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THE LONE WOLF
LOUIS JOSEPH VANCE
III. A POINT OF INTERROGATION
IV. A STRATAGEM
VI. THE PACK GIVES TONGUE
VIII. THE HIGH HAND
X. TURN ABOUT
XIV. RIVE DROIT
XV. SHEER IMPUDENCE
XVII. THE FORLORN HOPE
XXIII. MADAME OMBER
XXV. WINGS OF THE MORNING
XXVI. THE FLYING DEATH
THE LONE WOLF
It must have been Bourke who first said that even if you knew your way about Paris you had to lose it in order to find it to Troyon’s. But then Bourke was proud to be Irish.
Troyon’s occupied a corner in a jungle of side-streets, well withdrawn from the bustle of the adjacent boulevards of St. Germain and St. Michel, and in its day was a restaurant famous with a fame jealously guarded by a select circle of patrons. Its cooking was the best in Paris, its cellar second to none, its rates ridiculously reasonable; yet Baedeker knew it not. And in the wisdom of the cognoscenti this was well: it had been a pity to loose upon so excellent an establishment the swarms of tourists that profaned every temple of gastronomy on the Rive Droit.
The building was of three storeys, painted a dingy drab and trimmed with dull green shutters. The restaurant occupied almost all of the street front of the ground floor, a blank, non-committal double doorway at one extreme of its plate-glass windows was seldom open and even more seldom noticed.
This doorway was squat and broad and closed the mouth of a wide, stone-walled passageway. In one of its two substantial wings of oak a smaller door had been cut for the convenience of Troyon’s guests, who by this route gained the courtyard, a semi-roofed and shadowy place, cool on the hottest day. From the court a staircase, with an air of leading nowhere in particular, climbed lazily to the second storey and thereby justified its modest pretensions; for the two upper floors of Troyon’s might have been plotted by a nightmare-ridden architect after witnessing one of the first of the Palais Royal farces.
Above stairs, a mediaeval maze of corridors long and short, complicated by many unexpected steps and staircases and turns and enigmatic doors, ran every-which-way and as a rule landed one in the wrong room, linking together, in all, some two-score bed-chambers. There were no salons or reception-rooms, there was never a bath-room, there wasn’t even running water aside from two hallway taps, one to each storey. The honoured guest and the exacting went to bed by lamplight: others put up with candlesticks: gas burned only in the corridors and the restaurant– asthmatic jets that, spluttering blue within globes obese, semi-opaque, and yellowish, went well with furnishings and decorations of the Second Empire to which years had lent a mellow and somehow rakish dinginess; since nothing was ever refurbished.
With such accommodations the guests of Troyon’s were well content. They were not many, to begin with, and they were almost all middle-aged bourgeois, a caste that resents innovations. They took Troyon’s as they found it: the rooms suited them admirably, and the tariff was modest. Why do anything to disturb the perennial peace of so discreet and confidential an establishment? One did much as one pleased there, providing one’s bill was paid with tolerable regularity and the hand kept supple that operated the cordon in the small hours of the night. Papa Troyon came from a tribe of inn-keepers and was liberal-minded; while as for Madame his wife, she cared for nothing but pieces of gold….
To Troyon’s on a wet winter night in the year 1893 came the child who as a man was to call himself Michael Lanyard.
He must have been four or five years old at that time: an age at which consciousness is just beginning to recognize its individuality and memory registers with capricious irregularity. He arrived at the hotel in a state of excitement involving an almost abnormal sensitiveness to impressions; but that was soon drowned deep in dreamless slumbers of healthy exhaustion; and when he came to look back through a haze of days, of which each had made its separate and imperative demand upon his budding emotions, he found his store of memories strangely dulled and disarticulate.
The earliest definite picture was that of himself, a small but vastly important figure, nursing a heavy heart in a dark corner of a fiacre. Beside him sat a man who swore fretfully into his moustache whenever the whimpering of the boy threatened to develop into honest bawls: a strange creature, with pockets full of candy and a way with little boys in public surly and domineering, in private timid and propitiatory. It was raining monotonously, with that melancholy persistence which is the genius of Parisian winters; and the paving of the interminable strange streets was as black glass shot with coloured lights. Some of the streets roared like famished beasts, others again were silent, if with a silence no less sinister. The rain made incessant crepitation on the roof of the fiacre, and the windows wept without respite. Within the cab a smell of mustiness contended feebly with the sickening reek of a cigar which the man was forever relighting and which as often turned cold between his teeth. Outside, unwearying hoofs were beating their deadly rhythm, _cloppetty-clop_….
Back of all this lurked something formlessly alluring, something sad and sweet and momentous, which belonged very personally to the child but which he could never realize. Memory crept blindly toward it over a sword-wide bridge that had no end. There had been (or the boy had dreamed it) a long, weariful journey by railroad, the sequel to one by boat more brief but wholly loathsome. Beyond this point memory failed though sick with yearning. And the child gave over his instinctive but rather inconsecutive efforts to retrace his history: his daily life at Troyon’s furnished compelling and obliterating interests.
Madame saw to that.
It was Madame who took charge of him when the strange man dragged him crying from the cab, through a cold, damp place gloomy with shadows, and up stairs to a warm bright bedroom: a formidable body, this Madame, with cold eyes and many hairy moles, who made odd noises in her throat while she undressed the little boy with the man standing by, noises meant to sound compassionate and maternal but, to the child at least, hopelessly otherwise.
Then drowsiness stealing upon one over a pillow wet with tears … oblivion….
And Madame it was who ruled with iron hand the strange new world to which the boy awakened.
The man was gone by morning, and the child never saw him again; but inasmuch as those about him understood no English and he no French, it was some time before he could grasp the false assurances of Madame that his father had gone on a journey but would presently return. The child knew positively that the man was not his father, but when he was able to make this correction the matter had faded into insignificance: life had become too painful to leave time or inclination for the adjustment of such minor and incidental questions as one’s parentage.
The little boy soon learned to know himself as Marcel, which wasn’t his name, and before long was unaware he had ever had another. As he grew older he passed as Marcel Troyon; but by then he had forgotten how to speak English.
A few days after his arrival the warm, bright bed-chamber was exchanged for a cold dark closet opening off Madame’s boudoir, a cupboard furnished with a rickety cot and a broken chair, lacking any provision for heat or light, and ventilated solely by a transom over the door; and inasmuch as Madame shared the French horror of draughts and so kept her boudoir hermetically sealed nine months of the year, the transom didn’t mend matters much. But that closet formed the boy’s sole refuge, if a precarious one, through several years; there alone was he ever safe from kicks and cuffs and scoldings for faults beyond his comprehension; but he was never permitted a candle, and the darkness and loneliness made the place one of haunted terror to the sensitive and imaginative nature of a growing child.
He was, however, never insufficiently fed; and the luxury of forgetting misery in sleep could not well be denied him.
By day, until of age to go to school, he played apprehensively in the hallways with makeshift toys, a miserable, dejected little body with his heart in his mouth at every sudden footfall, very much in the way of femmes-de-chambre who had nothing in common with the warm-hearted, impulsive, pitiful serving women of fiction. They complained of him to Madame, and Madame came promptly to cuff him. He soon learned an almost uncanny cunning in the art of effacing himself, when she was imminent, to be as still as death and to move with the silence of a wraith. Not infrequently his huddled immobility in a shadowy corner escaped her notice as she passed. But it always exasperated her beyond measure to look up, when she fancied herself alone, and become aware of the wide-eyed, terrified stare of the transfixed boy….
That he was privileged to attend school at all was wholly due to a great fear that obsessed Madame of doing anything to invite the interest of the authorities. She was an honest woman, according to her lights, an honest wife, and kept an honest house; but she feared the gendarmerie more than the Wrath of God. And by ukase of Government a certain amount of education was compulsory. So Marcel learned among other things to read, and thereby took his first blind step toward salvation.
Reading being the one pastime which could be practiced without making a noise of any sort to attract undesirable attentions, the boy took to it in self-defence. But before long it had become his passion. He read, by stealth, everything that fell into his hands, a weird melange of newspapers, illustrated Parisian weeklies, magazines, novels: cullings from the debris of guest-chambers.
Before Marcel was eleven he had read “Les Miserables” with intense appreciation.
His reading, however, was not long confined to works in the French language. Now and again some departing guest would leave an English novel in his room, and these Marcel treasured beyond all other books; they seemed to him, in a way, part of his birthright. Secretly he called himself English in those days, because he knew he wasn’t French: that much, at least, he remembered. And he spent long hours poring over the strange words until; at length, they came to seem less strange in his eyes. And then some accident threw his way a small English-French dictionary.
He was able to read English before he could speak it.
Out of school hours a drudge and scullion, the associate of scullions and their immediate betters, drawn from that caste of loose tongues and looser morals which breeds servants for small hotels, Marcel at eleven (as nearly as his age can be computed) possessed a comprehension of life at once exact, exhaustive and appalling.
Perhaps it was fortunate that he lived without friendship. His concept of womanhood was incarnate in Madame Troyon; so he gave all the hotel women a wide berth.
The men-servants he suffered in silence when they would permit it; but his nature was so thoroughly disassociated from anything within their experience that they resented him: a circumstance which exposed him to a certain amount of baiting not unlike that which the village idiot receives at the hands of rustic boors–until Marcel learned to defend himself with a tongue which could distil vitriol from the vernacular, and with fists and feet as well. Thereafter he was left severely to himself and glad of it, since it furnished him with just so much more time for reading and dreaming over what he read.
