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The Albert Gate Mystery (1904)
Louis Tracy



Being Further Adventures of
REGINALD BRETT, _Barrister Detective_


by Louis Tracy



[Illustration: Hussein-ul-Mulk. --_Frontispiece._]



Contents

CHAPTER                                           PAGE

      I A MYSTERIOUS CRIME                            7
     II MEHEMET ALI'S NOTE                           18
    III WHAT THE POLICE SAW                          29
     IV THE MURDERS                                  42
      V A STARTLING CLUE                             51
     VI A JOURNEY TO PARIS                           69
    VII THE HOUSE IN THE RUE BARBETTE                87
   VIII WHAT HAPPENED IN THE RUE BARBETTE           100
     IX A MONTMARTRE ROMANCE                        115
      X ON GUARD                                    125
     XI A DISCONCERTED COMMISSARY                   140
    XII THE INNKEEPER                               161
   XIII THE RELEASE                                 176
   XIV "TOUT VA BIEN"                               198
    XV "MARIE"                                      209
   XVI THE HALL-PORTER'S DOUBTS                     223
  XVII THE YACHT "BLUE-BELL"                        235
 XVIII TALBOT'S ADVENTURES                          247
   XIX THE RACE                                     259
    XX CLOSE QUARTERS                               269
   XXI THE FIGHT                                    281
  XXII PIECING THE PUZZLE                           292




THE ALBERT GATE MYSTERY

CHAPTER I

A MYSTERIOUS CRIME


Reginald Brett, barrister-at-law and amateur detective, had seldom been
more at peace with the world and his own conscience than when he entered
the dining-room of his cosy flat this bright October morning.

Since the famous affair of Lady Delia Lyle's disappearance and death, he
had not been busy, and the joy of healthy idleness is only known to the
hard worker. Again, while dressing, he had received a letter inviting
him to a quiet shoot at a delightful place in the country.

All these things blended with happy inconsequence to render Brett
contented in mind and affable in manner.

"It's a fine morning, Smith," he said cheerily, as he settled himself at
the table where his "man" was already pouring out the coffee.

"Bee-utiful, sir," said Smith.

"Smith!"

"Yessir."

"Not even the best English autumn weather can stand being called
'bee-utiful.' Don't do it. You will open the flood-gates of Heaven."

Smith laughed decorously. He had not the slightest idea what his master
meant, but if it pleased Mr. Brett to be jocose, it was the duty of a
servant who knew his place to be responsive.

The barrister fully understood Smith's delicate appreciation--and its
limits. He instantly noticed that the morning paper, instead of reposing
next to his folded napkin, was placed out of reach on a sideboard, and
that the eggs and bacon made their appearance half a minute too soon.

As an expert swordsman delights to execute a pass _en tierce_ with an
umbrella, so did the cleverest analytical detective of the age resolve
to amaze his servitor.

"Smith," he said suddenly, composing his features to their most severe
cross-examination aspect, "I think the arrangement is an excellent one."

"What arrangement, sir."

"That Mrs. Smith and yourself should have a few days' holiday, while
Mrs. Smith's brother takes your place during my forthcoming visit to
Lord Northallerton's--why, man, what is the matter? Is it too hot?"--for
the cover Smith had lifted off the bacon and eggs clattered violently on
the table.

"'Ot, sir. 'Ot isn't the word. You're a fair licker, that's what you
are."

Smith invariably dropped his h's when he became excited.

"Smith, I insist that you shall not call me names. Pass the paper."

"But, sir----"

"Pass the paper. Utter another word and I refuse to accept Mrs. Smith's
brother as your _locum tenens_."

Smith was silenced by the last terrible epithet. Yet he was so
manifestly nervous that Brett resolved o enlighten him before plunging
into the day's news.

"For the last time, Smith," he said, "I will explain to you why it is
hopeless for you to think of concealing tradesmen's commissions from
me."

The shot went home, but the enemy was acquainted with this method of
attack, and did not wince.

"You knew that Lord Northallerton had recently invited me to his October
pheasant-shooting. During the last few days a youth, who grotesquely
reproduces Mrs. Smith's most prominent features, has mysteriously
tenanted the kitchen, ill-cleaned my boots, and bungled over the studs
in my shirts. This morning a letter came with the crest and the
Northallerton postmark. Really, Smith, considering that you have now
breathed the same air as myself for eight long years, I did not expect
to be called on for an explanation. Besides, you have destroyed a
masterpiece."

"Sir----" began Smith.

"Oh, I understand; there is nothing broken but your reputation. Don't
you see that the mere placing of the newspaper at a distance, so that
you might have a chance to speak before I opened it, was a subtle
stroke, worthy of Lecocq. Yet you demand feeble words. What a pity!
Know, Smith, that true genius is dumb. Speech may be silvern, but
silence is surely golden."

The barrister solemnly unfolded the paper, and Smith faded from the
room. On a page usually devoted to important announcements, the
following paragraphs stood forth in the boldness of leaded type:--

     "MYSTERIOUS OCCURRENCE IN THE WEST END.

     "An affair of some magnitude--perhaps a remarkable crime--has
     taken place in an Albert Gate mansion.

     "Owing to the reticence of the authorities, it is at present
     impossible to arrive at a definite conclusion as to the nature
     or extent of the incident, but it is quite certain that public
     interest will be much excited when details are forthcoming.
     All sorts of rumours attain credence in the locality, the murder
     of several prominent persons being not the least persistent of
     these. Without, however, giving currency to idly speculation,
     several authentic statements may be grouped into a connected form.

     "Four weeks ago a party of Turkish gentlemen of high rank in
     Constantinople, arrived in London and took up their abode in the
     house in question, after some structural alterations, pointing at
     great security within and without, had been planned and executed.

     "Attending these Turkish gentlemen, or officials, was a numerous
     suite of Moslem guards and servants, whilst, immediately following
     their arrival, came from Amsterdam some dozen noted experts in the
     diamond-cutting industry. These were lodged in a neighbouring
     private hotel, where they were extremely uncommunicative as to
     their business in London. They were employed during the day at the
     Albert Gate house. The presence in the mansion, both day and night,
     of a strong force of Metropolitan police, tended to excite local
     curiosity to an intense degree, but no clear conception of the
     business of the occupants was allowed to reach the public.

     "Whatever it was that took place, the full particulars were not
     only well known to the authorities--the presence of the police
     hints even at Governmental sanction--but matters proceeded on
     normal lines until yesterday morning.

     "Then it became clear that a remarkable development must have
     occurred during the preceding night, as the whole of the Dutch
     workmen and the Turkish attendants were taken off in cabs by the
     police, not to Morton Street Police Station, but to Scotland Yard;
     this in itself being a most unusual course to adopt. They are
     unquestionably detained in custody, but they have not yet been
     charged before a magistrate.

     "The police, later in the day, carried off some of these men's
     personal belongings, from both hotel and mansion.

     "A sinister aspect was given to the foregoing mysterious proceedings
     by the presence at Albert Gate, early in the day, of two police
     surgeons, who were followed, about twelve o'clock, by Dr. Tennyson
     Coke, the greatest living authority on toxicology.

     "Dr. Coke and the other medical gentlemen subsequently refused to
     impart the slightest information as to the reasons that led the
     police to seek their services, and the Scotland Yard authorities
     are adamant in the matter.

     "The representative of a news agency was threatened with arrest for
     trespass when he endeavoured to gain admission to the Albert Gate
     house, and it is quite evident that the police are determined to
     prevent the facts from leaking out at present--if they can by any
     means accomplish their wishes."

Brett read this interesting statement twice slowly. It fascinated him.
Its very vagueness, its admissions of inability to tell what had really
happened, its adroit use of such phrases as "Turkish gentlemen of high
rank," "Noted experts in the diamond-cutting industry," "The greatest
living authority on toxicology," betrayed the hand of the disappointed
journalistic artist.

"Excellent!" he murmured aloud. "It is the breath of battle to my
nostrils. I ought to tip Smith for my breakfast. Had I read this
earlier, I would not have eaten a morsel."

He carefully examined the page at the back. It contained matter of no
consequence--a London County Council debate--so he took a pair of
scissors from his pocket and cut out the complete item, placing the slip
as a votive offering in front of a finely-executed bust of Edgar Allen
Poe, that stood on a bookcase behind him.

Within three minutes the scissors were again employed. The new cutting
ran--

     "There is trouble at Yildiz Kiosk. A Reuter's telegram from
     Constantinople states that a near relative of the Sultan has fled
     to France. The Porte have asked the French Government to apprehend
     him, but the French Ambassador has informed Riaz Pasha that this
     course is impracticable in the absence of any criminal charge."

"These two are one," said the barrister, as he turned towards Poe's bust
and laid the slip by the side of its predecessor. This time he had
mutilated a critique of an Ibsensite drama.

The rest of the newspaper's contents had no special interest for him,
and he soon threw aside the journal in order to rise, light a cigarette,
and muster sufficient energy to write a telegram accepting Lord
Northallerton's invitation for the following day.

He was on the point of reaching for a telegraph form when Smith entered
with a card. It bore the name and address--

"The Earl of Fairholme, Stanhope Gate."

"Curious," thought Brett. "Where is his lordship?" he said aloud--"at
the door, or in the street?"

(His flat was on the second floor.)

"In a keb, sir."

"Bring his lordship up."

A rapid glance at "Debrett" revealed that the Earl of Fairholme was
thirty, unmarried, the fourteenth of his line, and the possessor of
country seats at Fairholme, Warwickshire, and Glen Spey, Inverness.

The earl entered, an athletic, well-groomed man, one whose lines were
usually cast in pleasant places, but who was now in an unwonted state of
flurry and annoyance.

Each man was favourably impressed by the other. His lordship produced an
introductory card, and Brett was astonished to find that it bore the
name of the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs.

"I have come----" commenced his lordship hesitatingly.

But the barrister broke in. "You have had a bad night, Lord Fairholme.
You wish for a long and comfortable chat. Now, won't you start with a
whiskey and soda, light a cigar, and draw an easy chair near the fire?"

"'Pon my honour, Mr. Brett, you begin well. You give me confidence.
Those are the first cheerful words I have heard during twenty-four
hours."

The earl was easily manoeuvred into a strong light. Then he made a
fresh start.

"You have doubtless heard of this Albert Gate affair, Mr. Brett?"

"You mean this?" said the other, rising and handing to his visitor the
longer paragraph of the two he had selected from the newspaper.

"That is very curious," said the earl, momentarily startled. But he was
too preoccupied by his thoughts to pay much heed to the incident. He
merely glanced at the cutting and went on:

"Yes, that is it. Well, Edith--Miss Talbot, I mean--vows that she won't
marry me until this beastly business is cleared up. Of course, we all
know that Jack didn't slope with the diamonds. He's tied up or dead, for
sure. But--no matter what may have become of him--why the dickens that
should stop Edith from marrying me is more than I can fathom. Just look
at some of the women in Society. They don't leave it to their relatives
to be mixed up in a scandal, I can tell you. Still, there you are. Edith
is jolly clever and awfully determined, so you've got to find him, Mr.
Brett. Dead or alive, he must be found, and cleared."

"He shall," said Brett, gazing into the fire.

The quiet, self-reliant voice steadied the young peer. He checked an
imminent flow of words, picked up the newspaper slip again, and this
time read it.

Then he blushed.

"You must think me very stupid, Mr. Brett, to burst out in such a manner
when you probably have never heard of the people I am talking about."

"You will tell me, Lord Fairholme, if you get quietly to work and try
to speak, so far as you find it possible, in chronological sequence."

His lordship knitted his brows and smoked in silence. At last he found
utterance.

"That's a good idea of yours. It makes things easier. Well, first of
all, Edith and I became engaged. Edith is the daughter of the late
Admiral Talbot. She and Jack, her brother, live with their uncle,
General Sir Hubert Fitzjames, at 118, Ulster Gardens. Jack is in the
Foreign Office; he is just like Edith, awfully clever and that sort of
thing, an assistant secretary I think they call him. Now we're getting
on, aren't we?"

"Splendidly."

"That's all right. About a month ago a chap turns up from
Constantinople, a kind of special Envoy from the Sultan, and he explains
to the Foreign Office that he has in his possession a lot of uncut
diamonds of terrific value, including one as big as a duck's egg, to
which no figures would give a price. Do you follow me?"

"Each word."

"Good. Well--I can't tell you why, because I don't know, and I could not
understand it if I did--there was some political importance attached to
these gems, and the Sultan roped our Foreign Office into it. So the
Foreign Office placed Jack in charge of the business. He fixed up the
Envoy in the house at Albert Gate, got a lot of diamond cutters and
machinery for him, gave him into the charge of all the smart policemen
in London; and what do you think is the upshot?"

"What?"

"The Envoy, his two secretaries, and a confidential servant were
murdered the night before last, the diamonds were stolen, and Jack has
vanished--absolutely gone clean into space, not a sign of him to be
found anywhere. Yesterday Edith sends for me, cries for half an hour,
tells me I'm the best fellow that ever lived, and then I'm jiggered if
she didn't wind up by saying that she couldn't marry me."

The Earl of Fairholme was now worked up to fever heat. He would not calm
down for an appreciable period, so Brett resolved to try the effect of
curiosity.

He wrote a telegram to Lord Northallerton:--

     "Very sorry, but I cannot leave town at present. Please ask
     me later. Will explain reason for postponement when we meet."

He had touched the dominant note in mankind.

"Surely!" cried the earl, "you have not already decided upon a course of
action?"

"Not exactly. I am wiring to postpone a shooting fixture."

"What a beastly shame!" exclaimed the other, in whom the sporting
instinct was at once aroused. "I'm awfully sorry my affairs should
interfere with your arrangements in this way."

"Not a bit," cried Brett. "I make it a sacred rule of life to put
pleasure before business. I mean," he explained, as a look of
bewilderment crossed his hearer's face, "that this quest of ours
promises to be the most remarkable affair I have ever been engaged in.
That pleases me. Pheasant-shooting is a serious business, governed by
the calendar and arranged by the head-keeper."

An electric bell summoned Smith. The barrister handed him the telegram
and a sovereign.

"Read that message," he said. "Ponder over it. Send it, and give the
change of the sovereign to Mrs. Smith's brother, with my compliments and
regrets."




CHAPTER II

MEHEMET ALI'S NOTE


Then he turned to Lord Fairholme.

"Just one question," he said, "before I send you off to bed. No, you
must not protest. I want you to meet me here this evening at seven, with
your brain clear and your nerves restored by a good, sound sleep. We
will dine, here or elsewhere, and act subsequently. But at this moment I
want to know the name of the person most readily accessible who can tell
me all about Mr. Talbot's connection with the Sultan's agent."

"His sister, undoubtedly."

"Where can I find her?"

"At Ulster Gardens. I will drive you there."

The barrister smiled. "You are going to bed, I tell you. Give me a few
lines of introduction to Miss Talbot."

The earl's face had brightened at the prospect of meeting his _fiancée_
under the favourable conditions of Brett's presence. But he yielded with
good grace, and promptly sat down to write a brief note explanatory of
the barrister's identity and position in the inquiry.

The two parted at the door, and a hansom rapidly brought Brett to the
residence of Sir Hubert Fitzjames.

A stately footman took Reggie's card and its accompanying letter, placed
them on a salver with a graceful turn of his wrist, which oddly
suggested a similar turn in his nose, and said:

"Miss Talbot is not at home, sir."

"Yes, she is," answered Brett, paying the driver of the hansom.

The footman deigned to exhibit astonishment. Here was a gentleman--one
obviously accustomed to the manners of Society--who declined to accept
the courteous disclaimer of an unexpected visit.

"Miss Talbot is not receiving visitors," he explained.

"Exactly. Take that card and the letter to Miss Talbot and bring me the
answer."

Jeames was no match for his antagonist. He silently showed the way into
a reception room and disappeared. A minute later he announced, with much
deference, that Miss Talbot would see Mr. Brett in the library, and he
conducted this mysterious visitor upstairs.

On rejoining Buttons in the hall he solemnly observed:

"That's a swell cop who is with the missus--shining topper, button-hole,
buckskin gloves, patent leathers, all complete. Footmen ain't in it with
the force, nowadays."

Jeames expanded his magnificent waistcoat with a heavy sigh over this
philosophical dictum, the poignancy of which was enhanced by his
knowledge that the upper housemaid had taken to conversing with a
mounted policeman in the Park during her afternoons off.

The apartment in which Brett found himself gave ready indications of the
character of its tenants. Tod's "Rajasthan" jostled a volume of the
Badminton Library on the bookshelves, a copy of the Allahabad _Pioneer_
lay beside the _Field_ and the _Times_ on the table, and many
varieties of horns made trophies with quaint weapons on the walls.

A complete edition of Ruskin, and some exquisite prints of Rossetti's
best known works, supplied a different set of emblems, whilst the room
generally showed signs of daily occupation.

"Anglo-Indian uncle, artistic niece," was the barrister's rapid comment,
but further analysis was prevented by the entrance of Miss Edith Talbot.

The surprise of the pair was mutual.

Brett expected to see a young, pretty and clever girl, vain enough to
believe she had brains, and sufficiently well endowed with that rare
commodity to be able to twist the good-natured Earl of Fairholme round
her little finger.

Young, not more than twenty--unquestionably beautiful, with the graceful
contour and delicately-balanced features of a portrait by Romney--Edith
Talbot bore few of the marks that pass current as the outward and
visible signs of a modern woman of Society. That she should be
self-possessed and dressed in perfect taste were as obvious adjuncts of
her character as that each phase of her clear thought should reflect
itself in a singularly mobile face.

To such a woman pretence was impossible, the polite fictions of
fashionable life impossible. Brett readily understood why the Earl of
Fairholme had fallen in love with this fair creature. He had simply
bent in worship before a goddess of his own creed.

To the girl, Brett was equally a revelation.

Fairholme's introductory note described the barrister as "the smartest
criminal lawyer in London--one whose aid would be invaluable." She
expected to meet a sharp-featured, wizened, elderly man, with
gold-rimmed eye-glasses, a queer voice and a nasty habit of asking
unexpected questions.

In place of this commonplace personality, she encountered a handsome,
well-groomed gentleman--one who won confidence by his intellectual face,
and retained it by invisibly establishing a social equality.
Fortunately, there is yet in Britain an aristocracy wherein good birth
is synonymous with good breeding--a freemasonry whose passwords cannot
be simulated, nor its membership bought.

Brett read the wonder in the girl's eyes, and hastened to explain.

"The Earl of Fairholme," said Brett, "thought I might be of some service
in the matter of your brother's strange disappearance, Miss Talbot. I am
not a professional detective, but my friends are good enough to believe
that I am very successful in unravelling mysteries that are beyond the
ken of Scotland Yard. I have heard something of the facts in this
present affair. Will you trust me so far as to tell me all that is known
to you personally?"

"My uncle, General Fitzjames, has just gone to Scotland Yard," she
began, timidly.

"Quite so. Perhaps you prefer to await his return?"

"Oh, no, I do not mean that. But it is so hard to know how best to act.
Uncle expects the police to accomplish impossibilities. He says that
they should long since have found out what has become of Jack. Perhaps
they may resent my interference."

"My interference, to be exact," said Reggie, with the pleasant smile
that had fascinated so many women. Even Edith Talbot was not wholly
proof against its magic.

"I, personally, have little faith in them," she confessed.

"I have none."

"Well, I will do as you advise."

"Then I recommend you to take me into your confidence. I know Scotland
Yard and its methods. We do not follow the same path."

"I believe in you and trust you," said the girl.

So ingenuous was the look from the large, deep eyes which accompanied
this declaration of confidence, that many men would have pronounced Miss
Talbot to be an experienced flirt. Brett knew better. He simply bowed
his acknowledgements.

"What is it that you want to know?" she continued. "We ourselves are no
better informed than the newspapers as to what has actually happened,
save that four men have been killed as the result of a carefully-planned
robbery. As for my brother----"

She paused and strove hard to force back her tears.

"Your brother has simply vanished, Miss Talbot. If the criminals did not
scruple to leave four dead men behind, they would not draw the line at a
fifth. The clear inference is that your brother is alive, but under
restraint."

"I can see that it is possible he was alive until some time after the
tragedy at Albert Gate. But--but--what connection can Jack have with the
theft of diamonds worth millions? These people used him as their tool in
some manner. Why should they spare him when success had crowned their
efforts?"

"We are conversing in riddles. Will you explain?"

"You know that my brother is an assistant Under-Secretary in the Foreign
Office?"

"Yes."

"Well, early in September, his chief placed him in charge of a special
undertaking. The Sultan had decided to have a large number of rough
diamonds cut and polished by the best European experts. They were all
magnificent gems, exceedingly valuable it seems, being rare both in size
and purity; but one of them was larger than any known diamond. Jack told
me it was quite as big as a good-sized hen's egg. Both it and the
others, he said, had the appearance of lumps of alum; but the experts
said that the smaller stones were worth more than a million sterling,
whilst the price of the large one could not be fixed. No one but an
Emperor or Sultan would buy it. His Excellency Mehemet Ali Pasha was the
especial envoy charged with this mission, and he brought credentials to
the Foreign Office asking for facilities to be given for its execution.
He and the two secretaries who accompanied him have been killed."

"Yes?" said Brett, whose eyes were fixed intently on the hearthrug.

"Jack was given the special duty of looking after Mehemet Ali and his
companions during their residence in London. It was his business to
afford them every assistance in his power, to procure them police
protection, obtain for them the best advice attainable in the diamond
trade, and generally place at their disposal all the resources which the
British Government itself could command if it undertook such a curious
task. He had been with them about a month--not hourly engaged, you
understand, as once the preliminary arrangements were made, he had
little further trouble--but he used to call there every morning and
afternoon to see if he could render any assistance. Matters had
progressed so favourably until the day before yesterday, that in another
month he hoped to see the last of them. He was always saying that he
would be glad when the business was ended, as he did not like to be
officially connected with the fate of a few little bits of stone that
happened to be so immensely valuable."

"Did your brother call there as usual on Monday afternoon?" said Brett.

"Yes; he came straight here from Albert Gate, and had tea with uncle and
myself. He sat in the very chair and in the very position you now
occupy. I can remember him saying: 'By jove! the hen's egg'--that is
what he used to call the big diamond--'is turning out in fine style.' He
even discussed the possibility of bringing us to see the collection when
it was finished and before it left this country."

"Did your brother say why the diamonds were brought to this country in
the first instance?"

"Yes; the Sultan and his advisers seemed to think the work of cutting
them could be performed more safely and expeditiously here than anywhere
else. Even the Turk has a high regard for the manner in which law and
order are maintained in Britain. Yet the sequel has shown that the
diamonds and their guardians were perhaps in greater danger here than
they would have been in Constantinople."

"Was that the only reason?" said Brett, who had apparently made up his
mind with reference to the pattern of the carpet, and was now gazing
into the bright fire which danced merrily in the grate, for the day
though fine was chilly.

The girl wrinkled her brows in thought before she answered: "I think I
do remember Jack saying that he believed there was some State business
mixed up in the affair, but I am quite sure he did not know the exact
facts himself."

"Can you recollect any of the special precautions taken to protect the
gems? Your brother may have mentioned some details in conversation, you
know."

"Oh, I think I know all about them. In the first instance, the house at
Albert Gate had previously been tenanted by a rich banker, and it was
well defended by all ordinary means against the attacks of ordinary
burglars. But, in addition to this, before the diamonds left the safe at
the Bank of England, the building was practically torn to pieces inside
by workmen acting under the direction of the Commissioner of Police. It
was absolutely impossible for anyone to enter except through the front
door, unless they flew out of the second storey window. Servants and
workmen, like everybody else, had to use this door alone, as the windows
and doors in the basement had all been bricked up. Inside the
entrance-hall there were always twelve policemen, and an inspector in
charge.

"Every one who left the house was searched by the inspector on duty, and
Jack used to say that he was very glad he invariably insisted upon this
examination, although the police were at first disinclined to meet his
wishes in the matter, he being, so to speak, their direct superior for
the time. Beneath the entrance-hall were rooms occupied by several
Turkish and other servants. Mehemet Ali himself, in the presence of his
secretaries, used to open the door leading to the suite of apartments in
which the diamond cutters worked, and two of the Turkish gentlemen would
remain there all day until the men left in the evening. The Envoy and
both secretaries used to meet Jack when he visited the place, and for
the last three weeks he had nothing to do but see the diamonds, count
them, drink an excellent cup of coffee, and smoke a wonderful cigarette,
made of some special Turkish tobacco, cultivated and prepared only for
the Imperial household."

"Ah!" sighed Brett, with a note of almost unconscious envy in his voice.
He knew exactly what that coffee and those cigarettes would be like. "I
beg your pardon," he went on, perceiving that Miss Talbot did not
understand his exclamation. "Will you tell me as nearly as you can the
occurrences of Monday evening?"

"They were simple enough," said the girl. "My brother dined at home. We
had one or two guests, and were all in the drawing room about 10 15,
when a note came for him from Mehemet Ali. I know exactly what was in
it. I looked over his shoulder whilst he read it. The words were: 'I
wish to see you to-night on important business. Come, if possible, at
once.' I have to tell you that it was in French, but this is an exact
translation."

"Your brother was quite sure that it was from Mehemet Ali himself?" said
Brett.

"Quite sure," was the reply. "He knew his handwriting well, having had
several communications from him during the progress of the business."

"Did your brother leave the house immediately?" asked Brett.

"That instant. He went downstairs, put on his overcoat and hat, and got
into a cab with the messenger who brought the note."

"Do you know who this messenger was?"

"One of the policemen on duty in the house itself."

A slight pause ensued, and Brett was about to take his departure, having
no further questions to ask at the moment, when some one was heard
hastily ascending the stairs, talking to a companion as he advanced.

"This is my uncle," exclaimed Miss Talbot, rising to go to the door.
Before she could reach it an elderly gentleman entered, bearing upon him
all those distinguishing tokens that stamp a man as a retired
major-general.

He exclaimed impetuously--

"I have brought a gentleman from Scotland Yard, my dear." Then he caught
sight of Brett. "Who is this?"

Edith was about to explain, when another man entered--a strongly-built,
bullet-headed man, with keen eyes and firm mouth, and a curious
suggestion in his appearance of having combined pugilism with
process-serving as a professional means of existence. His face extended
into a smile when his eyes fell upon the barrister.

"Ah, Mr. Brett," he cried. "Now we have something to do that is up to
your mark. You are on the spot first, as usual, but this time I can
honestly say that I am glad to see you."

Sir Hubert Fitzjames glanced in astonishment from his niece to the
barrister. He could find nothing better to say than--

"This, my dear, is Mr. Winter, of Scotland Yard."




CHAPTER III

WHAT THE POLICE SAW


Brett promptly cleared the situation by explaining to Sir Hubert, in a
few words, the reason for his unexpected presence, and when the
Major-General learnt the name of the distinguished personage who had
sent Lord Fairholme to the barrister he expressed a ready acquiescence
in the desire to utilise his services. Nor was the effect of such a
notable introduction lost on Mr. Winter, whose earlier knowledge of the
barrister's remarkable achievements in unravelling the tangled skein of
criminal investigation was now supplemented by a certain amount of awe
for a man who commanded the confidence of His Majesty's Government.

"Well," said Sir Hubert Fitzjames, with the brisk animation of one
accustomed to utter commands that must be instantly obeyed, "we will now
proceed to business."

For the moment no one spoke. The Scotland Yard detective evidently
wished his distinguished colleague to take the lead. No sooner did Brett
perceive this than he rose, bowed politely to Miss Talbot and her uncle,
and said--

"The first thing to do is to trace the whereabouts of Mr. Talbot, and
this should be a comparatively easy task. The other features of this
strange occurrence impress me as highly complex, but it is far too early
a stage in the investigation to permit any definite opinion being
expressed at this moment."

Every one seemed to be surprised by Brett's attitude.

"Where are you going to, sir?" asked Mr. Winter.

"That depends largely upon you," was the smiling reply. "If you come
with me we will go direct to Albert Gate, but if you decide to prosecute
further inquiries here, I will await your arrival at my flat."

"That is as much as saying that there are no facts worth inquiring into
to be learnt here?"

"Exactly so. Miss Talbot has told me all that is material to our
purpose. Her brother was unexpectedly sent for after dinner on Monday
night, and left the house hurriedly, without affording any clue to his
subsequent proceedings beyond that contained in a brief note sent to him
by Mehemet Ali Pasha. Indeed, it was impossible for him to afford any
explanation, as he himself was quite unprepared for the summons.
Meanwhile, every moment lost in the endeavour to follow up his movements
is precious time wasted."

The barrister's manner, no less than his words, impressed Mr. Winter so
greatly that he too rose from the seat which he had occupied, with the
intention of conducting a long and careful examination of each member of
the household.

"Then I will come with you at once," he said.

"Oh," cried the Major-General, "I understood you to say as we came here
that there were many questions which required immediate inquiry in this
house, on the principle that the movements of the missing man should be
minutely traced from the very commencement."

Mr. Winter looked somewhat confused, but Edith Talbot broke in--

"I think, uncle dear, it would be well to defer to Mr. Brett's
judgment."

"Do you really believe," she said, turning to the barrister, "that you
will soon be able to find my brother?"

"I am quite sure of it," he replied, and the conviction in his tone
astonished the professional detective, whilst it carried a message of
hope to the others. Even Sir Hubert, for some reason which he could not
explain, suddenly experienced a strong sense of confidence in this
reserved, distinguished-looking man. He stepped forward eagerly and held
out his hand, saying--

"Then we will not detain you, Mr. Brett. Act as you think fit in all
things, but do let us have all possible information at the earliest
moment. The suspense and uncertainty of the present position of affairs
are terribly trying to my niece and myself." The old soldier spoke with
dignity and composure, but his lips quivered, and the anguish in his
eyes was pitiful.

Brett and Mr. Winter quitted the house; they hailed a hansom, and drove
rapidly towards Albert Gate.

"Do you know," said the man from Scotland Yard, breaking in on his
companion's reverie, "you surprised me by what you said just now, Mr.
Brett?"

"I thought you were too old a hand to be surprised at anything," was the
reply.

"Oh, come now, you know well enough what I mean. You said you thought
it would be a comparatively simple matter to find Mr. Talbot, whilst the
other features of the crime are very complex. Now the affair, thus far,
impresses me as being the exact opposite to that statement. The crime is
simple enough. A clever gang of thieves get into the place by working
some particularly cool and daring confidence game. They don't hesitate
at murder to cover up their tracks, and they make away with the plunder
under the very noses of the police. All this may be smart and up-to-date
in its methods, but it is not unusual. The difficult question to my mind
is, what have they done with Mr. Talbot, and how did they succeed in
fooling him so completely as to make him what one might almost call a
party to the transaction?"

The barrister pulled out a cigar-case.

"Try one of these, Winter," he said. "You will find them soothing."

"I never smoke whilst on business," was the testy reply.

"I invariably do." He proceeded to light a cigar, which he smoked with
zest.

"I do not know how it is," went on Mr. Winter, "but whenever I happen to
meet you, Mr. Brett, in the course of an inquiry, I always start by
being very angry with you."

"Why?" There was an amused twinkle in Brett's eyes, which might have
warned the other of a possible pitfall.

"Because you treat me as if I were a precocious youth. You listen to my
theories with a sort of pitying indulgence, yet I have the reputation of
being one of the best men in Scotland Yard, or I should not have been
put on this job. And I am older than you, too."

"I may surely pity you," said Brett, "even if I don't indulge you too
much."

"There you go again," snapped the detective. "Now, what is there silly
about my theory of the crime, I should like to know."

"You shall know, and before you are much older. Bear with me for a
little while, I beg of you. You may be right, and I may be quite wrong,
but I think there is much beneath the surface in the investigations we
are now pursuing. My advice to you is to drop all preconceived theories,
to note every circumstance, however remote it may appear in its bearing
upon events, and in any case not to act precipitately. Whatever you do,
don't arrest anybody."

"But," said the other, somewhat mollified by Brett's earnestness, "half
a dozen people may be arrested at any moment."

"Pray tell me how?"

"Descriptions of the stolen diamonds and of the suspected persons are in
every police office in Great Britain and in most Continental centres by
this time. Passengers by all steamers are most carefully scrutinised.
Every pawnbroker and diamond merchant in the country is on the look-out,
and, generally speaking, it will be odd if somebody does not drop into
the net before many hours have passed."

"It will, indeed," murmured Brett; "and no doubt the somebody in
question will experience a certain amount of inconvenience before he
proves to you that he had nothing whatever to do with the matter. Now,
don't answer me, Winter, but ponder seriously over this question: Do you
really think that the intelligence which planned and successfully
carried through an operation of such magnitude will be trapped by
plain-clothes constables watching the gangways of steamships, or by any
pawnbroker who has ever lent half the value of a pledge?"

Almost impatiently the barrister waved the subject out of the hansom,
and the detective had sense enough to leave him alone during the few
remaining minutes before the vehicle pulled up near the Albert Gate
mansion.

Brett stopped the driver some little distance short of the house itself,
as he did not wish to attract the attention of a knot of curious
sightseers in the street. He asked Winter to precede him and make known
the fact that he was coming, so that there would be no delay at the
door. This the detective readily agreed to, and Brett rapidly took in
the main external features of the house which had become the scene of
such a remarkable tragedy.

It was a palatial structure, built on the sombre lines of the Early
Victorian period. Miss Talbot's brief description of the measures taken
to protect its occupants from interference was fully borne out by its
aspect. There was no access to the basement; the main entrance was
situated at the side; all the ground-floor and first-storey windows
facing into the street were fitted with immovable wooden venetians.
Presumably those on the Park side were similarly secured, whilst the
back wall abutted on to that of another mansion, equally large and
strongly built, tenanted by a well-known peer.

Truly, it required a genius almost unrivalled in the annals of crime to
murder four people and steal diamonds worth millions in such a place
whilst guarded by twelve London policemen and under the special
protection of the Home Office.

The appearance of Winter at the door caused the gaping idlers in the
street to endeavour to draw nearer to the mysterious portals. Thereupon
three policemen on duty outside hustled the mob back, and Brett took
advantage of the confusion thus created to slip to the doorway almost
unperceived. One of the police constables turned round to make a grab at
him, but a signal from a _confrère_ inside prevented this, and Brett
quickly found himself within a spacious entrance hall with the door
closed and bolted behind him.

Winter was talking to two uniformed inspectors, to whom he had explained
the barrister's mission and credentials.

"We have here, Mr. Brett," he said, "Inspector Walters, who was on duty
until ten o'clock on Monday night, and Inspector Sharpe, who relieved
him. They will both tell you exactly what took place."

"Thank you," said the barrister, "but it will expedite matters if you
gentlemen will first accompany me over the scene of the crime. I will
then be able to understand more accurately what happened. Suppose we
start here. I presume that this is where the police guard was
stationed?"

Inspector Walters assumed the _rôle_ of guide.

"I was in charge of the first guard established a month ago," he said,
"and the arrangements I then made have been adhered to without deviation
night and day ever since."

From the outer door a short passage of a few feet led up half a dozen
steps into a large reception room, the entrance to which was closed by a
light double door, half glass. On both sides of the first short passage
were two small apartments, such as are often used in London mansions for
the purposes of cloak-rooms. The doors from these rooms opened into the
inner hall. A large dining-room was situated on the left or Park side,
and on the right was a breakfast or morning-room. At the back of the
reception hall a handsome staircase led from left to right to the upper
floors, whilst a doorway beneath the staircase gave access to the
kitchens and basement offices.

"Here," said the inspector, pointing to the foot of the staircase, "two
police-constables were constantly stationed. Another stood there,"
indicating the passage to the kitchen, "and a fourth at the glass door.
As the outer basement entrance was not only securely fastened by bolts
and bars, but actually bricked up inside, it was absolutely impossible
for any person to enter or leave the house save by the front door, nor
could any one go from the kitchen to the upper part of the house without
passing under the observation of all four constables. I arranged my
guards in military fashion, having three men for each post, with one
hour on duty and two hours off, but the same men were never on guard
together at definite hours, as they were relieved at varying times. You
will understand that I considered it a very responsible task to
safeguard these premises, and thought it best to render it impossible
for any section of the force under my command to take part in a
conspiracy, although such a thing was in itself most improbable."

They then ascended the staircase and found themselves on the first
floor.

There were six spacious apartments on this storey, and all of them had
originally opened on to the landing. The special precautions taken to
guard the diamonds of the Turkish mission had altered all that. Five
doorways had been bricked up, the result being that admission to the
whole set of rooms could only be obtained through the first door that
faced the top of the staircase.

This apartment was luxuriously furnished, and Inspector Walters
explained that the Turkish Envoy and his suite passed the working hours
of each day there after they had personally thrown open the other
apartments to the diamond polishers and unlocked the safes in which the
gems were stored, when work ceased on the previous day.

"His Excellency," said the inspector, "kept the keys of this room and
the others, together with those of the safes, in his own possession
night and day. He slept upstairs, and so did the other two gentlemen. No
one was allowed to come to this floor except the confidential servant,
named Hussein, who used to bring coffee, cigars, and newspapers or other
things the gentlemen might require, together with their lunch in the
middle of the day. The workmen brought their lunch with them, so that
they came in and out once a day only."

"Where did this confidential servant sleep?" said Brett.

"I believe he used to lie curled up on the rug outside his Excellency's
door."

"And the other servants?"

"They all slept in the basement."

"What were they, Turks or Christians?"

"Well, sir," said the inspector with a smile, "two of them were Turks in
costume, whilst three were Christians in appearance. That is the best I
can say for the Christians, as they were Frenchmen, though certainly the
cook was a first-rate _chef_. Of course, we all got our meals here
whilst on duty."

"Did his Excellency and the other members of the mission eat food
prepared in the ordinary way?"

"Oh, yes; they appreciated French dishes as keenly as anybody might do."

"It was in this room, then," continued Brett, "that the murders took
place?"

"Yes; I suppose that must be so," said the inspector. "But my friend
here," pointing to Inspector Sharpe, "can tell that part of the story
better than I can."

They passed into the inner rooms, which were quite silent and deserted,
and presented a strange appearance considering the character of the
house and its locality. Although the ceilings were decorated with
beautiful paintings and fringed with superbly emblazoned mouldings,
although the walls were papered with material that cost as much per yard
as good silk, each apartment was occupied with workmen's benches, and
curious devices for cutting and polishing diamonds.

In the first room were two small safes, one of which was intended to
receive the gems under treatment at the close of each day's work; the
other held certain valuable materials required in the diamond cutter's
operations. Three of the rooms were on the Park side, and it was here
that the small colony of skilled artisans had been installed.

The other two rooms were not tenanted, nor had any communicating doors
been broken through the walls in order to gain access to them.

The windows of the three apartments occupied by the workmen were not
only guarded by strong iron bars, but possessed the additional security
of external wire blinds of exceedingly small mesh. Each window admitted
plenty of light, and could be raised to allow a free circulation of air,
but it was seemingly quite impossible for any active communication to
take place with the outside. The three rooms looked out over a small
enclosed lawn, which was separated from the park by a brick wall
surmounted by iron railings. All the fireplaces had been closed with
bricks and mortar.

"You will see, sir," said the inspector, when he had called Brett's
attention to these details, "that mysterious though the murders were,
they were as nothing compared with the disappearance of the diamonds.
Every person who came downstairs was most carefully and methodically
searched each time he passed the constable on duty at the bottom. It may
be admitted that a few small stones could be so secreted as to escape
observation, but some of these stones were so large that such a notion
is not to be thought of, whilst the size of the great diamond which Mr.
Talbot christened the 'Hen's Egg' rendered its transference past the
searchers beneath absolutely impossible. There was no humbug about the
search, you will understand, Mr. Brett. People had to take their boots
off, open their mouths, and hand over their hats, coats, sticks, or
umbrellas for inspection. Every part of their clothing was scrutinised,
and the contents of their pockets, money, watches, keys, and the rest,
thoroughly examined. These were our orders, and they were strictly
obeyed, Mr. Talbot himself being the first to insist that the regulation
should be carried out rigidly, so far as he was concerned. Why, one day
a Cabinet Minister came here to see the diamonds. He was elderly and
stout, and did not at all like having to take off his boots, I can
assure you, as he nearly got apoplexy whilst lacing them up again."

During the inspector's running comments Brett had carefully scrutinised
each of the windows. He at once came to the conclusion, by a simple
analysis of the possibilities, that by no other means than through the
barrier of iron wire had the diamonds passed out of the house; but the
most thorough examination failed to reveal any loophole by which this
achievement had been accomplished. He opened each of the windows, tested
every iron bar, and saw that the fastenings of the external blind were
undisturbed, whilst the fine wire mesh showed no irregularities in its
hexagonal pattern wherein any defect would at once be visible.

"We have done all that long since, sir," said the second police officer,
smiling at the obviousness of an amateur's method of inspection, for it
happened that he had never met the barrister before, though he had often
heard of him.

"You have?" said Brett, with the slightest tinge of sarcasm in his
voice. "Did you do this?" and he commenced to thump with a clenched fist
upon every portion of the external screen that he could reach.

"No, we did not," said the policeman, "and I don't see that it is going
to accomplish anything except hurt your hand."

"That may be so," murmured Brett; "but the diamonds went this way and
none other."

He tested every portion of one window screen in this manner without
effect. Then he approached the second window, and, beginning at the
left-hand top corner, did the same thing. Suddenly an exclamation came
from the three interested watchers. In the centre of the lower part of
the screen Brett's hand made a visible impression upon the iron wire.
Using no more force than had been applied to other portions, the blow
served to tear a section of the blind about eight inches across.
Instantly the barrister ceased operations, and, producing a
pocket-microscope, minutely examined the rent.

"I expected as much," he said, taking hold of the torn part of the
screen and giving it a vigorous pull, with the result that a small
piece, measuring about eight inches by six, came bodily out. "This has
been cut away, as you will see, by some instrument which did not even
bend the wire. It was subsequently replaced, whilst the fractured parts
were sufficiently cemented by some composition to retain this section in
its place, and practically defy observation. There was nothing for it
but force to reveal it thus early. No doubt in time the composition
would have dried, or been washed away, and then this bit of the screen
would have fallen out by the action of wind and weather. Here, at any
rate, is a hole in your defensive armour." He held out the _pièce de
conviction_ to the discomfited Sharpe, who surveyed it in silence.

It was no part of Brett's business in life, however, to snatch plaudits
from astounded policemen.

"This is a mere nothing," he continued. "Of course, there must have been
some such means of getting the diamonds off the premises. Let us return
to the ante-room and there you can tell me the exact history of events
on Monday evening."




CHAPTER IV

THE MURDERS


In less confident tones Inspector Walters resumed his narrative--

"On Monday evening, sir," he said, "about eight o'clock, his Excellency
and the two secretaries were dining downstairs, and matters had, thus
far, gone on with the same routine as was observed every preceding day.
The workmen quitted work at six o'clock. The three gentlemen went out
for a drive as soon as everything was locked up, and came in again at a
quarter to eight. They did not change their clothes for dinner, so there
was no occasion to search them, as no one had gone upstairs since they
had descended soon after six. They had barely started dinner when some
one called at the front door, and I was sent for. The door bell, I may
explain, was always answered by one of the house servants, and he, if
necessary, admitted any person who came, closing the door; but the
visitor had to be examined by the policeman stationed in the passage
before he was permitted to come any further. On this occasion I went out
and found three gentlemen standing there. They were Turks, as could be
easily seen by their attire, and appeared to be persons of some
consequence."

"What do you mean by the words 'their attire'?" interrupted Brett. "Were
they dressed in European clothes or in regular Turkish garments?"

"Oh," said the inspector, "I only meant that they wore fezzes; otherwise
they were quite accurately dressed in frock coats and the rest, but they
were unmistakably Turks by their appearance. Two of them could speak no
English, and the third, who acted as the leader of the party, first of
all addressed me in French. Finding I did not understand him, he used
very broken, but fairly intelligible, English. What he wanted was to be
taken at once to his Excellency, Mehemet Ali Pasha. I said that his
Excellency was dining and that perhaps he had better call in the
morning, but he replied that his business was very urgent, and he could
not wait. He made me understand that if I sent in the cards of himself
and his companions they would certainly be admitted at once. I did not
see any harm in this, so I took the three cards and gave them to
Hussein, who was crossing the hall at the moment."

"As the cards were printed in Turkish characters you could not, of
course, tell what the names were," said Brett.

A look of blank astonishment crossed the inspector's face as he replied:
"That is a good guess, but it is so. The hieroglyphics on the piece of
pasteboard were worse than Greek. However, Hussein glanced at them. He
appeared to be surprised; he went into the dining-room, returning with
the message that the gentlemen were to be admitted. Of course I had
nothing else to do but to let them in, which I did, accompanying them
myself to the door of the dining-room, and making sure, before the door
was closed, that their presence was expected."

"How did you do that?" said Brett.

"Well, although they spoke in what I suppose was Turkish, it is not very
difficult to distinguish by a man's tones whether his reception of
unexpected visitors is cordial or not, and there could be no doubt that
the visiting cards had conveyed such names to his Excellency as
warranted the introduction of the party into the house. The six
gentlemen remained in the dining-room until 9.17 (I have the time noted
here in my pocket-book). They then came out and went upstairs in a body
to the ante-room, where they all sat down, as I could tell by the
movement of chairs overhead, and in a few minutes Hussein was rung for
to bring cigarettes and coffee. This was at 9.21. Hussein was searched
as he came downstairs after receiving the order, and again at 9.30 when
he returned after executing it. I was relieved at ten o'clock, and
beyond describing the three gentlemen, I know nothing more about the
business."

"They were well dressed?" inquired Brett; "they impressed you as Turkish
gentlemen by their features, and they wore fezzes?"

"Yes," said the policeman, with a smile; "but there was a little more
than that."

"It is of no importance," said Brett.

"But really it must be," urged the inspector. "One of them, the man who
spoke to me, had a bad sword-cut across his right cheek, whilst another
squinted horribly; besides, they were all elderly men."

"Pardon me, inspector," said Brett, "but you admit, no doubt, that this
is a very remarkable crime I am investigating."

"I should just think it is, sir," was the answer.

"Well, now, does it not strike you that the perpetrators thereof, who
were not afraid to be scrutinized by yourself and by several other
policemen, and to be searched and further scrutinized by a different set
of officers when they came out again, would be very unlikely persons to
bear about them such distinguishing characteristics as would lead to
their arrest by the first youthful police-constable who encountered
them? I do not want to be rude, or to indicate any lack of discretion on
your part, but, from my point of view, I would vastly prefer not to be
furnished with any description of these three persons, nor would I care
to have seen them as they entered or left the house."

"Well, that is very curious," said Inspector Walters, dropping his hands
on his knees in sheer amazement at such an extraordinary statement from
a man whose clearness and accuracy of perception had been so fully
justified by the incident of the window-blind.

