a treasure-trove of literature
treasure found hidden with no evidence of ownership
|BROWSE the site for other works by this author
(and our other authors)
SEARCH the entire site with Google Site Search
Title: Mr. Laxworthy's Adventures Author: E. Phillips Oppenheim * A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook * eBook No.: 1204061h.html Language: English Date first posted: Nov 2012 Most recent update: May 2017 This eBook was produced by Roy Glashan. Project Gutenberg of Australia eBooks are created from printed editions which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular paper edition. Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this file. This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg of Australia License which may be viewed online at http://gutenberg.net.au/licence.html To contact Project Gutenberg of Australia go to http://gutenberg.net.au
GO TO Project Gutenberg Australia HOME PAGE
This e-book was reproduced from scanned copies of the New York newspaper The Sun, available at the Old Fulton Post Cards website. The quality of some of the source material was patchy. Occasionally pages were not centered on the scanner bed, with the result that part of the left- or right-hand column is missing. In other cases the text is partially obscured by tears or stains. In the following text an attempt has been made to restore those passages which were thus affected. Where contextual evidence was strong enough the missing words have simply been inserted. Tentatively restored words are marked by enclosure in brackets. Obvious typographical errors have been corrected without comment.
THE man was awaiting the service of his dinner in the magnificent buffet of the Gare de Lyon. He sat at a table laid for three, on the right-hand side of the entrance and close to the window. From below came the turmoil of the trains.
In appearance he was of somewhat less than medium height, of unathletic, almost frail, physique. His head was thrust a little forward, as though he were afflicted with a chronic stoop. He wore steel-rimmed spectacles with the air of one who has taken to them too late in life to have escaped the constant habit of peering, which had given to his neck an almost storklike appearance.
A maître d'hôtel, who was passing, paused and looked at the two as yet unoccupied places.
"Monsieur desires the service of his dinner?" he inquired.
John T. Laxworthy glanced up at the clock.
"In five minutes," he declared, "my friends will have arrived. The service of dinner can then proceed."
The man bowed and withdrew. Almost as he left the table the swinging doors opened once more to admit another traveller. His eyes fell upon the solitary figure, now deep in a book, seated at the table on his right. With the pleased smile of one who greets an old friend he approached the table at which Mr. John T. Laxworthy sat waiting.
The idiosyncrasies of great men are always worth noting, and Mr. John T. Laxworthy was. without a doubt, foredoomed from the cradle to a certain measure of celebrity. Even now. when his friend stood by his side, he did not at once look up. Slowly, and with his eyes still riveted upon the pages he was studying, he held out his left hand.
"I am glad to see you. Anderson," he said. "Shall it be white or red?"
Mr. John T. Laxworthy closed his book with a little sigh of regret and placed a marker within it. He then carefully adjusted his spectacles and made a deliberate survey of his companion. Finally he nodded, slowly and approvingly.
A young man who had just completed a leisurely survey of the room dropped his monocle and came toward them. He was young, he was English. he was well bred, he was an athlete. He beamed upon the two men.
"How are you, Forrest? How do you do, Laxworthy?" he exclaimed. "Looking jolly fit, both of you," he went on amiably. "What a necktie, chief! You ought to let me choose 'em for you."
Mr. Laxworthy raised his glass. Then he inclined his head in turn to each of his companions.
"I am glad to see you both," he said. "On the whole, I think that I may congratulate you. You have done well. I drink to our success."
There was a short pause. Presently Mr. Laxworthy commenced to peel an apple.
"A great portion of this last year," be said. "which you two have spent apparently with profit in carrying out my instructions, I have given to the perfection of a certain scholarly tone which I feel convinced is my proper environment. Incidentally I have devoted myself to the study of various schools of philosophy. I have emerged from my studies with a clearer and more decisive outlook upon the general scheme of life.
"In one very interesting treatise I found several obvious truths ingeniously put. A certain decadence in the material prosperity of an imaginary state is clearly proved to be due to a too blind following of the tenets of what is known as the hysterical morality, as against the decrees of what we might call expediency. A little sentiment, like garlic in cookery, is a good thing. Too much is fatal. A little—sufficient— morality is excellent; a superabundance disastrous.
"Society is divided into two classes, those who have and those who have desire to have. The one must always prey upon the other. They are therefore always changing places. It is this continued movement which lends energy to the human race. As soon as it is suspended, degeneration must follow as a matter of course. It is for those who recognize this great truth to follow and obey its tenets."
Mr. Laxworthy was silent for several moments. He was glancing in meditative fashion through the pages of the book in which he had been engrossed before the arrival of his friends. Finally he closed it.
"There are some sentences there," he remarked, "wonderfully illustrative of my meaning. Briefly the situation is this:
"Here am I, a man of singular intelligence and much energy, willing to associate myself with you two in any enterprise likely to lead us out of the common ruck of life, adventurous or mercenary, which may commend itself to us. For that purpose I have trained you both according to your capacities. What you are you owe, in some measure to me; in a lesser degree to yourselves. In any case you are now fit to take the floor."
"May we not hear more definitely what it is that you propose?" Anderson asked.
"We stand," Mr. Laxworthy replied, always upon the, threshold of the land off adventure. At no place are we nearer to it than in this room. It is our duty to use our energies to assist in the great principles of movement to which I have referred. We must take our part in the struggle,
"On which side?*" you naturally ask. "Are we to be among those who have, and who, through weakness or desire. must yield to others? Or shall we take our place among the more intellectual, the most highly gifted minority, those who assist the progress of the world by helping toward the redistribution of its wealth? Sydney, how much money have you?"
"Three hundred and ninety-five francs and a few coppers."
"And you, Anderson?"
""With the exception of a five franc piece," he admitted. "I am worth exactly as much as I shall be able to borrow from you presently."
"In that case," Mr. Laxworthy said, "or position is preordained. We take our place among the aggressors.
"Our plans" he announced abruptly, "are not vet wholly made. We wait her for, shall we call it, an inspiration? Perhaps even at this moment, its is not far from us."
Forrest Anderson and his vis-à-vis turned as though Instinctively, toward the door. At that moment two men who had just passed through were standing upon the threshold.
One was rather past middle age, corpulent, with red features of a coarse type. His companion, who was leading, was wasted almost to emaciation, his complexion was ghastly.
Slowly the two men came down the room. They took possession of an empty table close at hand. The young man sank into his chair with a little sigh of exhaustion.
"A liqueur brandy, quick," the older man ordered. "My friend is fatigued."
Sydney took the bottle which stood upon their table, poured out a wineglassful, and stepped across and accosted the young man.
"Do me the favor of drinking this, sir," he begged. "I can see that you are in need of it."
The young man accepted it with a smile of gratitude. His companion echoed his thanks.
Sydney stepped back and resumed his seat. In a few minutes he leaned across the table.
"The Paradise Hotel Hyères," he said under his breath.
Mr. Laxworthy shrugged his shoulders.
"Even you, my friends, are not wholly deceived, I presume, by the young man's appearance."
They evidently were. Mr. Laxworthy sighed.
"Your powers of observation are, without doubt, exceedingly stunted. Let me assure you that your sympathy for that young man is entirely wasted."
"You know who he is?" Sydney asked.
"I believe so," Laxworthy admitted. "I can hazard a guess even as to his companion's identity. But?the Paradise Hotel, Hyères! Anderson, watch the door. Sydney, watch your friends there."
A tall, broad shouldered man, with fair mustache and wearing a long travelling coat, had entered the buffet. The majority of those present suffered his scrutiny unnoticing, indifferent. Not so these two men who had last entered. Every nerve of the young man's body seemed to have become tense. His hand had stolen into the pocket of his travelling coat, and, with a little thrill, Sidney saw the glitter of steel half-shown for a moment between his interlocked fingers. No longer was this young man's countenance the countenance of an invalid. It had become, instead, like the face of a wolf.
The man came slowly down the room, Laxworthy and his two associates watched. Their two neighbors at the next table sat in well simulated indifference. The newcomer made no secret of his destination. He advanced straight to their table and came to a standstill immediately in front of them.
Of all the words which passed between those three men, not one was audible. Only at the last the elder man touched the label attached to his bag, and they heard his words:
"The Paradise Hotel, Hyères. We shall be there for at least a month"
The newcomer stood perfectly still for several moments, as though deliberating Then this stranger raised his hat slightly and turned away.
"The Paradise Hotel at Hyères," he repeated. "I shall know, then, where to find you."
"One might be interested to know the meaning of these things," Sydney murmured softly.
A woman, wrapped in magnificent furs, who was passing their table, was run into by a clumsy waiter and dropped a satchel from her finger. Sydney hastened to restore it to her and was rewarded by a gracious smile.
"You seem fated to be my good Samaritan to-day," she remarked. "Perhaps we shall meet in the Luxe, if you are going south. I am going to Hyères—to the Paradise Hotel. Why do you smile?"
"My friends and I," he explained, "were at that moment discussing a suggestion to proceed to the same place."
"I congratulate you," Laxworthy remarked dryly as Sydney resumed his seat. "A most interesting acquaintance, yours."
"Do you know who she is?" the young man asked. "I only met her on the train."
"She is Madame Bertrand. Her husband at one time held a post in the Foreign Office under Faure. For some reason or other, he was discredited, and since then he has died. There was some scandal about Madame Bertrand herself, but nothing definite ever came to light."
"Madame seems to survive the loss of her husband," Forrest Anderson remarked.
Laxworthy held up his hand.
"We have finished, for the moment, with the Madame Bertrands of the world," he announced. "After all, they are for the pygmies. Here comes food for giants. You can both look. They are probably used to it. You will see the two greatest personages on earth."
His companions gazed eagerly toward the door. Two men were standing there. One was middle aged, gray headed, with somewhat worn, but keen face. The other was taller, with black hair streaked with gray, a face half Jewish, half romantic, a skin like ivory.
"The one nearest you," Laxworthy announced, "is Freeling Poignton. The newspapers will tell you that his fortune exceeds the national debt of any country in the world. He is, without doubt, the richest man that was ever born. There has never yet breathed an emperor whose upraised finger could provoke or stop a war, whose careless word could check the prosperity of the proudest nation that ever breathed. These things Freeling Poignton can do."
"And the other?" Anderson whispered.
"It is chance," Mr. Laxworthy said, "which placed a sceptre of unlimited power In the hands of Richard Freeling Poignton. It is his own genius which has made the Marquis Lefant the greatest power in the diplomatic world."
"I never even heard of him," Sydney admitted.
"These things are new to you," Mr. Laxworthy continued. "The world's history is marked for you by what you read in the daily papers. For every great happening there must be an obvious cause. You are one of the vast public, an acceptor of obvious causes.
"Yet look at that man. It was his decision which brought about war between Russia and Japan. It was he who stopped the declaration of war against Germany by our own Prime Minister at the time of the Algeciras difficulty. There is little that he cannot do."
A maître d'hôtel paused and whispered confidentially in Mr. Laxworthy's ear:
"The gray gentleman down there, sir," he announced, "is Mr. Freeling Poignton, the great American multi-millionaire."
Laxworthy nodded slowly. "Is he going to Monte Carlo?"
The attendant shook his head.
"I was speaking to them a moment ago, sir. Mr. Poignton and his friend are going for a fortnight's quiet to the Paradise Hotel at Hyères."
A black cloud, long and with jagged edges, passed away from the face of the moon. The plain of Hyères was gradually revealed, and beyond the phalanx of lights on the warships lying in the bay. The hotel on the hillside stood sharply out against the dark background.
Upon the balcony of one of the rooms upon the second floor a man was standing with his back to the wall. He looked around at the flooding moonlight. From the adjoining balcony a thin rope was hanging. The young man gazed helplessly at the end, which had slipped from his fingers. He was face to face with the almost insoluble problem of how to regain the shelter of his own room.
The man looked back into the room from which he had escaped and down at the end of the swinging rope. To return into the room was insanity. To stay where he was was to risk being seen by the earliest passerby or the first person who chanced to look out from his window. To try to pass to his own veranda without the aid of that rope which he had lost was an impossibility.
The silence of the night was strangely, almost harshly broken from the interior of the hotel. An alarm bell, harsh and discordant, rang out a brazen note of terror. Lights suddenly flashed in the windows, footsteps hurried along the corridor. The man outside upon the balcony set his teeth and cursed.
The room behind him was speedily invaded. Mme. Bertrand, her beautiful hair tied up only with pink ribbon, her eyes kindling with excitement, received a stream of agitated callers.
"It was I who rang the danger bell," madame declared indignantly. "There has been a man in my room. Not two minutes since I opened my eyes, and he disappeared into my sitting room. I saw him distinctly. I could not recognize him, for he kept his face turned away. Either he has escaped through the sitting room door and down the corridor, or he is still there, or he is hiding in this room."
"The jewels of madame!" the manager gasped. "The pearls of madame, the string-of pearls?"
"That is safe." madame admitted. "My diamond collar too is in its place."
The manager and two of the guests searched the sitting room, which opened to the left from the bedroom. The search was of necessity not a long one; there was no one in the sitting room.
"Then the burglar has escaped!" Mme. Bertrand cried. "Be so good. Monsieur Holder, as to at once examine the wardrobe and to look underneath my bed. I shall never sleep soundly again in this hotel."
M. Holder dived under the valance. It was just at that moment that Mme. Bertrand, gazing into the plate glass mirror of the wardrobe, received a shock. Distinctly she saw a man's face reflected there.
She stood for a moment quite still, her hand pressed to her side. Then she turned her head and looked out of the French windows which led onto the balcony. There was nothing to be seen. She looked across at M. Helder, whose head had disappeared inside the wardrobe. Then she stole up to the window and glanced once onto the balcony.
"Madame," M. Helder declared, "the room is empty. Your sitting room also is empty. There remains," he added, "only the balcony."
He advanced a step. Mme. Bertrand was standing in front of the window.
"The balcony I have examined myself." she said quietly. "There is no one there."
"In that case, madame," M. Helder declared, "we must conclude that the intruder escaped through your sitting room door into the corridor. Madame can at least assure me that nothing of great value is missing?"
Mme. Bertrand. though pale, was graciously pleased to reassure the inquirer. M. Helder drew himself up on the threshold and permitted himself a bow.
"Madame," he said, "will accept this expression of my infinite regret that her slumbers should have been so disturbed."
"I thank you very much, Monsieur Helder," she answered graciously.
Madame paused for a moment to listen to his footsteps down the corridor. Then she moved forward to the door and locked it. Then she walked deliberately to the French windows, threw them open and stepped onto the balcony.
"Good evening, Monsieur Sydney Wing: or, rather, good morning."
The young man gripped for a moment the frail balustrade.
"Madame!" he faltered.
"Inside!" she whispered imperatively. "You do not think of my reputation, monsieur, that you show yourself so clearly here. In an hour the dawn will come."
The young man stepped only too willingly inside the room. She followed him and closed the windows.
"You will gather, M. Sidney Wing," she said, "that I am disposed to spare you. I knew that you were outside, even while my room was being searched. I preferred first to hear your explanation before I gave you up to be treated as a common burglar."
The young man's courage was returning fast. He lifted his head.
"Oh, madame," he murmured, "you are too gracious."
He raised her hand to his lips and kissed it.
"You will come this way," she said, leading him into the sitting room and turning on the electric light. "Now tell me, monsieur, and tell me the truth if you would leave this room a free man and without scandal. When I saw you first you were bending over that table. Upon it was my necklace, my ear-rings, a lace scarf, my chatelaine and vanity box, a few of my rings, perhaps a jewelled pin or two. Now tell me exactly what you came for, what you have taken, and why?"
The young man held himself upright.
"Madame," he said, "think. Was there nothing else upon that table?"
"I can think of nothing."
"To-night," he continued, "you were scarcely so kind to me. We danced together, it is true, but there were many others. There was the French Admiral, for instance."
She was a coquette, and she shrugged her shoulders as she smiled.
"And you, M. Sydney Wing, what have you to say that I should not dance and be friendly with this gentleman?"
"Alas!" he said. "I have no right to find fault. Yet two nights ago madame gave me the rose I asked for. To-night—you remember?"
She looked at him softly yet steadily.
"You told me," he continued, "that the rose belonged to him who dared to pluck it."
"It is a saying," she murmured, "I was not in earnest."
Sydney Wing sighed deeply.
"Madame," he declared. "I come of a literal nation. When we love, the word of a woman means much to us. To-night there seemed nothing dearer to me in life than the possession of that rose. I told myself that your challenge was accepted. I told myself that to-night I would sleep with that rose on the pillow by my side."
Slowly he unbuttoned his coat. From the breast pocket he drew out a handkerchief and unfolded it. In the centre, crushed, lay a dark red rose.
"Monsieur!" she cried incredulously, "monsieur, you mean to tell me that for the sake of that rose you climbed from your balcony to mine?you ran these risks?"
"For the sake of this rose, madame, and all that it means to me," he answered.
She drew a long sigh.
"Monsieur Sydney," she said, "I am very glad indeed that when I saw your face reflected in the mirror of my wardrobe something urged me to send Monsieur Helder away. I am very glad."
She held up her finger.
"Monsieur," she whispered, "not another word. I have risked my reputation to save you. See, the door is before you. Unlock it softly. Be sure there is no one in the corridor when you leave. Do not attempt to close it. I myself in a few minutes time will return and do that."
"But, madame " he began.
She pointed imploringly toward the door.
Very noiselessly the young man opened the door of the sitting room, glanced up and down, and with swift, silent footsteps made his way to his own apartment. There were drops of perspiration still upon his forehead as he stepped out onto the balcony and wound up his rope.
It was the most cheerful hour of the day at the Paradise Hotel?the hour before luncheon. Every one seemed to be out of doors. Mr. Laxworthy and Mr. Forrest Anderson had just passed along the front and were threading their way up the winding path which led through the pine woods at the back of the hotel. Mr. Freeling Poignton and the Marquis Lefant were sitting a little way up among the pine trees. Lefant was leaning forward, his eyes fixed steadily upon that streak of blue Mediterranean.
"I am quite sure," he said, "that I can rely upon my information. At a quarter past twelve precisely the torpedo is to be fired."
"Which is the Magnifique, anyway?" Mr. Freeling Poignton inquired.
Lefant pointed to the largest of the gray battleships which were riding at anchor. Then his finger slowly traversed the blue space until it paused at a black object set out very near the Island of Hyères. He glanced at his watch.
"A quarter past," he muttered. "Look! Look!"
The black object had disappeared. A column of white water rose gracefully into the air and descended. It was finished. Lefant leaned toward his companion.
"You and I," he said, "have seen a thing which is going to change the naval history of the future. You and I alone can understand why the French admiralty have given up building battleships; why, even their target practice here and at Cherbourg continues as a matter of form only."
Freeling Poignton withdrew his cigar from his mouth.
"I can't say," he admitted, "that I have ever given any particular attention to these implements of warfare, because I hate them all; but there's nothing new, anyway, in a torpedo. What's the difference between this one and the ordinary sort?"
"This one," Lefant answered, "can he fired at a range of five miles and relied upon to hit a mark little larger than the plate of a battleship with absolutely scientific accuracy. There is no question of aim at all. Just as you work out an exact spot in a surveying expedition by scientific instruments, so you can decide precisely the spot which that torpedo shall hit. It travels at the pace of ten miles a minute, and it has a penetration which has never been equalled "
Freeling Poignton shivered a little.
"I'd like to electrocute the man who invented It," he declared tersely.
"You are wrong." Infant replied. "The man who invented that torpedo Is the friend of your scheme, and not the enemy. It is your desire, is it not—?the great ambition of your life—to secure for the world universal peace?"
"Marquis." was the reply, "there is no man breathing who can say how much I am worth. Capitalize my present income, and you might call it five hundred million pounds. Put a quarter of a million somewhere in the bank for me, and I'd give the rest to see every army in Europe disbanded, every warship turned into a trading vessel."
"Just so." Lefant assented. 'Now listen. The surest of all ways to prevent war is to reduce the art of killing to such a certainly that it becomes an absurdity even to take the field. What nation will build battleships which can be destroyed with the touch of a finger at any time from practically any distance?
"I tell you that this invention, which only one or two people In the world outside of that battleship yonder know of at present, is the beginning of the end of all naval warfare. There is only one thing to be done?to drive this home. No nation must be allowed to keep that secret for her own. It must belong to all."
"I begin to understand," Mr. Freeling Poignton remarked. "Guess that's where you come in, isn't it?"
"I hope so," Lefant assented. "I have already spent a hundred thousand dollars of your money, but I think I have had value for it."
"Well, you've got to run this thing," Mr. Poignton remarked, "and I suppose you know what kind of lunatics you've got to deal with. Seems to me the most difficult job is for you to get on the battleship at all without the Admiral's consent."
"That is the chief difficulty," Lefant admitted. "I was rather hoping that Mme. Bertrand might have been of use to me there. She has been devoting herself to the Admiral for some days, and last night she got a pass from him allowing the bearer to visit the ship at any time with access to any part of it.
"This morning, however, she declares that she must have torn it up with her bridge scores. That does not trouble me very much, though. My plans are all made in another direction. To-night is the night of the fancy dress ball here, and the Admiral is coming. When he returns to the Magnifique the drawings of the torpedo will be in my possession."
Mr. Freeling Poignton laid his hand for a moment on Lefant's shoulder.
"Marquis," he said, "remember, these aren't my methods, and it's only because I see just how difficult it is to make a move that I'm standing in. But let this be understood between you and me. The moment those plans are in your possession a copy of them is to be handed simultaneously to the Government of every civilized Power in the world, so that every one can build the darned things if they want to."
"Naturally," Infant assented.
It was the night of the great fancy dress ball at the Paradise Hotel. The ballroom was already crowded. Admiral Christodor led the promenade with Mme. Bertrand, concealed under the identity of an Eastern princess. There were many who wondered what it was that he whispered in her ear as he conducted her into the ballroom.
"It was careless of me," she admitted softly; "but I am really quite, quite sure that it was destroyed. It was with my bridge scores, and I tore them all up without thinking. You will give me another, perhaps ?"
"Whenever you will," he promised.
"Listen," she continued. "To-night you must not leave me. There is a young Englishman—you understand?"
"To-night shall be mine," the Admiral answered gallantly. "I will not quit your side for a second for all the Englishmen who ever left their sad Island."
It was a gallant speech, but if Paul, the concierge, could have heard it he would have been puzzled, for barely half an hour later a gust of wind blew back the cloak of a man who was stepping into a motor car, and his uniform was certainly the uniform of an admiral in the French navy.
Through the windy darkness the motor car rushed on its way to La Plage. The men who waited in the pinnace rose to the salute. The Admiral took his place In silence and the little boat tore through the water.
"The Admiral takes his pleasure sadly," one of them muttered as their passenger climbed onto the deck. The Admiral turned his head sharply.
"I shall return," he announced. "Await me."
Most of the officers of the Magnifique were in the ballroom of the Paradise Hotel. The Admiral received the salute of the lieutenant on duty and passed at once to his cabin. There was no sound save the gentle splashing of the water near the porthole.
Like lightning he turned to a cabinet set in the wall. He pulled out a drawer and touched the spring. Everything was as he had been told. A roll of papers was pushed into a corner of this compartment. He drew the sheets out one by one, shut the cabinet quickly and swung around.
Then he stood as though turned to stone. The inner door of the cabin which led into the sleeping apartment was open. Seated at the table before him was Mr. Laxworthy.
Lefant was a man who had faced many crises in life. Sheer astonishment, however, overmastered him. He simply stood still and stared. It was surely a vision, this! It could not be that little, old fashioned man who went about with a gray shawl around his shoulders who was silting there watching him.
"For obvious reasons," Mr. Laxworthy said, "the less time we spend here the better. The pinnace which brought you is, I presume, waiting to take you back. In this light you might still pass as the Admiral, but It is as well not to run risks. My foot is on the electric bell."
Lefant stood as though turned to stone.
"Am I in command or you?" Laxworthy asked.
"You are." Lefant admitted, with a little gasp. "Who and what, in the devil's name, are you?"
"It is of no importance who I am," Laxworthy answered. "You hold in your hand the plans of the Macharin torpedo, the torpedo which is to make warfare in the future impossible."
Lefant's finger stiffened upon the roll of papers. Laxworthy read his thoughts unerringly.
"I do not ask you for the plans," he continued grimly. "These are my terms: Put back those papers or destroy them and pay me for my silence."
"You do not ask then, for the plans for yourself?" Lefant demanded.
"I do not," Laxworthy replied. They belong to France. Let France keep them. You have corrupted half the ship with Poignton's dollars; but it was never in your mind to keep your faith with him. The plans were for Germany. Germany shall not have them.
"If I forced you to hand them over to me I dare say I could dispose of them for—what shall we say?—a hundred thousand pounds. You shall put them back in their place and pay me ten thousand for my silence. Will you restore the plans and pay me ten thousand pounds?"
"It is agreed," he declared.
In a few seconds the affair was finished.
"Monsieur the Admiral returns to the ball?" Mr. Laxworthy remarked smoothly. "I will avail myself of his kind offer to accept a seat in the pinnace."
They left the cabin and made their way to the side of the ship where the pinnace was waiting. Once more it rushed toward the land. The two men walked down the wooden quay side by side.
"You will permit me to offer you a lift to the hotel?" Lefant asked.
"With much pleasure," Laxworthy replied.
Smoothly but at a great pace they tore along the scented road. Lefant broke the silence.
"There are many things which I do not understand," he said, "but there is one on which you might enlighten me. How the devil did you get on board the Magnifique?"
They were passing along the front by the ballroom. Admiral Christodor and Mme. Bertrand were sitting near the window. Laxworthy sighed.
"The greatest men in the world," he said, "make fools of themselves when they put pencil to paper for the sake of a woman. Take my advice. Marquis. Destroy that uniform and arrange for an alibi. In a few hours time there will be trouble on the Magnifique."
Lefant nodded. His cocked hat was thrust into the pocket of his overcoat—? he was wearing a motor cap and goggles.
"There will be trouble," he remarked dryly; "but it will not touch you or me, As regards Mme. Bertrand—"
"She is innocent." Laxworthy assured him. "Nevertheless a pass onto the Magnifique is a little too valuable a thing to be left in a lady's chatelaine bag."
