.

"I do not despair, gentlemen; and if I might make so bold, sir, I
will ask you to assist? If you would give orders direct from the
Prefecture to make the round of the cab-stands, to ask of all the
agents in charge the information we need? Before night we shall
have heard from the cabman who drove them what became of this
couple, and so get our birds themselves, or a point of fresh
departure."

"And you, Block, where shall you go?"

"Where I left him, or rather where he left me," replied the
inspector, with an attempt at wit, which fell quite flat, being
extinguished by a frigid look from the Judge.

"Go," said M. Flocon, briefly and severely, to his subordinate;
"and remember that you have now to justify your retention on the
force."

Then, turning to M. Beaumont le Hardi, the Chief went on
pleasantly:

"Well, M. le Juge, it promises, I think; it is all fairly
satisfactory, eh?"

"I am sorry I cannot agree with you," replied the Judge, harshly.
"On the contrary, I consider that we--or more exactly you, for
neither I nor M. Garraud accept any share in it--you have so far
failed, and miserably."

"Your pardon, M. le Juge, you are too severe," protested M.
Flocon, quite humbly.

"Well! Look at it from all points of view. What have we got? What
have we gained? Nothing, or, if anything, it is of the smallest,
and it is already jeopardized, if not absolutely lost."

"We have at least gained the positive assurance of the guilt of
certain individuals."

"Whom you have allowed to slip through your fingers."

"Ah, not so, M. le Juge! We have one under surveillance. My man
Galipaud is there at the hotel watching the Countess."

"Do not talk to me of your men, M. Flocon," angrily interposed the
Judge. "One of them has given us a touch of his quality. Why
should not the other be equally foolish? I quite expect to hear
that the Countess also has gone, that would be the climax!"

"It shall not happen. I will take the warrant and arrest her now,
at once, myself," cried M. Flocon.

"Well, that will be something, yet not much. Yes, she is only one,
and not to my mind the most criminal. We do not know as yet the
exact responsibility of each, the exact measure of their guilt;
but I do not myself believe that the Countess was a prime mover,
or, indeed, more than an accessory. She was drawn into it, perhaps
involved, how or why we cannot know, but possibly by fortuitous
circumstances that put an unavoidable pressure upon her; a
consenting party, but under protest. That is my view of the lady."

M. Flocon shook his head. Prepossessions with him were tenacious,
and he had made up his mind about the Countess's guilt.

"When you again interrogate her, M. le Juge, by the light of your
present knowledge, I believe you will think otherwise. She will
confess,--you will make her, your skill is unrivalled,--and you
will then admit, M. le Juge, that I was right in my suspicions."

"Ah, well, produce her! We shall see," said the Judge, somewhat
mollified by M. Flocon's fulsome flattery.

"I will bring her to your chamber of instruction within an hour,
M. le Juge," said the detective, very confidently.

But he was doomed to disappointment in this as he was in other
respects.

CHAPTER XV

Let us go back a little in point of time, and follow the movements
of Sir Charles Collingham.

It was barely 11 A.M. when he left the Lyons Station with his
brother, the Reverend Silas, and the military attache, Colonel
Papillon. They paused for a moment outside the station while the
baggage was being got together.

"See, Silas," said the General, pointing to the clock, "you will
have plenty of time for the 11.50 train to Calais for London, but
you must hurry up and drive straight across Paris to the Nord. I
suppose he can go, Jack?"

"Certainly, as he has promised to return if called upon."

And Mr. Collingham promptly took advantage of the permission.

"But you, General, what are your plans?" went on the attache.

"I shall go to the club first, get a room, dress, and all that.
Then call at the Hotel Madagascar. There is a lady there,--one of
our party, in fact,--and I should like to ask after her. She may
be glad of my services."

"English? Is there anything we can do for her?"

"Yes, she is an Englishwoman, but the widow of an Italian--the
Contessa di Castagneto."

"Oh, but I know her!" said Papillon. "I remember her in Rome two
or three years ago. A deuced pretty woman, very much admired, but
she was in deep mourning then, and went out very little. I wished
she had gone out more. There were lots of men ready to fall at her
feet."