"And now, Mr. Sharpe," said Brett, turning to the other officer, "what
did you observe?"

"I came on duty at ten o'clock, sir; posted my guards, and received from
Inspector Walters an exact account of what had taken place before my
arrival. Inspector Walters had hardly quitted the house, when one of the
junior members of the mission came downstairs with a note which he asked
me to send at once by a constable to Mr. Talbot."

"You are quite sure he was one of the members of the mission?" said
Brett.

"Perfectly certain. I have seen him every previous night for nearly a
month, as the gentleman often went out late to the Turkish Embassy, and
elsewhere. I sent the note, as requested, and Mr. Talbot came back with
the constable in about twenty minutes. Mr. Talbot went upstairs
accompanied by Hussein; Hussein came down, was searched, went down to
the kitchen, brought up more coffee, and never appeared again. The next
time I saw him was about noon yesterday, when we broke open the door,
and found his dead body. At 11.25, Mr. Talbot, accompanied by the one
whom Inspector Walters has described as the spokesman of the strangers,
came down the stairs. Mr. Talbot looked somewhat puzzled, but not
specially worried, and submitted himself to the searching operation as
usual. The other man seemed to be surprised by this proceeding, but
offered no objection when his turn came, and said something laughingly
in French to Mr. Talbot, when he had to take his boots off. The two
gentlemen went outside and called a cab. Mr. Talbot got in, and the
constable at the door heard the foreigner tell the driver to go to the
Carlton Hotel. He repeated the address twice, so as to make sure the man
would make no mistake.

"Then they drove off, and there was no further incident to report until
five minutes past twelve, when the other two foreigners came downstairs.
Then we had a bit of a job. They knew no English, and one of our men,
who could speak French, found that they did not understand that
language. However, at last in dumb show we got them to perceive that
everybody who came downstairs had to be searched. They submitted at
once, and I took special care that the investigation was complete. There
was nothing upon them to arouse the slightest suspicion, no weapons of
any sort beyond a small pocket-knife carried by one man, and not much
in the way of either papers or money. Before going out one of them
produced a small card on which was written, 'Carlton Hotel.'

"I took it that this was their residence, so I instructed a constable to
see them into a cab and tell the driver where to take them. I also
showed them how much money to give the cabman. None of the gentlemen
upstairs put in an appearance, nor did I hear them retire to rest. To
make quite sure that all was right, I and a sergeant who looked in a
little later, went upstairs and tried the door of the ante-room. This
was locked and everything was quiet within, so we returned to the hall,
and the night was passed in the usual manner. Hussein always made his
appearance about eight o'clock in the morning, when he came down to
procure coffee for his Excellency and the others. As he did not show up
I wondered what had become of him. When nine o'clock came, I determined
to investigate matters. By that time the diamond cutters had put in an
appearance, and were gathered in the hall, undergoing a slight search
preparatory to their day's work."

"How many of these men were there?" broke in Brett.

"Fourteen exactly. They were mostly Dutchmen, with, I think three
Belgians. Taking a constable with me, I went upstairs, and ascended to
the second storey, where I knew his Excellency's suite was situated, and
where I expected to find Hussein asleep on a mat in front of the bedroom
door. The mat was there, but no Hussein. Then I went higher up to the
rooms occupied by the two assistants. I knocked, but received no answer.
One door was locked; the other was open, so I went in, but the room was
empty, and the bed had not been slept upon. This seemed so strange that
I knocked loudly at the other door, with no result. I returned to his
Excellency's floor and hammered at the door, which was locked,
sufficiently to wake the soundest sleeper that ever lived. This again
was useless, so I returned downstairs and sent off two messengers post
haste--one to Mr. Talbot, and the other to the Commissioner of Police at
Scotland Yard. The man who went to Mr. Talbot's house returned first,
bringing the startling information that Mr. Talbot had not been home all
night, and that his uncle and sister were anxious to know where he was,
as they had received no message from him since he quitted the house the
previous night at 10.15. The Commissioner of Police came himself a
little later. By that time Inspector Walters had reached here for his
turn of day duty, and after a hasty consultation we decided to break in
all the doors that were locked, commencing with that of the second
assistant. His room was empty, and so was his Excellency's, neither
apartment having been occupied during the night. We then returned to the
first floor and forced the door of the ante-room, which, we discovered,
was only secured by a spring latch, the lower lock not having been used.
As soon as we entered the room, we found the four dead men. Hussein, the
servant, was nearest the door and was lying in a crumpled-up position.
He had been stabbed twice through the back and once through the spinal
column at the base of the neck. His Excellency and the two assistants
were seated in chairs, but had been stabbed through the heart. The
instrument used must have been a long thin dagger or stiletto. There was
no sign of it anywhere in the room, and most certainly none of the men
who came out the previous night had such a weapon concealed upon him.

"Doctors were at once sent for, and the first medical gentlemen to
arrive said that each of the four had been dead for many hours, but they
also imagined that the coffee, the remains of which we found in some
cups on the table, had been drugged. So, before disturbing the room and
its contents in any way, the Commissioner sent for Dr. Tennyson Coke.
After careful investigation Dr. Coke came to the same conclusion as the
other gentlemen. He believes that his Excellency and his two assistants
were first stupefied by the drug and then murdered as they sat in their
chairs, whilst the appearance of Hussein and the nature of his wounds
seemed to indicate that he had been unexpectedly attacked and killed
before he could struggle effectually or even call for assistance.

"Of course, the diamonds had vanished, whilst in the safes or on the
tables we found the keys which had evidently been taken from his
Excellency's pockets. We were all puzzled to account for the
disappearance of the diamonds and the dagger, but you have clearly shown
the means whereby they were conveyed off the premises. Dr. Coke took
away the coffee for analysis. The four bodies were carried to the
mortuary in Chapel Place, and the fourteen workmen were conveyed to
Scotland Yard, not because we have any charge against them, but the
Commissioner thought it best to keep them under surveillance until the
Turkish Embassy had settled what was to be done with them, in the matter
of paying such wages as were due and sending them back to Amsterdam. The
men themselves, I may add, were quite satisfied with our action in the
matter. That is really all I have to tell you."

"It is quite clear, then," said Brett, "that two men succeeded in
murdering four and in getting away with their plunder and arms without
creating the slightest noise or exciting any suspicion in your mind."

"That is so," admitted Inspector Sharpe ruefully.

"Then," said Brett, "there is nothing else to be done here. Will you
come with me, Mr. Winter?"

"Where to, sir?" inquired the detective.

"To find Mr. Talbot, of course."

"Easier said than done," remarked Inspector Walters, as the door closed
behind the visitors.

Inspector Sharpe was less sceptical.

"He's a very smart chap is Brett," he said. "Neither you nor I thought
of punching that wire screen, did we?"




CHAPTER V

A STARTLING CLUE


Once clear of the Albert Gate mansion, the barrister was bound to
confess to a sense of indefiniteness, a feeling of uncertainty which
seldom characterised either his thoughts or his actions. He admitted as
much to his companion, for Brett was a man who would not consent to pose
under any circumstances.

"It is quite true," he explained, "that our first duty must be to find
Mr. Talbot, and it is still more certain that we will be able to
accomplish that part of our task; but there are elements in this inquiry
which baffle me at present."

"And what are they, sir?" said the detective.

"I fail to see why Mr. Talbot was dragged into the matter at all. On the
straightforward assumption that Turks were engaged in the pleasant
occupation of taking other Turks' lives--an assumption to which, by the
way, I attach no great amount of credence--why did they not allow Mr.
Talbot to go quietly to his own home? It was not that they feared more
speedy discovery of their crime. The hour was then late; it was
tolerably certain that he would make no move which might prove injurious
to them until next morning, and then the whole affair was bound to be
discovered by the police in the ordinary course of events."

"I don't quite follow you, sir," said Winter, with a puzzled tone in his
voice. They had, for the sake of quietude, turned into the Park, and
were now walking towards Hyde Park Corner. "What do you mean by saying
that Mr. Talbot would make no move in the matter until next morning?"

"Oh, I forgot," said Brett. "Of course, you don't know why the diamonds
were stolen?"

"For the same reason that all other diamonds are stolen, I suppose."

"Oh, dear no," laughed the barrister. "This is a political crime."

"Political!" said the amazed policeman.

"Well, we won't quarrel about words, and as there are perhaps no
politics in Turkey, we will call it dynastic or any other loud-voiced
adjective which serves to take it out of the category of simple felony.
Why? I cannot at this moment tell you, but you may be perfectly certain
that the disappearance of those diamonds from the custody of Mehemet Ali
Pasha will not cause the Sultan to sleep any more soundly."

"What beats me, Mr. Brett," said the detective, viciously prodding the
gravel path with his stick, "is how you ferret out these queer
facts--fancies some people would call them, as I used to do until I knew
you better."

"In this case it is simple enough. By mere chance I happened to read
this morning that there had been some little domestic squabble in royal
circles at Constantinople. I don't know whether you are acquainted with
Turkish history, Mr. Winter, but it is a well-recognised principle that
any Sultan is liable to die of diseases which are weird and painfully
sudden; for instance, the last one is popularly supposed to have
plunged a long sharp scissors into his jugular vein; others drank coffee
that disagreed with them, or smoked cigarettes too highly perfumed. In
any case, the invariable result of these eccentricities has been that a
fresh Sultan occupied the throne. Now, don't forget that I am simply
theorising, for I know no more of this business than you do at this
moment, but I still think that you will find some connection between my
theory and that which has actually occurred. At any rate, I have said
sufficient to prove to you the importance of not being too ready to make
arrests."

"I quite see that," was the thoughtful rejoinder. "But you must not
forget, sir, that we in Scotland Yard are bound by rules of procedure.
Perhaps you will not mind my suggesting that a word from you to the
Foreign Office might induce the authorities to communicate officially
with the Home Department, and then instructions could be issued to the
police which would leave the matter a little more open than we are able
to regard it under the existing conditions."

"I will see to that," said the barrister. "When does the inquest take
place?"

"This evening at six."

"It will be adjourned, of course?"

"Oh, yes; no evidence will be given beyond that necessary for purposes
of identification, and this can be supplied by the police themselves and
an official from the Turkish Embassy."

"Very well. You will mention to no one the theory I have just explained
to you?"

"Not if you wish it, sir."

"I do wish it at present. Which way are you going?"

"Straight to the Yard."

"In that case I will accompany you a portion of the distance."

They had now reached Hyde Park Corner, and, hailing a hansom, Brett told
the driver to stop outside the Carlton Hotel. The man whipped up his
horse and drove in the direction of Constitution Hill, evidently
intending to avoid the congested traffic of Piccadilly and take the
longer, but more pleasant, route through the Green Park and the Mall.

"By the way," said Brett, "did the driver of the hansom which conveyed
Mr. Talbot and his companion from Albert Gate on Monday night tell you
which road he followed?"

"Yes," said the detective, "he went this way."

Brett rubbed his hands, with a queer expression of thoughtful pleasure
on his keen face.

"Ah," he said, "I like that. It is well to be on the scent."

He did not explain to his professional _confrère_ that it was a positive
stimulant to his abounding energy and highly-strung nerves to find that
he was actually following the path taken by the criminal whom he was
pursuing. The mere fact lent reality to the chase. For a mile, at any
rate, there could be no mistake, though he might expect a check at the
Carlton. Arrived there, Brett alighted.

"Are you going to make any inquiries in the hotel, sir?" said Mr.
Winter.

"Why should I?" said Brett. "You have already ascertained from the
management that no person even remotely resembling any of the parties
concerned is staying at the hotel."

"Yes, confound it, I know I did," cried the other, "but I never told you
so."

"That is all right," laughed Brett. "Come and see me at my chambers
this evening when the inquest is finished. Perhaps by that time we may
be able to determine our plan of action."

Once left to himself, Brett did not enter the hotel. Indeed, he hardly
glanced at that palatial structure, having evidently dismissed it from
his mind as being in no way connected with the tragedy he was
investigating. He made it an invariable rule in conducting inquiries of
this nature to adopt the French method of "reconstituting" the incidents
of a crime, so far as such a course was possible in the absence of the
persons concerned. He reasoned that a very plausible explanation of the
unexpected appearance of the three strangers in the Albert Gate mansion
on Monday night had been given to Jack Talbot. This young gentleman, it
might be taken for granted, had not been selected by the Foreign Office
to carry to a successful issue such an important and delicate matter as
that entrusted to him, without some good grounds for the faith in his
qualities exhibited by his superiors. Brett thought he could understand
the brother's character and attributes from his favourable analysis of
the sister, and it was quite reasonable, therefore, to believe that
Talbot was a man not likely to be easily duped. The principals in this
crime were evidently well aware of the trust reposed in the Assistant
Under-Secretary, and they, again, would not underrate his intelligence.
Hence there was a good cause for Talbot to accept the explanations,
whatever they were, given him during the conclave in the dining-room;
the effect of which, in Inspector Sharpe's words, had been to "puzzle"
the young Englishman. Further, there must have been a very potent
inducement held out before Talbot would consent to drive off with a
stranger at such a late hour, and when the cab was dismissed at the
Carlton, the excuse given would certainly be quite feasible.

"It must surely be this," communed Brett. "The man explained that he was
a stranger in London, that he lived quite close to the Carlton Hotel,
and that he found it convenient not only for the purpose of giving
directions that would be understood, but also for paying fares, to
direct the drivers of hired vehicles to go there and not to his own
exact address, which he had found by experience many of them did not
recognize, whilst his knowledge of the language was not ample enough to
enable him to describe the locality more precisely. It follows, then, in
unerring sequence that Talbot was conveyed to some place within a very
short distance of the spot where I now stand."

He looked along Pall Mall, up the Haymarket, and through Cockspur
Street, and he noted with some degree of curiosity that there were very
few residential buildings in the neighbourhood. Clubs, theatres, big
commercial establishments and insurance offices occupied the bulk of the
available space. It was a part of his theory that none of the other
great hotels in this district could harbour the criminals, otherwise
there would have been no excuse to stop the hansom outside the Carlton.

Brett did not take long to make up his mind once he had decided upon a
definite course. He stood at the corner barely three minutes, and then
walked off through Pall Mall and down the steps near the Duke of York's
Column into the Horse Guards' Parade, intending to walk quietly to his
Victoria Street flat. A call at the Foreign Office procured him an
official authorization from the Under-Secretary to inquire into the
circumstances of Talbot's disappearance and a promise that the Home
Office should be communicated with.

He desired to review the whole of the circumstances attending this
strange mystery of modern life, and the result of his reflections
quickly became apparent when he reached his residence, for in the first
instance he despatched a telegram, and then made several notes in his
private diary.

The telegram, in due course, produced an elderly pensioned police
inspector, a quiet reserved man, whom the barrister had often employed.
He explained briefly the circumstances attending Mr. Talbot's
disappearance, and added--

"I want you to find out the names, and if possible the
business--together with any other information you may happen to come
across--of every person who lives within a distance, roughly speaking,
of two hundred yards from the Carlton Hotel. The Post Office Directory
and your own observation will narrow down the inquiry considerably. It
is the unrecorded balance of inhabitants with whom I am particularly
anxious to become more definitely acquainted." The man saluted and
withdrew.

Brett imagined that he would now be left in undisputed enjoyment of a
few hours' rest before the Earl of Fairholme kept the appointment fixed
for seven o'clock. But in this he was mistaken.

Smith brought in some tea, which was refreshing after his walk, for the
engrossing nature of the morning's occupation caused him to forget his
lunch. A cigar and evening paper next claimed his attention, but he had
barely settled down to the perusal of a garbled account of events at
Albert Gate when his man again entered, announcing in mysterious tones
the presence of Mr. Winter. Smith's attitude towards the myrmidons of
Scotland Yard who occasionally visited the barrister on business, was
peculiar. He regarded them with suspicion, tempered by wholesome awe,
and he now made known the arrival of the detective in such a manner as
caused his master to laugh at him.

"Show him in, Smith," he said cheerily; "he has not come to arrest me
this time."

Winter entered, and a glance at his face brought Brett quickly to his
feet.

"What is the matter?" he cried when the door had closed behind the
servant. "You have received important news?"

"I should think I have," replied the detective, dropping into a seat. "I
was just writing a report in the Yard when I was sent for by the Chief,
and you could have knocked me down with a feather when I heard the
reason. I suppose I am acting rightly in coming at once to tell you,
although in my flurry at the time I quite forgot to ask the Chief's
permission, but as you are mixed up in the case at the request of the
Foreign Office, I thought you ought to learn what had happened."

"Well, what is it?" cried Brett, impatient of the other's careful
provisos.

"Simply this," said the detective. "Mr. Jack Talbot bolted from London
on Tuesday in company with a lady. They crossed over from Dover to
Calais by the midday boat, and went direct to Paris. Mr. Talbot calmly
booked rooms for himself and the girl in the Grand Hotel, had the nerve
to write 'Mr. and Mrs. Talbot, 118, Ulster Gardens, London, W.,' in the
register, and both of them disappeared forthwith. But we will soon lay
hands on the gentleman, no fear. I have somehow suspected, Mr. Brett,
that your notion of a political crime was all poppy-cock. It is a good
big brazen-faced steal."

"Is it?" said Brett, his face glistening with excitement at the
intelligence so suddenly conveyed to him. "Would you mind explaining to
me how this precious information reached you?"

"There is no use, sir, in fighting against facts," said the detective,
with dogged insistence. "This time you are dead wrong. Mr. Talbot was
recognized at Calais by a Foreign Office messenger returning from
France. Seeing him with a lady, and knowing that he was not married, the
messenger--Captain Gaultier by name--did not speak to him, especially as
Mr. Talbot seemed rather to avoid recognition. Captain Gaultier thought
nothing of the matter until this morning, when he visited the Foreign
Office on duty and heard something of the affair. He then saw the
Under-Secretary, the same gentleman who sent the Earl of Fairholme to
you, and told him what had happened. The Under-Secretary could hardly
refuse to believe such a credible witness, so telegrams were despatched
to the Embassy in Paris and the police at Dover. From Dover came the
information that exactly such a couple as described by Captain Gaultier
had crossed to France on Tuesday morning; and a few hours later a wire
from Paris announced the discovery of the registered names at the Grand
Hotel. The Paris telegram went on to say that the gentleman had told the
manager his luggage was following from the Gare du Nord, and that his
wife and himself were going out for half an hour, but would return in
time to dress for dinner. When his traps arrived they were to be taken
to his room. No luggage ever came, nor was either of the pair seen
again; but we will lay hands on them, never fear."

Brett took a hasty stride or two up and down the room.

"So you think," he burst forth at last, "that Mr. Talbot has not only
taken part in some vulgar intrigue with a woman, but that he has also
bolted with the Sultan's diamonds, sacrificing his whole career to a
momentary impulse and imperilling his neck for the sake of a few gems,
which he cannot even convert into money?"

"Why not? It is not the first time in the history of the world that a
man has made a fool of himself over a woman, or even committed a murder
in order to steal diamonds."

"My dear Winter, do be reasonable. Where is the market for diamonds such
as these are supposed to be? You know, even better than I do, that the
slightest attempt to dispose of them at any figure remotely approaching
their value will lead to the immediate detection and arrest of the
person rash enough to make the experiment. Don't you see, man, that the
Foreign Office and its messenger, its Under-Secretary, your
Commissioner, and the Embassy officials in Paris have been completely
and abjectly fooled--fooled, too, in a particularly silly fashion by the
needless registration of names at the hotel?"

"No, I do not see it. One cannot go against facts, but this time the
evidence looks so strong that I shall be mightily mistaken if Mr. Talbot
does not swing for his share in the matter. Anyhow, I have done my duty
in letting you know what has happened, so I must be off."

"To arrest somebody, of course?" cried Brett, with an irritating laugh;
but Mr. Winter was already hurrying down the stairs.

The momentary feeling of annoyance soon passed, to be succeeded by
profound pity for the household at 118, Ulster Gardens. He well knew
that once the police became convinced that a particular individual was
responsible for the commission of a crime it required the eloquence of
several counsel and the combined intelligence of a judge and jury at the
Old Bailey to force them to change their opinion. Brett had never, to
his knowledge, seen Talbot, yet he felt that this bright, alert and
trustworthy young official was innocent of the slightest voluntary
complicity in a crime which must shock London when its extent became
known.

The testimony of the Foreign Office messenger was, of course, staggering
at first sight, especially when backed up by the hurried investigations
made at Dover and Paris. But there must be an explanation of Talbot's
supposed journey, and, even assuming the most unfavourable view of his
actions, why on earth should he so ostentatiously parade himself and his
companion at the bureau of the Grand Hotel? There could be but one
answer to this question. He acted in this manner in order to make
certain that his presence in Paris should be known to the police at the
first instant they endeavoured to trace him. Then, who could the woman
be? The last thing that a clever criminal flying from outraged law would
dream of doing would be to encumber himself with a young and probably
good-looking companion of the opposite sex.

The more Brett thought out the complexities of the affair, the more
excited he became, and the longer and more rapid were his strides up and
down the length of his spacious sitting-room. This was his only outward
sign of agitation. When thinking deeply on any all-absorbing topic, he
could not remain still. He felt obliged to cast away physical as well as
mental restriction on the play of his imagination, and he would at times
pace back and forth during unrecorded hours in the solitude of his
apartments, finally awakening to a sense of his surroundings by reason
of sheer exhaustion.

He was not destined to reach this ultimate stage on the present
occasion. With a preliminary cough--for the discreet Smith was well
versed in his master's peculiarities--his servant announced the
appearance of the Earl of Fairholme.

Brett looked at his watch, and was caught in the act by his visitor.
"Yes, I know we fixed on seven o'clock," cried the impetuous young peer,
"but I was simply dying to hear the result of your inquiries thus far,
and I ventured to call an hour earlier."

The barrister explained that he sought to learn the time as a matter of
mere curiosity. "Indeed," he added, "your appearance at this juncture is
particularly welcome. I want to ask you many things concerning Mr.
Talbot."

"Fire away," said Fairholme. "I'm no good at spinning a yarn, but I can
answer questions like a prize boy in a Sunday-school."

"Well, in the first instance, have you known him many years?"

"We were at school together at Harrow. Then I entered the Army whilst he
had a University career. My trustees made me give up the Service when I
succeeded to the estates, and about the same time Jack entered the
Foreign Office. That is three years ago. We have seen each other
constantly since, and, of course, when I became engaged to his sister
our friendship became, if anything, stronger."

"Nothing could be more admirably expressed. Do you know anything about
his private affairs?"

"Financially, do you mean?"

"Well, yes, to begin with."

"He got a salary, I suppose, from Government, but he has a private
income of some thousands a year."

"Then he is not likely to be embarrassed for money?"

"Most unlikely. He is a particularly steady chap--full of eagerness to
follow a diplomatic career and that sort of thing. Why, he would sooner
read a blue-book than the _Pink 'Un_!"

"If you were told that he had bolted with a nondescript young woman,
what would you say?"

"Say!" vociferated Fairholme, springing up from the seat into which he
had subsided, "I would tell the man who said so that he was a d----d
liar!"

"Exactly. Of course you would! Yet here are all kinds of people--Foreign
Office officials, policemen, and hangers-on of the British Embassy in
Paris--ready to swear, perhaps to prove, if necessary, that Talbot and
some smartly-dressed female went to Paris quite openly by the day
service yesterday, and even took care to announce ostentatiously their
arrival in the French capital."

For a moment the two men faced each other silently, the one amused by
the news he was imparting, the other staggered by its seeming absurdity.
Then Fairholme flung himself back into his chair.

"Look here, Mr. Brett," he went on, "if Jack himself stood there and
told me that what you have said is true I would hardly believe it." A
note of agony came into his voice, as he added: "Do you know what this
means to his sister? My God, man, it will kill her!"

"It will do nothing of the sort," cried Brett. "Surely you understand
Miss Talbot better. She will be the first to proclaim to the world what
you and I believe, namely, that her brother is innocent, no matter how
black appearances may be. I have no knowledge of him save what I have
learned within the last few hours, yet I stake my reputation on the
certainty that he is in no way connected with this terrible occurrence
save by compulsion."

"It gives one renewed courage to hear you speak so confidently," said
the earl, his face lighting with enthusiasm as he looked eagerly at the
other, whose earnestness had, for an instant, lifted the veil from
features usually calm and impassive, betraying the strength of character
and masterful purpose that lay beneath the outward mask.

"Is there anything else I can tell you?" asked Fairholme.

"You are quite sure that his was a nature that could not stoop to a
vulgar intrigue?" said Brett. "Remember that in this relation the finest
natures are prone to err. From long experience, I have learnt to place
such slips in quite another category than mere lapses of criminality."

"Of course any man who knows the world must appreciate your reasons
fully, but from what I know of Jack I am persuaded the thing is quite
impossible. Even if it were otherwise, he would never be so mad as to go
off when he knew that something very unusual and important was about to
occur with reference to a special mission for the successful conclusion
of which he had been specially selected by the Foreign Office."

"Ah, there you touch on the strange happenings of coincidence.
Circumstantial evidence convicts many offenders, but it has hanged many
an innocent man before to-day. I could tell you a very remarkable case
in point. Once----"

But Smith appeared to announce dinner, and Brett not only insisted that
his new acquaintance should dine heartily, but also contrived to divert
him from present anxieties by drawing upon the rich storehouse of his
varied experiences.

The meal, therefore, passed pleasantly enough. Both men arranged to
visit Sir Hubert Fitzjames during the evening and decide on a definite
course of action which would receive the approval of the authorities.
Armed with a mandate from the Foreign Office, Brett could enter upon his
task without fear of interference from officialdom. Nothing further
could be done that night, as the private inquiry agent could not
possibly complete any portion of his house-to-house scrutiny in the
vicinity of the Carlton until the following morning at the earliest.

They smoked and chatted quietly until 7.30 p.m., when Inspector Winter
again put in an appearance, to announce that the coroner's jury had
brought in a verdict of "Wilful murder by some two or more persons
unknown."

The detective was somewhat quieter in manner now that the sensational
turn of events in Paris had assimilated with the other remarkable
features of the crime. Moreover, the presence of a peer of the realm had
a subduing influence upon him, and he had the good taste not to insist
too strenuously that Lord Fairholme's prospective brother-in-law was not
only an accessory to a foul murder, but also a fugitive thief.

One new fact was established by the post-mortem examination of the
victims. Considerable violence had been used to overcome the struggles
of the servant, Hussein. His neck was almost dislocated, and there was a
large bruise on his back which might have been caused by the knee of an
assailant endeavouring to garrotte him.

They were discussing this discovery and its possible significance when
Smith entered, bearing a lady's visiting-card, which he silently handed
to his master.

Brett read the name inscribed thereon. He merely said, "Show the lady
in." Then he turned to the Earl of Fairholme, electrifying the latter by
the words: "Miss Edith Talbot is here."

An instant later Miss Talbot came into the room. The three men knew that
she brought momentous, perchance direful, intelligence. She was deathly
pale. Her eyes were unnaturally brilliant, her mouth set in tense
resolution.

"Mr. Brett," she said, after a single glance at her lover, "we have
received a letter from my brother."

"A letter from Jack!" cried Fairholme.

"Well, I never did!" ejaculated Mr. Winter.

But Brett only said--

"Have you brought it with you, Miss Talbot?"

"Yes; it is here. My uncle, who was too ill to accompany me, thought you
ought to see it at once," and she handed a torn envelope to him.

He glanced at the postmark.

"It was posted in Paris last evening," he said, his cool utterance
sending a thrill through the listeners. "Is the address written by him?"
he added.

"Oh, yes. It is undoubtedly from Jack."

Here was a woman moulded on the same inscrutable lines as the man whom
she faced. Seldom, indeed, would either of these betray the feelings
which agitated them. Then he took out the folded letter. It contained
but three lines, and was undated.

"My dear Uncle and Sister," it ran. "I am in a position of some
difficulty, but am quite safe personally.--Ever yours,     JACK."

Mr. Winter was the first to recover his equanimity. He could not control
the note of triumph in his voice.

"What do you think of it now, Mr. Brett?"

The barrister ignored him, save for a glance which seemed to express
philosophical doubt as to whether Mr. Winter's head contained brains or
sawdust.

"You are quite positive that both letter and envelope are in your
brother's handwriting?" he said.

"Absolutely positive."

"There can be no doubt about it," chimed in Fairholme, to whom, in
response to a gesture, Brett had passed the damning document.

"Then this letter simplifies matters considerably," said Brett.

Miss Talbot looked at him unflinchingly as she uttered the next
question:

"Do you mean that it serves to clear my brother from any suspicion?"

"Most certainly."

"I thank you for your words from the bottom of my heart. Somehow, I knew
you would say that. Will you please come and help to explain matters to
my uncle? Harry, you will come too, will you not?"

The sweet gentle voice, with its sad mingling of hope and despair,
sounded so pathetic that the impetuous peer had some difficulty in
restraining a wild impulse to clasp her to his heart then and there.

Even Mr. Winter was moved not to proclaim his disbelief.

"I will see you in the morning, sir," he muttered.

Brett nodded, and the detective went out, saying to himself as he
reached the street--

"Nerve! Of course he has nerve. It's in the family. Just look at that
girl! Still, it did require some grit to sign his name in the hotel
register and then calmly sit down to write a letter telling his people
not to worry about him. I've known a few rum cases in my time, but this
one----"

The remainder of Mr. Winter's soliloquy was lost in the spasmodic
excitement of boarding a passing omnibus, for this latest item of news
must be conveyed to the Yard with all speed.




CHAPTER VI

A JOURNEY TO PARIS


The sight of Talbot's letter seemed to fire Brett's imagination. He
radiated electric energy. Both Lord Fairholme and Miss Talbot felt that
in his presence all doubts vanished. They realized, without knowing why,
that this man of power, this human dynamo, would quickly dispel the
clouds which now rendered the outlook so forbidding. For the moment,
heedless of their presence, he began to pace the room in the strenuous
concentration of his thoughts. Once he halted in front of the small bust
of Edgar Allan Poe, whose pedestal still imprisoned the two cuttings of
a newspaper which formed the barrister's first links with the tragedy.
His ideas suddenly reverted to the paragraph describing the efforts of
the Porte to obtain from the French Government the extradition of a
fugitive relative of the Sultan. At that instant, too, a tiny clock on
the mantelpiece chimed forth the hour of eight.

"That settles it," said Brett aloud. "Smith," he vociferated.

And Smith appeared.

"Pack up sufficient belongings for a short trip to the Continent. Don't
forget a rug and a greatcoat. Have the portmanteau on a cab at the door
within three minutes."

"I am sorry, Miss Talbot," he continued, with his charming smile and a
manner as free from perplexity as if he was announcing a formal visit to
his grandmother. "I have just decided to go to Paris at once. The train
leaves Victoria at 8.15. Lord Fairholme will take you home, and you will
both, I am sure, be able to convince Sir Hubert that to yield too
greatly to anxiety just now is to suffer needless pain."

"You are going to Paris, Mr. Brett!" cried Edith. "Why?"

"In obedience to an impulse. I always yield to impulses. They impress me
as constituting Nature's telegraphs. I have a favourite theory that we
all contain a neatly devised adaptation of Marconi's wireless system,
and the time may come when the secret will be scientifically laid bare.
Then, don't you see, it will be possible for a man in London to ring up
a sympathetic soul in San Francisco. At present the code is not
understood. It is not even properly named, so people are apt to distrust
impulses."

He rattled on so pleasantly that Edith, absorbed by the agony of her
brother's disappearance and possible disgrace, could not conceal an
expression of blank amazement at his levity.

Brett instantly became apologetic.

"Pray forgive my apparent flippancy, Miss Talbot," he said. "I am really
in earnest. I believe that a flying visit to Paris just now must
unquestionably advance us an important stage in this inquiry. Let me
explain exactly what I mean. Here is a letter from your brother, in
handwriting which you and others best qualified to judge declare to be
undeniably his. It also bears postmarks which would demonstrate to a
court of law that it was posted in Paris last night and received here
to-day. But it does not follow that it was written in Paris; it might
have been written anywhere. Now, according to the police, there is an
entry in the visitors' book at the Grand Hotel which appears to prove
that your brother wrote his name therein on Tuesday night. If the
handwriting in the Grand Hotel register corresponds beyond all doubt
with that in this letter and envelope, then your brother must be in
Paris. If it does not, he is not there. I am convinced that the latter
hypothesis is correct, but to make doubly sure I will go and see with my
own eyes. There now--I owed you an explanation, and I have barely time
to catch my train. Good-bye. I will wire you in the morning."

He placed the mysterious letter in his note-book, gave them a parting
smile, and was gone.

He managed to catch the 8.15, which started punctually, the sole remnant
of railway virtue possessed by the Chatham and South Eastern line. A
restful porter, quickened into active life by a half-crown tip, found
him a vacant seat in a first-class smoking carriage, and Brett's hasty
glance round the compartment revealed that his travelling companions, as
far as Dover, at any rate, were severely respectable Britons bound for
the Riviera.

The harbour station at Dover wore its usual aspect of dejected misery.
The hurrying passengers pushed and jostled each other in their frenzied
efforts to board the steamer, for the average British tourist has a
rooted belief that such pushing and jostling and banging of apoplectic
portmanteaus against the legs of others are absolutely necessary if he
would not be left behind.

With an experience born of many voyages, Brett quickly noted the
direction of the wind and the vessel's bearings. A stiff breeze had
brought up a moderate sea, and the barrister dumped down his bag and
flung himself into a chair on what a novice would regard as the weather
side of the charthouse. He bore the discomfort for a few minutes, and
was rewarded for his foresight by possessing the most sequestered nook
on deck when the vessel turned her head seawards and began one of the
shortest, but perhaps the most disagreeable, voyages in the world.

Having retained his seat long enough to establish a proprietary right
therein, Brett rose and made a short tour of the ship. To distinguish
any one on deck was almost out of the question. The passengers were
huddled up in indefinable shapes, and there was hardly light sufficient
to effect a stumbling progress over the multitude of hand-baggage. So
the barrister dived down the companion-way and cannoned against a burly
individual who had propped himself against a bulkhead on the main deck
saloon.

Something hard in the man's pockets gave Brett a sharp rap, and when
they separated with mutual apologies, he laughed silently.

"Handcuffs!" he murmured. "Scotland Yard is always prepared for
emergencies. I will wager a considerable sum that as soon as Winter
reached headquarters his story about the letter caused a telegram to be
despatched to Dover. Here's a detective bound for Paris and prepared to
manacle Talbot the moment he sees him. What a fearful and wonderful
thing is the English police system. A crime, obviously clever in its
conception and treatment, can be handled by a sharp policeman wearing
regulation boots and armed with handcuffs. Really, I must have a drink."

Clinging to the hand-rails and executing some crude but effective
balancing feats, he reached the dining saloon, which was woefully
denuded of occupants, for the English Channel that night had sternly set
its face against the indiscriminate use of cold ham and pickles.

Near the bar, however, solemnly digesting a liqueur, stood a man to whom
the choppy sea evidently gave no concern. He had the square shoulders,
neat-fitting clothes and closely clipped appearance at the back of the
neck which mark the British officer; but he also stood square on his
feet and swayed with unconscious ease whether the vessel pitched or
rolled or executed the combined movement.

"Now, I wonder," said Brett, "if that is Captain Gaultier. He must be.
Gaultier, from his name, should be a Jersey man, hence his facility in
foreign languages and his employment as a Foreign Office messenger. It's
worth trying. I will make the experiment."

He reached the bar and ordered a whisky and soda. Turning affably to the
stranger, he remarked--

"Nasty night, isn't it? I hope we shan't be much behind time."

The stranger glanced at him with sharp and inquisitive eyes, but the
glance evidently reassured him, for he replied quite pleasantly--

"Oh, no. A matter of a few minutes, perhaps. They usually manage to make
up any delay after we leave Calais."

"That's good," said Brett, "because I want to be in Paris at the
earliest possible moment."

The other man smiled.

"We are due there at 5.38," he said. "Rather an early hour for business,
isn't it?"

"Well, yes," assented the barrister, "under ordinary circumstances, but
as my only business in Paris is to examine an hotel register and then
get something to eat before I return, I do not wish to waste time
unnecessarily on the road."

The other man nodded affably, but gave no sign of further interest.

"So," communed Brett, "if it be Gaultier, he has not heard the latest
developments. I must try a frontal attack."

"Does your name happen to be Gaultier?" he went on.

The stranger arrested his liqueur glass in the final tilt.

"It does," he said; "but I do not think I have the pleasure of knowing
you."

"No," said Brett, "you haven't."

"Well?" said the other man.

"The fact is," said Brett, "I heard you had been in London. I guessed
from your appearance that you might be a King's messenger, and it was
just possible that the Captain Gaultier in whom I was interested might
start back to the Continent to-night, so I put two and two together,
don't you see, with the result that they made four, a thing which
doesn't always happen in deduction if in mathematics."

Now, Foreign Office messengers are not chosen for their simplicity or
general want of intelligence. Captain Gaultier eyed his questioner with
some degree of stern suspicion as he said from behind his cigar--

"May I ask who you are?"

"Certainly," replied Brett, producing his card.

After a quick glance at the pasteboard, Gaultier continued--

"I suppose, Mr. Brett, you have some motive in addressing me? What is
it?"

"I am interested in the fate of a man named Talbot," was the
straightforward reply, "and as you told the Under-Secretary that you had
seen Talbot crossing to Paris in company with a lady last Tuesday, I
hoped that perhaps you would not mind discussing the matter with me."

Captain Gaultier was evidently puzzled. Private conversations with
Under-Secretaries of State are not, as a rule, public property, and his
momentary intention to decline further conversation with this
good-looking and fascinating stranger was checked by remembrance of the
fact.

"Really, Mr. Brett," he said, "although I do not question the accuracy
of your statement, you will readily understand that I can hardly discuss
the matter with you under the circumstances."

"Naturally. You would not be holding a responsible position in His
Majesty's service if you were at all likely to do any such thing. But I
propose, in the first instance, to reassure you as to my bona fides, and
I may point out, in the second place, that as I have met you by a
fortunate chance, you can hardly deem it a breach of confidence to
discuss with me the mere accidental appearance on a cross-Channel
steamer of a man known not only to both of us, but to society at large."

Gaultier clearly hesitated, but did not refuse to accept the
Under-Secretary's letter, which Brett handed to him, with the words--

"You know the handwriting, no doubt?"

"That speaks for itself." The King's messenger smiled when he returned
the note. "It is an odd coincidence," he added, "and still more curious
that you should spot me so readily. However, Mr. Brett, we have now
cleared the air. What can I do for you?"

"Simply this," said the barrister; "do you mind telling me how you came
to recognize Mr. Talbot?"

"Well, for one thing," was the thoughtful reply, "I knew his overcoat. I
often met Talbot in the Foreign Office, and one day he drove me to his
club wearing a very handsome coat lined with astrachan. It struck me as
a peculiarly comfortable and well-fitting one, and although there are
plenty of men about town who may possess astrachan coats, it is a
reasonable assumption that this was the identical garment when it
happened to be worn by the man himself."

"Then you are quite certain it was Talbot?" went on the barrister.

"Quite certain."

"Would you swear it was he, though his life depended on your accuracy?"

"Well, no, perhaps not that; but I would certainly swear that I believed
it was Mr. Talbot."

"Ah, that is a material difference. The only way in which you could be
positively certain was to enter into conversation with him, was it not?"

"Yes, that is so."

"I do not want you to think, Captain Gaultier, that I am cross-examining
you. Let me tell you at once that I believe you saw someone masquerading
in Talbot's clothes, and made up to represent him. Was there anything
about his appearance that might lend credence to such a view?"

The other reflected a little while before answering.

"There was only one thing," he said--"he did not seem to notice me. Now,
he is a sharp sort of chap, and as it was broad daylight and a fine day,
he must have seen me, for he knows me well. Again, from all that I have
heard of him, I do not think that he would either pass an acquaintance
without speaking to him, nor take flying trips to the Continent with
ladies of the music-hall persuasion."

"You have supplied two very powerful reasons why the individual you saw
should not be Jack Talbot. Yet, as you say, it was broad daylight, and
you had a good look at him."

"No, no," interrupted the other. "I had a good look at his coat--and the
lady. Whoever the man was, he appeared to be wrapped up in both of them,
and he certainly did not court observation. I naturally thought that the
feminine attachment accounted for this, and for the same reason, I did
not even seek to scrutinize him too closely. To put the thing in a
nutshell, I saw a man whom I believed to be Jack Talbot--and who
certainly resembled him in face and figure--attired in Talbot's clothes,
and wearing a coat which I had noted so particularly as to be able to
describe it to my tailor when ordering a similar one. Add to that the
appearance of an attractive lady, young and unknown, and you have my
soul laid bare to you in the matter."

"Thank you," said Brett. "I am much obliged."

He would have quitted the saloon, but Captain Gaultier laughed--

"Hold on a bit: it is my turn now. Suppose I try to pump you."

A giant wave took hold of the vessel and shook her violently, and Brett,
though an average amateur sailor, felt that the saloon was no place for
him.

"Between you and the ship, Captain Gaultier," he said, "the success of
the operation would be certain. I have secured a quiet corner of the
deck. If you wish for further talk we must adjourn there."

The transit was effected without incident, much to Brett's relief. After
a minute or two he felt that a cigar was possible. He turned to his
companion with a quiet observation--

"The vessel has failed. You can start now."

"Well," said Gaultier, "tell me what is the mystery attaching to
Talbot's movements. I only heard the vaguest of rumours in the
Department, but something very terrible appears to have happened, and,
indeed, I heartily wished I had kept my mouth shut concerning my
supposed meeting with him last Tuesday, as the affair was no business of
mine. Moreover, you have now somewhat shaken my belief in his identity,
although I can hardly tell you why that should be so."

Brett paused to make sure that no one would overhear him, but the fierce
wind whistling round the chart house and bridge, the seas that smote the
ship's quarter with a thunderous noise, the all-pervading sense of
riotous fury in the elements, rendered the precaution almost
unnecessary. In any case, there was no one near enough to act the part
of eavesdropper, and Brett, exercising the rapid decision which
frequently impressed others as a gift of divination, determined that to
let such a man as the King's messenger into the secret could not
possibly be harmful to the interests of his client, whilst his help
might be beneficial.

In the fewest possible words, therefore, he poured the tale into the
other's wondering ear. When he had finished, Gaultier remained silent a
few minutes.

Already the clear radiance of the magnificent light at Calais was
sending intermittent flashes of brightness over the deck, and the long
shoulder of Cape Grisnez was thrusting the force of the gale back into
mid-Channel.

"I think," said Gaultier, speaking slowly and thoughtfully, "that your
view is the right one, Mr. Brett. There is much more in this business
than meets the eye, and any man who believes that Jack Talbot would mix
himself up in it must be a most determined ass. Of course, such people
do exist, but they shouldn't be in the police force. You are going on to
Paris, you said?"

"Yes."

"Then we can travel together. All that you have said is quite new to me.
Curiously enough, I have just returned from Constantinople, and I may be
able to assist you."

Brett silently thanked his stars for the gratuitous circumstance which
threw him into the company of Captain Gaultier. He recognized that the
King's messenger, with the precaution that might be expected from one
whose daily life demanded extreme prudence, desired to mentally review
the strange facts made known to him before he committed himself further.
With ready tact the barrister changed the conversation to matters of the
moment until they reached the pier at Calais, when both men, not
encumbered with much luggage, were among the first flight of passengers
to reach the station buffet.

On their way they captured a railway official and told him to reserve a
_coupé lit_ compartment. In the midst of their hasty meal the Frenchman
arrived, voluble, apologetic. The train was crowded. Never had there
been such a rush to the South. By the exercise of most profound care he
had secured them two seats in a compartment, but the third had already
taken itself. He was sorry for it; he had done his best.

When they entered their carriage the third occupant was in possession.
He was French, aggressively so. Phil May might have used him for a
model. The poor man had been wretchedly ill from the moment he left
Dover until the vessel was tied to her berth in the harbour at Calais.
He paid not the least attention to the newcomers, being apparently
absorbed in contemplation of his own misery. The two Englishmen, though
experienced travellers, were sufficiently insular to resent the presence
of the stranger, whom Brett resolved to put to the language test
forthwith.

"It is very cold in here," he said. "Shall I turn on the hot air?"

The Frenchman seemed to understand that he was addressed. He looked up
with a shivering smile and explained that he had only booked one seat.
The remainder of the compartment was at their disposal. He was evidently
guiltless of acquaintance with the English tongue, but Brett did not
like his appearance.

Though well-dressed and well-spoken he was a nondescript individual, and
the flash of his dark eyes was not reassuring. Yet the man was so ill
that Brett forthwith dismissed him from his thoughts, though he took
care to occupy the centre seat himself, thus placing Captain Gaultier on
the other side of the carriage. After a visit from the ticket examiner,
the Frenchman disposed himself for a nap and the train started.

Captain Gaultier by this time had made up his mind as to the information
he felt he could give his new acquaintance.

"It is very odd," he said, "that those diamonds should disappear just at
the moment when there is every sign of unrest in Turkey. You know, of
course, the manner of the last Sultan's death?"

Brett nodded.

"And you have heard, no doubt, something of the precautions taken by the
present Sultan to safeguard his life against the attacks of possible
assassins?"

"Yes," said Brett.

"Well, these have been redoubled of late, and the man never goes out
that he is not in the most abject state of fear. He is a pitiful sight,
I assure you. I saw him less than a fortnight ago, driving to the Mosque
on Friday, and his coachman evidently had orders to go at a gallop
through the streets, whilst not only was the entire road protected by
soldiers, but every house was examined previously by police agents.
There is something in the wind of more than usual importance in the
neighbourhood of Yildiz Kiosk just now, I am certain. I suppose you did
not chance to see any mention of the fact that Hussein-ul-Mulk, the
Sultan's nephew, has recently fled from Turkey, and is now under the
protection of the French Government?"

"Yes, I noticed that."

"You don't seem to miss much," was Gaultier's sharp remark, pausing in
his narrative to light a cigar.

"One of my few virtues is that I read the newspapers."

The train was slowing down as it neared the town station in Calais, and
Gaultier's voice could be momentarily heard above the diminishing
rattle.

"Well," he said, "I happen to know Hussein-ul-Mulk, and if we find out
where he lives in Paris I will introduce you to him."

Brett looked at the slumbering Frenchman out of the corner of his eye.
The man appeared to be dozing peacefully enough, but the alert barrister
had an impression that his limbs were not sufficiently relaxed under the
influence of slumber. Indeed, he felt sure that the Frenchman was wide
awake and endeavouring to catch the drift of their conversation.

"I will be most pleased to meet your friend, Captain Gaultier," he said,
"and lest it should slip your memory I will give you a reminder."

He opened his card-case and wrote on the back of a card: "Grand Hotel.
Breakfast 11.30. No more at present."

The quick-witted King's messenger read and understood.