By fifteen he had developed into a long, lank, loutish youth, with a face of extraordinary pallor, a sullen mouth, hot black eyes, and dark hair like a mane, so seldom was it trimmed. He looked considerably older than he was and the slightness of his body was deceptive, disguising a power of sinewy strength. More than this, he could care very handily for himself in a scrimmage: la savate had no secrets from him, and he had picked up tricks from the Apaches quite as effectual as any in the manual of jiu-jitsu. Paris he knew as you and I know the palms of our hands, and he could converse with the precision of the native-born in any one of the city’s several odd argots.
To these accomplishments he added that of a thoroughly practised petty thief.
His duties were by day those of valet-de-chambre on the third floor; by night he acted as omnibus in the restaurant. For these services he received no pay and less consideration from his employers (who would have been horrified by the suggestion that they countenanced slavery) only his board and a bed in a room scarcely larger, if somewhat better ventilated, than the boudoir-closet from which he had long since been ousted. This room was on the ground floor, at the back of the house, and boasted a small window overlooking a narrow alley.
He was routed out before daylight, and his working day ended as a rule at ten in the evening–though when there were performances on at the Odeon, the restaurant remained open until an indeterminate hour for the accommodation of the supper trade.
Once back in his kennel, its door closed and bolted, Marcel was free to squirm out of the window and roam and range Paris at will. And it was thus that he came by most of his knowledge of the city.
But for the most part Marcel preferred to lie abed and read himself half-blind by the light of purloined candle-ends. Books he borrowed as of old from the rooms of guests or else pilfered from quai-side stalls and later sold to dealers in more distant quarters of the city. Now and again, when he needed some work not to be acquired save through outright purchase, the guests would pay further if unconscious tribute through the sly abstraction of small coins. Your true Parisian, however, keeps track of his money to the ultimate sou, an idiosyncrasy which obliged the boy to practise most of his peculations on the fugitive guest of foreign extraction.
In the number of these, perhaps the one best known to Troyon’s was Bourke.
He was a quick, compact, dangerous little Irishman who had fallen into the habit of “resting” at Troyon’s whenever a vacation from London seemed a prescription apt to prove wholesome for a gentleman of his kidney; which was rather frequently, arguing that Bourke’s professional activities were fairly onerous.
Having received most of his education in Dublin University, Bourke spoke the purest English known, or could when so minded, while his facile Irish tongue had caught the trick of an accent which passed unchallenged on the Boulevardes. He had an alert eye for pretty women, a heart as big as all out-doors, no scruples worth mentioning, a secret sorrow, and a pet superstition.
The colour of his hair, a clamorous red, was the spring of his secret sorrow. By that token he was a marked man. At irregular intervals he made frantic attempts to disguise it; but the only dye that would serve at all was a jet-black and looked like the devil in contrast with his high colouring. Moreover, before a week passed, the red would crop up again wherever the hair grew thin, lending him the appearance of a badly-singed pup.
His pet superstition was that, as long as he refrained from practising his profession in Paris, Paris would remain his impregnable Tower of Refuge. The world owed Bourke a living, or he so considered; and it must be allowed that he made collections on account with tolerable regularity and success; but Paris was tax-exempt as long as Paris offered him immunity from molestation.
Not only did Paris suit his tastes excellently, but there was no place, in Bourke’s esteem, comparable with Troyon’s for peace and quiet. Hence, the continuity of his patronage was never broken by trials of rival hostelries; and Troyon’s was always expecting Bourke for the simple reason that he invariably arrived unexpectedly, with neither warning nor ostentation, to stop as long as he liked, whether a day or a week or a month, and depart in the same manner.
His daily routine, as Troyon’s came to know it, varied but slightly: he breakfasted abed, about half after ten, lounged in his room or the cafe all day if the weather were bad, or strolled peacefully in the gardens of the Luxembourg if it were good, dined early and well but always alone, and shortly afterward departed by cab for some well-known bar on the Rive Droit; whence, it is to be presumed, he moved on to other resorts, for he never was home when the house was officially closed for the night, the hours of his return remaining a secret between himself and the concierge.
On retiring, Bourke would empty his pockets upon the dressing-table, where the boy Marcel, bringing up Bourke’s petit dejeuner the next morning, would see displayed a tempting confusion of gold and silver and copper, with a wad of bank-notes, and the customary assortment of personal hardware.
Now inasmuch as Bourke was never wide-awake at that hour, and always after acknowledging Marcel’s “bon jour” rolled over and snored for Glory and the Saints, it was against human nature to resist the allure of that dressing-table. Marcel seldom departed without a coin or two.
He had yet to learn that Bourke’s habits were those of an Englishman, who never goes to bed without leaving all his pocket-money in plain sight and–carefully catalogued in his memory….
One morning in the spring of 1904 Marcel served Bourke his last breakfast at Troyon’s.
The Irishman had been on the prowl the previous night, and his rasping snore was audible even through the closed door when Marcel knocked and, receiving no answer, used the pass-key and entered.
At this the snore was briefly interrupted; Bourke, visible at first only as a flaming shock of hair protruding from the bedclothes, squirmed an eye above his artificial horizon, opened it, mumbled inarticulate acknowledgment of Marcel’s salutation, and passed blatantly into further slumbers.
Marcel deposited his tray on a table beside the bed, moved quietly to the windows, closed them, and drew the lace curtains together. The dressing-table between the windows displayed, amid the silver and copper, more gold coins than it commonly did–some eighteen or twenty louis altogether. Adroitly abstracting en passant a piece of ten francs, Marcel went on his way rejoicing, touched a match to the fire all ready-laid in the grate, and was nearing the door when, casting one casual parting glance at the bed, he became aware of a notable phenomenon: the snoring was going on lustily, but Bourke was watching him with both eyes wide and filled with interest.
Startled and, to tell the truth, a bit indignant, the boy stopped as though at word of command. But after the first flash of astonishment his young face hardened to immobility. Only his eyes remained constant to Bourke’s.
The Irishman, sitting up in bed, demanded and received the piece of ten francs, and went on to indict the boy for the embezzlement of several sums running into a number of louis.
Marcel, reflecting that Bourke’s reckoning was still some louis shy, made no bones about pleading guilty. Interrogated, the culprit deposed that he had taken the money because he needed it to buy books. No, he wasn’t sorry. Yes, it was probable that, granted further opportunity, he would do it again. Advised that he was apparently a case-hardened young criminal, he replied that youth was not his fault; with years and experience he would certainly improve.
Puzzled by the boy’s attitude, Bourke agitated his hair and wondered aloud how Marcel would like it if his employers were informed of his peculations.
Marcel looked pained and pointed out that such a course on the part of Bourke would be obviously unfair; the only real difference between them, he explained, was that where he filched a louis Bourke filched thousands; and if Bourke insisted on turning him over to the mercy of Madame and Papa Troyon, who would certainly summon a sergent de ville, he, Marcel, would be quite justified in retaliating by telling the Prefecture de Police all he knew about Bourke.
This was no chance shot, and took the Irishman between wind and water; and when, dismayed, he blustered, demanding to know what the boy meant by his damned impudence, Marcel quietly advised him that one knew what one knew: if one read the English newspaper in the cafe, as Marcel did, one could hardly fail to remark that monsieur always came to Paris after some notable burglary had been committed in London; and if one troubled to follow monsieur by night, as Marcel had, it became evident that monsieur’s first calls in Paris were invariably made at the establishment of a famous fence in the rue des Trois Freres; and, finally, one drew one’s own conclusions when strangers dining in the restaurant–as on the night before, by way of illustration–strangers who wore all the hall-marks of police detectives from England–catechised one about a person whose description was the portrait of Bourke, and promised a hundred-franc note for information concerning the habits and whereabouts of that person, if seen.
Marcel added, while Bourke gasped for breath, that the gentleman in question had spoken to him alone, in the absence of other waiters, and had been fobbed off with a lie.
But why–Bourke wanted to know–had Marcel lied to save him, when the truth would have earned him a hundred francs?
“Because,” Marcel explained coolly, “I, too, am a thief. Monsieur will perceive it was a matter of professional honour.”
Now the Irish have their faults, but ingratitude is not of their number.
Bourke, packing hastily to leave Paris, France and Europe by the fastest feasible route, still found time to question Marcel briefly; and what he learned from the boy about his antecedents so worked with gratitude upon the sentimental nature of the Celt, that when on the third day following the Cunarder Carpathia left Naples for New York, she carried not only a gentleman whose brilliant black hair and glowing pink complexion rendered him a bit too conspicuous among her first-cabin passengers for his own comfort, but also in the second cabin his valet–a boy of sixteen who looked eighteen.
The gentleman’s name on the passenger-list didn’t, of course, in the least resemble Bourke. His valet’s was given as Michael Lanyard.
The origin of this name is obscure; Michael being easily corrupted into good Irish Mickey may safely be attributed to Bourke; Lanyard has a tang of the sea which suggests a reminiscence of some sea-tale prized by the pseudo Marcel Troyon.
In New York began the second stage in the education of a professional criminal. The boy must have searched far for a preceptor of more sound attainments than Bourke. It is, however, only fair to say that Bourke must have looked as far for an apter pupil. Under his tutelage, Michael Lanyard learned many things; he became a mathematician of considerable promise, an expert mechanician, a connoisseur of armour-plate and explosives in their more pacific applications, and he learned to grade precious stones with a glance. Also, because Bourke was born of gentlefolk, he learned to speak English, what clothes to wear and when to wear them, and the civilized practice with knife and fork at table. And because Bourke was a diplomatist of sorts, Marcel acquired the knack of being at ease in every grade of society: he came to know that a self-made millionaire, taken the right way, is as approachable as one whose millions date back even unto the third generation; he could order a dinner at Sherry’s as readily as drinks at Sharkey’s. Most valuable accomplishment of all, he learned to laugh. In the way of by-products he picked up a working acquaintance with American, English and German slang–French slang he already knew as a mother-tongue–considerable geographical knowledge of the capitals of Europe, America and Illinois, a taste that discriminated between tobacco and the stuff sold as such in France, and a genuine passion for good paintings.