"You were in Rome, then, some time back? Did you ever come across
a man there, Quadling, the banker?"

"Of course I did. Constantly. He was a good deal about--a rather
free-living, self-indulgent sort of chap. And now you mention his
name, I recollect they said he was much smitten by this particular
lady, the Contessa di Castagneto."

"And did she encourage him?" "Lord! how can I tell? Who shall say
how a woman's fancy falls? It might have suited her too. They said
she was not in very good circumstances, and he was thought to be a
rich man. Of course we know better than that now."

"Why _now?_"

"Haven't you heard? It was in the _Figaro_ yesterday, and in all
the Paris papers. Quadling's bank has gone to smash; he has bolted
with all the 'ready' he could lay hands upon."

"He didn't get far, then!" cried Sir Charles. "You look surprised,
Jack. Didn't they tell you? This Quadling was the man murdered in
the sleeping-car. It was no doubt for the money he carried with
him."

"Was it Quadling? My word! what a terrible Nemesis. Well, _nil
nisi bonum_, but I never thought much of the chap, and your
friend the Countess has had an escape. But now, sir, I must be
moving. My engagement is for twelve noon. If you want me, mind you
send--207 Rue Miromesnil, or to the Embassy; but let us arrange to
meet this evening, eh? Dinner and a theatre--what do you say?"

Then Colonel Papillon rode off, and the General was driven to the
Boulevard des Capucines, having much to occupy his thoughts by the
way.

It did not greatly please him to have this story of the Countess's
relations with Quadling, as first hinted at by the police,
endorsed now by his friend Papillon. Clearly she had kept up her
acquaintance, her intimacy to the very last: why otherwise should
she have received him, alone, been closeted with him for an hour
or more on the very eve of his flight? It was a clandestine
acquaintance too, or seemed so, for Sir Charles, although a
frequent visitor at her house, had never met Quadling there.

What did it all mean? And yet, what, after all, did it matter to
him?

A good deal really more than he chose to admit to himself, even
now, when closely questioning his secret heart. The fact was, the
Countess had made a very strong impression on him from the first.
He had admired her greatly during the past winter at Rome, but
then it was only a passing fancy, as he thought,--the pleasant
platonic flirtation of a middle-aged man, who never expected to
inspire or feel a great love. Only now, when he had shared a
serious trouble with her, had passed through common difficulties
and dangers, he was finding what accident may do--how it may fan a
first liking into a stronger flame. It was absurd, of course. He
was fifty-one, he had weathered many trifling affairs of the
heart, and here he was, bowled over at last, and by a woman he was
not certain was entitled to his respect.

What was he to do?

The answer came at once and unhesitatingly, as it would to any
other honest, chivalrous gentleman.

"By George, I'll stick to her through thick and thin! I'll trust
her whatever happens or has happened, come what may. Such a woman
as that is above suspicion. She _must_ be straight. I should be
a beast and a blackguard double distilled to think anything else.
I am sure she can put all right with a word, can explain
everything when she chooses. I will wait till she does."

Thus fortified and decided, Sir Charles took his way to the Hotel
Madagascar about noon. At the desk he inquired for the Countess,
and begged that his card might be sent up to her. The man looked
at it, then at the visitor, as he stood there waiting rather
impatiently, then again at the card. At last he walked out and
across the inner courtyard of the hotel to the office. Presently
the manager came back, bowing low, and, holding the card in his
hand, began a desultory conversation.

"Yes, yes," cried the General, angrily cutting short all
references to the weather and the number of English visitors in
Paris. "But be so good as to let Madame la Comtesse know that I
have called."

"Ah, to be sure! I came to tell Monsieur le General that madame
will hardly be able to see him. She is indisposed, I believe. At
any rate, she does not receive to-day."

"As to that, we shall see. I will take no answer except direct
from her. Take or send up my card without further delay. I insist!
Do you hear?" said the General, so fiercely that the manager
turned tail and fled up-stairs.