MR. LAXWORTHY occasionally played golf. There were other distractions which appealed more strongly to him, and it was simply owing to the persistence of the girl that he happened to be on the fifth green at the time when the tragedy at the flower farm was discovered.
"This for the hole, I believe," Mr. Laxworthy remarked, whereupon he studied the line of his putt, adjusted his spectacles, took up his stance firmly and holed out from a distance of about seven yards. The American girl made a face at him.
"I don't believe you're as nice as I thought you were," she said, rather crossly. "Now, what are all those boys running for, do you suppose?"
Through the trees in the adjoining field a sea of violets bent their heads before the soft west wind. About a hundred yards away stood a large bare-looking farmhouse and spacious out-buildings. It was toward this that several caddies and one or two of the players were hurrying.
"Let's see what the trouble is," the girl exclaimed.
They walked along one of the straight furrows between the beds of violets. The farmhouse was built without any encircling fence in the centre of the field. A little way hack, on the left, was a huge barn. Outside this a woman stood weeping and wringing her hands, while a man, surrounded by a curious group of caddies and several players, was talking, loudly and excitedly. One or the residents at the hotel, who knew Laxworthy by sight, turned toward him as they hurried up.
"You don't happen to be a doctor, do you?" he asked.
The peasant stepped forward. In his blue shirt and soiled corduroy trousers he was entirely typical of his class— French, with a dash of the Italian.
"If monsieur knows anything of doctoring he may pass inside," he declared, "otherwise, no one shall enter my barn. I have sent for a doctor. I have sent for the police. What can a man do more? As for me—I shake. It is a horrible thing which has happened."
He wiped the sweat from his forehead with his forearm. There was no doubt about it that he was in mortal terror.
"I do know something of doctoring," Laxworthy admitted, answering him in his own tongue. "Who is ill?"
The man stared at him.
"Ill! Monsieur has not heard, then? But last night he came while we were at our evening meal—a tramp, half starved, shaking with fatigue and thirst. He prayed for work, for food, for a sup of wine.
"All these I offered. Why not? It is our busy season, and labor is welcome. I let him sleep in the barn. To-morrow, I said, he should work in the vineyard. This morning I forgot that he was there until an hour ago. 'The lazy rascal!' I thought; but I took him a mug of coffee.
"I carried It from the house out here to the barn. 'Giuseppe,' I shouted, 'wake up and come to your work. Here is coffee and bread.' Then I threw open the door, and behold! Monsieur may enter—"
The man pushed back the clumsy door of the barn. On a bundle of hay, just inside, a man lay dead. He lay on his side, and the long knife which had passed through his heart had come out behind his shoulder blade Mr. Laxworthy turned round.
"Keep these people away," he called out sharply. "Miss Chambers, you had better go home, please. Don't let any one in here," he added, turning to the farmer. "Don't let anything be moved or disturbed."
Laxworthy sank on one knee by the of the murdered man. For several moments he remained there. The former stood a few feet away.
"He came to you last night, and you had never seen him before?" Laxworthy asked.
"But never! He is a stranger. If I had known that he was one of those who are doomed, do you think that I would have had him here?"
"What do you mean by one of those who are doomed?"
The man shivered.
"The Camorra," he answered. "It is a crime of vengeance, this. There is the cross upon the cheek."
Mr. Laxworthy nodded slowly.
"What language did the man speak?"
"But the same as our own monsieur. Why not? He came from Marseilles last, he said, but he had lived in Tuscany."
Mr. Laxworthy rose to his feet. A motor car had drawn up in the road. A sergeant of gendarmes and the doctor came hurrying up. Mr. Laxworthy stood on one side.
"They called me," he explained to the doctor, "but you see for yourself. I have not interfered with the position of the body, nor touched the man. It is an affair, I fear, for the police."
Mr. Laxworthy strolled away over the perfumed field, and found Miss Chambers waiting on the seat by the sixth tee. They abandoned the game. Miss Chambers declared that she could do nothing but think of the dead man's face, of which she had had a hurried glimpse. On their way to the hotel Mr. Laxworthy asked her a question.
"You are a young lady," he said, "with some powers of observation. Did anything strike you about the face of that man?"
"Nothing except that it was the most hideous thing I ever saw in my life," she declared. "I'm afraid I'll dream of it for months."
Mr. Laxworthy found the news of the tragedy at the flower farm had already arrived, and people were busy discussing it. Mr. Laxworthy, who seldom went out of his way to speak to any one, paused before the wicker chair of Mr. Freeling Poignton. The latter greeted him cordially.
"They tell me you saw this poor fellow who's been murdered?"
"It is quite true," Mr. Laxworthy admitted.
Mr. Freeling Poignton clenched his fists.
"If I had my way.** he declared, "I'd make short ending of any Government who let these dirty, murdering societies flourish."
"Your humanitarian principles," Mr. Laxworthy said, "are well known. Tell me, would you consider it a gratification to them, or the reverse, that the murderer should be discovered?"
"Why, I'm surprised at that question, Mr. Laxworthy. You knew very well that I'm great on the sacredness of human life, and that's why I'm dead set against wars and all manner of armaments. But I'm also strong for Justice. That's just what I'm objecting to in this case. They tell me that they'll let the blackguard who did this thing slip away because he happens to belong to one of those murderous societies. That's what makes me so mad."
"I am pleased," Mr. Laxworthy answered, "to hear you soy this. Now. I believe that you could, if you cared to do so, insure the bringing to Justice of this murderer."
Mr. Freeling Poignton looked at Mr. Laxworthy curiously.
"What do you mean by that?" he demanded.
"I mean that, Camorra or no Camorra, If you cared to offer a thousand pounds reward for the arrest of the murderer he'd be arrested before a week is past."
"I'll do it!" Mr. Freeling Poignton declared, rising to his feet. "I'll have my secretary telephone to the police right away. I take it you know what you're talking about, Mr. Laxworthy?"
"There is no manner of doubt about that," Mr. Laxworthy replied.
Mr. Laxworthy went to his rooms for a few minutes, and strolled in to luncheon a little later. The invalid young man and his companion occupied a table just inside the large dining hall. Mr. Laxworthy on his way to his place paused before their table.
The young man looked up quickly.
"How is the invalid this morning?" he asked.
His companion shrugged his shoulders.
"Getting on slowly," he declared. "I can't seem to get him to eat enough, and he sleeps wretchedly."
"You should try a walk at night-time occasionally," Mr. Laxworthy suggested. "I myself find it the best sedative In the world."
Mr. Laxworthy passed on toward his seat. The two men exchanged glances.
"Do you know who that fellow is?" the young man asked suspiciously.
His companion shook his head.
"Rather an old woman. I think," he declared carelessly. "I don't know much about him except that he's always got his nose into some learned journal or another."
The young man's eyes were still following Mr. Laxworthy.
"You don't suppose—" he began.
His friend laughed scornfully.
"My dear Philip," he exclaimed, "don't be an ass!"
Mr. Laxworthy made his way to his own table, where his two companions had already commenced luncheon.
"We are both of us," Mr. Forrest Anderson remarked, "exceedingly curious as to the nature of your conversation with Mr. Freeling Poignton."
"There need be no secret about that," Mr. Laxworthy declared. "I have induced Mr. Freeling Poignton to offer a reward of one thousand pounds for the arrest of the murderer of that poor fellow who was found dead this morning at the outhouse of the flower farm."
Mr. Anderson and Sydney exchanged bewildered glances.
"But he was only an Italian laborer!" the former exclaimed.
Mr. Laxworthy continued his lunch for a few moments in silence.
"Well," he said at last, "I had some reasons for my interference. In the first place, the man was not an Italian peasant at all. On the contrary, he was an Englishman."
"Not only an Englishman, but an Englishman with whose name and profession I happen to be acquainted. Furthermore, the farmer, who lied to me this morning, knows all about the crime."
"Tell us who he was," Anderson demanded softly.
"I recognized him directly I saw him lying there, although he had shaved his mustache. His name was John Beggs and he was an exceedingly clever and unscrupulous detective. You yourselves saw him only a few days ago in the buffet of the Gare de Lyon."
There was a moment's breathless silence. The little scene in the buffet rose up before their eyes. Sydney involuntarily glanced across the room toward the table where the invalid young man and his companion were sitting.
"Have you told any one?" he asked.
"Not a soul," Mr. Laxworthy answered. "I prefer to let the venom of that reward do its work. There is no one in this world so covetous for gold as a French peasant of his class. For a thousand pounds there are few of them who would not sell their brother's soul. We shall hear news, and before long."
Luncheon concluded, Mr. Laxworthy— with Forrest Anderson and Sydney—walked along the dusty road which led to the flower farm. The door of the barn was closed, and a gendarme stood there on duty. Mr. Laxworthy and his companions entered the house, but found nowhere any sign of life. It was not until Mr. Laxworthy had knocked for some time upon the banisters that the farmer put in a reluctant appearance at the head of the stairs.
"What do you want?" he demanded gruffly.
"I have come to bring you news," Mr. Laxworthy replied. "You remember me from this morning, I am sure? Come down and talk to me and my friends. You will find it worth your while."
The man come down a little unsteadily.
"News for me?" he muttered. "What is it, then?"
"A wealthy American gentleman who is staying at the Paradise Hotel is going to offer a reward of a thousand pounds, twenty-five thousand francs, mark you, for any information which will lead to the apprehension of the man who murdered that poor fellow out there. Twenty-five thousand francs! Why, it is a fortune."
The man who listened swayed upon his feet.
"Twenty-five thousand francs!" he gasped.
"It is a great fortune," Mr. Laxworthy continued. "With twenty-five thousand francs what could a man do here, for instance? Rebuild the place, buy more land, be master where he has been servant. Directly I was told of this, you see, I came to you. You should have the best chance of earning that money, my good friend."
"How can I earn it?"
"By giving such information as will lead to the arrest of the murderer," Mr. Laxworthy remarked cheerfully. "It is quite simple, isn't it? You have to think, to try and remember. There has been no examination yet. You have been wise to hold your tongue."
The man's eyes were lit with cupidity.
"It Is a wonderful sum," he said softly. "I must talk with my wife about this."
Mr. Laxworthy led the way toward the door.
"We will go now," he announced pleasantly. "I wished to be the first to bring you this news. And, my friend, a word in your ear."
The farmer stooped down. Mr. Laxworthy whispered. Then he passed out after his companions. The man whom they left there stood perfectly rigid for several moments. ,Then he spat upon the floor.
"He is a devil—that little Englishman!" he muttered to himself.
Mr. Laxworthy returned to the hotel alone shortly afterward. In one of the sheltered seats near the porch the American girl was sitting. Directly she saw Mr. Laxworthy she came toward him with a most bewildering smile.
"Mr. Laxworthy," she begged, "are you in a great hurry?"
"Not for a few minutes," be admitted. "It is now ten minutes to four. I take my tea at a quarter past."
"Please have tea with me," she invited. "I want to talk to you."
"I am much obliged to you," Mr. Laxworthy replied, "but I make my own tea with water which I have sent up from the chemist's, and tea which I brought out with me from England."
"I withdraw my invitation," she sighed. "At the same time, if you could spare me five minutes I should be very glad."
"I will walk with you so far as the small stone terrace there," he said. "There is a seat to the left which is in the sun and out of the wind."
Mr. Laxworthy led the way to the seat which he had indicated and arranged his shawl around his neck.
"I am quite ready," he declared.
"Mr. Laxworthy," she began, "there is a matter which has been worrying me, and upon which I want you to give me your advice. I hope you won't think it a liberty, but I am asking you because you seem to lead so thoroughly self-centred a life, and to be so utterly devoid of interest in what is going on around you, that I feel sure that anything you say will be quite impartial.
"It's about what happened at the flower farm," she continued, a little hesitatingly. "You know what that farmer says—that the man came late at night, while they were having their evening meal? Well, it isn't true—that's all there is about it."
"Not true?" Mr. Laxworthy repeated calmly. "Indeed!"
"I will tell you exactly what happened," she continued. "You know Mr. Lenfield, the young gentleman who has been so ill, and who is here with a friend—Mr. Hamar his name is? Well, yesterday afternoon I went for a short walk with Mr. Lenfield, and we stopped at the farm while he bought me some violets. Every one else was busy, so the farmer and his wife themselves came out to pick them for us, and while we were all there a man got over the fence by the road and came down one of the furrows toward us.
"He was quite close before any one took any notice of him. Then the farmer looked up and asked him what he wanted. He answered quite shortly; and then he said something to Mr. Lenfield in English which I didn't hear because I had turned to speak to the woman. When I looked around Mr. Lenfield had fainted. We got him some water from the house, and he had a brandy flask in his pocket, and he recovered wonderfully quick.
"I never thought anything more about the man who had come up, for he seemed to have gone away almost at once. Mr. Lenfield paid for the violets and we walked home together. He is very delicate, of course, and he says that it was just the shock of hearing some one speak whom he had not seen approach which upset him."
"You believe," Mr. Laxworthy asked, "that this stranger who came across the field and spoke to Mr. Lenfield was the man whom we saw dead at the farm this morning?"
"I'm not thinking about that at all," she answered. "I'm sure."
"The incident is a singular one, Laxworthy remarked.
"This is what's bothering me. girl went on. "At luncheon time Hamar came to me and asked if I would mind not saying anything about having been with Mr. Lenfield that afternoon when that man spoke to him. He said that Mr. Lenfield was in such a delicate state of health that if were called as a witness or had to identify the body he would certainly lapse."
"And what reply did you ma Mr. Hamar?"
"I am afraid," she confessed, "that, feeling sorry as I did for Mr. Lenfield, I promised not to mention it. I am wondering whether I have done right. Of course Mr. Lenfield could have fainted from some other cause, but it did seem to me as though the stranger addressed him not in the least casually, but as though they were acquaintances. I've been troubled about it ever since. Mr. Laxworthy and decided to ask your advice. What do you think I ought to do?"
Mr. Laxworthy sat quite still for several moments. Then he rose slowly to his feet.
"My dear young lady," he said, "nothing that you can do or leave undone can alter one hair's breadth, the course of events which are likely to transpire. My advice to you is to wait."
"I feel sure you're right," she declared with a little sigh of relief. "It's very nice of you, Mr. Laxworthy."
They were on their way back to the hotel. Mr. Laxworthy consulted his watch and frowned.
"I have lost count of time to the extent of four minutes," he said irritably. "Good afternoon, Miss Chambers."
Mr. Laxworthy's room looked out at the back of the hotel. He had scarcely seated himself in his customary chair when there was a hurried tap at the door and Forrest Anderson entered.
"He left the flower farm two minutes ago," Mr. Anderson announced. "You'll see him in a minute or two coming around that belt of trees."
Mr. Laxworthy nodded and adjusted a small but powerful set of binoculars. In a few moments the figure of the flower farmer appeared in the direction indicated. He was coming straight toward the back of the hotel along a small footpath, walking hurriedly and more than once stopping to look behind. Suddenly, when within about a couple of hundred yards of his apparent destination, he checked his pace and commenced to saunter. A man was on his way to meet him. Mr. Laxworthy gave vent to an exclamation of annoyance.
"They will be too far away to be of any use to me," he muttered. "Slip down quickly. Forrest, and disturb them. If they see you they will certainly come nearer to the hotel rather than further away."
Mr. Laxworthy, through his glasses, watched the meeting of the two men. At first they stood face to face. Presently they sat down on a fallen log. Then Mr. Anderson, strolling along and whistling loudly, disturbed them. The man who had issued from the hotel rose and greeted them respectfully. Mr. Anderson paused for a moment, and the man who had issued from the hotel stopped every now and then to admire the view.
The flower farmer and his companion rose and came slowly together toward the hotel. At the edge of the kitchen garden they paused and seated themselves upon a bench almost immediately under Mr. Laxworthy's window. They talked earnestly for a time and then parted.
Mr. Laxworthy shut his binoculars with a faint smile. He then had his tea moved into Sydney's room, on the other side of the corridor, and settled down to wait for a visitor. In less than five minutes there was a knock at the door. It was the head waiter himself who entered. He closed the door behind him and advanced Into the room before he spoke.
"I beg your pardon, Mr. Laxworthy," he said, "but Jean Massen, the man who keeps the flower farm, is here and wishes to speak to you."
"To me?" Mr. Laxworthy repeated.
The head waiter, a smart, well groomed little man whom everybody called Luigi, bowed.
"I was not sure, sir, whether you would care to receive him," he said confidentially. Mr. Laxworthy laid down his magazine.
"I have no objection to seeing the man," he decided. "Pray bring him here yourself."
Jean Massen, sober enough now, was ushered in a few minutes later. He scarcely waited until the door was closed before he commenced his story.
"Monsieur," he declared, "It is not only the thousand pounds reward, it is not only the money. When I think of what has been done I tremble all over. my wife too, she has implored me to tell the truth. Monsieur, I come to you because you understand my tongue and because you first brought me word of the reward, which shows, monsieur," he added with a cunning gleam In his eyes, "that you had some idea in your head. There is an Englishman here, an invalid, who was with me in the field when the stranger first came. Last night the Englishman came to me."
Mr. Laxworthy nodded slowly.
"Ah!" ha remarked. "I noticed that he took a walk."
"He came to me, monsieur, and he told me that the stranger was no peasant, as he seemed, but a man who was his mortal enemy. He offered me so much money that I dare not mention it if I would take one of my own pruning knives and stab the stranger while he slept. Monsieur, how could I? What I did do was this. I said to him: 'Monsieur, if you have a quarrel with that man, he lies there in my barn, and the affair is none of mine. Settle your differences and my ears are deaf. It is finished.'
"He left me, monsieur, and he shook like a leaf; but he went out toward the barn, and on the way he picked up one of my pruning knives from the top of a barrel. What he did in that barn, monsieur, who but the good God shall tell?"
Mr. Laxworthy had listened to the farmer's recital, and his face had remained like the face of a sphinx.
"This, then. Jean Massen, is all that you know of the affair?" he asked now.
"It is all, monsieur, and more than enough," the man declared.
"The truth in these matters is the only safety," Mr. Laxworthy said quietly. "Go to the chief of the police and tell him what you have told me. If the Englishman is taken the reward will be yours."
The man breathed a deep sigh.
"I wish you good day, sir," he said, and left the room.
Mr. Laxworthy, from the balcony, watched him descend the hill and take the path through the woods into Hyère. Then, with a little shrug of the shoulders, he resumed his study of the Quarterly Review.
It was in the lounge after dinner that evening that the guests of the Paradise Hotel at Hyères were witnesses of a tragedy unique perhaps in the lives of most of them. The band was playing the music of a popular comic opera. People were standing about in little knots, talking before settling down to their bridge. Mr. Lenfield, looking very pale and ill, was taking his coffee and liquor with his friend, Mr. Hamar. The American girl was there, and Luigi himself was serving them.
Then down the broad passageway which led through the lounge a sergeant, followed by a gendarme, pushed his way, to the consternation of every one. They were accompanied by an interpreter in plain clothes. They walked straight to where Mr. Lenfield was sitting. The American girl, who saw them first, went pale to the lips. The young man himself sat perfectly still. His eyes were set in a fixed stare, his cheeks were ghastly. The sergeant came to a standstill before him.
"Monsieur," he announced, "it is my duty to arrest you for the murder of a man whose name is at present unknown at the flower farm of Jean Massen last night."
The young man half rose, and then collapsed. Mr. Laxworthy intervened.
"Mr. Sergeant," he said, "In the interests of justice let me assure you that you are making a mistake, The man of whom you speak was an Englishman, John Beggs, detective, who unfortunately for him, spent five years of his life in Genoa. This is the man who murdered him. I can furnish you, I believe, with satisfactory proof."
Mr. Laxworthy's hand suddenly fell upon the shoulder of the head waiter. With a crash Luigi's tray of liqueurs fell to the ground. He sprang back.
"It is a He!" he shrieked.
The gendarme seized him by the arm. Mr. Laxworthy cleared his throat.
"The murdered man, John Beggs, he said, "was responsible for the arrest in Genoa four years ago of the uncle of this man, Luigi Cantello. The uncle and his nephew here were both members of the Camorra, and John Beggs, who fled at once to England, has lived since then with a price upon his head.
"He came out here to watch, I believe, over Mr. Lenfield, with whose affairs I have nothing whatever to do. He came face to face with Luigi Cantello, who was a frequent visitor at the flower farm, and he has paid the penalty. This afternoon Jean Massen, the flower farmer, and Luigi here met and agreed that under the circumstances, which were certainly incriminating, the blame could easily be fixed upon the Englishman, Lenfield, and the reward divided between them. A series of incidents has placed these facts in my possession."
There, was a moment's breathless silence. The sergeant had turned toward Luigi With a sudden fierce movement the head waiter wrenched himself away.
For a second he crouched as though about to spring at Laxworthy. Then he changed his mind. A knife flashed the air. His own death cry was drowned in the shrieks of the women. The man had paid his own debt.
MR. LAXWORTHY sat on the porch of the Paradise Hotel, at Hyères. with his gray shawl arranged as usual about his shoulders, a volume of philosophy upon his knee, a pencil in his hand and a notebook on the small round table by his side. His attention appeared to be entirely absorbed by the volume which lay open upon his knee.
Radiant in her white linen gown and white tam o' shanter, the-American girl came out of the hotel on her way to the golf links. Directly she saw Mr. Laxworthy she made her way to his side.
"Good morning. Mr. Laxworthy," she said amiably.
Mr. Laxworthy slowly turned his head. His reply was perfectly polite, but his tone certainly did not invite overtures. The young lady, however, remained absolutely unconscious of his lack of cordiality.
"I was hoping that I should see you this morning," she remarked, drawing up a chair to his side. There is something I wanted lo ask you."
Mr. Laxworthy gave no evidence of any curiosity.
"It is about Mr. Lenfield," she went on confidentially. "You admitted the other night in those few wonderful words of yours that the poor man who was killed had probably come down here on business connected with Mr. Lenfield. Have you any idea as to the nature of the business which the murdered man might have had with Mr. Lenfield?"
Mr. Laxworthy kept his place with his forefinger and turned his head toward the girl.
"What is your interest in Mr. Lenfield?" he asked.
"Not what you think," she replied. "I was sorry for Mr. Lenfield. I found him very agreeable to talk to, and we are very good friends—"
"Then why not ask him himself?"
Mr. Laxworthy broke in ruthlessly.
"I had intended to," she admitted, "but as a matter of fact I have to play golf this morning at 10 o'clock, and I believe that Mr. Lenfield is leaving for a few days this morning."
Mr. Laxworthy sat quite still for several moments.
"Did he tell you that he was going away?" he asked.
She shook her head.
"I happened to find out quite by accident," she said confidentially, "and to tell you the truth I thought it a little strange he had said nothing to me about it. You know, I have seen a great deal of him since he has been here and when he was quite ill I used to go and sit with him. You can't tell me anything about him, then?" she asked bluntly.
Mr. Laxworthy considered for a moment. "No," he said slowly, "I can tell you nothing about him. At the same time, if you had come to me and told me that your friendship with him was likely to increase rather than diminish, I might have said—"
"Said what?" the girl interrupted eagerly.
"That it was a pity," Mr. Laxworthy replied, turning back to his book.
"Then you do know something," she persisted. "And what is that you have there underneath that ugly volume of yours? A time table, I declare! You don't mean to say that you are going off, too?"
"By no means," Mr. Laxworthy assured her. "This time table I was glancing at merely as a matter of curiosity. I thought it would he interesting to know how long it took to get to Monte Carlo."
"Mr. Lenfield is going to Monte Carlo," she remarked.
Mr. Laxworthy nodded. The affair seemed to be devoid of interest to him.
She moved away, and Mr. Laxworthy returned with a little sigh of relief to his labors. Presently the concierge crossed the threshold of the hotel and came out into the sunshine. Mr. Laxworthy, without appearing to glance up or to interrupt his labors, beckoned him to approach.
"Fritz," he said, "the automobile which Mr. Wing ordered is in waiting?"
"But certainly, sir. It has been here for at least an hour."
"Any one going away by the omnibus this morning?" Mr. Laxworthy asked carelessly.
"Mr. Lenfield and Mr. Hamar, sir," Fritz replied. "They are going on to Monte Carlo for a few days."
About fifty yards away Mr. Lenfield, looking very ghastly and worn, was leaning back in an invalid chair with his friend by his side. Over his shoulder he had glanced more than once at Mr. Laxworthy reading and writing in his corner.
"I can't stand that man," he muttered hoarsely. "There's something about him that paralyses me. He sits and watches and waits like a spider."
His companion laughed.
"That's all rubbish, Philip," he declared. "He did you a good turn the other night anyway."
"A good turn," he. muttered. "How do I know that? The end was very near—the end of the Journey, Hamar. Why not? One wearies these days."
His friend looked at him reproachfully.
"Philip," he protested, "this isn't like you... Brace up! Remember there is work before us. If you can sit here before we start and feel your heart wax faint, what will it be when the time comes?"
The large white motor omnibus came puffing up to the front and was soon crowded with little groups of the guests on their way down to the town. Mr. Hamar and his companion were the only two who had any luggage. The proprietor of the hotel came out to wish them good morning.
"It is only for two or three days," Mr. Hamar declared, shaking hands. "You will see that our rooms are undisturbed? I thought that a flutter at the tables might brighten up our young friend."
The omnibus started off. From behind the glass-enclosed space where Mr. Laxworthy sat taking his sun bath he watched until it became a speck in the distance. Then he carefully closed his volume, put his notebook into his pocket and rose to his feet. As though his doing so were some sort of a signal his two friends suddenly appeared upon th< scene.
"So our friends have gone to Monte Carlo to try the tables," Forrest Anderson said thoughtfully.
Mr. Laxworthy looked at the little cloud of dust, now faint in the distance.
"They are gone. I think," he murmured, "to play for larger stakes than Monte Carlo knows of. Is everything ready?"
Sydney Wing nodded and passed through the swing doors on his way to the back of the hotel. A few moments later he reappeared in the avenue, driving a large and handsome touring car, which he piloted to the front of the hotel. Mr. Laxworthy permitted himself to be wrapped in a fur coat, although he still insisted upon the shawl around his shoulders.
M. Renaultin, real estate agent, lessor of villas—furnished or unfurnished—auctioneer and valuer, closed his ledger that morning with a little sigh.