Finally Bourke drilled into his apprentice the three cardinal principles of successful cracksmanship: to know his ground thoroughly before venturing upon it; to strike and retreat with the swift precision of a hawk; to be friendless.
And the last of these was the greatest.
“You’re a promising lad,” he said–so often that Lanyard would almost wince from that formula of introduction–“a promising lad, though it’s sad I should be to say it, instead of proud as I am. For I’ve made you: but for me you’d long since have matriculated at La Tour Pointue and graduated with the canaille of the Sante. And in time you may become a first-chop operator, which I’m not and never will be; but if you do, ’twill be through fighting shy of two things. The first of them’s Woman, and the second is Man. To make a friend of a man you must lower your guard. Ordinarily ’tis fatal. As for Woman, remember this, m’lad: to let love into your life you must open a door no mortal hand can close. And God only knows what’ll follow in. If ever you find you’ve fallen in love and can’t fall out, cut the game on the instant, or you’ll end wearing stripes or broad arrows–the same as myself would, if this cursed cough wasn’t going to be the death of me…. No, m’lad: take a fool’s advice (you’ll never get better) and when you’re shut of me, which will be soon, I’m thinking, take the Lonesome Road and stick to the middle of it. ‘He travels the fastest that travels alone’ is a true saying, but ’tis only half the truth: he travels the farthest into the bargain…. Yet the Lonesome Road has its drawbacks, lad–it’s _damned_ lonely!”
Bourke died in Switzerland, of consumption, in the winter of 1910–Lanyard at his side till the end.
Then the boy set his face against the world: alone, lonely, and remembering.
His return to Troyon’s, whereas an enterprise which Lanyard had been contemplating for several years–in fact, ever since the death of Bourke–came to pass at length almost purely as an affair of impulse.
He had come through from London by the afternoon service–via Boulogne–travelling light, with nothing but a brace of handbags and his life in his hands. Two coups to his credit since the previous midnight had made the shift advisable, though only one of them, the later, rendered it urgent.
Scotland Yard would, he reckoned, require at least twenty-four hours to unlimber for action on the Omber affair; but the other, the theft of the Huysman plans, though not consummated before noon, must have set the Chancelleries of at least three Powers by the ears before Lanyard was fairly entrained at Charing Cross.
Now his opinion of Scotland Yard was low; its emissaries must operate gingerly to keep within the laws they serve. But the agents of the various Continental secret services have a way of making their own laws as they go along: and for these Lanyard entertained a respect little short of profound.
He would not have been surprised had he ran foul of trouble on the pier at Folkestone. Boulogne, as well, figured in his imagination as a crucial point: its harbour lights, heaving up over the grim grey waste, peered through the deepening violet dusk to find him on the packet’s deck, responding to their curious stare with one no less insistently inquiring…. But it wasn’t until in the gauntlet of the Gare du Nord itself that he found anything to shy at.
Dropping from train to platform, he surrendered his luggage to a ready facteur, and followed the man through the crush, elbowed and shouldered, offended by the pervasive reek of chilled steam and coal-gas, and dazzled by the brilliant glare of the overhanging electric arcs.
Almost the first face he saw turned his way was that of Roddy.
The man from Scotland Yard was stationed at one side of the platform gates. Opposite him stood another known by sight to Lanyard–a highly decorative official from the Prefecture de Police. Both were scanning narrowly every face in the tide that churned between them.
Wondering if through some fatal freak of fortuity these were acting under late telegraphic advice from London, Lanyard held himself well in hand: the first sign of intent to hinder him would prove the signal for a spectacular demonstration of the ungentle art of not getting caught with the goods on. And for twenty seconds, while the crowd milled slowly through the narrow exit, he was as near to betraying himself as he had ever been–nearer, for he had marked down the point on Roddy’s jaw where his first blow would fall, and just where to plant a coup-de-savate most surely to incapacitate the minion of the Prefecture; and all the while was looking the two over with a manner of the most calm and impersonal curiosity.
But beyond an almost imperceptible narrowing of Roddy’s eyes when they met his own, as if the Englishman were struggling with a faulty memory, neither police agent betrayed the least recognition.
And then Lanyard was outside the station, his facteur introducing him to a ramshackle taxicab.
No need to speculate whether or not Roddy were gazing after him; in the ragged animal who held the door while Lanyard fumbled for his facteur’s tip, he recognized a runner for the Prefecture; and beyond question there were many such about. If any lingering doubt should trouble Roddy’s mind he need only ask, “Such-and-such an one took what cab and for what destination?” to be instantly and accurately informed.
In such case to go directly to his apartment, that handy little rez-de-chaussee near the Trocadero, was obviously inadvisable. Without apparent hesitation Lanyard directed the driver to the Hotel Lutetia, tossed the ragged spy a sou, and was off to the tune of a slammed door and a motor that sorely needed overhauling….
The rain, which had welcomed the train a few miles from Paris, was in the city torrential. Few wayfarers braved the swimming sidewalks, and the little clusters of chairs and tables beneath permanent cafe awnings were one and all neglected. But in the roadways an amazing concourse of vehicles, mostly motor-driven, skimmed, skidded, and shot over burnished asphalting all, of course, at top-speed–else this were not Paris. Lanyard thought of insects on the surface of some dark forest pool….
The roof of the cab rang like a drumhead; the driver blinked through the back-splatter from his rubber apron; now and again the tyres lost grip on the treacherous going and provided instants of lively suspense. Lanyard lowered a window to release the musty odour peculiar to French taxis, got well peppered with moisture, and promptly put it up again. Then insensibly he relaxed, in the toils of memories roused by the reflection that this night fairly duplicated that which had welcomed him to Paris, twenty years ago.
It was then that, for the first time in several months, he thought definitely of Troyon’s.
And it was then that Chance ordained that his taxicab should skid. On the point of leaving the Ile de la Cite by way of the Pont St. Michel, it suddenly (one might pardonably have believed) went mad, darting crabwise from the middle of the road to the right-hand footway with evident design to climb the rail and make an end to everything in the Seine. The driver regained control barely in time to avert a tragedy, and had no more than accomplished this much when a bit of broken glass gutted one of the rear tyres, which promptly gave up the ghost with a roar like that of a lusty young cannon.
At this the driver (apparently a person of religious bias) said something heartfelt about the sacred name of his pipe and, crawling from under the apron, turned aft to assess damages.
On his own part Lanyard swore in sound Saxon, opened the door, and delivered himself to the pelting shower.
“Well?” he enquired after watching the driver muzzle the eviscerated tyre for some eloquent moments.
Turning up a distorted face, the other gesticulated with profane abandon, by way of good measure interpolating a few disconnected words and phrases. Lanyard gathered that this was the second accident of the same nature since noon that the cab consequently lacked a spare tyre, and that short of a trip to the garage the accident was irremediable. So he said (intelligently) it couldn’t be helped, paid the man and over tipped precisely as though their journey had been successfully consummated, and standing over his luggage watched the maimed vehicle limp miserably off through the teeming mists.
Now in normal course his plight should have been relieved within two minutes. But it wasn’t. For some time all such taxis as did pass displayed scornfully inverted flags. Also, their drivers jeered in their pleasing Parisian way at the lonely outlander occupying a position of such uncommon distinction in the heart of the storm and the precise middle of the Pont St. Michel.
Over to the left, on the Quai de Marche Neuf, the facade of the Prefecture frowned portentously–“La Tour Pointue,” as the Parisian loves to term it. Lanyard forgot his annoyance long enough to salute that grim pile with a mocking bow, thinking of the men therein who would give half their possessions to lay hands on him who was only a few hundred yards distant, marooned in the rain!…
In its own good time a night-prowling fiacre ambled up and veered over to his hail. He viewed this stroke of good-fortune with intense disgust: the shambling, weather-beaten animal between the shafts promised a long, damp crawl to the Lutetia.
And on this reflection he yielded to impulse.
Heaving in his luggage–“Troyon’s!” he told the cocher….
The fiacre lumbered off into that dark maze of streets, narrow and tortuous, which backs up from the Seine to the Luxembourg, while its fare reflected that Fate had not served him so hardly after all: if Roddy had really been watching for him at the Gare du Nord, with a mind to follow and wait for his prey to make some incriminating move, this chance-contrived change of vehicles and destination would throw the detective off the scent and gain the adventurer, at worst, several hours’ leeway.
When at length his conveyance drew up at the historic corner, Lanyard alighting could have rubbed his eyes to see the windows of Troyon’s all bright with electric light.
Somehow, and most unreasonably, he had always believed the place would go to the hands of the house-wrecker unchanged.
A smart portier ducked out, seized his luggage, and offered an umbrella. Lanyard composed his features to immobility as he entered the hotel, of no mind to let the least flicker of recognition be detected in his eyes when they should re-encounter familiar faces.
And this was quite as well: for–again–the first he saw was Roddy.
A POINT OF INTERROGATION
The man from Scotland Yard had just surrendered hat, coat, and umbrella to the vestiaire and was turning through swinging doors to the dining-room. Again, embracing Lanyard, his glance seemed devoid of any sort of intelligible expression; and if its object needed all his self-possession in that moment, it was to dissemble relief rather than dismay. An accent of the fortuitous distinguished this second encounter too persuasively to excuse further misgivings. What the adventurer himself hadn’t known till within the last ten minutes, that he was coming to Troyon’s, Roddy couldn’t possibly have anticipated; ergo, whatever the detective’s business, it had nothing to do with Lanyard.