Perhaps he yielded his ground the more readily that he saw over
the General's shoulder the figure of Galipaud the detective
looming in the archway. It had been arranged that, as it was not
advisable to have the inspector hanging about the courtyard of the
hotel, the clerk or the manager should keep watch over the
Countess and detain any visitors who might call upon her. Galipaud
had taken post at a wine-shop over the way, and was to be summoned
whenever his presence was thought necessary.

There he was now, standing just behind the General, and for the
present unseen by him.

But then a telegraph messenger came in and up to the desk. He held
the usual blue envelope in his hand, and called out the name on
the address:

"Castagneto. Contessa Castagneto."

At sound of which the General turned sharply, to find Galipaud
advancing and stretching out his hand to take the message.

"Pardon me," cried Sir Charles, promptly interposing and
understanding the situation at a glance. "I am just going up to
see that lady. Give me the telegram."

Galipaud would have disputed the point, when the General, who had
already recognized him, said quietly:

"No, no, Inspector, you have no earthly right to it. I guess why
you are here, but you are not entitled to interfere with private
correspondence. Stand back;" and seeing the detective hesitate, he
added peremptorily:

"Enough of this. I order you to get out of the way. And be quick
about it!"

The manager now returned, and admitted that Madame la Comtesse
would receive her visitor. A few seconds more, and the General was
admitted into her presence.

"How truly kind of you to call!" she said at once, coming up to
him with both hands outstretched and frank gladness in her eyes.

Yes, she was very attractive in her plain, dark travelling dress
draping her tall, graceful figure; her beautiful, pale face was
enhanced by the rich tones of her dark brown, wavy hair, while
just a narrow band of white muslin at her wrists and neck set off
the dazzling clearness of her skin.

"Of course I came. I thought you might want me, or might like to
know the latest news," he answered, as he held her hands in his
for a few seconds longer than was perhaps absolutely necessary.

"Oh, do tell me! Is there anything fresh?" There was a flash of
crimson colour in her cheek, which faded almost instantly.

"This much. They have found out who the man was."

"Really? Positively? Whom do they say now?"

"Perhaps I had better not tell you. It may surprise you, shock you
to hear. I think you knew him--"

"Nothing can well shock me now. I have had too many shocks
already. Who do they think it is?"

"A Mr. Quadling, a banker, who is supposed to have absconded from
Rome."

She received the news so impassively, with such strange self-possession,
that for a moment he was disappointed in her. But then, quick to excuse,
he suggested:

"You may have already heard?"

"Yes; the police people at the railway station told me they
thought it was Mr. Quadling."

"But you knew him?"

"Certainly. They were my bankers, much to my sorrow. I shall lose
heavily by their failure."

"That also has reached you, then?" interrupted the General,
hastily and somewhat uneasily.

"To be sure. The man told me of it himself. Indeed, he came to me
the very day I was leaving Rome, and made me an offer--a most
obliging offer."

"To share his fallen fortunes?"

"Sir Charles Collingham! How can you? That creature!" The contempt
in her tone was immeasurable.

"I had heard--well, some one said that--"

"Speak out, General; I shall not be offended. I know what you
mean. It is perfectly true that the man once presumed to pester me
with his attentions. But I would as soon have looked at a courier
or a cook. And now--"

There was a pause. The General felt on delicate ground. He could
ask no questions--anything more must come from the Countess
herself.

"But let me tell you what his offer was. I don't know why I
listened to it. I ought to have at once informed the police. I
wish I had."

"It might have saved him from his fate."

"Every villain gets his deserts in the long run," she said, with
bitter sententiousness. "And this Mr. Quadling is--But wait, you
shall know him better. He came to me to propose--what do you
think?--that he--his bank, I mean--should secretly repay me the
amount of my deposit, all the money I had in it. To join me in his
fraud, in fact--"

"The scoundrel! Upon my word, he has been well served. And that
was the last you saw of him?"

"I saw him on the journey, at Turin, at Modane, at--Oh, Sir
Charles, do not ask me any more about him!" she cried, with a
sudden outburst, half-grief, half-dread. "I cannot tell you--I am
obliged to--I--I--"

"Then do not say another word," he said, promptly.