He had carefully closed the door and was standing upon the step leading into his office when a great touring car came haltingly along the street, the driver looking from left to right.
M. Renaultin was immediately upon the alert. A direction was almost equivalent to an introduction; an introduction might lead to business.
"The gentlemen desire?" he asked.
"This is M. Renaultin?" Sydney inquired, raisins his cap.
M. Renaultin swept the pavement with his own hat.
"We wish to inquire about a villa," Sydney announced.
M. Renaultin was instantly at his best The three Englishmen were ushered into his office and comfortably seated in the only three safe chairs.
Photographs drawn eagerly from a large portfolio were passed from hand to hand. Prices, accommodation, location were described with picturesque and ample detail, with eloquence impossible to reproduce.
The three men listened, appreciative but silent. One photograph which Monsieur Renaultin had been on the point of handing out he retained in his hand.
Mr. Laxworthy, who had said little, leaned over-and looked at it.
"It is strange, this location," he remarked. "It looks as though it were built into the sea."
"It is the Villa de Cap Frinet," Mon-sieur Renaultin explained. "It is reached only from the mainland by a narrow strip of sand; at high tide no more than a passage; beautiful, as monsieur sees; unfortunately not to let at present."
"I like the appearance of the place," Mr. Laxworthy said, "Do I understand that it is let for the whole season?"
Monsieur Renaultin was disconsolate.
"A month ago, monsieur," he declared. "I let it for three months. Curiously enough, although I have received the rent the tenants have not yet, to the best of my belief, taken possession. They are expected now, I hear, every day."
"It is let to some English people perhaps?" Mr. Laxworthy inquired.
"Who can tell?" Monsieur Renaultin replied enigmatically. "You English nowadays speak all languages so perfectly. The lady who took it spoke French. There was a trifle of accent, perhaps, but not sufficient to determine her nationality.
"Is the name a secret?" Anderson asked. "The villa rather takes my fancy too."
"By no means, gentlemen," Monsieur Renaultin assured them. "The name of the lady was Madame Lalchenon. If monsieur is curious, there is this to be told: She was, I should say, a Jewess. However, the villa is let. Monsieur permits me to draw his attention to the most charming and desirable residence upon the whole Riviera, one mile from San Raphael; a perfect gem."
They listened, hot it was obvious, however, that the three men were no longer deeply interested. Mr. Laxworthy, upon some excuse or another, pressed a fee into the hand of the reluctant agent and took particulars of two of the most desirable villas.
"In a day or two," he declared, "we shall return. In the meantime we will glance at these places on our way to Monte Carlo. You might also give me a card to view the Villa de Cap Frinet. It is possible that the tenants may not stay longer than the three months. I myself am likely to remain here until June."
Monsieur Renaultin acquiesced promptly and made out the cards.
In less than an hour they were compelled to slacken their pace. They were on a road now of wonderful curves; and every few moments brought them to the very edge of the Mediterranean. They skirted little sandy bays, where brown faced fishermen gased at them with the stolid wonder of their class. Then the ear came to a standstill. Before them was a little avenue with a locked iron gate and painted upon the wall:
"VILLA DE CAP FRINET"
"It is here," Mr. Laxworthy announced.
They did not at once descend. Mr. Laxworthy seemed to be making observations of the locality. Presently he pointed to a hill a short distance ahead.
"We will ascend," he said, "There we can judge."
The car shot forward, In a few minutes they gained the summit of a steep ascent From there, looking downward, they could see the villa itself —a strange little white building which seemed, indeed, as though it had risen like a shell from the sea, with a green veranda, which almost encircled it.
"Let us consider," Mr. Laxworthy said softly. "We are moving a little in the clouds. A false step just now might result in serious inconvenience to all of us."
Anderson, who had been gazing at the villa through a pair of small field glasses, laid them down.
"I am convinced," he declared, "that at present at any rate, the place is empty."
"It has that appearance," Mr. Laxworthy admitted; "and yet to-day is the twelfth of February. To-night should he the night of the great appointment We know well that yesterday afternoon Mme. Lalchenon played baccarat in the sporting club at Monte Carlo. We also know that our friends left Hyères this morning, so the meeting place cannot be far distant.
"To reach here, they would have to go to Cannes and return. My idea is that Cannes was the meeting place; that from there they would motor here. On that assumption they cannot arrive for two hours and a half one would imagine that the others would come from Marseilles."
8ydney was listening with knitted brows.
"It is all rather guesswork. Isn't it?" he remarked. "It seems as though we were stepping into a big thing blind-folded."
"It is my principle," Mr. Laxworthy continued, "to proceed always upon assumptions, provided those assumptions are logical and carefully thought out. I propose, therefore, having this card to view the villa which we procured from M. Renaultin, that we forthwith make an inspection of the place. There can be no harm in that nor very much risk."
Sydney backed the car, and they glided down the hfil to the iron gate. The padlock resisted their efforts to enter; but Mr. Laxworthy, with a curious little instrument which he took from his pocket, carefully picked the lock. He examined the ground closely.
"At any rate," ha said, "no one has passed in by this entrance for several days."
The descent was almost perpendicular, down a narrow and curving driveway, on either side of which were thickly growing shrubs and trees, which formed almost an arch over their heads.
"At night this will be as black as the Styx," Sydney murmured.
"So much the better," Mr. Laxworthy assented. "It is a veritable tunnel."
They came suddenly out into the sunshine. The garden was a tangled wilderness of beauty. Mimosa and climbing roses had run riot about the place. Nowhere was there a sign of any human being. They moved on across the overgrown lawn until they reached the water's edge. They were separated now from the villa only by that tittle strip of passageway. Mr. Laxworthy held up his hand.
"Be silent!" he ordered.
There was something a little ominous in his tone. They remained perfectly motionless, still partially obscured beneath the grove of oleanders which fringed the bay. Peering through the leaves Mr. Laxworthy stood like a figure of stone, with his eyes upon the villa.
"There is some one there," he said at last softly.
"There is no other entrance," Sydney whispered.
Mr. Laxworthy inclined his head a little on one side. They saw then the stern of a small, petrol-driven launch anchored on the other side of the villa, so close under the walls that it had been invisible from the hill.
"It is not only that" Mr. Laxworthy murmured. "Listen!"
They all listened intently. The air seemed full of the repose of afternoon. Little waves, which were scarcely more than a tremor, broke upon the thin line of shingle. A few bees were humming, but the place was empty of birds. The background of silence was almost unnatural. And then they all heard the sound which had first been heard only by Mr. Laxworthy—the faint low moaning of a human being in pain or terror.
"We are too late!" Anderson muttered.
Mr. Laxworthy shook his head.
"It is never too late. Come!"
He straightened himself and brushed away the protecting branches of the oleanders. Then he drew his gray shawl closely around his shoulders and stepped casually along toward that narrow footpath. With his hand upon the rail he stopped and turned to his companions.
"Everything about this place," he declared enthusiastically, "favors one's desire for seclusion. Think how one could work among such surroundings! Who could there be to disturb one! What unwelcome visitors, indeed, could find one out in such a paradise!"
They took his cue and chattered lightly, but Anderson was a little pale beneath his healthy tan, and the fingers which held the match to Sydney's cigarette distinctly shook. Mr. Laxworthy stepped leisurely along the narrow path. If he saw the white face suddenly flash behind the window pane he took no notice.
"Have you said your prayers?" Sydney murmured to Anderson.
Anderson shrugged his shoulders.
"I expect to hear the bullets whiz at any moment" he replied. "But what can one do? The chief knows."
At the end of the narrow walk they stood literally upon the rock. Here and there were little clefts filled up with green and planted with scarlet geraniums. Immediately in front of them was a broad veranda which encircled the whole of the villa. There were indications that the forma] entrance was on the other side, Mr. Laxworthy paused to look around him.
"This," he declared, "is perfectly delightful. I wonder if by any chance it would be possible to get inside. Try that window, Sydney."
The young man's hand was already outstretched toward the fastening. Suddenly he stood as though transfixed. Ho one moved. Distinctly from the other aide of the house came the unmistakable sound of a petrol engine.
"They are off, by heaven!" Anderson muttered.
Mr. Laxworthy led the way around the veranda to the front, A dozen yards already from the landing stage a man was bending over the wheel of a low, petrol-driven launch. He turned his head to look at them, and even Mr. Laxworthy gave a little cry. The man'a face was obscured by a black mask; he was wrapped from head to foot in a white linen duster. It was impossible even to guess what manner of person he might be.
Already the foam was flying into the air as he gathered speed. He turned round and, holding the wheel still in his left hand, raised his right hand to the skies. He ignored altogether the three men who stood watching him. His eyes sought an open window.
"My word!" he cried. "I have kept my word! You hear, Rachael?"
There was no sound save the beating of the engine of his boat The three men stood gazing at him from the balcony. And then they heard suddenly the crash of breaking glass above them. Splinters of it fell all around.
They looked upward. Through a great jagged space in the window of the room above a woman seemed to have dragged herself upon her side. She lay there, raised a little on her left hand, while with her right she lifted a long, strange-looking pistol to a resting place on the fancy Ironwork of the balcony.
"And what about mine, Henri?" she cried.
There was a blinding flash, a sharp, metallic report and the dull spit of a bullet in the waves. The man gave a cry and crouched over his wheel. Again and again came the report and the flash.
"By heaven, she's hit him!" Sydney whispered hoarsely!
The man gave suddenly a hideous start. Quivering all over, he fell back from his wheeL The boat swung round before he could grip it again. The woman's teeth were parted; her face was set in awful lines; her eyes looked steadily from the end of the barrel of her pistol toward the man at whom she fired.
"Twelve more!" she cried. "Good-by. Henri. This is the end. I kiss the bullet"
The man in the boat half jumped up, and again he was hit. He staggered, lost his balance and fell over with a cry.
Sydney tore off his coat and waistcoat. The woman looked down and it seemed as though she had seen them for the first time. She was laughing. She leaned over the balcony and her voice was soft.
"Do not be foolish, young English gentleman," she called out. "He is dead—dead in many places. Would you dive fifty feet for a corpse? Come up here and I wfll show you something."
"It is Rachael," Mr. Laxworthy whispered. "She is right, Sydney. The man is scarcely worth saving. Let him alone. Come!"
They found the door of the villa open. The little hall inside was all confusion, as though some sort of struggle had taken place there. They mounted the stairs. On the threshold of the front room Sydney, who was leading, hesitated.
"It is Rachael herself," he muttered. The woman of death!"
Mr. Laxworthy pushed by.
"She will not hurt us," he said.
He threw the door open. The woman was still half crouching upon the floor. Her legs were tied together with rope, the end of which was attached to the bedpost One arm was bleeding with the effort she had made to disengage herself. Nothing remained of that terrible expression with which she had gazed across the bay. She welcomed them with a soft, almost an inviting smile. The pistol lay smoking upon the carpet by her side.
"My friends," she said, "your arrival is opportune. I am very glad to see you. You wish to take a villa, perhaps? I see the card in your hand. It is an admirable residence, this—a tranquil, idyllic spot where nothing happens, where one may rest as he will rest."
8he pointed toward the sea. Mr. Laxworthy came over and cut the cords from about her feet He looked around the room.
"Madame," he remarked, with a shrug of the shoulders, "you pay your debts in full."
"Monsieur," she answered, "it is the custom of my race. If you are among those in whose blood is the love of adventure, although indeed you do not seem of that kind, stay with me here for a little while and you shall se other things."
"Thank you," Mr. Laxworthy replied, "we are peaceful Englishmen looking for a villa."
"You lie," she answered. "You are Mr. John T. Laxworthy, the man of peculiar gifts."
"Dear me!" Mr. Laxworthy exclaimed. "You seem to me to be a remarkably well-informed young woman."
She laughed softly. She was standing up now, but she was pale. Anderson was binding her arms with his own handkerchief.
"Listen," she said. "You have seen the beginning of a tragedy. I owe you something, perhaps, for your timely Appearance. You are a man, and one can trust men. Stay here then with me and watch for the second part."
"Madame," Mr. Laxworthy replied, "I do not doubt your hospitable instinct, but your method of ridding yourself of undesirable guests appears to me a little arbitrary. I am not sure whether from your point of view or from the point of view of those whom we meet here to-night we ourselves might not be considered a little de trop."
She held out her hand.
"Monsieur," she announced. "I am Rachael. I am not like that man who lies at the bottom of the sea. I have my friends and my enemies, and they know it.
"I offer you the chance of your lifetime. To-night there will meet the man whose deeds less than a year ago set all London in a panic and the bloodhounds, who have never been wholly off his track. They meet here, and in this spot it should be worth seeing.
"Stay then with me. From now until night there is truce between us, if you accept it. After that who shall say?"
Mr. Laxworthy removed his shawl.
"Madame," he replied, "it would give my friends and myself much pleasure to accept the hospitality of your villa for a short time. We have a motor car outside. Might I suggest that we spend some of the time before evening in taking you with us to San Raphael. There is an agreeable hotel there, and madame must dine."
She swept him a little curtsy.
"Monsieur," she said. "I can assure you that there are other things I can do besides revenge my wrongs. I make an omelette aux tomates. I roast a chicken as few others. I mix a salad dressing which is immortal, and you will find from my sideboard that my taste in champagne is unexceptionable."
Mr. Laxworthy permitted himself smile.
"Madame," he declared, "your invitation is too piquant. I speak for myself and my friends. We accept with pleasure your charming invitation. And the meantime—"
He stooped and picked up the pistol. With deft fingers he withdrew the cartridges. She smiled at him.
"Monsieur," she said, "until to-night it is yours."
THE glass-enclosed luncheon room of the Casino at Cannes was filled almost to overflowing when Mme. Bertrand stopped at the head of the little flight of stairs to make some inquiry of the manager, who had stepped forward to meet her.
"It is a gentleman alone whom I seek," she announced. "He left a message for me with the concierge, M. Grayes."
The manager turned his head.
"There is a gentleman who sits alone on the other side of the room, madame," he said. "A yard or so further round the palms there, and you may see him."
Mme. Bertrand inclined her head graciously.
"It is he," she admitted. "Conduct me, if you please."
The manager led the way and Mme. Bertrand talked slowly down the room. Her gown of white serge fitted her to perfection. Her dull gold hair was arranged in the latest fashion. Her dark eyes shone luminously from the background of her pale skin.
"My dear Paul!" she cried, approaching the man who sat alone.
He sprang at once to his feet. He was a man of medium height, squarely and compactly built, with strongly marked features and prominent cheek-bones. He wore his black hair parted in the middle and a little long. His jaw too was exceptionally powerful, and his whole appearance gave one the impression of great strength. Nevertheless his voice when he spoke was exceedingly soft.
"My dear Julie!" he exclaimed. "How careless of me that I did not see you! It is charming to see you."
8he gave him her hand, which he held for a moment in his.
"You are from Monte Carlo this morning?" she asked.
"This morning," he admitted. "I drove myself, and I was impatient. Once more let me tell, you that it is charming to see you again, dear Julie."
She smiled a little bitterly. Perhaps she detected something of the insincerity of the man's words.
"You are very gallant, my dear Paul," she said. "I only wish that you meant half of what you say. What you of course are anxious to hear is my news."
"Julie!" he exclaimed reproachfully.
"We women are never so great fools," she continued, "that we do not understand in our hearts even though sometimes it gives us pleasure to make-believe. However, let that pass. I break my journey here to meet you, and I am glad to do it"
"You had my letter then?"
She inclined her head.
"Everything. has happened exactly as you surmised," she told him. "The two people whom you very carefully described left Hyères this morning. They travelled down to the station in the omnibus, and I in a small victoria, but we met at the railway station, and again at Toulon. They booked to Monte Carlo, but they descended here."
"You speak now," he asked eagerly, "of the stout, red faced man—Hamar— and his invalid friend, who goes by the name of Lenfield?"
"Exactly," she replied.
"Now, tell me," he continued. "There is an elderly little man staying at the Paradise Hotel whose name is Laxworthy—John T. Laxworthy. He has two friends with him—a Mr. Sydney Wing and a Mr. Forrest Anderson. This man Laxworthy appears to interest himself in other people's business. Who is he?"
"I cannot tell you who he is," Mme. Bertrand replied; "but I can tell you this. You may find it interesting. He and both his friends left the Paradise Hotel in an eighty horse-power motor car twenty minutes after the other two had left for the station."
The eyes of the man who listened were suddenly bright.
"This Laxworthy," he muttered, "is he, too, in the game?"
Mme. Bertrand was grave.
"Paul," she said, "I do not know what game it is that you speak of. You keep everything so secret from me. But I can tell you this: Mr. Laxworthy and his friends are not entirely what they seem. They belong more or less to those who seek adventures."
"You know this?" he demanded.
"Assuredly. One of the three stole a paper from my purse. It was a safe-conduct to a French battleship, and very nearly resulted in the theft of some valuable papers."
The man tapped on the table for a moment with his forefinger.
"Julie," he said thoughtfully, "the man Laxworthy disturbs me. To-night should be a night of simple issues."
Mme. Bertrand sighed.
"You talk to me as though I understood," she reminded him.
"Dear Julie," he said, "why should you not understand? This young man Philip Lenfield and I have been concerned in the same affair for the last three years. Others have fallen away. He and I alone remain."
"You are enemies?" she whispered.
"Enemies, without a doubt," the man answered softly. "While we both live there is danger. To-night will be the end."
"You meet him to-night?"
"At a villa between here and San Raphael," he told her. "The meeting has been fixed for some time. He believes that he has made everything secure. The woman Rachel has gone over to his side. He expects to reach the villa to-night and to find her there, its mistress. I have planned other things. Rachel's day is past. Before we reach the Villa de Cap Frinet, Gassiat will have settled with her."
"The woman whom you loved!" Mme. Bertrand murmured.
"Julie," he said, "where I love I trust, and where I trust no longer my love turns to hate. So with Rachel. She was the woman of my heart. I was faithful to her. I trusted her. She shared my destiny. I was ready to walk hand in hand with her to the end. We have been together in great failures and in great triumphs. Yet the time came when she failed me. She thought she saw the beginning of the end.
"It was in London a year ago. We were hard pressed, it is true. Lacroy and Panmur went down. Felix was arrested. We seemed. indeed, stricken to the core. She never believed that I should escape.
"I was there in London in those days, Julie, with a cordon around me. Every morning the papers declared that within a few hours I must be arrested. Arrested, indeed! When the time came that I was ready to leave England I walked out of the Grosvenor Hotel with my valet behind me and saw my luggage piled upon the train and bought my magazines at the bookstall. I strolled up and down opposite my reserved place until the train started. I talked to my fellow passengers and I made my bow to England as many another.
"That was the end of all this talk of my arrest. Since then I have lived as I chose; I have done as I chose. The others went down, all save that one man —Philip Lenfield. He only has known. He and I together have seen the others go to their doom. To-night we are to meet."
She looked at him as though fascinated. She sat there and remembered the time when all Europe had run with his name, when the papers discussed from hour to hour the chances of his capture.
"In that delightful island," he continued, "where I spent some not unprofitable months, they entirely forgot that it was possible for a person of education—shall I say a gentleman?—to associate for his own purposes with the scum of the world.
"They searched for me all the time, as though I were one of the others. Absurd! They ransacked Whitechapel and Houndsditch while I read the morning papers in the lounge at the Savoy. To-night my secret will go down to the grave."
"You trust so few people," she murmured, "why do you trust me?"
"My dear Julie," he said, "some women keep silence through love, but love turns sometimes through the by-ways of jealousy into hate. Therefore I do not always trust the woman who loves. With you it is fear, and fear is a more terrible thing. I trust always the woman who fears me."
She leaned back in her chair and laughed. The laughter was musical enough, but it was not wholly natural. The man shrugged his shoulders.
"I would not waste a second of my time," he replied, "in profitless thought. Let that pass. Tell me, are you returning to the Paradise Hotel?"
"To-morrow. I go from here to visit some dear friends who have a villa up in the hills. I stay there to-night."
"I will take you there presently," he said. "In the meantime I have a fancy. Telephone to your hotel and ask whether Mr. Laxworthy and his friends have returned. In all my doings I like certainties, and in my plans for to-day there is no other element of uncertainty save in the doings of that intrusive person."
She wrote out a message and handed it to a boy. Presently the reply was:
"Madam," the boy announced. "I have spoken with the Paradise Hotel at Hyères. M. Laxworthy and his friends have not returned."
The man whose name was Grayes sat for some moments in silence.
"I have made my plans," he said thoughtfully, "and I have made them with great nicety, but I have made no allowance for any intervention by any outslide party. In the,villa at the present moment Rachel lies bound and gagged, awaiting my pleasure. Gassiat is her jailer. At six o'clock this evening I shall be there. At half-past six Lenfield and his bulldog will be there also."
"Why are you so sure," she asked, "that Philip Lenfield and his friend will be there alone? Are you not afraid lest she should betray you?"
The man shook his head.
"Lenfield knows very well that I am on my guard," he replied. "Besides, this is no ordinary struggle. I tell you many things, but I do not tell you quite all. There is one little fact of which I have not spoken, which, while it makes this young man crave for my death as for nothing else on earth, keeps him yet my slave. He is ordered to meet me there, and he-will come. He does not know that he is coming to his end."
Mme. Bertrand looked out of the window and sighed.
"It is all too complicated for me," she declared. "I do not understand whether this young Lenfield man is a criminal, a detective or a traitor."
Her companion smiled.
"If he were on his trial," he remarked, "he would find it hard to plead 'Not guilty!' to either charge. Let me take you to your friends* house before I start on my Journey. I have an hour to spare."
"And to-morrow?" she asked.
"To-morrow," he replied, "when you Wake you may say to yourself that Paul Grayes has commenced a new life. To-morrow I sail from Villa Franche for New York."
Paul Grayes, alone in his low, torpedo-shaped, gray automobile, glided away from Cannes over the most beautiful road in Europe toward the Villa de Cap Frinet. If, indeed, the darkening way were lined with ghosts no signs of their near presence seemed to trouble or discompose him. He drove on toward his goal as one might pass to his home after the day's work. It was the end to which he moved. Before night was done he meant to rid himself of the two remaining persons on earth still possessed of his secret. It was barely dusk before he flew up the last descent. Below him was the little bay and the villa. A single light was flickering from one of the top rooms! He looked at it for a moment thoughtfully. He could picture Rachel lying there bound and gagged according to his orders, watched over by Gassiat—the man who had never failed him.
Slowly and with, firm fingers he guided the car down the hill. Under the shadows of the trees which fringed the villa gardens he brought it to a standstill and glanced once more at his watch. He still had plenty of time. He vaulted lightly over the wall and stood for a moment looking around him at the edge of the lawn. Still no one moved, no sign of life came from the villa. Gassiat should have been on the alert. Nevertheless he had no thought of evil as he rounded the veranda. Arrived on the seaward side of the villa he stopped short. He looked down at the landing stage with surprise. The launch which he had expected to find fastened there was missing. He stepped back and peered into the boatshed on the landward side. It was empty, save for a small, rickety dingy.
A queer little premonition of evil seized him for a moment only to be brushed on one side impatiently. He had made his plans. It was not likely that anything had gone wrong. If Laxworthy or any other had intervened the lives of twenty men lay within the weapon upon the butt of which his fingers were already clasped.
He retraced his steps to the front door of the villa and stepped boldly inside. At first he could hear nothing. Slowly he mounted the stairs. He had directed that Rachel was to be bound and left in her bedroom to await his coming.
He pushed open the door. There was no trace of her there. He tried all the other rooms upstairs. They were empty. There was no sign of Gassiat, there was no sign of Rachael.
Still unfalteringly, he descended. What this thing might be which had prevented Gassiat from obeying his orders he could not tell, but he was prepared to face it. He looked in at the little sitting room. It was empty.
Last of all he opened the door of the dining room, and he began to understand. He stood there upon the threshold, and his fingers were stiff upon the barrel of his murderous weapon, his hand, however, never moved. For the moment it was useless.
The curtains of the room were closely drawn. Seated at the small round table, on which were the remains of what seemed to have been an excellent dinner, were Rachel, Mr. Laxworthy. Mr. Forrest Anderson and Sydney. But the thing which interested him most was the unfaltering and steady pointing of the revolver clasped in Mr. Laxworthy's right hand.
"My dear Paul, you are a welcome guest!" Rachel exclaimed, turning her head a little. "Take off your coat and sit down. I have done my best to entertain these gentlemen until your coming."
Paul Grayes stood still upon the threshold, and while he stood his brain was working like lightning. Who was this man Laxworthy? An enemy? One who had been on his track from the first? Was he to be bought or was this indeed the end?
Fortune had always been with him—fortune side by side with his indomitable courage. Was this the last trick in the game? He refused to believe it. He shrugged his shoulders ever so slightly and advanced into the room. He did not, however, at once remove his coat.
"If you are friends of my wife, gentlemen," he said, "you are naturally welcome here. At the same time you will forgive me if I feel that a certain trifling explanation would not be out of place? You, sir, for instance," he added, addressing Laxworthy, "appear to have adopted an original method of arresting my attention."
"Circumstances," Mr. Laxworthy replied coldly, "have made certain demands upon me. I am happy to meet you, Paul Grayes. Sit down here and talk with us."
"I have no doubt," the newcomer remarked with his eyes upon Mr. Laxworthy's revolver, "that your fingers are steady, but these modern weapons, I must admit, alarm me. Would it be possible to make some arrangement whereby you could be induced to put that murderous looking toy in your pocket?"
"Certainly," Mr. Laxworthy assented. "Take off your coat. Leave where it is whatever may be in the pockets."
Grayes obeyed without hesitation. He left the coat, however, on the back of another chair a little nearer to him than to any one else in the room. Then he drew a chair to the table.
Mr. Laxworthy's revolver was slowly lowered and laid across his knee. Rachael passed the newcomer a glass and Mr. Anderson the bottle.
"So far as regards any explanation of our presence* under your roof," Mr. Laxworthy said, "I can give it you if you will. My friends and I are wanderers upon the face of the earth with but one end and aim in existence—we seek for adventures, for new sensations. It seemed to me that nothing was more likely to provide these than the meeting to-night between you and the young man who calls himself Lenfield."
Paul Grayes poured out a glass of wine and drank it.