Furthermore, before quitting the lobby, Roddy paused long enough to instruct the vestiaire to have a fire laid in his room.
So he was stopping at Troyon’s–and didn’t care who knew it!
His doubts altogether dissipated by this incident, Lanyard followed his natural enemy into the dining-room with an air as devil-may-care as one could wish and so impressive that the maitre-d’hotel abandoned the detective to the mercies of one of his captains and himself hastened to seat Lanyard and take his order.
This last disposed of; Lanyard surrendered himself to new impressions–of which the first proved a bit disheartening.
However impulsively, he hadn’t resought Troyon’s without definite intent, to wit, to gain some clue, however slender, to the mystery of that wretched child, Marcel. But now it appeared he had procrastinated fatally: Time and Change had left little other than the shell of the Troyon’s he remembered. Papa Troyon was gone; Madame no longer occupied the desk of the caisse; enquiries, so discreetly worded as to be uncompromising, elicited from the maitre-d’hotel the information that the house had been under new management these eighteen months; the old proprietor was dead, and his widow had sold out lock, stock and barrel, and retired to the country–it was not known exactly where. And with the new administration had come fresh decorations and furnishings as well as a complete change of personnel: not even one of the old waiters remained.
“‘All, all are gone, the old familiar faces,'” Lanyard quoted in vindictive melancholy–“damn ’em!”
Happily, it was soon demonstrated that the cuisine was being maintained on its erstwhile plane of excellence: one still had that comfort….
Other impressions, less ultimate, proved puzzling, disconcerting, and paradoxically reassuring.
Lanyard commanded a fair view of Roddy across the waist of the room. The detective had ordered a meal that matched his aspect well–both of true British simplicity. He was a square-set man with a square jaw, cold blue eyes, a fat nose, a thin-lipped trap of a mouth, a face as red as rare beefsteak. His dinner comprised a cut from the joint, boiled potatoes, brussels sprouts, a bit of cheese, a bottle of Bass. He ate slowly, chewing with the doggedness of a strong character hampered by a weak digestion, and all the while kept eyes fixed to an issue of the Paris edition of the London Daily Mail, with an effect of concentration quite too convincing.
Now one doesn’t read the Paris edition of the London Daily Mail with tense excitement. Humanly speaking, it can’t be done.
Where, then, was the object of this so sedulously dissembled interest?
Lanyard wasn’t slow to read this riddle to his satisfaction–in as far, that is, as it was satisfactory to feel still more certain that Roddy’s quarry was another than himself.
Despite the lateness of the hour, which had by now turned ten o’clock, the restaurant had a dozen tables or so in the service of guests pleasantly engaged in lengthening out an agreeable evening with dessert, coffee, liqueurs and cigarettes. The majority of these were in couples, but at a table one removed from Roddy’s sat a party of three; and Lanyard noticed, or fancied, that the man from Scotland Yard turned his newspaper only during lulls in the conversation in this quarter.
Of the three, one might pass for an American of position and wealth: a man of something more than sixty years, with an execrable accent, a racking cough, and a thin, patrician cast of features clouded darkly by the expression of a soul in torment, furrowed, seamed, twisted–a mask of mortal anguish. And once, when this one looked up and casually encountered Lanyard’s gaze, the adventurer was shocked to find himself staring into eyes like those of a dead man: eyes of a grey so light that at a little distance the colour of the irises blended indistinguishably with their whites, leaving visible only the round black points of pupils abnormally distended and staring, blank, fixed, passionless, beneath lashless lids.
For the instant they seemed to explore Lanyard’s very soul with a look of remote and impersonal curiosity; then they fell away; and when next the adventurer looked, the man had turned to attend to some observation of one of his companions.
On his right sat a girl who might be his daughter; for not only was she, too, hall-marked American, but she was far too young to be the other’s wife. A demure, old-fashioned type; well-poised but unassuming; fetchingly gowned and with sufficient individuality of taste but not conspicuously; a girl with soft brown hair and soft brown eyes; pretty, not extravagantly so when her face was in repose, but with a slow smile that rendered her little less than beautiful: in all (Lanyard thought) the kind of woman that is predestined to comfort mankind, whose strongest instinct is the maternal.
She took little part in the conversation, seldom interrupting what was practically a duologue between her putative father and the third of their party.
This last was one, whom Lanyard was sure he knew, though he could see no more than the back of Monsieur le Comte Remy de Morbihan.
And he wondered with a thrill of amusement if it were possible that Roddy was on the trail of that tremendous buck. If so, it would be a chase worth following–a diversion rendered the more exquisite to Lanyard by the spice of novelty, since for once he would figure as a dispassionate bystander.
The name of Comte Remy de Morbihan, although unrecorded in the Almanach de Gotha, was one to conjure with in the Paris of his day and generation. He claimed the distinction of being at once the homeliest, one of the wealthiest, and the most-liked man in France.
As to his looks, good or bad, they were said to prove infallibly fatal with women, while not a few men, perhaps for that reason, did their possessor the honour to imitate them. The revues burlesqued him; Sem caricatured him; Forain counterfeited him extensively in that inimitable series of Monday morning cartoons for Le Figaro: one said “De Morbihan” instinctively at sight of that stocky figure, short and broad, topped by a chubby, moon-like mask with waxed moustaches, womanish eyes, and never-failing grin.
A creature of proverbial good-nature and exhaustless vitality, his extraordinary popularity was due to the equally extraordinary extravagance with which he supported that latest Gallic fad, “le Sport.” The Parisian Rugby team was his pampered protege, he was an active member of the Tennis Club, maintained not only a flock of automobiles but a famous racing stable, rode to hounds, was a good field gun, patronized aviation and motor-boat racing, risked as many maximums during the Monte Carlo season as the Grand Duke Michael himself, and was always ready to whet rapiers or burn a little harmless powder of an early morning in the Parc aux Princes.
But there were ugly whispers current with respect to the sources of his fabulous wealth. Lanyard, for one, wouldn’t have thought him the properest company or the best Parisian cicerone for an ailing American gentleman blessed with independent means and an attractive daughter.
Paris, on the other hand–Paris who forgives everything to him who contributes to her amusement–adored Comte Remy de Morbihan …
But perhaps Lanyard was prejudiced by his partiality for Americans, a sentiment the outgrowth of the years spent in New York with Bourke. He even fancied that between his spirit and theirs existed some subtle bond of sympathy. For all he knew he might himself be American…
For some time Lanyard strained to catch something of the conversation that seemed to hold so much of interest for Roddy, but without success because of the hum of voices that filled the room. In time, however, the gathering began to thin out, until at length there remained only this party of three, Lanyard enjoying a most delectable salad, and Roddy puffing a cigar (with such a show of enjoyment that Lanyard suspected him of the sin of smuggling) and slowly gulping down a second bottle of Bass.
Under these conditions the talk between De Morbihan and the Americans became public property.
The first remark overheard by Lanyard came from the elderly American, following a pause and a consultation of his watch.
“Quarter to eleven,” he announced.
“Plenty of time,” said De Morbihan cheerfully. “That is,” he amended, “if mademoiselle isn’t bored …”
The girl’s reply, accompanied by a pretty inclination of her head toward the Frenchman, was lost in the accents of the first speaker–a strong and sonorous voice, in strange contrast with his ravaged appearance and distressing cough.
“Don’t let that worry you,” he advised cheerfully. “Lucia’s accustomed to keeping late hours with me; and who ever heard of a young and pretty woman being bored on the third day of her first visit to Paris?”
He pronounced the name with the hard C of the Italian tongue, as though it were spelled Luchia.
“To be sure,” laughed the Frenchman; “one suspects it will be long before mademoiselle loses interest in the rue de la Paix.”
“You may well, when such beautiful things come from it,” said the girl. “See what we found there to-day.”
She slipped a ring from her hand and passed it to De Morbihan.
There followed silence for an instant, then an exclamation from the Frenchman:
“But it is superb! Accept, mademoiselle, my compliments. It is worthy even of you.”
She flushed prettily as she nodded smiling acknowledgement.
“Ah, you Americans!” De Morbihan sighed. “You fill us with envy: you have the souls of poets and the wealth of princes!”
“But we must come to Paris to find beautiful things for our women-folk!”
“Take care, though, lest you go too far, Monsieur Bannon.”
“How so–too far?”
“You might attract the attention of the Lone Wolf. They say he’s on the prowl once more.”
The American laughed a trace contemptuously. Lanyard’s fingers tightened on his knife and fork; otherwise he made no sign. A sidelong glance into a mirror at his elbow showed Roddy still absorbed in the Daily Mail.
The girl bent forward with a look of eager interest.
“The Lone Wolf? Who is that?”
“You don’t know him in America, mademoiselle?”
“The Lone Wolf, my dear Lucia,” the valetudinarian explained in a dryly humourous tone, “is the sobriquet fastened by some imaginative French reporter upon a celebrated criminal who seems to have made himself something of a pest over here, these last few years. Nobody knows anything definite about him, apparently, but he operates in a most individual way and keeps the police busy trying to guess where he’ll strike next.”
The girl breathed an incredulous exclamation.
“But I assure you!” De Morbihan protested. “The rogue has had a wonderfully successful career, thanks to his dispensing with confederates and confining his depredations to jewels and similar valuables, portable and easy to convert into cash. Yet,” he added, nodding sagely, “one isn’t afraid to predict his race is almost run.” “You don’t tell me!” the older man exclaimed. “Have they picked up the scent–at last?”
“The man is known,” De Morbihan affirmed.