"There are other things. But my lips are sealed--at least for the
present. You do not--will not think any worse of me?"

She laid her hand gently on his arm, and his closed over it with
such evident good-will that a blush crimsoned her cheek. It still
hung there, and deepened when he said, warmly:

"As if anything could make me do that! Don't you know--you may
not, but let me assure you, Countess--that nothing could happen to
shake me in the high opinion I have of you. Come what may, I shall
trust you, believe in you, think well of you--always."

"How sweet of you to say that! and now, of all times," she
murmured quite softly, and looking up for the first time, shyly,
to meet his eyes.

Her hand was still on his arm, covered by his, and she nestled so
close to him that it was easy, natural, indeed, for him to slip
his other arm around her waist and draw her to him.

"And now--of all times--may I say one word more?" he whispered in
her ear. "Will you give me the right to shelter and protect you,
to stand by you, share your troubles, or keep them from you--?"

"No, no, no, indeed, not now!" She looked up appealingly, the
tears brimming up in her bright eyes. "I cannot, will not accept
this sacrifice. You are only speaking out of your true-hearted
chivalry. You must not join yourself to me, you must not involve
yourself--"

He stopped her protests by the oldest and most effectual method
known in such cases. That first sweet kiss sealed the compact so
quickly entered into between them.

And after that she surrendered at discretion. There was no more
hesitation or reluctance; she accepted his love as he had offered
it, freely, with whole heart and soul, crept up under his
sheltering wing like a storm-beaten dove reentering the nest, and
there, cooing softly, "My knight--my own true knight and lord,"
yielded herself willingly and unquestioningly to his tender
caresses.

Such moments snatched from the heart of pressing anxieties are
made doubly sweet by their sharp contrast with a background of
trouble.

CHAPTER XVI

They sat there, these two, hand locked in hand, saying little,
satisfied now to be with each other and their new-found love. The
time flew by far too fast, till at last Sir Charles, with a
half-laugh, suggested:

"Do you know, dearest Countess--"

She corrected him in a soft, low voice.

"My name is Sabine--Charles."

"Sabine, darling. It is very prosaic of me, perhaps, but do you
know that I am nearly starved? I came on here at once. I have had
no breakfast."

"Nor have I," she answered, smiling. "I was thinking of it
when--when you appeared like a whirlwind, and since then, events
have moved so fast."

"Are you sorry, Sabine? Would you rather go back to--to--before?"
She made a pretty gesture of closing his traitor lips with her
small hand.

"Not for worlds. But you soldiers--you are terrible men! Who can
resist you?"

"Bah! It is you who are irresistible. But there, why not put on
your jacket and let us go out to lunch somewhere--Durand's,
Voisin's, the Cafe de le Paix? Which do you prefer?"

"I suppose they will not try to stop us?"

"Who should try?" he asked.

"The people of the hotel--the police--I cannot exactly say whom;
but I dread something of the sort. I don't quite understand that
manager. He has been up to see me several times, and he spoke
rather oddly, rather rudely."

"Then he shall answer for it," snorted Sir Charles, hotly. "It is
the fault of that brute of a detective, I suppose. Still they
would hardly dare--"

"A detective? What? Here? Are you sure?"

"Perfectly sure. It is one of those from the Lyons Station. I knew
him again directly, and he was inclined to be interfering. Why, I
caught him trying--but that reminds me--I rescued this telegram
from his clutches."

He took the little blue envelope from his breast pocket and handed
it to her, kissing the tips of her fingers as she took it from
him.

"Ah!"

A sudden ejaculation of dismay escaped her, when, after rather
carelessly tearing the message open, she had glanced at it.

"What is the matter?" he asked in eager solicitude. "May I not
know?"

She made no offer to give him the telegram, and said in a
faltering voice, and with much hesitation of manner, "I do not
know. I hardly think--of course I do not like to withhold
anything, not now. And yet, this is a business which concerns me
only, I am afraid. I ought not to drag you into it."