"Mr. Laxworthy," he said. "I agree with you. Left to ourselves, that young man and myself, I do indeed believe that that interview might possess great points of interest. If it is your intention to remain purely spectators, then I do not regret your presence. I often feel the inspiration of an audience."
Mr. Laxworthy smiled.
"To-night," he declared, "you have an appreciative one. Now, tell us, Paul Grayes. In ten minutes the man whom you must believe, since the breaking up of your band, to have been your secret enemy for all these months, will be here. Do you honestly think that it is to be a fair fight, that he will bring no help—no one to aid him? That it is to be a battle of either wits or arms between you two, and you two alone?"
The man whose name was Grayes smiled.
"My friend," he replied, "I am sure of it."
"It would interest me exceedingly," Mr. Laxworthy remarked, "to become acquainted with the reason of your confidence. Do you mind?" he added quickly. "—I am sorry to trouble you, but I do not like that backward motion of your chair. I seem to you, perhaps, an old man, but let me assure you that my hand is as quick as yours. See?"
Mr. Laxworthy's hand was indeed as swift as the lightning itself. It flashed across the table and the next moment the revolver was there, steady and unfaltering. Paul Graves waved it away.
"An unnecessary alarm, let me assure you," he declared. "You asked me a question, and I was about to reply to it. The young man who passes for the moment under the name of Lenfield could bring none of those myrmidons of Justice with whom he has tampered to face me.
"There are crimes in England which they will pardon, but there are some for which the rankest informer who ever breathed could never hope for mercy. Lenfield knows well enough that a dozen words from me and he might as well plead for a new left lung as to escape his fate.
"Now come, let me know the meaning of this little gathering, let me know to what it points, is this a plot? Do you know who I am? Do you want blood money? What have you to do with these men, Rachel? Tell me, where is Gassiat?"
Rachel shook her head sadly.
"Gassiat lies where he deserves to lie," she replied. "For once you were deceived, Paul. He is a faithless servant. He lies at the bottom of the Mediterranean."
Grayes was looking fixedly at. the woman. Slowly his lips seemed to draw apart, showing his white teeth. There was a dull glitter in his eyes. Although not a muscle of his body moved he seemed somehow like an animal preparing to spring. Rachel's eyes met his steadily. She showed not the slightest fear. Her lips, indeed, mocked him.
"Faithful—ah—no!" she murmured. "Gassiat came here, by your orders, to keep me company, to watch with me lest your enemy should reach here first. Gassiat—alas!—formed some plan of his own, or did he by any chance misunderstand your instructions? He left me, tied hand and foot and gagged, in my room, and it was not until we heard the approach of these gentlemen here that he could tear himself away."
Grayes bowed across the table.
"Your intervention," he remarked to Mr. Laxworthy, "was without doubt well timed, but still I do not understand why Gassiat lies at the bottom of the Mediterranean?"
"Because his fingers were clumsy in their haste, and because my strength was greater than he imagined." Rachel replied. "I was able to reach one of those admirable little weapons to which you yourself introduced me and, lying on my side, I shot him; I shot him twice, not mortally, but trying to escape from my bullets he fell overboard. Gassiat will make good food for fishes."
Then there came a shock for all of them. The voice was terrible enough, but the figure at which they looked was more terrible still.
"Not yet, Mme, Rachel! There are first things to be arranged!"
The eyes of all of them were glued now upon that weird figure who had stolen barefoot into the room. His appearance was terrible indeed. The sea-stain was stiff upon his drenched clothes. There were little fragments of seaweed about him. His hair was dank, one shoulder clumsily bound up, a wound still open upon his cheek. He was barefooted, and save for the one bloodstain upon his face his cheeks were as white as marble. In his left hand was a small shining revolver, and though he spoke to the others his eyes were fixed upon Mr. Laxworthy's.
"Master," he cried, "get up and take your proper place. If one of those three men moves I have the strength left to press this trigger,"
Mr. Laxworthy. whose hands were upon the table, nodded and raised his glass to his lips.
"You had better do as he tells you, Mr. Grayes," he said. "For a man who has spent a certain part of the day under the water, our friend over there seems to have a steady hand."
Already Grayes had possessed himself of his overcoat He too now was armed. Mr. Laxworthy sipped his wine.
Sydney's fingers seemed to flicker for a moment toward his pocket, and the silence of the room was broken at once by Grayes's still, hard voice . "A single movement like that, young sir, will be your last!" he cried. "Now stand up—there."
They all obeyed.
"Mr. Laxworthy." Grayes commenced, and then stopped short.
He held up his hand. No one spoke or whispered. From outside they heard distinctly the trampling of footsteps and the sound of voices. Grayes's eyes were cold and brilliant and with a dangerous glitter:
"How many?" he whispered. "Listen!"
Apparently he was satisfied. The voices and footsteps passed on to the side of the house.
"Gassiat," he said, "relieve these gentlemen of their weapons.
Mr. Laxworthy stood aside and indicated with his foot where his pistol had slipped to the floor. The others, following his example, did the same. Gassiat piled the-weapons upon the sideboard.
Then they heard-the-sound of footsteps in the hall. Grayes moved to the door.
"Will you come this way," he invited suavely. "We are waiting here."
There was the sound of a cough, a heavy footstep and a lighter one. Mr. Lenfield came in, leaning on the arm of his friend, Mr. Hamar.
There was a moment of breathless wonder. Lenfield's first impulse seemed to be to gaze steadfastly and with a curious dramatic intentness only at the man whose voice had summoned him. But Grayes with outstretched hand pointed to the others.
Lenfield's eyes, as though unwillingly, followed his gesture, and he started violently as he realized who was there.
"You!" he exclaimed. "Mr. Laxworthy!"
Paul Grayes smiled slightly.
"You know Mr. Laxworthy and his friends, I perceive," he said. "Let me introduce you, then, to three very interesting gentlemen. A wonderful trio of conspirators. I think, only I am not quite sure that they would not have done better to have poked about among the scandals of the Paradise Hotel rather than to have forced their way here to witness this final meeting between you and me, Philip Lenfield."
Lenfield shook himself free from his companion's support.
"With Mr. Laxworthy or his friends I have nothing whatever to do," he declared calmly. "I do not know how they discovered our trysting piece. They came here, I presume, at their own risk. Let me look at you, Paul Grayes. Stand out of the shadows there. Ah!"
The two men were opposite to each other now, the face of each dimly illuminated by the great lamp. Curiously enough, as they stood there all that was worst in Lenfield's wasted features seemed to have crept into his face, to match the hard, bestial stare of the man into whose countenance he was gating so earnestly.
"You see me," Grayes said. "I am unchanged. You and I together have planned some things which have made the world shiver. You never saw me flinch— you never will. The end of these others is written, but for us—for us, Philip!"
Mr. Laxworthy coughed slightly. "If I might be permitted," he said. leaning a little over the table, something after the fashion of one about to make an after-dinner speech.
His words and his manner of saying them seemed so curiously inapt that both men were silent.
"I have not yet had an opportunity," Mr. Laxworthy continued of making a suitable apology for my presence here to-night. Believe me, it is not altogether a blundering visit.
"I am, as you have perhaps heard, a man addicted to the study of philosophy, who now and then steps a little out of his way to notice curious phenomena in human life. A year ago all London was thrilled by the doings of a gang of the most desperate criminals who ever defied the police or the canons of our modern civilization. I will admit that I was hugely interested.
"I sought to probe some of the secrets of that band. I found them to be composed of a few men whose safety consisted in one axiom—they fed upon one another."
Lenfield started slightly. Both men now were listening. Rachel too leaned across the table with a wicked smile upon her lips.
"But this man is wonderful," she murmured.
"Six or seven was it perhaps, this little band consisted of," Mr. Laxworthy continued, "and a score or more of murders at their door. For six or seven there is no safety, for, as we an know, a really great criminal is trapped only by the indiscretions or infidelity of his associates.
"Two men there were with brains. From their hidden places they pointed one by one with unerring finger to their other associates. The police followed that finger, and those other associates went to the grave. The two were left. The time came when one of those two decided that two were too many."
Paul Grayes was leaning across the table now and his hands were twitching. Lenfield, who had at some time or another possessed a sense of humor, smiled faintly.
"Hear him!" he muttered. "Which, Mr. Laxworthy? Which?"
"You, Philip Lenfield. have been hard pressed," Mr. Laxworthy remarked. "Your secret has been fairly well probed. But fortunately or unfortunately for you, it is the greater man who is most sought.
"Perhaps he too knows that. Perhaps he too has heard the distant echo of suspicion, has heard the footsteps of those who are gathering around.
"Philip Lenfield has not betrayed you," Mr. Laxworthy continued, raising his voice a little. "He came here to-night, intending very likely to carry out your first principles, but he was forestalled.
"Paul Grayes, it is I whom you may thank for the fact that your stateroom in the Coronia to-morrow will be empty, that you will embark instead upon a longer and more momentous journey. The man there who calls himself Lenfield knows your-secret, but as I live no breath of it has ever passed his lips.
"I too know that the man who has baffled the police of every country in the world for nearly two years, the man who made himself infamous forever under the name—"
Mr. Laxworthy's genius at the supreme moment did not fail him. He had talked until the last possible second. He broke off with his sentence unfinished.
No one knew exactly how it was done—no one saw, even, whence he procured the missile, but with one lightning blow the lamp fell broken upon the ground and the room was plunged into darkness. Before the sound of the crash had died away footsteps were heard coming from every direction.
Through the French window, left carefully unfastened, John T. Laxworthy. Forrest Anderson and Sydney-Wing stole softly out into the night. A cordon of gendarmes opened to let them pass. They took shelter beneath the oleander trees.
"If one could but see inside!" Mr. Laxworthy muttered. "We left the fraction of a second too soon."
Almost as he spoke, a great blinding flash of light, from which leaped scintillations on every side, lit up the whole of the room which they had just quitted. They heard the crashing of glass, they saw the walls crack.
They saw Paul Grayes, a pistol in either hand, firing madly at the spot where Mr. Laxworthy had stood, leap into the air and fall down, a huddled up heap. They saw Rachel, with her head buried in her arms, Gassiat lying at her side. Save those three there was no one in the wrecked room. Then again there was darkness, broken only by the sound of voices as the gendarmes cautiously drew their circle closer.
"What about Lenfield?" Anderson murmured hoarsely.
"He goes free," Mr. Laxworthy answered. Come!"
Softly they stole along the tunnel-like darkness of the avenue. Mr. Laxworthy seated himself in the tonneau of the car and wrapped his shawl carefully about his shoulders while Sydney lit the lamps.
"We will proceed to-night," Mr. Laxworthy said, "only so far as Cannes. I have engaged rooms at the Metropole. To-morrow we will go to Monte Carlo. This night driving makes me nervous."
Sydney took his place at the wheel. Mr. Laxworthy leaned forward once more.
"I insist upon it. Sydney," he said, "that you drive, with great care! I am already a little overheated, and the night air is treacherous. Besides, these curves are most dangerous."
"With a little smile on his lips Sydney slipped in the clutch. The car glided up the hill and was lost in the shadows.
MR. LAXWORTHY took an intelligent interest in the gambling at Monte Carlo. On the day of his arrival he wandered from table to table, keenly interested in watching the different systems of gambling and the physiognomies of the players.
It was not until he had been in the rooms for ever two hours that he ventured a bet on his own account, which he promptly lost, greatly to his disgust. After that his interest waned for a time, and he finally left the rooms and sat by himself before one of the small round tables of the Café de Paris, where he arranged his shawl about his shoulders and ordered a pot of English breakfast tea.
It was precisely at this moment that Mr. Laxworthy's character as a man of gallantry was finally established. Inside the rooms, half an hour before, he had been dimly conscious of the smile I of a woman from the other side of the table, a good looking woman with a mass of red hair, a long lace coat and a little Pomeranian under her arm.
They had brushed against one another at the door, and his apology had been answered a little more graciously, perhaps, than the occasion demanded. She was walking past him now, very slowly, and as she passed she glanced with amusement at Mr. Laxworthy's shawl and teapot.
"Monsieur feels the cold?" she murmured, with a smile.
Mr. Laxworthy rose at once to his feet.
"Without the society of madame," he replied, raising his hat. "To offer tea. perhaps, to a lady so essentially Parisian would be clumsy, but there are other refreshments if madame would condescend."
Madame sank into the chair by his side.
Madame was disposed to take some coffee. She declined a liqueur, however, and Mr. Laxworthy found himself agreeably surprised by her voice and manner.
"It seems strange," she remarked, "to ?talk with any one who finds anything ?new here. For ten seasons I have spent three months of the year here. Can you understand that I am a little weary?"
"You play?" Mr. Laxworthy asked.
She shrugged her shoulders.
"What can one do? I risk a few louis and if I lose I leave off. It is not at the tables that the big gambling is done in Monte Carlo."
"I have been given to understand," Mr. Laxworthy said, "that a great many people go instead to the Sporting Club.*
"There is high play at the Sporting Club," she admitted, "but there are private houses in Monte Carlo where one may see the most extraordinary gambling in the world."
"You interest me," Mr. Laxworthy declared. "I must admit that I find the study of people engaged in gaming particularly interesting. I am in my small way a student of humanity, and the effects of gambling upon certain types of character are more than interesting."
"You are among those who think," she murmured, looking at him out of ?her soft brown eyes. "Please go on and tell me about yourself. You are really a stranger here and you are interested in your fellow creatures?"
"That is entirely my position," he assured her.
"You are alone in Monte Carlo?" she asked.
"With two friends," he replied; "also Englishmen."
"They are like you—personable?" she asked. "Forgive me, but I ask for a reason."
Mr. Laxworthy pointed them out.
They were on the steps of the Casino looking about them. She raised her lorgnette and approved.
"Very good," she declared. "Now you must give me your card and present your friends. Then if it pleases you I shall give you the opportunity of seeing things in this place which may interest you. I have the entrée to a house where play takes place every night for stakes far exceeding anything you can see in the ordinary way. I will take you and your friends there to-night if you promise that you will not talk about your visit."
"Madame," Mr. Laxworthy replied, "it is a promise easy indeed for me to make. I never betray a confidence."
"Your friends are coming," she replied. "You shall present me. My name is de Clery—Mme. de Clery, remember."
"Anderson and Sydney duly arrived and were duly presented. Whatever surprise they may have felt at seeing their chief in such company they effectually concealed. Madame had without doubt the power to charm, and for ten minutes or a quarter of an hour they sat together at the little round table talking gayly. She rose at last, almost regretfully.
"We are to meet again to-night," she "That will be really something for me to look forward to, for so many of my friends are away just now that I am even a little lonely. At what hour would you care to go? Will 11 o'clock be too early?"
"Your own hour, madame," Mr. Laxworthy begged. "We could not, I presume, induce you to dine with us first at Ciro's?"
She hesitated for a single moment.
"I shall be charmed," she replied. "About 8:30, I suppose? Could I trouble your," she added, turning to Sydney, with a little smile. "My automobile is there—no, the gray liveries. If you could step across it would be charming of you."
Sydney hurried across the road, and a moment or two later a handsome automobile, upholstered in white, with chauffeur and footman on the box, and a beautiful bowl of pink roses upon the table, drew slowly up. There was a coronet on the panels. Madame stepped inside, with a little farewell nod.
"It is au revoir, then," she said.
The automobile rolled away. Mr. Laxworthy and his friends followed slowly on foot toward their hotel. In accordance with their established custom, neither Sydney nor Anderson asked a single question. Their curiosity, however, was obvious, and Mr. Laxworthy. after a preliminary cough, proceeded to gratify it.
"You were doubtless somewhat surprised to see me engaged in conversation with a lady of Mme. de Clery's appearance," he remarked. "I can assure you that she is a perfect stranger to me, both personally and by reputation. I make it a rule to converse amiably with any one who addresses me, and the lady in question made, I may say, marked overtures. The inference is naturally simple. She desires to profit by our acquaintance. If she succeeds in amusing us a little, why not? One is willing to pay for amusement."
Madame arrived at Ciro's barely ten minutes late, and justified in every way Mr. Laxworthy's secretly conceived opinion of her. She wore the plainest black evening gown, with only a single ornament suspended from her neck by a band of black velvet Her hat was a triumph of simplicity. Even the gold of her hair seemed subdued by the manner in which it had been dressed.
Mr. Laxworthy had selected a table at the corner of the terrace. Madame took her place with a smile of approval, and buried her face for a moment in the cluster of pink-roses by the side of her plate.
As the dinner progressed it was clear that Mme. de Clery had changed her opinion of her new friends and with her altered point of view a certain uneasiness now and then betrayed itself in her conversation and reference to the evening to come. Toward the conclusion of their repast a trifling incident happened, unnoticed by the others, but appreciated by Mr. Laxworthy.
A little group of three people were leaving the restaurant—a woman and two men, obviously English and obviously people of some consequence. Ciro himself conducted them to the exit, in order to gain which they had to pass within a few feet of Mr. Laxworthy and his guests.
Mme. de Clery had been in the middle of a sentence, which seemed somehow to die away upon her lips. Her fingers were nervously clasped in one another under the tablecloth, her face was suddenly hard and strained. The remnants of her youth and freshness seemed suddenly to have gone. She looked with dull, longing eyes into the face of the woman who passed. Mr. Laxworthy alone saw the recognition, saw the slight drawing away of the newcomer, the frown on the forehead of the tall, good-looking man who brought up the rear of the procession.
The little tragedy—one of those of which the world is full—was over. Mr. Laxworthy leaned over the table and talked for a moment earnestly with his two friends. He had forgotten something of interest to tell them. Madame looked across into the garden and struggled with her ghosts.
The conclusion of the meal was gay. though most of the conversation lay between Sydney and madame. As they rose and strolled out she seemed afflicted by a curious hesitation.
"After all," she said, turning to Mr. Laxworthy. "perhaps it would amuse you more to go into the rooms. There is always plenty to see there and I have not been there in the evening for some time."
Mr. Laxworthy shook his head.
"The rooms will be there another night. Your offer might not be repeated. I have really a fancy to watch this high gambling of which you have spoken."
Madame made no further objection.
"My automobile is at the door," she said. "Come."
They all stepped in.
"To the Villa des Acacias," madame ordered briefly.
They turned toward Mentone, away from the shore, and climbed the great hill. Soon they left the main road and entered a dark avenue, which they circled round and round until suddenly they came to an open space and saw above them the villa, which seemed indeed to be built on the rocks.
Though the night was warm the curtains were apparently all drawn and only by odd chinks of light could one believe that it was inhabited. As they drew up before the front door madame turned round.
"Look!" she said.
"The view," Mr. Laxworthy declared, "is one of the most magnificent in the world. I admit that those lights which seem to be gleaming at our very feet are like the spangles upon a woman's cloak. I do see that it is possible, even at this hour of the night, to catch the outlines of those white buildings which throw their shadows into the sea. It is all wonderful, madame. but it would interest me more just now to see the door open."
She laughed softly at Sydney.
"Really," she declared. "I have met no man for a long time so refreshing as your dear Mr. Laxworthy. Behold!"
The door was opened. A pale-faced man-servant ushered the visitors in.
Fronting them was a great bank of hothouse flowers. Softly shaded electric lights hung from the ceiling. The wide hall was crowded with trophies. A second servant was already relieving them of their coats. A third man had thrown open the door of a small room on the left hand side of the hall.
"We go in here," madame remarked. "At the Villa des Acacias we invert the order of things. It is our hostess who comes to us."
"They found themselves in a charmingly-furnished little apartment, full of divans, books and papers, water-colors of the vicinity upon the wall, photographs everywhere. The servant was arranging coffee and liqueurs upon the sideboard, but save for themselves the apartment was empty. Mme. de Clery, walked restlessly about.
"Our hostess has peculiar ideas," she explained. "I am one of her intimate friends, but she does not permit even me to introduce strangers unless she herself approves. I have telephoned to say that I am bringing you. She will come and talk to us in a minute or two. In all probability she will then invite us to watch the baccarat or the roulette. If she does not there is nothing to be done but to make our bow and depart."
Almost as she spoke the door was opened. The butler who had admitted them stood on one side.
"Mme. la Marquise!" he announced.
A woman of striking appearance entered. She was tall and thin, her face was as white as powder and natural pallor could make it. Her hair was gray, her eyes black. With the same breath she seemed young and elegant, elderly and scholarly. When she spoke her voice was a charm.
"My dear Lucie," she exclaimed, giving both her hands to Mme. de Clery. "this is indeed a pleasure! Present me to your friends."
Mme. de Clery presented them in turn.
"I find in Mr. Laxworthy," Mme de Clery remarked, "an interesting claim upon our sympathies. This is his first visit to Monte Carlo."
The lady who had been announced as Mme la Marquise turned and looked at Mr. Laxworthy. For several seconds she said nothing. Mr. Laxworthy too preserved silence. In a sense the moment was significant.
"Mr. Laxworthy has doubtless been a great traveller in other countries," Mme. la Marquise said softly.
"In my younger life, yes," Mr. Laxworthy assented. "Of late years I have not found it amusing to wander far from home. My health requires attention and my small estate interests me."
"We must do all that we can to make it pleasant for you," Mme. la Marquise replied. "It is charming of you to climb the hill that I may claim from now the pleasure of your acquaintance. Some evenings we play here. It might interest you to watch us. To-night, alas! I am alone"
There was another silence. Mme. de Clery seemed a little discomposed. Mr. Laxworthy's low bow might indeed have been meant to hide his disappointment.
"Mr. Laxworthy," Mme. de Clery said "is a philosopher. I have found him studying expressions in the gaming rooms."
Mme. la Marquise nodded slowly in appreciative attention.
"Mr. Laxworthy has indeed the air of a scholar,"'she remarked. "He will find. I am sure, much in Monte Carlo to interest him."
This time her tone seemed final. The three men glanced at Mme. de Clery for their cue There appeared to be nothing left but to take their leave. Mme. la Marquise herself led the way to the door.
"You will do me the honor, Mr. Laxworthy?" she said. "I shall send you a card in a few days for one of my small parties. You may find them interesting. You stay here? And at what hotel?"
"For a few days only, madame," Mr. Laxworthy replied, "at the Hotel Hermitage."
They were in the hall now and the butler was already moving toward the front door. Then from the door of the front room, a young man, burly, almost corpulent, with flushed face, suddenly appeared. He held out both his hands to Mme. de Clery.
"Ah, Lucie!" he cried. "This is delightful! But you were not going?" Mme. de Clery paused.
"Dear Julien!" she exclaimed. "Indeed I had only brought three friends of mine for the pleasure of presenting them to your aunt."
"Absurd!" the young man declared. "Present me also to your friends. We are dull to-night. M. le Prince has drunk too deeply. All the time he asks for more company. We need livening up. Present me to your friends at once. They must join us."
Mme. la Marquise stood like a figure of stone while the introductions progressed. The newcomer, with his arm through Sydney's, would have led them at once to the room from which he had issued, but Mr. Laxworthy hesitated.
He turned at once toward his hostess.
"Madame," he said, "it is perhaps your wish that we should pay you a visit at some other time?"
"Mr. Laxworthy," she replied. "I appreciate your consideration. I will admit that there are circumstances which made me a little reluctant to offer you the hospitality of my rooms this evening—yet, after all, you three are men. I think that you, Mr. Laxworthy, have learned how to take care of yourself in every part of the world. Stay if you will."
Already the little party was crossing the hall. Mr. Laxworthy and his friends were ushered into a room different in every respect from anything they could have imagined. The floor and panelled walls were of light oak. There were no pictures upon the walls. The furniture consisted only of divans and a number of chairs. The room was almost T-shaped. At the further end was a baccarat table at which three men were seated. At the end nearest to them was a roulette table. Of the men at the other end of the apartment one was tall, red-faced, with a mass of gray hair. The others were insignificant.
"It is M. le Prince who sits there."
Mme. de Clery whispered to Mr. Laxworthy. "One does not introduce here. You play or not, as you choose."
His hostess bent slightly toward Mr. Laxworthy.
"This was what I used to call my music room," she said, "when I built the villa ten years ago. Since then, alas music has become a small thing in Monte Carlo. The fever for gambling is everywhere. To keep my friends I have been forced, as you see, to turn it into a room where one may play."
"The necessity seems regrettable," Mr. Laxworthy remarked, "but I find it interesting. It is indeed strange that in one little corner of the world associations seem inevitably to arouse an instinct that often remains dormant in other countries."
The young man who had been standing on the outskirts of the circle laughed.
"Perhaps you yourself, Mr. Laxworthy," he said, "are beginning to feel that instinct. Will you play? The prince there is eager to take another bank at baccarat."
"I prefer to watch baccarat," Mr. Laxworthy answered dryly. "Roulette, if you will."
"Roulette, by all means," the young man declared. "Playing for so short a a time, the odds in favor of the bank will almost disappear. The house shall make a bank against the visitors, or the visitors shall make a bank against the house—which do you prefer?"
"The visitors are in the majority," Mr. Laxworthy replied. "Let the house take the bank."
The young man seated himself at the wheel. He turned round and called up the room.
"M. le Prince," he said, "we play at roulette. Come and stake some of those thousand-franc notes which you have won from me to-night. What do you says, you others?"
M. le Prince laughed harshly.
"I will come, perhaps, soon," he cried. "At present I restore my nerves with your excellent brandy."
They saw then that his eyes were bloodshot, and it seemed to Laxworthy and his companions that it was the task of the two who sat with him to keep him quiet.
"To-night," the young man declared, "I have no courage. I limit you to a thousand francs in even chances, fifty francs on the numbers, and a hundred francs any combination. At this infernal game I always lose."
They sat down. Mme. de Clery, with Sydney by her side, Mr. Laxworthy opposite, next the young man who took the part of the croupier, and by his side Forrest Anderson. Mme. la Marquise hesitated for a moment. Then she went and stood behind Mme. de Clery's chair.
They played for a dozen coups or so. The bank won and lost, and won again. Mr. Laxworthy was in the act of placing a hundred-franc bill on the space in front of him when the attention of all of them was diverted by an angry voice at the other end of the room.
The prince had risen to his feet. He stood there—a huge, unprepossessing-looking creature, head and shoulders taller than his companions, with bloodshot eyes, puffy cheeks and protuberant veins.