By now the conversation had caught the interest of several loitering waiters, who were listening open-mouthed. Even Roddy seemed a bit startled, and for once forgot to make business with his newspaper; but his wondering stare was exclusively for De Morbihan.
Lanyard put down knife and fork, swallowed a final mouthful of Haut Brion, and lighted a cigarette with the hand of a man who knew not the meaning of nerves.
“Garcon!” he called quietly; and ordered coffee and cigars, with a liqueur to follow….
“Known!” the American exclaimed. “They’ve caught him, eh?”
“I didn’t say that,” De Morbihan laughed; “but the mystery is no more–in certain quarters.”
“Who is he, then?”
“That–monsieur will pardon me–I’m not yet free to state. Indeed, I may be indiscreet in saying as much as I do. Yet, among friends…”
His shrug implied that, as far as _he_ was concerned, waiters were unhuman and the other guests of the establishment non-existent.
“But,” the American persisted, “perhaps you can tell us how they got on his track?”
“It wasn’t difficult,” said De Morbihan: “indeed, quite simple. This tone of depreciation is becoming, for it was my part to suggest the solution to my friend, the Chief of the Surete. He had been annoyed and distressed, had even spoken of handing in his resignation because of his inability to cope with this gentleman, the Lone Wolf. And since he is my friend, I too was distressed on his behalf, and badgered my poor wits until they chanced upon an idea which led us to the light.”
“You won’t tell us?” the girl protested, with a little moue of disappointment, as the Frenchman paused provokingly.
“Perhaps I shouldn’t. And yet–why not? As I say, it was elementary reasoning–a mere matter of logical deduction and elimination. One made up one’s mind the Lone Wolf must be a certain sort of man; the rest was simply sifting France for the man to fit the theory, and then watching him until he gave himself away.”
“You don’t imagine we’re going to let you stop there?” The American demanded in an aggrieved tone.
“No? I must continue? Very well: I confess to some little pride. It was a feat. He is cunning, that one!”
De Morbihan paused and shifted sideways in his chair, grinning like a mischievous child.
By this manoeuvre, thanks to the arrangement of mirrors lining the walls, he commanded an indirect view of Lanyard; a fact of which the latter was not unaware, though his expression remained unchanged as he sat–with a corner of his eye reserved for Roddy–speculating whether De Morbihan were telling the truth or only boasting for his own glorification.
“Do go on–please!” the girl begged prettily.
“I can deny you nothing, mademoiselle…. Well, then! From what little was known of this mysterious creature, one readily inferred he must be a bachelor, with no close friends. That is clear, I trust?”
“Too deep for me, my friend,” the elderly man confessed.
“Impenetrable reticence,” the Count expounded, sententious–and enjoying himself hugely–“isn’t possible in the human relations. Sooner or later one is doomed to share one’s secrets, however reluctantly, even unconsciously, with a wife, a mistress, a child, or with some trusted friend. And a secret between two is–a prolific breeder of platitudes! Granted this line of reasoning, the Lone Wolf is of necessity not only unmarried but practically friendless. Other attributes of his will obviously comprise youth, courage, imagination, a rather high order of intelligence, and a social position–let us say, rather, an ostensible business–enabling him to travel at will hither and yon without exciting comment. So far, good! My friend the Chief of the Surete forthwith commissioned his agents to seek such an one, and by this means several fine fish were enmeshed in the net of suspicion, carefully scrutinized, and one by one let go–all except one, the veritable man. Him they sedulously watched, shadowing him across Europe and back again. He was in Berlin at the time of the famous Rheinart robbery, though he compassed that coup without detection; he was in Vienna when the British embassy there was looted, but escaped by a clever ruse and managed to dispose of his plunder before the agents of the Surete could lay hands on him; recently he has been in London, and there he made love to, and ran away with, the diamonds of a certain lady of some eminence. You have heard of Madame Omber, eh?” Now by Roddy’s expression it was plain that, if Madame Omber’s name wasn’t strange in his hearing, at least he found this news about her most surprising. He was frankly staring, with a slackened jaw and with stupefaction in his blank blue eyes.
Lanyard gently pinched the small end of a cigar, dipped it into his coffee, and lighted it with not so much as a suspicion of tremor. His brain, however, was working rapidly in effort to determine whether De Morbihan meant this for warning, or was simply narrating an amusing yarn founded on advance information and amplified by an ingenious imagination. For by now the news of the Omber affair must have thrilled many a Continental telegraph-wire….
“Madame Omber–of course!” the American agreed thoughtfully. “Everyone has heard of her wonderful jewels. The real marvel is that the Lone Wolf neglected so shining a mark as long as he did.”
“But truly so, monsieur!”
“And they caught him at it, eh?”
“Not precisely: but he left a clue–and London, to boot–with such haste as would seem to indicate he knew his cunning hand had, for once, slipped.”
“Then they’ll nab him soon?”
“Ah, monsieur, one must say no more!” De Morbihan protested. “Rest assured the Chief of the Surete has laid his plans: his web is spun, and so artfully that I think our unsociable outlaw will soon be making friends in the Prison of the Sante…. But now we must adjourn. One is sorry. It has been so very pleasant….”
A waiter conjured the bill from some recess of his waistcoat and served it on a clean plate to the American. Another ran bawling for the vestiaire. Roddy glued his gaze afresh to the Daily Mail. The party rose.
Lanyard noticed that the American signed instead of settling the bill with cash, indicating that he resided at Troyon’s as well as dined there. And the adventurer found time to reflect that it was odd for such as he to seek that particular establishment in preference to the palatial modern hostelries of the Rive Droit–before De Morbihan, ostensibly for the first time espying Lanyard, plunged across the room with both hands outstretched and a cry of joyous surprise not really justified by their rather slight acquaintanceship.
“Ah! Ah!” he clamoured vivaciously. “It is Monsieur Lanyard, who knows all about paintings! But this is delightful, my friend–one grand pleasure! You must know my friends…. But come!”
And seizing Lanyard’s hands, when that one somewhat reluctantly rose in response to this surprisingly over-exuberant greeting, he dragged him willy-nilly from behind his table.
“And you are American, too. Certainly you must know one another. Mademoiselle Bannon–with your permission–my friend, Monsieur Lanyard. And Monsieur Bannon–an old, dear friend, with whom you will share a passion for the beauties of art.”
The hand of the American, when Lanyard clasped it, was cold, as cold as ice; and as their eyes met that abominable cough laid hold of the man, as it were by the nape of his neck, and shook him viciously. Before it had finished with him, his sensitively coloured face was purple, and he was gasping, breathless–and infuriated.
“Monsieur Bannon,” De Morbihan explained disconnectedly–“it is most distressing–I tell him he should not stop in Paris at this season–“
“It is nothing!” the American interposed brusquely between paroxysms.
“But our winter climate, monsieur–it is not fit for those in the prime of health–“
“It is I who am unfit!” Bannon snapped, pressing a handkerchief to his lips–“unfit to live!” he amended venomously.
Lanyard murmured some conventional expression of sympathy. Through it all he was conscious of the regard of the girl. Her soft brown eyes met his candidly, with a look cool in its composure, straightforward in its enquiry, neither bold nor mock-demure. And if they were the first to fall, it was with an effect of curiosity sated, without hint of discomfiture…. And somehow the adventurer felt himself measured, classified, filed away.
Between amusement and pique he continued to stare while the elderly American recovered his breath and De Morbihan jabbered on with unfailing vivacity; and he thought that this closer scrutiny discovered in her face contours suggesting maturity of thought beyond her apparent years–which were somewhat less than the sum of Lanyard’s–and with this the suggestion of an elusive, provoking quality of wistful languor, a hint of patient melancholy….
“We are off for a glimpse of Montmartre,” De Morbihan was explaining–“Monsieur Bannon and I. He has not seen Paris in twenty years, he tells me. Well, it will be amusing to show him what changes have taken place in all that time. One regrets mademoiselle is too fatigued to accompany us. But you, my friend–now if you would consent to make our third, it would be most amiable of you.”
“I’m sorry,” Lanyard excused himself; “but as you see, I am only just in from the railroad, a long and tiresome journey. You are very good, but I–“
“Good!” De Morbihan exclaimed with violence. “I? On the contrary, I am a very selfish man; I seek but to afford myself the pleasure of your company. You lead such a busy life, my friend, romping about Europe, here one day, God-knows-where the next, that one must make one’s best of your spare moments. You will join us, surely?”
“Really I cannot to-night. Another time perhaps, if you’ll excuse me.”
“But it is always this way!” De Morbihan explained to his friends with a vast show of mock indignation. “‘Another time, perhaps’–his invariable excuse! I tell you, not two men in all Paris have any real acquaintance with this gentleman whom all Paris knows! His reserve is proverbial–‘as distant as Lanyard,’ we say on the boulevards!” And turning again to the adventurer, meeting his cold stare with the De Morbihan grin of quenchless effrontery–“As you will, my friend!” he granted. “But should you change your mind–well, you’ll have no trouble finding us. Ask any place along the regular route. We see far too little of one another, monsieur–and I am most anxious to have a little chat with you.”
“It will be an honour,” Lanyard returned formally….
In his heart he was pondering several most excruciating methods of murdering the man. What did he mean? How much did he know? If he knew anything, he must mean ill, for assuredly he could not be ignorant of Roddy’s business, or that every other word he uttered was rivetting suspicion on Lanyard of identity with the Lone Wolf, or that Roddy was listening with all his ears and staring into the bargain!
Decidedly something must be done to silence this animal, should it turn out he really did know anything!
It was only after profound reflection over his liqueur (while Roddy devoured his Daily Mail and washed it down with a third bottle of Bass) that Lanyard summoned the maitre-d’hotel and asked for a room.