"What concerns you is very much my business, too. I do not wish to
force your confidence, still--"

She gave him the telegram quite obediently, with a little sigh of
relief, glad to realize now, for the first time after many years,
that there was some one to give her orders and take the burden of
trouble off her shoulders.

He read it, but did not understand it in the least. It ran: "I
must see you immediately, and beg you will come. You will find
Hortense here. She is giving trouble. You only can deal with her.
Do not delay. Come at once, or we must go to you.--Ripaldi, Hotel
Ivoire, Rue Bellechasse."

"What does this mean? Who sends it? Who is Ripaldi?" asked Sir
Charles, rather brusquely.

"He--he--oh, Charles, I shall have to go. Anything would be better
than his coming here."

"Ripaldi? Haven't I heard the name? He was one of those in the
sleeping-car, I think? The Chief of the Detective Police called it
out once or twice. Am I not right? Please tell me--am I not
right?"

"Yes, yes; this man was there with the rest of us. A dark man, who
sat near the door--"

"Ah, to be sure. But what--what in Heaven's name has he to do with
you? How does he dare to send you such an impudent message as
this? Surely, Sabine, you will tell me? You will admit that I have
a right to ask?"

"Yes, of course. I will tell you, Charles, everything; but not
here--not now. It must be on the way. I have been very wrong, very
foolish--but oh, come, come, do let us be going. I am so afraid he
might--"

"Then I may go with you? You do not object to that?"

"I much prefer it--much. Do let us make haste!"

She snatched up her sealskin jacket, and held it to him prettily,
that he might help her into it, which he did neatly and cleverly,
smoothing her great puffed-out sleeves under each shoulder of the
coat, still talking eagerly and taking no toll for his trouble as
she stood patiently, passively before him.

"And this Hortense? It is your maid, is it not--the woman who had
taken herself off? How comes it that she is with that Italian
fellow? Upon my soul, I don't understand--not a little bit."

"I cannot explain that, either. It is most strange, most
incomprehensible, but we shall soon know. Please, Charles, please
do not get impatient."

They passed together down into the hotel courtyard and across it,
under the archway which led past the clerk's desk into the street.

On seeing them, he came out hastily and placed himself in front,
quite plainly barring their egress.

"Oh, madame, one moment," he said in a tone that was by no means
conciliatory. "The manager wants to speak to you; he told me to
tell you, and stop you if you went out."

"The manager can speak to madame when she returns," interposed the
General angrily, answering for the Countess.

"I have had my orders, and I cannot allow her--"

"Stand aside, you scoundrel!" cried the General, blazing up; "or
upon my soul I shall give you such a lesson you will be sorry you
were ever born."

At this moment the manager himself appeared in reinforcement, and
the clerk turned to him for protection and support.

"I was merely giving madame your message, M. Auguste, when this
gentleman interposed, threatened me, maltreated me--"

"Oh, surely not; it is some mistake;" the manager spoke most
suavely. "But certainly I did wish to speak to madame. I wished to
ask her whether she was satisfied with her apartment. I find that
the rooms she has generally occupied have fallen vacant, in the
nick of time. Perhaps madame would like to look at them, and
move?"

"Thank you, M. Auguste, you are very good; but at another time. I
am very much pressed just now. When I return in an hour or two,
not now."

The manager was profuse in his apologies, and made no further
difficulty.

"Oh, as you please, madame. Perfectly. By and by, later, when you
choose."

The fact was, the desired result had been obtained. For now, on
the far side from where he had been watching, Galipaud appeared,
no doubt in reply to some secret signal, and the detective with a
short nod in acknowledgment had evidently removed his embargo.

A cab was called, and Sir Charles, having put the Countess in, was
turning to give the driver his instructions, when a fresh
complication arose.

Some one coming round the corner had caught a glimpse of the lady
disappearing into the fiacre, and cried out from afar.

"Stay! Stop! I want to speak to that lady; detain her." It was the
sharp voice of little M. Flocon, whom most of those present,
certainly the Countess and Sir Charles, immediately recognized.