"It seems to me," he went on, "that he is the very man for your purpose.
Though he is not in favour at Court just now he has plenty of friends in
the various departments, and he could give you letters which would be
certain to secure you some excellent orders. I suppose you are going to
the East as the result of the rumoured intention of the Turkish
Government to reconstitute the navy."

Brett made a haphazard guess at Gaultier's meaning.

"Yes," he said, "we ought to place a good many thousand tons with them."

Gaultier leant forward to strike a match and glanced at their companion.
For some indescribable reason he shared Brett's views concerning this
gentleman, and immediately started a conversation of general
significance. They soon discovered that they had several mutual
acquaintances, and in this way they passed the dreary journey to Paris
pleasantly enough.

At the Gare du Nord, their knowledge of French methods enabled them to
get quickly clear of the _octroi_, as neither of them had any baggage
which rendered their presence necessary at the Custom-house. The
Frenchman, who seemed to be thoroughly revived by the air of his beloved
Paris, hurried out simultaneously with themselves. He had no difficulty
in hearing Brett's directions to a cabman. Gaultier entered another
vehicle.

Brett was the first away from the station. He fancied he saw his French
travelling companion hastily whisper something to a lounger near the
exit, so he suddenly pulled up his _voiture_, gave the driver a
two-franc piece and told him to go to the Grand Hotel and there await
his arrival. The cab had halted for the moment in the Rue Lafayette, at
the corner of the Place Valenciennes, and the cabman, recognizing that
his fare was an Englishman and consequently mad, drove off immediately
in obedience to orders.

Though nearly six o'clock in the morning, it was quite dark, but as
Brett walked rapidly back towards the station he had no difficulty in
picking out Gaultier, who occupied an open vehicle. Some little distance
behind came another, and herein the barrister thought he recognized the
man to whom the Frenchman in the train had spoken. By this time many
other cabs were dashing out of the station-yard, so Brett took the
chance that he might be hopelessly wrong.

He hailed a third vehicle and told the driver to follow the other two,
which were now some distance down the Rue Lafayette. Not until the three
cabs had crossed the Place de l'Opera and passed the Madeleine could
Brett be certain that the occupant of the second was following his
friend Gaultier. Then he chuckled to himself, for this was surely a rare
stroke of luck.

Quickly reviewing the possibilities of the affair, he came to the
conclusion that the travelling Frenchman really understood little, if
any, English, but that he had caught the name of the fugitive from the
Sultan's wrath and had forthwith betrayed an interest in their
conversation which was, to say the least, remarkable. At the exit from
the Gare du Nord the stranger had readily enough ascertained Brett's
destination, but he clearly regarded it as important that Gaultier--the
man who claimed Hussein-ul-Mulk as a friend--should be tracked, and had
given the necessary instructions to the confederate who awaited his
arrival.

Although Gaultier had not said as much, Brett guessed that his
destination was the British Embassy in the Rue du Faubourg St. Honoré.
The route followed by the cabman led straight to that well-known
locality. The Frenchman in the second cab evidently thought likewise,
for, at the corner of the Rue Boissy he pulled up, and Brett was just in
time to give his driver instructions to go ahead and thus avoid
attracting undue notice to himself.

Gaultier turned into the Embassy, and Brett himself halted a little
further on. Dismissing his _cocher_ with a liberal fare, he walked
rapidly back, and saw the spy enter into conversation with the night
porter on duty. The latter personage, however, was clearly a trustworthy
official, for he loudly told the other to be off and attend to his own
affairs.

Then followed a most exciting and perplexing chase through many streets,
and it was only by the exercise of the utmost discretion that Brett
finally located his man at a definite number in the Rue Barbette, a tiny
thoroughfare in the Temple district.

By this time dawn was advancing over Paris, and the streets were
beginning to fill with early workers. He inquired from a passer-by the
most likely locality in which he could find a cab, and the man civilly
conducted him to the Rue de Rivoli. Thence he was not long in reaching
the Grand Hotel, where he found the astonished _cocher_ of his first
vehicle still safeguarding his bag and arguing fiercely with a porter
that he had unquestionably obeyed the Englishman's instructions.

Tired though he was, Brett did not fail to scrutinize the list of
arrivals at the hotel on the preceding Tuesday. He instantly found the
entry he sought. The arrival of "Mr. and Mrs. John Talbot, London," was
chronicled in the register with uncompromising boldness. Hastily
comparing the writing in Talbot's letter with that of the visitors'
book, Brett was at first staggered by their similarity, but he quickly
recognized the well-known signs which indicate that a man who himself
writes a bold and confident hand has been copying the signature of
another with the object of reproducing it freely and with reasonable
accuracy. There are always perceptible differences in the varying
pressure of the pen and the distribution of the ink.

Allowance had evidently not been made for the fact that Englishmen
almost invariably write their names very badly in Continental hotel
registers, owing to their inability to use foreign pens. The man who not
only forged Mr. Talbot's name, but also supplied him with a wife,
laboured under no such disadvantage. Indeed, Talbot himself would
probably not have written his own name so legibly.

"That is all right," said Brett wearily, traversing a corridor to gain
his room. "Now, I wonder if there is any connexion between
Hussein-ul-Mulk and the Rue Barbette."




CHAPTER VII

THE HOUSE IN THE RUE BARBETTE


Brett was called at ten o'clock. After reinvigorating himself with a
bath and a hearty breakfast, he was ready to meet Captain Gaultier, who
arrived promptly at 11.30.

In the spacious foyer of the Grand Hotel it was impossible to say who
might be looking at them.

"Come to my room," said Brett. "There we will be able to talk without
interruption."

Once comfortably seated, Brett resumed the conversation where he had
broken it off in the train overnight.

"You say you know Hussein-ul-Mulk," he commenced.

"Yes," replied the King's messenger, "and what is more, I have
discovered his residence since we parted. It seems that one of the
attachés at the Embassy met him recently and thought it advisable to
keep in touch with the Young Turkish party, of which Hussein-ul-Mulk is
a shining light. So he asked him where he lived, and as the result I
have jotted down the address in my note-book." Gaultier searched through
his memoranda, and speedily found what he wanted.

"Wait a minute," interrupted Brett. "Does it happen to be No. 11, Rue
Barbette?"

The barrister had more than once surprised his companion during the
previous night, but this time Gaultier seemed to be more annoyed than
startled.

"If you know all these things," he said stiffly, "I don't see why you
should bother me to get you the information. I certainly gathered from
your remarks that the only acquaintance you had with Hussein-ul-Mulk was
obtained from the newspapers, and that individual himself has the best
of reasons for not publishing his address broadcast."

Brett smiled.

"You mean," he said, "that Hussein-ul-Mulk does live at No. 11, Rue
Barbette."

"Why, of course he does," was the irritable answer.

"That is very odd," said the barrister. "It was a mere guess on my part,
I assure you."

His assurance evidently did not weigh much with Captain Gaultier, who
replaced the note-book in his pocket, and obviously cast about in his
mind for a convenient excuse to take his departure.

Brett knew exactly what was troubling him.

"I am quite in earnest," he said, "in telling you that I simply hazarded
a guess at the address. To prove that this is so, I must place you in
possession of certain incidents which took place after we parted at the
Gare du Nord."

Rapidly but succinctly he told the amazed King's messenger of the chase
in the cab across Paris, and how he (Brett) had followed the Frenchman
who was tracking Gaultier's movements so closely.

"You will understand," he concluded, "that, in view of my preconceived
theory, it was not a very far-fetched assumption to connect
Hussein-ul-Mulk with the house in the Rue Barbette into which your spy
vanished."

"Well," gasped his astonished hearer, "I must say, Mr. Brett, that I owe
you an apology. I really thought at first you were fooling me, whereas
now I learn that you simply kept your eyes open much wider than other
people, perhaps. Nevertheless, you have given me a genuine explanation
of circumstances that were otherwise puzzling. For, do you know, I heard
about that chap calling at the Embassy last night. The incident was
unusual, to say the least, but I paid little attention to it, and
certainly failed altogether to connect it with your visit to Paris. Even
yet I do not see what reason anyone can have for shadowing my
movements."

"I regard it as mere chance. I imagine that our fellow-passenger in the
train caught the name of Hussein-ul-Mulk in our conversation, and this
decided him to shadow your movements, by means of the confederate who
awaited his arrival at the station. As it happened, they simply hit upon
the wrong person. It might have paid them much better to follow me. The
outcome of the blunder is that I am in a fair way towards ascertaining
all I want to know about them, whereas, up to the present, they do not
even suspect my existence as an active agent in the affair."

"Well, now, in what way can I help you regarding Hussein-ul-Mulk?"

"Can you introduce me to him?"

"In what capacity?"

Brett reflected for a moment before replying.

"It would best suit my purpose if I met him as a political sympathiser."

Gaultier evidently did not like the idea. Foreign Office messengers do
not care to be associated with politics in any shape or form.

"Is there no other way?" he asked dubiously.

"Plenty," said Brett. "I might pose as a friend of yours interested in
Turkish carpets, or coffee, or cigarettes, but for the purpose of my
inquiry it would be well to jump preliminaries at once and make this
chance acquaintance under the guise of a wire-puller."

"All right," said Gaultier. "I don't see that it matters much to me, and
the letter you have in your possession from the Under-Secretary is
sufficient warrant for me to give you any assistance that lies in my
power."

He glanced at his watch. "It is just about time for _déjeûner_," he
continued. "What do you say if we drive to the Rue Barbette at once?"

The barrister assented, and they were soon crossing Paris with the
superb disregard for other people's feelings that characterises the
local cab-driver.

"By the way," inquired Gaultier, "have you learned anything else since
your arrival?"

"Only this--it was not our friend Talbot who came here on Tuesday with a
lady."

"You are sure?"

"Positive. I have compared the handwriting in the hotel register with a
letter undoubtedly written by Mr. Talbot, and the two do not agree. The
entry 'Mr. and Mrs. Talbot, London,' in the visitors' book of the Grand
Hotel, was a mere trick intended to amuse the police for a few hours
until the conspirators had perfected their scheme for final and complete
disappearance."

"It was a bold move."

"Very. Quite in keeping with the rest of the details of an uncommon
crime."

At last the _fiacre_ stopped in front of the house in the Rue Barbette
which Brett had already scrutinized during the early hours of the
morning.

"Here we are," said Gaultier with a laugh. "If we find Hussein-ul-Mulk
at home I don't know what the deuce we are going to say to him. Remember
that I depend on you to carry out a difficult situation, because my
Turkish friend will become suspicious the minute he finds me dabbling in
intrigue. He knows full well that such matters are quite outside of my
usual business."

"I think I will be able to interest him," said Brett calmly; and without
further preliminary Gaultier ascertained from the _concierge_ that the
Turkish gentleman was within.

The two men ascended to the second storey.

Gaultier rapped loudly on the first door he encountered, and the summons
appeared to scatter some of the inhabitants, judging by the rapid
opening and closing of doors that preceded the appearance of an elderly
and solemn-looking Turk, who cautiously demanded their business.

Gaultier sent in his card, and the servitor locked the door in the faces
of the two men while he went to ascertain his master's orders.

"They evidently do not mean to take many risks," said the King's
messenger in a low voice.

"You are right," replied Brett, "though they appear to take the greatest
one of all without giving it a thought."

"And what is that?"

"This exhibition of nervousness and precaution before visitors are
admitted. The best way to excite suspicion is to behave exactly as they
are doing."

But now the door was reopened, and the elderly Turk ushered them into a
spacious room on the right of the entrance hall, where they were
received by a young man--a tall, dignified Mohammedan, who rose hastily
from a chair, having apparently abandoned the perusal of a newspaper.

"Ah! mon brave Gaultier," he cried, "I am so pleased to see you. I did
not know you were in Paris. I have been spending an idle moment over
smoke and scandal." He spoke excellent French, and appeared to be quite
at his ease, but Brett noticed that Hussein-ul-Mulk held the discarded
newspaper upside down. He was smoking a cigarette, lighted the instant
before their appearance, and notwithstanding his Oriental phlegm he
seemed to be labouring under intense excitement.

Nevertheless, Hussein-ul-Mulk could control his nerves.

"Have you had _déjeûner_, or have you time to join me in a cigarette?"
he went on.

"We will be delighted," said Gaultier, taking the proffered case. "The
fact is, I only heard of your presence in Paris by accident, and I
mentioned the fact to my friend here, who has interested himself in the
Armenian cause in London. He at once expressed a keen desire to make
your acquaintance, so I ventured to bring him here and introduce him to
you. This is Mr. Reginald Brett, an English barrister, and one who
keenly sympathizes with the reform movement in Turkey."

"I am delighted to know you, Mr. Brett," said the suave Oriental. "It is
naturally a great pleasure to me to make the acquaintance of any
influential Englishman who has given sufficient thought to Eastern
affairs to understand the way in which my country suffers under a
barbarous and unenlightened rule."

He spoke with the glibness of a born agitator, yet all the while he was
inwardly wondering what could be the true motive of the visit paid him
by this distinguished-looking stranger, and Brett was silently resolving
to startle Hussein-ul-Mulk out of his complacency at the earliest
possible moment.

"It is an even greater pleasure to me," he said, "to find myself talking
to a reformer so distinguished as you. Your name is well known in
England. Indeed, in some quarters, it has come to be feared, which in
this world is one of the signs of success."

Hussein-ul-Mulk was puzzled, but he remained outwardly unperturbed.

"I was not aware," he purred, "that my poor services to my country were
so appreciated by my English friends."

"Ah," said Brett, with a smile that conveyed much, "a man like you
cannot long remain hidden. I have good reason to know that at the
present moment your achievements are earnestly attracting the attention
of the Foreign Office."

Hussein-ul-Mulk became even more puzzled. Indeed, he exhibited some
slight tokens of alarm lest Brett's vehement admiration should reach the
ears of others in the adjoining room.

"Really," he said, "you flatter me. Will you not try these cigarettes?
They are the best; they are made from tobacco grown especially for the
Sultan's household, and it is death to export them. I understand that
the cigarette habit has grown very much of recent years in England?"

"Yes," said Brett, "it certainly has developed with amazing rapidity. In
trade, as in politics, this is an astounding age."

Gaultier knew that there was more behind the apparent exchange of
compliments than appeared on the surface. Having fulfilled his pledge to
Brett, he said hurriedly, "Both of you gentlemen will understand that I
cannot very well take part in a political discussion. With your
permission, Hussein, I will now leave my friend with you for a
half-hour's chat, as I have an appointment at the Café Riche."

Although Hussein was profoundly disconcerted by Brett's manner no less
than his utterances, he could not well refuse to accord him a further
audience, so Gaultier quitted the apartment and the Englishman and the
Mussulman were left face to face.

Brett felt that the situation demanded a bold game. Under some
circumstances he knew that to throw away the scabbard and dash with
naked sword into the fray was the right policy.

"I came to see you, Hussein-ul-Mulk," he said, speaking deliberately,
"not only because I have an interest in the progressive policy voiced by
the young Turkish party, but on account of matters of personal interest
to you, and to friends of mine in England."

The Turk bowed silent recognition of the barrister's motives.

"You are aware," said Brett, "that a large number of valuable diamonds
were stolen from the special Envoy of his Majesty the Sultan, in London,
last Tuesday night, and that the theft was accompanied by the murder of
four of the Sultan's subjects and the abduction of a prominent official
in the British Foreign Office?"

It is difficult for an olive-skinned man to turn pale, but
Hussein-ul-Mulk did the next most effective thing for one of his race.
His face assumed a dirty green shade, and his full red lips whitened.

For some few seconds he strove hard to regain his composure and frame a
reply, but Brett, nonchalantly puffing a cloud of smoke into the
intervening space, and thus helping his hearer to control his emotions,
went on--

"Pray do not trouble to deny your knowledge of the fact. It is far
better for men of the world like you and me to discard subterfuge when
engaged in grave and difficult negotiations. I do not purpose wasting
time by describing to you the details of a crime with which you are
thoroughly acquainted. Let me say, in a sentence, that my chief, perhaps
my only, motive in coming here to-day is to secure the release of my
friend Mr. Talbot from the place where he is at present confined, and at
the same time to obtain from you a statement which will satisfactorily
clear Mr. Talbot in the eyes of his superiors of all personal complicity
in the Albert Gate incident."

Again there was a breathless silence.

Hussein-ul-Mulk had regained his nerve. He was now considering how best
he could dispose of this Englishman who knew so much. To purchase his
silence was too hopeless. He must die as speedily and unostentatiously
as possible. So he answered not, but thought hard as to ways and means.

Brett, in imminent danger of his life, disregarded all semblance of
danger. He leaned back in his chair, closed his eyes in complete
enjoyment of Hussein's cigarettes, which were really excellent, and
said, in the even, matter-of-fact tones of one who discusses an abstract
problem--

"Of course, my dear friend, you are thinking that the best answer you
can give me is to strangle me or to shoot me, or adopt some other
drastic remedy which finds favour in Constantinople. But let me point
out to you that this will be a serious error of judgment. I have not
come here without safeguarding my movements. You are aware that Captain
Gaultier, a trusted Foreign Office messenger, brought me here in person.
Some members of the British Government, and several important officials
of Scotland Yard know that I am in your house and discussing this matter
with you. If any accident interferes with my future movements, you will
simply precipitate a crisis quite lamentable in its results to yourself,
to your association, and to your cause. You will see, therefore,
Hussein, that to kill me cannot really be thought of. A man of your
penetration and undoubted sagacity must surely admit this at once, and
we can then proceed to discuss matters in a friendly and pleasant
manner."

At last Hussein found his tongue. "I have never met you before, Mr.
Brett," he said, "but you interest me."

Brett smiled and bowed in acknowledgment of the compliment.

"Of course, I admit nothing," went on the Mohammedan.

"Of course."

"Least of all do I admit that I contemplated any breach of hospitality
towards yourself."

Brett waved his hand in deprecation of such a pernicious thought.

"But you will understand," went on Hussein-ul-Mulk, "that it is quite
impossible for me to even attempt to discuss the very interesting facts
you have brought to my notice without some inquiry on my part, and on
yours some proof that the events concerning which you have informed me
have really happened. You see, one cannot trust newspapers. They get
such garbled accounts of occurrences, particularly of State affairs;
they are misleading----"

"Excuse me, I am sure you will admit that although I dispensed with
details in my brief statement, the facts were undeniable. I can tell you
exactly how and why Mehemet Ali and his two secretaries, together with
Hussein, his confidential servant, were murdered. But the circumstances
were revolting, and need not be unduly discussed between gentlemen. I
can tell you how the diamonds were obtained from the Albert Gate
mansion, and how they were conveyed to Paris. But as they are probably
in your possession, and the main object of your enterprise has thus been
accomplished, it seems to me that all these otherwise dramatic effects
are needless. I have told you exactly the object of my visit, and I
still await an answer."

Hussein-ul-Mulk laughed a trifle uneasily.

"On my part, monsieur, I might attempt to question the extent of your
knowledge, but as you are mistaken in one part of your summing-up of
evidence, you may be wrong in others."

"To what do you allude?"

The Mohammedan reflected for a moment, and then answered--

"I can see no harm in telling you that I am not aware of any diamonds in
which I am personally interested having arrived in Paris."

"Indeed!" said Brett, leaning forward in his chair, and instantly
dropping the listless air which had hitherto characterized his
utterances. "That is a very curious thing, because the diamonds have
been in Paris at least two days, and if they are withheld from the
possession of those who employed certain agents to secure them, there
must be a powerful reason to account for the delay. Speaking quite
disinterestedly, monsieur, I would advise you to inquire into the matter
at once."

His words evidently perturbed the Turk.

"Will you object," he said, "if I leave you alone a few minutes? I wish
to consult with a friend of mine who happens to be staying here."

"Assuredly," said Brett; "but let me beg you to leave your cigarettes
behind. They are exquisite."

Hussein-ul-Mulk had never before encountered such a personality as
Reginald Brett. His eyebrows became perfectly oval with surprise and
admiration for the man who could thus juggle with a dangerous situation.

"Here is my case," he said, "and when we have concluded this most
interesting conversation I hope you will leave me your address, so that
I may have the extreme pleasure of sending you a few hundreds."

Then he quitted the room. He was absent fully five minutes.

On his return he said--

"In the opinion of my friend, Mr. Brett, it is impossible for us to do
anything at the present moment. We must inquire; we must verify; we must
consult others. You will see that the negotiations you have undertaken
require on our part some display of the extreme delicacy and tact in
which you have given us so admirable a lesson. Suppose, now, we agree to
meet here again to-morrow at the same hour. Am I to understand that what
has transpired this morning remains, we will not say a secret, but a
myth, a mere idle phantasy as between you and me?"

"That is precisely my idea," said Brett. "One hates to mention such a
brutal word as 'police' in an affair demanding finesse. Personally I
hate the blunderers. They rob life of its charm. They have absolutely no
conception of art. Romance with them can end only in penal servitude or
on the gallows. Believe me, Hussein, I am very discreet." In another
minute he was standing in the street, and inhaling generous draughts of
the keen air of Paris.

"I wonder how much my life was worth during the first five minutes?"
said he to himself; and then he made his way to a telegraph office,
whence he despatched the following message--

                         "TO THE EARL OF FAIRHOLME,
                                 "STANHOPE GATE, LONDON.

     "Have received definite intelligence which confirms my views. Expect
     our friend will be discovered within forty-eight hours. If possible,
     join me at Grand Hotel, Paris, to-night, eleven o'clock.

                                                "BRETT."




CHAPTER VIII

WHAT HAPPENED IN THE RUE BARBETTE


Pending Fairholme's arrival, Brett was not idle. He visited a prominent
jeweller in the Rue de la Paix, and, after making some trivial
purchases, led the conversation to the question of diamonds. By skilful
inquiry he ascertained a good deal about precious stones, both in their
crude and their finished states. The accommodating Frenchman showed him
a good many samples of South African, Brazilian, and Indian stones, and
explained to him the various tests which were used to determine their
value.

Brett had no special object in seeking this information. When engaged in
elucidating any mystery he made it an invariable rule to post himself as
accurately as possible concerning all minor details which might, by any
straining of circumstances, become useful.

He returned to his hotel and jotted down some notes of this
conversation. Whilst engaged in the task a telegram arrived from the
Earl of Fairholme announcing that nobleman's departure from London by
the afternoon train service via Boulogne.

Punctually at the time appointed the earl reached the hotel. He was all
eagerness to learn what had happened since they parted in London, and
why Brett had so suddenly summoned him to Paris.

"I really have not much definite information," said the barrister. "Thus
far I am building chiefly on surmise, but I have undoubtedly come into
contact with the persons who organized and planned, if they did not
actually carry out, the raid on the Albert Gate mansion."

"Then you have news of Jack?" broke in Fairholme excitedly.

"Not exactly. All I can do at present is to assure you that the scent is
hot, and we may run our quarry to earth some few minutes after eleven
o'clock to-morrow morning."

"I am jolly glad that there is a chance of my being useful in this
matter," said the earl gleefully. "If only I am a little bit
instrumental in recovering her brother, Edith hasn't got a leg to stand
on in the matter of getting married. That's awkwardly put, isn't it?
What I mean is that when Talbot is restored to his family and everything
is satisfactorily cleared up, Edith and I can get spliced immediately,
can't we?"

"I regard it as the most assured fact we have yet encountered," said
Brett, pleasantly.

"But you haven't told me yet the exact manner in which I can be useful."

"No," said the barrister. "I have been revolving in my mind the
possibilities of to-morrow morning, and you must play an important part
in what, by chance, may turn out to be a melodrama. Now, listen to me
carefully. In the neighbourhood of the Porte St. Martin there is a
street known as the Rue Barbette. At eleven o'clock to-morrow I go to
the house No. 11 in that street, and you will accompany me as far as the
door. It will be your duty to stand outside and take note of all
persons who enter or leave the house once I have disappeared from view
in the interior. You must exercise your powers of observation most
minutely, paying heed to the height, build, complexion, and clothing of
any individual, male or female, who enters or leaves No. 11, Rue
Barbette, after you have taken your stand in the street. It is more than
probable that no person will demand scrutiny, unless it be some chance
tradesman's assistant visiting the building in pursuance of his ordinary
work. However, do you feel capable of attending to this part of the
programme?"

"Perfectly."

"You will maintain watch until 11.30. If at that hour I have not
rejoined you, make your way to the nearest policeman, and tell him that
you have good reason to believe that a friend of yours has either been
murdered or suffered serious personal injury in a room on the second
storey of the house in question. You will then, in company with the
policeman, come rapidly to the apartment I have indicated and demand an
immediate entrance--if necessary bursting the door open."

"And what then?" gasped the amazed earl.

"I really don't know," said Brett imperturbably. "It is possible you may
find my gory corpse in one of the inner rooms. The best I can hope for
is that I shall be simply a prisoner, but I fully expect to be seriously
injured at the very least."

"But look here, Brett: are you doing the right thing in this matter? Why
on earth should you run such an awful risk, and take it alone, too?
Isn't it possible to obtain some trustworthy detective to keep watch in
the street, and let me go into the place with you? Don't you see, old
chap, that two of us might make a reasonable show if violence is
attempted? One man hasn't much chance."

The barrister cut short his friend's protestations.

"I sent for you, Lord Fairholme," he said, "because I felt that I could
trust you to obey my instructions implicitly. This is a matter in which
I do not want the police to interfere. My visit to the Rue Barbette
to-morrow morning may end quite satisfactorily. If it does, we shall be
in possession of important information leading to the prompt release of
Mr. Talbot. If it fails, there will certainly be some shooting or
stabbing, or perhaps an attempt may be made to keep me a prisoner. This
latter eventuality renders the presence of the police essential. No
matter what has happened to me, they will, with your assistance, be able
to take up the inquiry exactly where I leave it off. In this note-book
here, which I am placing in a locked drawer"--and he suited his action
to the words--"you will find details of all that I have done up to the
present moment, together with the lines along which future inquiries
should proceed. In particular, you will find an elaboration of the
theory which I expect to-morrow's visit to confirm. You fully understand
me? All this anticipates that after 11.30 to-morrow I shall be
personally unable to conduct the investigation further."

"Yes," agreed the earl, with rueful emphasis, "I fully understand the
proposition, and I tell you, Brett, I don't like it. There has been
enough blood spilt in this beastly business already, and I feel a sort
of personal responsibility for you, you know, because I brought you into
it."

"Then," said the barrister, with a laugh, "I solemnly acquit you of any
such responsibility. I am going into the business with my eyes open. It
interests me strangely, and I would not abandon the quest now on any
account."

"But can't you explain matters a little more clearly? Is it necessary
that I should be kept in the dark as to the circumstances which have led
up to this critical movement to-morrow?"

"Not in the least. It is, indeed, very important that you should
comprehend all that has gone before; I only started at the end, so to
speak, so as to fix accurately in your mind your part of the business,
which now stands separate and distinctly outlined in your memory. What I
am going to tell you simply leads up to the expected denouement."

He then recited to the wondering earl the whole of the curious events
which had happened during the preceding twenty-four hours.

It was late when they got to bed, but they rested well, and, after the
manner of their race, fortified themselves with a good breakfast against
the trials of the day, whatever these might prove to be. A few minutes
before the appointed hour they quitted a _fiacre_ in the vicinity of the
Rue Barbette, and at eleven o'clock Brett passed the _concierge_, whilst
Fairholme took up his stand outside.

The barrister was received with smiling complacence by Hussein-ul-Mulk.
On this occasion he was conducted to another room of the flat, and he
promptly noted that the windows looked out to the rear of the building,
whereas during his previous visit he could survey the street.

"This promises badly," said Brett to himself, but he betrayed not the
slightest unwillingness to fall in with the arrangements made for his
reception, and lounged back in a comfortable chair so easily that not
even the quick-witted Turk suspected that the barrister's hip pocket
contained a very serviceable revolver.

Hussein-ul-Mulk commenced the conversation. "I have," he said, "a couple
of friends here who are interested in the matter you were good enough to
mention to me yesterday. With your permission I will introduce them,"
and he threw open another door with a single Turkish word which Brett
imagined was an invitation to enter.

Two men came from an adjoining room. They were Turks--swarthy,
evil-looking customers, but well-dressed, and evidently persons of
consequence in their own country. The newcomers eyed the barrister
curiously, and with no very friendly intent.

A brief conversation in Turkish resulted in Hussein-ul-Mulk addressing
Brett.

"I must apologize for the fact that my friends here only speak their
native tongue. Before we proceed to business I wish to ask you a few
questions."

"Certainly," said Brett; "go ahead."

"You mentioned to me yesterday that you had no desire to invoke the aid
of the police in prosecuting the inquiry which interests you."

"Quite right," said Brett.

"May I ask if you have adhered to that intention?"

"Absolutely."

"Well, Mr.--Mr."--Hussein-ul-Mulk consulted a visiting card--"Mr.
Reginald Brett, I think, is your name? It would be idle on my part to
compliment you on your bravery, but it would be still more futile to
attempt to conceal from you the danger of the position in which you now
stand."

"Sit," corrected Brett, still smiling.

"Well," said the Turk, "we will not quibble about words. The fact
remains, Mr. Brett, that you have needlessly thrust yourself into an
enterprise of such a desperate character that all interlopers can be
dealt with only in one way."

"You kill them," said Brett, airily.

"Yes," said the Turk, "I deeply regret to inform you that you have
guessed the object of my remarks with the singular skill you have
already betrayed in reaching the existing position. I can only add that
I am surprised the same skill did not influence you to avoid forcing
upon us the only alternative left."

"Am I to be killed at once?" said Brett, speaking with a slight
affectation of boredom.

Even the self-possessed Turk could not conceal his amazement at the
manner in which his strange visitor conducted himself.

"That is a point we have not yet decided," he said. "We are strangely
unwilling to take the life of such a brave man as yourself. If we were
assured of your silence, we would even be disposed to permit you to
escape this time, with a solemn warning not to cross our path again. But
we feel that clemency is out of the question. There is one hope--a
slight one, it is true--which may permit us to gag you and tie you
securely in this room, where you will be left in peace for at least
forty-eight hours, after which time a telegram can be despatched to any
address you choose to supply us with. But really, owing to unforeseen
circumstances, this chance of a reprieve is remote. It wholly depends
upon the arrival, or otherwise, at this house, of a gentleman whom we
expect at 11.15."

Brett leaned forward in his chair, and took out his watch. The other
misunderstood his movement, and each of the three men promptly produced
a revolver.

Brett laughed quite heartily. "Really, gentlemen," he cried, "your
nervousness is ludicrous."

He saw that he yet had five minutes' grace before his self-constituted
judges would proceed to execute their sentence. As for the Turks, they
were manifestly ashamed of having betrayed such trepidation, and they
replaced the weapons so readily staged.

"That is a point in my favour," thought Brett. "Next time, if I do wish
to reach my revolver, I may be able to get the draw on them first."

"During the interval," said Hussein-ul-Mulk suavely, "is there anything
you wish to do--any letters to write, or that sort of thing?"

"No," said Brett, "I do not think so; it seems to me that you have
thoroughly misunderstood the purpose of this meeting. I came here in
order to obtain from you particulars which will lead to the release of
Mr. Talbot and redeem his character in the eyes of his superiors. I did
not come here to be killed, Hussein-ul-Mulk. I am not going to be
killed. If you touch a hair of my head you will only leave this house
for a prison, and subsequently for the gallows. And so, you see, you are
talking childishly when you dangle these threats and preliminaries to
immediate execution before my eyes. It is not you, but I, who will
dictate the terms on which we part. It may perhaps interest you to
explain this new phase of the situation to your fellow-countrymen, and
the matter will also serve to dissipate the few minutes which yet have
to elapse before 11.15."

Hussein-ul-Mulk made no direct reply to this remarkable speech. That it
impressed him was quite evident from his manner. Forthwith an animated
but subdued conversation took place between the triumvirate.

While it was yet in progress a peculiar knock was heard on the outside
door of the apartment.

"Ah! he comes," said Hussein-ul-Mulk in French. He left the room in
order to meet the new arrival. He returned without delay, bringing with
him a man very different from those whom Brett had encountered thus far
in connection with the crime. This was a dapper little Frenchman,
wizened, yellow-skinned, black-haired, and dressed almost in the extreme
of fashion. He at once addressed himself to the barrister.

"They tell me, my friend," he said, "that you have thrust your finger
into the pie which the friends of his Majesty the Sultan are preparing
for him. It is a bad business. You are too soon for the banquet. The
result is that your poor little finger may get burnt, as the pie is
still being cooked."

The man smiled maliciously at his feeble witticism, and Brett instantly
took his measure as a member of the gang of flash thieves which infest
Paris. He knew that such a ruffian was both pitiless and cowardly.
Whatever the outcome of the situation which faced him, he would not
stoop to conciliatory methods with this despicable rascal.

"I suppose," he said, "that the only part of the affair which concerns
you is the robbery."

"Well, and what if it is?"

"I can only say that your political friends will be well advised to keep
a close eye on you, for you would rob them just as soon as the persons
against whom they have employed you."

The little thief laughed cynically. "You are right, _mon vieux_. I would
be delighted to have the chance. But this time it is impossible. The
stones are too big. They are worth--pouf!--millions of francs, so I
must be content to receive my pay, which is good."

"Have you entrusted the Sultan's diamonds to the care of a scamp like
this?" said Brett, addressing himself to Hussein, and inwardly resolving
that unless the conversation by chance took a turn favourable to
himself, he would forthwith open fire on the gang and endeavour to
escape.

"Yes," cried the conspirator with a savage laugh. "You have never seen
them, Mr. Brett? Here they are. To many men the sight would be a
pleasant one. To you it should be terrible, for the arrival of these
diamonds at this moment means that you must die."

So saying, he produced from an inner pocket of his frock-coat a large,
plain morocco case. The pressure of a spring caused the lid to fly back,
revealing to the eyes of those in the room a collection of diamonds
marvellous by reason of the size and magnificence of each stone.

In the centre reposed the Imperial diamond itself. For an instant Brett
reflected that whilst the other men were fascinated by the spectacle, he
would have a good opportunity to shoot some of them without mercy and
make a dash for liberty.

But at the same moment there came to him an odd thought. His friend the
jeweller of the Rue de la Paix had not given him a lesson in vain during
the previous afternoon.

The barrister suspected--in fact, he was almost sure--that the gems now
flaunting their half-revealed glories in the light of the day--for not
one of them had undergone the final process peculiar to the
diamond-cutter's trade--were not the real stones stolen from Albert
Gate, but well fabricated substitutes.

To his acute brain there came an immediate confirmation of his theory.
Evidently the diamonds had not been previously in the Turk's possession.
The little Frenchman had just delivered them, and this in itself was a
strange circumstance in view of the fact that the genuine stones must
have been in Paris at least three days.

Brett concentrated all his dramatic faculties in look, voice, and
gesture.

"You fools!" he cried. "You have been swindled by a device which a child
might suspect. These are not the Sultan's diamonds. These are
frauds--cleverly concocted bits of crystal and alum--intended to keep
you happy until you return to Constantinople and discover how thoroughly
you were deceived."

"You lie!" roared the little Frenchman. "They are genuine."

Brett wanted to punch the diminutive scoundrel heavily in the face, but
he restrained himself. Turning with a magnificent assumption of
courteousness to Hussein-ul-Mulk, he said--

"Come, I told you you were acting childishly; this proves it. A most
outrageous attempt has been made to swindle you, if I may use such a
term to persons who confessedly are plotting to rob another. Surely this
will convince you that you have nothing to fear from me. I am here as
the agent neither of Sultan nor police. It is a simple matter for you to
verify my statement. All that is necessary is for one of your party to
take any of these alleged diamonds--I would suggest the smallest one so
as not to create suspicion--to any jeweller in the district, and he will
test it for you immediately, thus proving the truth of my statement.
Look here; I will convince you myself."

He took the monster diamond irreverently in his hand before
Hussein-ul-Mulk could prevent him and turned to the window. He pressed
the stone against the glass and tried to make it cut. It failed. He
placed it against his cheek. It was warm. A pure diamond would be icy
cold. More than this, a small portion of the composition of which the
imitation had been hastily concocted, broke off in his fingers.

"You see," he laughed. "Do you require further proof?"

Even while he spoke the diminutive little Frenchman turned and bolted.
One of the Turks drew a revolver and rushed after him, but
Hussein-ul-Mulk uttered some authoritative words which prevented the man
from firing. The Frenchman was evidently an adept in the art of dodging
pursuit. In the passage he ducked suddenly, and threw the Turk heavily
to the ground. Then, without further interference, he slipped the latch
of the door and slammed it hastily behind him, leaving Brett silently
laughing at Hussein-ul-Mulk and his remaining confederate, whilst the
gentleman who had been upset was slowly regaining his disturbed gravity.

"Can it be possible that what you say is true?" said Hussein-ul-Mulk, in
such piteous accents that Brett was moved to further mirth.

"Surely you do not doubt the evidence?" he said. "Take any of these
stones; they will crumble to pieces on the hearth if struck the
slightest blow. See, I will pulverise one with my heel."

And he did so, though the amazed and despairing men whom he addressed
would have restrained him, for they still could not bring themselves to
believe.

"Come, now," he went on "arouse yourselves; and give me the information
I want. That is the only way in which you may attain your ends. Of
course I cannot help you. It may be that as you have bungled matters so
badly, the authorities will stop you and land you all in prison; but
that is no concern of mine. At this moment I simply wish to release my
friend and proclaim his innocence. For the rest, you must take care of
yourselves. You know best who it is that has so thoroughly outwitted
you."

Hussein-ul-Mulk was the first to recover his scattered senses.

"We cannot choose but believe you, Mr. Brett," he said. "We are even
indebted to you for making this disastrous discovery at such an early
date. We paid our agents so highly that we thought their honesty was
assured. We find we are mistaken, and consequently we apologise to you
for using threats which were unnecessary. We rely on your honour not to
incriminate us with the police. All we can tell you is that your friend
is not dead, but we do not know his whereabouts."

"Nonsense," cried Brett angrily. "Why do you seek to mislead me in this
fashion?"

"Sir," said the Turk, "I am telling you the truth. We believe that Mr.
Talbot is a prisoner in London, but we do not know in what locality. My
friends here and myself, as you have already surmised, are merely
members of a political organisation. It was necessary for us to secure
possession of the Imperial diamond and its companions. We spared no
expense, nor hesitated at any means that would accomplish our purpose.
We have been foiled for the moment. I can tell you nothing else, and I
advise you to leave us and forget that such persons exist, for I swear
to you by the beard of the Prophet that had events turned out differently
you would now be a lifeless corpse in this room, whilst your body would
not be discovered for many weeks, as we intended to leave Paris this
afternoon as soon as the diamonds came into our possession."

[Illustration: "The door was thrown bodily from its hinges." --_Page
113._]

At this moment a thunderous knocking reverberated through the house.

The Turks gazed at each other in affright. None of them moved to open
the door. But the knock was not repeated, for the door itself was thrown
bodily from its hinges, and the stalwart form of Lord Fairholme,
accompanied by two policemen, appeared in the passage.

"Ah," cried Brett, intervening with ready tact, "I had forgotten you,
Fairholme. I see you kept your appointment. These are not required," he
rattled on pleasantly, turning towards the stern-looking _sergents de
ville_; "I am quite alive and uninjured. My friends here and myself had
a few earnest words, but we have settled matters satisfactorily."

The suspicious policemen glanced from the smiling Englishman to the
perturbed Turks. At the first sound of danger Hussein-ul-Mulk had closed
the case in which lay the spurious diamonds, so these pretentious-looking
gems did not excite the curiosity of the men of law.

The senior officer demanded from Lord Fairholme an explanation of the
exciting statements which induced them to accompany him, but Brett
stepped into the breach.

"It is quite true," he said, "that my friend was anxious on my account.
It was even possible these Turkish gentlemen here and myself might have
proceeded to extremities, but the affair has ended satisfactorily, and
if you will allow me----" He put his hand into his pocket and a slight
monetary transaction terminated the incident pleasantly for all parties.

Soon Brett and Fairholme found themselves in the street, and again did
the barrister draw in deep and invigorating draughts of Paris air.

"Where now?" said Fairholme.

"Tell me," cried Brett eagerly, "did you notice in which direction the
little man ran who left No. 11 about ten minutes ago?"

"Better than that, I heard where he was going to. He was in such a
fiendish funk that he paid heed to nobody, but flung himself into a
passing cab and yelled, 'Take me to the Cabaret Noir, Boulevard
Montmartre.'"

"Good. You are a splendid detective. You have saved me hours of search
and perhaps days of failure. Come; let us, too, go to the Cabaret Noir."




CHAPTER IX

A MONTMARTRE ROMANCE


The exterior of the Cabaret Noir belied its name.

Originally, no doubt, it was one of the vilest dens in a vile locality,
but the fairy hand of the brewer had touched the familiar wineshop, and
it glistened to-day in much mahogany, more brass, and a dazzling
collection of mirrors.

Brett was surprised when the driver of their cab pulled up in front of
such an ornate establishment. Somehow, he expected the Cabaret Noir to
be a different place. Not so Fairholme, accustomed only to the glaring
exterior of London tied houses.

"Here we are," said his lordship cheerfully. "Let's take them by
surprise and run over the whole show before any one can stop us."

"No," said Brett; "this is Paris, and the police here have ways even
more mysterious than those of Scotland Yard. We will gain nothing by
drastic measures. Indeed, had I known the sort of place we were coming
to I would have visited it to-night and in disguise. As it is, we have
been seen already by any one interested in our movements, and it would
be useless to adopt any pretence, so follow me."

He boldly entered through the main door, and found himself in a light,
airy room, filled, in three-fourths of its area, with little
marble-topped tables surrounded by diminutive chairs, whilst a bar
counter was partitioned off in a corner.

The attendant in charge was a dreary-eyed waiter, who seemed to think
that the presence of a couple of sight-seeing Englishmen at such an hour
was another testimony to the lunatic propensities of the Anglo-Saxon
race. He welcomed them volubly, assuring them that the establishment
kept the best Scotch whisky in stock, and guaranteed that roast beef
would be ready in ten minutes.

"This is the Cabaret Noir?" questioned Brett.

"But yes, monsieur."

"There is no other of the same name in Montmartre?"

"But no, monsieur."

"A gentleman, a friend of mine, came here a few minutes ago in a
_fiacre_. He was small, slight, so high"--illustrating the stature by
his hand. "He was dressed in dark blue clothes with shiny boots. He
was----"

Brett's eager description was cut short by the appearance of a new
character. Through a narrow door leading into the bar came a handsome
dark-eyed woman, aged perhaps twenty-five, well dressed, shapely, and
carrying herself with the easy grace of a born Parisienne.

Her hair was jet black. Her large dark eyes were recessed beneath arched
and strongly pencilled eyebrows. Her skin had that peculiar tint of
porcelain-white so often seen in women of southern blood.

Yet there was nothing delicate in this lady's appearance or manner. A
rich colour suffused her cheeks, and her language was remarkably free
both in volume and style. She addressed a few observations to the waiter
in the common vernacular of Montmartre, the only translatable portion
being the question why he was standing about the floor like the ears of
a donkey when there was work to be done.

Her manner changed somewhat as she addressed herself to Brett and his
companion. There was sufficient of the landlady in her demeanour when
she said, "And what would messieurs be pleased to command?"

Now, if there was one type of femininity more than another which Brett
thoroughly understood it was the saucy, quick-witted, handsome
adventuress. He knew that the woman scrutinizing him so coolly came well
within this category.

He could not tell, of course, in what way she might be associated with
the gang whose proceedings contained the explanation of Talbot's fate,
but he instantly resolved to adopt a determined position with the lady
who half-petulantly, half-curiously, was awaiting his reply.

He came nearer to her.

"I am glad," he said, "that I have met you."

The woman looked him boldly in the eyes. "Was it for the happiness of
seeing me that monsieur has visited the house?"

"That might well serve as the reason, but the pleasure is all the
greater since it was unexpected."

"You are pleased to be facetious," she replied. "Will you not tell me
your business? I have affairs to occupy me."

"Assuredly. I have driven here as quickly as possible from No. 11, Rue
Barbette."

This attack, so direct and uncompromising, did not fail to have its
effect. A ready mask of suspicion fell across the woman's impudent
pretty face.

There was just a tinge of stage laughter in her tone when she cried:
"Really, how interesting! And where is the Rue Barbette, monsieur? In
what way am I concerned with--No. 11, did you say?"

Brett well knew how to conduct the attack upon this lady. His voice fell
to a determined note, his eyes looked gravely into hers as he
answered--"It is useless to pretend that you do not understand me. You
are losing moments worth gold, perhaps diamonds! Within a few minutes
the police will be here, and then it will be too late. Help me first,
and I will let the police take care of themselves. Refuse me your
assistance, and I will leave you and your friends to the mercy of the
district _commissaire_."

A dangerous light leaped into the woman's eyes at this direct challenge.

"Monsieur is pleased to speak in riddles," she said. "This is a
restaurant. We can execute your orders, but we are not skilled in acting
charades. You will find better performers in the booths out there"; and
she swept her hands scornfully towards the boulevard, with its medley of
tents, stalls, and merry-go-rounds.

Brett smiled. "You are a stupid woman," he said. "You think you are
serving your friends by adopting this tone. In effect you are bringing
them to the guillotine. Now listen. If I leave you without further words
you do not see me again. You will know nothing of what is going on until
the police have lodged you in a cell. Neither you nor your associates
can escape. I promise nothing, but perhaps if you tell me what I want to
know there may be a chance for you. Otherwise there is none. Shall I
go?"

And he turned as if to approach the door.

For an instant the woman hesitated, and Brett thought that he had
scored.

"Wait," she said, lowering her voice, though there was still the menace
of subdued passion in her accents. "Who is your friend?"

"A gentleman whose identity in no way concerns you. You must deal with
me, and it will be better if you ask who I am."

"I know," she said, laconically. "Come this way, both of you."

She raised a flap-door located at one side of the counter. Brett
followed her into a passage behind the doorway that led into the bar.
Fairholme succeeded him.

The trio passed rapidly through a door at the end of the passage, and
quickly found themselves in a long, low room, usually devoted to
billiards. The place was dark and smelled evilly of stale tobacco.
Daylight penetrated but feebly through the red blinds that blocked up
three windows on one side. The woman drew two of these blinds, and thus
illuminated the interior. The windows opened on to a yard, and the place
was thoroughly shut off from all observation from the street.

"Now," she said, "I will show you something."

She walked towards the fireplace at the end of the room. On the
mantelpiece was a square of iron sheeting, painted white and studded
with curious-looking spikes in circles, triangles, and straight lines.
From a box close at hand she took half a dozen small glass bulbs, red
and blue. She placed them in a line on some of the spikes at intervals
of two inches. Then she retired to that side of the room where they had
entered. The distance was perhaps thirty feet.