"Let me alone!" he cried thickly. "If I choose to play, I play with whom and when I please."
He pushed one of the men, who would have restrained him, on one side and came slowly down the room toward them. He walked unsteadily. His shirt front was stained with tobacco-ash and coffee. His tie was crooked, his hair unkempt. All the time Mr. Laxworthy watched him approach. The prince eyed them all fiercely.
"Madame la Marquise," he growled, "you would send me home, eh? Not yet! I shall play a little while with these good people. Afterward they shall all play baccarat. Julien takes the bank, eh? Then we know what to expect. Still, I will play. A thousand francs on the red, mon ami."
He stood glowering at them. Mr. Laxworthy's eyes scarcely left his face.
"My dear prince," Madame la Marquise said, "do you realize that you have been here in your present attire since midnight yesterday? To please you I have found people to play baccarat all through the day. My friends here only play roulette. Take my advice and go home."
"Why should I go home?" the prince answered roughly. "I have won money here, I like it here, I like all of you except that miserable young Englishman who insulted me. I have a quick method, monsieur," he continued, turning suddenly toward Laxworthy, "of dealing with those who do not know their places."
The prince glared across the table. Then very slowly he began making his way around it toward where Mr. Laxworthy sat. Mr. Laxworthy sat back and crossed his legs.
The prince was standing now over Mr. Laxworthy. Instead, however, of at once attacking him, he pointed to the end of the room.
"Show them, you there. Mark and Delamores," he called out. "Show them how I treated the young Englishman who grumbled at my naturals. There is another one here who has to be taught his place in a minute. Show them. I say."
Mme. la Marquise glided to his aide.
"M. le Prince," she begged, "all that I could do I have done. For heaven's sake be discreet."
The prince shook himself free.
"Show them, I say!" he called out in a voice of thunder, "or I'll wring your necks where you sit!"
They rose hesitatingly and pushed the table before which they had been sitting to one side. Then one saw that on a sofa behind—the sofa upon which the prince had apparently been sitting? was stretched the figure of a man.
Mme. de Clery sprang to her feet and rushed across the room. It was one of the two men who had dined at Ciro's.
"It is Victor!" she cried. "How did he come here? What has happened?"
"For twenty-four hours." thundered the prince. "I have played baccarat at that table. I have won money, it is true, but I play well. There came to-night that pale-faced Englishman. He spoke of my naturals—there were four following. He asked me a question. There he lies, with my answer upon his temple."
Mr. Laxworthy rose deliberately to his feet. He followed Mme. de Clery across the room. Together they bent for a moment over the young man who lay upon the sofa. Then Mr. Laxworthy turned round.
"Mme. la Marquise," he asked, "is there a doctor to be found?"
She glanced toward the prince.
"A doctor is not necessary," she said, "The young man will recover presently.
Mr. Laxworthy came slowly down the room.
"Sydney," he directed, "you will find a telephone in the hall. Telephone at once to a doctor and to the chief of the police."
The prince threw up his hands and laughed. He stood before the door and raised his huge arms.
"Let me see," he called out. "who will dare to leave this room."
"My friends and I are about to leave it," Mr. Laxworthy replied. "As for you, you will remain here."
The prince smiled?a very ugly smile.
Mme. de Clery came softly down and laid her hand upon Mr. Laxworthy's arm. She was very pale, but she was struggling hard for composure.
"Mr. Laxworthy," she said. "I am sorry that I brought you here. I did not know that the prince was in the house. Believe me, it is no use sending for the police. While he is here he must be obeyed. No one will listen to a word against him. His rule here is one of the most impious things in the world. It is a thing to which you must bow. That young man on the sofa is my own cousin and he is badly hurt. Worse would come of it if we make a scandal."
Mr. Laxworthy quietly disengaged himself.
"All that you say. madame," he replied, raising his voice, "might well be true if that man were indeed M. le Prince. As a matter of fact, I am surprised, Mme. la Marquise, that you should for one moment have been deceived. Look at him closely. I tell you that he is no more the Prince of Liguria than I am. His name I have forgotten, but I will tell you this: he is a Swede, not a Russian, and he bears on his right arm the brand of Sing Sing prison."
The silence which followed could almost be felt. Then, with a roar, the man came at Mr. Laxworthy. Within a few feet he pulled up short and staggered back. Mr. Laxworthy's hand was as steady as ever, and the muzzle of his revolver was black.
"I remember your name now," Mr. Laxworthy continued. "You are Carl Osterhafen. You were thrown into prison in New York for keeping a gambling den. You declared yourself there to be the natural son of a Russian nobleman. It was very likely true.
"Mme. la Marquise," he proceeded, turning toward his hostess, "if this man has won money in your house he should be compelled to restore it. Make him do so now. Sydney, stop those others from leaving."
Osterhafen's companions had tried to reach the door, but were prevented. Mme. la Marquise was shaking with passion.
"Mr. Laxworthy," she said. "I am eternally indebted to you. These two I knew to have once at any rate been in the suite of the Prince of Liguria. They came here yesterday and told me that he was in Monte Carlo incognito. For him I got up a baccarat party last night. There were others who said that he cheated. He has won three hundred thousand francs, which he has about him, and nothing which I could say or do would induce him to leave the place. Tell me what I shall do."
"The young man. who is Mme. de Clery's cousin," Mr. Laxworthy declared, "is not seriously hurt. Insist upon the return of the three hundred thousand francs, restore their losings to your friends and let him go. A scandal here will do no one any good."
Osterhafen swayed upon his feet. The rims under his eyes were purple, his face was diabolical.
"I restore nothing!" he cried. "You little devil!"
Once more he seemed about to fling himself upon Mr. Laxworthy. and once more he pulled up short.
"Osterhafen," Mr. Laxworthy said calmly, "I have dealt with more dangerous brutes than you, and I have never failed to shoot straight when the moment came. Put the money on the table, and be gone before madame changes her mind. The scandal, after all, would be little compared with the pleasure of sending you and your two confederates where you belong. It is not for nothing in Monte Carlo that one personates the head of a royal house and cheats at baccarat."
Osterhafen fell back, His two associates seized hold of him. They talked together rapidly and earnestly. Osterhafen flung upon the floor a great parcel of notes.
"Are you satisfied, madame?" Mr. Laxworthy asked.
"Indeed I am," she replied. "Let them go."
Some one touched the bell. The butler appeared at the door.
"Monsieur le Prince and his suite will leave for Monte Carlo in the automobile of Mme. de Clery," Mr. Laxworthy announced. "Be so good as to tell the chauffeur to return here after he has deposited M. le Prince at his hotel."
The man bowed and held the door open. The three men passed out. The man who had been hurt was sitting up now and Mme. de Clery was at his side, bathing his temple. Mr. Laxworthy replaced his pistol carefully and straightened his glasses.
"I was in the middle of a most interesting little coup," he remarked leading the way to the roulette table. "If it is not imposing upon you, sir, it would give me great pleasure to continue playing while we await the return of the automobile."
Julien sat down in the croupier's chair and spun the wheel with trembling fingers. Mme. la Marquise crossed the room to Mme. de Clery.
"Lucie," she whispered, "where did you find him, this wonderful man?"
Mme. de Clery smiled.
"Sitting outside the Café de Paris drinking English breakfast tea with a gray shawl around his shoulders," she answered.
Mme. la Marquise shook her head. She looked at the notes which she held in her hand. She looked at Mr. Laxworthy, intent once more upon his system.
"Have you,by chance, ever heard the fable of your great Scotchman,Robert Bruce, and the spider?"
"Without a doubt, madame, Mr. Laxworthy replied without looking up from the board.
"Will you remember," she begged "that if ever the spider can help I and my house are at your service? You will not forget?"
"Madame, Mr. Laxworthy assure her, straightening his spectacles for a moment and turning toward her, "I forget nothing."
"SINCE you went away from Hyères," the American girl declared when she met him upon his return, "we have been very dull."
"You flatter me," Mr. Laxworthy murmured.
She shook her head.
"It is not you that we have missed," she admitted frankly, "so much as events. Nothing has happened—at least in the hotel. You read papers, I suppose?"
"Never!" Mr. Laxworthy declared firmly.
"You strange person!" she murmured. "No end of things have taken place along the coast. The chief of the terrible band of anarchists who made such a sensation in London a year ago was run to earth at a little villa near San Raphael here and blew up himself and his wife and confederate with a bomb."
"Dear me!" Mr. Laxworthy remarked.
"Then," she continued, "the papers were full of all sorts of extraordinary rumors about a very clever swindler who pretended he was the Prince of Liguria and won a fortune at a private house at Monte Carlo. He was discovered and forced to restore every penny."
"Anything else?" Mr. Laxworthy inquired.
"Nothing else," she replied, "except that I have been hoping you would re-turn every day."
"You will turn my head," Mr. Laxworthy murmured.
She looked at him much more seriously than usual.
"It is not for any personal reason that I am glad to see you," she asserted. "It is because there is something going on here which I do not understand."
Mr. Laxworthy glanced at the volume which lay upon his knee.
"Has Mr. Lenfield withdrawn his attentions or are all these new admirers of yours becoming troublesome?"
"Mr. Lenfield," she replied, "has scarcely spoken to any one since he returned from his expedition to Monte Carlo. I think that he was taken ill on the way. Would you mind talking seriously with me for three minutes?" she begged.
Mr. Laxworthy closed his book and folded his arms.
"You remember Mr. Freeling Poignton?"
"Perfectly. He is a multimillionaire.
"He borrowed two francs from me to pay the omnibus the other day and has forgotten to repay it. It is a little habit with multimillionaires!
"You also remember the Marquis Lefant? Well, the Marquis and Mr. Freeling Poignton were here together. Last week the Marquis left. The moment he left Mr. Lenfield and Mr. Freeling Poignton became inseparable."
"A strange combination," Mr. Laxworthy said thoughtfully.
"A few days ago," she went on, "they took the manager's villa in the grounds there. They found their rooms in the hotel uncomfortable for some reason or another."
Mr. Laxworthy followed the direction which she indicated. The villa was a small graystone building situated in the woods two or three hundred yards away.
"It seems an odd friendship," Mr. Laxworthy remarked, "but in other respects it is quite a sensible proceeding. Mr. Poignton has his own servants of course, so they are independent of the hotel."
The American girl frowned.
"I suppose you are going to think me a shocking busybody," she said. "Very well. The day after they moved in neither of them turned up to dinner. That seemed quite reasonable, as of course they have a very pleasant sitting room there. The next day they did not turn up for lunch, and though the weather was perfect Mr. Freeling Poignton never came down for his game of golf."
"How long ago?" Mr. Laxworthy asked.
"The day before yesterday," she replied. "Well, during the afternoon I went down to the violet gardens and on my way back I came round by the villa. It is a little out of the way of course, because none of the paths really pass the villa at all, but—you see I am quite frank with you—I went that way out of curiosity. Not only that, but as I passed the windows I looked in."
"Dear me," Mr. Laxworthy murmured, "that was very shocking of you! What did you see?"
"I saw nothing at all," she replied. "There was the sitting room, but it looked as though it had been unoccupied for days."
"That, seems rather singular," Mr. Laxworthy remarked. "They can't spend all their time in the bedrooms."
"I have passed three times now," she went on. "and not once has there been any sign of life downstairs."
"Do they come out at all?" Laxworthy asked.
"They sit out in the sun together for an hour every morning, and once or twice I have seen Mr. Freeling Poignton walking just outside. But the strange thing is that directly any one approaches he goes indoors. He seems to have a perfect craze for avoiding everybody."
"Incredible!" Mr. Laxworthy declared. "What about his secretary and valet, bye the bye?"
"The secretary is away, and the valet, I believe, has been ill. I know that Mr. Poignton is expecting a new one every day, but he has not arrived yet"
"Where is Mr. Hamar?"
"Gone to England," she replied.
"So that practically the only people sleeping in the villa are Mr. Lenfield and Freeling-Poignton and the former's servant?"
"Mr. Lenfield's servant is there," she assented. "I have seen him once or twice."
They walked along the terrace and took the path to the right which led into the wood and finally into the villa. When they arrived before it, it certainly had a somewhat deserted appearance.
Mr. Laxworthy knocked sharply upon the door. There was no reply. He tried the handle, but found it locked. Then be stepped backward and looked up. There was smoke appearing from the chimney. He knocked at the door again. This time, after the lapse of a few moments, it was cautiously opened by Mr. Lenfield's servant
"What is it you want?" he asked curtly.
"I desired," Mr. Laxworthy said, "to speak with Mr. Lenfield."
"Mr. Lenfield is not in," the man replied, half closing the door.
"You can give' him a message then when be returns," Mr. Laxworthy continued. "Kindly tell him that Mr. Laxworthy is back."
"No need, my dear friend, no need at all to announce it," they heard some one say in the background. "One moment"
Mr. Lenfield appeared, coming down the stairs. He walked to the door, but he did not invite Mr. Laxworthy to enter. He was looking shockingly ill.
"I thought I heard your voice," he remarked. "Welcome back again."
"I knocked at your door." said Mr. Laxworthy. "because I understood at the office that you had asked for me during my absence."
"It is true," Mr. Lenfield admitted. "We missed you from your accustomed table. We were half inclined to fear that you were finding things a little dull here and had moved on."
"An excellent idea," said Mr. Laxworthy. "Your quarters too seem comfortable."
"On some other occasion," Mr. Lenfield promised. "I will give myself the pleasure of asking you to inspect them."
Mr. Laxworthy raised his hat and turned away. A few yards from the house he paused to watch a man who seemed to have come out of the back door, and was making his way into the woods.
"There is no doubt," he remarked, "that there are peculiar circumstances connected with the isolation of our friends. Since you have told me so much it may interest you to know that Fritz, the concierge, had instructions to let them know here the moment I returned. Yet they seem to have no desire to see me when I present myself."
"Have you any idea in your head about these two men?" she bluntly asked.
"None at all. The association seems to me quite extraordinary. Lenfield was obviously embarrassed, and Freeling Poignton has developed a new measure of reserve. Quite an interesting little situation, in its way. This is the walk, is it not. which they call the loneliest around the hotel?"
She drew a little closer to him. They had climbed some distance into the woods now, and coming toward them along the narrow path was a man of somewhat forbidding aspect. He wore laborer's clothes and a cloth hat pulled over his eyes. His face and his walk were alike unprepossessing.
"What a hateful-looking person!" she murmured. "Thank goodness I am not alone!"
The man slackened his pace. He was looking fixedly at the girl. She laid her fingers upon Mr. Laxworthy's arm.
"It is the man whom we saw coming out of the back of the villa!" she cried. "I think that I shall scream!"
"You'll do nothing of the sort," Mr. Laxworthy muttered. "Wait!"
The man passed without addressing them, although both were conscious of a certain hesitation in his manner. No sooner had he gone by, however, than they heard him come to a halt Mr. Laxworthy turned sharply round. What followed happened so quickly that the girl, who stood on one side, found herself afterward scarcely able to describe it. She had not time even to shriek. She was carried away with wonder.
The man, taller by head and shoulders than his frail-looking opponent, sprang at Mr. Laxworthy, dealing him at the same time a savage blow at the side of the head. She saw Mr. Laxworthy take one step backward, then spring on one side with the ease almost of a professional gymnast The rest was indescribable, unexplainable. All she knew was that with a sickening crash, the man who had assaulted him was lying on his back, with Mr. Laxworthy's knee on his stomach and Mr. Laxworthy's fingers upon his throat.
"Now, my friend," Mr. Laxworthy said, "it remains entirely with you whether I summon help and have you conveyed to prison or whether I let you go.
The man began to whine.
"But, monsieur," he cried, "I was starving! The sight of so much riches, so much prosperity, at the hotel here every day drives us mad—us, the very-poor, for whom there is no labor, no food."
"Capital!" Mr. Laxworthy replied. "Now we will take the rest for granted. What were your instructions with regard to me?"
Mr. Laxworthy's fingers suddenly tightened their grip. The man's face was growing black.
"I will tell you the truth." panted the poor fellow. "They offered me a thousand francs to deal with you so that you should keep to your room for a week. If any accident happened they would help me to escape."
Mr. Laxworthy rose to his feet.
"Get up!" be ordered.
The man slunk away. He looked backward over his shoulder and plunged into the wood. Mr. Laxworthy felt for his spectacles and turned to the girl.
"Ah!" he said. "I am glad to see that your nerves are in good order. Having attained the object of our walk let us descend."
She was trembling all over.
"Sometimes," she murmured. "I am almost afraid of you."
"The interesting point," he continued, "is that we have now assured ourselves beyond a doubt that Mr. Freeling Poignton and Mr. Lenfield are engaged in some little enterprise or undertaking in the villa of M. Helder for which they desire perfect seclusion and no interference.
They were descending now to the terrace. She caught at his arm. "Look!"
He turned his head toward the villa, but he was too late.
"There was a face at one of the upper windows!" she remarked. "Some one was watching us."
"I saw them," he replied.
"But you were not looking," she protested.
"Did you hear what my friend Forrest Anderson once called me?" he asked. "'The Man of Peculiar Gifts.' I have rather a curious hearing and rather a curious eyesight. More than once they have been of service to me. I will tell you that the face at the window there belonged to Mr. Freeling Poignton, and notwithstanding the fact that he is a great philanthropist I believe that he was absolutely disappointed to see me coming down this path with you, unhurt"
They were on the terrace now. Inside the band was playing and tea was being served at little tables.
"My dear young lady." said Mr. Laxworthy. "I now, with very much regret, am compelled to leave you. On consulting my tablets a moment or two ago I discovered that I was engaged to play in a rubber of bridge this afternoon. My engagement is due within a few minutes. And you?"
"I am not playing bridge till after dinner," she told him. "I may come and watch you."
The American girl was as good as her word. 8he found Mr. Laxworthy, notwithstanding his professed indifference to the game, playing bridge with three of the most practised players in the hotel and she came and sat by his side. When the rubber was over she leaned over his shoulder.
"You must have concentrated or you could never have forced those discards at the end. I saw all the hands. It was so obvious to me what you were playing for and it was so skilfully done."
Mr. Laxworthy shook his head.
"So far from concentrating," he said. "It was during that test hand that I made up my mind exactly what is wrong down at the villa. I have sent Sydney for my cap and cape. I should be glad if you would walk with me for five minutes on the terrace in front."
They stepped out into the faint violet twilight. Mr. Laxworthy pointed with his stick to the villa.
"To-night" he said, "very soon after dinner, in fact, I am going through every room there. I know beforehand what I shall find. After to-night I am afraid you will see no more of him."
"Is there anything really wrong down there?" she asked.
They paused and looked down. There was only one light twinkling through the trees.
"Yes," Mr. Laxworthy replied, "there is a great deal wrong."
Mr. Laxworthy was watching the light. He turned slowly around.
"There is a question or two I should like to ask Fritz," he remarked. "Let's how much he is willing to tell."
Fritz was standing on the threshold of the hotel door. It was obvious that at the first mention of the villa he became uneasy.
"Can you tell me," Mr. Laxworthy inquired, "who else sleeps there besides Mr. Lenfield and Mr. Freeling Poignton? Are there any of the hotel servants in the place?"
"They none of them sleep over there, sir," Fritz replied. "Mr. Poignton has had our stenographer down once or twice during the last few days to write letters for him."
Mr. Laxworthy nodded.
"So that, as a matter of fact," he remarked, "there are only Mr. Poignton and Mr. Lenfield and the latter's servant who sleep in the cottage?"
"That is all, sir," Fritz assented.
Mr. Laxworthy took out his fountain pen.
"I am anxious to have a short conversation with Mr. Freeling Poignton," he said. "I will write a note, Fritz, and I would like to have you take it down to the villa at once. I shall expect an answer when I come down to dinner."
"The note shall be delivered in a few minutes, sir," Fritz promised.
They strolled away.
"Are you still as confident as ever that there is something wrong?" the girl asked him.
"Absolutely now," Mr. Laxworthy replied. "I never had any real doubt about it. There is a little tragedy going on down there which I must stop, and very soon."
"When?" she asked him.
Mr. Laxworthy glanced at the clock.
"I shall dine at half past seven. At twenty minutes past eight I shall go down to the villa."
"Can I come too?" she begged breathlessly.
Mr. Laxworthy hesitated. "You can come, hut I shall have to bring Sydney as well to look after you."
Mr. Laxworthy spent some little time before dinner studying The Times and other English newspapers, a task which he attempted so seldom that he found it difficult to reach the items of news which he desired. Apparently, however, he was fully satisfied when he at last ascended to his room and changed for dinner.
There were still one or two matters with regard to the villa concerning which he desired information, and he rang his bell and asked for Fritz, the concierge, to be sent up to his room. The man, who was just going off duty, presented himself within a lew minutes. Mr. Laxworthy took a hundred-franc note from his vest pocket.
"Fritz," he said. "I am going to ask you a few questions. I am not attempting to bribe you, but I never expect to get information for nothing. Put this in your pocket, please, and remember that the questions which I am asking you I am asking in the interests of your master and the hotel. It is the situation down at the villa which interests me," said Mr. Laxworthy. "Tell, me, who waits upon Mr. Poignton and Mr. Lenfield?"
"No one, sir, from the hotel. Mr. Lenfield got M. Holder's old cook to look after them, and the waiting is done by Mr. Poignton's valet. Both gentlemen declared that they were very anxious for an absolutely quiet time. Mr. Poignton, as you know, sir, was always a little eccentric."
"Quite so. So really no one from the hotel goes down there at all?"
"No one, sir. We see Mr. Poignton and Mr. Lenfield sitting outside sometimes, but as a matter of fact they seem to be leading an extraordinarily secluded life."
"Mr. Hamar has gone to London, I believe?"
"That is so, sir."
"Mr. Poignton's secretary is, I think you said, at Marseilles?"
"Thank you," Mr. Laxworthy concluded. "You see, the information I required is not very serious, is it? That is all. Fritz."
Mr. Laxworthy descended to dinner more than ordinarily thoughtful. At the conclusion of the meal he summoned Sydney.
"We are going," he announced, "for a short stroll. Miss Chambers will accompany us," Miss Chambers was waiting for them in the hall. They all three stepped out together.
"Are we going anywhere in particular?" Sydney asked cheerfully.
"We are going to the villa," Mr. Laxworthy replied. "It is just possible that we may have a little trouble there."
They approached the front door. Mr. Laxworthy tried the handle softly. The door was fastened with a safety lock. From one of his pockets he produced a key.
"Come!" he said.
They followed him into the hall. Mr. Laxworthy opened the door of the sitting room. Freeling Poignton was there alone, reading. He looked up with a frown at their entrance. Mr. Laxworthy said nothing. It seemed as though his silence was purposeful.
"What do you want?" the man in the easy chair asked sharply.
"You understand it moderately well," Mr. Laxworthy said coolly. "By the bye, let me tell you at once that if you raise your voice there will be trouble. Keep quiet, and your share in this little affair may be treated lightly. If you take sides at all you will suffer with those who lose."
"I don't know what you mean," the other muttered.
Mr. Laxworthy shrugged his shoulders.
"You know very" well. Mr. Hastings," he replied. "Remember that I saw you when you gave that little performance at the Paradise Hotel the other night. I heard you offer, after your few impersonations of celebrated people, to impersonate any one in the audience with five minutes preparation. You have certainly managed, for the last few days, to allay all anxiety as regards the whereabouts of Freeling Poignton, and I want you to understand now that the game is up.
"Sit down in your chair, go back to your book, and keep your mouth shut. That is the only way you will be able to escape a little from the trouble that is coming."
The man had commenced to shake. Very quietly he did exactly as he was bidden. Sydney was shaking his head.
"By Jove, though," he muttered, "it's a clever imitation! Why, I've seen him half a dozen times sitting about outside the villa; and I've never doubted for a moment but that it was Freeling Poignton."
They ascended quite quietly to the first landing. Outside the door of the front room they paused. Then what little color remained in the girl's cheeks suddenly faded away. They heard distinctly the low, terrible moan of a man in pain.
Mr. Laxworthy hesitated for barely a second. He tried the handle of the door. It yielded to his touch. All three passed the threshold.
The room was lit by a single lamp. In shirt and trousers, with untidy hair. a spot of burning color upon his cheek bones, Lenfield was standing with both arms outstretched, as though he had been interrupted in the middle of a speech. Below him, stretched on a long settee stripped of its cushions, tied with a hundred pieces of rope—tied at the ankles, the knees, the legs, the chest everywhere—lay the figure of a man, deathly white. Even as they entered the room they heard his piteous appeal.
"Let me go!" he moaned. "You shall have another million—ten, if you will. Let me go—I am dying! Ah! What's that?"
He tried to turn his head toward the door, but the ropes prevented him. Lenfield looked up, and recognized them with a howl of rage. He stepped between them and his victim.
"Get away!" he cried. "This is no affair of yours. Be off! Laxworthy, you rat, you miserable, scheming, cursed devil, be off! This is no affair of yours. He is mine, given over to me. If you try to take him away, by heaven, I'll kill you!"
There was a moment's silence.
"Mr. Lenfield!" the American girl gasped.
He recognised her.
"You, too!" he cried, "What does it mean? What are you doing here? I tell you this is a just vengeance—a just vengeance. You none of you know anything about it. I am the man to tell you. I am the man who knows what it means, that he—this that you see here— is a millionaire. I am the one who has lived among the people and who has seen the thousands and thousands who have starved and sold their health and their lives and their honor and their children's honor that he may be one of the gods of the earth, a creature with unholy, unwholesome power oozing from the very pores of his skin, with a banking account that would buy life and health and joy for all the thousands who rot in the gutters day by day."
"He is mad!" the American girl whispered, and Sydney nodded. But Lenfield. whose hearing was extraordinarily acute, leaped upon the word.
"Mad!" he cried. "Why not? Who could have lived my life and not be. mad? Mad? Look at me! That man Laxworthy knows a little about me. Listen!
"Once I was an East End clergyman. It was there that the seeds of madness were sown. Then I went over to the people. Their cause was my cause. I became a Socialist, afterward an anarchist.
"We had traitors among our leaders. I betrayed them. It was for the good of the cause. I went to the police. They called me an informer, but it was those who did our cause harm that I delivered up.