It would never do to fix the doubts of the detective by going elsewhere that night. But, fortunately, Lanyard knew that warren which was Troyon’s as no one else knew it; Roddy would find it hard to detain him, should events seem to advise an early departure.
When the maitre-d’hotel had shown him all over the establishment (innocently enough, en route, furnishing him with a complete list of his other guests and their rooms: memoranda readily registered by a retentive memory) Lanyard chose the bed-chamber next that occupied by Roddy, in the second storey.
The consideration influencing this selection was–of course–that, so situated, he would be in position not only to keep an eye on the man from Scotland Yard but also to determine whether or no Roddy were disposed to keep an eye on him.
In those days Lanyard’s faith in himself was a beautiful thing. He could not have enjoyed the immunity ascribed to the Lone Wolf as long as he had without gaining a power of sturdy self-confidence in addition to a certain amount of temperate contempt for spies of the law and all their ways.
Against the peril inherent in this last, however, he was self-warned, esteeming it the most fatal chink in the armour of the lawbreaker, this disposition to underestimate the acumen of the police: far too many promising young adventurers like himself were annually laid by the heels in that snare of their own infatuate weaving. The mouse has every right, if he likes, to despise the cat for a heavy-handed and bloodthirsty beast, lacking wit and imagination, a creature of simple force-majeure; but that mouse will not advisedly swagger in cat-haunted territory; a blow of the paw is, when all’s said and done, a blow of the paw–something to numb the wits of the wiliest mouse.
Considering Roddy, he believed it to be impossible to gauge the limitations of that essentially British intelligence–something as self-contained as a London flat. One thing only was certain: Roddy didn’t always think in terms of beef and Bass; he was nobody’s facile fool; he could make a shrewd inference as well as strike a shrewd blow.
Reviewing the scene in the restaurant, Lanyard felt measurably warranted in assuming not only that Roddy was interested in De Morbihan, but that the Frenchman was well aware of that interest. And he resented sincerely his inability to feel as confident that the Count, with his gossip about the Lone Wolf, had been merely seeking to divert Roddy’s interest to putatively larger game. It was just possible that De Morbihan’s identification of Lanyard with that mysterious personage, at least by innuendo, had been unintentional. But somehow Lanyard didn’t believe it had.
The two questions troubled him sorely: Did De Morbihan _know_, did he merely suspect, or had he only loosed an aimless shot which chance had sped to the right goal? Had the mind of Roddy proved fallow to that suggestion, or had it, with its simple national tenacity, been impatient of such side issues, or incredulous, and persisted in focusing its processes upon the personality and activities of Monsieur le Comte Remy de Morbihan? However, one would surely learn something illuminating before very long. The business of a sleuth is to sleuth, and sooner or later Roddy must surely make some move to indicate the quarter wherein his real interest lay.
Just at present, reasoning from noises audible through the bolted door that communicated with the adjoining bed-chamber, the business of a sleuth seemed to comprise going to bed. Lanyard, shaving and dressing, could distinctly hear a tuneless voice contentedly humming “Sally in our Alley,” a rendition punctuated by one heavy thump and then another and then by a heartfelt sigh of relief–as Roddy kicked off his boots–and followed by the tapping of a pipe against grate-bars, the squeal of a window lowered for ventilation, the click of an electric-light, and the creaking of bed-springs.
Finally, and before Lanyard had finished dressing, the man from Scotland Yard began placidly to snore.
Of course, he might well be bluffing; for Lanyard had taken pains to let Roddy know that they were neighbours, by announcing his selection in loud tones close to the communicating door.
But this was a question which the adventurer meant to have answered before he went out….
It was hard upon twelve o’clock when the mirror on the dressing-table assured him that he was at length point-device in the habit and apparel of a gentleman of elegant nocturnal leisure. But if he approved the figure he cut, it was mainly because clothes interested him and he reckoned his own impeccable. Of their tenant he was feeling just then a bit less sure than he had half-an-hour since; his regard was louring and mistrustful. He was, in short, suffering reaction from the high spirits engendered by his cross-Channel exploits, his successful get-away, and the unusual circumstances attendant upon his return to this memory-haunted mausoleum of an unhappy childhood. He even shivered a trifle, as if under premonition of misfortune, and asked himself heavily: Why not?
For, logically considered, a break in the run of his luck was due. Thus far he had played, with a success almost too uniform, his dual role, by day the amiable amateur of art, by night the nameless mystery that prowled unseen and preyed unhindered. Could such success be reasonably expected to attend him always? Should he count De Morbihan’s yarn a warning? Black must turn up every so often in a run of red: every gambler knows as much. And what was Michael Lanyard but a common gambler, who persistently staked life and liberty against the blindly impartial casts of Chance?
With one last look round to make certain there was nothing in the calculated disorder of his room to incriminate him were it to be searched in his absence, Lanyard enveloped himself in a long full-skirted coat, clapped on an opera hat, and went out, noisily locking the door. He might as well have left it wide, but it would do no harm to pretend he didn’t know the bed-chamber keys at Troyon’s were interchangeable–identically the same keys, in fact, that had been in service in the days of Marcel the wretched.
A single half-power electric bulb now modified the gloom of the corridor; its fellow made a light blot on the darkness of the courtyard. Even the windows of the conciergerie were black.
None the less, Lanyard tapped them smartly.
“_Cordon_!” he demanded in a strident voice. “_Cordon, s’il vous plait! _”
“_Eh? _” A startled grunt from within the lodge was barely audible. Then the latch clicked loudly at the end of the passageway.
Groping his way in the direction of this last sound, Lanyard found the small side door ajar. He opened it, and hesitated a moment, looking out as though questioning the weather; simultaneously his deft fingers wedged the latch back with a thin slip of steel.
No rain, in fact, had fallen within the hour; but still the sky was dense with a sullen rack, and still the sidewalks were inky wet.
The street was lonely and indifferently lighted, but a swift searching reconnaissance discovered nothing that suggested a spy skulking in the shelter of any of the nearer shadows.
Stepping out, he slammed the door and strode briskly round the corner, as if making for the cab-rank that lines up along the Luxembourg Gardens side of the rue de Medicis; his boot-heels made a cheerful racket in that quiet hour; he was quite audibly going away from Troyon’s.
But instead of holding on to the cab-rank, he turned the next corner, and then the next, rounding the block; and presently, reapproaching the entrance to Troyon’s, paused in the recess of a dark doorway and, lifting one foot after another, slipped rubber caps over his heels. Thereafter his progress was practically noiseless.
The smaller door yielded to his touch without a murmur. Inside, he closed it gently, and stood a moment listening with all his senses–not with his ears alone but with every nerve and fibre of his being–with his imagination, to boot. But there was never a sound or movement in all the house that he could detect.
And no shadow could have made less noise than he, slipping cat-footed across the courtyard and up the stairs, avoiding with super-developed sensitiveness every lift that might complain beneath his tread. In a trice he was again in the corridor leading to his bed-chamber.
It was quite as gloomy and empty as it had been five minutes ago, yet with a difference, a something in its atmosphere that made him nod briefly in confirmation of that suspicion which had brought him back so stealthily.
For one thing, Roddy had stopped snoring. And Lanyard smiled over the thought that the man from Scotland Yard might profitably have copied that trick of poor Bourke’s, of snoring like the Seven Sleepers when most completely awake….
It was naturally no surprise to find his bed-chamber door unlocked and slightly ajar. Lanyard made sure of the readiness of his automatic, strode into the room, and shut the door quietly but by no means soundlessly.
He had left the shades down and the hangings drawn at both windows; and since these had not been disturbed, something nearly approaching complete darkness reigned in the room. But though promptly on entering his fingers closed upon the wall-switch near the door, he refrained from turning up the lights immediately, with a fancy of impish inspiration that it would be amusing to learn what move Roddy would make when the tension became too much even for his trained nerves.
Several seconds passed without the least sound disturbing the stillness.
Lanyard himself grew a little impatient, finding that his sight failed to grow accustomed to the darkness because that last was too absolute, pressing against his staring eyeballs like a black fluid impenetrably opaque, as unbroken as the hush.
Still, he waited: surely Roddy wouldn’t be able much longer to endure such suspense….
And, surely enough, the silence was abruptly broken by a strange and moving sound, a hushed cry of alarm that was half a moan and half a sob.
Lanyard himself was startled: for that was never Roddy’s voice!
There was a noise of muffled and confused footsteps, as though someone had started in panic for the door, then stopped in terror.
Words followed, the strangest he could have imagined, words spoken in a gentle and tremulous voice:
“In pity’s name! who are you and what do you want?”
Thunderstruck, Lanyard switched on the lights.
At a distance of some six paces he saw, not Roddy, but a woman, and not a woman merely, but the girl he had met in the restaurant.
The surprise was complete; none, indeed, was ever more so; but it’s a question which party thereto was the more affected.
Lanyard stared with the eyes of stupefaction. To his fancy, this thing passed the compass of simple incredulity: it wasn’t merely improbable, it was preposterous; it was anticlimax exaggerated to the proportions of the grotesque.
He had come prepared to surprise and bully rag the most astute police detective of whom he had any knowledge; he found himself surprised and discountenanced by _this_…!
Confusion no less intense informed the girl’s expression; her eyes were fixed to his with a look of blank enquiry; her face, whose colouring had won his admiration two hours since, was colourless; her lips were just ajar; the fingers of one hand touched her cheek, indenting it.