Before Brett or Fairholme could vaguely guess her intention she whipped
a revolver out of her pocket. It would be idle to deny that they were
startled, but the woman paid not the least attention to them.

She steadily levelled the weapon and fired twice, smashing the two outer
balls of the six. Then she transferred the pistol to her left hand and
smashed another pair. Then she turned her back to the target, adjusted a
small mirror attached to the butt of the revolver, and smashed both of
the remaining bulbs by firing over her left shoulder. Sweeping round
with a triumphant smile towards the barrister, she said, "I can do that
in fifty other ways, but six will suffice."

"It is very clever, madame," he said. "May I ask why I am indebted to
you for this display?"

She replaced the revolver in her pocket. "It is my answer to your
question, monsieur," she said. "That is the way I and my friends often
talk to people who annoy us; and now I shall wish you good-day. You will
find other sights in Montmartre to interest you."

Brett laughed easily, and bowed low.

"Believe me," he said, "I will find few performers so expert and, may I
add, so discreet. We will meet again, and perhaps test your skill."

Without another word the party returned to the front room of the
restaurant, and Brett and Fairholme passed into the street where their
cab was waiting.

"I suppose she meant," said Fairholme "that if we were not jolly
careful she would put a bullet through our hearts as easily as through
those glass bulbs."

"Such was her intention," said Brett, dryly. "But women never have true
dramatic genius. That was a piece of melodrama which might suffice with
many of her class. It amused me, but it was a waste of time on her
part."

"Anyhow, we shall not get much out of her in the way of information."

"Oh, yes, we will. She will tell us everything. She has told me a great
deal already."

"What?" cried his lordship. "Did that shooting affair convey anything
more to you than what I have said?"

"Of course. What need was there for such a trick? In the first place it
is very simple. You or I could do it after ten minutes' practice with an
expanding charge and a show pistol. Secondly, she admitted that the
Cabaret Noir is a centre of operations for the gang in whom we are
interested. By the way, I should like to know her name."

He directed the driver to wait for them at a street corner some little
distance further on. Close to where they stood an itinerant vendor was
selling some mechanical toys.

Brett bought one. The price was twenty sous. He gave the man a two-franc
piece and refused the change.

"Do you know," he said, "who is the proprietor of the Cabaret Noir?"

"Certainly, monsieur," replied the gutter-merchant; "it is Gros Jean.
His name is Beaucaire."

"Ah! And the lady who lives there, a dark pretty woman with white skin,
who is she?"

"That is his daughter," said the man. "She is known as La Belle
Chasseuse."

"Why such a name?"

"Because she is clever with firearms. She used to be in a circus, but
she left the profession a year ago."

"And does she live here constantly?"

"I cannot say. I think she goes away a great deal. She was travelling
recently; she came back--let me see--last Tuesday night."

"Thank you," said Brett. The two re-entered their cab, and Brett told
the driver to proceed as rapidly as possible to the Rue St. Honoré.

"I hope to goodness," he said to Fairholme, "that Captain Gaultier has
not left Paris already; these Foreign Office messengers are liable to be
despatched to the other end of the earth at a moment's notice."

"Why do you wish to see him?" said Fairholme.

"Simply to obtain definite confirmation of my theory. La Belle Chasseuse
was the woman who accompanied the man made up to look like Jack Talbot
during his journey from London. If Gaultier can see her and assure me
that I am right I will be convinced concerning that which I already know
to be true."

"By Jove!" cried Fairholme, "that never occurred to me. I wonder if it
is so?"

"Mademoiselle Beaucaire is quite an adept in two things: she can break
tiny glass bulbs and she can flirt. She chose to exhibit the first of
these accomplishments to us, and convey what was intended to be a
warning; in reality, she gave us some valuable information."

"I suppose," said Fairholme, "that this crowd will watch us pretty
closely, won't they?"

Brett leaned back in the cab and laughed heartily.

"We are the most interesting persons in Paris to them at this moment,"
he said. "That poor fellow who sold us the toys will have to change his
position, I am afraid. One of them is following us now. Let's see who it
is."

At the next street corner he stopped the cab suddenly, and jumped out,
followed by Fairholme. A minute later another vehicle dashed into the
street. In it was seated a lady, closely veiled; but a large feather hat
and the grotesque pattern of a black veil could not wholly conceal the
pretty, determined face of La Belle Chasseuse.

Evidently she had no one at hand to undertake the mission, so she
followed Brett in person. He signalled to her and to her driver.
Astonished, the man pulled up. Brett instantly advanced and took off his
hat with that pleasant smile of his which usually went straight to the
female heart, but which now thoroughly lost its effect on the furious
young woman who looked at him from the interior of the _voiture_.

"Allow me," he said, "to offer my friendly services. It is a close day
and mademoiselle has, I am sure, many other calls on her time. I will
save you at least an hour, and myself nearly the same period. I am going
to secure the presence of a witness to identify you as the lady who
crossed the Channel last Tuesday in company with a gentleman. You both
drove to the Grand Hotel, and your companion signed the register there
in the names of Mr. and Mrs. Talbot; is it not so?"

She bent forward and looked at him viciously. Her eyes sparkled with
annoyance at being caught so easily in her self-imposed piece of
espionage.

"Monsieur is clever," she snapped.

"Thank you," he replied, still smiling. "I can occasionally hit the mark
with a guess as well as mademoiselle can with her pistol. But, believe
me, I only intend at this moment to be polite. Of course, the presence
of a witness to identify you is unnecessary. Mademoiselle can now return
to the Cabaret Noir, whilst my friend and I will proceed direct to the
Grand Hotel. It saves so much trouble, does it not?"

For a moment the woman looked as though she would have liked to produce
that infallible revolver and shot him on the spot. Then she angrily
commanded her driver to return.

Fairholme surveyed the scene with open-eyed amazement. "Well," he said,
"that beats everything. You really have a splendid nerve. The whole
business reads like a chapter out of one of Gaboriau's novels."

"That is the way people live in Paris, my dear fellow. Life is an
artificial matter here. But all this excitement has made me hungry. Let
us have _déjeûner_."




CHAPTER X.

ON GUARD


On their way to the hotel, Brett, yielding apparently to a momentary
impulse, stopped the cab at a house in the Rue du Chaussée d'Antin.
Without any explanation to Lord Fairholme he disappeared into the
interior, and did not rejoin his companion for nearly ten minutes.

"It is perhaps not of much use," he explained on his return, "but I do
not like to leave any stone unturned. The man I have just called on is a
well-known private detective, and I can trust him to look after my
business without taking the police into his confidence. Two of his
smartest agents will maintain a close watch on both the Cabaret Noir and
No. 11, Rue Barbette, during the afternoon."

"You do not seem to expect much result?"

"No; we are tracking some of the most expert and daring criminals in
France. It is hopeless to expect them to provide us with clues; they
simply won't do it. No one but a genius in criminality would have risked
such a dramatic move as the personation of Jack Talbot, or dared to put
in an open appearance at the Grand Hotel. So my agents here can only
hope, at the best, to get sight of any messenger or assistant scoundrel
who may turn up at either of the places indicated."

"May we expect to be busy to-night?"

Brett did not answer at once. It was evident that whilst he rattled on
in a careless strain his active brain was busily employed in discounting
the future.

"I hope so," he said at last. "Of course I cannot tell. Our only chance
is that we may be able to guess the course of the hidden trail. If
to-night does not yield us some information, our chances of solving the
mystery will be remote, in which case we may as well abandon the quest."

This faint-hearted reply naturally surprised Lord Fairholme
considerably. To his mind, a considerable measure of success had already
been achieved, and he utterly failed to understand why his friend should
take such a pessimistic view of affairs at the very moment when they
appeared to be opening up somewhat. Brett noted the Earl's perplexity,
and smiled with genial deprecation.

"Do not be afraid, Fairholme; I will liberate Mr. Talbot and clear his
name so effectually that all difficulties will disappear from the path
of your marriage."

"Then what is it that makes you so downcast?" cried Fairholme.

"I hate to be beaten at the final stage, and I have a premonition that
were I in England--had I but the power to proceed unchecked and
unhindered by officialdom--I would soon lay my hands on the man who
originated the Albert Gate mystery. But we are in France--in a country
of queer legal forms and unusual methods. At home I can always
circumvent Scotland Yard; here I am in the midst of strange
surroundings, and know not what may happen. Therefore, we must possess
our souls in patience and wait developments. The agent I have just
employed has promised me to report every two hours at the hotel until
eight o'clock. Then I will take personal charge of the Cabaret Noir,
and----"

"What about me?" cried Fairholme.

"You, my dear fellow, will remain at the hotel and await orders."

This arrangement did not seem to suit the active young Englishman who
had been so suddenly plunged into the excitement of a criminal chase in
Paris.

"Really, Brett," he said, "I hate to grumble at anything you propose,
because you are always right; but you must pardon me for saying that I
do not see what particular value my presence here has been to you."

"What!" laughed Brett; "not after your dramatic appearance in the Rue
Barbette this morning?"

"Oh, any one could have done that. All I had to do was to break in a
door at a given hour."

"Exactly," said Brett gravely. "I wanted a friend whom I could trust to
implicitly obey my orders, and you did it. I am sure you will fall in
with my wishes now."

So Fairholme was silenced on this point, but he ventured to put another
question.

"How long am I to sit chewing cigars in our rooms, then?"

"All night, if necessary. If I do not appear by seven o'clock to-morrow
morning you had better go to the Embassy and tell one of the secretaries
everything connected with our visit to Paris. He will then take action
through the police in proper form, and after that you must simply await
developments."

"Do you mean to say," said Fairholme, anxiously, "that you are
contemplating another risky bit of business to-night?"

"Once I take my stand outside the Cabaret Noir about 8.30 I cannot tell
where Fate may lead me. If I am lucky I will certainly return, whatever
be the personal outcome. If, on the other hand, I learn nothing, you may
certainly expect to see me about two in the morning."

At the hotel Brett found awaiting him a letter delivered by the midday
post. It was from his elderly assistant in London, whom he had told to
make a close scrutiny of all inhabited houses within a certain radius of
the Carlton Hotel. The man had done his work systematically, and in only
three instances was he called on to report doubtful cases.

Two foreign restaurants inside streets contained a number of residents
concerning whom it was difficult to obtain specific information.

One of these establishments he believed to be the resort of Continental
gamblers driven from Soho by the too marked attentions of the police.
The other was a place of even more questionable repute, and in both
instances he had utterly failed to obtain the slightest information from
the servants, who apparently "stood in" with the management.

The third dwelling which courted observation was a flat situated above
some business premises in another quiet street. So far as he could
learn, it was tenanted by an elderly lady who was a helpless invalid,
waited on by a somewhat curious couple.

"They are Italians, I think," wrote the ex-policeman, "and very
uncommunicative people. I have twice called, on one pretext or another,
but when the door is opened it is always kept on the chain, and I
cannot see more than the face of a man or woman and a few inches of wall
beyond. Still, I have no reason to doubt that the view taken by the
milkman and baker is correct, namely, that the owner of the flat is
confined to her bed and is suffering from a nervous disease, which
renders it imperative she should be shut off from all noise. The
landlord informs me that these people have occupied the place for nearly
two months. Their rent is paid in advance, and they have not given the
slightest cause for complaint. There are, of course, in this district a
large number of private hotels and lodging-houses, but they seem to be
run on regular lines, and, although some of their patrons might well
demand closer observation, I have come across nothing suggestive of any
suspicious circumstance whatever with reference to them. I have detained
my report until I was able to give details concerning the other houses
in the district, and I will now fall back on the second part of your
instructions, i.e., to maintain a close watch on the three
establishments which I have picked out as being more unusual in their
habits than the others."

This was all.

Brett read the concluding portion of the report to Fairholme.

"He is a level-headed, shrewd observer," he said--"one of the few men
whom I can trust to do exactly what I want, neither more nor less. I
think when we return to London we must endeavour to get that chain taken
off the invalid lady's door, or, at any rate, obtain some specific facts
concerning her disease from her medical adviser."

Fairholme smiled. "I am glad to hear," he cried, "that you do anticipate
our return."

"Oh," said Brett airily, "I never count on failure."

Soon after three o'clock a report arrived from the agent in the Rue du
Chaussée d'Antin. It read--

     "Nothing unusual has occurred in the vicinity of the Cabaret Noir.
     The customers frequenting the place are all of the ordinary type
     and do not call for special comment.

     "A Turkish gentleman quitted the house No. 11, Rue Barbette, at
     1.15 p.m., but returned shortly before two o'clock. Half an hour
     later a man, whom my assistant recognized as a member of a well-known
     gang of flash thieves, entered the place. His name is Charles Petit,
     but he is generally known to his associates as 'Le Ver.' He is small,
     well dressed, and of youthful appearance, but really older than he
     looks. He is still in the house inhabited by the Turks."

"What is the meaning of 'Le Ver'?" said Fairholme.

"It means 'The Worm,'" answered Brett.

"I must say these chaps do find suitable nicknames for one another. I
wonder if he is the fellow we followed to Montmartre this morning?"

"Possibly, though I am puzzled to understand why he should trust himself
in that hornets' nest again. Most certainly the description covers him,
but we shall probably hear more details later. I wonder where the
Turkish gentleman went whom 'Le Ver' seems to have followed. He could
not have gone to the Cabaret Noir in the time?"

Brett's curiosity was answered to some extent by the next report,
delivered about five o'clock. It read as follows--

     "Le Ver is still in the house No. 11, Rue Barbette. My agent
     explains that he did not follow the Turk, who left and returned
     to the place earlier, because his definite instructions were not
     to leave the locality, but to report on all persons who entered
     or left. Absolutely nothing has transpired in this neighbourhood
     since my first report.

     "Gros Jean, the father of La Belle Chasseuse, arrived at the Cabaret
     Noir soon after four o'clock. My agent ascertained from the cabman who
     drove him that Gros Jean had hired the vehicle outside the Gare de Lyon.
     Otherwise nothing stirring."

At seven o'clock came developments.

     "Three Turkish gentlemen have quitted No. 11, Rue Barbette, but the
     Frenchman is still there. As it might be necessary to follow another
     person leaving this house, I stationed another watcher with my
     assistant, and this second man followed the Turks to a restaurant in
     the Grand Boulevard. So far as he could judge, they seemed to be
     excited and apprehensive. They drank some wine and conversed together
     in low tones. At 6.15 they quitted the café and rapidly jumped into
     an empty _fiacre_, being driven off in the direction of the Opera.
     So unexpectedly did they leave their seats that before my agent could
     hire another cab they had disappeared in the traffic, and although he
     drove after them as rapidly as possible, he failed to again catch
     sight of them. I have reprimanded him for his negligence, although he
     did right in coming at once to me to report his failure. In accordance
     with your instructions, I have ordered the watchers at the Café Noir
     and in the Rue Barbette to be in this office at 8.15 p.m."

"Now I wonder," said Brett, "why the Turks left the Frenchman alone in
No. 11. It is odd, to say the least of it. Since the dramatic discovery
of the spurious diamonds this morning they must be even more in the
dark than I am. It must be looked into, but I cannot attend to it now.
At this moment, if I am not mistaken, the centre of interest is the Café
Noir."

The two men occupied a sitting-room on the first floor of the hotel, and
their respective bedrooms flanked it on each side. Brett explained that
he could not tackle the table d'hote dinner, so he made a hasty meal in
their sitting-room and then excused himself whilst he retired to his
bedroom to change his clothing.

He was absent some twenty minutes, and Fairholme amused himself by
glancing over the copies of the day's London newspapers which had
recently arrived. Suddenly the door of Brett's bedroom opened, and a
decrepit elderly man appeared, a shabby-genteel individual, disfigured
by drink and crumpled up by rheumatism.

"Who the devil----" began Fairholme.

But he was amazed to hear Brett's familiar voice asking--

"Do you think the disguise sufficiently complete?"

"Complete!" shouted Fairholme, "why, your own mother would not know you,
and your father would probably punch me for suggesting that it could be
you."

"That is all right," said the barrister cheerfully. "I will now proceed
to get quietly drunk at the Café Noir. Good-bye until seven o'clock
to-morrow morning--perhaps earlier, and perhaps--well, no--until seven
o'clock!"

They shook hands and parted, and not even Brett, the cleverest amateur
detective of his day, could have remotely guessed where and how they
would meet next.

Montmartre by day and Montmartre by night are two very different places.
This Parisian playground, perched high on the eminence that overlooks
the Ville Lumière, does not wake to its real life until its repose is
disturbed by the lamplighter. Then the Moulin Rouge, festooned with
lamps of gorgeous red, flares forth upon an expectant world. The Café de
l'Enfers opens its demoniac mouth to swallow ten minutes' audiences and
vomit them forth again, amused or bored, as the case may be, by the
delusions provided in the interior, whilst other questionable resorts
shout forth their attractions and seek to beguile a certain number of
sous from the pockets of sightseers.

The whole district is a place of light and shade. It is artificial in
every brick and stone, in the pose of every stall, the lettering of
every advertisement. And it flourishes by gaslight; by day it is garish
and forlorn.

Prominent among the regular houses of entertainment was the Cabaret
Noir, which, between the hours of 9 p.m. and 1 a.m., usually drove a
roaring trade. Situated in the heart of a mountebank district, its
patrons embraced all classes of society, from the American tourist with
his quick eyes noting the vagaries of demi-mondaines, to the
sharp-witted Parisian idler, on the alert for any easy and dishonest
method of obtaining money which might present itself.

Among such a crowd a wine-sodden and decrepit old man was not likely to
attract particular attention.

He sprawled over the table close to one of the windows which commanded a
view of the side passage leading to the rear of the building. Although
none of the noisy crowd in the café could suspect the fact, the
half-closed eyes of this elderly drunkard noted the form and features of
every individual who entered or left by the main door, whilst at the
same time he paid the utmost possible attention to the comings and
goings of any person who used the passage by the window.

To facilitate his observations in this direction he querulously
complained to the waiter that the atmosphere was stuffy, and prevailed
on the man to raise the window a few inches, thus admitting a breath of
clear cold air.

Brett had previously ascertained from his agent that Gros Jean and his
daughter were still in the private part of the building. No other
visitor had put in an appearance, and so the time passed, until the
clock in the café marked eleven, without any incident occurring which
could be construed as having even a remote bearing upon his quest.

Brett began to feel that his diligence that night would not be rewarded.

At five minutes past eleven, however, a pink-and-white Frenchman, neatly
attired, unobtrusive both in manner and deportment, entered the café and
seated himself quietly near the door. He ordered some coffee and cognac,
and lighted a cigarette.

The barrister, of course, took heed of him as of all others, and he
would soon have placed him in the general category that merited no
special attention had he not noticed that the newcomer more than once
glanced at the clock and then towards the corner bar, whence, it will be
remembered, a small door led towards the billiard saloon in which La
Belle Chasseuse had displayed her prowess with the pistol.

In such a community the stranger's self-possession and reticence were
distinguishable characteristics. So Brett watched him, largely for want
of better occupation.

"That is a man of unusual power," was his summing up. "He is elegant,
fascinating, unscrupulous. Although apparently out of his natural
element in this neighbourhood, he has some purpose in putting in an
appearance in such a place as this at a late hour. Perhaps he is one of
mademoiselle's lovers, though he looks the sort of person who would be
singularly cool in conducting affairs of the heart, and most unlikely to
wait many minutes beyond the time fixed for an appointment. His hands
are large and sinewy, his wrists square, and, although slight in
physique, I should credit him with possessing considerable strength.
Being a Frenchman, he should be an expert with the foils. The effeminate
aspect given to his face by his remarkable complexion might easily
deceive one as to his real character. As a matter of fact, he is the
only unusual man I have seen during my two hours' lounge in this
corner."

Brett had hardly concluded this casual analysis of the person who had
enlisted his close observation, when the private door into the bar
opened and Mlle. Beaucaire entered.

Without taking the least notice of any of the numerous occupants of the
café she turned her back on them, and apparently busied herself in
checking the contents of the cash register. Beyond this useful
instrument was a mirror, and Brett at once perceived that from the point
where she stood she could command a distinct reflection of the
pink-and-white Frenchman.

The latter was gazing at the clock, and whilst doing so stroked his chin
three times with his right hand. Immediately afterwards La Belle
Chasseuse three times rang the bell of the register, and then, having
apparently concluded her inspection, quitted the bar as unceremoniously
as she had entered. Half a minute later the Frenchman finished the
remains of his cognac, lit another cigarette, and passed into the
street.

It was with difficulty that Brett restrained himself from following him,
but he was certain that no one could leave the residential portion of
the building without using the passage--a view of which he commanded
from his window--and he resolutely resolved to devote himself for that
night to shadowing the movements of the ex-circus lady.

His patience and self-denial were soon rewarded. A light quick step
sounded in the passage, and a shrouded female form shot past the open
window.

Then the inebriated individual, now hopelessly muddled by drink,
staggered towards the door and lurched wildly round the corner, just in
time to see mademoiselle cross the Boulevard and daintily make her way
between the rows of stalls.

The air seemed, however, to have a surprising effect on the old
reprobate, for the simple reason that to simulate drunkenness and at the
same time keep pace with the lady's rapid strides was out of the
question.

La Belle Chasseuse was evidently in a hurry. She sped along at a
surprising pace, until she reached a crossing where the rows of stalls
and booths were temporarily suspended. At one corner stood a cab, and
towards this vehicle she directed her steps. Before Brett quite realized
what was happening, the door of the cab opened, mademoiselle jumped
inside, and, as if he were waiting for her appearance, the driver
whipped up his horse and drove off at a furious pace.

At that instant a small victoria with a sturdy pony in the shafts, which
had just deposited a lively fare in the vicinity of the Moulin Rouge,
drove along the street.

Brett sprang into it and said eagerly to the driver--

"Keep that cab in sight! I will pay you double fare!"

The man tightened his reins and raised his whip in prompt obedience to
the order, when suddenly two men jumped into the vehicle from opposite
sides, seized Brett and forced him down on to the seat, whilst one of
them said in stern tones to the astonished cabby--

"Take us at once to the Central Prefecture of Police."

The man recognized that these newcomers were not to be trifled with.
Without a word or a question, he rattled his horse across the stone
pavement, and Brett, choking with rage at this interference at a supreme
moment, realized that for some extraordinary reason he was a prisoner,
and in the hands of a couple of detectives.

By this time the cab containing the lady had vanished, but the barrister
made one despairing effort.

"For heaven's sake," he said to his captors, "take me where you will,
but first follow that cab and ascertain its destination."

"What cab?" demanded one of his guards sarcastically.

"The cab which I wished our driver to overtake at the moment when you
pounced on me."

"This is a mere trick," broke in the other. "Don't bother about his cab.
We have got him safe enough, and let the _commissaire_ deal with him
now."

"Listen to me," cried Brett. "You are making a frightful mistake. Your
action at this moment may cause irretrievable delay and loss. If you
will only do as I tell you----"

"Shut up," growled the first man, "or it will be worse for you. Your
best plan, my good fellow, is to keep a quiet tongue in your head."

It was not often that Brett lost his temper, but most certainly he lost
it on this occasion. He was endowed with no small share of physical
strength, and for an instant the wild notion came into his head that he
might perhaps succeed in throwing the two detectives into the roadway
and then overpower the driver, taking charge of the vehicle himself and
trusting to luck to again catch sight of the vanished lady and her
companion, who, he doubted not, had awaited her arrival at the quiet
corner where she joined him.

Unconsciously he must have given some premonition of this desperate
scheme, for the two policemen tightened their grasp, forced his hands
higher up his back, and bent his head forward until he was in danger of
having either his neck or his shoulder dislocated.

"Will you keep quiet?" murmured the chief detective. "You cannot escape,
and you are only making the affair more disastrous to yourself."

Then Brett realized that further resistance was hopeless. He managed to
gurgle out that if they would allow him to assume a more comfortable
attitude he would not trouble them any further.

Gingerly and cautiously the two men somewhat relaxed the strain, and he
was able to breathe freely once more.

Then he laughed, almost hysterically, but he could not help saying in
English--

"The shadow of Scotland Yard falls on me even here. Poor old Winter, how
I will roast him over this adventure!"

"What are you talking about?" demanded one of the men.

"I was only thinking aloud," replied Brett.

"And what were your thoughts?"

"Simply this, that the sooner I meet your remarkably astute commissary
the better I shall be pleased."




CHAPTER XI

A DISCONCERTED COMMISSARY


The journey across Paris proceeded without further incident, until they
reached the prefecture.

The two detectives hurried their prisoner into a large general office,
where he was surveyed with some curiosity by the subordinates lounging
near a huge fire, whilst one of their number reported his arrival. After
a brief interval he was taken into an inner office. Behind a green
baize-covered table was seated a sharp-looking man, whose face was
chiefly composed of eyebrows, pince-nez, a hooked nose, and a furious
imperiale.

This individual turned the shade of the lamp so that the light fell in
its full radiance on the face and figure of the prisoner. He produced a
huge volume, and thumbed over its leaves until he reached the first
vacant place, ruled and numbered for the description of all persons
brought before him.

"Your name?" he said sharply.

"Reginald Brett," was the reply.

The Frenchman required this to be spelt for him.

"Age?"

"Thirty-seven."

"Nationality?"

"English."

"Profession?"

"Barrister-at-law."

The official consulted a type-written document, which he selected from a
mass of papers fastened by an indiarubber band. Then he looked curiously
at the prisoner.

"Are you sure this is the man?" he said to the senior detective.

"Quite positive, monsieur."

"Then take off his wig and get a towel, so that he may remove some of
his make-up. The rascal should be an actor. I never saw a better
disguise in my life."

Brett knew it was hopeless to attempt explanations at this stage. He
readily fell in with their directions, and in a few seconds he stood
revealed in something akin to his ordinary appearance.

Now, the French Commissary of Police was no fool. He was an adept at
reading character, but he was certainly puzzled after a sharp scrutiny
of Brett's clear-cut, intelligent features. Nevertheless, he knew that
the criminal instinct is often allied with the most deceptive external
appearances. So he turned to the detective, and said--

"Tell me, briefly, what happened?"

"In accordance with instructions, monsieur," the man replied, "Philippe
and I ascertained the movements of the prisoner at the Grand Hotel.
During the afternoon he received messages from London and from some
persons in Paris, which documents are now probably in his possession. He
quitted the hotel at eight o'clock, disguised as you have seen. He
called for a moment at a house in the Rue du Chaussée d'Antin, the
number of which we noted, and then made his way to the Café Noir in
Montmartre. There we watched him from the door for nearly three hours.
He feigned drunkenness, but held communication with no person."

"Ha!" cried the commissary. This struck him as an important point. He
made a memorandum of it.

"Soon after eleven o'clock he rose hastily and quitted the café, crossed
the Boulevard, and hailed a cab. We would have followed him, but there
was no other vehicle in sight. As our instructions were to arrest him at
any moment he seemed likely to elude us, we seized him. He struggled
violently, and told us some story about his desire to follow another
cab, which he said had disappeared. We saw no cab such as he described,
and we treated his words as a mere device to abstract attention. We were
right. A moment later he made an attempt to escape, and we were
compelled to use considerable force to prevent him from being
successful."

The commissary turned his eyes to the prisoner and was seemingly about
to question him, when Brett said with a smile--

"Perhaps, monsieur, you will allow me to say a word or two."

"Certainly." The official knew that criminals generally implicated
themselves when they commenced explaining matters.

"You are acting, I presume," said the barrister, "in obedience to
reports received from the London police with reference to the murder of
four Turkish subjects at Albert Gate, and the theft of some valuable
diamonds belonging to the Sultan?"

This calm summary of the facts seemed to disconcert the Frenchman. It
astonished him considerably to find his prisoner thus indicating so
clearly the nature of the charge to be brought against him.

"That may be so," he admitted.

"It is so," went on Brett; "and in this matter you are even more
hopelessly idiotic than I took you to be. I have told you my name and
profession. I am a friend of Mr. Talbot, the English gentleman who has
been spirited away in connection with this crime, and I have in my
pocket at this moment a letter from the British Under-Secretary of State
for Foreign Affairs, authorising me to use my best efforts towards
elucidating the mystery and tracking the real criminals. Here is the
letter," he continued, producing a document and laying it before the
amazed official.

"I was on the point of making an important discovery with reference to
this case when these too zealous agents of yours seized me and
absolutely refused, even whilst I was a prisoner in their hands, to
follow up the definite clue I had obtained. It is an easy matter to
verify my statements. The authenticity of this letter will be proved at
the British Embassy, whilst a telegram to Scotland Yard will place
beyond doubt not only my identity, but my bona fides in acting for Mr.
Talbot's relatives and the Foreign Office. Further, an inquiry made at
the Grand Hotel will produce unquestionable testimony from the manager,
who knows me, and from my friend, Lord Fairholme, who occupies rooms
there at this moment."

"Lord Fairholme!" stuttered the official. "Why, that is the name given
by the other prisoner."

"Do you mean to say you have arrested the Earl of Fairholme?" gasped
Brett, struggling with an irresistible desire to laugh.

The Frenchman covered his confusion by growling an unintelligible order,
and bent over the letter which Brett had given to him. In half a minute
one of the detectives returned, and with him was Fairholme, on whose
honest face indignation and astonishment struggled for mastery.

"Oh, surely that cannot be you, Brett!" cried his lordship, the moment
he entered the room. "Well, of all the ---- fools that ever lived, these
French Johnnies take the cake. I suppose that they have spoiled the
whole business! If the brutes had not taken me by surprise I would have
knocked over a dozen of them before they arrested me."

"Silence!" shrieked the commissary, into whose mind was intruding the
consciousness that he had committed an outrageous blunder.

"What did you say your name was?" he demanded fiercely.

"I told you my name an hour ago," said his lordship haughtily, "and if
you had not been so beastly clever you would have believed me. I am the
Earl of Fairholme, a fact that can be readily substantiated by dozens of
people here in Paris, and this is Mr. Reginald Brett, a friend of mine,
who would have probably discovered the mystery of my friend's
disappearance and the whereabouts of those diamonds by this time if you
had not interfered."

His lordship was hardly coherent with annoyance, but the acute official
had now convinced himself that a stupid mistake had been committed by
his department.

He became apologetic and suave. He explained that their mysterious
proceedings had to some extent committed them in the eyes of the police
to secret knowledge of the crime which had so thoroughly aroused the
detective departments in both London and Paris.

Evidently Scotland Yard had not advised the French police of Mr. Brett's
official connection with the hunt for the murderers. The agents of the
Paris Bureau had watched Brett's comings and goings during the day, and
the detectives' suspicions, once aroused, were intensified when his
friend, Lord Fairholme, sought the aid of two uniformed policemen to
break in the door of the Turkish residents in the Rue Barbette.

Even now, politely concluded the commissary, he would regretfully be
compelled to detain them for a little while, until he verified their
statements. Meanwhile, they would not be subject to any further
indignities, and might procure such refreshments as they desired. They
would probably be set at liberty within a couple of hours.

At 1.30 a.m. Brett and Fairholme were ushered forth from the doors of
the prefecture and stood in freedom in the street.

"Where now?" said Fairholme.

"To the hotel," replied Brett, wearily. "I must have sleep, so I consign
the Turks, and the Sultan's diamonds, and every one concerned with the
Albert Gate mystery, to perdition for the next eight hours."

Notwithstanding his weariness, Brett rose early next morning. His
companion slept like a top, and the barrister had to shake the earl
soundly by the shoulder before the latter woke into conscious existence
and sat up in bed sleepily demanding--

"What's up? Where's the fire?"

"I want you to dress at once," said Brett cheerily, "and join me at
breakfast. You must leave for London by the 11.50 train."

"Am I such a nuisance then that I have to be packed off at a moment's
notice?" said the earl.

"By no means. Decidedly the contrary, in fact. As matters in France
evidently require persistent attention on my part for many days, perhaps
weeks, I think it is hardly fair to leave Talbot in confinement any
longer. Your mission is to restore your prospective brother-in-law to
the bosom of his family, and I regret that it is impossible for me to
accompany you."

"Are you serious, old chap?" was the startled answer. "What has happened
since one o'clock this morning to make you so confident?"

"Nothing that is not already known to you. Had I succeeded last night in
following Mlle. Beaucaire to her destination, I might have been able to
accompany you to London this morning. As it is, Heaven alone knows what
sort of dance she may lead me. However, you complete your toilette, my
dear fellow. I have ordered breakfast to be served in a quarter of an
hour. Then you can eat and listen."

During the first portion of the repast Brett seemed too busily engaged
to unburden his mind. It was not until he had lit a cigarette and pushed
his chair away from the table, so that he could assume a posture of
complete ease, that he commenced--

"You slept so soundly, Fairholme, that you have not had time to review
all the circumstances of yesterday's adventures. Otherwise I am sure you
would have reached the same conclusions as suggest themselves to me.
Curiously enough, although dog-tired when I went to bed, I woke about
seven o'clock feeling thoroughly rested both in mind and body. I
procured some coffee, took a bath, and went out for a stroll, with the
result that I returned and aroused you after reaching finality in some
of my conclusions, and deciding on a definite plan of action for both of
us."

"It is really very decent of you, Brett, to constantly assume that I can
see as far through a brick wall as you can, especially as you know quite
well that, although I am fairly well acquainted with all that happened
yesterday, the only tangible opinion I can offer is that the Paris
police interfered with you at a most inopportune moment."

Brett smiled. "That is because you have not accustomed yourself to
analysis," he said. "However, I will summarise my views, and if you can
find any flaws in my reasoning I will be glad. The first thing to
observe is that the diminutive Frenchman drew on himself the special
vengeance of the Turks when I exposed the attempt to foist on them a
collection of dummy diamonds. Yet he actually had the nerve to return to
the Rue Barbette later in the day. He has not been seen since, so the
little scoundrel is either dead or a prisoner in Hussein-ul-Mulk's flat.
As I cannot permit myself to participate in a murder or even in an
illegal imprisonment, I am regretfully compelled this morning to take
the police into my confidence and inform them of an obvious fact which
escaped their penetration yesterday."

Fairholme whistled.

"I must say," he cried, "I gave a passing thought to the incident myself
last evening when your spy reported that the Frenchman remained in No.
11 after the Turks had quitted it."

"Yes," said Brett. "You see, all you need to cultivate is the habit of
deduction, and you will soon become a capital detective."

The earl laughed. "I hope you will tell that to Edith," he said, "and
perhaps you may change her opinion concerning my reasoning capacities.
She thinks I am an awfully stupid chap as a rule."

"That is because she is in love with you," said Brett.

"Well, now, that remark puzzles me more than anything else you have
said." His lordship darted a quick look at the barrister in the
endeavour to learn whether or not he was in a chaffing mood.

"Why should a woman seek to depreciate anything she values?"

"Simply because it denotes a secure sense of complete ownership. Miss
Talbot would never hold such a view of your intellectual powers if you
were merely a friend."

"Well," said the earl dubiously, "that is a new point of view for me at
any rate."

"It is a fact nevertheless. But we have not much time, so we must
reserve any further consideration of feminine inconsistency. The fate of
the Frenchman must be determined to-day, and to decide the question I
must act through the police, so a conversation with our friend the
commissary becomes inevitable. And now to return to the hypothetical
part of my conclusions. I began by assuming that the individual who
planned the Albert Gate outrage and subsequently sought to bamboozle his
employers by palming off on them a set of spurious diamonds, is far too
acute to attempt to dispose of the real gems for many months yet to
come. He obtained sufficient funds from the Turks, in pursuance of what
may be termed the legitimate part of his contract, to enable him to live
for a considerable period without further excitement. Closely associated
with him in the present adventure is La Belle Chasseuse. Neither would
endeavour to procure safety by flight to a foreign country. They will
seek insignificance by living in a normal and commonplace manner. What
more easy, for instance, for Mademoiselle than to return to the life of
the circus, whilst her lover--granted that he wished to remain in her
company--will obtain some suitable employment in the same circle. There
is a suspicion of a joke in the statement, but I am quite serious. The
mere consciousness that they have in their possession a vast fortune,
which time alone will enable them to realize, will serve as an
inducement to undergo the period of hard work which means safety. You
remember that the lady's father, Gros Jean, visited the Gare de Lyon
yesterday?"

Fairholme nodded.

"I think you will find that he was depositing there the necessary
luggage for a contemplated trip into the interior, so that Mademoiselle
might slip out late at night quietly and unnoticed and join her lover at
some preconcerted rendezvous, a thing which we now know she did. I
cannot, of course, be certain whether the Frenchman who signalled to her
in the Café Noir was himself the favoured individual. It is possible. By
the way, what height is Talbot?"

"About five feet nine."

Brett pondered for a little while.

"Yes," he communed aloud, "I think I am right. That pink-and-white
Frenchman is the master mind in this conspiracy. And to think that the
unintelligent muscles of a couple of thick-headed French policemen
should have crudely interfered with me at such a moment!" He sighed
deeply.

"Never mind," he went on, "it cannot be helped. I must keep to the
thread of my story. Mademoiselle Beaucaire left the Cabaret shortly
after eleven o'clock. We cannot be certain that she went to the Gare de
Lyon, but the cab unquestionably set off in that direction. It is a long
drive from Montmartre to the Lyons station. We will give her, say, until
twelve o'clock to reach there. Now, unless she was journeying to some
suburban district--a contingency which upsets the whole of my
theory--there was no main line train leaving for the south until 1.5
a.m., and that is a slow train, stopping at nearly every station south
of Melun. Let us suppose that they guard against every contingency. She
and her companion wish to escape the scrutiny of detectives. It will at
once occur to you that they run far more risk of observation if
travelling by a fast express than if they elect to journey by the
commonplace trains which only serve the needs of country districts."

"It did not occur to me," said Fairholme candidly. "Still, there is a
lot in the idea all the same."

"Very well. To sum up, I imagine that the pair, providing the two
travelled together, would break their journey south at some quiet town
in the interior early in the morning, and subsequently proceed to their
destination by easy stages."

"I am still fogged as to what you mean by their destination?" said
Fairholme.

"I mean the circus, the music-hall, the café chantant, or whatever place
mademoiselle and her astute adviser may select as a safe haven wherein
to avoid police espionage during the many months which must ensue before
they dare to make the slightest effort to dispose of the purloined
diamonds."

"And how do you propose to follow them up?"

"I cannot tell at present. My movements depend upon the results of the
inquiries I shall make to-day in theatrical circles, and particularly at
the Gare de Lyon, where I shall not meet with success in any event until
the night staff comes on duty.

"The third item," continued Brett, "which demands attention in Paris is
the whereabouts of the Turks. They must be found and observed. My chief
difficulty will be to keep that delightful commissary from imprisoning
them, if, as I imagine, we find the little thief a captive in the Rue
Barbette. So you see my actions are speculative. Yours, on the other
hand, will be definite."

"Ah!" said Fairholme, "I am glad to hear that. If you expect me to
analyse and deduce and find out the probable movements of intelligent
rascals, I am sure I shall make a mess of things."

"You will reach London," said Brett, "at 7.30 p.m. I suppose you have in
your service a reliable servant, endowed with a fair amount of physical
strength?"

"Rather," cried the earl. "My butler is a splendid chap. He has been
fined half a dozen times for his exceeding willingness to settle
disputes with his fists."

"Telegraph to him to meet you at Charing Cross Station. I can depend
upon my man Smith to use his nerve and discretion. Moreover, he knows
Inspector Winter, of Scotland Yard, and should trouble arise, which I do
not anticipate, this acquaintance may be useful to you. The third person
who will meet you will be the ex-sergeant of police, whose report to me
you heard yesterday. He will point out to you the flat tenanted by the
invalid lady. You speak French well, and after a few questions you
should be able to satisfy yourself whether or not the person who opens
the door to you when you visit that flat is acting a genuine part. You
can pretend what you like, but if admission is denied to you I want you
to force your way inside and see that invalid lady at all costs. In the
event of a gross mistake having been committed you must apologize most
abjectly and assuage the wounded feelings of the servants with a liberal
donation, whilst the ex-sergeant of police will advise you as to any
other place which may demand personal inspection. I do not conceal from
you the difficulties of your task, or the chance that you may get into
trouble with the police. But the fact remains that Talbot, alive or
dead, is concealed somewhere in the neighbourhood of the Carlton Hotel,
and it is high time that this portion of the mystery attending his
disappearance should be made clear. Do you follow me?"

"Precisely," said Fairholme. "My programme appears to be very simple. I
am to kick down any door that is pointed out by the ex-policeman,
provided I am refused admission by fair means."

Brett laughed. "I think," he cried, "you have put my instructions in
very direct and succinct form. All I hope is that the invalid lady may
prove to be an elderly fraud. It only remains for me to give you my
blessing and say good-bye."

"But what about you?" said the earl anxiously. "Suppose we come across
Talbot to-night, as you anticipate, where shall I find you to-morrow?"

"You must telegraph to me here," was the answer, "and you must possess
your soul in patience until you hear from me.

"No, don't protest," he went on, as Fairholme gave indications of
impatience. "You need not fear that you will be left out of the
denouement, whatever it be. I am sure to need your help before long, and
I will cable you at the first possible moment. For that reason, should
you leave your house for more than hour or so, I hope you will make
special arrangements for telegrams to reach you without delay."

"You may rely on that," was the hearty answer. "But look here, Brett. It
is 10.45 a.m. now. If I have to catch that 11.50 train from the Gare du
Nord I have no time to lose. By the way," he added, turning at the door,
"is there any reason why I should not wire to Edith to expect me
to-night?"

"Not the slightest," said Brett, smiling, "except perhaps this, that
instead of calling on Miss Talbot this evening you may be locked up on
the charge of housebreaking."

"Um," said the earl, thoughtfully, "I had not thought of that. It will
be more fun to take her by surprise. So here goes to get my traps
packed."

After Lord Fairholme's departure, Brett took matters easily. He did not
put in an appearance at the Prefecture until late in the afternoon, and,
as he surmised, the commissary whom he encountered the previous night
had even then only just arrived at his office. Without any difficulty,
the barrister was introduced to the official, who evidently awaited an
explanation of the visit with great curiosity.

Brett's ill-humour at the uncalled-for interference of the police was
now quite dispelled, and he greeted the commissary with the genial
affability which so quickly won him the friendship of casual
acquaintances.

"I think," he began, "that your agents, monsieur, were watching me
throughout the whole of yesterday."

"That is so," nodded the other, wondering what pitfall lay behind this
leading question.

"Do I take it that after my departure from No. 11, Rue Barbette about
midday they maintained no further guard over that house?"

"Assuredly. It was monsieur's personal movements which called for
observation."

"Then you do not know that an individual whose identity may be much more
important than mine is an inmate of the apartment at this
moment--probably a captive against his will, possibly a corpse?"

The Frenchman's huge moustache bristled with alarm and annoyance.

"It is a strange thing, monsieur," he cried, "that an English gentleman
should come to Paris and know more about the movements and haunts of
criminals than the French police."

It was no part of Brett's design to rub the official the wrong way, so
he said gently--

"Your remark is quite justifiable, and under ordinary circumstances any
such pretence on my part would be ridiculous. But you must remember,
monsieur, that I came here from London possessed of special information
which was not known even to the police authorities in that city. I am
working solely in the private interest of persons high in English
Society, and it would not serve the purposes of any of the Governments
concerned were too much stress publicly laid on their connexion with
this mystery. If I can succeed in elucidating the problem it will be a
comparatively easy matter for the police to bring the real criminals to
justice. As a step towards that end I have come to you now to place you
in possession of a clue which may reveal itself in the Rue Barbette. All
I ask is, in the first instance, that the affair may be conducted with
the utmost secrecy, and, secondly, that you will permit me to be present
when you examine the person whom I expect to find there. I may be able
to help you very materially in your questions, provided the man is alive
and well."

The commissary was soothed. The barrister's judicial reference to the
importance and confidential nature of the inquiry raised in his mind a
dazzling vision of personal distinction and preferment.

"The matter shall be conducted with the utmost discretion," he cried.
"What force does monsieur consider to be requisite in order to examine
this house thoroughly, and prevent the attempted escape of others whom
we may find there in addition to the man described?"

Brett with difficulty repressed a smile. "I do not think that a large
force of police will be necessary. If you yourself, monsieur, and
another officer will accompany me in a cab, I am sure we will be able to
deal with all possible opposition. There is no exit from the flat save
through the main door, and the apartment is situated on the second
storey. Escape by way of the windows is practically impossible if we act
with promptitude."

The commissary could not reach the Rue Barbette too rapidly. He bundled
a subordinate into a _fiacre_, and the three were driven off at
breakneck speed.

They stopped the vehicle at the corner of the street and walked quietly
to the house, attracting no attention, as neither of the Frenchmen were
in uniform.

Inquiry from the _concierge_ elicited the information that none of the
occupants of the flat tenanted by the Turkish gentlemen had put in an
appearance since the previous afternoon. So the trio mounted the
staircase, and without any preliminary summons the junior official
applied his shoulder to the door.

The lock yielded quite readily. Indeed, the damage done by Lord
Fairholme was but temporarily repaired, and no special precaution had
been taken to fasten the place. All was quiet within. The first room
they searched was empty. So was the second; but in a bedroom, the door
of which was locked and required forcible treatment, an extraordinary
sight met their eyes.

Stretched on the bed, gagged and securely tied, was the figure of the
diminutive Frenchman, who, little more than twenty-four hours earlier,
had so coolly suggested that Brett should be murdered.

Stout leather thongs were fastened to his wrists and ankles and then
tied to the four uprights of the bed. His arms and legs were
consequently stretched widely apart, and the only sign of vitality about
the man was the terrible expression of fear and hate in his eyes as he
looked at them.

The gag stuffed in his mouth prevented him from uttering the slightest
coherent sound, whilst the agony of his frame owing to the position in
which he lay, joined to the exhaustion induced by terror and want of
food, rendered him a pitiable object.

They removed the gag and cut the bonds. The poor wretch remained on his
back unable to move, though he flinched somewhat when the police, as
gently as possible, loosened the leather straps from his wrists and
ankles, for his useless struggles had caused the thongs to cut deeply
into his skin.

Brett was the first to realize the unfortunate wretch's chief
requirement. He procured some water, raised the man's head, and allowed
him to take a deep and invigorating draught.

"Why, it is 'The Worm!'" said the junior policeman. "I know him well. He
is a pick-pocket, an expert rascal in his line, but hardly up to the
standard of great events."

At the sound of his nickname a flicker of intelligence came into the
little thief's eyes, but he was still dazed, and did not recognize his
rescuers.

"I don't care what you do with me," he murmured at last, in a weak and
cracked voice. "Kill me quietly if you want to, but don't tie me up
again. I have done nothing to deserve it. I really haven't. I have been
acting quite square in this business." And then he broke down and
whimpered further protestations of innocence.

"He is weak from want of food, and dazed with terror," said Brett
quietly. "I suggest that one of you should get him some meat and wine,
whilst the others remain here and endeavour to reassure him. In half an
hour he will be greatly recovered. Meanwhile we might examine the
place."