"No, no, no--don't let them keep me--I cannot wait now," she
whispered in earnest, urgent appeal. It was not lost on her loyal
and devoted friend.

"Go on!" he shouted to the cabman, with all the peremptory
insistence of one trained to give words of command. "Forward! As
fast as you can drive. I'll pay you double fare. Tell him where to
go, Sabine. I'll follow--in less than no time."

The fiacre rattled off at top speed, and the General turned to
confront M. Flocon.

The little detective was white to the lips with rage and
disappointment; but he also was a man of promptitude, and before
falling foul of this pestilent Englishman, who had again marred
his plans, he shouted to Galipaud--

"Quick! After them! Follow her wherever she goes. Take this,"--he
thrust a paper into his subordinate's hand. "It is a warrant for
her arrest. Seize her wherever you find her, and bring her to the
Quai l'Horloge," the euphemistic title of the headquarters of the
French police.

The pursuit was started at once, and then the Chief turned upon
Sir Charles. "Now it is between us," he said, fiercely. "You must
account to me for what you have done."

"Must I?" answered the General, mockingly and with a little laugh.
"It is perfectly easy. Madame was in a hurry, so I helped her to
get away. That was all."

"You have traversed and opposed the action of the law. You have
impeded me, the Chief of the Detective Service, in the execution
of my duty. It is not the first time, but now you must answer for
it."

"Dear me!" said the General in the same flippant, irritating tone.

"You will have to accompany me now to the Prefecture."

"And if it does not suit me to go?"

"I will have you carried there, bound, tied hand and foot, by the
police, like any common rapscallion taken in the act who resists
the authority of an officer."

"Oho, you talk very big, sir. Perhaps you will be so obliging as
to tell me what I have done."

"You have connived at the escape of a criminal from justice--"

"That lady? Psha!"

"She is charged with a heinous crime--that in which you yourself
were implicated--the murder of that man on the train."

"Bah! You must be a stupid goose, to hint at such a thing! A lady
of birth, breeding, the highest respectability--impossible!"

"All that has not prevented her from allying herself with base,
common wretches. I do not say she struck the blow, but I believe
she inspired, concerted, approved it, leaving her confederates to
do the actual deed."

"Confederates?"

"The man Ripaldi, your Italian fellow traveller; her maid,
Hortense Petitpre, who was missing this morning."

The General was fairly staggered at this unexpected blow. Half an
hour ago he would have scouted the very thought, indignantly
repelled the spoken words that even hinted a suspicion of Sabine
Castagneto. But that telegram, signed Ripaldi, the introduction of
the maid's name, and the suggestion that she was troublesome, the
threat that if the Countess did not go, they would come to her,
and her marked uneasiness thereat--all this implied plainly the
existence of collusion, of some secret relations, some secret
understanding between her and the others.

He could not entirely conceal the trouble that now overcame him;
it certainly did not escape so shrewd an observer as M. Flocon,
who promptly tried to turn it to good account.

"Come, M. le General," he said, with much assumed _bonhomie_. "I
can see how it is with you, and you have my sincere sympathy. We
are all of us liable to be carried away, and there is much excuse
for you in this. But now--believe me, I am justified in saying it
--now I tell you that our case is strong against her, that it is
not mere speculation, but supported by facts. Now surely you will
come over to our side?"

"In what way?"

"Tell us frankly all you know--where that lady has gone, help us
to lay our hands on her."

"Your own people will do that. I heard you order that man to
follow her."

"Probably; still I would rather have the information from you. It
would satisfy me of your good-will. I need not then proceed to
extremities--"

"I certainly shall not give it you," said the General, hotly.
"Anything I know about or have heard from the Contessa Castagneto
is sacred; besides, I still believe in her--thoroughly. Nothing
you have said can shake me."

"Then I must ask you to accompany me to the Prefecture. You will
come, I trust, on my invitation." The Chief spoke quietly, but
with considerable dignity, and he laid a slight stress upon the
last word.

"Meaning that if I do not, you will have resort to something
stronger?"