The other hand caught up before her the long skirts of a pretty robe-de-chambre, beneath whose edge a hand’s-breadth of white silk shimmered and the toe of a silken mule was visible. Thus she stood, poised for flight, attired only in a dressing-gown over what, one couldn’t help suspecting, was her night-dress: for her hair was down, and she was unquestionably all ready for her bed….But Bourke’s patient training had been wasted if this man proved one to remain long at loss. Rallying his wits quickly from their momentary rout, he reasserted command over them, and if he didn’t in the least understand, made a brave show of accepting this amazing accident as a commonplace.
“I beg your pardon, Miss Bannon–” he began with a formal bow.
She interrupted with a gasp of wondering recognition: “Mr. Lanyard!”
He inclined his head a second time: “Sorry to disturb you–“
“But I don’t understand–“
“Unfortunately,” he proceeded smoothly, “I forgot something when I went out, and had to come back for it.”
Suddenly her eyes, for the first time detached from his, swept the room with a glance of wild dismay.
“This room,” she breathed–“I don’t know it–“
“It is mine.”
“That is how I happened to–interrupt you.”
The girl shrank back a pace–two paces–uttering a low-toned monosyllable of understanding, an “_O!_” abruptly gasped. Simultaneously her face and throat flamed scarlet.
“_Your_ room, Mr. Lanyard!”
Her tone so convincingly voiced shame and horror that his heart misgave him. Not that alone, but the girl was very good to look upon. “I’m sure,” he began soothingly; “it doesn’t matter. You mistook a door–“
“But you don’t understand!” She shuddered…. “This dreadful habit! And I was hoping I had outgrown it! How can I ever explain–?”
“Believe me, Miss Bannon, you need explain nothing.”
“But I must…I wish to…I can’t bear to let you think…But surely you can make allowances for sleepwalking!”
To this appeal he could at first return nothing more intelligent than a dazed repetition of the phrase.
So that was how…Why hadn’t he thought of it before? Ever since he had turned on the lights, he had been subjectively busy trying to invest her presence there with some plausible excuse. But somnambulism had never once entered his mind. And in his stupidity, at pains though he had been to render his words inoffensive, he had been guilty of constructive incivility.
In his turn, Lanyard coloured warmly.
“I beg your pardon,” he muttered.
The girl paid no attention; she seemed self-absorbed, thinking only of herself and the anomalous position into which her infirmity had tricked her. When she did speak, her words came swiftly:
“You see…I was so frightened! I found myself suddenly standing up in darkness, just as if I had jumped out of bed at some alarm; and then I heard somebody enter the room and shut the door stealthily…Oh, please understand me!”
“But I do, Miss Bannon–quite.”
“I am so ashamed–“
“Please don’t consider it that way.”
“But now that you know–you don’t think–“
“My dear Miss Bannon!”
“But it must be so hard to credit! Even I… Why, it’s more than a year since this last happened. Of course, as a child, it was almost a habit; they had to watch me all the time. Once… But that doesn’t matter. I _am_ so sorry.”
“You really mustn’t worry,” Lanyard insisted. “It’s all quite natural–such things do happen–are happening all the time–“
“But I don’t want you–“
“I am nobody, Miss Bannon. Besides I shan’t mention the matter to a soul. And if ever I am fortunate enough to meet you again, I shall have forgotten it completely–believe me.”
There was convincing sincerity in his tone. The girl looked down, as though abashed.
“You are very good,” she murmured, moving toward the door.
“I am very fortunate.”
Her glance of surprise was question enough.
“To be able to treasure this much of your confidence,” he explained with a tentative smile.
She was near the door; he opened it for her, but cautioned her with a gesture and a whispered word: “Wait. I’ll make sure nobody’s about.”
He stepped noiselessly into the hall and paused an instant, looking right and left, listening.
The girl advanced to the threshold and there checked, hesitant, eyeing him anxiously.
He nodded reassurance: “All right–coast’s clear!”
But she delayed one moment more.
“It’s you who are mistaken,” she whispered, colouring again beneath his regard, in which admiration could not well be lacking, “It is I who am fortunate–to have met a–gentleman.”
Her diffident smile, together with the candour of her eyes, embarrassed him to such extent that for the moment he was unable to frame a reply.
“Good night,” she whispered–“and thank you, thank you!”
Her room was at the far end of the corridor. She gained its threshold in one swift dash, noiseless save for the silken whisper of her garments, turned, flashed him a final look that left him with the thought that novelists did not always exaggerate, that eyes could shine like stars….
Her door closed softly.
Lanyard shook his head as if to dissipate a swarm of annoying thoughts, and went back into his own bed-chamber.
He was quite content with the explanation the girl had given, but being the slave of a methodical and pertinacious habit of mind, spent five busy minutes examining his room and all that it contained with a perseverance that would have done credit to a Frenchman searching for a mislaid sou.
If pressed, he would have been put to it to name what he sought or thought to find. What he did find was that nothing had been tampered with and nothing more–not even so much as a dainty, lace-trimmed wisp of sheer linen bearing the lady’s monogram and exhaling a faint but individual perfume.
Which, when he came to consider it, seemed hardly playing the game by the book.
As for Roddy, Lanyard wasted several minutes, off and on, listening attentively at the communicating door; but if the detective had stopped snoring, his respiration was loud enough in that quiet hour, a sound of harsh monotony.
True, that proved nothing; but Lanyard, after the fiasco of his first attempt to catch his enemy awake, was no more disposed to be hypercritical; he had his fill of being ingenious and profound. And when presently he again left Troyon’s (this time without troubling the repose of the concierge) it was with the reflection that, if Roddy were really playing ‘possum, he was welcome to whatever he could find of interest in the quarters of Michael Lanyard.
THE PACK GIVES TONGUE
Lanyard’s first destination was that convenient little rez-de-chaussee apartment near the Trocadero, at the junction of the rue Roget and the avenue de l’Alma; but his way thither was so roundabout that the best part of an hour was required for what might have been less than a twenty-minute taxicab course direct from Troyon’s. It was past one when he arrived, afoot, at the corner.
Not that he grudged the time; for in Lanyard’s esteem Bourke’s epigram had come to have the weight and force of an axiom: “The more trouble you make for yourself, the less the good public will make for you.”
Paradoxically, he hadn’t the least intention of attempting to deceive anybody as to his permanent address in Paris, where Michael Lanyard, connoisseur of fine paintings, was a figure too conspicuous to permit his making a secret of his residence. De Morbihan, moreover, through recognizing him at Troyon’s, had rendered it impossible for Lanyard to adopt a nom-de-guerre there, even had he thought that ruse advisable.
But he had certain businesses to attend to before dawn, affairs demanding privacy; and while by no means sure he was followed, one can seldom be sure of anything, especially in Paris, where nothing is impossible; and it were as well to lose a spy first as last. And his mind could not be at ease with respect to Roddy, thanks to De Morbihan’s gasconade in the presence of the detective and also to that hint which the Count had dropped concerning some fatal blunder in the course of Lanyard’s British campaign.
The adventurer could recall leaving no step uncovered. Indeed, he had prided himself on conducting his operations with a degree of circumspection unusually thorough-going, even for him. Yet he was unable to rid himself of those misgivings roused by De Morbihan’s declaration that the theft of the Omber jewels had been accomplished only at cost of a clue to the thief’s identity.
Now the Count’s positive information concerning the robbery proved that the news thereof had anticipated the arrival of its perpetrator in Paris; yet Roddy unquestionably had known nothing of it prior to its mention in his presence, after dinner. Or else the detective was a finer actor than Lanyard credited.
But how could De Morbihan have come by his news?
Lanyard was really and deeply perturbed….
Pestered to distraction by such thoughts, he fitted key to latch and quietly let himself into his flat by a private street-entrance which, in addition to the usual door opening on the court and under the eye of the concierge, distinguished this from the ordinary Parisian apartment and rendered it doubly suited to the adventurer’s uses.
Then he turned on the lights and moved quickly from room to room of the three comprising his quarters, with comprehensive glances reviewing their condition.
But, indeed, he hadn’t left the reception-hall for the salon without recognizing that things were in no respect as they ought to be: a hat he had left on the hall rack had been moved to another peg; a chair had been shifted six inches from its ordained position; and the door of a clothes-press, which he had locked on leaving, now stood ajar.
Furthermore, the state of the salon, which he had furnished as a lounge and study, and of the tiny dining-room and the bed-chamber adjoining, bore out these testimonies to the fact that alien hands had thoroughly ransacked the apartment, leaving no square inch unscrutinized.
Yet the proprietor missed nothing. His rooms were a private gallery of valuable paintings and antique furniture to poison with envy the mind of any collector, and housed into the bargain a small museum of rare books, manuscripts, and articles of exquisite workmanship whose individuality, aside from intrinsic worth, rendered them priceless. A burglar of discrimination might have carried off in one coat-pocket loot enough to foot the bill for a twelve-month of profligate existence. But nothing had been removed, nothing at least that was apparent in the first tour of inspection; which, if sweeping, was by no means superficial.
Before checking off more elaborately his mental inventory, Lanyard turned attention to the protective device, a simple but exhaustive system of burglar-alarm wiring so contrived that any attempt to enter the apartment save by means of a key which fitted both doors and of which no duplicate existed would alarm both the concierge and the burglar protective society. Though it seemed to have been in no way tampered with, to test the apparatus he opened a window on the court.
The lodge of the concierge was within earshot. If the alarm had been in good order, Lanyard could have heard the bell from his window. He heard nothing.
With a shrug, he shut the window. He knew well–none better–how such protection could be rendered valueless by a thoughtful and fore-handed housebreaker.
Returning to the salon, where the main body of his collection was assembled, he moved slowly from object to object, ticking off items and noting their condition; with the sole result of justifying his first conclusion, that whereas nothing had escaped handling, nothing had been removed.