The commissary thought Brett's suggestion a good one. His assistant
summoned the _concierge_ and attended to the wants of "The Worm," whilst
Brett and the commissary conducted a careful scrutiny of the premises.

They found little, however, beyond a considerable accumulation of dirt;
for the ways of Turks are primitive and their habits unpleasant in
European households. If was evident that before taking their departure
the occupants of the flat had carefully removed or destroyed all
documents or other articles which might throw light on their
proceedings.

The leather thongs which bound the prisoner evoked some comment from the
barrister.

"These are somewhat unusual articles," he said to the commissary. "You
will notice that they are cut from raw cowhide and well stretched. In
other words, they are the familiar 'bow-strings' of Constantinople, and
warranted not to yield if twisted round the neck. I think they will
answer for other purposes than tying people to beds."

"We must find these Turks," said the commissary. "They are desperate
characters."

"Find them by all means," said Brett earnestly, "but on no account
arrest them."

"And why, monsieur?" cried the other, with elevated eyebrows.

"Because if you do you will paralyse our future actions. When all is
said and done, the only charge you can bring against them is a trivial
one. It is evident they merely tied up this man, either with the object
of frightening him into a confession, or to leave their hands free
whilst they dealt with his employers. Perhaps they had both objects in
view. In either event the appearance of the police on the scene would
close their mouths more tightly than an oyster. As it is, I expect they
will return, and, if possible, you must compel the _concierge_ to
conceal the fact that you have visited the house. Let him put all the
blame on me. They know that I am mixed up in the inquiry, and fear me
far less than the recognized authorities. Oblige me in this respect and
you will not regret it."

The policeman was wise enough to fall in with the suggestion.

An hour later "The Worm" was taken in a cab to the Prefecture, as his
condition was yet so hopeless that little real benefit could ensue from
a searching cross-examination.

So Brett parted company with the officials, having made an appointment
with the commissary for the next day at noon, when they assumed that the
prisoner would be considerably recovered from his weakness and fright.

The barrister subsequently made a round of the minor cafés in the
neighbourhood of the Cirque d'Hiver. After much casual questioning, he
elicited the information that a well-known circus, of which Mlle.
Beaucaire was at one time a shining light, was performing at that moment
at Marseilles. He ascertained that during the winter season this class
of entertainment perambulated the South of France and Northern Italy.

The actor from whom he gleaned these important facts said that he had a
trustworthy friend in Marseilles who would easily be able to ascertain
whether or not La Belle Chasseuse intended to rejoin her former
profession. Brett secured his hearty co-operation by a liberal donation
for expenses.

The barrister resolved to pay another visit to the Cabaret Noir late
that evening, but he waited in the hotel until nearly ten o'clock in
anxious expectation of a telegram from Fairholme.

At last the message arrived. Its contents were laconic.

"Right first time," it ran. "Invalid lady's name 'Jack.' Somewhat
exhausted, after long confinement. Edith delighted. Jack visits
Under-Secretary to-night. We all purpose joining you in Paris to-morrow.
Do you approve?"

Brett promptly wired, "Yes," and then set out for Montmartre, dressing
himself in the height of fashion so far as his wardrobe would permit,
and donning a fierce moustache and wig, which completely altered his
appearance. He looked like a successful impressario or popular Italian
tenor.




CHAPTER XII

THE INNKEEPER


The fair-ground of Montmartre was in full swing when Brett arrived
there. The Cabaret Noir was in charge of his former acquaintance, the
weary-eyed waiter, and other assistants.

The barrister wondered whether Mlle. Beaucaire had taken her father
completely into her confidence. To make certain he questioned the
waiter.

"Is Monsieur Beaucaire in?" he said.

"But yes, monsieur. You will find him in the billiard-room."

This time Brett was not conducted through the private passage that led
through the rear of the bar. The man politely indicated another
entrance, and brought him to the proprietor with the introductory
remark--

"A gentleman who wishes to see you."

The room was tenanted by a nondescript crowd, whose attention was
promptly attracted by the appearance of a stranger, and a well-dressed
one at that.

The games in progress at the two tables were momentarily suspended,
whilst Gros Jean, a corpulent man above the middle height, whose legs
seemed to be too frail to support his rotund body, advanced, peering
curiously beneath his bushy eyebrows to get a glimpse of the newcomer,
for the shaded light did not fall on Brett's features, and M. Beaucaire
wondered who the stranger could be. The barrister almost started when he
recognized his fellow-passenger, the man who travelled to Paris with
Gaultier and himself. Gros Jean bowed politely enough, and murmured
something about being at Brett's service.

"Oh, it is nothing of great importance," said Brett airily, as he was
not anxious to attract too much observation from the unwashed humanity
who took such interest in him. "I merely wish to know when it will be
convenient for me to have some conversation with mademoiselle, your
charming daughter?"

"May I inquire the reason, monsieur?" said the other.

"Certainly. I have heard of her skill as an artist, and it is possible I
may be able to arrange a London engagement for her."

"Ah," said the landlord deprecatingly, "what a pity! Had monsieur called
here yesterday he could have seen mademoiselle. She has now left Paris
for some weeks."

"Perhaps," said Brett, "I may have the pleasure of meeting her
elsewhere. I myself depart to-morrow on a tour in the South of France.
It is possible that mademoiselle may be employed in some of the southern
cities. If so I will certainly make it my business to call on her."

Beaucaire came a step nearer. Clearly he did not recall the barrister's
face. He knew well that his daughter's attainments were not such as to
command the eager search of London theatrical managers, yet he was
assured that the individual who now addressed him was not an ordinary
music-hall agent, hunting up fees.

He lowered his voice, after an angry glance at the loungers in the room,
which caused them to turn to the tables with redoubled interest.

"I regret," he said, "that mademoiselle is not professionally engaged at
this moment. Indeed, she has not appeared in public for some months. May
I ask how monsieur came to hear of her name?"

"It is the easiest matter in the world," said Brett with his ready
smile, producing his note-book and rapidly turning over the leaves. "I
have here the names and addresses of a large number of artists whom I
was recommended to visit. Mademoiselle's name was given to me among
others at the Cirque d'Hiver, where I heard most encouraging accounts of
her skill. You see, monsieur," he went on, "that in England the public
are not acquainted with any other language than their own, and when
Continental artists are engaged we prefer those whose performance
consists chiefly of acrobatic or other feats in which dialogue is
unnecessary."

The barrister's ready explanation was sufficient. Nevertheless Beaucaire
was puzzled. But even the most vulgar or brutal Frenchman is endowed
with a certain amount of politeness, and in this instance Gros Jean felt
that his visitor should be treated deferentially.

"I am most sorry," he cried, "to be unable to assist monsieur any
further. If, however, you leave me your address I will communicate with
you after I have heard from my daughter. I have no doubt that she will
readily come to terms."

"I think you said that mademoiselle was in the South of France?"
observed Brett casually.

Instantly Beaucaire became suspicious again.

"No," he replied shortly; "I do not think I said so."

"Of course not," laughed Brett. "How foolish of me! It was I who
mentioned the South of France, was it not? You see that French is a
foreign language to me, and I do not express myself very easily."

Beaucaire grinned politely again: "Permit me to congratulate monsieur
upon both his pronunciation and facility. Not many Englishmen speak
French as he does."

The barrister was determined not to allow the conversation to end too
rapidly. He wished to note more carefully the details of this
interesting household. Pulling out his cigar-case, he offered it to Gros
Jean with the remark: "Your small French tables seem curious to my eyes
after long acquaintance with English billiards. Are any of these
gentlemen here skilled players in your fashion?"

"Oh, yes," said the innkeeper. "André there, for instance, can make big
breaks. I have seen him make forty consecutive coups. Will you not take
a seat for a little while and observe the play?"

"With pleasure." And Brett confirmed the favourable opinion formed of
him by ordering refreshments for Beaucaire and himself and inviting the
redoubtable André to join them.

He apparently took a keen interest in the game, and applauded the manner
in which the Frenchman scored a series of difficult cannons.

Meanwhile he noted that between the private passage from the bar and the
public one that led from the café was a room into which the light of day
could not possibly penetrate. He was certain that no door communicated
with it from the public passage, and he could not remember having
passed one that first afternoon when La Belle Chasseuse brought him and
Fairholme into the billiard-room to display her prowess as a markswoman.

It was certainly a curious apartment, and for some undefinable reason he
could not prevent his mind from dwelling upon its possible uses.

Probably the Café Noir had no cellars. The place might serve as a store
room. This natural hypothesis was upset by the appearance of the waiter,
who passed through the billiard-room and opened another door at the
further end, through which he soon emerged, carrying a fresh supply of
bottles.

"It is obvious," said Brett to himself, "that if there is no door
communicating with the private passage, then the only way in which that
room can be reached is by a ladder from the top. Now I wonder why that
should be necessary?"

He remained in the billiard-room some twenty minutes. When Gros Jean was
called on some momentary errand to the front of the house he took his
departure, purposely making the mistake of quitting the room by the
wrong exit. At the same instant he struck a match to relight his cigar,
and while the expert billiard player, André, ran after him to direct him
as to the right way he rapidly surveyed the passage. The plaster walls
were smooth and unbroken on their inner side, affording no doorway exit.

Apologising to André with a laugh, he then sauntered towards the front
café, where he purchased another drink at the counter. He assured
himself that he had not been mistaken. The only private door out of the
bar led into the passage, so that the room beyond could only be reached
by a staircase or through a trap-door.

"I have learned something, at any rate," he murmured as he passed out
into the Boulevard, "and I imagine that my knowledge is not shared by
the Paris police. Mademoiselle would have acted more wisely had she not
yielded to impulse, and reserved her shooting display for a more
dramatic occasion."

Brett kept his appointment with the commissary next morning. That worthy
official set himself to the congenial task of examining a prisoner with
the air of one who said: "Now you will see what manner of man I am. Here
I am on my native heath."

He consulted bulky volumes, made notes, fussily called up various
subordinates, both in person and by speaking-tube, and generally
conducted himself with a business-like air that much amused the
barrister, who, however, for his own purposes took care to appear
greatly impressed.

At last all was ready, and the captive of the Rue Barbette was
introduced.

This precocious personage had recovered his self-possession and natural
impudence during the night. By the commissary's instructions he had been
well supplied with eatables, and the restrictions as to persons under
detention were relaxed, to permit him to enjoy a supply of his
much-loved cigarettes. Consequently, the little thief was restored to
his usual state of jaunty cheekiness.

The first part of the interrogation, which promptly ensued, was not
strange to him.

"Your name?" said the commissary.

"Charles Petit."

"Age?"

"Believed to be twenty-seven, but as no record was kept of my birth I
cannot be certain."

"Abode?"

"Changeable. Of late I have dwelt in the Cabaret Noir, Boulevard de
Montmartre."

"You are generally known as 'The Worm?'"

"That is so."

"You have served several periods of imprisonment, and have paid over 400
francs in fines?"

"I have not kept count, but I suppose it is all written down there." And
he jerked his thumb towards the conviction book on the commissary's
desk.

"You are a noted thief, and you obtained your nickname by reason of your
dexterity in picking locks and climbing through scullery windows?"

"If you say so, monsieur, your words cannot be disputed."

"Very well." The commissary scratched a few lines on a memorandum
tablet. Then he suddenly raised his quick eyes and fastened them on the
prisoner with the direct question--

"How came you to be detained in such an extraordinary manner in the
house, No. 11, Rue Barbette, yesterday?"

A vacant and stolid expression intended to convey an idea of utter
innocence came over "The Worm's" face.

"Believe me, monsieur," he said, "I cannot give you the slightest
explanation of that extraordinary incident."

"Indeed! You surprise me. I suppose you wish me to understand that you
casually strolled in out of the street and were set upon by three Turks,
who gagged you and bound you with leather thongs, leaving you to starve
quietly to death if you had not been rescued by reason of a chance visit
paid to the place by myself and others?"

"I assure you, monsieur, that, strange as it may seem, you have almost
related the facts. I went to the place in question with a very ordinary
message from a Turkish gentleman with whom I have a slight acquaintance.
The other Turks listened to me with the gravity peculiar to their
nation, and then, before I could offer a word of remonstrance, treated
me exactly as you saw."

"At what time did you go there?"

"It must have been nearly three o'clock, the day before yesterday," was
the answer.

"And what message did you bring?"

"I was told to ask the Turkish gentlemen to be good enough to cross the
Pont Neuf exactly at half-past six, when they would meet a friend who
desired to give some information to them."

"Oh! come now," said the commissary, with a knowing smile, "that will
not do, Petit. You are far too old a hand to convey such a childish
message as that. What reason can you have for seeking to shield these
men who treated you in a barbarous way and left you to die a cruel
death?"

"On my honour----" began the thief melodramatically, but Brett here
interrupted the conversation.

"Will you allow me," he said to the commissary, "to put a few questions
to this man?"

"Certainly," was the answer.

"Now listen," said Brett, sternly gazing at the truculent little rascal
with those searching eyes of his, which seemed to reach to the very
spine. "It is useless for you to attempt any further prevarication. We
know exactly who are your confederates. We are acquainted with a large
number of the gang that frequents the Café Noir. Do not forget that I
was present when you tried to palm off on Hussein-ul-Mulk the false
diamonds, which your confederates hoped he would accept. For you to
attempt now to escape from the law is hopeless. The sole chance you have
of remitting a punishment which may even lead you beneath the guillotine
is to confess fully and freely all that you know concerning the outrage
which has been committed.

"No, don't interrupt me," he continued with even greater emphasis, when
"Le Ver" tried to break in. "You will tell me that you merely acted as
the agent of others, and that you yourself are not conscious of the
nature of any crime that has been committed. I know that to be so. You
have been made a mere tool. You are the cat, simply employed by the
monkey to pull the chestnuts out of the fire, and you have only
succeeded in getting your own paws burnt. Your sole chance of safety now
is to inform the commissary and me exactly how you came to be mixed up
with this affair."

The Frenchman's truculency seemed to vanish under Brett's cutting words.
His wizened face even manifested a faint flush of anger as the barrister
pointed out how he had been duped by his employers and made to run risks
which they avoided.

Yet the order of his craft was strong in its influence, and he commenced
another series of protestations.

"I assure you, gentlemen," he cried, "that with respect to the Turks I
have no knowledge whatever of their pursuits or motives. I was present
when this English gentleman here was debating with them, and I
understood that they even went so far as to use threats against him. My
mission was to give to the leaders of the Turks a package which I did
not even know contained diamonds, either genuine or false. No one could
be more surprised than myself when the Turkish gentleman produced them."

"Who sent you there with the diamonds?" said Brett.

"Even that I cannot tell you," said Petit. "It was a mere chance affair.
I was seated in a café sipping some absinthe when a man asked me if I
would execute a small commission for him. He explained that it was to
deliver a parcel at a house not five minutes distant, and----"

"I see," interrupted Brett, with the cynical smile which so often
disconcerted glib liars like Petit. "It is hopeless to expect you to
tell the truth. However, I think I know a way to clear your wits. You
must be brought face to face with La Belle Chasseuse. Perhaps when you
are confronted with that lady in the room between the café and the
billiard saloon of the Cabaret Noir----"

"The Worm" gasped out brokenly--

"Pardon, monsieur! I will tell you everything!"

The man's face had absolutely become livid as he listened to the
barrister's words.

The commissary was vastly surprised at the turn taken by the
conversation. He could not guess what deep significance lay behind the
Englishman's threat, and, to tell the truth, Brett himself was
considerably astonished at the effect of his vague insinuations, but he
lost not a moment in following up the advantage thus gained.

"Well," he said, "tell us now who it was that sent you to the Turks with
the diamonds?"

"It was Le Jongleur, Henri Dubois."

"What?" cried the commissary, starting violently. "Henri Dubois! The
most expert thief in France! A scoundrel against whom the police have
vainly tried for years to secure evidence."

"I know nothing of that, monsieur," said the little man, who seemed to
be strangely crestfallen, "but I am telling you the truth this time. It
was he who sent me the day before yesterday to the Rue Barbette, and
again yesterday, although I was very unwilling to go the second time,
because, as this gentleman will tell you, they looked very like
murdering me on the first occasion."

"What was the object of your visit yesterday?" said Brett.

"There, monsieur, I have told you the truth, although monsieur the
commissary here thinks it was childish. My instructions really were to
ask them to meet him on the Pont Neuf at 6.30 p.m., when he said he
would explain everything to their satisfaction. But, above all, I was to
warn them to beware of the Englishman."

"Then, why should they seize and gag you for conveying such a simple
message?" demanded the commissary.

"I cannot tell. I have done them no harm. Believe me, gentlemen both, I
have not the slightest idea how these diamonds were obtained, or why
there should be such a fuss about them. All I know is that these Turks
are desperate fellows, and you won't catch me going near them again, I
swear."

"How long have you known Dubois?" said Brett.

"Oh, two years more or less."

"Have you ever been associated with him before?"

"Never, monsieur. My record is there." And he again jerked his thumb
towards the volume on the table. "It will tell you that I deal in small
affairs. Dubois is an artist. If he found a woman's purse in the street
he would return it to her with a bow, if she were rich and handsome--and
with some francs added, if she were poor."

"I know little about him," he continued, "except that he is a great man.
They say that he once robbed the Bank of France of 200,000 francs!"

And the little wretch's voice became tremulous with admiration as he
recounted the legend.

"He is a favoured lover of La Belle Chasseuse?" demanded Brett sharply.

"The Worm" recovered his equanimity somewhat at this question. He softly
drew his hand over his chin as he replied with a smirk: "There are
others!"

"I think not," came the quick retort. "No; there are none on whom
mademoiselle bestows such favours. She left Paris with him last night."

"The devil!" ejaculated the little man.

"Oh, yes; and she has just passed a fortnight with him in London."

"A thousand thunders!" screamed Petit. "Her father told me she was
performing in a music-hall at Marseilles."

The barrister had evidently touched a sore point, and "The Worm" was
more ready than ever to tell all that he knew about Le Jongleur. But his
information amounted to little more of importance. The chief fact had
been ascertained, its predominant interest was the identity of the man
who had planned and carried out the "Albert Gate outrage."

Brett quickly realized that to question him further was useless. Petit
evidently expected to be set at liberty at once. In this, however, he
was disappointed, for the commissary curtly remanded him to the cells.

Brett, on the other hand, made up his mind that "The Worm" at liberty
might be more valuable to him than "The Worm" in gaol. So he asked the
commissary, as a favour to himself, to set Petit free, first giving the
thief to understand that he owed his release to the barrister's
intervention.

This was done, and "Le Ver" was voluble in his expressions of gratitude.
Brett soon cut him short.

"Here," he said, "are a couple of louis for your immediate necessities.
I am living at the Grand Hotel, and I want you to call there each
morning at ten o'clock. You will inquire at the office if Mr. Brett has
left any message for you. Then, if I need your services, I will be able
to reach you early."

Petit protested that he would serve monsieur most willingly, and soon
afterwards the barrister took leave of the commissary, promising to keep
him fully posted as to further developments, and secure for him, and him
only, the ultimate credit of capturing such a noted thief as Dubois.
Fate settled matters differently.

The French official was already much impressed by Brett's method of
handling this difficult inquiry, and he consented readily enough not
only to assist him in every possible way, but to restrain the police
from further active interference in the case until matters had developed
from their present stage.

During the afternoon Brett received a visit from his actor acquaintance,
who brought him a telegram from Marseilles. It read--

"Mlle. Beauclaire has obtained an engagement here at the Palais de
Glâce. She makes her first appearance on Monday evening."

Brett smiled as he realized how accurately he had interpreted the
actions of La Belle Chasseuse and her companion.

"This is certain," he said to himself. "They left Paris on Thursday
night and they probably will not reach Marseilles until Monday. I have
plenty of time to hear Talbot's story from his own lips before I take
my departure for the South."

An hour later he was seated in his room smoking and reading a magazine
when the waiter appeared.

"A lady and three gentlemen wish to see monsieur," he explained.

He rose promptly, and accompanied the man to the foot of the staircase.
There, near the elevator, he saw Edith Talbot, Lord Fairholme, and Sir
Hubert Fitzjames, whilst with them was a tall, handsome young man, in
whom the fair outlines of the girl's face were repeated in sterner and
bolder characteristics.

Edith was the first to catch sight of him. She sprang forward and cried
with an impulsiveness that showed how deeply her quiet nature had been
stirred.

"Oh, Mr. Brett, I cannot tell you how grateful I am to you! Here is my
brother!"

The two men shook hands and looked at each other with a natural
curiosity, for seldom had an acquaintance been made after more exciting
preliminaries.

"I am indeed glad to see you," said Brett, shaking Talbot's hand with
more demonstrativeness than was usual to one of his quiet temperament.

"Then how shall I find words to express myself?" was the reply, "for in
my case there is joined to the pleasure of making a much-desired
acquaintance the knowledge that to your efforts I am indebted for my
liberty and possibly for my reputation."

"We have much to say to each other," said the barrister. "I suppose you
have secured rooms in the hotel?" he continued, turning to Miss Talbot.

"Oh, yes, everything is settled," she cried. "The servants are looking
after our trunks. I simply would not wait a moment until I had seen you.
Please take us all somewhere at once where we can talk quietly."

Brett answered with a smile: "Lord Fairholme and I have a sitting-room
which we use in common, and which has already been the scene of many
earnest conferences. Let us go there."




CHAPTER XIII

THE RELEASE


"Now, who talks first?" Brett cried, once the door was fairly closed
behind them.

"I do," burst forth Fairholme. "My story will not take long to tell, and
if I do not get it off my chest, I shall simply explode."

"We must not have any more tragedies," said Brett, "so proceed."

"Well, thanks to your foresight, I found the two servants and your
ex-policeman waiting for me on the platform at Charing Cross. As I only
carried a handbag, I had no trouble with the Customs, and we walked
straight out of the station. In less than five minutes we were standing
outside the building which contained the invalid lady's flat. Your agent
told me that, so far as he knew, there were no other persons in the
place except the tenant and her two servants, an elderly French or
Italian married couple. Our collective wits could not devise a plausible
pretext for gaining access to the lady, so I determined to settle the
business in the brutal British fashion. We marched quietly up the stairs
to the second storey, and your assistant pointed out the right door.
There were only two flats on that landing, and the other one was
apparently empty. Your man had made a somewhat important discovery
since he wrote to you. This empty flat had been taken by the agent who
acted for the parties opposite, and although the place was not tenanted,
the landlord was, of course, satisfied, as the rent had been paid in
advance. This seemed to indicate that the place was left vacant simply
to prevent the others from being overlooked."

Brett marked his appreciation of Fairholme's sagacity by a nod, and the
earl continued--

"I rang the bell and promptly put my ear to the keyhole. It seemed to me
that a couple of doors were hastily closed, and then someone slowly
approached. The outer door was opened and a man's head appeared. I could
only see his face and a portion of his left shoulder, because the chain
was on the door, and the opening was not more than eight or ten inches.
Speaking in broken English he said--'Vat you vant?' His accent showed
that he was a Frenchman.

"I answered in my best French, 'I wish to see madame, your mistress, at
once.'

"'It is impossible,' he said in the same language, and simultaneously he
tried to shut the door in my face. I shoved my foot against the jamb and
prevented him. At the same instant my own servant and I--as, if there
was to be trouble, I thought it best to keep the others out of
it--applied our utmost force to the door and succeeded in snapping the
chain. It might have been a tough job, as you know that to force a way
through anything that yields slightly and yet holds fast is much more
difficult than to smash a lock or a couple of bolts. Luckily the flats
were jerry built, so the chain broke, and so suddenly that the Frenchman
was pitched violently backwards. We nearly fell after him. The
ex-policeman was a splendid chap. His first idea was to jump towards the
switch of the electric lights and turn on every lamp in the place.

"I shouted, 'Talbot, are you there? It is I, Fairholme.'

"I got no answer, but a woman darted out of a room which proved to be
the kitchen, screamed something which I could not catch, and handed a
revolver to the Frenchman, who was just struggling to his feet. That was
where my prize-fighting butler came in useful. Before you could say
'Wink' he gave the man an upper-cut that settled him effectually for the
next minute. Almost with the same movement he caught the woman a slap
over the ear that upset her nerves considerably. She had a revolver in
her hand too. It fell to the floor, and Smith, your servant, seized both
weapons.

"The ex-policeman called out--'I do not think we are making any mistake,
sir. They would not act after this manner if they were on the square.'

"I must say it seemed to me that so far it was we who had been acting in
an extraordinary way, but there was no time to discuss the ethics of the
case then. Whilst my butler and Smith took care of the couple, your
assistant and I hastily examined three rooms. They were empty, save for
a small quantity of furniture. The fourth door resisted our efforts, so,
of course, we burst it open. And the first thing that met our eyes was
poor old Jack lying on his back on the bed, and glaring at us in a way
that made me think at first he was mad."

"I should think so," interrupted Talbot. "I would like to see your face
if you were trussed up as I was--not able to speak a word--and a
fiendish row going on in the passage outside."

"You were gagged," questioned Brett, "and your wrists and ankles were
secured to the four corners of the bed, your limbs being distended in
the form of an X?"

Fairholme glanced round admiringly. "Of course," he cried delightedly,
"I knew you would guess it. That is the pleasant way these Turks have of
securing their prisoners."

"It is an awfully uncomfortable one," said Talbot. "My joints are still
stiff at the mere recollection of it. I have lain in that way, Mr.
Brett, for countless hours. Occasionally the brutes would allow me to
change my posture, but the moment anyone came to the door I was strapped
up in an instant and a gag slipped into my mouth. What used to make me
so furious was the knowledge that if only I got the chance of a second I
could have broken that Frenchman's neck and escaped, but he and his wife
always took such precautions that I never had the liberty to do more
than reach with some difficulty the food that they gave me. However, I
must not interrupt."

"I really have not much more to say," went on Fairholme. "You may be
sure it did not take me long to release Talbot, and what do you think
his first words were when he slowly sat up in bed and tried if his legs
would bend?"

"I cannot guess," said Brett.

"He said: 'Have they got the diamonds?'

"I answered 'Yes.'

"'But it was impossible,' he said. 'They could not have mastered all
those policemen.'

"'But they did,' I replied, and then and there, before he would budge an
inch, he made me tell him the whole story. Just as I had ended we heard
a scuffle in the passage. We went out, though Jack was hardly able to
walk at first. It was Smith wrestling with the woman, who was a regular
wild cat, and who would, even then, have done us any mischief in her
power. There was nothing for it but to tie her hands behind her back,
and then fasten her securely in a chair. After this was done we took
counsel as to our next movements."

"Wait a little," said Brett. "How many rooms were there in the flat? You
have accounted for four."

"I forgot," said Fairholme. "The place had six rooms. The small
apartment in which Jack was confined was a sort of dressing-room, and
the bedroom beyond looked out into the well of the block of flats. They
had carefully nailed the blind of this dressing-room, so that not even a
chance puff of wind could blow it aside and reveal its secret to anyone
in the flats on the opposite storey or higher. The remaining room was
empty. Your friend the policeman subsequently searched the place from
top to toe, but he found nothing. The only document of any importance
was an address on a card which he discovered in the Frenchman's pocket."

"Ah," said Brett, "what was that address?"

"Here it is."

The earl produced a small piece of pasteboard on which was scribbled,
"Monsieur Jean Beaujolais, chez Monsieur Henri de Lisle, 41, Rue
Bonnerie, Paris."

"That is important," said the barrister. "Why did you not wire it to me
last night?"

"I had a reason," said the earl eagerly, "but that comes in with Jack's
part of the story." And he turned towards Talbot, who, thus summoned to
the stage, began to explain matters.

"I understand, Mr. Brett," he said, "that you are accurately acquainted
with all that transpired until the moment when I entered the Albert Gate
mansion on that remarkable night?"

"That is so," said Brett.

"Well, when Inspector Sharpe met me at the door on my arrival he told me
that his Excellency Mehemet Ali, with three strange gentlemen and the
junior members of the commission, awaited me in the dining-room. I went
in and was surprised to find the three visitors, for during the
preceding month not a single stranger had entered the house save a
member of the Government and one or two important officials of the
Foreign Office, who came with me out of sheer curiosity to see a
collection of remarkable diamonds.

"The strangers bowed politely when I was introduced. Two of them spoke
neither French nor English, but the third man spoke French fluently. He
had, by the way, a somewhat peculiar accent, different from that to
which I was accustomed in the Turks. It was softer, more sibilant, and
impressed me as that of a man who was accustomed to speak Italian. He
was a good-looking chap, about my height and build, and were it not for
his brown skin, one would not have regarded him as a Turk. One side of
his face was deeply scarred with a sword-cut, but, if anything, this did
not detract from his appearance, and it gave a manly aspect to an
otherwise effeminate face."

Brett could not help smiling involuntarily.

"Are you sure it was a sword-cut?"

"It certainly looked like one."

"And his skin was very brown?"

"Oh, quite. Indeed it was a shade deeper than that of most Turks. I
have seen very many of them. Although dark-featured, they are often
pallid enough in reality, and their deep-hued complexion is due more to
their black hair and eyebrows than to the mere colour of the skin."

Brett smiled again.

"I think," he said, "I will show you the same gentleman in a somewhat
different aspect. But proceed."

"The explanation given to me by Mehemet Ali was both extraordinary and
disconcerting, especially at such a late hour. He told me that the three
gentlemen to whom I had been introduced--I am sorry, by the way, that I
cannot remember their names, as they were all Mohammeds, or Rasuls, or
Ibrahims, and the dramatic events of the night subsequently drove them
from my mind--had been sent post haste from Constantinople on a special
mission. They had only reached London that night, and they bore with
them a special mandate, signed by the Sultan himself, directing Mehemet
Ali to hand over the diamonds to their charge, and to at once return
with his assistants to Yildiz Kiosk.

"There could be no questioning the authenticity of the Sultan's
instructions. The document was in his own handwriting, was endorsed with
his private seal, and conveyed other distinguishing marks which rendered
his Excellency assured on this important point. He told me that he was
compelled to obey implicitly, and were it possible he would have started
from London that night. This, however, was out of the question, but he
had not lost a moment in sending for me and acquainting me with his
Majesty's wishes.

"You will readily perceive that the affair placed me in an awkward
predicament. I was, so to speak, representing the British Government in
the matter, and the Foreign Office had pledged itself, through our
Ambassador at Constantinople, to undertake all the precautions for
safeguarding the diamonds with which you are acquainted. It seemed to me
that notwithstanding the urgency of the Sultan's order, I should not be
doing my duty to permit the transfer to be made in such an irregular
manner. So I said quite plainly that the matter could not be settled
that night. They must all wait until the morning, when I would consult
my Department, and Mehemet Ali, together with his aides, could leave for
Constantinople by the evening train, after my superiors had been
acquainted with the Sultan's wishes.

"Turks are difficult people to understand. It seemed to me that my
decision gave some satisfaction to Mehemet Ali, who was undoubtedly very
much upset by the queer manner in which he had been deposed from his
important trust. At once an animated discussion took place."

"In French?" interrupted Brett.

"No; in Turkish."

"Did the gentleman with the sabre-cut on his face take any part
therein?"

"Not in the least. He sat and smoked cigarettes in the most unconscious
manner possible, leaving his two associates to carry on the
conversation."

As the barrister appeared to have no further question to ask at the
moment, Talbot continued--

"Several times Mehemet Ali appealed to me to change my mind and formally
ratify the transfer at once. I was quite firm in my refusal, and did not
hesitate to describe the Sultan's demands as ridiculous. I was rendered
more determined, if anything, in this attitude by a growing certainty
in my mind that his Excellency himself approved of my attitude.
Ultimately, it seems, they hit upon a compromise. The whole party would
remain together all night in a sort of dual control, and then the change
of guardianship would take place next day in accordance with my views as
to what was right and proper. I must admit I was intensely relieved when
this decision was arrived at. Looking back now over the events of the
night, I can perceive that from that moment the gang who effected the
murders and the robbery had me in their power, for they had completely
succeeded in allaying my suspicions, and I can only plead in extenuation
of my shortsightedness that Mehemet Ali himself, and the other gentlemen
with whom I had been acquainted during the past month, were willing
accessories to the arrangement."

"I do not see," said Brett, "that you have the slightest cause to
reproach yourself. You acted quite properly throughout, and I am sure
that when all the facts are known your status at the Foreign Office will
be improved rather than diminished by this incident."

The other man's face flushed with pleasure as he heard these words.

"Thank you," he replied simply. "I certainly took every precaution that
suggested itself to me. Subsequently I was the victim of circumstances.
The French-speaking Turk, as I have told you, took no part whatever in
the negotiations, and when he became aware of the _modus operandi_
determined upon----"

"By the way," said Brett, "how did he become aware of it?"

"Oh, Mehemet Ali told him in French."

"Didn't that strike you as curious?"

"Most certainly it did. But the scoundrel explained it afterwards by
telling me that although a Turkish subject, he had lived in Algiers and
France since he was a child, and had quite forgotten his mother tongue.
But he was employed in a confidential position in the Turkish Embassy at
Paris, owing not only to family influence, but to his intimate
acquaintance with the French language."

"Ah!" said Brett, "Monsieur Henri Dubois has a ready wit."

"What!" cried Edith, who naturally enough was following each word with
the utmost interest, "do you already know his name?"

"Not only his name," replied Brett, "but his identity, Miss Talbot. You
shall see him in another skin and without the sword-cut. It is possible,
however, that before we meet, this distinguishing mark may be replaced
by a fractured skull or a bullet wound."

Fairholme suddenly clenched his right fist and examined his knuckles,
his unconscious action causing the others to laugh.

"Is he a Frenchman, then?" said Talbot.

"Unquestionably--a most modern product."

"And his name is Dubois?"

"Yes."

"All right. In future I will allude to him by his proper title. Well,
Monsieur Dubois strolled towards me with the easy confidence of a man
who was sure of himself.

"'This affair bores me,' he said. 'I see no reason why I, who am in no
way concerned with the Sultan's collection of precious stones, should
sit up all night keeping guard over them with these very earnest
gentlemen here. I am going to my hotel. I have sent my portmanteau to
the Carlton. Will you honour me by driving there and telling me
something about your wonderful London as we go?'

"The man looked at me with a meaning in his eyes that conveyed quite
plainly the intimation--

"'We can talk quietly in the cab, and I can explain much that is at
present hidden.' Unfortunately I fell in with his suggestions.

"We crossed the dining-room together. We were searched by the police in
the hall, much to his apparent surprise, and then we drove off through
St. George's Place.

"He at once aroused my curiosity by telling me sensational details of a
widespread plot to dethrone the Sultan. An essential part of the
conspiracy was to obtain possession of the diamonds before they had been
cut, as they were an heirloom from the Prophet, and it would be a
terrible thing in the eyes of the more fanatical section of the
Mohammedans if they were tampered with in any way.

"This sounded reasonable enough, as the same story had been dinned in my
ears for several weeks.

"He made out that for reasons of State the Sultan had decided to change
the Minister Plenipotentiary charged with secret mission to London.

"Altogether he talked so candidly, and with such an air of treating the
whole business as the bugbear of a timid monarch, that I really believed
him.

"At last we reached the Carlton. We got out and he paid the cabman, who
drove off round the corner; then my new acquaintance explained to me
that he placed no greater trust in his fellow-countrymen than did their
ruler. Therefore he had led them to believe he was staying at that
hotel, whereas he had in reality taken up his abode in the flat of a
French family with whom he was acquainted. If I would come with him for
a moment he promised to place me in possession of certain documents
which would render easy my explanations to the Foreign Office next
morning.

"I accompanied him without hesitation, secure in the knowledge that a
strong force of police guarded my charge at Albert Gate, both inside and
outside the house. We went to the mansions where he said he lived. The
place had a perfectly respectable exterior, and is situated, as you
know, in a reputable thoroughfare. We ascended to the second floor,
entered the flat, and were ushered by a middle-aged Frenchwoman into a
sort of sitting-room.

"Dubois turned to a writing-desk and unlocked a drawer.

"'Here are the documents I promised you, Mr. Talbot,' he said; but, to
my amazement, he whipped out a revolver and held it within two feet of
my breast.

"'If you move, or attempt to cry out, you are a dead man!' he cried.

"At the same instant a door behind me opened and some three or four
persons entered. I was so furious at the trick that had been played upon
me that I disregarded his threat and sprang at him, but he did not fire.
Flinging the revolver behind him on the writing-table he closed with me.
Before I well knew what had happened I was tied hand and foot, gagged,
and placed helpless in a chair. A few minutes later, after a muttered
consultation between my captors, I was taken to the room in which
Fairholme found me, and I never left the place until nearly nine o'clock
last night.

"It was a most ghastly experience. I would sooner die than go through it
again.

"If ever I get within measurable distance of Monsieur Henri Dubois I
promise you that I will repay him with interest some of the agony he
inflicted on me. I never thought I should hate a man as I hate that
Frenchman. I do not want to kill him. I want to torture him!"

This was the first sign that Talbot had given of the anger that filled
his soul. For a moment no one spoke. Edith stifled a sob, and Sir Hubert
Fitzjames broke the tension by swearing as vehemently as ever did the
army in Flanders.

"You have suffered," said Brett quietly, "but not in vain. It is only by
the manner in which these blackguards treated you that we have obtained
so much knowledge. Your capture was a necessary part of their scheme. I
wonder now that after you had served their purpose they did not kill
you. It was not out of pity, believe me. The fact that you were spared
confirms me in the opinion that the Albert Gate murders were a gigantic
blunder, never contemplated by the expert criminal who planned the
theft. But continue. What happened afterwards?"

Talbot almost summoned up a smile as he said--"Really, the next thing
was so grotesque that were not the whole business so serious a one you
would be compelled to laugh at it.

"Looking back now to those first ghastly hours when I laid on the bed
tied hand and foot, I find it difficult to recall any definite
impressions. It would be absurd to say that I suffered, either mentally
or physically. I was sunk in a sort of stupor of rage, and my bonds did
not hurt me so long as I kept quiet. Curiously enough, my thoughts were
somewhat altruistic. Instead of speculating as to my own fate I rather
wondered what would be the outcome of the whole mysterious business. I
could not bring myself to believe that, cleverly as the rogues had
outwitted me, they would be able to similarly dupe a strong body of
Metropolitan police, not to mention Mehemet Ali and his assistants.

"At last I fell asleep, dozing fitfully at first, but finally giving way
to the deep slumber of exhaustion.

"I was awakened by someone shaking me, though not roughly. It took me
some time to recover my scattered senses, and at first I was almost
unable to move, owing to the constrained position of my limbs. As well
as I could judge it was not yet daylight, for the electric lamps were
turned on, and I subsequently found that such rays of natural light as
penetrated into my room during the day did not arrive for a considerable
time.

"Thenceforth, of course, my sole method of judging the progress of time
was by the alternation of meals and the difference of light between day
and night.

"Someone assisted me to assume a sitting posture, the cords attached to
my wrists were relaxed, and I was firmly held by two men--one a Turk
whom I had not seen before, the other a Frenchman whom you found in the
flat.

"At the foot of the bed were standing Dubois and a closely-veiled
female--a young woman, as well as I could judge, and a person of tall
and elegant stature, who, it would appear, spoke only French.

"Dubois addressed me calmly.

"'I hope,' he said, 'you are in a better temper, my dear Talbot?'

"'It does not appear to me that the state of my temper is of any
material significance,' I answered.

"'No,' he replied nonchalantly. 'The game is in my hands, and will
probably remain there for a considerable period. But I do not wish to be
unkind. You have, I am given to understand, a highly respectable uncle
and a very charming sister, who will no doubt suffer much perturbation
owing to your mysterious disappearance. Now, you may not think it, but I
am a very humane sort of fellow. Consequently, I am quite agreeable that
you should write them a brief note, omitting of course all superfluous
information, such as dates, addresses, and other embarrassing facts, but
simply telling them that you are well. I will guarantee its safe
delivery.'

"Naturally, I jumped at the offer. The veiled lady supplied me with a
sheet of notepaper and an envelope, and I scribbled the unfortunate
letter which was subsequently posted in Paris and caused such a
sensation. I had only one hand at liberty, so Dubois politely offered to
seal the envelope for me, first, however, reading carefully what I had
written.

"'That is quite correct,' he said; 'it will relieve their feelings and
prove at the same time highly serviceable to me, as the letter will be
posted in Paris and not in London. You see, my dear Talbot, how readily
you fall in with my plans. You are as putty in my hands. Now, I suppose,
being a brave Englishman, you would sooner have died than written this
letter if you had guessed it would prove of material assistance to me?'

"I fear I used some very bad language to Dubois, notwithstanding the
presence of the lady, but he paid little heed to me, and the pair at
once undertook the most curious proceedings I have ever witnessed.

"They had before them a table set out with all sorts of paint, paste,
and powders, such as one might expect to find in an actor's
dressing-room.

"Sitting himself astride a chair so that the light fell on his face,
Dubois submitted himself to the skilful hands of the woman, who
forthwith began to make him up in an exact resemblance to me. The right
side of his face was towards me, but when, in obedience to her
requirements, he turned somewhat, I noticed to my astonishment that the
scar which I have mentioned had completely disappeared, and then I saw
that his Turkish complexion had also vanished, leaving him a
particularly white-skinned Frenchman, with a high colour."

"Ah!" said Brett, leaning back in his chair and attentively surveying
the ceiling.

"You must remember," went on Talbot, "that my wits were somewhat
confused by the extraordinary circumstances of the hour. Having been so
suddenly awakened from a sound sleep, and subsequently annoyed by the
incident of the letter, it took me some moments to recognize these
discrepancies in his appearance. At first, so to speak, I knew him
immediately as Dubois, but the more I looked at him the less confident I
would have been were it not that his voice and manner supplied unerring
indications of his identity.

"The lady proceeded with her work in the most business-like fashion, and
to my intense amazement he quickly assumed a marked resemblance to
myself. Not such, perhaps, as would bear close scrutiny, but rather the
effect attained by a skilful artist in a rapid sketch, or caught by a
fleeting glance whilst passing a mirror.

"'What is the game now?' I cried, when the true nature of their purpose
dawned upon me.

"'Oh, just the same,' replied Dubois, grinning, 'I merely wish to puzzle
the thick-headed brains of you Englishmen a little more. That is all.'

"'Halloa!' I cried, 'you understand English?'

"'Yes,' he answered coolly. 'It is frequently necessary in my business.'

"'Well,' I said, 'there can be no doubt that you are an accomplished
villain. What you intend to achieve by masquerading in this fashion I
utterly fail to understand. You can never be such a fool as to think
that you will be able to gain admittance to Albert Gate by impersonating
me. Were you even to succeed you would still be as far off as ever from
securing your booty, which, I suppose, is the Imperial diamond and its
companions.'

"'Really,' he said, with a sneer, 'I thought that you, Mr. Talbot, were
endowed with a little more intelligence than the average. Pardon,
Mignon, _pour un moment_.'

"He rose from his chair, unfastened a case which he took from the
breast-pocket of his overcoat, and showed me the diamonds which had been
the object of so much care and solicitude on my part during many weeks.

"'You see,' he continued, seating himself again, whilst the lady resumed
her task without a word, 'the business has been satisfactorily
accomplished, Mr. Talbot. The diamonds are here; so are you.
Unfortunately his Excellency and the secretaries are with the Prophet.
You will, I am sure, express my regrets to the police, to the Foreign
Office, and to all concerned, that the Sultan's commissionaries should
have been so unceremoniously despatched to Paradise. It was not my
fault, believe me, nor was it altogether necessary. I am in no way
responsible for the bungling measures adopted by my Turkish assistants.
You see, in Constantinople they are accustomed to these drastic means of
settling disputes.'

"He rattled on so pleasantly that I hardly grasped the true significance
of his words, so I replied with almost equal flippancy--

"'I will be most pleased to convey your regrets to the proper
authorities. May I ask when I shall be at liberty to do so?'

"'Ah,' he said, 'there you puzzle even my intelligence. It will
certainly be days, it may be weeks, before you can communicate with your
friends.'"

"A sudden frenzy seized me at those words, and I endeavoured to smash
the heads of my two gaolers together by throwing them off their balance
outwards, and then rapidly contracting my arms. Thereupon I made another
discovery. A cord lying loosely round my neck was suddenly tightened,
and I was thrown back choking. A fourth man, of whose presence I was
unconscious, was stationed behind me and held the noose in his hands.

"It was some time before I recovered my breath or my speech.

"At last I was allowed to rise again, and Dubois said with a quiet smile
which was intensely irritating--

"'By this time, Mr. Talbot, you should have realized that you have not
fallen into the hands of children. We do not wish to do you a mischief.
Indeed, it would not suit our purpose. It is far from our desire to
quarrel with the British Government or to take the life of one of its
rising young diplomatists. The dispute in which you are unfortunately
involved is between a certain section of the Sultan's subjects and that
potentate himself. But really you must recognize the absolute
helplessness of your position. You have just received a stern reminder.
Let it be the last, for if you give us any more trouble we may end a
difficult situation by effectively cutting your throat. Such an
operation would be distasteful to us and most distressing to you. So
please do not compel us to perform it.'

"I glared at him viciously. Speak I could not, but he paid no further
attention to me, and his make-up was now pronounced to be perfect by his
critical companion.

"'_Vous etes un très bel Anglais, mon vieux,_' she cried, coquettishly
setting her head on one side and glancing first at him and then at me."

"The cat!" cried Edith. "She evidently thought you good-looking, Jack."

Talbot blushed and laughed at the involuntary slip.

"I am not responsible for her opinions," he said. "I am simply telling
you what happened.

"Dubois left the room," he continued, "and returned in a few moments,
dressed in an English tweed suit, with my overcoat and a deerstalker
cap. Upon my honour, he was so like me that, notwithstanding my rage, I
was compelled to smile at him. He caught my transient mood for an
instant.

"'_Tiens!_!' he cried, 'that is better. The surgical operation is
beginning to take effect. You see the joke?'

"'It is a somewhat bitter species of humour,' I replied. 'Perhaps in the
future it may have a sequel.'

"'Life is made up of sequels,' was the airy answer. 'Events generally
turn out to be so completely opposite to that which I anticipated that I
no longer give them a thought. I live only for the present, and at this
moment I am victorious. But now, Mr. Talbot, I purpose taking a little
trip to the Continent on your account. I hope, therefore, for your sake,
that the Channel will be smooth.'

"With a mock bow of much politeness he took his leave, carrying with him
the case of diamonds. I have never seen him since. Last night in the
Foreign Office I met Captain Gaultier, who told me of the _rencontre_ on
the steamer. I readily forgave him for the mistake he had made with
reference to my appearance, but it was too bad that he should imagine I
would bolt to Paris with a lady of theatrical appearance in broad
daylight."