"Look at him," he added, pointing downward to the man who was writhing under the ropes. "I lured him here. I hired that man downstairs to allay suspicions. In this room he has been for five days I just keep him alive.
"Each day he signs a great check, which I send to London—not for myself, not one penny. Read the English papers. There isn't a society that labors in the East End that hasn't received within the last few days the biggest anonymous subscription that has ever been presented to it. Two million dollars have gone out of this room in sight drafts upon London banks and found their way to charity within the last five days.
"To-night he is going to sign a larger one still. To-night we are going to endow a society which will practically take the children at one swoop from the streets of London. To-night—"
Mr. Laxworthy stepped forward.
"Lenfield," he said, "this must finish."
Lenfield sprang upon him like a wild-cat. Mr. Laxworthy threw him over with a turn of the wrists. Sydney caught him as he fell and held him to the ground. Mr. Laxworthy was already cutting the cords. He looked round.
"Miss Chambers," he said. "Mr. Poignton will probably collapse. Please run up to the hotel and ask them to send a doctor. Ask Mr. Helder to step down here at once. You will do this?"
"Of course," she answered. "Is there nothing I can do for him before I go?"
Mr. Laxworthy looked at her admiringly.
"Young lady," he said, "get the brandy flask from the pocket of my coat there, pour a little into a tumbler and pass it to me."
She knelt by his side, and together they finished their task of releasing the bound man. Mr. Poignton struggled to rise and failed.
"That man—has been mad—for five days!" he murmured brokenly.
He turned over and fainted. Mr. Laxworthy nodded, and the girl hurried off. At the door, however, she was met by M. Helder and his wife. The alarm had already been given by Hastings. They came trooping up the stairs. Mr. Laxworthy. with his finger upon the pulse of the fainting man, waved them back.
"Lock that madman up," he said, pointing to Lenfield. "There is no real harm done. Mr. Poignton has fainted. He will be better directly."
Mr. Poignton opened his eyes.
"I am better already," he gasped. "Another night would have finished me."
He grasped Mr. Laxworthy's hand.
By 8 o'clock the next morning Mr. Lenfield had been escorted to a French lunatic asylum; Mr. Freeling Poignton had passed a good night and was on the road to recovery; Mr. Laxworthy, Mr. Forrest Anderson and Sydney Wing were seated in the omnibus on their way to catch the Côte d'Azur Express. The American gin came out to see them off. She gave both her hands to Mr. Laxworthy.
"I think," she murmured, "that you are the most wonderful man I ever met"
"Dear young lady," he replied, "you make me wonder how long I shall be able to keep away."
She laughed and waved her hand. The omnibus rattled off toward the station.
MME. DE CLERY raised herself a little on her conch. She moved with difficulty; she had lost all her color; her eyes were dull and sunken. Mr. Laxworthy himself would scarcely have recognised her at this moment. She was without doubt ill.
The man-who was paying her this morning visit stood by her side, his gray felt hat in his hand, his whole appearance one of almost tragical sympathy. He was of a type common enough in Monte Carlo and the Riviera generally—short and inclined to embonpoint, but agile in his bearing, with olive cheeks and fiercely curled black mustache.
By disposition gay, he was this morning in the depths of despair. He had the air of one who has unwillingly injured a friend. He was, alas! indirectly responsible for this suffering, the sight of which so greatly disturbed him, and, being a person of kindly disposition, he felt it almost as much as the ruin which stared him in the face."
"There is a little man," she said, speaking with difficulty and in a voice scarcely louder than a whisper, "a little man named Laxworthy. He looks like some funny scientific old fossil. He wears thick glasses and a shawl around his shoulders. He is at the Paradise Hotel at Hyères. Send for him."
M.Decat was a little perplexed.
"But, dear madame," he ventured, "who is this M. Laxworthy, and what will he do for me? Why should I send for him? What shall I say?"
Mme. de Clery spoke once more—still with effort.
"He would not admit it," she continued, "but he is a detective, an investigator, whatever you like to call him—an amateur, but an inspired one. He did a friend of mine a great service. Send for him, and if any one can discover the truth, if any one can save you, he will."
"I will send for him this morning!" M. Decat exclaimed eagerly. "But if he should refuse?"
"He will not refuse," madame assured her visitor. "The affair will appeal to him. You must give him a free hand at your restaurant—and, remember, whatever you do keep the police out of it."
M. Decat wiped his forehead.
"Madame," he declared. In trembling tones, "if the police intervene I am ruined. Already there is talk. There are empty tables even at dinner time— a thing unheard of. It needs only a visit from the chief inspector and I may close my doors."
"Do as I say and the police shall not intervene," madame promised him. "Mr. Laxworthy shall save you."
Mr. Laxworthy came to Monte Carlo, and with him Sydney Wing and Forrest Anderson. They took rooms at the Hotel de Paris, and it was not until he had made various arrangements with regard to his residence there, the position of his bed, the temperature of his morning bath, that Mr. Laxworthy consented to listen to the little man who was eager to tell his story.
"A wonderful season you have had. M. Decat," Mr. Laxworthy remarked.
"A wonderful season for others, it is true," M. Decat confessed; "but for me—alas! for me there comes ruin. When I see one of my best clients depart from Monte Carlo I am overjoyed. I tremble when a friend enters my restaurant."
"You had better tell me your story," Mr. Laxworthy said.
"The,story is short enough, because I know so little," M. Decat declared. "About a month ago the trouble began, one of my clients, an Austrian gentleman, was taken ill at my restaurant. He went pale, he shivered; even before he could be removed he was violently upset in the stomach. The doctor shakes his head and speaks of ptomaine poisoning. But at Decat's— chez Decat's—ah, it is impossible! Who eats at my restaurant eats and drinks of the finest Europe produces. The man is still ill, but be recovers.
"The next day the same thing happens again. This time an English gentleman was taken ill. It is singular, but who can blame the house of Decat? Two days pass without event. Then it is a lady—a Spanish lady, the great Quadella."
"How many in all have suffered?" Mr. Laxworthy inquired.
"Eleven," M. Decat replied with a groan. "Last of all, the best and most charming of my dear lady clients—Mme. de Clery.
"You have, I presume," Mr. Laxworthy asked, "made the obvious investigations?"
M. Decat extended his hands.
"What is there which man could do?" he exclaimed. "My kitchens are like palaces. There is not a utensil in my kitchen which monsieur would object to have upon his luncheon table. My food is selected as one might select the food for a king.
"Three days ago a great scientist from Paris spent the day with me in my kitchen and my cellars, my larder. He paid me all the compliments a man could pay. Yet the next day it was my dear friend Mme. de Clery who suffered."
"What do the doctors say?" Mr. Laxworthy asked.
"Not one the same. Alas, not one the same! There are all the symptoms, they tell me, of ptomaine poisoning. But there is something else. They contradict one another. But this much seems clear: There is some poison about the place, whether it descends from the clouds or rises from the earth like a miasma."
"Have you any enemies?"
"Not one in the world. Why should I have enemies? I give to the poor; 1 am of a generous disposition: I greet my friends with both hands in the streets. I stand in no man's way."
"I will dine at your restaurant to-night," Mr. Laxworthy decided.
M. Decat nodded his head with satisfaction.
"Good! You have no fear, then?"
"No fear at all," Mr. Laxworthy answered. There is only one thing further I shall require of you: Let me have at my hotel by 7 o'clock, as nearly as you can, a list of the dishes served to your clients who have suffered in this extraordinary manner."
M. Decat agreed gloomily.
"There is little enough there to help you. monsieur," he answered. "They vary from homard Americain to rosbif Anglais."
Mme. de Clery consented to receive Mr. Laxworthy when he called upon her about half an hour later. She was still upon her couch and still looking exceedingly ill. Mr. Laxworthy murmured a few words of sympathy.
"Dear madame," he declared, "the sight of your condition moves me. I am for the first time glad that I came to Monte Carlo."
She attempted to smile.
"You have talked with M. Decat? What do you think of the affair?"
"Until, madame," Mr. Laxworthy answered, "I had the mingled pleasure and unhappiness of raising your fingers to my lips this afternoon I must confess that it in no way appealed to me. It is at once too simple and too complicated." "For my own part," Mme. de Clery remarked, "I should have considered M. Decat the moat popular man of his class in Monte Carlo."
"Precisely," Mr. Laxworthy agreed dryly. "It is just the sort of popularity which breeds envy, However, to-night I dine there. Something may happen. A very slight incident should suffice."
"I eat," Forrest Anderson declared, "in fear of my life."
"I am absolutely without appetite," Sydney Wing agreed, helping himself for the second time to hors d'oeuvres.
"You distress me," Mr. Laxworthy said, glancing at Sydney's plate. "However, to reassure you, I think that to-night you have very little to fear."
"Something has been done?" Forrest Anderson asked.
Mr. Laxworthy sighed.
"Only a few very crude and obvious precautions," he answered! "We have stationed one of the maîtres d'hôtel in whom Decat states that he has implicit confidence in the kitchen among the chefs and two others at the angles of the stairs leading from the kitchen. The whole of the food of the place is now under surveillance from its raw state to to the moment it is served. It is not the way to catch the culprit, but it certainly lessens the risk we run."
"It seems a pity," Sydney Wing remarked, "that we couldn't have had one open night. It doesn't give you a chance, sir."
Mr. Laxworthy pursed his lips.
"I am not sure that I blame M. Decat," he declared. "Look around us. When we were in Monte Carlo last one had to order a table two days beforehand in order to dine here in comfort. To-night the place is nearly half empty."
The waiters themselves were listless. M. Decat's smiles and urbanity when he appeared, a little later than usual, were distinctly overdone. He came at last to the table where Mr. Laxworthy and his companions were seated.
"Monsieur has dined well?" he remarked, with his usual smile and bow. "Everything all right?"
"Your dinner has been excellent," Mr. Laxworthy pronounced.
M. Decat bent a little lower over Mr. Laxworthy's chair.
"Nothing has occurred to monsieur?" he whispered anxiously.
Mr. Laxworthy shook his head.
"Not the ghost of an idea," he admitted. "Come back and see us before we leave."
The little orchestra of five were playing by request the "Intermezzo" from Cavalleria Rusticana. Mr. Laxworthy leaned back in his chair and watched them. He watched too the dark-haired flower girl, who was a privileged and nightly visitor at the restaurant, moving with her basket of flowers from table to table. Presently she reached the spot where they were sitting, and after a moment's, hesitation would have passed on.
"The gentlemen do not care for any flowers this evening?" she murmured.
"On the contrary," Mr. Laxworthy replied. "I should like a bunch of your beautiful lilac to take across to my room. They tell me, mademoiselle, that yours are the most beautiful flowers in Monte Carlo."
She smiled at him very slightly, a smile which seemed only to intensify the white sadness of her face. She bent over the sprays of lilac for a moment. Then she glanced up at Mr. Laxworthy and hesitated.
"Monsieur has paid me so, charming a compliment," she murmured, "that I should like him to have my freshest lilac. It is in the basket outside. If monsieur permits I will return."
She walked slowly away, the basket under her arm. She was a little lame and walked with the help of a stick. She wore no hat and she was dressed in the plainest black robe. There was something in a way fascinating in her appearance. Sydney Wing gazed after her admiringly.
"She is the saddest-looking thing in Monte Carlo," he exclaimed.
"She is a young woman of considerable personal attractions," Mr. Laxworthy declared, watching her pass through the door.
"Honest for her class," Forrest Anderson pointed out. "A smarter young woman would have jumped at the opportunity of passing off her faded flowers on three men."
"There didn't seem to be very much the matter with them," Mr. Laxworthy remarked, a little absently.
The flower girl came back into the room a moment or two later and made her way to their table. She walked with a little limp, which was in itself fascinating, and she brought a magnificent bunch of lilac, which she laid by Mr. Laxworthy's side. Mr. Laxworthy handed her a twenty-franc piece.
"Mademoiselle will permit," he begged. "I have never seen more beautiful lilac."
"Monsieur is very good," she answered hesitatingly. "It is too much."
Mr. Laxworthy shook his head.
"The pleasure, mademoiselle, of buying it from you, and in such delightful surroundings, should count for something," he insisted. "I have a weakness for absolutely fresh flowers. Perhaps to-morrow evening—"
"Monsieur is so kind," she murmured, and passed on with a little smile of assent.
M. Decat returned, himself carrying a bottle of brandy, and followed by a waiter bringing three glasses of huge size and delicately chilled.
"Monsieur has been patronising our little Annette," he remarked. "My clients are all so good to her."
"She seems," said Mr. Laxworthy, "a very pleasing young person."
M. Decat was himself pouring out the brandy.
"They smile at me sometimes," he declared, "because I allow her the run of my restaurant. It is not usual of course, but she is an orphan and supports herself. It is better for her to sell flowers to such clients as mine than to frequent the cafés."
Mr, Laxworthy smelled his brandy and proceeded to roll it round in his glass.
"A native of Monte Carlo?" he inquired.
"By no means," M. Decat answered. "She came here two years ago with an invalid father. The man had been in prison—a shocking character. He died lately."
"Poor child!" Sydney Wing murmured.
"Poor and unfortunate indeed," M. Decat agreed. "Yet in Monte Carlo it is easy enough to live. Now, M. Laxworthy, I await your verdict. What of my brandy?"
"Excellent," he pronounced. "Marvelous!"
"And for the rest?" M. Decat whispered a moment or two later.
"One can do nothing but watch," replied Mr. Laxworthy. "Yet I think I can make you a promise. Within three days your little puzzle shall be solved."
M. Decat was half-relieved, half-incredulous.
"You have seen something, then?" exclaimed. "You are on the track?"
Mr. Laxworthy shrugged his shoulders. It was his manner of dismissing the subject.
"Tell me now," he begged, "of some of your clients. The stout, red faced man, for instance, who has just refused purchase any flowers?"
"A German millionaire," M. Decat whispered. "He spends money here like water. There are, alas! few of interest to-night; but if, indeed, monsieur, you speak the truth, all will soon be well again."
Mr. Laxworthy nodded.
"Rest assured. M. Decat," he said "that all will be well again with you before very long. I have seen enough for one evening. Will you give orders that the same table be reserved for us to-morrow night?"
The restaurant on the following evening was distinctly fuller. M. Decat welcomed his three expected guests with an air almost of triumph.
"Your coming has brought good fortune, M. Laxworthy," he declared. "Some of my old clients are back again. You behold M. le Duc! The Prince Reist is coming with a party. Lady Bolsover sits in the corner with a friend."
"And your German millionaire, I see, returns," Mr. Laxworthy remarked.
M Decat elevated slightly his shoulders.
"The gentleman is not ornamental," he said, with an air of apology, "but he spends the money. To-night he entertains Mlle. Cora, from the Folies Bergères. Mademoiselle dances divinely."
They seated themselves at the table, and M. Decat hurried away to greet more guests.
"Order what you please without fear," Mr. Laxworthy said, taking up a menu. "To-night we are safe."
Both Forrest Anderson and Sydney Wing glanced at him expectantly.
"They will happen no more then, these incidents?" the former ventured to inquire.
Mr. Laxworthy ignored the question.
"Potage petite marmite, perhaps afterward some trout, a chicken and salad," he ordered. "The burgundy we leave to M. Decat."
The atmosphere of the place was indeed changed. Nearly every table was occupied and there were still people arriving. There was a cheerful buzz of conversation. M. Decat and his little corps of maîtres d'hôtel had their hands almost full attending to the wants of their clients. The orchestra played with renewed spirit; the flower girl had twice to leave the room to replenish her basket. Mr. Laxworthy watched thoughtfully as she reached once more the table where the German millionaire and his companion were seated. Again the man shook his head curtly, but his companion stretched out her arms.
"All the roses!" she exclaimed, will have all the roses!"
The flower girl set down the basket which she was carrying and began to put together a great bunch of roses, which presently she laid upon the table. Then she took a single carnation and turned toward the man. It seemed as though she were offering it for his buttonhole. He assented gruffly. At that precise juncture Mr. Laxworthy, who had been watching the little scene with interest, leaned across the table.
"Sydney," he said, "as quickly as you can without making a disturbance go and touch the flower girl on the arm. Tell her to come to this table for a moment. I will not keep her longer. See that she comes at once."
Sydney rose promptly and crossed the room. The girl, with a small syringe in her hand, was in the act of spraying the flower when he addressed her.
"Mademoiselle," he whispered. "my friend across the room, wishes to speak to you without an instant's delay. The matter is one of urgency."
The girl gave a little start, and the flower which she had been holding, slipped from her fingers to the floor. 8he looked across the room at Mr. Laxworthy, who had risen to his feet. Their eyes met. Mr. Laxworthy's face was immovable. The girl began to tremble.
"I will come," she faltered. "I will come at once."
She picked up the carnation from the floor. The man held out the lapel of his coat, but she shook her head.
"It is spoiled, monsieur," she said. "I will arrange another. In a moment I will return."
She came to Mr. Laxworthy like a child in mortal fear of some unknown punishment. She placed the basket of flowers upon the floor and stood before him.
"Monsieur?" she began timidly.
Mr. Laxworthy looked at her steadfastly.
"Mademoiselle," he said, "it would be well that you offer no more flowers here this evening. If you will leave the restaurant by the terrace end there are some seats fronting the gardens. Wait for me there. A matter of five minutes, perhaps."
She picked up her basket without hesitation.
"I shall await, monsieur," she murmured.
Mr. Laxworthy sipped his coffee and watched her thoughtfully as she made her way down the room. His two companions were dumfounded.
"The flower girl!" Sydney exclaimed softly. "How could you—how could any one?"
"A little matter of inspiration," Mr. Laxworthy interrupted, "and a few inquiries."
The girl was leaning forward upon the seat, her face half-covered by her hands, her eyes, lit now with real terror, gazing forward into the velvety darkness. Mr. Laxworthy seated himself deliberately by her side.
"Mademoiselle," he said, "I am not used to sitting out of doors at this season of the year, so I shall be glad to make our interview a short one. Have you anything to say to me?"
"You have no excuse to offer?"
"Causes always interest me," Mr. Laxworthy continued. "Tell me your story."
"Why should I?"
"Mademoiselle," Mr. Laxworthy said more sternly, "with the little syringe which you have in your pocket you have sprinkled flowers with a poisonous compound, and afterward shaken them over the plates of various people, thereby poisoning them. If this was a wanton act then you deserve—you very richly deserve—the imprisonment which threatens you. On the other hand, if you have anything to say I am ready to hear it."
She turned upon him with a moment's fierceness.
"There is no Justice in this world!" she exclaimed bitterly.
"On the contrary," Mr. Laxworthy said, "the laws of Justice are as inexorable as the pendulum of life itself. Every crime and every evil deed is paid for. You are the daughter of Senekou, the chemist and anarchist. Is it some evil germ from his madness which lingers in your blood?"
Terror and indignation seemed to struggle together in her face as she leaned toward him in the darkness. Mr. Laxworthy, however, was unmoved.
"He was never mad!" she cried. "They did their best to drive him out of his senses, but he was never mad. They kept him in prison for eight years— imprisonment which was in itself a torture. Then we came here. M. Decat employed him, and one day he found out who he was, and dismissed him at a moment's warning. No one else would give him work. He died of starvation. I remain."
"I know your whole history," Mr. Laxworthy said slowly. "I have spent some part of to-day in making inquiries concerning you. Now look me in the face and tell me why you have done thing."
"I did it because I hate M. Decat!" girl replied, in a low tone. "I hate his restaurant, and I would like to see him ruined. I hate the people whom I have made suffer. I hate his whole place and every one in it. Monsieur, you are of the world: you understand. What do you think this city of sunshine and jewels and gay ladies and wealth—hideous, senseless wealth—must mean to me? I saw him grow thinner and more tired every day. It was starvation he died of."
"Mademoiselle," Mr. Laxworthy said, "you carry on a futile warfare. Your father sinned and he paid his debt. You have sinned, but I will make myself your judge. You have suffered in advance. It shall be enough. You have relatives in France. Leave Monte Carlo to-morrow and seek them out. There is in this envelope sufficient to keep you from becoming a burden upon them. Do you accept?"
There was a change in her face. Its white tenseness had gone, her eyes glowed at him, her lips were trembling.
"Monsieur," she gasped, "you mean—you mean—"
"Mademoiselle," Mr. Laxworthy declared, rising to his feet, "there will be no one to interfere with you: only remember this: The debt is paid. I wish you good fortune and a happier life."
Mr. Laxworthy turned up his coat collar and moved away. The girl stood for a moment where he had left her, as though she were in some sort of dream. Then, with the basket upon her arm, she disappeared slowly into the night.
MR. FORREST ANDERSON, Mr. Sydney Wing, and Mr. Laxworthy were seated side by side on low canvas chairs at the extreme edge of a little strip of sand jutting out into the Mediterranean. About fifty yards behind them was a hotel built of white stone, with green shutters and balconies hung with flowers. Save themselves, there was no human being in eight.
Mr. Laxworthy was reading with much apparent interest a volume of philosophy. Sydney Wing was throwing pebbles into the sea. Forrest Anderson was dozing. Sydney Wing threw his last pebble, gave a mighty yawn, and struck.
"Mr. Laxworthy, sir!"
"I am absolutely bored to death, sir."
Mr. Laxworthy looked at him steadfastly and sighed.
"It is because you have no mind, young man," he declared severely. "You have no resources. You cannot enjoy solitude. Here we are cut off for a few days from all the distractions of life. There isn't a villa even in sight. Our hotel is practically empty. Instead of congratulating yourself upon having found such a spot, you find yourself bored."
"I admit it," Sydney confessed, sadly. "Even a game of golf would cheer me up."
"You shall have it," Mr. Laxworthy promised him. "Within an hour a motor car which I have hired for a month will arrive from Monte Carlo. You can drive yourself to Vallascure."
"A motor car!" Sydney murmured, his face lighting up. "For use?"
"Possibly," Mr. Laxworthy replied dryly.
"You said just now, sir, that the hotel was practically empty," the young man went on. "There surely isn't another soul staying there! We have lunched and dined there for three days, and the salon looks like a desert."
"It has a deserted appearance," Mr. Laxworthy admitted.
Mr. Forrest Anderson sat up suddenly in his chair.
"I will tell you something," he said. There is something uncanny to me about one or two of those closed rooms upstairs.
"For three days we have not seen a soul except the waiters about the place. There has been no sign of any other guests. Yet sometimes in the corridors I have fancied I distinctly heard voices.
"Yesterday morning I distinctly saw a face at the window of one of those rooms which they told us were dismantled. I can never pass down the corridor to my room without feeling that there is one living person at any rate close at hand."
"Really," Mr. Laxworthy declared, "this is quite wonderful. I had no idea that you were developing gifts of this order. A man who can divine the presence of a human being behind a closed door is a man of parts. Indeed!"
"You can make fun of me if you like," Mr. Forrest Anderson replied, unmoved. "Yesterday I met a waiter with a dinner tray on the landing. Where did he come from?"
"I could have sworn I heard a violin the other night," Sydney put in.
Mr. Laxworthy looked from one to the other,
"You amaze me!" he assured them. "You are both of you developing gifts and powers of observation which are perfectly astonishing. Anything else?"
Sydney Wing lit a cigarette.
"Rather getting at us. aren't you, sir?" he remarked. "There's one thing, we're used to surprises. Think how you've treated us this time!
"You see this queer little hotel from the road, with its very notice board thrown down, its drive thick with weeds, looking for all the world as though it were entirely deserted, and you insist that it is the one place in the Riviera for which you have been searching. We follow meekly, and have the utmost difficulty in persuading the landlord to give us any rooms at all.
"Yet here we have stayed three days, and until this minute I don't think it has occurred to either Anderson or myself to wonder whether our coming was altogether as unexpected as it seemed."
Mr. Laxworthy took up his book.
"Tell me," he said dryly, "is this the landlord who comes to us from the hotel?
Both men glanced round.
"It is the landlord," Sydney announced. "Mr. Dreiche he calls himself, I believe."
M. Dreiche came down the boarded way across the shingle and approached them, hat in hand. He walked heavily, his expression was gloomy, not to say anxious. His smile of politeness as he saluted his visitors was, without doubt, forced.
"I have news for monsieur," he announced, "of the worst. I have a party of guests who will arrive to-day. If monsieur appreciates the solitude of his surroundings, it is finished. These guests who come, they are not, alas! the most desirable. Monsieur and his friends will doubtless decide to depart."
"How many of these guests will there be?" Mr. Laxworthy inquired.
"Five or six, beyond a doubt, perhaps more," M. Dreiche told him sadly. "But for this wretched season I would have denied them. I know well that they are noisy and ill-mannered."
Mr. Laxworthy sighed.
"We will remain for a day or so longer, at any rate," he announced.
"We will see what the inconvenience of their coming amounts to. It would be unfair to leave so hastily."
The smile on M. Dreiche's lips was a little sickly.
"There is, alas! another matter, monsieur," he continued. "These people selected their rooms a month ago. They comprise the suites at present occupied by monsieur and his friends."
"But it is absurd, this," Mr. Laxworthy declared testily. "We're in possession and we shall not move—not to-day, at any rate; perhaps not to-morrow. We await events. At your service, M. Dreiche."
Mr. Laxworthy picked up his book.
The hotel proprietor very slowly returned to his hotel. "We're in the way," Sydney Wing murmured.
"I thought that we might be," Mr. Laxworthy assented, as he settled himself down once more to read.
Luncheon that day. in marked contrast with its predecessors, was an almost impossible meal. The omelette was burned, the cutlets almost raw and the service abominable.
"We're to be starved out," Mr. Laxworthy declared cheerfully. "Never mind. It is only for a day. If anything comes of our little visit here it will be all over within twenty-four hours or so."
Presently the manager sought them out once more, carrying this time an open telegram in his hand.
"Mr. Laxworthy," he began, "I am desolated. But my guests who are coming insist upon the rooms they themselves selected, and so much of my hotel is dismantled that I have no other apartments fit to offer. My friend, the manager of the Grand Hotel at Vallascure telephones me that he will be delighted to receive monsieur and his friends. Monsieur, I am sure, will find his hotel most comfortable."
"When I go to it I dare say I shall."
Mr. Laxworthy replied. "For two days I remain here. That is settled. If you turn us out of our rooms it will be necessary for you to find us others."