By way of a final test, he opened his desk (of which the lock had been deftly picked) and went through its pigeon-holes.
His scanty correspondence, composed chiefly of letters exchanged with art dealers, had been scrutinized and replaced carelessly, in disorder: and here again he missed nothing; but in the end, removing a small drawer and inserting a hand in its socket, he dislodged a rack of pigeon-holes and exposed the secret cabinet that is almost inevitably an attribute of such pieces of period furniture.
A shallow box, this secret space contained one thing only, but that one of considerable value, being the leather bill-fold in which the adventurer kept a store of ready money against emergencies.
It was mostly for this, indeed, that he had come to his apartment; his London campaign having demanded an expenditure far beyond his calculations, so that he had landed in Paris with less than one hundred francs in pocket. And Lanyard, for all his pride of spirit, acknowledged one haunting fear that of finding himself strapped in the face of emergency.
The fold yielded up its hoard to a sou: Lanyard counted out five notes of one thousand francs and ten of twenty pounds: their sum, upwards of two thousand dollars.
But if nothing had been abstracted, something had been added: the back of one of the Bank of England notes had been used as a blank for memorandum.
Lanyard spread it out and studied it attentively.
The handwriting had been traced with no discernible attempt at disguise, but was quite strange to him. The pen employed had been one of those needle-pointed nibs so popular in France; the hand was that of an educated Frenchman. The import of the memorandum translated substantially as follows:
_”To the Lone Wolf–
“The Pack sends Greetings
“and extends its invitation
“to participate in the benefits
“of its Fraternity.
“One awaits him always at
A date was added, the date of that very day…
Deliberately, having conned this communication, Lanyard produced his cigarette-case, selected a cigarette, found his briquet, struck a light, twisted the note of twenty pounds into a rude spill, set it afire, lighted his cigarette there from and, rising, conveyed the burning paper to a cold and empty fire-place wherein he permitted it to burn to a crisp black ash.
When this was done, his smile broke through his clouding scowl.
“Well, my friend!” he apostrophized the author of that document which now could never prove incriminating–“at all events, I have you to thank for a new sensation. It has long been my ambition to feel warranted in lighting a cigarette with a twenty-pound note, if the whim should ever seize me!”
His smile faded slowly; the frown replaced it: something far more valuable to him than a hundred dollars had just gone up in smoke …
His secret uncovered, that essential incognito of his punctured, his vanity touched to the quick–all that laboriously constructed edifice of art and chicane which yesterday had seemed so substantial, so impregnable a wall between the Lone Wolf and the World, to-day rent, torn asunder, and cast down in ruins about his feet–Lanyard wasted time neither in profitless lamentation or any other sort of repining.
He had much to do before morning: to determine, as definitely as might in discretion be possible, who had fathomed his secret and how; to calculate what chance he still had of pursuing his career without exposure and disaster; and to arrange, if investigation verified his expectations, which were of the gloomiest, to withdraw in good order, with all honours of war, from that dangerous field.
Delaying only long enough to revise plans disarranged by the discoveries of this last bad quarter of an hour, he put out the lights and went out by the courtyard door; for it was just possible that those whose sardonic whim it had been to name themselves “the Pack” might have stationed agents in the street to follow their dissocial brother in crime. And now more than ever Lanyard was firmly bent on going his own way unwatched. His own way first led him stealthily past the door of the conciergerie and through the court to the public hall in the main body of the building. Happily, there were no lights to betray him had anyone been awake to notice. For thanks to Parisian notions of economy even the best apartment houses dispense with elevator-boys and with lights that burn up real money every hour of the night. By pressing a button beside the door on entering, however, Lanyard could have obtained light in the hallways for five minutes, or long enough to enable any tenant to find his front-door and the key-hole therein; at the end of which period the lamps would automatically have extinguished themselves. Or by entering a narrow-chested box of about the dimensions of a generous coffin, and pressing a button bearing the number of the floor at which he wished to alight, he could have been comfortably wafted aloft without sign of more human agency. But he prudently availed himself of neither of these conveniences. Afoot and in complete darkness he made the ascent of five flights of winding stairs to the door of an apartment on the sixth floor. Here a flash from a pocket lamp located the key-hole; the key turned without sound; the door swung on silent hinges.
Once inside, the adventurer moved more freely, with less precaution against noise. He was on known ground, and alone; the apartment, though furnished, was untenanted, and would so remain as long as Lanyard continued to pay the rent from London under an assumed name.
It was the convenience of this refuge and avenue of retreat, indeed which had dictated his choice of the rez-de-chaussee; for the sixth-floor flat possessed one invaluable advantage–a window on a level with the roof of the adjoining building.
Two minutes’ examination sufficed to prove that here at least the Pack had not trespassed….
Five minutes later Lanyard picked the common lock of a door opening from the roof of an apartment house on the farthest corner of the block, found his way downstairs, tapped the door of the conciergerie, chanted that venerable Open Sesame of Paris, “_Cordon, s’il vous plait!_” and was made free of the street by a worthy guardian too sleepy to challenge the identity of this late-departing guest.
He walked three blocks, picked up a taxicab, and in ten minutes more was set down at the Gare des Invalides.
Passing through the station without pause, he took to the streets afoot, following the boulevard St. Germain to the rue du Bac; a brief walk up this time-worn thoroughfare brought him to the ample, open and unguarded porte-cochere of a court walled with beetling ancient tenements.
When he had made sure that the courtyard was deserted, Lanyard addressed himself to a door on the right; which to his knock swung promptly ajar with a clicking latch. At the same time the adventurer whipped from beneath his cloak a small black velvet visor and adjusted it to mask the upper half of his face. Then entering a narrow and odorous corridor, whose obscurity was emphasized by a lonely guttering candle, he turned the knob of the first door and walked into a small, ill-furnished room.
A spare-bodied young man, who had been reading at a desk by the light of an oil-lamp with a heavy green shade, rose and bowed courteously.
“Good morning, monsieur,” he said with the cordiality of one who greets an acquaintance of old standing. “Be seated,” he added, indicating an arm-chair beside the desk. “It seems long since one has had the honour of a call from monsieur.”
“That is so,” Lanyard admitted, sitting down.
The young man followed suit. The lamplight, striking across his face beneath the greenish penumbra of the shade, discovered a countenance of Hebraic cast.
“Monsieur has something to show me, eh?”
Lanyard’s reply just escaped a suspicion of curtness: as who should say, what did you expect? He was puzzled by something strange and new in the attitude of this young man, a trace of reserve and constraint….
They had been meeting from time to time for several years, conducting their secret and lawless business according to a formula invented by Bourke and religiously observed by Lanyard. A note or telegram of innocent superficial intent, addressed to a certain member of a leading firm of jewellers in Amsterdam, was the invariable signal for conferences such as this; which were invariably held in the same place, at an hour indeterminate between midnight and dawn, between on the one hand this intelligent, cultivated and well-mannered young Jew, and on the other hand the thief in his mask.
In such wise did the Lone Wolf dispose of his loot, at all events of the bulk thereof; other channels were, of course, open to him, but none so safe; and with no other receiver of stolen goods could he hope to make such fair and profitable deals.
Now inevitably in the course of this long association, though each remained in ignorance of his confederate’s identity, these two had come to feel that they knew each other fairly well. Not infrequently, when their business had been transacted, Lanyard would linger an hour with the agent, chatting over cigarettes: both, perhaps, a little thrilled by the piquancy of the situation; for the young Jew was the only man who had ever wittingly met the Lone Wolf face to face….
Why then this sudden awkwardness and embarrassment on the part of the agent?
Lanyard’s eyes narrowed with suspicion.
In silence he produced a jewel-case of morocco leather and handed it over to the Jew, then settled back in his chair, his attitude one of lounging, but his mind as quick with distrust as the fingers that, under cover of his cloak, rested close to a pocket containing his automatic.
Accepting the box with a little bow, the Jew pressed the catch and discovered its contents. But the richness of the treasure thus disclosed did not seem to surprise him; and, indeed, he had more than once been introduced with no more formality to plunder of far greater value. Fitting a jeweller’s glass to his eye, he took up one after another of the pieces and examined them under the lamplight. Presently he replaced the last, shut down the cover of the box, turned a thoughtful countenance to Lanyard, and made as if to speak, but hesitated.
“Well?” the adventurer demanded impatiently.
“This, I take it,” said the Jew absently, tapping the box, “is the jewellery of Madame Omber.”
“_I_ took it,” Lanyard retorted good-naturedly–“not to put too fine a point upon it!”
“I am sorry,” the other said slowly.
“It is most unfortunate…”
“May one enquire what is most unfortunate?”
The Jew shrugged and with the tips of his fingers gently pushed the box toward his customer. “This makes me very unhappy,” he admitted: “but I have no choice in the matter, monsieur. As the agent of my principals I am instructed to refuse you an offer for these valuables.”
Again the shrug, accompanied by a deprecatory grimace: “That is difficult to say. No explanation was made me. My instructions were simply to keep this appointment as usual, but to advise you it will be impossible for my principals to continue their relations with you as long as your affairs remain in their present status.”
“Their present status?” Lanyard repeated. “What does that mean, if you please?”
“I cannot say monsieur. I can only repeat that which was said to me.”
After a moment Lanyard rose, took the box, and replaced it in his pocket. “Very well,” he said quietly. “Your principals, of course, understand that this action on their part definitely ends our relations, rather than merely interrupts them at their whim?”
“I am desolated, monsieur, but … one must assume that they have considered everything. You understand, it is a matter in which I am wholly without discretion, I trust?”
“O quite!” Lanyard assented carelessly. He held out his hand. “Good-bye, my friend.”
The Jew shook hands warmly.