"Yes," cried Fairholme, "if it had been the night steamer----"

"Bobby!" exclaimed Edith.

"Oh, I meant, of course," stammered Fairholme, "that by night Gaultier
might have been more easily mistaken."

"Well, and what happened at the Foreign Office?"

Brett's question recalled the younger people to the gravity of the
conclave.

"First of all," said Talbot, "Fairholme drove me straight home, where it
was necessary to give some slight preliminary explanation before I made
a too sudden appearance, so I remained in the cab outside whilst
Fairholme went in and found Edith."

"Ah!" said Brett, still surveying the ceiling; but there was so much
meaning in his voice that this time it was the turn of the young couple
to blush.

"We did not take long to explain matters," continued Talbot. "I sent off
messengers post-haste to the Under-Secretary and others suggesting that
if possible we should meet at the Foreign Office. Within an hour my
chiefs were good enough to fall in with my views, and therefore I had an
opportunity to tell them my story exactly as I have repeated it to you.
The result is that I carry with me a letter from the Under-Secretary in
which he explains his views. I am already acquainted with his reasons,
but I have no doubt that he puts them before you quite clearly."

He handed a letter to Brett. Its contents were laconic, but
unmistakable--

"The inquiry in which you are engaged," it read, "must be conducted with
the utmost secrecy and discretion. The gravest political importance is
attached to its outcome. No trouble or expense should be allowed to
interfere with the restoration of the diamonds to their rightful owner.
The British Government will regard this as a most valuable service to
the State, and Mr. Talbot is commissioned to place at your disposal the
full resources of the Foreign Office. You will also find that his
Majesty's Ministers throughout Europe have been advised to give you
every assistance, whilst there is little reason to doubt that the
various European Governments will be ready to offer you all possible
support. The first consideration is the restoration of the gems intact
to the Sultan; the second, absolute secrecy as to the whole of the
circumstances."

"Whew!" whistled Brett. "Read between the lines, this communication
shows the serious nature of our quest. If those diamonds are not
recovered, a revolution in Turkey is the almost certain outcome, and
Heaven alone knows what that means to the European Powers most
concerned."

"If you succeed," said Sir Hubert Fitzjames, "the Government will make
you a baronet."

"If you succeed," growled Talbot, "I will get even with that Frenchman."

"And when you succeed," said Fairholme, in a matter-of-fact tone that
indicated the wild improbability of any other outcome, "Edith and I will
get married!"




CHAPTER XIV

"TOUT VA BIEN"


Brett now deemed it advisable to take the commissary of police fully
into his confidence. The official promptly suggested that every
personage in Paris connected even remotely with the mystery--Gros Jean,
the Turks, the waiter at the Café Noir, and even the little thief "Le
Ver"--should be arrested and subjected to a _procès verbal_.

But Brett would not hear of this proceeding.

He quite firmly reminded the commissary that the wishes of the British
Government must be respected in this matter, and the proposed wholesale
arrests of persons, some of whom were in no way cognisant of the crime,
would assuredly lead to publicity and the appearance of sensational
statements in the Press.

"But, monsieur," cried the Frenchman, "something must be done. Even you,
I presume, intend to lay hands on the principal men. While they are
wandering about the country each hour makes it easier for them to
secrete the diamonds so effectually that no matter what may be the
result the Sultan will never recover his property."

"Calm yourself, I beg," said the barrister, with difficulty compelling
himself to reason with this excitable policeman. "You speak as though we
had in our hands every jot of evidence to secure the conviction of
Dubois and his associates before a judge."

"But is it not so?" screamed the other.

"No; it is very far from being so. Let us look at the facts. In the
first place the Turks will not speak. They are political fanatics. The
moment a policeman arrests them they become dumb. Torture would bring
nothing from them but lies. Then we have the two people who acted as Mr.
Talbot's gaolers. What charge can we prefer against them? Merely one of
illegal detention, whilst they would probably defend themselves by
saying that Talbot was represented to them as a lunatic whose restraint
was necessary for family reasons. Then we come to Dubois himself and the
fair Mlle. Beaucaire. In the first place, you may be certain that they
have provided a strong alibi to prove that they were in Paris on the
days when we are certain they were in London. Who can identify either of
them? The lady we rule out of court at once. The only persons who saw
her were Mr. Talbot and Captain Gaultier, the latter of whom has already
placed on record the statement that he would not recognize her again.
Talbot's evidence is stronger, but I would not like to hear him
subjected to the merciless cross-examination of an able counsel. As for
Dubois, there are two inspectors of police and a dozen intelligent
Metropolitan constables who would be forced to swear that he was not the
man who entered Albert Gate on the night of the murder in company with
the other Turks. I tell you candidly, monsieur, that in my opinion the
case would not only break down very badly, but Mr. Talbot would leave
the court under grave suspicion, whilst I would be regarded by the
public as a meddlesome idiot."

"Then what are we to do?" said the commissary, piteously throwing out
his hands and shrugging his shoulders with the eloquent French gesture
that betokens utter bewilderment.

"Difficult though it may be, we must first accomplish the main part of
our work. In other words, we must secure the diamonds before we collar
the murderers."

The Frenchman was silent for a moment. At last he said submissively--

"In what way can I help?"

"By procuring for me from the chief of your department an authorization
to call in the aid of the police when and where I may desire their
assistance. This, of course, will render necessary on his part some
inquiry before I am entrusted with such an important document. The
British Embassy in Paris and your own Foreign Office will quickly supply
you with the reasons why this power should be given to me."

"But what of the house of the Rue Bonbonnerie?"

"You anticipated my next request. Whilst you are looking to that letter
you must place at my disposal two of your most trusty agents. In their
company Lord Fairholme and I purpose visiting the house to-night."

They were conversing in the commissary's office at a late hour after
Brett had quitted his friend in the Grand Hotel.

[Illustration: Reginald Brett. --_Page 200._]

Within a few minutes the two Englishmen and their French companions were
standing outside No. 41, Rue Bonbonnerie, and they found that Monsieur
de Lisle kept a small shop, whose only significant feature was a placard
announcing that letters might be addressed there.

"Oh," said Brett, when he noticed this legend, "this is simple. We need
not waste much time here."

The four men walked inside, crowding the narrow space before a
diminutive counter. The proprietor was supping in style, as they could
perceive through the glass top of the door which communicated with the
sitting-room at the back. His feast consisted of a tankard of thin wine,
half a loaf of black bread, and two herrings.

The man was surprised by the sudden incursion of customers. He came out
looking puzzled and alarmed.

"Have you any letters here for Monsieur Jean Beaujolais?" said Brett.

"No, monsieur."

"Have you received any letters for a person of that name?"

"No, monsieur."

"I suppose you never heard the name of Jean Beaujolais before in your
life?"

"I think not, monsieur."

"Then," exclaimed Brett, turning quietly away, "I fear you must be
arrested. These two gentlemen"--and he nodded towards the
detectives--"will take you to the Prefecture, where perhaps your memory
may improve."

The man blanched visibly. His teeth chattered, and his hands shook as if
with ague, whilst he nervously arranged some small objects on the
counter.

"I cry your pardon, monsieur," he stammered, "but you will understand
that I receive letters at my shop for a small fee, and I cannot remember
the names of all my customers. I will search with pleasure among those
now in my possession to see if there are any for M. Beaujolais."

"You are simply incriminating yourself," said Brett sternly. "If your
excuse were a genuine one you would first have looked among your letters
before answering so glibly that the name of Beaujolais was unfamiliar."

"I beg of you to listen," cried the dismayed shopkeeper. "I had no idea
you were from the Prefecture, otherwise I would have answered you in the
first instance. There have been letters here for Monsieur Beaujolais.
They came from London. He called for them three or four times. The last
letter arrived yesterday morning. It is here now. I have not seen
Monsieur Beaujolais since the previous evening."

He took from a drawer a packet of letters tied together with string, and
the handwriting betrayed the contents of most of them. They evidently
dealt with that species of the tender passion which finds its outlet in
the agony column or in fictitious addresses.

One of the detectives did not trust to Monsieur de Lisle's examination.
He seized the bundle and went through its contents carefully, but this
time Monsieur de Lisle was speaking the truth.

There was only one letter addressed to Beaujolais, and it bore a foreign
postmark. Brett tore it open. It contained a single sheet of notepaper,
without a date or address, or any words save these, scrawled across the
centre--

                         "_Tout va bien_."

He placed the document and its envelope in his pocket-book, and then
fixed his keen glance on the shopkeeper's pallid face.

"What sort of a person is Monsieur Beaujolais?"

The man was still so nervous that he could hardly speak.

"I am not good at descriptions," he began.

So Brett helped.

"Was he a Frenchman, about my height, elegant in appearance, well built,
with long thin hands and straight tapering fingers, with very fair skin
and high colour, dark hair and large eyes set deeply beneath well-marked
eyebrows?"

"That is he to the life," cried the shopkeeper. "Monsieur must know him
well. I recall him now exactly, but I could not for a hundred francs
have described him so accurately."

"How long have you known him?" broke in Brett.

"Let me think," mused the man, who had now somewhat recovered from his
alarm. "He came here one day last week--I think it was Thursday, because
that day my daughter Marie--no matter what Marie did, I remember the
date quite well now. He came in and asked me if I did not receive
letters for a fee. I said 'Yes,' and told him that I charged ten
centimes per letter. He gave me his name, and thereafter called
regularly to obtain the enclosure from London. He always handed me half
a franc and would never take any change."

"Was he alone?"

"Invariably, monsieur."

"Thank you. You will not be arrested to-night. I think you have told the
truth."

The shopkeeper's protestations that he had given every assistance in
his power followed them into the street.

Brett dismissed the two detectives and returned to the hotel, where he
and Fairholme found Edith and her brother sitting up for them. When
Talbot heard the contents of the letter he remarked: "I suppose that
'All goes well' means that I am still a prisoner?"

"Undoubtedly," said the barrister. "The letter was posted in the
Haymarket. It came from your French host. I wonder what he will write
now? By the way, where is he? Did you lose sight of the couple after
your escape?"

"I did," laughed Talbot. "But Inspector Winter did not. By some
mysterious means he learnt all about Fairholme's action in smashing in
the door. Whilst I was at the Foreign Office that night he arrested both
the man and the woman."

"Winter is a perfect terror," said Brett. "He dreams of handcuffs and
penal servitude. I hope this couple will not be brought to trial, or at
any rate that your name will not be mixed up in it."

"Oh, no. As soon as I heard the Under-Secretary's wishes, I promptly
communicated with Scotland Yard. The Frenchman and his wife will be
remanded on a mysterious charge of abetting a felony and held in durance
vile until their testimony is wanted, should we ever capture Dubois."

At Brett's request, detectives were hunting through Paris all that night
and the next day for a sign of Hussein-ul-Mulk and his Turkish friends.
But these gentlemen had vanished as completely as if the earth had
swallowed them up.

This was a strange thing. Although Paris is a cosmopolitan city, a party
of Turks, only one of whom could speak French, should be discovered
with tolerable rapidity in view of the fact that the French police
maintain such a watch upon the inhabitants.

It was not until Brett and his four companions quitted the train at
Marseilles late at night and the barrister received a telegram from the
commissary announcing that the search made by the police had yielded no
results, that he suddenly recalled the existence of a doorless and
windowless room in the Café Noir.

Curiously enough, he had omitted to make any mention of this strange
apartment in his recital to the official. He would not trust to the
discretion of the Telegraph Department, so on reaching the Hotel du
Louvre et de la Paix he succeeded, after some difficulty, in ringing up
the commissary on the long-distance telephone.

Having acquainted the police officer with the exact position of the
hidden apartment, he ended by saying--

"Continue inquiries throughout Paris during the whole of to-morrow. Do
not visit the Cabaret Noir for the purpose of police inspection until a
late hour--long after midnight--when the café is empty and the Boulevard
comparatively deserted. It is only a mere guess on my part. The Turks
may not be there. If they are, they should be set at liberty and not
questioned. Tell them they owe their escape to me. If you do not find
them you may make other discoveries of general interest to the police.
But above all things, I do not wish you to interfere with Gros Jean or
his house until the next twenty-four hours have elapsed."

The commissary assured him that his desires would be respected, and soon
afterwards Brett went upstairs with the full determination to secure a
long and uninterrupted night's sleep, of which he stood much in need.

He had reached the sitting-room reserved for the use of the party when
Talbot and Lord Fairholme burst in excitedly.

"We have seen her!" gasped the earl.

"Seen whom?" demanded the barrister.

"Mademoiselle Beaucaire," cried Talbot; "the woman who accompanied
Dubois in his flight from London. I recognized her instantly. I could
pick her out among a million as the same person who so coolly made up
Dubois to represent me, whilst I was lying tied on the bed in that
flat."

In their eagerness the two men had forgotten to close the door. Brett
ran to it, and looked out into the passage to learn if their words had
perchance been overheard. No one was in sight. He closed the door behind
him when he re-entered the room, and said quietly--

"How did you happen to meet her?"

"Whilst you were wrestling with the telephone," said Fairholme, "Edith
and Jack and I went to the door of the hotel to have a look at the
people passing in the Cannebiere. None of us have ever been in
Marseilles before, you know. We were gazing at the crowd, when suddenly
Jack gripped my arm and said: 'There she is! Look at that woman, quick!'
He pointed to a tall, well-dressed female, wrapped up in a fur cloak,
and wearing a large feather hat. Luckily her veil was up, and the
electric light fell fully on her as she passed. She was undoubtedly La
Belle Chasseuse, and I bet you anything you like she had just come away
from the music-hall where she is performing."

"Did she see you?" demanded Brett excitedly.

"Not a bit; she was gazing at the passing tramcars, and evidently on
the look-out for some particular line."

"What happened next?" demanded the barrister. "Where is Miss Talbot?"

"Edith has gone after her," said Fairholme.

"What!" cried Brett, more startled than he cared to own.

"Yes," broke in Talbot eagerly. "She heard my words and instantly
decided to follow her. She said that the woman knew both of us, and
might easily detect us, but she, Edith, was unknown to her, and would
never be suspected. She simply forced us to come and tell you, and then
darted off like a greyhound before we could stop her."

Brett forced himself to say calmly--

"I always knew that Miss Talbot had brains, but still I wish she had not
taken this risk. Nevertheless, your chance discovery and her prompt
action may be invaluable to us."

"But what must we do?" exclaimed the impetuous Fairholme. "We cannot
allow Edith to go wandering around Marseilles by herself at this hour of
the night. I have always heard that this town is a perfectly damnable
place. What a fool I was not to follow her at once."

"Miss Talbot has acted quite rightly," said Brett decisively. "We must
simply remain here until she returns. There is not the slightest ground
for alarm. A woman who could act with such ready judgment is well able
to take care of herself. Unless I am much mistaken, we shall see her
within the hour."

It was well for the peace of mind of the younger men that Sir Hubert
Fitzjames had gone to his room soon after the party reached the hotel.
Had the irascible baronet known of his niece's mission, no power on
earth could have restrained him from setting every policeman in
Marseilles on her track forthwith.

And so they kept their vigil, striving to talk unconcernedly, but
watching the clock with feverish impatience until Edith should return.




CHAPTER XV

"MARIE"


Marseilles is one of the most picturesque cities in the world.

Its streets cluster round an ancient harbour, famous before history was
writ, or climb the sides of steep hills enclosing a land-locked bay.

In the suburbs Marseilles is modern enough, but the chief thoroughfare,
known to all who read, the famous and ever busy Cannebiere, plunges
rapidly downhill until it empties itself on the crowded quays that
surround the old port.

With the newer Marseilles of the Joliette--well found in wharfs and
warehouses, steam cranes and railway lines--the town beloved of the
Phoenicians has no concern. There is no touch of modern ugliness in
the tiny maritime refuge which is barely half the size of the
Serpentine. Lofty, old-fashioned, half-ruined houses throng close to its
rugged quays.

At night this quarter of the turbulent city wears an air of intense
mystery. The side streets are narrow and tortuous. Dark courts and
alleys twist in every conceivable direction, while the brightness of the
many wine shops facing each other across the tideless harbour only
serves to enhance the squalid gloom that forms the most marked
characteristic of the buildings clustered behind them.

Edith Talbot, intent on the pursuit of a woman so dramatically bound up
with the mystery affecting her brother, paid heed to no consideration
save the paramount one, that the hurrying figure in front must be kept
in sight.

Contrary to the opinions expressed by the two men, Mlle. Beaucaire did
not board a passing tramcar. To Edith's eyes she seemed to be eagerly
watching for some person who might pass in one of the small open
carriages which in Marseilles take the place of the London hansom. Even
as she rapidly walked down the crowded street mademoiselle closely
scrutinised each vehicle that overtook her, and once, at a busy
crossing, she deliberately stopped. Edith, of course, slackened her
pace, and simultaneously she became aware how incongruous was her
appearance at such an hour in such a thoroughfare.

Much taller than the average Frenchwoman, neatly dressed in an English
tailor-made costume, with her smart straw hat and well-gloved hands,
Miss Talbot naturally attracted the curious gaze of the passers by.

Instantly it occurred to her that some disguise was absolutely necessary
if she would not court an attention fatal to her enterprise. It chanced
that where she stood for a moment a fruit-seller occupied a tiny shop,
squeezed tightly between a church and a restaurant. The interior was
dark enough, for a couple of flaring naphtha lamps were so disposed as
to cast their flickering brilliancy over the baskets of fruits and
vegetables displayed in the window or crowded together on the pavement.

The woman inside had a kindly and contented face, cherry ripe in cheek
and lips, and from a pair of deep-set blue eyes she looked out
quizzically at the hurrying crowd.

Assuring herself with one fleeting glance that La Belle Chasseuse still
remained motionless and intent at the crossing, Edith darted into the
shop. She produced a sovereign.

"I have not much French money," she said hurriedly, "but this is worth
twenty-five francs. Can you let me have a large dark shawl? I do not
care whether or not it is old or worn. It is necessary that I should
remain out for some few minutes longer, and I do not wish to court
observation."

Even as she spoke she removed her straw hat and eagerly tore off her
gloves. The Frenchwoman saw that one of her own sex, English, and
consequently mad, desired to screen her appearance from too inquisitive
eyes.

It was sufficient for her that there should be a spice of romance in the
request. With one hand she pocketed the sovereign; with the other she
dived into a recess beneath the counter and produced the very article
Edith wanted.

"But certainly, mademoiselle," she cried. "See. It will cover you to the
waist."

Edith advanced another pace into the darkest corner of the shop, quickly
arranged the shawl over her head and shoulders, and, hastily murmuring
her thanks, rushed forth into the street again, leaving hat and gloves
behind in her haste.

The fruit-seller was far too wise a woman to call after the other and
apprise her of the loss.

"It must be serious, this adventure," she mused. "And yet the novelists
say that the English are cold! For me, now, I think that women are very
much alike all over the world."

And with this bit of Provençal philosophy she picked up the discarded
articles and discovered, to her joy, that they must be worth at least
ten francs.

"Thirty-five francs for an old shawl is a good night's work," she
murmured. "Who could dream of such fortune at this hour? To-morrow I
will buy a candle and place it in the church of Notre Dame de la Garde."

Meanwhile Edith was just in time to see Mlle. Beaucaire either abandon
her search or resolve it in some manner, for the lady once more resumed
her progress towards the old harbour, in whose placid bosom could be
seen the reflections of numberless lights from the small promontory
beyond, crowned with the Fort St. Nicholas and the Chateau du Phare.

Looking neither right nor left, but hastening onwards with rapid
strides, mademoiselle crossed the rough pavement of the Quai de la
Fraternité, bearing away diagonally towards the left.

But if the Frenchwoman was a good walker, Edith Talbot was a better one,
and now that she no longer feared notice--for she draped the large shawl
as elegantly about her shoulders as any woman in Marseilles--she decided
to adopt a little strategy. Instead of keeping directly behind
mademoiselle she broke into a run under the shadow of the houses. By
thus making up ground she approached the narrow street towards which the
Frenchwoman was heading almost simultaneously with her quarry, but
apparently from an opposite direction. The aspect of the thoroughfare
through which the two women sped was forbidding in the extreme. The
houses were many storeys in height, of disreputable appearance, and so
close together on both sides that, were other conditions equal, an
active man might easily spring from one room into another across the
street.

The walls appeared to be honeycombed with doors and windows, while an
indescribable number of shutters, balconies, projecting poles and
clothes-lines created such a medley in the darkness, which was only made
visible by a solitary bracket lamp, that Edith felt some anxiety as to
whether or not she would be able to recognize the house into which
mademoiselle disappeared, should her destination be close at hand.

There were, of course, many other people in the street besides
themselves, else Edith's self-imposed piece of espionage would have been
rendered difficult, if not impossible.

Men, women, and children lounged about the doorways and kept up a
constant cackle of conversation in a mysterious _patois_ which Miss
Talbot, though an excellent French scholar, could make nothing of. The
presence of these people naturally shielded her from the direct
observation of La Belle Chasseuse, but nevertheless threatened a slight
danger should it be necessary for her to stand still, for she well
understood that in such a locality each person was known to the other,
and the loitering of a stranger could not fail to arouse curiosity.

Soon after passing beneath the lamp mademoiselle vanished into a
doorway. Edith perceived to her joy that at this point there was no
group of loungers. Indeed, for a few yards the street was empty. Keeping
her eyes sedulously fixed upon the exact spot where the Frenchwoman
disappeared, she reached the door, and, after a moment's hesitation,
stepped lightly into the interior darkness.

The narrow entrance was at once lessened to half its width by a
staircase. She listened intently, and could hear the other woman
ascending the second flight of stairs.

At the next landing mademoiselle paused and knocked three times.
Presumably in reply to a question within, she murmured something which
Edith could not catch, and was at once admitted. The shooting of a rusty
bolt supplied further evidence that the door was locked behind her.

Edith's next task was to identify the house. She stepped out into the
street again and crossed to the opposite pavement. She looked up to the
second storey, but, owing to the short distance--barely fourteen
feet--that separated her from the house--she could discern nothing, save
that the windows on that floor were closely shuttered.

She rapidly noted that the door was the third removed from the lamp.

Whilst wondering what to do next, a couple of girls approached her. They
were young and of course inquisitive. Without any dissimulation, they
stood in front of her and scrutinized her face, wondering, no doubt, who
this tall and graceful newcomer could be.

"What is your name?" said one. "Where do you live? Have you just come
here? Are you staying with old Mother Peter?"

With difficulty Edith caught the drift of their questions. But she
answered smilingly--

"No, I do not live here, and I do not know Mother Peter. But I want you
to tell me who lives in the house opposite?"

Her Parisian French greatly surprised the two girls, who giggled at each
other, and one of them cried--

"Oh, here's a lark!"

But they scented an intrigue, and were quite ready to give all the
information in their power.

"A lot of people live there," said the elder one, trying, with the ready
tact of her nation, to accommodate her words to the understanding of the
stranger. "It all depends who you want to know about. On the ground
floor is Josef the barber and his wife, with three little ones. It
cannot be them, I am sure, and it cannot be Monsieur Ducrot, who is
their lodger, for he is seventy years old and a sacristan in the Church
of the Sacred Heart. Then on the first floor there are three men, not a
woman amongst them. One is a bill-sticker, another a fisherman, and the
third a waiter in the Café du Midi. I do not know their proper names. We
call the bill-sticker 'Paste-pot,' and the fisherman 'Crab.' The waiter
is called 'Thomas' in the café, but when a letter comes for him it is in
another name. Then, on the second floor--by the way, Marie, who is it
that lives on the second floor?"

Edith with difficulty restrained her excitement. She felt that if only
these youngsters rattled on a little longer she might gain some valuable
information.

Marie, thus appealed to, was evidently of a more cautious temperament
than her companion.

"If the young lady will tell us why she wants to know, we may be able to
help her?" she stipulated.

"Certainly," cried Edith, instantly resolving to pursue the tactics of
the penny novelette. "I have been deserted. My lover has been taken away
from me by another woman--at least, that is what I am informed. I do not
wish to make any trouble about it. There are plenty as good men as he
left in the world; but, on the other hand, I must not act unjustly. I
have been told that he lives in this house--that he is living with her
here at this moment, in fact. If I can make sure of it, I will go away
and never set eyes on him again unless by chance, and then you may be
sure I will take no notice of him. I am not one of those silly girls who
break their hearts over a faithless sweetheart."

Marie was reassured.

"I should think not," she said, with a sympathetic and defiant sniff. "I
had the very same experience last Sunday, when Phillippe--the grocer's
boy at the corner, you know--walked along the Corniche Road with a chit
of a girl out of a shop. She thinks herself better than we are because
she stands behind a counter, and I am sure she made eyes at Phillippe
one day when his master sent him there on an errand."

"Phillippe must have bad taste," broke in Edith. "But I am sorry I must
hasten away. If you girls will tell me quickly all the other people that
live in that house I will give you two francs each. That is all the
money I have got."

She produced the coins, which she easily distinguished from the gold in
her pocket by their size. She knew that to appear too well supplied with
money in that neighbourhood was to court danger, if not disaster, to her
undertaking.

Both girls eagerly seized the forty-sous pieces.

"Oh, on the second floor," said Marie, "I am afraid you will find your
young man. They are a funny couple that live there. They only came here
on Monday. When did your young man leave you?"

"I saw him on Saturday."

"Where?"

This was a poser, but Miss Talbot answered desperately:

"At Lyon."

"What is he like?"

Another haphazard shot.

"He is tall and dark, and, oh! so good-looking, with a beautifully white
skin and a pink complexion."

"That is he!" cried both girls together.

"The scoundrel! But tell me," went on Edith, whose excitement was
readily construed as the pangs of jealousy, "who is the creature that
lives with him?"

"We think she is a music-hall artiste," replied Marie. "At least, that
is what the people say. I have not heard yet what hall she appears in.
They say she is very pretty. Are you going to throw vitriol over her?"

"Not I," said Edith, with a fine scorn. "Do they live there alone?"

"Yes, quite alone. They rent the place from Père Didon. He owns most of
the houses in this street, you know, and is a regular skinflint. He
won't let any one get behind with their rent for an hour. He is old, so
old that you would not think that he could live another week, yet he is
that keen after his francs you would imagine he was a young man anxious
to get money for a gay life. You ought to have heard the row here last
Saturday when he turned the people out from their rooms where your lover
now lives with his mistress. It was terrible. There was a poor woman
with two sick children."

How much further the revelations as to Père Didon's iniquity might have
gone, Miss Talbot could not say, but at that moment there came an
interruption.

From the opposite doorway appeared the figure of Mlle. Beaucaire,
carrying a small bag. She was followed by a man, tall, slight, and
closely muffled up, who shouldered a larger portmanteau. Edith grabbed
both the girls, and pulled them close to her against the closed door
behind them.

"It is he!" she whispered tragically. "Silence! Let us watch them!"

The man darted a suspicious glance up and down the street. There was no
one whom even the clever Henri Dubois could construe as an enemy--no one
save some chattering Marseillais loitering around their doorsteps, and
three girls huddled together in close conclave directly opposite.

Thus reassured, he strode after La Belle Chasseuse, who cried out
impatiently:

"Come quick, Henri; what are you waiting for?"

"Is his name Henri?" whispered the awe-stricken Marie.

"Yes. Isn't he a villain? I wonder where they are going now!"

"Let us follow them and see," suggested Marie.

"Yes, let us follow them and see," chimed in the other one, who
delighted in this nocturnal romance. It was a veritable page out of one
of Paul de Kock's novels.

The programme suited Miss Talbot exceedingly well.

They strolled off down the street, nestling together, Edith in the
centre, and keeping the shrouded couple in front well in sight. This
time, when Mademoiselle Beaucaire and her companion reached the point
where the street emerged on to the harbour, they did not cross over
towards the broad and brilliantly-lighted Cannebiere, but hurried on
through the darkness in the direction of a cluster of fishing smacks
that lay alongside the Quai de Rive Neuve.

"My faith, Eugenie!" cried Marie, "they must be going on board one of
the vessels."

"What a lark!" was the answer. "I suppose they fear you," she added,
turning her sharp eyes on Edith. "What is your name?"

"Lucille," came the answer on the spur of the moment.

"Lucille what?"

"Lucille Beauharnais."

"My gracious!" cried Eugenie, "what a swell name!"

"Oh, let us hurry," interrupted Miss Talbot desperately. "You girls know
everybody. You must know all the vessels. If they are going on a boat
and you find out the name and number for me I will give each of you a
whole louis. I will give them to you now--I mean, that is, if you will
walk with me afterwards to my lodgings."

Even amidst the exciting circumstances surrounding her, Edith recognized
the absolute necessity there was to maintain the credibility of her
previous narrative.

Unquestionably Dubois and the lady intended to embark on one of the
fishing boats. They hastened to the further end of the harbour, through
whose tiny entrance Edith could now see the dark waters of the bay
beyond, for the night was beautifully clear and fine, and the bright
stars of the south lent some radiance to the scene, when the girls
quitted the deep shadow of the houses.

A solitary boat, a decked fishing-smack of some forty tons, was lying by
the side of the quay, apart from the others. Edith, who knew something
about yachting, recognized that her gearing was not fastened in the trim
manner suggestive of a craft laid by for the night. At the same instant,
too, she caught sight of a third form--that of a man who had been seated
on a fixed capstan, and who now strode forward to peer at the
newcomers.

Some few words passed between the three, but it was impossible for the
girls to hear a syllable. Instantly the sailor assisted Dubois and
Mademoiselle Beaucaire to step down from the quay on board the smack. He
followed them, and three other men, who appeared out of the chaos of
sails and ropes, commenced to labour with a large pole in order to shove
the sturdy vessel out into the harbour.

"Quick!" murmured Edith, in an agony lest the opportunity should slip.
"Tell me what vessel it is."

"I think," said Marie, "it is the _Belles Soeurs_. Anyhow, we can
easily make certain. All we have to do is to go back around the top of
the harbour, walk down the Quai du Port, and watch her as she passes
under the lighthouse of the Fort St. Jean. They will hoist her sail then
and we shall see her number."

"Oh, come," cried Edith, "let us run!"

"We can run if you like," replied Marie coolly, "but there is no need.
They have to get out by using the sweeps, and we will be underneath the
lighthouse at least a minute or two before they pass, even if we walk
slowly."

Whilst they were talking the three girls put their words into practice,
and Edith found herself battling with a logical dilemma. Dubois was
evidently escaping from France--making out from Marseilles at this late
hour on a vessel capable of sailing to almost any point of the
Mediterranean.

What could she do? Was it possible to invoke the aid of a policeman and
get some authority to hail the craft and order her to return, or was
there time to take a cab in the Cannebiere and drive furiously to the
hotel, where Brett, Fairholme, and her brother must be anxiously
awaiting her return?

Rapidly as these alternatives suggested themselves, she dismissed them.
It was best to fall in with Marie's suggestion and ascertain beyond
doubt the identity of the fishing smack. Then, at any rate, Brett would
have a tangible and definite clue.

So she hastened with her companions along the three sides of the now
almost deserted quay, and, in accordance with the prediction of her
youthful guides, she reached the promenade beyond the small lighthouse
of the inner port before the vessel had quitted the harbour. To move a
forty-ton boat with oars is a slow matter at the best.

As the craft came creeping steadily through the narrow channel Edith
saw, to her great relief, that two of the men drew in their sweeps, and
commenced to haul upon ropes whilst the clanking and groaning of pulleys
heralded the slow rising of the mainsail.

She thought the sail would never climb up in time, but as it began to
yield to the steady pull of the men it mounted more and more rapidly,
and at last, feeling the influence of a gentle breeze blowing off the
land, it shook out its cumbrous folds and the number stood clearly
revealed in huge white letters on the dark brown canvas.

At first, in her eagerness, she could hardly discern it, save a big "M"
and an "R."

"There!" cried Eugenie, bubbling over with excitement. "There it is!
'M.R. 107,' Marseilles, No. 107, you know. Why, isn't that Jacques le
Bon's boat?" she demanded from her companion.

"Yes, it is," said Marie; "and there is Jacques himself standing by the
tiller."

Edith's eyes were now becoming accustomed to the night and the dancing
water.

"Where are the others?" she said. "I cannot see them. There is no one
standing on the deck but the sailors."

"Oh, they have gone below, I expect," said the practical Marie. "They
will be in the way of the sails, you know. There is not much room for
people who don't work on the deck of a small ship like that. Besides,
they don't want to be seen. If a customs officer or a harbour official
were to notice the boat now he would think that Le Bon was going out
fishing for the night, but he would be sure to wonder what was happening
if he caught sight of a woman on board. Funny, isn't it," she rattled
on, "that Jacques should be called 'Le Bon,' for he is the worst man in
Marseilles? They say that his ugly grin when he draws a knife would
frighten anybody!"




CHAPTER XVI

THE HALL-PORTER'S DOUBTS


When one o'clock came and Edith had not arrived, the three men waiting
in the hotel made no further effort to conceal their anxiety. The
impetuous Fairholme was eager to commence an immediate search of
Marseilles, but Brett steadily adhered to his resolution not to stir
from their sitting-room until either Miss Talbot came back in person or
it became quite certain that she was detained by some other influence
than her own unfettered volition.

"It may be," he argued, "that she will require some action on our part
the moment we see her, and nothing could be more stupid than for the
three of us to be wandering about this great city hopelessly inquiring
for a missing English lady, whilst she was impatiently awaiting our
return in the knowledge that valuable time was being lost to no purpose.
What is there to fear? Miss Talbot is absolutely unknown to all the
parties concerned in the affair. Even if she attracted their attention,
which is improbable, it is almost inconceivable that they should connect
her with the search being made for them. The only risk she runs is that
of insult by some semi-intoxicated reveller, and even in a rowdy city
like this, it must indeed be a strange locality in which she would be
denied some protection. Of course I will be much relieved when Miss
Talbot returns, but up to the present I see no reason for undue anxiety
on our part. Indeed, we ought to congratulate ourselves on the fact that
she deems it necessary to leave us for such a long period. The
probability is that she is making highly important discoveries which may
tend materially to reduce the area of inquiry."

With this view Talbot could not help concurring, so Fairholme had to
content himself by smoking many cigarettes and walking uneasily about
the room. Sit down he could not, whilst any casual ring at the hotel
door found him leaning over the balustrade of the inner court and
listening intently for the first words of the new arrival.

But the Englishmen were not the only persons in the hotel that night
whose composure was disturbed. Their extraordinary behaviour caused
uneasiness to the manager and those members of his staff who remained on
duty. The facts disclosed by the hall-porter were certainly remarkable.
Only one member of the party had behaved in a normal manner. Sir Hubert
Fitzjames, soon after his arrival, went quietly to bed, but the
hall-porter's report as to the conduct of the others was passing
strange.

One of them, to his surprise, had rung up the Prefecture of Police in
Paris on the telephone. The others were standing at the hotel door,
gazing quietly enough at the passers-by, when suddenly about midnight
much excitement rose amongst them. They conversed eagerly in their own
tongue for a few moments, and the lady had rushed off down the street by
herself, whilst her two companions ran with equal precipitancy to join
the third in the sitting-room they had engaged, and there they were
still seated in moody expectancy, apparently watching for some dramatic
event to happen.

It was time that all good people were in bed. But it was hopeless to
approach such lunatics with questions, for they were English, and no
decent Frenchman could possibly hope to understand their actions or
motives. It was satisfactory that they could speak French well;
therefore the manager counselled the hall-porter to exhibit patience and
prudence. Moreover, milords upstairs would be sure to recompense him for
an enforced vigil by a liberal _pourboire_.

At last, when even the Cannebiere was empty, and when the latest café
had closed its doors and the final tramcar had wearily jingled its way
up the hill towards a distant suburb, the electric bell jangled a noisy
summons to the front door. It produced the hall-porter and Fairholme
with remarkable celerity.

The Frenchman cautiously opened the door and saw outside a muffled-up
female who eagerly demanded admittance. He knew by her accent that she
was not a Marseillaise, but the shawl that covered her head and
shoulders showed that she belonged to the working classes.

"Whom do you wish to see at this hour?" he gruffly demanded.

"I live here," said Edith. "I came here to-night with my brother from
Paris. Please let me in at once."

In her excitement and breathlessness, for she had hurried at top speed
from the harbour, Edith forgot that the homely garment she adopted as a
disguise effectually cloaked her from the recognition of the hall-porter
as from all others.

Moreover, her French accent was too good. It deceived the man even more
thoroughly than did the shawl.

"Oh, really now," he said, "this is for laughter! A woman like you
staying at the hotel! Be off, or I will call a gendarme."

In his amazement at her demand he had not heard Fairholme's rapid
approach behind him. He was now swung unceremoniously out of the way and
the earl jumped forward to seize Edith in his arms.

"My darling girl," he cried, "where have you been? We almost gave you up
for lost. Where is your hat? Where did you get that shawl?" And all the
time he was hugging her so fiercely that it was absolutely impossible
for her to say a single word. At length she disengaged herself.

"Don't be so ridiculous," she said, "but let me come in and close the
door. The hall-porter will think we are cracked."

She summarised the hall-porter's sentiments most accurately. He
explained the transaction to the manager with most eloquent pantomime,
and the two marvelled greatly at the weird proceedings of their strange
guests.

"Ah," said the manager at length, "now that mademoiselle has returned,
perhaps they will go to bed."

At that instant Brett's voice was heard upon the stairs. He wanted the
telephone again.

Edith had rapidly detailed her adventures to her astonished auditors,
and Brett seemed to resolve on some plan of action with the lightning
rapidity peculiar to him.

Owing to the late hour he got through to Paris without much difficulty,
and then he returned to the sitting-room, where Edith was rehearsing in
greater detail all that had happened since she left them at the hotel
door. Brett explained to his companions the motives of his second
telephonic message.

"I am convinced," he said, "that Gros Jean is in communication with his
daughter. For this reason I did not wish the police to put in an
appearance at the Café Noir until to-morrow night, or rather to-night,
for we have long entered upon another day. I wished to have a reasonable
time for quiet inquiry at Marseilles before mademoiselle could be
apprised of our presence here. Miss Talbot's remarkable discovery has,
however, wholly changed my plans. Mlle. Beaucaire and her lover have set
off for some unknown destination, and the best chance we have of
discovering it is to secure the immediate arrest of her father.
Possibly, being taken by surprise at this hour of the morning, some
document may be found on him which will reveal his daughter's
destination. It occurs to me that she half expected him to arrive by a
late train. Again, when the fishing-smack puts into port, the girl will
probably adopt some method of communicating with him, and that
communication must come into our hands, not into his. So I have
telephoned the police officials in Paris to raid the Cabaret Noir
forthwith, and it is possible that they may report developments within
the next two or three hours."

"Is there no chance of your discovering the whereabouts of that
fishing-smack?" said Fairholme.

"In what way?" demanded Brett.

"Well, this is a big port, you know, and there are always tugs knocking
about with steam up, on the off-chance of their services being required.
Isn't it possible to charter a steamboat and set off after the smack?"

"I do not think so," said Brett. "I imagine it would be wasted effort.
By this time the _Belles Soeurs_ is well out to sea. She can go in a
dozen different directions. She may beat along the coast towards Toulon
and the Riviera. She can make towards Corsica, Sardinia, the Balearic
Islands, Spain, or the mouth of the Rhone. She will certainly not show
any lights, and I personally feel that although there is, perhaps, a
thousand to one chance we might fall in with her, it will be far better
for our purpose to remain quietly here and await developments in Paris."

"Anyhow," remarked Fairholme, convinced that his proposal was
impracticable, "it will be an easy matter for the authorities to
ascertain the port that she arrives at."

Brett shook his head dubiously.

"I have my doubts on that point," he said. "The man who has thus far
kept himself so easily ahead of all pursuers, and exhibited such a
wealth of resource in his methods, may well be trusted to cover up his
tracks effectually. There is even a possibility that the _Belles
Soeurs_ will never be seen again, and that her number will long remain
vacant on the shipping register of Marseilles. However, we shall see."

"Then, Mr. Brett," put in Edith quietly, with a tired smile, "I suppose
we may go to bed?"

"Most certainly, Miss Talbot. You have earned your rest more than any of
us to-night," he answered.

He held out his hand to wish her good-night, but she demanded with some
surprise, "What are you going to do? Surely you want some sleep?"

"I will remain here," he said. "I have bribed the hall-porter to keep
awake, and I may be wanted on the telephone at any moment."

"Then I will stop with you," cried Fairholme.

"And I too," chimed in Talbot.

"You will do nothing of the sort," he answered with pleasant insistence.
"You will just be off, both of you, and get some hours of sound sleep.
You may need all your energy to-morrow. Do not be afraid. I will arouse
you if anything dramatic should happen."

Left to himself, Brett again interviewed the hall-porter and returned to
the sitting-room, where he disposed himself for a nap on the sofa. Like
all men who possess the faculty of concentrated thought, he also
cultivated the power of dismissing a perplexing problem from his mind
until it became necessary to consider it afresh in the light of further
knowledge.

Within five minutes he was sound asleep.

At length he woke with a start. He was stiff with cold, for the fire had
gone out, and the tiny gas jet he had left burning was not sufficient to
warm the room. He sprang to his feet and looked at his watch. It was
half-past six.

"Surely," he cried, "there must have been a message from Paris long
before this!"

He ran downstairs, encountering on his way some of the hotel servants,
who even thus early had commenced work, for your industrious Frenchman
is no laggard in the morning. Going to the hall-porter's office he found
that functionary snoring peacefully. The poor fellow was evidently tired
out, and twenty telephone bells might have jangled in his ears without
waking him.

So, for the third time, Brett rang up the exchange to get in touch with
Paris. As he had anticipated, he quickly learnt that the Prefecture had
endeavoured to get through to him about 4.30 a.m., but the operators
were unable to obtain any answer.

"I can hardly blame the man," said he to himself, "for I was just as
tired as he."

The intimation he received from the Prefecture was startling enough. In
accordance with his instructions a number of detectives had raided the
Cabaret Noir soon after three o'clock. They found the place in
possession of a waiter and a couple of female servants. Gros Jean had
quitted the house the previous evening, and, most astounding fact of
all, with him were three Turks.

Neither the waiter nor the domestics could give any information whatever
concerning the hidden room. They knew of its existence, but none of them
had ever seen it, and the place was generally regarded as a sort of
cellar for the reception of lumber.

The police forced a padlock which guarded its trap-door, and found to
their surprise that the place was much more spacious than they
anticipated. It really contained two apartments, one of which was so
firmly secured that it had hitherto resisted all their efforts to open
it. The other was a sort of bed-sitting-room, and it had recently been
occupied. From various indications they came to the conclusion that its
latest tenants were Hussein-ul-Mulk and his confederates.

Judging from the fact that these gentry had quietly left the café in
Gros Jean's company about half-past seven the previous evening, they
were not in confinement against their will. In fact, the police theory
was that this secret chamber provided a safe retreat for any person who
desired complete seclusion other than that provided by the authorities.


"It is assumed," said the officer who communicated this bewildering
information to Brett, "that the locked room contains a quantity of
stolen goods. The police remain in charge of the café, and when the
necessary workmen have been obtained this morning the door will be
forced. We will at once let you know the result of our further
investigations."

"But what about Gros Jean and the Turks? Surely Paris cannot again have
swallowed them up?" inquired Brett.

"Every effort is being made to trace their whereabouts," was the reply,
"but you must remember, monsieur, that they had many hours' start of the
police, and that this period of the day is the most difficult of the
twenty-four hours in which to make successful inquiries. You must rest
assured that the moment we receive even the slightest clue we will ring
you up, provided, that is, you arrange for someone at your end to answer
the telephone."

"Oh," said Brett with a laugh, "there is little fear of further delay in
that respect. It will be daylight in another hour, and the servants are
already busy about the place."

He rang off and then darted back to his sitting-room to consult a
time-table, for the thought came to him that Gros Jean and the Turks had
quitted the café in order to reach Marseilles.

He could not yet explain this strange alliance. It was impossible to
believe that the innkeeper would betray his daughter to serve the ends
of a political party. No; there must be some other explanation which the
future alone could reveal.

He well knew that the last thought likely to occur to the Paris police
would be to suspect the missing men of any desire to reach the south
coast. It was with an almost feverish anxiety that he scrutinized the
pages of the _indicateur des chemins de fer_, and he heaved a sigh of
profound relief when he discovered that the first train Gros Jean and
the Turks could travel by left Paris the previous evening at 8.40 p.m.,
and was not due at Marseilles until 8.59 that morning.

It was now close on seven o'clock, so he went to his bedroom, effected
some much-needed changes in his personal appearance, and then consumed
an early breakfast of coffee and rolls. At half-past eight he called a
carriage and was driven to the railway station, where, punctually to the
minute, the Paris train arrived.

Brett managed to secure a favourable point whence he could observe the
passengers without being seen, for on the platform were stacked hundreds
of baskets of fruit and vegetables which had arrived by a local train.

There were not many passengers in the express, and among the first to
alight were Gros Jean and the three Turks--Hussein-ul-Mulk and the two
others he had seen in the Rue Barbette.

It would be idle to deny that the barrister experienced a thrill of
satisfaction at his own shrewdness, and he smiled as he realized the
consternation of the Paris commissary when informed that he had so
easily allowed the rogues to slip out of the net.

The travellers were evidently tired after a sleepless journey. Gros
Jean, being a fat man, had wobbled about a great deal during the night.
He much needed the restorative effect of a comfortable bed; whilst the
Turks, though younger and more active, also showed signs of fatigue, for
this long journey, in their case, was a sequel to many hours of
detention in an ill-ventilated apartment.

So they paid not the slightest heed to their whereabouts, save in so
far as to eye with suspicion a harmless gendarme who happened to be on
the platform.

The policeman, of course, took no notice of them whatever. Gros Jean was
to him merely a typical Frenchman, whilst persons of dark complexion and
Moorish appearance are everyday sights in the streets of Marseilles.

A diminutive railway porter loitered near Brett in the conceit that
perhaps this well-dressed stranger might have felonious designs on the
oranges and cabbages. His intense joy may therefore be pictured when the
barrister beckoned to him, placed a gold piece in his hand, and said--

"You see those Turks there. Go after them and find out where they are
going to. They are sure to take a carriage, as their luggage appears to
be somewhat heavy."

The man darted off, secure in the belief that no one who could afford to
give away twenty francs for such trivial information would be likely to
pocket a cauliflower. In half a minute he returned.

"They have all driven off together, monsieur," he announced eagerly,
"and the French gentleman first of all inquired of the driver how much
he would charge to take them to the Jolies Femmes. Two francs was the
fare, and this was agreeable, so they have gone there."

"I hope, in this instance," said Brett gravely, "that the Jolies Femmes
is the name of a hotel."

"But certainly," replied the porter, elevating his eyebrows; "what else
could it be?"

He meditated on this question for five minutes after Brett's departure,
and then an idea struck him.

"Ah," he cried, slapping his thigh with a grin, "he is a droll dog, that
Englishman."