At about half past ten that evening Mr. Laxworthy and Forrest Anderson left the smoking-room together.
"The moonlight is wonderful," Mr. Laxworthy declared. "We will walk for half an hour on the sands. Where is Sydney?"
"Out looking the car over," Forrest Anderson replied.
Mr. Laxworthy nodded approvingly.
"We will fetch him," he said. "There is a way to the garage through the shrubbery."
They found Sydney, who had completed his task, seated outside the garage smoking.
"Bully car," he pronounced. "I can get forty out of her if necessary."
"She is ready to start?" Mr. Laxworthy asked.
"With a turn of the wrist."
"Very good. We will now walk together on that strip of sand by the sea. I have a fancy for that spot, for it is the one place where we could not possibly be overheard."
"You have something to tell us?" 8ydney demanded eagerly.
"Less a great deal than you are expecting to hear," Mr. Laxworthy replied dryly. "You are wondering why I brought you here, you are wondering why I refuse to leave. Frankly, I do not know. I can only tell you this: There is a man hiding here and I can't imagine why.
"There are guests expected here to-night connected in some way with this man and I have no idea why they are coming. The whole affair may be of absolutely no importance. On the other hand I object to coincidences which I do not understand. Listen!"
The three-men stood perfectly motionless. The whole of the front of the hotel was dark except for one window at the end of the row, from which came a faint, glimmering light. The window was open and through it came floating out very softly upon the moonlight stillness a breath of very faint, very sweet music. Some one was playing the violin, playing very quietly, but with exquisite skill. The music grew and grew, becoming stronger and more passionate with every note.
"Our mysterious neighbor at last," Sydney murmured.
Gradually the music died away. Then there was silence. Mr. Laxworthy drew his shawl a little closer around his shoulders.
"The fellow plays like a magician," he muttered.
"He is surely a great master!" Forrest Anderson exclaimed.
"He is the chef d'orchestre at Decat's restaurant, or rather he was until a few nights ago," Mr. Laxworthy replied dryly.
"A chef d'orchestre!" Sydney repeated incredulously. "What on earth is doing here, then?"
Mr. Laxworthy smiled amiably.
"So far as one could gather from a few casual inquiries," he declared, "the man's character is irreproachable. He has a quieter manner than most of his kind and has a reputation for being ambitious. M. Decat, for example, made but one complaint of him. He sought without a doubt to attract the attention of the wealthy ladies who frequented the restaurant. He abandoned his post at a moment's notice. Decat lost him with infinite regret. He left Monte Carlo openly. There is not a word spoken against him."
"In my opinion," Forrest Anderson said, "we are going very soon to find ourselves de trop here. It is probably a love affair, and the fellow has come here to meet the inamorata."
"That view of the situation has occurred to me," Mr. Laxworthy confessed. "On the other hand, why this desire on the part of the hotel proprietor to get rid of us? Why this secrecy concerning the man's presence here? Why, too, should these expected guests arrive by water?"
"How do you know that they are going too?" Sydney asked.
This afternoon," Mr. Laxworthy pointed out, "a new rope has been affixed to that little landing stage. Since dinner time M. Dreiche has walked down here, looking toward the point, at least a dozen times. These things are not for nothing. The visitors will arrive by water from Monte Carlo."
The three men presently returned to the house. Their rooms all looked toward the sea and were in line with the one from which the music had issued.
"I must confess," Mr. Laxworthy said, "that the arrival of these guests interests me to such an extent that I shall not retire for the present. I do not imagine that anything will happen to-night, but it would be wise, I think, if you others followed my example."
"Are you likely to want the car?" Sydney inquired. "I'll sleep in her at any rate. If you want me I shall be on hand."
The hours of the night passed peacefully and uneventfully away. The full yellow light faded from the stars, the moon became colorless. The faintest of gray mists hung upon the water.
Suddenly those who watched were rewarded for their vigil. A dark object glided round the point and came rushing in toward the shore. Almost as it appeared the music recommenced. The man in the end room was standing up now.
Mr. Laxworthy could see him distinctly, could trace the fierce, upward curl of his mustache, the white face, the burning eyes. The tone of his music had changed. It was becoming now a paean of welcome.
Then from the boat came a cry. Mr. Laxworthy heard it and smiled. It was the key to the whole situation. The cry was one of wonder, but underneath it there was fear.
The boat glided up to the landing stage. The little party disembarked in the glimmering twilight. There were only three passengers—two men and a girl. The latter had almost to be lifted out. They came very slowly up the little strip of sand, the girl apparently protesting all the time. Then when they were about twenty yards from the front door of the hotel a figure suddenly emerged, running toward them. It was the musician.
"Mademoiselle, dear mademoiselle!" he exclaimed with an exaggerated gesture of great joy, "you have come to me! It is the morning of my life, this! I kiss your hands, dear mademoiselle."
She placed her hands firmly behind her. Even in that dim, ghostly twilight the three men who watched could see that she was tall and fair. Her tone was fun of angry contempt.
"Come to you indeed! You must be mad. I came because they told me that my father was here, that he'd had an accident. Is this a trick?"
The musician pressed toward her.
"Dear mademoiselle," he pleaded, "it is no trick. It is the call of my heart to yours. No longer could I play at Decat's, pining for a word with you, a touch of your fingers.
"Mademoiselle, be kind to me, I pray. I am only a poor artist, but there is no one in your great world who could love as I."
"Artist indeed!" the girl retorted. "I should call you a mountebank! The messages I sent were simply to the maker of music which pleased me for a moment. They had nothing to do with the man. Stand out of the way. please. In your balcony at Decat's you are in your place. Here you annoy me."
The musician stood quivering with rage, his face convulsed with passion. He looked like some evil thing.
"Mademoiselle will regret!" he declared fiercely. "I sent her the message we agreed upon," he added as though to appeal to the others. "She leaves her yacht to come to me. Now caprice has seized her. Is it that you are a coquette after all, mademoiselle? Is it that you have indeed forgotten that next my heart reposes the flower you sent me, the flower which your lips have touched?"
"You are an idiot," the girl declared scornfully. "I'm not sure that you are not also a knave. I insist upon being told whether your message was a trick. Is my father here or is he not?"
The door of the hotel had opened. It was M. Dreiche who came out. He bowed low to mademoiselle.
"Mademoiselle will be pleased to enter," he begged. "There are other guests in the hotel and one fears to disturb them."
The girl did not move.
"Are you the proprietor?" she demanded.
"At your service, mademoiselle."
"Will you tell me at once whether my father, Mr. Gilbert Towers, is here?"
M. Dreiche shook his head slowly.
"No, mademoiselle," he replied. "There is certainly no gentleman of that name in the hotel."
She turned to the two men who had brought her from the boat.
"Am I to believe, then," she cried angrily, "that I have been brought here by a trick? These men came to the yacht and told me that my father was lying here badly hurt*. What does it mean?"
For the first time the girl seemed terrified. She looked around her, as though searching for a friendly face—in vain.
"My father is not here!" she gasped. "It is indeed a plot, this!"
Once more the musician approached her.
"Ah, mademoiselle," he pleaded, "dear lady of my dreams, forgive me if I have schemed just a little to win so great a happiness. These are my brothers? Henri, who brought you here in the launch; Charles, who owns this hotel.
"I come to them and I tell them how things are between you and me; how we love, but how impossible it is to meet, that your father is a millionaire, and you, alas! are never alone. We make this little plot between us. It is for the happiness of both of us, dear.
"Everything has been arranged, the priest is at hand. By to-morrow night we can be in Paris. Then I will play to you all my life. I will teach you new music, I will—"
His sentence ended in a howl of rage. The girl had leaned forward and struck him across the mouth with the palm of her hand. Her eyes were blaring.
"You are a lunatic!" she exclaimed fiercely. "I have smiled at you once or twice because your music pleased me. I sent you a flower one night because I hesitated to give you money. Whatever more you have imagined is simply the result of your stupid vanity.
"If you are indeed the manager of the hotel, monsieur," she added, turning to M. Dreiche, "you will order these men to take me straight back to my yacht."
M. Dreiche was silent for a moment. "Mademoiselle," he said slowly, "pray consider. The note, signed, 'Antoine, your lover,' will be found upon the yacht. You have said hard things to Antoine to-night, but I cannot believe that you mean them all. You are here, the tide has turned, you cannot return. Poor Antoine adores you. Take his hand and be reconciled, mademoiselle. and let me send for the priest."
"Do you seriously believe," the girl cried furiously, "that I would marry a monkey like that?"
The two men had drawn nearer. M. Dreiche gave a little sign. In a moment she was seized from behind. Antoine's hand was upon her mouth.
"Bring her to the hotel," he ordered. "She shall be tamed."
They had barely dragged her a single yard before they stopped short. Several most amazing things were happening. There was suddenly the low hum of a motor, and Sydney, seated in a gray car, emerged from the garage, and came sweeping up to the door of the hotel. Mr. Laxworthy and Mr. Forrest Anderson appeared on the threshold. The former came slowly toward the little group who were standing like stone figures upon the gravel front.
"M. Dreiche," Mr. Laxworthy remarked, "I regret that I cannot possibly remain any longer in a hotel where conversations of such length are carried on at five o'clock in the morning beneath my window."
"Monsieur departs," the hotel proprietor faltered.
"It has occurred to me that, notwithstanding the warmth of her reception, mademoiselle might care to accompany me," Mr. Laxworthy continued.
"You will save me?" she implored.
M. Dreiche put two fingers mouth, and whistled. Almost immediately several men came stealing out.
"It is a family affair, this," M. Dreiche declared harshly. "You and your friends can go. But the young lady remains."
Antoine struck an attitude.
"If any one dares to take her from me," he cried, "they shall answer to me for it, if necessary with their life!"
Mr. Laxworthy had taken up a strategic position with his back to the motor-car. Very slowly his right hand came out of his overcoat pocket. With a cry of terror, Antoine leaped indoors. A bullet had whistled close by his head.
"I only wish to remark," Mr. Laxworthy went on, "that I am used to to having my own way my pistol is automatic. I think that you had better release the young lady."
The two men who were holding her promptly abandoned their charge. Laxworthy with his left hand led her into the motor. The little group of men closed in upon them. Antoine, who had rushed into the house was whispering to his brothers.
"M. Dreiche," Mr. Laxworthy said sternly. "I have no certain assurance to offer you, but if this young lady takes my advice the affair will remain quiet. If, on the other hand, our departure is interfered with in any way, there will will be reprisals"
M. Dreiche did not hesitate. He turned back and raised his hat.
"A little misunderstanding," he murmured; "a lover's quarrel only, which is better finished."
.The car swung up the avenue and into the road. The girl, who was clasping Mr. Laxworthy's hand, began now to sob.
"Tell me who you are, sir. How did you come there?"
"I am just an incident," Mr. Laxworthy remarked. "In Monte Carlo I happened to hear a few words pass between that fiddle player and his brother. I saw you in the restaurant too, and I noticed the way Antoine, as he calls himself, watched you. I give you a word of advice, young lady—"
"I was an idiot," she murmured, "Yes, please do!" "When the music of a person of that class pleases you, remember that wiser to let your mankind offer money than to send a flower from yourself. Those fiddlers are all eaten up with conceit. They don't understand."
The girl smiled through her tears.
"You know, I believe you're right," she admitted.
MR. JOHN T. LAXWORTHY, Mr. Forrest Anderson and Sydney Wing were standing together upon the railroad platform at Toulon. Sydney Wing, who acted always as courier to the little party, was beginning to get a trifle irritable. As yet he had received no precise instructions as to their destination.
The train de luxe from London had just thundered in. Notwithstanding the early hour, a fair number of passengers had already descended. These, however, instead of occupying themselves in the usual manner by buying coffee or flowers were standing about talking to one another.
Several of the attendants were talking together with the station-master and another official of the railway company. No less than four gendarmes, accompanied by an inspector, were drawn up opposite a certain compartment of the train.
"Something has happened," Mr. Forrest Anderson with rare acumen ventured to observe.
"A man has been killed—probably murdered," Mr. Laxworthy, who had been watching intently the inspector's lips, declared.
"I will go and get the tickets and our luggage registered to Monte Carlo," Sydney Wing decided promptly.
The inspector who was in charge of gendarmes held a little informal court of inquiry upon the platform. Then he disappeared into the train. Presently his head was to be seen from a window. He beckoned to the four gendarmes, who also boarded the train. Mr. Laxworthy a few moments later followed them. When he reappeared he was looking a little annoyed.
"Raining hard in London," Mr. Laxworthy announced gloomily. "Also a fog."
"Can't see that it makes any difference to us," Mr. Forrest Anderson remarked cheerfully. "It'll be all right at Monte, anyhow."
"It matters," Mr. Laxworthy declared, "because we happen to be going to London."
Mr. Anderson started slightly.
"Not interested in this little affair after all, then?
"On the contrary," Mr. Laxworthy replied, "I am very much interested in it. Only it is my opinion that monsieur the inspector is making rather a mistake in going on. Back to London is my idea. We shall see."
"What happened anyhow?" Mr. Anderson asked.
"Unpleasant affair," Mr. Laxworthy explained, with some relish. "Elderly English gentleman, travelling alone, chloroformed and strangled in his sleeping berth. Not a sound heard. Attendants sleeping at both ends of the car all night. Empty pocketbook discovered at foot of bed. Man's name Simonds. Presumptive evidence that he was a bookmaker and was going to Monte Carlo to shoot pigeons."
"What about the passengers who have descended here?"
There were only two," Mr. Laxworthy replied. "You can see them over there, the young couple waiting for the Hyères train The inspector has examined their tickets and asked them a few questions. He has apparently no further interest in them."
Mr. Anderson nodded.
"Honeymooners," he declared positively. "New clothes, new luggage, man looking like a self-conscious ass, girl wearing a thick veil. Look! he's buying her flowers. See him squeeze her hand then?"
"Just a trifle overdone," Mr. Laxworthy remarked critically. "Not bad though The telegram will be a good test."
"He has arranged to have a telegram calling him back to London delivered within a few minutes," Mr. Laxworthy replied. "He is looking about for it much too anxiously."
"Do you mean to say that these two are concerned in the murder?" Mr. Forrest Anderson asked in sudden amazement.
"Of course they are!" Mr. Laxworthy answered a little irritably. "Why else should I have pointed them out to you?
"Let us walk up the platform a little distance; so. Now back again. Watch this man, my friend. Here is psychological interest for you if you like. Such a chance may never occur to you again. You can study at close quarters the features and deportment of a man who within the last few minutes, mind—certainly within the last hour—has committed a brutal murder. To the casual observer he seems callous and unconcerned, doesn't he? In reality he is nothing but a quivering mass of nerves and suspicions. Did you see his face twitch then?"
They passed within a few feet of the couple. The man was young, of medium height, with broad shoulders, a brown mustache and somewhat florid complexion. His companion was slim and small. Her figure was certainly girlish, but very little of her face could be seen. She seemed certainly either shy or nervous. Her hands were linked in her husband's arm, and she kept whispering in his ear.
They were both well enough dressed, but their clothes were a little obvious in their newness. Their deportment, too, when one studied it closely was suspicious. The man's exuberant good spirits were overdone; the girl's timidity was perhaps real, but the reason for it seems insufficient. Forrest Anderson was hugely interested.
"Did you notice," he whispered as they passed down the platform, "how much the man's hand was shaking?"
Mr. Laxworthy nodded.
"An amateur criminal," he decided, beyond doubt. Certain to be caught in the long run. It isn't reasonable to suppose that an affair like that"—Mr. Laxworthy waved his hand toward the train—"can be successfully carried through by bungler."
Sydney came hurrying up with the tickets.
"You will keep one of these," Mr. Laxworthy told him, "and proceed as far as Nice. You can wire us the course of events to the cloakroom, Lyons, and to Charing Cross Station. Anderson and I are returning to London."
In a moment or two the great train pulled slowly out of the station. From where Mr. Laxworthy and his companion stood they caught a glimpse of the fateful compartment with the blind carefully lowered and at the adjoining windows an impression of the gendarmes.
Mr. Laxworthy and his companion obtained seats in the train with some little difficulty. They found themselves, however, in an empty compartment vacated by some passengers descending at Costabelle.
"I wonder where our friends are now?" Mr. Anderson remarked as they proceeded to settle themselves down for the journey.
Very soon they [heard the sound of a sound of a loud] discussion to the next compartment.
Suddenly the young man himself appeared in the doorway.
"Are these two seats engaged, sir?" he asked.
"They are not," Mr. Laxworthy replied. The young man disappeared, and presently ushered in his wife, and began to pile up the rack with small articles of luggage.
"Hope we're not disturbing you," he said, "but the next carriage was full up, and there was an old Frenchman near the window wouldn't have it moved."
"Foreigners are somewhat peculiar with regard to fresh air," Mr. Laxworthy admitted. "Would the young lady care for my seat near the window?"
"Oh, please not!" she exclaimed. "I am quite comfortable here.".
Their name, it appeared, was Stetson, and they had been married four days.
The girl's home had been at Balham and the man's at Manchester. By the time they had passed Marseilles the quartet were on such terms that Mr. Laxworthy had ordered a bottle of wine and some biscuits to drink the health of the newly married couple.
"By the bye," he remarked, "my friend and I thought we saw you waiting by the Hyères train."
It was the critical moment. Mr. Laxworthy had asked his question with apparently unconscious but subtle suddenness. The embarrassment of the two, however was tempered with smiles.
With a hearty laugh the young man explained. "We were going to Hyères," he said, "but, to tell you the truth. I've got a mother-in-law who is rather a nuisance to us. It was all we could do to stop her from starting on the honeymoon with us, and just an hour or so ago I had a telegram to say that she had gone on to Hyères and was waiting for us there. We couldn't either of us stick it. We are going to pretend we didn't get the telegram and we are going back to Paris to spend the rest of our time there."
Mr. Laxworthy commended their plan, and, the wine being finished, he dosed.
Mr. Anderson, who had made up his mind, said nothing. They lunched almost to silence, and on their return surprised their fellow travellers sitting very close together indeed. The girl hid her face behind a magazine; the man grinned unabashed.
"At Lyons," Mr. Anderson whispered, "we shall receive a telegram."
Mr. Laxworthy nodded. He was remarkably sparing of speech for the remainder of that journey. He had even given up watching his fellow passengers. At Lyons the telegram came. He opened it with firm fingers, but he felt beforehand a grim conviction as to its contents. It was dated from Nice a few hours back:
ATTENDANT OF TRAIN ARRESTED. PORTION OF MURDERED MAN'S PROPERTY FOUND UPON HIM. SIMPLE CASE. SYDNEY.
Mr. Anderson coughed as he handed it back to his chief.
The remainder of the journey was uneventful. On the following morning, having collected their luggage, Mr. Anderson presented himself at the cloakroom in case there should be any further telegrams from Sydney. He came back to Mr. Laxworthy with two.
The first which he opened was unexpectedly long.
"It's in our cipher!" Mr. Anderson exclaimed.
They found a small table, and Mr. Laxworthy, with the book before him, commenced to decode the message. Except for one startled exclamation from Mr. Anderson they neither of them spoke till their task was completed. The message also was from Nice:
A THOUSAND CONGRATULATIONS AND APOLOGIES. ATTENDANT ONLY ACCOMPLICE. HAS MADE FULL CONFESSION. MURDER WAS COMMITTED BY FAMOUS AMERICAN CRIMINAL, GREENLAW, TRAVELLING WITH YOUNG WOMAN, POSING AS HONEYMOONERS. CAPTURE OF GREENLAW A VERITABLE TRIUMPH. ONCE MORE MY HUMBLE CONGRATULATIONS. SYDNEY.
"I asked him once," Mr. Laxworthy said slowly, whether, he had travelled in America, I fancied I caught suspicion of an accent. What is in the other telegram?"
Mr. Anderson tore open the envelope. They read it together. It was dated from Paris in the early hours of the morning:
HAVE JUST DRUNK YOUR HEALTH AT A PLEASANT LITTLE SUPPER PARTY. MS. AND MRS. STETSON OF MANCHESTER.
Mr. Laxworthy, spent the greater part of his time during the next few days in a state of curious absorption. He did not stir out from the small suite st the Milan which had been reserved for him. On the third day Sydney Wing arrived. Mr. Anderson met him at the station and explained the situation.
"Our chief," Forrest Anderson remarked, "is suffering from profound mortification. This is his first failure."
"I would have given a good deal," Sydney Wing declared wistfully, "to have seen you four in the railway carriage!"
Mr. Anderson smiled grimly.
"It was," he admitted, "the most superb piece of acting I have ever seen. Until all these particulars about the man came out to the newspapers during the last few days I must admit that the whole affair was absolutely incomprehensible. Now, we know that he too understands the lip language."
"And many, other tricks as well," Sydney remarked. "They say that no one else to the world has been so skillful at disguises. There isn't a reliable description, of the fellow in existence."
"I could give a pretty close one," Mr. Anderson grunted. "I sat within a couple of yards of the fellow for the best part of twelve hours."
"According, to those detectives down there, his changes of appearance are almost miraculous."
"Is the identity of the girl known?" Mr. Anderson asked.
Sydney shook his head.
"It is through his penchant for women that they hope to catch him some day," he replied. "They say that this last enterprise must have brought him to over 10.000."
Once at the Milan they ascended the stairs and knocked at the door of Mr. Laxworthy's sitting room. Mr. Anderson barely repressed an exclamation of surprise. Mr. Laxworthy was sitting before a table covered with notes and newspapers. A visitor who had very much the air of a detective was just departing. Mr. Laxworthy welcomed his two friends briskly.
"Sit down, Sydney, if you please," he invited. "I have a list here of thirty questions to ask you. Afterward I shall require to be alone for an hour."
Mr. Laxworthy seemed anxious to hear every incident which had happened at Nice and every item of gossip, even the idlest concerning the man Greenlaw. He made notes of some of Sydney's replies and dismissed him finally with a little wave of the hand.
"I have a little work to do privately," he announced, "At six o'clock I shall want you both. You, Anderson, had better be prepared for a journey. I may want you to go to Paris."
Forrest Anderson left for Paris by the night train with a sealed letter of instructions in his pocket not to be opened until he had actually arrived in the city. Sydney Wing was invited to call upon his chief at nine o'clock that same evening. He found Mr. Laxworthy with a letter spread out before him upon the table.
"Come in, Sydney, and close the door," the latter directed. "As you may have surmised, we are interested in the case of this man Greenlaw. My friend John Marlin has been giving me some interesting information, He is now deputy inspector at Scotland Yard.
"It seems that Scotland Yard has been trying to arrest this man for the last three years and for the last twelve months at least there has been a detective over here from New York looking for no one else. The fellow has great gifts without a doubt, but success has made him overconfident.
"What do you think of this for bravado? It is addressed to Detective Marlin and was delivered to him at Scotland Yard. He brought it to me here only a few hours ago." And Mr. Laxworthy read this letter:
MY DEAR FRIEND MARLIN: You fellows make me tired. There's no fun to be had over on this aide, so I'm off home, and pretty quick too. You've been after me for three years, and I've never had even to hurry to get out of your way. You've seven jobs up against me. most of them "lifers." but you're just about as slow as that old deadhead from New York who has been traipsing after me for the Lord knows how long!
Now I'm a bit of a sport and I'm going to give you your last chance. There's some money of mine lying in London, and I'm coming over myself to get it on Tuesday, May 15. I shan't tell you by what train, or where I am going to stay, but it will probably be at one of your best hotels, and I shall remain in London until Saturday. Now do make one last effort. It would really give me a thrill to meet you face to face and read suspicion in your eye.
Come, why should we not take a drink together? I will make an appointment with you. I am very fond of a glass of vermouth before my dinner. Between 6 and 7 each evening I am in London I shall call either at the bar of the Milan Hotel, the Metropolitan Bar. or Fitzhenry's. Shall I say au revoir?
Yours, DAN GREENLAW.
"Do you believe that he means to come?" 8ydney asked eagerly.
"Marlin himself," Mr. Laxworthy said, "has not the slightest faith in the letter. He believes it to be a complete hoax. I believe that he will come. I have thought this matter out very carefully indeed? I have come to a certain conclusion. I may be wrong. We shall see. On the other hand, if I am right it will, I must confess, afford me a peculiar satisfaction. I shall not easily forget that journey from Toulon.
"To-morrow," continued Mr. Laxworthy, "is Tuesday. Marlin of course is all for watching trains and that sort of thing. Greenlaw, if he comes, will probably travel by motor car from some insignificant port. I have some idea of asking you to frequent the bar-rooms which he mentions, with the exception of the Milan. I will attend to that myself."
"Are there any descriptions of the man?" Sydney asked. "I know his height, which I suppose he cannot alter —six foot exactly—and they say he is fairly broad, and his natural complexion is florid."
Mr. Laxworthy nodded thoughtfully.
"Well," he said, "I have an idea of my own. I have mentioned it to Marlin, but he only laughs at me. Nothing remains but for me to test it myself."
Mr. Laxworthy on the following evening drank vermouth at Fitzhenry's, mixed vermouth at the Metropolitan and a cocktail at the Milan, without the slightest result. He dined alone, in a very bad temper, went to bed early, and received this letter next morning:
MY DEAR OLD LADY: So you are in the game too! It made my heart ache this evening to see you trotting round to these bars and peering into every strange face from behind those disfiguring spectacles of yours. Besides, at your time of life, three aperitifs are extremely bad for the digestion. I can assure you that I felt quite guilty when I saw you struggling with your third.
Come, now, to-morrow night. I will have mercy. We will leave out the Metropolitan. I don't know how it struck you, but I didn't care for the place at all A very mixed crowd, and I had my doubts of the vermouth. We will visit Fitzhenry's and the Milan only. Who knows but that we may have luck and drink our cocktail together. Ever yours, D.G.
Mr. Laxworthy showed this letter to several mysterious personages from Scotland Yard and to Sydney Wing. They all treated it in the same manner. Scotland Yard concentrated upon the Metropolitan, and from six will half past seven every harmless stranger who drank his cocktail or sherry and bitters was subjected to a very searching and inquisitive scrutiny.