"That will be quite unnecessary, I am sure,--at least I hope so.
Still--"

"I will go where you like, only I will tell you nothing more, not
a single word; and before I start, I must let my friends at the
Embassy know where to find me."

"Oh, with all my heart," said the little detective, shrugging his
shoulders. "We will call there on our way, and you can tell the
porter. They will know where to find us."

CHAPTER XVII

Sir Charles Collingham and his escort, M. Flocon, entered a cab
together and were driven first to the Faubourg St. Honore. The
General tried hard to maintain his nonchalance, but he was yet a
little crestfallen at the turn things had taken, and M. Flocon,
who, on the other hand, was elated and triumphant, saw it. But no
words passed between them until they arrived at the portals of the
British Embassy, and the General handed out his card to the
magnificent porter who received them.

"Kindly let Colonel Papillon have that without delay." The General
had written a few words: "I have got into fresh trouble. Come on
to me at the Police Prefecture if you can spare the time."

"The Colonel is now in the Chancery: will not monsieur wait?"
asked the porter, with superb civility.

But the detective would not suffer this, and interposed, answering
abruptly for Sir Charles:

"No. It is impossible. We are going to the Quai l'Horloge. It is
an urgent matter."

The porter knew what the Quai l'Horloge meant, and he guessed
intuitively who was speaking. Every Frenchman can recognize a
police officer, and has, as a rule, no great opinion of him.

"Very well!" now said the porter, curtly, as he banged the
wicket-gate on the retreating cab, and he did not hurry himself
in giving the card to Colonel Papillon.

"Does this mean that I am a prisoner?" asked Sir Charles, his
gorge rising, as it did easily.

"It means, monsieur, that you are in the hands of justice until
your recent conduct has been fully explained," said the detective,
with the air of a despot.

"But I protest--"

"I wish to hear no further observations, monsieur. You may reserve
them till you can give them to the right person."

The General's temper was sorely ruffled. He did not like it at
all; yet what could he do? Prudence gained the day, and after a
struggle he decided to submit, lest worse might befall him.

There was, in truth, worse to be encountered. It was very irksome
to be in the power of this now domineering little man on his own
ground, and eager to show his power. It was with a very bad grace
that Sir Charles obeyed the curt orders he received, to leave the
cab, to enter at a side door of the Prefecture, to follow this
pompous conductor along the long vaulted passages of this rambling
building, up many flights of stone stairs, to halt obediently at
his command when at length they reached a closed door on an upper
story.

"It is here!" said M. Flocon, as he turned the handle
unceremoniously without knocking. "Enter."

A man was seated at a small desk in the centre of a big bare room,
who rose at once at the sight of M. Flocon, and bowed deferentially
without speaking.

"Baume," said the Chief, shortly, "I wish to leave this gentleman
with you. Make him at home,"--the words were spoken in manifest
irony,--"and when I call you, bring him at once to my cabinet.
You, monsieur, you will oblige me by staying here."

Sir Charles nodded carelessly, took the first chair that offered,
and sat down by the fire.

He was to all intents and purposes in custody, and he examined his
gaoler at first wrathfully, then curiously, struck with his rather
strange figure and appearance. Baume, as the Chief had called him,
was a short, thick-set man with a great shock head sunk in low
between a pair of enormous shoulders, betokening great physical
strength; he stood on very thin but greatly twisted bow legs, and
the quaintness of his figure was emphasized by the short black
blouse or smock-frock he wore over his other clothes like a French
artisan.

He was a man of few words, and those not the most polite in tone,
for when the General began with a banal remark about the weather,
M. Baume replied, shortly:

"I wish to have no talk;" and when Sir Charles pulled out his
cigarette-case, as he did almost automatically from time to time
when in any situation of annoyance or perplexity, Baume raised his
hand warningly and grunted:

"Not allowed."

"Then I'll be hanged if I don't smoke in spite of every man jack
of you!" cried the General, hotly, rising from his seat and
speaking unconsciously in English.

"What's that?" asked Baume, gruffly. He was one of the detective

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