Brett, secure in the knowledge that his quarry had been located, drove
back to his hostelry. He found Edith, Fairholme, and Talbot just sitting
down to breakfast. He joined them, and had barely communicated his
startling intelligence when Sir Hubert Fitzjames put in an appearance.

"Dear me," said the genial old soldier, smiling pleasantly at the
assembled party. "I see you are all nearly as lazy as I have been
myself. I hope you slept well, and enjoyed a quiet night."

The burst of merriment which greeted this remark not only amazed the
worthy baronet, but startled the other guests in the dining-room.

"That is a strange thing," whispered a Frenchman to his wife. "I thought
the English never laughed!"




CHAPTER XVII

THE YACHT "BLUE-BELL"


After breakfast the party adjourned to their sitting-room, and there
Brett detailed his immediate plan of action.

"The first point to determine is an important one," he said. "Which of
you three--Sir Hubert Fitzjames, Talbot, or Fairholme--looks most like a
Frenchman?"

The trio at once began to scrutinize each other carefully, to Edith's
intense amusement.

"I am afraid, uncle," she laughed, "we must rule you out at once. You
have 'British Major-General, late Indian Army' stamped so plainly on you
that here in Marseilles, a port accustomed to the weekly transit of P.
and O. passengers, the smallest child could not fail to identify you.
And as for you, Bobby! Good gracious! You are painfully Anglo-Saxon. I
am afraid, Jack, that we must decide against you. That is to say, I
suppose it hurts your vanity to be taken for a Frenchman; but you must
not forget that Mademoiselle Beaucaire thought you were good-looking,
and I suppose she adopts Parisian standards."

Jack was amused by his sister's raillery.

"It is gratifying to find," he said, "that there are some handsome
Frenchmen. But may I ask, Brett, why you wish one of us to haul down the
British flag?"

"Because it is necessary that someone should keep a close eye on Gros
Jean and the Turks. As a matter of fact, Miss Talbot is doubly right.
Sir Hubert Fitzjames might possibly be made up to represent _un vieux
moustache_, but it is essential that he should speak French well."

"Then," cried Sir Hubert decisively, "I am out of court, because my
French is weak, and I always want to go off into Hindustani whenever I
open my mouth. Why, even this morning, when I rang for my hot water, I
said to the waiter, '_Gurrum pani lao_.' I am sure he thought I was
swearing at him."

"Very well," concurred the barrister, "it comes back to you, Talbot, and
I regret to inform you that for the next few hours you must be content
with the inferior cooking and accommodation of the Jolies Femmes Hotel.
If you will come out with me now I will get you rigged up in a cheap
French suit. That, and a supply of bad cigarettes, will provide a
sufficient disguise for your purpose. You must pack a few belongings in
a green tin box and betake yourself to the Jolies Femmes. Do not make
any inquiries about Gros Jean. Simply watch him."

"But what about the Turks?" said Talbot. "Perhaps two of these
scoundrels may be the identical pair who accompanied Dubois to Albert
Gate. It is possible that they may recognize me at once."

"No," said Brett decisively. "This is a different gang. The two men who
committed the murders never came to Paris. Dubois would not hear of it,
I am certain. If you act with discretion, I am sure they will never
suspect you."

"Can't you find me a job?" demanded Fairholme.

"Yes, a most pleasant one. It will be your duty to accompany Miss Talbot
and Sir Hubert, and show them the sights of Marseilles. I will meet you
here at luncheon, but we probably cannot see Mr. Talbot again until late
to-night, when he will have an opportunity to come here quietly and
detail the results of his observations. Of course," he added, addressing
the young man directly, "if anything important happens during the day
you know where to find me, either personally or by messenger."

It was natural that Edith's first steps with her lover and uncle would
tend towards the scene of her overnight adventure. But Miss Talbot was a
clearheaded girl and took no risks. She knew well that in a chance
encounter the sharp eyes of Marie and Eugenie might pick her out unless
she was to some extent shrouded from observation. So she donned a large
Paris hat and a smart costume, which, with the addition of a thick veil,
rendered her very unlike the girl who twelve hours earlier was pursuing
a recalcitrant lover.

Secure in the changed appearance effected by these garments, and
especially in the escort of two such English-looking persons as Lord
Fairholme and Sir Hubert Fitzjames, she walked with them down the
Cannebiere and on the quay. She showed them the street up which she
pursued Mlle. Beaucaire, and the point on the wharf whence the fishing
smack took her departure into the unknown.

Then they strolled back around the harbour, still pursuing the track of
Edith's midnight wanderings, when Fairholme suddenly whistled with
amazement.

"By Jove, look there!" he cried. "That's a piece of luck."

He pointed to the upper part of the basin, in which a number of smart
yachts were anchored side by side. Marseilles is a natural point of
departure for Mediterranean tours, and many yacht-owners send their
vessels there to be coaled and stored for projected trips.

"What is it?" queried Edith, when she could see nothing in the locality
indicated save the vessels and the small expanse of water dancing in the
rays of a bright sun.

"The very best thing that could have happened. There is Daubeney's
yacht, the _Blue-Bell_."

"Yes. So I see. It would be charming if we had time to go for a run
along the Riviera, but I am afraid, whilst Mr. Brett controls our
energies, amusement of that sort will be out of our reach."

"Not a bit of it. You do not see my point, Edith. Daubeney is a
first-rate chap, and a thorough sportsman. Suppose it becomes necessary
for us to follow up Dubois and his fishing-smack, and we let Daubeney
into the know. The _Blue-Bell_ would pursue the _Belles Soeurs_ to
China. He would ask no better fun. I tell you that Brett will be
delighted when he hears of it."

"Yes, dear, but we do not even know that Mr. Daubeney is in Marseilles."

"Let us go and see. It doesn't matter a pin anyhow, because a telegram
from me to him would place the yacht at our disposal, and he would join
us by express at the first possible stopping-place. You do not know what
a good chap Daubeney is."

"No," said Edith shortly. "He is evidently a most useful acquaintance."

It is a most curious fact that young ladies in the engaged stage regard
their _fiancé's_ male friends with extreme suspicion; the more
enthusiastic the man, the more suspicious the woman.

Fairholme, sublimely unconscious of this feminine weakness, continued to
dilate upon the superlative excellences of Daubeney until they reached
the yacht itself.

A smartly-attired sailor was pretending to find some work in carefully
uncoiling a rope which did not satisfy his critical eye. Before
Fairholme could hail the man, a rotund form, encased in many yards of
blue serge, surmounted by a jolly-looking face on top of which was
perched an absurdly small yachting cap, emerged from the companion.

"Why, there he is," shouted the earl. "Halloa, Daubeney! Yoicks!
Tally-ho!"

The person addressed in this startling manner stopped as though he had
been shot. He gazed at the sky and then gravely surveyed the gilded
statue that surmounts the picturesque church of Notre Dame de la Garde.

"Here I am, you idiot," continued Fairholme. "I am not in a balloon. I
am on the quay. Come here quick. I want to introduce you to Edith and
Sir Hubert."

Luckily Miss Talbot's dark doubts had vanished after one keen glance at
Daubeney. He was eminently a safe friend for her future husband. Such a
fat and hail-fellow-well-met individual could not possibly harbour
guile. So she passed over without reference the extent of Daubeney's
acquaintance concerning herself, implied by the use of her Christian
name. Indeed, was there not a compliment in Fairholme's unconscious
outspokenness? If he only discussed her charms with Daubeney then
Daubeney was a man to be cultivated.

The meeting on the quay was hearty in the extreme, and the Honourable
James Daubeney further ingratiated himself by saying: "Even if Lord
Fairholme had not told me who you were, Miss Talbot, I should have known
you at once."

"That would be very clever of you," purred Edith.

"Oh, no, there is nothing remarkable in the fact, I assure you. He
always sat in his chambers so that he could look at your photograph, and
as, in addition to that speaking likeness, I know the colour of your
hair, your eyes, your teeth even, I could not be mistaken."

Miss Talbot thought Mr. Daubeney rather curious. But still he was very
nice, and unquestionably the services of the _Blue-Bell_ might be more
than useful.

So she was graciousness personified in her manner, and promptly
determined to invite him to luncheon, thinking that the chance direction
of their conversation with Mr. Brett might lead towards the use of the
yacht being hinted at.

She counted without Fairholme. The latter slapped his heavy friend on
the back.

"Look here, old chap, are you fixed up for a cruise? Plenty of coal,
champagne, and all that sort of thing?"

"Loaded to the gunwales."

"That's all right, because we may want the _Blue-Bell_ for a month or
so."

"There she is," said Daubeney; "fit to go anywhere and do anything."

Miss Talbot had never heard such extraordinary conduct in her life. She
wondered how two women would have conducted the negotiations. The
question was too abstruse, so she gave it up and contented herself
instead with accepting Daubeney's hearty request that they should
inspect the yacht.

The _Blue-Bell_ was an extremely smart little ship of 250 tons register,
and an ordinary speed of twelve knots. Incidentally Miss Talbot
discovered that the owner made the vessel his home. He was never happy
away from her, and the _Blue-Bell_ was known to every yachtsman from the
Hebrides to the Golden Horn.

To eke out her coal supply she was fitted with sails, and Daubeney
assured his fair visitor that the _Blue-Bell_ could ride out a gale as
comfortably and safely as any craft afloat. Altogether Miss Talbot
congratulated herself on Fairholme's discovery, and she could not help
hoping that their strange errand to Marseilles might eventuate in a
Mediterranean chase.

When the tour of inspection had ended Daubeney suggested an excursion.

"I understand you have never been to Marseilles before, Miss Talbot. In
that case, what do you say if we run over and see the Chateau d'If--the
place that Dumas made famous, you know?"

"Is it far?" said Edith.

"Oh, not very; about a mile across the harbour. Monte Cristo swam the
distance, you know, after his escape."

"Shall we go in the yacht?"

Daubeney bubbled with laughter.

"Well, not exactly, Miss Talbot. You cannot swing a ship of this size
about so easily as all that, you know. I have another craft alongside
that will suit our purpose."

He whistled to a tiny steam launch which Edith had not noticed before,
and without further ado the party seated themselves. They sped rapidly
down the harbour and out through the narrow entrance between the
lighthouses.

No sooner did Edith behold the splendid panorama of rocky coast that
encloses the great outer bay, with its blue waters studded with
delightful little islands, through which fishing boats and small steam
tugs threaded their way towards different points on the coast, than she
clapped her hands with schoolgirl delight.

"I had no idea," she cried, "that Marseilles was half so beautiful. Why,
it is a wonderful place. I have always read about it being hot and
dirty. It certainly is untidy, but to wash its citizens would take away
all the romance! As for the climate being hot, just imagine a day like
this in the middle of November. Can you possibly think what the
sensation would be if you were plunged into a London fog at this moment,
Mr. Daubeney?"

"I have hardly ever seen one," he replied. "I take mighty good care to
be far removed from my beloved country during the fog season."

She sighed. "What it is to be a man and to be able to roam about the
world unfettered."

"It all depends upon the meaning of the word 'unfettered,'" said
Daubeney. "Have you got any sisters, Miss Talbot?"

They all laughed at this inconsequent question. It was impossible to
resist Daubeney's buoyant good nature, and Edith felt certain that in
half an hour she would be calling him "Jimmy."

They sped across the waves towards the Chateau d'If, and drew up
alongside its small landing-stage.

The island supplies an all-the-year-round resort for the townspeople.
Every fine day a steamer runs at intervals to and fro between it and the
inner harbour. The good folk of the south of France, whether Marseillais
or visitors to the city, find a constant delight in taking the short
marine excursion and wandering for half an hour about the rocky
pathways and steep turrets of the famous prison, whilst they listen with
silent awe to the words of the guide when he tells them how the Abbé
died, and shows them the hole between the two walls excavated by Monte
Cristo. So the English visitors found themselves in the midst of a
number of laughing, light-hearted French sightseers.

They wandered round with the crowd until Edith looked at her watch.

"It is past twelve o'clock," she said. "Should we not be going back to
the hotel to lunch? You will come with us, of course, Mr. Daubeney?"

"I am famished with expectation," answered the irrepressible Jimmy, "but
before we go away you certainly ought to climb to the leads and get the
panoramic view of the harbour which the tower affords on a clear day. It
is a sight to be remembered, I promise you."

So they made the ascent, Daubeney leading in his capacity of guide,
though he was quite breathless when they reached the top of the steps.

Edith followed him, and to her alarm perceived that he was purple in the
face. He tried to smile, and indicated by a gesture that he would
recover in a minute. Meanwhile he was speechless.

Fairholme was the next up. He had hardly set foot on the roof before he
exclaimed--

"Well, I'm d----d!"

Edith turned round quickly.

"What on earth is the matter?" she cried. "Why are you using such horrid
language? Mr. Daubeney only hurried a little too fast, that is all."

Fairholme dropped his voice to a whisper.

"Look," he said, indicating with his eyes a distant corner.

Edith followed his glance, and instantly comprehended the cause of his
startled exclamation. For in that quiet spot, far removed from watchful
police or inquisitive hotel servants, stood four men, whom she could not
fail to recognize as Gros Jean, Hussein-ul-Mulk, and the other two
Turks, although, of course, until this moment she had never previously
set eyes on them.

She instantly understood that they must continue to talk and act in the
guise of ordinary tourists. In this respect the presence of Daubeney was
invaluable, for he naturally could not guess the community of interest
between his aristocratic friends and the motley group in the corner.

As soon as he regained his breath, Edith and he commenced a lively
conversation. Sir Hubert joined them, and in the course of their casual
stroll round the tower they passed close to the Frenchman and his
companions, attracting a casual glance from the former, who instantly
set them down as English people bound for the East, and whiling away a
few hours in Marseilles prior to the departure of their steamer.

But another surprise awaited them.

A small staircase led to the top of the turret, which, as already
described, formed part of the angle that sheltered the group of men.

When Edith and the others strolled past the door they glanced inside and
caught sight of a shabby-looking Frenchman, who had paused halfway up
the stairs, and was leaning eagerly forward through an embrazured
loophole, obviously intent on hearing every word uttered by the
quartette beneath.

Fortunately Edith, who was nearest to the door, was completely shrouded
from Gros Jean's observation. Else that astute gentleman might have
noticed her involuntary start of surprise. For the shabby-looking
Frenchman was her brother.

The instant Talbot heard footsteps he naturally turned to see who it was
that approached, and he also was amazed to find Edith's wondering eyes
fixed upon him at a distance of only a few feet.

She nodded her head and placed a warning finger upon her lips. As it
happened, Daubeney caught her in the act, and for the next few moments
that gentleman's emotions were intense, not to say painful.

"Who would have thought it?" he muttered to himself. "A girl like her
making secret signs to a dirty scoundrel of that sort. The beggar was
good-looking, of course; but what--well, I give it up. Poor old
Fairholme! What funny creatures women are, to be sure!"

How much further this soliloquy might have proceeded he knew not, for
Edith sharply interrupted his thoughts.

"You seem to be preoccupied, Mr. Daubeney. What has happened?" she
inquired.

"I--I--really don't know."

His distress was so unmistakable that her quick woman's wit divined the
true cause. They had now sauntered some distance away from the part of
the tower that might be marked "dangerous," so she grasped Jimmy's
ponderous arm, and whispered with a delightful smile--

"You saw me make signs to that Frenchman, didn't you?"

"Well--er--I--er----"

"Oh, yes, I understand. Of course you were surprised. But don't jump
now, or say anything; he is my brother!"

She need not have warned Daubeney as to any remarks he might feel
inclined to make, for her announcement again rendered him speechless.

"It is a mystery," she whispered, "a deep secret. We will tell you all
about it at lunch."




CHAPTER XVIII

TALBOT'S ADVENTURES


Although Miss Talbot spoke so confidently of revelations to accompany
the expected meal, it is idle to pretend that any of the three people
who were cognizant of Talbot's mysterious appearance on the island
betrayed undue haste to return to the waiting lunch.

Sublimely unconscious of the excitement raging in their breasts, Sir
Hubert Fitzjames could not understand why they each and all answered him
in such a flurried manner when he dilated upon the beauties of the bay.
Finally he turned to Edith with an air of apprehension.

"I fear," he said, "that your expedition of last night has upset you.
Have you a headache?"

Then she could contain her news no longer. Drawing him close to the
rampart, and bending down so as to apparently take a deep interest in
the laughing excursionists beneath, she murmured--

"Listen to me carefully, uncle. Don't look around. Have you noticed the
party of Turks and a Frenchman grouped together in the opposite corner?"

"Yes," he said. "You do not mean to tell me that they are the people
whom Mr. Brett met this morning at the station?"

"Yes, unquestionably they are. Had your attention not been otherwise
taken up you must have recognized them from their description. But the
most marvellous thing remains. You know the little turret close to which
they are standing?"

"Yes."

"Well, in the staircase leading to the top, and leaning out through a
window, trying to hear what they are saying, is Jack!"

"What an extraordinary thing," said the major-general, who was really
very annoyed that such a meeting should have taken place under his very
nose and its significance remain hidden from him.

"Can we do anything?" he added.

"Nothing save to remain here a little longer and be most careful not to
appear to have the least knowledge of their identity. I have told you
lest we might chance to meet Jack face to face, and you should be taken
by surprise if you recognized him."

"Is he in disguise, then?" gasped her uncle.

"Yes, in a sense. Mr. Talbot has put him into a sort of French
working-man's holiday suit. He looks so odd, but it is evident that
neither Gros Jean nor the Turks have the least suspicion of his
presence. It was very clever of Jack to get into that turret without
alarming them."

They were joined by Daubeney and Fairholme, and Edith knew by a single
glance at the expressive expanse of the former's face that should he be
again brought into close proximity to the Turks and her brother it was
quite possible the quick-witted Gros Jean might detect the look of
interested amazement which must inevitably appear upon his honest
British countenance.

"Bobby," she said at once, "I want you and Mr. Daubeney to go down to
the launch and await us there. We will join you in a few minutes."

"Certainly," was the reply, for Fairholme knew that some motive lay
behind the request. "You cannot do much by remaining here, can you, so I
suppose you will not be long?"

"No; uncle and I will survey the view until it is firmly fixed in our
minds. After that it is full steam ahead for the Hotel du Louvre."

The two young men disappeared down the stairs leading to the courtyard.
On their way they encountered a number of holiday makers, climbing to
the top of the tower. In they came, twenty or more of them, and promptly
spread themselves around the walls, the Marseillais amongst them
indicating to their country cousins points of interest in the city and
along the coast.

At this moment, too, the siren of the small pleasure steamer at the quay
announced she was about to make her hourly trip back to the town.
Whereupon Gros Jean and the Turks, having apparently ended their
consultation, crossed the roof and disappeared down the staircase.

Instantly Jack Talbot strolled after them, but no sooner had the bulky
form of Gros Jean--who was the last of his party--vanished than Talbot
ran towards his uncle and sister, and said rapidly--

"Dubois and the girl have gone to Palermo. Gros Jean and the Turks have
been in communication with the Sultan, and there is a movement on foot
to buy back the diamonds. That is all that I can tell you now, but let
Mr. Brett know. When I have seen these chaps safely home, I will at
once come to the hotel."

Then he, too, vanished.

Edith felt a thrill of elation that her good judgment should have led
her to remain sufficiently long on the tower to glean such important
information.

When Brett heard the news it seemed to annoy him.

"I feared as much," he said. "I had not much faith in the patriotism of
the Young Turks. I wonder how much the Sultan has offered. It must be a
severe wrench for him to dip his hands into his money-bags, and Dubois
will certainly demand a handsome figure before he disgorges his booty.
However, we must possess our souls in peace until Talbot comes here and
tells us all what he has learnt. At this moment I cannot help marvelling
at the strange coincidence which should have led the Turks and yourself
to select the Chateau d'If for a morning stroll. I fully expected that
Gros Jean would be in bed. He must have received some startling
intelligence to keep him away from his rest after a long journey.
Meanwhile, I have not been idle."

Everyone awaited with interest his next words, for Brett seldom made
such a remark without having something out of the common to communicate.

"I telephoned to Paris," he explained, "to tell the Prefecture that Gros
Jean and the Turks had arrived at Marseilles. The police were surprised,
and perhaps a little sore, that they had not discovered the fact for
themselves, but when I soothed them down they informed me that 'Le
Ver'--the diminutive scoundrel whom we rescued from the Rue
Barbette--had faithfully kept his appointment with me at the Grand Hotel
yesterday.

"It seems that he was much upset when he learnt that I had left. He went
straight to the commissary to inform him that, contrary to expectations,
the Turks were acting in complete accord with mademoiselle's father.
This naturally puzzled the commissary a good deal, and the affair became
still stranger when an attaché from the Turkish Embassy called a little
later and urged the police to do all in their power to discover the
whereabouts of Hussein-ul-Mulk, as he was particularly anxious to have a
friendly talk with him.

"Close on the heels of the Turk came a confidential messenger from the
British Embassy, requesting the latest details, and, when questioned by
the commissary, this man admitted that he had in the first instance
called to see me at the Grand Hotel.

"In a word, Miss Talbot, I had suspected the existence of the
negotiations, which your brother's smart piece of work this morning has
confirmed."

Whilst they were talking Fairholme took Daubeney on one side, and with
Brett's permission gave him a detailed account of the whole affair.

The Honourable James Daubeney was delighted to be mixed up in this
international imbroglio. He told the earl that the _Blue-Bell_ was at
his disposal at any moment of the day or night she might be required.
Indeed, he forthwith excused himself on the ground that certain little
formalities were requisite before he could clear the harbour, and he
must hurry off to attend to these immediately.

"I tell you what," he added, with his hand on the door, "I will come
back and dine with you, if I may, at half-past seven, because I shall
not sleep to-night until I hear how things are going on. But I promise
you, if I meet a single Turk between here and the harbour, I will cross
over to the other side of the street."

No one quite knew what he meant by this portentous guarantee, but it was
evident that Daubeney, if nothing else, was a man of action, and his
yacht might become very useful.

He had hardly quitted the hotel when a waiter announced that a _jeune
Français_ wished to see Mr. Brett.

"Show him up," said the barrister, and a moment later Talbot entered. He
stood near the door twiddling his hat in his hand until the waiter had
gone. Then he told them what had happened since he took up his quarters
at the Hotel des Jolies Femmes.

"When I reached there," he said, "I was under the impression that Gros
Jean and the Turks were in bed. I hired my room; sent my tin box there,
and then settled myself in the café to smoke cigarettes and read these
vile Marseilles newspapers until lunch time. You may judge my surprise
when I saw the three Turks and Gros Jean come out into the street and
ask a waiter the way to the post-office.

"They set off, and, being sure of their destination, I did not quit the
café myself until they were well out of sight. Then I walked away in the
same direction, inquired of a policeman the quickest way to reach the
post-office, and stepped out rapidly.

"I had not gone far when I overtook them. They reached the building. The
Turks remained in the street and Gros Jean went inside, so I followed
him, and found him inquiring for letters at the Poste Restante
department. Whereupon I sent a telegram to London."

"Who on earth did you telegraph to, Jack?" broke in Edith.

"To my shirt-maker, telling him to put a couple of dozens in hand at
once."

This unexpected answer evoked a general titter.

"The funny thing to me," said Talbot, "was the effect of the message on
the telegraph clerk. He could evidently read English, and he surveyed me
curiously, for in my present appearance I looked a most unlikely person
to order shirts by telegram from a well-known London house. However, I
achieved my purpose, which was to overhear Gros Jean's request. He asked
if there were any letters for M. Isidor de Rion."

"Good gracious," cried Edith, "what an aristocratic name for that fat
man."

"Anyhow, it was effective. There was a letter for him, and he evidently
only expected one, for, before the clerk who handed it to him was able
to examine the remainder of the packet, he tore it open, glanced briefly
at its contents, and then hurried out to join his friends to the street.
After a short conclave they entered a café and procured a railway guide.
I tried hard to find out what section of the book Gros Jean was looking
at, but failed, for the double reason that he did not consult the Turks,
nor did he seem to make up his mind, for he looked through the book,
sighed impatiently and suggested to the others that they should go out
again. I followed them into the Cannebiere, and thence down towards the
harbour. When we reached the quay a small pleasure steamer was whistling
for passengers, and a placard announced a fifty-centimes return trip to
the Chateau d'If.

"Seemingly on the spur of the moment, Gros Jean invited the others to
accompany him. It probably occurred to him that the island would supply
a safe nook in which they could talk without fear of observation, as
their presence on board the steamer would stamp them as excursionists.
So, of course, I followed them. When we reached the island, I quickly
perceived that the castle filled the whole of it. Therefore, in place of
keeping behind them I went in front. We all passed on with the stream of
sightseers until we reached the courtyard. I had never been in the place
before, but Gros Jean seemed to know it well. Owing to my policy of
preceding them I found myself halted for a moment at the foot of the
stairs leading to the tower. It struck me that the Frenchman was making
in this direction, so I took the chance and ran up. I reached the top
and looked over before the party had entered the doorway at the bottom.
They came in. Thus far I was right. I looked around, and found, as you
know, the square roof surrounded by bare battlements with a turret in
one corner. I decided instantly that it would be hopeless to try to get
close to them if they halted at any other point save in the vicinity of
the turret. Elsewhere I must remain too far away to catch any portion of
their conversation. So I darted across and entered the turret, noting on
my way up the stairs the existence of the loopholed window where you
finally saw me. It would never do to be caught there, so I went to the
top and peeped over. You can guess how delighted I was when they came
straight across and settled themselves in the angle beneath. Then I
crept halfway down the stairs and leaned as far as I dared through the
loophole, being just in time to hear Gros Jean read a letter from his
daughter. Fortunately the innkeeper had to speak plainly, as his
companions were foreigners, and for the same reason I had no difficulty
in catching the drift of what the Turks said.

"The letter was quite short. It told him that H. had decided to leave
France, and had made arrangements to proceed at once to Palermo, whither
the writer would accompany him.

"One sentence I remember exactly: 'H.,' she wrote, 'has friends in
Sicily, and he feels assured of a kind reception at their hands.'"

"Friends!" interrupted Brett. "That means brigands!"

"The information seemed to annoy the Turks very much. They were very
angry at what they described as the enforced delay, and discussed with
Gros Jean the quickest means of reaching Palermo forthwith. Then he told
them that he had endeavoured to find out the trains running through
Italy to Messina, but they could not leave Marseilles until to-night,
and he thought it best that they should have a quiet talk on the
situation before deciding too hurriedly upon any line of action.

"The rest of their conversation was inconsequent and desultory, alluding
evidently to some project which they had fully discussed before. But it
is quite clear from the drift of their remarks that an emissary from the
Sultan had approached Hussein-ul-Mulk, and had offered such terms for
the recovery of the diamonds that not only were the Young Turkish party
in Paris eager to compromise with him, but they had succeeded in
convincing Gros Jean that Dubois also would be likely to accept the
proposition."

Brett smiled grimly. "The commissary in Paris always follows up the
wrong person," he said. "Had he only used his wits yesterday morning he
would have discovered that the agent of the Embassy was in touch with
Hussein-ul-Mulk. Hence the presence of the quartette in Marseilles
to-day."

Talbot was naturally mystified by this remark until Brett explained to
him the circumstances already known to the reader.

"Was there anything else?" inquired the barrister, reverting to the
chief topic before them.

"Only this. I gathered that Gros Jean did not know his daughter's
whereabouts in Marseilles, but she had arranged that if circumstances
necessitated her departure from the town she would leave a letter for
him in the Poste Restante, giving him full details. Nevertheless, this
presupposes the knowledge on her part that he would come to Marseilles,
so I assume therefore that telegrams must have passed between them
yesterday afternoon."

"Obviously!" said Brett. "Anything else?"

"Yes," and now Talbot's voice took a note of passion that momentarily
surprised his hearers. "It seems to me that this underhanded
arrangement, if it goes through, condones the murder of poor Mehemet Ali
and his assistants, and places on me the everlasting disgrace of having
permitted this thing to happen whilst an important and special mission
was entrusted to my sole charge by the Foreign Office. Dubois has been
able to commit his crime, get away with the diamonds, hoodwink all of us
most effectually, and, in the result, obtain a huge reward from the
Turkish Government for his services. I tell you, Mr. Brett, I won't put
up with it. I will follow him to the other end of the world, and, at any
rate, take personal vengeance on the man who has ruined my career. For,
no matter what you say, the only effective way in which I can
rehabilitate myself with my superiors is to hand back those diamonds to
the custody of the Foreign Office. No matter how the panic-stricken
sovereign in Yildiz Kiosk may sacrifice his servants to gain his own
ends, I, at least, have a higher motive. It rests with me to prove that
the British Government is not to be humbugged by Paris thieves or
Turkish agitators. If I fail in that duty there remains to me the
personal motive of revenge!

"No, Edith; it is useless to argue with me," for his sister had risen
and placed her arms lovingly round his neck in the effort to calm him.
"My mind is made up. I suppose Mr. Brett feels that his inquiry is
ended. For me it has just commenced."

The young man's justifiable rage created a sensation which was promptly
allayed by Brett's cool voice.

"May I ask," he said, "what reason you have to suppose that I should so
readily throw up the sponge and leave Monsieur Henri Dubois the victor
in this contest?"

"Do you mean," cried Talbot, starting to his feet, "that you will stand
by me?"

"Stand by you!" echoed the barrister, himself yielding for an instant to
the electrical condition of things. "Of course I will. We will recover
those diamonds and bring them back with us to London if we have to take
them out of the Sultan's palace itself!"

"And now, Lord Fairholme," he added, before Talbot could do other than
grasp his hand and shake it impulsively, "we want your friend's yacht.
We will set out for Palermo at the first possible moment. We must reach
there many hours, perhaps a whole day, before Dubois, who is on a
sailing vessel, and even with the start he has obtained cannot hope to
equal the performance of a fast steamer. Let Gros Jean and his Turks
travel overland. We will beat them, too. Come, now, no more talk, but
action. You, Fairholme, go ahead and prepare Daubeney. I will see to
your luggage being packed. Talbot and I will join you in half an hour."

"Eh! what is that?" broke in Sir Hubert. "Fairholme, Talbot, you--what
are Edith and I going to do?"

"Mr. Brett, of course," said Edith, in her steady, even tones, "did not
trouble to include us, uncle, because we shall be on the yacht first. A
woman can always pack up much better than a man, you know, and I will
look after you, dear."

Brett gave one glance at her flushed and smiling face, and forthwith
abandoned argument as useless.

An hour later the _Blue-Bell_ was skimming merrily past the outer
lighthouse in Marseilles bay.




CHAPTER XIX

THE RACE


For a wonder, the Gulf of Lyons was not boisterous. They had a pleasant
journey through the night, and Daubeney assured them that his handsome
yacht was doing twelve knots an hour without being pressed.

Next morning they reached the Straits of Bonifacio, and here they had to
slacken speed somewhat, for the navigation of that rocky channel was
difficult and dangerous. Far behind them they could see a huge steamer
approaching. As the morning wore, this vessel came nearer, and Daubeney,
important now in his capacity of commander, announced that she was the
P. and O. steamship _Ganges_, bound for Brindisi and the East, via the
Straits of Messina.

"She left Marseilles at a late hour last night," he said, "and will call
at Brindisi for the Indian mails."

An idea suddenly struck Brett. "Do you know how fast she is steaming?"
he inquired.

"Oh, about thirteen and a half knots an hour. That is her best rate. The
P. and O. boats are not flyers, you know."

"And does she stop at Messina?"

Daubeney now caught the drift of the barrister's questions.

"I don't think so, but Macpherson, my chief engineer, will probably tell
us."

Macpherson was produced, a bearded and grizzled personage, hailing from
Dundee. Being a Scotchman he would not commit himself.

"I hav'na hear-rd o' the P. and O. ships stoppin' at Messina," he
announced, "but aiblins they wad if they got their price." And "Mac"
would not commit himself any further.

Another hour passed, and the _Ganges_ was now almost alongside. Although
both ships were well through the Straits of Bonifacio, and the _Ganges_
should have followed a course a point or two north of that pursued by
the _Blue-Bell_, she appeared to be desirous to come close to them.

Suddenly the reason became apparent. A line of little flags fluttered up
to her masthead.

"She is signalling us," cried Daubeney excitedly. "Here you," he shouted
to a sailor, "bring Jones here at once."

Jones was the yacht's expert signaller. He approached with a telescope
and a code under his arm. After a prolonged gaze and a careful scrutiny
of the code, he announced--

        "This is how the message reads: 'Turks on board.
        Stopping Messina.--WINTER.'"

For once the barrister was startled out of his usual quiet
self-possession.

"Winter!" he almost screamed. "Is he there?"

A hundred mad questions coursed through his brain, but he realized that
to attempt a long explanation by signals was not only out of the
question, but could not fail to attract the attention of passengers on
board the _Ganges_. This he did not desire to do. Quick as lightning, he
decided that by some inexplicable means the Scotland Yard detective had
reached Marseilles full of the knowledge that Dubois and the diamonds
were _en route_ to Sicily, and had also learnt that he, Brett, and the
others were on board the _Blue-Bell_.

He had evidently taken the speediest means of reaching the island, and
found himself on board the same ship as Gros Jean and the Turks. Hence
he had approached the captain with the request that the _Blue-Bell_
should be signalled.

"What shall we answer?" said Daubeney, breaking in upon the barrister's
train of thought.

"Oh, say that the signal is fully understood."

Whilst the answering flags were being displayed Daubeney asked--

"What does it all mean?"

"It means," said Brett, "that if the _Blue-Bell_ has another yard of
speed in her engines we shall need it all. It perhaps will make no
material difference in the long run, but as a mere matter of pride I
should like to reach Palermo before Gros Jean. If I remember rightly,
Palermo is six hours from Messina by rail. Can we do it?"

"Mac" was again consulted. Of course he would not commit himself.

"We will try damned ha-r-rd," he said.

And with this emphatic resolve the _Blue-Bell_ sped onwards through the
sunlit sea until, late in the evening, the _Ganges_ was hull down on her
quarter.

Macpherson came on deck to take a last look at the P. and O.

"It will be a gr-reat race," he announced, "and I may have to kill a
stoker. But----"

Then he dived below again.

So rapidly did the _Blue-Bell_ speed over the inland sea that as night
fell over the face of the waters on the second day out from Marseilles
the look-out forrard announced "a light on the starboard bow," and
Daubeney, after scrutinizing it through his binoculars and consulting a
chart, announced it to be the occulting light on Cape San Vito.

This discovery occasioned a slight alteration in the course. The
_Blue-Bell_ ran merrily on until the small hours of the morning, when
everybody on board was suddenly awakened by the stoppage of the screw.

This is always a disturbing incident at sea when people are asleep.
Travellers not inured to the incidents of ocean voyaging cannot help
conjuring up vivid pictures of impending disaster.

It is useless to tell them that for the very reason the ship has
slackened her speed it is obvious she is being navigated with care and
watchfulness. Reason at such a time is dethroned by the natural timidity
of the unseen, and it is not surprising therefore that the passengers on
board the _Blue-Bell_ should one and all find some pretext to gain the
deck in their eagerness to find out why the vessel had slowed down. The
answer was a reassuring one. She had burnt a flare for a pilot, and
quickly an answering gleam came from afar out of the darkness ahead.

The pilot was soon on board. He was an Italian, but, like most members
of his profession doing business in those waters, he spoke French
fluently.

Brett asked him how long, with the north-easterly breeze then blowing,
a small sailing vessel, such as a schooner-rigged fishing-smack, would
take to reach Palermo from Marseilles.

The pilot seemed to be surprised at the question.

"It is a trip not often made, monsieur," he said. "Fishing vessels from
Marseilles are frequently compelled to take shelter under the lea of
Corsica or even Sardinia, but here--in Sicily--why should they come
here?"

"Oh, I don't mean a schooner engaged in the fishing trade, but rather a
small vessel chartered for pleasure, taking the place, as it were, of a
private yacht."

"Ah," said the Italian, "that explains it. Well, monsieur, with this
breeze I should imagine they would set their course round by the north
of Corsica in order to avoid beating through the Straits of Bonifacio.
That would make the run about 650 knots, and a smart little vessel,
carrying all her sails and properly ballasted, might reach Palermo in a
few hours over three days."

"Thank you," said Brett. "Is Palermo a difficult port to make?"

"Oh no, monsieur. There is deep water all round here, no shoals, and but
few isolated rocks, which are all well known. The only thing to guard
against is the changeful current. According to the state of the tide and
the direction of the wind, sailing ships have to alter their course very
considerably, for the currents round here are very strong and
consequently most dangerous in calm weather."

Brett smiled.

"It would be an ignoble conclusion to the chase if the _Belles Soeurs_
were wrecked with her valuable cargo. I most devoutly pray," he said to
himself, "that the breezes and currents may combine to bring Dubois
safely on shore. Then I think we can deal with him."

Soon after daybreak the _Blue-Bell_, after a momentary halt at the
Customs Station, crept past the Castello a Mare, and amidst much
gesticulation, accompanied by a torrent of volcanic Italian, she was
tied up to a wharf in the Cala--the small inner harbour of the port.

Edith, who could not sleep since the advent of the pilot, made an early
toilet and climbed to the bridge, whence she had a magnificent view of
the sunrise over the beautiful city that stands on the Conca d'Oro, or
Golden Shell--the smiling and luxuriant plain that seems to be provided
by Nature for man's habitation. It lies beyond a lovely bay, and is
enclosed on three sides by lofty and precipitous mountains.

Naturally Fairholme was drawn to her side as a chip of steel to a
magnet.

"We are certain to have a furious row here," he remarked when they had
exhausted their superlative adjectives concerning the splendid prospect
opening up before their eyes.

"Why?" cried Edith wonderingly. "I understood that our present adventure
may at any moment have exciting developments, but I do not see the
association between the view and the possibility."

"It is this way," he answered. "I have not read a great deal, as you
know, but I have always noticed in my limited way that wherever Nature
is most lavish in her gifts, she seems to take a delight in setting
people by the ears. Italy is a fine country, you know, yet there are
more murders to the square inch there than in any other place on earth.
Then again, it is likely that several armed policemen are at this moment
chasing bandits among those hills over there," and he nodded towards
the distant blue heights which looked so peaceful in the clear
atmosphere, now brilliant with the rays of the rising sun.

Edith laughed. "Really, Bobby," she pouted, "you are becoming
sentimental. I half expect to find you break out into verse."

"I can do that, too," he said, "though it is not my own. Hasn't Heber
got a hymn which tells us of a place where

                         Every prospect pleases,
                         And only man is vile.

I forget the rest of it."

Miss Talbot faced him rapidly.

"Good gracious, Bobby, what is the matter with you? I never knew you in
such a melting mood before?"

"How can I help it?" he half-whispered, laying his hand on her shoulder.
"We have never been together so much before in our lives. Don't you
realize, Edith, what it means to us if Mr. Brett discovers those
diamonds within the next few hours or days?"

He bent closer towards her and his hand passed from her shoulder round
her neck. "When we return to England, if you are willing, we can be
married within a week."

A bright flush suffused her beautiful face. She bent her head and was
silent. It is quite certain that Fairholme would have kissed her had not
Daubeney shouted--

"Look here, you two, flirting on the bridge is strictly forbidden. You
will demoralize the whole crew. Even the pilot cannot keep his eyes off
you."

They laughed and giggled like a couple of children caught stealing
gooseberries. Yet the incident and the words were fraught with a solemn
significance which often came back to their minds in other days.

The party breakfasted on board and then set out to survey the hotels.
Brett's first care was to ascertain the scheduled hours of the train
service between Messina and Palermo. To his joy he discovered that
neither Winter nor the gang he was shadowing could possibly reach the
city until a quarter to four in the afternoon. They decided in favour of
the Hotel de France as being most modern in its appearance and centrally
situated.

The next thing to do was to provide an efficient watch on all sailing
vessels entering the harbour, and here the pilot proved to be a valuable
ally. Brett explained to him that he was most anxious to meet some
people who were coming from Marseilles on a fishing smack named the
_Belles Soeurs_, No. 107. It was possible, he explained, that both the
number and the name might be obliterated, so he wished the pilot, or any
helpers he might employ for the duty, to take particular note of all
strange boats answering to this description, and at once report their
appearance. This the man guaranteed to do. He said that it was quite
impossible for a French-rigged smack to enter Palermo without attracting
his notice.

As the daily remuneration fixed for his services was far beyond any sum
he could earn as a pilot, he set about his task with enthusiasm. He
engaged two assistants to take turns in watching the harbour, and gave
the barrister such assurances of devotion to duty that Brett felt quite
satisfied that Dubois could not arrive in Palermo without his
knowledge. Of course it was quite on the cards that some secluded creek
along the coast might be preferred by the astute schemer as a point of
debarkation, but this was a risk which must be taken.

By approaching the police authorities and requesting their co-operation,
and also using Gros Jean and the Turks as a stalking-horse, Brett felt
tolerably certain that the time would soon arrive when Dubois and he
would stand face to face.

In making these manifold preparations the morning passed rapidly. The
barrister insisted that his companions should go for a drive whilst he
busied himself with the necessary details, and they should meet at the
hotel for the midday meal. It was then that he singled out Sir Hubert
for his personal share in the pursuit.

"You know Mr. Winter?" he said to the baronet.

"Yes, I remember him perfectly."

"In that case I wish you to go to the station and meet the 3.45 p.m.
train on arrival. You will probably see the Turks and Gros Jean, but pay
no attention to them. Keep a bright look-out for Mr. Winter. Walk up
quite openly and speak to him, and the probability is that should Gros
Jean have become suspicious of this Englishman who follows in the same
track as himself, your presence on the platform will convince him that
he was mistaken in imagining the slightest connection between Winter's
journey and his own."

"That is good," said the major-general. "It would never have occurred to
me. Any other commands?"

"None, save this," continued Brett, smiling at the old soldier's
eagerness to obey implicitly any instructions given to him. "When you
meet Winter, tell him, if possible, to so direct his movements as to
find out Gros Jean's destination, if it can be done without giving the
Frenchman the slightest cause for uneasiness. Otherwise the matter is of
no consequence. I have already interviewed the chief of police here, and
it will only be a question of an hour's delay before the local
detectives effectually locate the quarters occupied by Gros Jean and the
Turks."




CHAPTER XX

CLOSE QUARTERS


Sir Hubert was all eagerness to undertake his mission. He reached the
station at least half an hour too soon. Anyone seeing him there would
readily admit that the barrister could not have chosen an agent less
guileful in appearance. The very cut of his clothes, the immaculate
character of his white spats, bespoke the elderly British gentleman.

At last the train arrived. The vast majority of its passengers were
Sicilian peasants or business men returning to Palermo from the interior
of the island. To Sir Hubert's delight, he at once caught sight of Gros
Jean and the Turks, whom, of course, he quickly identified as the
loungers on the tower of the Chateau d'If.

It occurred to him that there was a remote chance of recognition by Gros
Jean, so he busied himself for an instant in a seeming scrutiny of the
bookstall until they had passed. A little further down the platform he
caught sight of Inspector Winter, that worthy individual being engaged
in a fiercely unintelligible controversy with an Italian porter as to
the possession of his portmanteau.

Sir Hubert hurried forward, and seized the amazed policeman by his hand,
wringing it warmly. To tell the truth, Winter did not know for a moment
who it was that accorded him such a cordial greeting, for, as it
subsequently transpired, the policeman was not aware of Sir Hubert's
journey to Marseilles, nor did he guess that Edith was with him.

The stolid detective, however, quickly recovered himself, and his first
words were--

"Did Mr. Brett fully understand my signal?"

"I think so," said the other; "but he will tell you all about that
afterwards. At present he wishes you to ascertain Gros Jean's intended
residence."

Mr. Winter smiled with the peculiar air of superiority affected by
Scotland Yard.

"Oh, that is too easy," he condescended to explain. "I have been talking
to him."

"You don't say so!"

"Yes, I have. My French is bad, and his English is worse, but he
understands that I am in the wholesale grocery trade. I have come to
Palermo to buy currants!"

"Most extraordinary! How very clever of you!"

Mr. Winter drew himself up with an air of professional pride.

"That is nothing, sir," he said. "We often make queer acquaintanceships
in the way of business. But Gros Jean is a smart chap. He eyed me
curiously when he happened to hear that I was the fifth passenger who
wished to leave the steamer at Messina, so I took the bull by the horns
and made myself useful to him in the matter of getting his baggage out
of the hold."

"Marvellous!" gasped Sir Hubert.

"The upshot of it was that he gave me some advice about currants. We
stayed in the same hotel at Messina, travelled together in the train,
and I am going to put up at the Campo Santo Hotel, where he will stay
with the Turks."

Meanwhile the subject of their conversation had quitted the station, and
Sir Hubert's respect for Mr. Winter's powers as a sleuth-hound yielded
to anxiety lest the slippery Frenchman might vanish once and for all.

"Hadn't we better follow him?" he suggested.

Mr. Winter winked knowingly. "Don't be anxious, sir. He wants to be seen
in my company. He believes I am here for trading purposes, and the
association will be useful to him."

Nevertheless the baronet was glad to find that Mr. Winter's confidence
was not misplaced, when, ten minutes later, he again encountered the
Frenchman and the Turks at the door of the Campo Santo, a cheap and
popular hotel near the square that forms the centre of Palermo.

The detective was eminently suited for the _rôle_ he now filled.

"Ah, monsoo," he cried with boisterous good humour, "permittez-moi
introducer un friend of mine, Monsoo Smeeth, de Londres, you know. Je ne
savez pas les noms de votre companiongs, but they are très bons
camarades, je suis certain."

Gros Jean was most complaisant.

"It ees von grand plaisir, m'sieu," he said, whilst the Turks gravely
bowed their acknowledgments.

The upshot of this extraordinary meeting was that when Mr. Winter had
secured a room and the party had ordered dinner, the six men set out
for a stroll through the town.

Sir Hubert strove hard to so manoeuvre their ramble that they should
pass the Hotel de France, and perchance come under the astonished eyes
of Brett and the others.

But this amiable design was frustrated by Gros Jean's eagerness to visit
the post-office, which lay in a different direction.

One of the Turks, none other than Hussein-ul-Mulk, spoke English fairly
well, and it puzzled the old baronet considerably to answer his
questions.

Yet the situation passed off well. Gros Jean came out of the
post-office, apparently without having obtained any missives--a letter,
of course, could not possibly await him--and suggested that they should
wander towards the harbour.

Sir Hubert strongly recommended the spectacular beauty of the street
where the Hotel de France lay, but Gros Jean politely insisted that he
wished to make some inquiries at the shipping office, and Mr. Winter
backed him up, being ignorant of the baronet's real motive.

There was nothing to do but yield gracefully.

They walked along the Corso Vittorio Emmanuele. Sir Hubert, fresh with
memories of his morning's drive with a guide, pointed out the chief
buildings, becoming sadly mixed up in the names of some of them.

Still, this was a safer topic than his previous conversation with
Hussein-ul-Mulk, so he persevered gamely.

They soon reached the quay. Sir Hubert became almost incoherent with
agitation when they passed the _Blue-Bell_ and came into full view of
Edith, Jack, Fairholme and Daubeney, who happened to leave the hotel
shortly before five o'clock in order to visit the yacht and secure a
good cup of tea.

Brett refused to accompany them, on the ground that his Italian scout,
the pilot, might bring news at any hour, and he must remain within
immediate call.

It was a supreme moment when Gros Jean halted and called general
attention to the smart-looking vessel and the tea-drinkers.

Sir Hubert keenly examined the top of the funnel, and tried
simultaneously to yawn and light a cigar. In the result he nearly choked
himself. Mr. Winter, somewhat more prepared for emergencies, endeavoured
to interest Gros Jean in the wonderful clearness of the water.

But Hussein-ul-Mulk and his two sedate friends suddenly betrayed a keen
interest in Fairholme.

When they last met the earl on the tower of the Chateau d'If they were
so engrossed in the object of their visit to Marseilles that he had
passed them unnoticed.

But now, looking steadily at him--for Fairholme was seated facing them,
and was striving to maintain the semblance of an animated chat with
Edith--there came to the Turks a memory, each instant becoming more
definite, of an exciting scene in the Rue Barbette, and the opportune
arrival of a stalwart young Englishman, backed up by a couple of
gendarmes.

Hussein-ul-Mulk's swarthy countenance reddened with suspicious anger. He
drew Gros Jean on one side and whispered something to him. The Frenchman
started violently.

"They have recognized you, Bobby!" murmured the quick-witted Edith.
"Oh, why didn't we remain with Mr. Brett!"

There is no knowing what might have happened had not Fate stepped in to
decide in dramatic fashion the important issues at stake.

Whilst Gros Jean and the Turk were still conferring in stealthy tones,
and the English people endeavoured to keep up an appearance of complete
unconcern, a tramp steamer swung round the corner of the mole that
protects the harbour.

In tow, with sails trimly furled and six people standing on her small
deck--a lady and gentleman and four sailors--was the _Belles Soeurs_,
fishing-smack No. 107, from Marseilles. Instantly a watcher, otherwise
unperceived, ran off from the quay at top speed towards the Hotel de
France.

Gros Jean, the Turks, Edith, Fairholme--each and every member of the two
parties on the wharf and on the deck of the _Blue-Bell_--momentarily
forgot the minor excitement of the situation in view of this unexpected
apparition.

"_Voilà! Ils viennent! Venez vite!_" cried Gros Jean.

He ran further along the quay, followed by the Turks.

"Quick, Bobby! Oh, Jack, do something! Mr. Brett could not foresee this,
though he seemed to have an inspiration that kept him in the hotel. What
can we do? Dubois and the girl will know you at once! Jack, shouldn't
you keep out of sight?--go below--go and fetch Mr. Brett. Oh, dear, this
is dreadful!"

Thus did Edith, for once yielding to feminine irresolution, appeal to
her lover and brother, vainly seeking to discover the best line of
action to follow in this disastrous circumstance, for she knew that the
diamonds must now be in the personal possession of Dubois. It was a
golden opportunity to recover the stolen gems. If once he eluded the
grasp of his pursuers after landing they might--probably would--secure
him, but not the diamonds.

Daubeney, now purple with perplexity, and Fairholme, swearing softly
under his breath, sprang from the deck to the low wall of the quay.
Almost unconsciously they joined Sir Hubert and Mr. Winter. Edith
followed them. She glanced at her brother. He was gazing curiously,
vindictively, at the two figures on the deck of the _Belles Soeurs_.
There was a fierce gleam in his eyes, a set expression in his closed
lips, a nervous twitching at the corners of his mouth, that betokened
the overpowering emotions of the moment.

With a woman's intuition Edith realized that no power on earth, no
consideration of expediency, would restrain him from laying violent
hands on Dubois at the first possible opportunity. She knew there must
be a struggle, in which Gros Jean and the Turks, perhaps the four
sailors, would participate. They might use knives and firearms, whereas
the Englishmen were unarmed.

So she ran back on board the yacht and cried to the Scotch engineer--

"Oh, Mr. Macpherson! Please come with some of your men! There may be a
fight on the wharf, and Mr. Daubeney and the others will be
outnumbered!"

Macpherson for once forgot his cautiousness. There was none of the
characteristic slowness of the Scottish nation in his manner or language
as he yelled down the fore-hatch: "Tumble up, there! Some damned
Eye-talians are goin' to hammer the boss. Bring along a monkey-wrench
or the first thing to hand. Shar-r-p's the wo-r-rd!"

Forthwith there poured from the hatchway a miscellaneous mob of seamen,
firemen and stewards. Following Edith and Macpherson, they ran along the
quay. Already there was something unusual in progress. Loungers by the
harbour, perceiving a disturbance, were running towards the scene of
action.

A solitary Italian policeman, swaggering jauntily over the paved
roadway, was suddenly startled out of his self-complacency.

"_Caramba!_" he shouted. Drawing his sabre, he broke into a run.

For matters had developed with melodramatic suddenness. Casting off the
steamer's tow-ropes, the _Belles Soeurs_ swung alongside the wharf
much more easily and quickly than did the friendly vessel by whose aid
she had so soon reached Palermo.

Both steamer and smack had already been searched by the Customs'
officers, who boarded them in the quarantine station, and the reason
that the schooner had not been earlier sighted from the shore was
supplied by the mere chance that she was rendered invisible by close
proximity to her bigger companion.

The instant that the fishing-boat was tied to the wharf, Mlle. Beaucaire
sprang ashore. Gros Jean, breathless and excited, was there to greet
her. But the greeting between father and daughter was not very cordial.
The innkeeper seemed to be dumbfounded with surprise at her early
arrival.

Dubois followed more leisurely. He took no notice of Gros Jean, and
appeared to be looking around for a cab. Two of the sailors were handing
up a couple of portmanteaus from the deck. Hussein-ul-Mulk and the two
other Turks, unable to restrain their excitement, crowded round the
pink-and-white Frenchman, jabbering volubly, but Mademoiselle and her
father moved some slight distance away.

At this juncture Mr. Winter strode resolutely forward, seized Dubois
firmly by the shoulder, and said--

"Henri Dubois! In the name of the King of England I arrest you for the
murder of----"

The detective's words were stopped by a blow.

A wild struggle promptly ensued. The man turned on him like a tiger, and
the Turks joined in. Gros Jean, too, ran back to take a hand in the
fray. Fairholme, Sir Hubert, Daubeney and Talbot flung themselves on the
would-be rescuers, and the four French sailors of the _Belles Soeurs_
leaped ashore to assist their passenger in this unlooked-for attack.

Frantic yells and oaths came from the confused mob, and knives were
drawn. Talbot had but one desire in life--to get his fingers on Dubois'
throat. He had almost reached him, for Winter clung to his prey with
bull-dog tenacity, when an astounding thing happened. The Frenchman's
handsome moustaches fell off, and beneath the clever make-up on her face
were visible the boldly handsome features of La Belle Chasseuse, now
distorted by rage and fear.

"You fool!" yelled Talbot to Winter. "You have let him escape!"

Tearing himself from the midst of the fight, he was just in time to see
the female figure, which he now knew must be Dubois masquerading in his
mistress's clothes, jumping into a cab and driving off towards the Corso
Vittorio Emmanuele.

"Come on, Fairholme!" he cried. "He cannot get away! Here comes an empty
carriage!"

But now Macpherson and his allies had reached the scene. Using a
"monkey-wrench or the first thing to hand," they placed the Turks, Gros
Jean, and the crew of the _Belles Soeurs_ on the casualty list.

Mr. Winter's indignation on finding that he had arrested a woman was
painful. In his astonishment he released his grasp and turned to look at
the disappearing vehicle containing the criminal he so ardently longed
to lay hands upon.

La Belle Chasseuse, with the vicious instinct of her class, felt that
Talbot's pursuit of her lover must be stopped at all costs.

She suddenly produced a revolver and levelled it at him. Fairholme and
Edith alone noted her action. At the same instant they rushed towards
her, but the girl reached her first.

With a frenzied prayer that she might be in time--for she had been told
of this woman's prowess with a pistol--Edith caught hold of her wrist
and pulled it violently. Her grip not only disconcerted Mademoiselle's
deadly aim, but also caused her to press the trigger. There was a loud
report, a scream, and Edith collapsed to the ground with a severe bullet
wound in her left shoulder. Even her cloth jacket was set on fire by the
close proximity of the weapon.

It is to be feared that Fairholme flung La Belle Chasseuse from off the
quay into the harbour with unnecessary violence. Indeed, the Italian
onlookers, not accustomed to sanguinary broils, subsequently agreed that
this was the _pièce de resistance_ of the spectacle, for the lady was
pitched many feet through the air before she struck the water, whence
she was rescued with some difficulty.

[Illustration: "Fairholme flung La Belle Chasseuse with unnecessary
violence." --_Page 278._]

Careless how or where Mademoiselle ended her flight, the earl dropped on
his knees beside Edith and quickly pressed out the flames of the burning
cloth with his hands. He burnt himself badly in the act, but of this he
was insensible. Then he bent closer and looked desperately, almost
hopelessly, into her face.

"Speak to me, darling!" he moaned in such a low, broken-hearted voice
that even Sir Hubert, himself almost mad with grief, realized how the
other suffered.

Edith heard him. She opened her eyes, and smiled bravely.

"I don't think it is serious," she murmured. "I was hit high
up--somewhere in the shoulder. Don't fret, there's a dear."

Then she fainted.

Not knowing why Fairholme did not join him, Talbot raced towards the
carriage he had seen approaching. It was a smart vehicle, with a sleek,
well-groomed horse, and he guessed that it must be a private conveyance.
Gazing anxiously around, he could not see another carriage anywhere in
the vicinity. There was nothing for it but the method of the brutal
Saxon. Explanations would need precious time and might be wasted. So
Talbot jumped into the victoria, hauled the coachman off the box, threw
him into the roadway, seized the reins, and climbed into the vacant
seat.

Brett, hurrying with the pilot from the Hotel de France, saw a veiled
and curious-looking female vehemently urging the driver of a carriage to
proceed up the main street of Palermo as fast as his horse could travel.

Even in the turmoil of thought caused by the pilot's intelligence he
noted something peculiar in the lady's manner. Half a minute later he
encountered Talbot, driving an empty vehicle and furiously compelling
with reins and whip a lazy animal to exert himself.

Brett shouted to him. He might as well have addressed a whirlwind.

"I saw them all together on the yacht when I came away, signor,"
exclaimed the pilot. "That is, all except the old signor, who was
walking with some Turks, a Frenchman, and another who looked like an
Englishman."

"The old signor was walking with the Turks?" cried Brett.

"Without doubt. He conversed with them. I thought it strange that he
took no notice of those on board the yacht, but just then the
steamer----"

"Now," said Brett to himself, "Winter has arrested somebody. Talbot is
on the right track!"

Yielding to impulse he stopped suddenly and called a cab.

"Here!" he said to the pilot, "ask the driver if he saw two carriages
pass up the Corso just now at a very fast pace? Very well! Tell him to
follow them if possible. Jump in with me. I may need your services as
interpreter. We must overtake one or both of those carriages!"




CHAPTER XXI

THE FIGHT


Not often have the good people of Palermo seen three cabs pass through
the Corso Vittorio Emmanuele in such fashion. The sight made loiterers
curious, drove policemen frantic, and caused the drivers of other
vehicles to pull to one side and piously bless themselves.

Dubois had evidently offered his _cocchiere_ a lavish bribe for a quick
transit through the city, and the Italian was determined to earn it.
Although he had a good start, and his horse was accustomed to
negotiating the main thoroughfare at a rapid pace, nevertheless the
half-starved animal was not able to maintain a high rate of speed for
more than a few minutes.

By the time they reached the Corso Catafini, which carries the chief
artery of Palermo out into the country--crossing the railway and passing
the magnificent convent of San Francisco de Sale--the horse was
labouring heavily notwithstanding the frantic efforts of the cabman.

It was at this point, when mounting the bridge, that Dubois knew for
certain he was followed. Three hundred yards behind, he saw Talbot
whipping an equally unwilling, but better-conditioned steed than that
which carried his own fortunes. At the distance he could not recognize
the Englishman, but instinct told him that this impassioned driver was
an enemy.

Brett, of course, was not visible, being far in the rear.

"My friend," said Dubois, standing up in the small carriage and leaning
against the driver's seat, "I offered you twenty francs if you crossed
the city quickly. I will make it forty for another mile at the same
pace. See, I place the money in your pocket."

"It will kill my horse, signorina."

"Possibly. I will buy you another."

The _cocchiere_ thought that this was a lady of strange manner. There
was an odd timbre in her voice, a note of domination not often
associated with the fair sex. But she had given earnest of her words by
a couple of gold pieces, so he murmured a prayer to his favourite saint
that the horse might not die until the right moment.

Thus they swirled on, pursued and pursuers, until the villa residences
on the outskirts of the town were less in evidence, and fields devoted
to the pepper-wort, alternated with groves of olives and limes, formed
the prevalent features of the landscape.

Now it became evident that the leading horse could barely stagger
another fifty yards, notwithstanding the inhuman efforts of the
_cocchiere_ to make the most of the poor brute's failing energies. At
last the animal stumbled and fell, nearly pulling the driver off his
perch. It was sad, but he had more than earned his price, for Palermo
lay far behind.

"My horse is done for, signorina," cried the cabman. "It is marvellous
that he--_Corpo di Baccho!_ It is a man!"

Dubois felt that his feminine trappings were no longer a disguise, only
a hindrance. He had torn off jacket, skirt, hat and wig. The frightened
cabman saw his fare--changed now into an athletic young man, attired in
shirt and trousers, the latter rolled up to his knees--spring from the
vehicle and vault over a ditch by the roadside.

Some portion of the discarded clothing lay on the seat of the carriage,
but Dubois had thrown the skirt over his arm.

"Here! Come back!" yelled the Italian. "What about payment for my dead
horse?"

But Dubois paid little heed to him. He was fumbling with the pocket of
the skirt as he ran. Not until he had withdrawn a revolver from its
folds--whereupon he at once threw away the garment--did the maddening
remembrance come to him that he unloaded the weapon prior to the Customs
examination, and had forgotten to reinsert the cartridges.

They were in the pocket of his serge coat, the coat which Mademoiselle
wore. She, like a prudent young woman, had been careful to reload the
revolver she carried, and which she transferred to her new attire when,
at the last moment, Dubois suggested the exchange of clothing as a final
safeguard in the most unexpected event of police interference with their
landing.

Henri Dubois could not afford to expend his breath in useless curses.
But his eyes scintillated with fiery gleams. He, the man who took no
chances, who foresaw every pitfall and smiled at the devices of outraged
law, to compromise his own safety so foolishly!

For an instant he was tempted to fling the weapon away, but he
controlled the impulse.

"As it is," he thought, "this fellow who is pursuing me may not be
armed, and I can terrorise him if he comes to close quarters."

Moreover, this superlative scoundrel could feel tightly fastened round
his waist a belt containing diamonds worth over a million sterling. Such
a ceinture was worth fighting for, whilst his pocket-book contained
ample funds for all immediate necessities.

If the worst came to the worst he carried a trustworthy clasp knife, and
he was an adept in the savate--the system of scientific defence by using
hands and feet which finds favour with Parisian "sports."

On the whole, Henri Dubois made for a neighbouring wood in a state of
boiling rage at his momentary lapse concerning the revolver, but
conscious that he had many a time extricated himself from a worse fix. A
hundred yards in his rear ran Jack Talbot. The Englishman,
notwithstanding his recent imprisonment, was in better condition than
Dubois. He was a good golf player and cricketer, and although in
physique and weight he did not differ much from the Frenchman, his
muscles were more firmly knit, and his all-round training in athletic
exercises gave him considerable advantage.

Thus they neared the wood, neither man running at his top speed. Both
wished to conserve their energies for the approaching struggle. Talbot
could have come up with his quarry sooner, were it not for the paramount
consideration that he should not be spent with the race at the supreme
moment, whilst Dubois only intended to seek the shelter of the trees
before he faced his opponent. The Frenchman did not want witnesses.

Neither was aware that Brett and the Italian pilot had by this time
reached the place where the two leading carriages were halted in the
roadway. Without wasting a moment the barrister leapt the intervening
ditch and followed the runners across the field, whilst behind him,
eagerly anxious to see the end of this mysterious chase, came the
sailor.

On the edge of the wood Dubois halted and turned to face his pursuer.
Instantly he recognized Talbot, and for the first time in his career a
spasm of fear struck cold upon the Frenchman's heart. In the young
Englishman he recognized the only man who had cause to hate him with an
implacable animosity.

But the unscrupulous adventurer quickly recovered his nerve.

"So it is you who follow me so closely," he cried. "Go back, my friend.
This time I will not tie you on a bed. You are becoming dangerous. Go
back, I tell you!"

And with these words he levelled the revolver at Talbot's breast, for
the latter was now within fifty yards of him. But Jack was animated with
the mad elation of a successful chase, and governed by the fierce
resolve that his betrayer should not escape him. For an instant he
stopped. It was only to pick up a huge stone. Then he ran on again, and,
careless whether Dubois fired or not, he flung the missile at him.

The Frenchman barely succeeded in dodging, as it passed unpleasantly
close to his head. He instantly understood that here was a man who could
not be deterred by idle threats. To attempt to keep him at arm's length
by pointing an empty pistol at him would merely court disaster.

So now, with an imprecation of genuine rage, he flung the weapon at
Talbot, who, in his turn, was so surprised by the action that he did not
get out of the way in time. It struck him fair in the chest and
staggered him for a moment, whereupon Dubois ran off again into the
interior of the wood.

But Talbot's pause was only a matter of seconds. He did not trouble to
pick up another stone. He felt with a species of mad joy that his enemy
was unarmed--that he could throttle him with his hands, and wreak upon
him that personal and physical vengeance which is dearer to outraged
humanity than any wounds inflicted by other means.

Dubois reached a small glade among the trees before he comprehended that
his ruthless adversary was still close at his heels. He stopped for the
last time, resolved now to have done with this irritating business, once
and for all. Talbot too halted, about ten yards from him. He felt that
he had the Frenchman at his mercy, and there were a few things he wished
to say to him before they closed in mortal combat.

"This time, Henri Dubois," he panted, "I am not drugged and strapped
helplessly to a bed. You know why I am here. I have followed you to
avenge the stigma you inflicted on my reputation and at the same time to
recover the diamonds which you obtained by subterfuge and murder."

The Frenchman was quite collected in manner.

"I murdered no one," he answered. "I could not help the blundering of
other people. If I am regretfully compelled to kill you to-day, it is
your own fault. I am only acting in self-defence."

"Self-defence!" came the quick retort. "Such men as you are a pest. Like
any wild beast you will strive to save your miserable life! But, thank
Heaven, you must depend upon your claws. Lying and trickery will avail
you no further!"

"How can we fight?" demanded the Frenchman calmly.

"Any way you like, you villain. As man to man if you are able. If not,
as dog to dog, for I am going to try and kill you!"

"But you are probably armed, whereas I am defenceless? My revolver, as
you saw, was not loaded."

"We are equal in that respect, if in no other," retorted Talbot.

An evil smile lit up the Frenchman's pallid face. He pulled out his
knife with a flourish and hissed--

"Then die yourself, you fool!"

He advanced upon Jack with a murderous look in his face. Talbot awaited
him, and he, too, smiled.

"You are a liar and a coward to the end!" he cried. "But if you had
twenty knives, Henri Dubois, I will kill you!"

At that instant a cold, clear voice rang out among the trees, close
behind the two men.

"Halt!" it cried.

Both men involuntarily paused and turned their eyes to learn whence came
this strange interruption. Brett quietly came a few paces nearer.

He held a revolver, pointed significantly at Dubois' breast.

"Drop that knife," he said, with an icy determination in tone and manner
that sent a cold shiver through his hearer's spine.

"Drop it, or, by God, I will shoot you this instant!"

Dubois felt that the game was up. He flung down the knife and tried even
then to laugh.

"Of course," he sneered, "as I am cornered on all sides I give in."

Brett still advanced until he reached the spot where the knife lay. He
picked it up, and at the same instant lowered the revolver. Then he
observed, with the easy indifference of one who remarks upon the
weather--

"Now you can fight, monsieur. My young friend here is determined to
thrash you, and you richly deserve it. So I will not interfere. But just
one word before you begin. Two can play at the game of bluff. This is
your own pistol. It is, as you know, unloaded."

Dubois' cry of rage at the trick which had been played on him was
smothered by his effort to close with Talbot, who immediately flung
himself upon him with an impetuosity not to be denied.

Luckily for the Englishman he had clutched Dubois before the latter
could attempt any of the expedients of the savate. Nevertheless the
Frenchman sought to defend himself with the frenzy of desperation.

The fight, while it lasted, was fast and furious.

The two men rolled over and over each other on the ground--one striving
to choke the life out of his opponent, the other seeking to rend with
teeth and nails.

This combat of catamounts could not last long.

From the writhing convulsive bodies, locked together in a deadly
struggle, suddenly there came a sharp snap. The Frenchman's right arm
was broken near the wrist.

Then Talbot proceeded to wreak his vengeance on him. Unquestionably he
would have strangled the man had not Brett interfered, for with his left
hand he clutched Dubois' throat, whilst with the right he endeavoured to
demolish his features. But the barrister, assisted by the Italian
pilot--whose after-life was cheered by his ability to relate the details
of this Homeric fight--pulled the young man from off his insensible foe.

Talbot regained his feet. Panting with exertion, he glared down at the
prostrate form, but Brett, being practical-minded, knelt by the
Frenchman's side, tore open his shirt, and unfastened the precious belt.

"At last!" he murmured.

Peering into one of the pockets, which by the way of its bulging he
thought would contain the "Imperial diamond," he looked up at Talbot
with the words--

"Now, Jack, we are even with him."

It was the first time he had addressed Talbot by his familiar and
Christian name. The very sound brought back the other man to a conscious
state of his surroundings, and in the same instant a great weakness came
over him, for the terrible exertions of the past few minutes had utterly
exhausted him.

"I cannot even thank you, for I am done up. But I owe it all to you, old
man. If it had not been for you we should never have found him."

Brett's grave face wrinkled in a kindly smile.

"I think," he said, "we are even on that score. If you had not followed
this rascal he might have escaped us at the finish, and my pride would
never have recovered from the shock. However, go and sit down for a
minute or two and you will soon pull yourself together again. I wish to
goodness we had some brandy. A drop would do you good, and our prostrate
friend here would be none the worse for a reviver."

The Italian pilot caught the word "brandy." Being a sailor he was equal
to all emergencies. He produced a small flask with a magnificent air.

"Behold!" he declared. "It is the best. It is contraband!"

Brett forced his companion to swallow some of the liquor; then he gently
raised Dubois' head and managed to pour a few drops into his mouth.

The Frenchman regained consciousness. Awakening with a start to the
realities of existence, he endeavoured to rise, but sank back with a
groan, for he had striven to support himself on his broken arm.

"Be good enough to remain quite still, M. Dubois," said Brett
soothingly. "You have reached the end of your rope, and we do not even
need to tie you."

With the aid of some handkerchiefs and a couple of saplings cut by the
Italian he managed roughly to bind the fractured limb. Then he assisted
Dubois to his feet.

"Come," he said, "we are regretfully compelled to bring you back to
town, but we will endeavour to make the journey as comfortable as
possible for you. In any event, the horses will certainly not travel so
fast."

In the roadway they found the carriages where they had left them, whilst
three wondering _cocchieri_ were exchanging opinions as to the mad
behaviour of the foreigners.

Brett and the Frenchman entered one vehicle, Talbot and the Italian
pilot the other.

"But, gentlemen," moaned the disconsolate cabman who had headed the
procession from Palermo, "who will pay me for my dead horse?"

"I know not," replied Brett. "In any event you had better occupy the
vacant seat and drive those two gentlemen to the city, where you can
secure the means of bringing back your carriage."

In this guise the party returned to Palermo, evoking much wonderment all
the way through the Corso Vittorio Emmanuele, whence no less than six
outraged policemen followed them to the Hotel de France to obtain their
names and addresses.




CHAPTER XXII

PIECING THE PUZZLE


Palermo was in a perfect ferment. Not since the last revolution had
people seen such a pitched battle in the streets, for Macpherson and his
myrmidons had used no gentle means to pacify Gros Jean and the Turks,
whilst the crew of the _Belles Soeurs_ would not be in a fit state to
go to sea for many days.

An excited mob of people surrounded the hotel when Brett and Talbot
arrived with their wounded prisoner. Fortunately the Chief of Police
came in person to ascertain the cause of all this turmoil. The first
alarmist report that reached his ears made out that a species of
international warfare had broken out in the harbour.

He told his subordinates to clear away the crowd, and explanations by
Brett and Winter soon demonstrated the wisdom of an official
_communique_ to the Press that the row on the pier was merely the
outcome of a quarrel between some intoxicated sailors.

The Chief of the Police politely offered to place detectives at the
disposal of the Englishmen for the proper custody of their captive.
Brett thanked him, but declined the proffered assistance, having decided
to warn Winter not to interfere.

"The only prisoner of interest," he explained, "received such severe
injuries during a struggle which he brought on himself that he will be
quite unable to be moved for several days. His right arm is broken, and
his face has been reduced to a pulp. There is a stout Frenchman named
Beaucaire and three Turks who accompanied him, whom I recommend to your
safe custody. We bring no charge against them, but it would be as well
to keep them under lock and key until we have left Palermo."

"Do you mean the innkeeper Gros Jean and the Turks who accompanied him
from Messina by train to-day?"

"Yes."

"You need not trouble about them. They have all been carried to the
hospital."

"What!" exclaimed Brett. "How did they come to be injured?"

"I cannot tell you exactly, but they, together with some sailors from
the fishing-smack, were knocked senseless by the crew of the steam yacht
when the young lady was shot."

"What young lady?" demanded Brett and Talbot together. This conversation
had taken place in the entrance of the hotel, whilst Dubois was being
carried to a bedroom by the servants.

"Did you not know?" inquired the official gravely. "The young lady was
of your company who stayed here with you--the niece of milord, the
elderly gentleman."

"Edith! Shot, did you say!" cried her brother, leaning against the
barrister for support.

"Yes, but not seriously, I hope. She has been brought here. The doctors
are now with her in her room."

"Who shot her?" demanded Brett savagely.

"The person who was flung into the harbour by the other milord. It is
stated that she is a woman, but really at this moment I have not heard
all the facts. She was carried to the hospital with the others."

The two waited to hear no more. They ran upstairs, and Talbot would have
fallen twice had not Brett supported him. Reaching the corridor which
contained their apartments they found Sir Hubert, Lord Fairholme,
Daubeney, and Mr. Winter standing silently, a sorrowful, motionless
group, outside Edith's room.

"What terrible thing has happened?" Brett asked them. "Surely Miss
Talbot cannot be seriously hurt?"

The only one who could answer was Mr. Winter.

"We hope not, sir," he said, "but the doctors will be here in a moment.
They are extracting the bullet now."

Before the bewildered barrister could frame another question the door of
Edith's room opened noiselessly, and two Italian gentlemen emerged. One
of them spoke English well. He addressed himself to Sir Hubert
Fitzjames.

"I am glad to tell you," he said cheerfully, "that the young lady's
wound is not at all dangerous. It looks worse than it is. Most
fortunately, the bullet first struck a large bone button on her coat.
This, combined with the thick woollen material, and some small amount of
padding placed beneath the collar by the maker, offered such resistance
that the bullet lodged itself against the collar bone without breaking
it. Consequently, although the wound has a nasty appearance, it is not
at all serious. The young lady herself makes light of it. Indeed, she
thought that an anaesthetic was unnecessary, but of course we
administered one prior to extraction, and she is now resting quietly."

"You are not deceiving us, doctor? Tell us the truth, for Heaven's
sake." It was Fairholme's voice, broken and hollow, that so fiercely
uttered these words.

The kindly doctor turned and placed his hand upon the earl's shoulder.

"I would not dream of such a thing," he answered. "It would be cruel to
raise false hopes if the young lady's condition were really dangerous.
Believe me, there is nothing to fear. With the careful attention she
will receive, she will be well able to travel within a week, though, of
course, the wound will not be fully healed until later."

Sir Hubert managed to stammer--

"When can we see her?"

"As soon as she wakes from sleep. We have given her a small draught, you
understand, to secure complete rest after the shock of the operation. My
colleague and I will return here at eight o'clock, and then there will
probably be no reason why you should not speak to her. Meanwhile be
confident; there is absolutely no cause for alarm."

With this reassuring statement they had perforce to rest content. The
medical men were about to take their departure when Brett intervened.

"There is yet another patient who requires your attention, gentlemen,"
he said. "You will find him in room No. 41. He is suffering from a
broken arm and other injuries."

The doctors hurried off, and it was not long before they were able to
make a satisfactory report concerning Dubois.

"The fracture of the ulna is a simple one," said the spokesman, "and
will become all right in the ordinary course of nature. But what
happened to the man's face?"

"He settled a slight dispute with my friend here," said Brett,
indicating Talbot, who was leaning with his head wearily resting on his
hands. The accident to Edith had utterly unnerved her brother.

"Then all I can say," remarked the doctor, when he took his leave, "is
that the settlement was complete. Whatever the debt may have been, it is
paid in full!"

The Englishmen were now safe in the seclusion of a private room, so
Brett resolved to arouse Talbot from the stupor which had settled upon
him.

"Listen to me, Jack," he said. "You must pull yourself together. Don't
forget you have an important trust to discharge. Our first duty is to
ascertain whether or not the diamonds are intact."

He laid on the table the belt taken from Dubois, and lifted out its
precious contents with careful exactness. The men crowded around. Even
amidst the exciting events of the hour, the sight of the fateful stones
which had caused so much turmoil and bloodshed could not fail to be
deeply interesting.

Predominant among them was the Imperial diamond, luminous, gigantic,
awesome in its potentialities. Its size and known value rendered it one
of the most remarkable objects in the world, whilst even in its present
unfinished state the facets already cut by the workmen gave evidence to
its brilliant purity.

Pulling himself together by an effort, Talbot advanced to the table and
slowly counted the stones. There were fifty-one all told, and even the
smallest of the collection was a diamond of great value.

"Yes," he said, "that is the correct number. I cannot be certain, but I
believe they are the originals. The big one certainly is. It will be one
of the happiest days of my life when I see the last of them."

"That day will arrive soon," remarked Brett quietly. "You and I, Mr.
Winter, must sail on the _Blue-Bell_ to-night for Marseilles. That is,
if Mr. Daubeney is agreeable," he added, turning to that worthy
gentleman, whose face was a trifle paler than it had been for years.

"I am at your service, gentlemen," he announced promptly.

"But what about Fairholme and the young lady," he went on, turning to
Sir Hubert.

"I think I understand," replied the baronet. "Mr. Brett means that these
wretched diamonds should pass officially out of the control of the
British Government as early as possible."

The barrister nodded.

"That being so, no time should be lost. Edith, should all go well, will
be compelled in any event to remain here for several days before she can
be removed. You, Jack, and you, Mr. Brett, should you so desire, can
easily return here from London, after having fulfilled the trust reposed
in you."

"Then I only make one stipulation," put in Daubeney quickly. "The
_Blue-Bell_ will remain in Marseilles and bring you back."

His eagerness evoked a quiet smile all round, and it was generally
agreed that this programme should be followed. In the brief discussion
which ensued, Mr. Winter explained his earlier movements. The detectives
attached to the British Embassy in Paris told him of Dubois' journey to
Marseilles.

Learning that Brett was staying at the Hotel du Louvre et de la Paix, he
went straight there on his arrival, only to learn that the barrister
and some friends had quitted Marseilles that day on a private yacht
bound for Palermo. The local police filled in some of the details, but
chance did the rest.

Going to the P. and O. office to book his passage to Messina on the
_Ganges_, he heard of Gros Jean and the Turks, and then knew that he was
on the right scent.

There was a touching meeting between Edith and the others that evening.
She was naturally pale and weak, but her buoyant spirit triumphed over
physical defects, and she made light of her injuries. Even Fairholme was
restored to a state of sanity by his brief visit, a fact that was
evidenced by his quiet enjoyment of a cigar when he walked down to the
quay to witness the departure of the _Blue-Bell_.

Before leaving Palermo Brett had another interview with the Chief of
Police, the result being that unobtrusive but effective means were taken
to safeguard the different members of the gang which had caused so much
personal suffering and diplomatic uneasiness.

The reception of the party in London may be detailed in a sentence. The
Turkish Ambassador was specially instructed from Constantinople to take
charge of the diamonds, and Talbot had the keen satisfaction of
personally handing them over to the Sultan's representative, in the
presence of his chief at the Foreign Office. The unlucky gems were
forthwith taken back to their owner, and no doubt repose at this moment
in a special reliquary, together with other mementoes of the Prophet,
for the project which led to their first visit to London was definitely
abandoned.

Meanwhile daily telegrams from Palermo assured Talbot and Brett as to
the continued progress of the fair sufferer, who had so nearly
sacrificed her life in her devoted championship of her brother's cause.

At last a day came when the _Blue-Bell_ again steamed into the harbour
of Palermo, and the manner in which Fairholme shouted when he caught
sight of Daubeney standing on the bridge was in itself sufficient
indication that all had gone well during their absence.

The travellers were surprised and delighted to find Edith herself seated
in a carriage with her uncle on the wharf. Were it not that she was
pale, and her right arm was tightly strapped across her breast to
prevent any movement of the injured shoulder, no one could have guessed
that she had recently undergone such a terrible experience.

But Brett, delighted as he was to meet his friends again under such
pleasant conditions, experienced the keenest sentiments of triumphant
elation when he entered the apartment where Dubois was still confined
under the watchful guard of two detectives.

Talbot accompanied him. The young Englishman had by this time quite
forgiven his enemy. He felt that he was more than quits with him.
Indeed, he was the first to speak when they came together.

"I am sorry to see it is your turn to be trussed up in bed, Dubois," he
said. "How are you feeling now? Getting along all right, I hope."

The Frenchman did not answer him directly. A faint smile illumined his
pale face. He turned to Brett with a nonchalant question--

"Mr. Brett, have you any influence with those two worthy Italian
doctors?"

"Perhaps," said the barrister. "What is it you want?"

"I want a cigarette. They won't let me smoke. Surely to goodness, a
cigarette won't hurt my arm."

The barrister turned a questioning glance towards the male nurse in
charge of the patient, but the man did not understand what had been
said. Brett, who spoke no Italian, indicated by pantomime what it was
the Frenchman required, and the attendant signified his sentiments in
silent eloquence--he turned and looked out of the window. So Dubois
enjoyed his cigarette in peace. He gave a sigh of great contentment, and
then said, lazily--

"Now, ask me anything you like. I am ready."

"There is only one point concerning which I am really at fault," began
Brett. "How did your Turkish associates manage to murder Mehemet Ali and
his secretaries so quietly?"

"Oh, that was easy enough," declared the Frenchman. "You understand I
was in no way responsible for the blood-letting, and indeed strongly
disapproved of it."

"Yes," replied the barrister. "I believe that."

"Well, the rest of the business was simplicity itself. Hussein--the
Envoy's confidential servant--was in our pay. It was, of course,
absolutely necessary to have an accomplice in the house, and his price
was a small one--five hundred pounds, I think. The credentials we
brought, which you, Mr. Talbot, examined, were not forgeries."

"How can that be?" cried Jack. "The Sultan would never be a party to a
plot for his own undoing."

"Don't ask me for explanations I cannot give," responded Dubois coolly.
"The exact facts of this story can only be ascertained at Yildiz Kiosk,
and I do not suppose that anyone there will ever tell you. No doubt you
saw for yourself that Mehemet Ali was convinced. Were it not for you,
he would have given up control that night. But you and your policemen,
and your confounded English notions of right and wrong, rendered
necessary the adoption of the second part of the plan we had decided on,
in case the first miscarried. After I left the house with you, Hussein
brought in more coffee. That which he and my Turkish friends drank was
all right. The beverage given to Mehemet Ali and his secretaries was
drugged."

"Ah!" interrupted Brett, "that explains everything. But why was Hussein
killed?"

"That is another matter, which only a Turk can understand. These fellows
believe in the knife or a piece of whipcord as ending unpleasant
difficulties most effectually. You see they were not ordinary rogues.
They pretended to be conspirators actuated by pure political
motives--motives which a common servant like Hussein could not really be
expected to appreciate. So to close his mouth thoroughly they stabbed
him whilst he was taking some loose cash from his master's pockets. Then
it occurred to them that when Mehemet Ali and the others recovered from
the effects of the drug, they also would be able to throw an
unpleasantly strong light on the complicity of certain high personages
in Constantinople. This was sufficient reason for the adoption of strong
measures, so they also were peacefully despatched."

"But where did the knife come from?" pursued Brett. "It was not in their
possession when they entered, nor when they left."

"No; of course not. Hussein brought it himself, to be used in case of
necessity. He also brought the pliers which cut the wire blinds, and the
material used for concealing the broken strands subsequently. Hussein
was really an excellent confederate, and I was furious when I heard that
he was dead. You know how the diamonds were abstracted from the house?"

"Yes," said Brett. "They were made up into a parcel and flung through
the window into the Park. The knife and the pliers accompanied them, I
suppose?"

"The third Turk--the gentleman who pulled you down on to the bed so
unceremoniously, Mr. Talbot--was waiting there for the packet. But he
had to hide in the Park all the night, until the gates were opened in
the morning. It was a ticklish business right through. I did not know at
what hour the police might discover the extent of the crime. The
diamonds did not reach me until seven o'clock. And then I had some
difficulty in persuading the Turks to give them up to me. You see, I had
my own little plan, too, which these excellent gentlemen never
suspected, as they already had paid me £5,000 for my help. But the real
heads of the party were in Paris--Hussein-ul-Mulk and that gang, you
know--and by representing the danger to their cause which would result
from any attempt on the part of the Turks in London to reach France,
they were at last persuaded. By nine o'clock that morning I got them
safely off to the docks, where they boarded a vessel bound for Smyrna.
Their passages were already booked in Armenian names. Gros Jean, who had
no connexion with the affair personally, stayed at a little hotel in
Soho in order to report all clear during the next few days. He happened
by chance to travel with you and the other man. It was a clever scheme,
I assure you, from beginning to end. By the way, may I trouble you for
another cigarette?"

"These are not equal to Hussein-ul-Mulk's," said Brett, producing his
case.

"No, he has an exquisite taste in tobacco. But I nearly fooled him with
the dummy diamonds. I would have done so if it had not been for you. Do
you know, Mr. Brett, I have always underrated Englishmen's brains. You
are really stupid as a nation"--here Talbot almost blushed--"but you are
an exception. You ought to be a Frenchman."

"I suppose I may regard that as a compliment?" remarked Brett casually.

"Take it as you like," said Dubois. "And now that I have told you all
that you want to know, I suppose, may I ask you a question of some
interest to myself? What is to become of me? Am I to be hanged, or
imprisoned, or passed on to the Sultan for treatment?"

Brett was silent for a few moments. He had fully discussed Dubois'
connexion with the British authorities.

"How much of the five thousand pounds given you by the Turks remains in
your possession?" he demanded.

The Frenchman hesitated before replying--

"There is no use lying to you. I have not yet expended the first
thousand, although I had to pay pretty dearly for a good many things."

Again there was silence.

"Why did you come here?" asked the barrister.

"Because I would be safe for some months with a few hospitable gentlemen
whom I know up in the hills there." He nodded towards the window,
through which they could see the blue crests of the distant mountains.

"And then?"

"Then Marguerite and I were going to the Argentine, to dwell in rural
felicity, and teach our children to bless the name of Mahomet and Abdul
Hamid."

"Marguerite is Mademoiselle Beaucaire?"

"Yes, poor girl! I hear she is ill and in prison, together with her
excellent father. Really, Mr. Brett, I cannot help liking you, but I
ought to feel anxious to cut your throat."

"In that case you would certainly be hanged. Are you married to
Mademoiselle Beaucaire?"

The Frenchman darted a quick and angry look at his inquisitor.

"What has that to do with you?" he snarled.

Dubois' future had already been determined. The rascal was more
fortunate than he deserved to be. Owing to the lucky chance that his
crime had a political significance he would escape punishment. By no
known form of European law could he be brought to trial on any charge
and at the same time gagged in his defence. The slightest public
reference to either the theft of the diamonds or the Sultan's original
intentions with regard to them would create such a storm in the
Mohammedan world that no man could prophesy the end.

When the Ottoman Empire is next torn asunder by civil war other thrones
will rock to their foundations. Half unconsciously, though he had a
glimmering perception of the truth, Henri Dubois was saved by the
magnitude of the interests involved.

Brett knew exactly how to deal with him. But a fantastic project had
arisen in his mind, and he determined to graft it upon the drastic
expedient adopted by the authorities. He abruptly broke off the
conversation and told the Frenchman that he would call again during the
afternoon.

True to his promise, Talbot and he visited the injured man some hours
later. This time they were accompanied by a stout individual and a
closely-veiled lady--Gros Jean and his daughter.

The meeting between Henri and Marguerite was pathetic. It was at the
same time exceedingly French, and somewhat trying to the nerves of the
Englishmen.

At last the couple calmed their transports, and Brett promptly recalled
them to a sense of their surroundings by reminding them that there was
serious business to be discussed.

"I am commissioned to inform you," he said, addressing Dubois, "that if
you proceed direct to the Argentine, never attempt to revisit France,
and keep your mouth closed as to your attempt to purloin the Sultan's
jewels, you will be set at liberty here, and no effort will be made by
the French or English police to arrest you. The infringement of any of
these conditions will lead to your extradition and a sentence of penal
servitude for life."

"_Ma foi!_" cried the Frenchman, looking intently into the barrister's
inscrutable face. "Why such tenderness?"

Brett would not give him time for prolonged reflection.

"I have not yet finished," he said drily. "I imagine that Mlle.
Beaucaire cannot produce a marriage certificate. She will be supplied
with one, to permit her to travel with you as your lawful wife."

The pair were startled. They somewhat relaxed the close embrace in which
they sat. The man's handsome face flushed with anger. The woman became a
shade paler and looked from the barrister to her lover.

"Good," growled Gros Jean. "Quite right!"

"We can manage our own affairs," began Dubois savagely; but Brett again
took up the parable.

"You owe this lady a deep debt of gratitude for her unswerving devotion
to you. She has helped you to lead an evil life; let her now assist you
in a better career. You have your chance. Will you take it?"

La Belle Chasseuse sat mute and downcast. This personal development came
as a complete surprise to her. Pride would not permit her to plead her
own cause. Dubois glanced at her covertly. He was still annoyed and
defiant; but even he, hardened scoundrel and cynic though he was, could
not find words to contest Brett's decision.

The barrister deemed the moment ripe for his final smashing argument. He
came somewhat nearer to the bed, and said with exasperating coolness--

"There is a secret room in the Cabaret Noir, the contents of which have
not yet been too closely examined by the police. It is in their charge.
At my request, backed up by the British Foreign Office, they have thus
far deferred a detailed scrutiny. Perhaps if the external influence is
removed they may press their investigations to a point when it will be
impossible to permit your contemplated voyage to the Argentine. You know
best. I have nothing further to say."

Dubois looked at him in moody silence. The Argentine--with £4,000? Yes.
But a wife!

Suddenly all eyes were attracted to Gros Jean, who emitted a gasping
groan. His fat cheeks were livid, and huge drops of perspiration stood
on his brow. Feeling that the others were regarding him intently, he
made a desperate effort to recover his composure.

"It is nothing!" he gurgled. "The English gentleman's proposal with
regard to my daughter interested me, that is all."

Dubois and the innkeeper gazed intently into each other's eyes for a few
trying seconds. Then the Frenchman drew Marguerite closer to him, with
his uninjured arm, and said--

"Let us get married, _ma p'tite_. It is essential."

And married they were forthwith, a priest and an official from the
Mayor's office being in waiting at the hotel. Whilst they were signing
the register Gros Jean motioned Brett to one side.

"Allow me to thank you, M'sieu', for the kindness you have shown," he
murmured. "Touching that hidden room in the Cabaret, now. Do the police
really know of it? You were not joking?"

"Not in the least."

"Then, M'sieu', I accompany them to the Argentine," and he jerked his
thumb towards Dubois and his wife. "Paris is no place for me."

Soon after the ceremony Mme. Dubois asked to be allowed to visit Edith.
When the two women met Marguerite flung herself impulsively on her knees
and sobbed out a request for forgiveness. Miss Talbot should have been
very angry with her erring sister. She was not. She took the keenest
interest in the Frenchwoman's romantic history. They talked until
Fairholme became impatient. He had not seen Edith for two whole hours.

       *       *       *       *       *

Six months later, when the Earl and Countess of Fairholme returned from
a prolonged wedding tour on the _Blue-Bell_ through the Norwegian
fiords, Brett was invited to dinner. Talbot was there, of course, and
Daubeney, and Sir Hubert.

"Constantinople must be a queer place," observed Jack after the first
rush of animated converse had exhausted itself.

"Surely there are no more diamond mysteries on foot!" cried his charming
sister, who looked delightfully well, and brown as a berry with the keen
sea breezes of the hardy North.

"Not exactly; but I made some inquiries through a friend of mine in the
Legation. Hussein-ul-Mulk and his two Paris friends are quite important
functionaries in the palace. You remember that the other pair of
scoundrels escaped to Smyrna?"

"Yes," cried everybody.

"Well, Mehemet Ali's relatives heard the truth about them by some means.
Within a reasonable time they were chopped into small pieces, with other
details that need not be repeated."

"Dogs, or pigs?" inquired Brett.

"Dogs!"

"I wish you wouldn't say such horrid things," protested Edith. "Is there
any news of Monsieur and Madame Dubois, and the fat man Gros Jean?"

"You will receive some in the drawing-room, Lady Fairholme," said Brett;
and not another word of explanation would he give until dinner was
ended.

In the drawing-room her ladyship was delighted to find a splendid
cockatoo, magnificent in size and white as snow, save for the brilliant
red crest which he elevated when they all crowded round his handsome
cage.

"The happy couple in the Argentine sent him to me to be presented to you
on your return," explained the barrister. "He is named 'Le Prophète,'
and he talks beautifully--indeed, his language is most emphatic, but it
is all French."

"What a darling!" cried Edith. "I do wish he would say something. _Cher
Prophète, parlez avec moi!_"

And immediately the cockatoo stretched his wings and screamed--

"_Vive Mahomet! Vive le Sultan! À bas les Grecs! à bas! à bas!_"



THE END




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