Mr, Laxworthy, on the other hand, obeyed strictly the invitation of his letter. He visited Fitzhenry's first and after half an hour there drove to the Milan. From the small smoke-room it was possible to see into the American bar through a glass swing-door. Mr. Laxworthy peered into the room and stood for an instant quite still. A very small and apparently a very young gentleman of Indian extraction was leaning against the wall with a cocktail before him. Mr. Laxworthy turned to Sydney, who accompanied him.
"Sydney," he said, "the thing is finished. You see those two men in the corner of the smoke-room?"
Mr. Laxworthy pointed out two harmless-looking individuals who were talking together upon a settee. Sydney nodded. At that moment one cf them looked up cautiously. Mr. Laxworthy beckoned to them. They came over at once.
"You will hold this door," he said in a low tone. "The man for whom we are seeking is inside."
"Let me go in with you, sir!" Sydney begged.
Mr. Laxworthy assented. They approached the bar. The young man who was leaning against the counter was dressed in the height of fashion. His silk hat was exceedingly glossy, his shirt front immaculate. He was really very little darker than an ordinary olive-skinned Englishman. He eyed the newcomers a trifle insolently and turned to his cocktail. Mr. Laxworthy stood by his side.
"Will you give me a cocktail—the same as you mixed for this gentleman, if you please?" Mr. Laxworthy ordered. The barmaid mixed it in silence. As they all three stood there a somewhat curious change took place in the attitude of the young man. He slipped furtively back from the counter. Mr. Laxworthy turned suddenly toward him.
"My friend," he said, "Daniel Greenlaw, or Mrs. Stetson, or whatever it pleases you to call yourself this evening, I have come to take my aperitif with you."
Mr. Laxworthy was absolutely prepared, and he was without doubt extraordinarily proficient in all the ordinary tricks of wrestling and jiu-jitsu. Nevertheless, he was lying two seconds later upon his back in the bar.
The young man sprang tor the door, saw the two figures waiting there him, and hesitated. The moment's hesitation was fatal. Sydney's arms went round him from behind. Even then he struggled like a wild cat, and it took the united efforts of the three men to secure him.
Marlin arrived just as the struggle was over. He shook his head doubtfully when he saw their prisoner.
"This isn't Greenlaw!" he exclaimed.
Mr. Laxworthy smiled.
"You take him along," he directed, "and I promise you that when I am brought up before the magistrate to-morrow morning I will prove that he is Greenlaw half a dozen times over."
Mr. Laxworthy dined that night in a café with Mr. Forrest Anderson, who had returned from Paris, and Sydney Wing. He was in high good humor.
"You see," he explained, "the man has been wanted for three years. No one has ever laid hands upon him. Every description of him is the same. Naturally I began to wonder whether something might not be wrong with description.
"I read up all the notes about him that were collected by Scotland Yard, and I noticed that although he had the reputation of having endless women friends he was invariably accompanied by a small, dark woman, especially when any particularly startling outrage was on foot. It ?just occurred to me as possible and ingenious that the might have concealed his identity all these years, and gone about as his own companion.
"His Mrs. Stetson was certainly wonderfully done, but there were one or two flaws, and when I came to put everything together I felt pretty certain that my guess was a true one. Marlin and his men were looking everywhere for a big man. I was looking for the real, unknown Greenfield, a small, dark man in any plausible kind of disguise. The fellow's last little bit of bravado will cost him his life.
A porter from outside came up and addressed Mr. Laxworthy.
"I beg your pardon, sir," he announced, "but there is an important telephone message for you from Charing Cross Hospital."
Mr. Laxworthy stepped Into the phone booth.
"Is this Mr. Laxworthy?" a voice inquired.
"I am Dr. Wendell of the Charing Cross Hospital," the voice continued. "I am requested to give you a message by a man named Marlin, who has just been brought in badly hurt."
"What is it?" Mr. Laxworthy asked.
"He wishes me to tell you that Greenlaw is free. He has stabbed one policeman and hurt Marlin badly. He escaped from the cab, and so far they have not been able to recapture him. Martin wants you to be exceedingly careful, as this man Greenlaw will probably feel that he has a grudge against you. Excuse me, if you will, I am In a hurry."
Mr. Laxworthy went back to his dinner.
"Greenlaw," he announced, "has escaped."
"We shall have to begin all over again," Sydney Wing declared.
Mr. Laxworthy shook his head.
"On the contrary," he pronounced. "I have finished my campaign against Daniel Greenlaw. I am no longer on the side of the authorities. I delivered into their hands a dangerous criminal, and they have let him go. Such things are dangerous and—unremunerative. It is you who run the risk, and Scotland Yard which takes the credit. Our standing account demands a move in other directions."
"You have something in your mind!" Forrest Anderson exclaimed.
"For one week," Mr. Laxworthy said firmly, "you will both leave me. I will remain where I am and I will be alone. A week from to-day we come together here. If nothing has occurred in the meantime it is possible that on that occasion I may have something to propose.
MR. LAXWORTHY took quite a fancy to the grill room at the Milan. Here for three days he lunched and dined, watching with keen interest the constant coming and going of one of the most cosmopolitan crowds in Europe. From his table against the wall and with his strange gift of reading the spoken words from the lips of those whom he watched he skirted the edge of more than one romance, peered over the brink into several strange little tragedies and learned something of the methods of a very well known financier.
On the fourth morning, toward the completion of his luncheon, an incident occurred which brought him for the first time into actual touch with one of the figures in this peepshow.
A lady entered the restaurant and, deserting the main passage, began slowly to thread her way through the maze of tables toward the side of the room where Mr. Laxworthy sat. She came so slowly and her appearance was so unusual that nearly everybody turned to gaze at her as she passed.
She was tall, slim and exceedingly dark. Her complexion was absolutely colorless, but seemed to be more the natural pallor of the French woman than an evidence of ill health. She was plainly dressed, but in the height of fashion. There was not a woman there who did not know that her hat and her costume came from the neighborhood of the Rue de la Paix. The maître d'hôtel came hurrying to her side.
"Madame desires a table?" he murmured. "Unfortunately on this side we are full. I will arrange something if madame will be so good as to follow me."
The lady was looking at Mr. Laxworthy's table, by the side of which she was now standing.
"I prefer to sit here," she said decidedly. "It amuses me to watch the people, and as you see, I am alone."
The lady looked at Mr. Laxworthy's disappearing omelet and up at Mr. Laxworthy. He promptly interposed.
"If the lady would like my table," he said, "it will be at liberty within five minutes."
"You are very kind," the lady answered softly. "I will certainly wait."
Now, in an ordinary case the chief maître d'hôtel would have escorted the lady to the small reception room adjoining the restaurant, would have kept his eye upon Mr. Laxworthy's table, would have had it speedily rearranged on the departure of Mr. Laxworthy and would have himself fetched madame at the earliest opportunity. It happened, however, that at that precise moment quite his most important client touched him on the elbow. With a word of excuse he hurried away. The lady stood for a moment irresolute. Mr. Laxworthy rose to his feet.
"If you will honor me by accepting the vacant seat at my table until the arrival of my coffee," he said, "it will give me great pleasure."
She thanked him with a very soft and brilliant smile. She deposited her velvet bag and the trifles which she was carrying upon the table, and seating herself took up the menu.
"You do not mind," she asked him, "if I order my luncheon? I am hungry."
Mr. Laxworthy's coffee was hot and they talked banalities. The question of nationalities arose. Mr. Laxworthy was invited to guess the birthplace of his companion. With commendable chivalry he suggested Paris. The lady smiled.
"I am South American," she told him. "I am over here on business. I have immense estates there which I wish to sell.
Mr. Laxworthy's eyes twinkled behind his glasses.
"A very interesting country," he murmured.
"A paradise," she replied.
"I lived there for some seven years," Mr. Laxworthy remarked.
"In that case," the lady exclaimed, with a little shrug of her shoulder, "I must rearrange the locality of my estates!"
"Ah!" Mr. Laxworthy said softly. "South America is rather a dangerous country. People travel so much nowadays."
"Of course you know who I am really. I come here from the Royal Opera House at St. Petersburg and I am going to dance in the ballet at Covent Garden."
Mr. Laxworthy nodded approvingly.
"If you win permit me to say so without impertinence," be declared, "your statement is easily to be believed. You look the part. I scarcely see, however, its practical advantages—at any rate as compared with your position as a South American lady with immense estates to sell in a city of susceptible men."
Madame laughed at her companion.
"You live, I perceive, as a recluse," she remarked. "To dance st Covent Garden one requires jewels, beautiful dresses, an electric brougham, a motor car in which to seek the fresh air. Alas! I have discovered your city, but not your susceptible men."
"Your Imagination," Mr. Laxworthy decided, "is excellent, but you lack precision of detail. I never in my life saw a dancer with an ankle and instep like yours."
"They told me," she raid, "that you were a man of observation and peculiar gifts. You make me feel quite clumsy."
"Madame," he replied, "look around you. There are fifty small parties of men and women lunching in this room. Let us say that half of them are doing so from the pleasure they find in one another's society.
"The other half is composed of men and women who are each seeking something from the other. On our right a gentleman is seeking to sell a patent to a financier. Over there a German merchant is trying to impress his London agent with the superiority of his goods over all others.
"We come to ourselves. We, too, are human beings in temporary juxtaposition. It is you who have sought me—not I you. It is not for the pleasure of my society; therefore it is something else you want."
"Oh, Mr. Laxworthy!" she sighed. "You are much too clever for a poor, inexperienced young woman. I fear it you are not even susceptible." "But supposing," Mr. Laxworthy said, "that you tell me in what manner I can be of service to you and from whom you come."
["Mr. Daniel Greenlaw sent me," she replied.]
Mr. Laxworthy showed no surprise.
"I was inclined to suspect," he admitted, "that that was the case. I trust that Mr. Greenlaw is well."
"He is in excellent health. I believe," the lady replied.
"Ours has been a pleasant chat," he remarked, "but you have not yet told me the object of your coming. I am a man of over middle age and I am moderately wealthy. Of my principles I will not speak, but such as they are, although I claim for myself a considerable latitude of action, I am on the side of the law."
"In the enterprise which I am about to propose to you," the lady declared, "you will remain in that very desirable position.
"It is a matter of money—a great deal of money," she continued. "Less than a year ago Daniel Greenlaw entrusted a sum of forty thousand pounds to a Mr. Wills, who was a stock broker in the city. He entrusted it to him without conditions because a man in Mr. Greenlaw's position, as you can readily understand, is obliged to trust some one.
"Mr. Wills was a man of honor and there is no doubt that while he lived not only was the money perfectly safe but he would have gone out of his way to let Daniel Greenlaw have it, however difficult the circumstances may have been.
"Unfortunately, three or four months ago Mr. Wills died and his partners are very different people to deal with. They need the money in their business and they have no idea of parting with it if it can be helped.
"In reply to the indirect applications that have been made to them they have declined to communicate or to pay over any money to any one else except Daniel Greenlaw himself. The police know this and so do Messrs. Lewitt & Montague know that they know it. It is almost impossible for Daniel to go to law, but he wants the money."
"Quite an interesting situation," Mr. Laxworthy admitted. "Legally of course there are many ways of obtaining payment, but on the other hand I can see the difficulty. These men have only to object to the amount or the terms or something and take the matter into court. Greenlaw cannot appear. Any one holding an authorization from him would be cross-examined as to its source."
"I see that you grasp some of the difficulties," the lady remarked. "But the enterprise is simple enough: Daniel Greenlaw wants you to collect his money for him. I have here an authorization, properly signed and witnessed."
She passed a paper across the table. Mr. Laxworthy studied it carefully and put it into his pocket.
"You will do me the honor, then," Mr. Laxworthy begged, "of lunching with me here a week from to-day at the same time."
"I shall only regret, dear Mr. Laxworthy," she whispered, as they passed down the room, "that it takes seven whole days to make a week."
Forrest Anderson was received a few mornings later at the offices of Messrs. Wills, Lewitt & Montague with all the consideration due to a prospective client of satisfactory appearance. Mr. Lewitt, who was a small man with thin, dark features, sat at a desk with a telephone on either side of him. He motioned his Visitor to an easy chair and read from the card:
MR. FORREST ANDERSON,
"Delighted to see you, Mr. Anderson. What can we have the pleasure of doing for you?"
Mr. Anderson glanced around the room as though to make sure that they were alone.
"I have called," he began confidentially, "on behalf of a client of yours—Daniel Greenlaw."
Mr. Lewitt started and snatched a speaking tube from his desk.
"Excuse me for one moment, sir," he begged. "I should like my partner to be present. Montague," he went on through the speaking tube, "step this way at once if you please."
Mr. Montague, spruce, well groomed, dark, oily, appeared almost immediately
"Close the door, Sam," Mr. Lewitt begged. "Here's this gentleman's card. He comes on behalf of Mr. Daniel Greenlaw."
Mr. Montague's lips became for a moment pursed.
"What ith hith buithineth?" he asked quickly. "What doth he want?"
They both looked at their visitor anxiously. Mr. Anderson spoke in some affected embarrassment.
"I am sure," he said, that Mr. Greenlaw's fears have no real foundation. However, as you know; Mr. Wills was his friend, and he has only the pleasure of a very slight acquaintance with either of you gentlemen. To put the matter to you plainly. Mr. Greenlaw has been disturbed by rumors as to the stability of your firm."
"Goodneth graciouth!" Mr. Montague exclaimed.
"I have heard it said," Mr. Forrest Anderson continued suavely, "that the death of the senior partner will sometimes affect the credit of the most substantial firms. Mr. Greenlaw, let me hasten to assure you, only requires assurances of the safety of his investments with you."
A marked air of relief was immediately apparent in the countenances of the two partners.
"Anything we can do," Mr. Lewitt hastened to say—"we can without the slightest difficulty prove to you the stability of our position. We should not even object to taking you to our bankers."
"Mr. Greenlaw's position," Mr. Anderson went on, "is a somewhat peculiar one. At the same time, gentlemen, I am sure you will be relieved to hear that several recent—shall I say affairs—which have been attributed to Mr. Greenlaw have been attributed to him quite erroneously."
"Delighted to hear it," Mr. Lewitt declared perfunctorily. "Let me ask you, Mr. Anderson, is Mr. Greenlaw thinking of withdrawing his money?"
"Not that I am aware of," Mr. Anderson replied. "That, at any rate, is not the object of my visit."
The faces of the partners again expressed the liveliest satisfaction.
"There ith intereth and dividenth," Mr. Montague remarked, "amounting to a conthiderable thum. Perhapth Mr. Greenlaw would like a check or noteth for thith?"
Mr. Anderson shrugged his shoulders. "Mr. Greenlaw," he explained, "is in no need of money. The object of my visit is simply this: Mr. Greenlaw wishes to assure himself of the safety of his capital. He is a peculiar man and he wishes to do so in a manner of his own."
"Very good, very good," Mr. Lewitt murmured softly.
"Mr, Greenlaw," Mr. Anderson continued, again glancing around the room, "requires ocular demonstration of the safety of his investment, and for that purpose is willing to run a not inconsiderable risk. He proposes to present himself here at half past twelve next Tuesday morning."
"What! In thith office?" Mr. Montague exclaimed,
"Exactly. There is risk, of course. but, as you have doubtless heard, Mr. Greenlaw is the cleverest man at a disguise on the face of the earth. He will come as an elderly gentleman, and he requires to see upon your desk £40,000 worth of bank notes or Government bonds, payable to bearer, and made out in his name."
The two partners looked at one another.
"But surely, Mr. Anderson," Mr. Lewitt protested, "a visit to the bankers would have an equally satisfactory effect?"
Mr. Anderson shook his head.
"Greenlaw," he said, "is a man of cranky notions. He is also the most obstinate person I ever knew in my life. If I might venture to offer you any advice I would suggest that you humor him in this matter. Mr. Greenlaw would, of course, expect to pay the commission upon any necessary transference of stock."
Mr. Lewitt rose from his seat.
"If you will excuse me," he begged, "I should like to consult with my partner for a moment."
"By all means," Mr. Anderson agreed.
The two members of the firm left the room. When they returned in about five minutes their accustomed sleek amiability was once more visible in their countenances.
"We have dethided," Mr. Montague declared, "to humor Mr. Greenlaw'th whim."
Mr. Anderson shook hands with both the partners.
"I am sure," he said, "that you have decided wisely."
At precisely half past it on the following Tuesday morning Mr. Laxworthy and Mr. Forrest Anderson entered the offices of Messrs. Wills, Lewitt & Montague. They were shown without an instant's delay into Mr. Lewitt's room, where the two partners were waiting.
"This," Mr. Anderson announced, "is Mr. Greenlaw."
"Care to shake hands?" Mr. Laxworthy asked briskly.
"My dear Mr. Greenlaw, delighted!" Mr. Montague exclaimed with effusion, holding out his fat white fingers. "Only too delighted to have the pleasure of meeting at latht tho valued a client!"
"We have often spoken of you," Mr. Lewitt added, also offering his hand, "and I think we may say that we have taken great interest in your investments, Mr. Greenlaw. Mr. Wills was always most particular what he put you in for. Have a cigar?"
Mr. Laxworthy accepted it.
"Where's my money?" he demanded. "in a moment—in a moment, my dear sir," Mr. Lewitt replied. "Now, if you will come over to this table. We thought it best, in order to remove all possible ground for suspicion, to show you the money in Bank of England notes. How do you like the look of these, eh?"
He thumped down two packets of bank notes upon the table.
"Thomethlng tholid about that, eh?" Mr. Montague remarked. "We've arranged it in two pileth tho that you can count one and Mr. Anderthon the other. Take your time about it. No hurry."
"Perhaps not for you," Mr. Laxworthy retorted. "Can't say I'm too comfortable here myself."
"No need to detain you a moment longer than you care to stay," Mr. Lewitt assured him suavely. "Mr. Montague would only have liked the opportunity of taking you to our bankers. I can assure you, my dear sir, that we could put on the table, of our own money, more than that useful little amount of yours which you are just counting."
"Glad to hear it," Mr. Laxworthy replied. "Can't think why people ever bother to try and make money honestly. You and I know something better than that, eh, Mr. Montague?"
Mr. Montague grinned a little feebly.
"We do not conthider—" he began.
"Twenty thousand pounds in my pile," Mr. Laxworthy interrupted.
"Same here," Forrest Anderson echoed.
Mr. Laxworthy thrust both bundles of notes into his pocket.
Mr. Lewitt started.
"Here!" he exclaimed. "What's that?"
"My money," Mr. Laxworthy announced. "I'm leaving the country. I'm going to take it with me."
Mr. Lewitt stared at him aghast. Mr. Montague hurried up to the scene of action.
"What'th thith?" he exclaimed. "What'th thith, eh? Not tho fatht if you pleathe, with that money!"
"Why not?" Mr. Laxworthy asked. "It's mine."
Mr. Lewitt turned to Mr. Anderson with outstretched hands.
"This gentleman here," be cried, "told us particularly that you were going to leave the money here with us, that you only wanted to see it. We've shown it you, it's quite safe, you can have your interest and dividends in cash now if you like. But the £40,000 has got to stop with us."
"Sorry," Mr. Laxworthy said coolly. "Good morning!"
He turned toward the door. Mr. Lewitt leaned over his desk.
"Mr. Greenlaw," he whispered hoarsely, "be wise!"
Mr. Laxworthy turned and faced him.
"What do you mean?"
Mr. Lewitt was exceedingly pale.
"Mr. Greenlaw," he begged, "now be reasonable. We cannot afford to let the money go like this. We must protect our own interests. Now come. If a few thousand pounds—"
"Thank you," Mr. Laxworthy interrupted. "I've no time for silly discussions. I've got my money and I'm off."
"You don't underthand!" Mr. Montague exclaimed, wiping the perspiration, from his forehead. "We mutht protect our own interetht"
"And I mine!" Mr. Laxworthy answered, turning swiftly around it with his right hand in the pocket of his overcoat.
There was very little cover in the room, but what there was Mr. Montague and Mr. Lewitt promptly took advantage of. Mr. Lewitt slid from his chair to the ground behind the roll-top desk at which he had been seated. Mr. Montague squeezed himself tightly against the wall and held out a heavy office chair in front of his face.
"What's the game?" Mr. Laxworthy demanded fiercely. "Have you laid a trap for me"
The glittering little piece of steel which Mr. Laxworthy held so firmly in front of him seemed to exercise an almost paralysing effect upon the two partners. He reiterated his question:
"Have you communicated with the police? You may as well answer me. I'll shoot you If you don't."
Mr. Levitt's head appeared timidly from behind the desk.
"Mr. Greenlaw," he stammered, "we don't want any trouble here. You just leave that money with us, put it down on the corner of the table. You'll get your interest all right You can't have safer investments."
Mr. Montague moved the chair cautiously from before his face.
"Your money ith ath thafe with uth, Mr. Greenlaw," he protested, "ath in the Bank of England."
Mr. Laxworthy's arm swung round and up went the chair.
"Answer my question," he insisted. "Have you communicated with the police? Am I going to walk into a trap when I leave this room?"
Mr. Lewitt's head and shoulders appeared from behind the desk. He felt much more comfortable while Mr. Laxworthy's arm was pointed toward his partner.
"Mr. Greenlaw," he pleaded earnestly, "we have no ill will against you. We want to see you get away quite safely, but there is always a risk. Take my advice now, my dear sir, do—Leave that money here and you can go just whenever and wherever you please."
"And supposing I refuse?" Mr. Laxworthy asked.
Mr. Lewitt's head and shoulders disappeared out of sight. Mr. Montague held the chair squarely in front of his face. A voice came from behind the desk.
"For our own protection, we were compelled to ask a policeman to occupy the anteroom. We shall not communicate with him at all unless—unless we are obliged."
Mr. Laxworthy turned quickly to the door.
"Come along, Anderson," he directed.
"These fellows think too much of their lives to play that sort of game."
Mr. Anderson and Mr. Laxworthy walked steadily down the stairs, regardless of the ringing of electric bells, the whistling and the tumult of voices. Before they were out of the building, however, they heard the sound of pursuing footsteps. A policeman and a detective in plain clothes were on their heels. Mr. Montague and Mr. Lewitt hung over the banisters.
"That'th your man," Mr. Montague called out "He'th got forty thouthandth poundth of our money. Be careful? he'th got a pithtol."
Mr. Laxworthy and Forrest Anderson stood at the door of the motor car. Detective Marlin stepped out onto the pavement just as the inspector's hand touched Mr. Laxworthy's shoulder.
"You had better explain to these people who I am," Mr. Laxworthy said to Marlin. "They are trying to arrest me. Seem to have got an idea into their heads that I am Daniel Greenlaw."
The Inspector and his subordinate recognised Marlin and saluted.
"We are here upon private information, sir," the former asserted.
"No good," Detective Marlin answered, shaking his head. "This gentleman is John T. Laxworthy. He is personally known to me."
Emboldened by the presence of the guardians of the peace, Mr. Montague and Mr. Lewitt stood on the outskirts of the little group. The inspector turned toward them.
"Some mistake here, sirs," he said. "This gentleman's name is Mr. Laxworthy—friend of Inspector Marlin, one of our chiefs at Scotland Yard."
"He told us himself," Lewitt protested excitedly, "that he was Greenlaw!"
"He'th got Greenlaw'th money!" Mr. Montague cried wildly. "He'th got it in hith pocket."
Mr. Laxworthy produced some documents, which he handed to Mr. Marlin.
"Will some one take these excitable gentlemen away?" he begged. "You will find there complete authorization for me to collect the money which they have just paid me."
Mr. Marlin examined the documents.
"So far as I can see," he told Mr. Lewitt, "these papers are absolutely in order. Mr. Laxworthy was fully empowered to receive this money on behalf of Mr. Greenlaw."
"But he thaid that he wath Mr. Greenlaw!" Mr. Montague protested.
Detective Marlin shrugged his shoulders.
"It scarcely seems probable," he remarked. "In any case. If you have any claim against Mr. Laxworthy I can assure you that he is a gentleman of large means and he is to be found at any time. A matter of civil action only," he added, turning toward the inspector and policeman.
He stepped into the car, which promptly drove off. Mr. Laxworthy, in his corner smiling grimly to himself.
"What I should like to know id," Mr. Marlin said slowly. "where I come in. Are we allies?"
Mr. Laxworthy shook his head. "Not this time," he replied. "I am thoroughly grateful to Mr. Greenlaw for this morning's amusement. If I can arrange it he is going to get his money safely."
The detective sighed.
"Then you'd better let me get out at the Embankment," he said.
Mr. Laxworthy lunched at the same table and with his charming companion of a week ago.
"Your friend," he remarked as he produced the notes—"your brother— one might venture to take note of a certain similarity of features— will to get his money. Thorough scoundrel, those fellows." She looked at him admiringly.
"I shall not ask you any questions," she murmured. "You are a [clever] man, Mr. Laxworthy."
"The forty thousand pounds," Laxworthy continued, "is on the table; but tell me how you are going to pass it on to Greenlaw. Those notes can be traced, remember."
"I will tell you," she decided. "It was to have been a secret, but with you it does not matter. There is no one, not even [you], who understands diamonds [better]. Daniel carries the jewels with [him] when he has an opportunity. As for the notes, they trace [them to] me. Very well, if through [me they] can discover Daniel Greenlaw, [they are] welcome."
MR. LAXWORTHY was lunching in the grill room of the Milan Hotel in London when Sydney Wing passed through the swing doors, escorting a remarkably pretty young lady. He at once conducted his companion toward his chief.
"Mr. Laxworthy," he said. "I want to introduce you to this young lady—Miss Phyllis Thorndyke."
Mr. Laxworthy rose and bowed. A waiter pushed forward a chair, into which the girl—she was little more than a child—subsided.
"Miss Thorndyke," Sydney continued, "is in great distress, and it occurred to me that you might perhaps be of assistance to her."
Mr. Laxworthy looked at the young lady for several seconds through his thick spectacles. The result of his observations was entirely in her favor.
"I should be very glad indeed to be of any assistance to you, Miss Thorndyke," he murmured. "I have noticed that for the last few days you have been alone."
8he made a little effort to recover herself. It was obvious that she was on the point of tears, and there was a frightened expression in her large, soft eyes.
"It is four days," she said, "since my father left me to pay a business call in the city. He expected to be back for lunch. That was Thursday morning at half past ten. I have not seen him since."
"Your father, I presume, is the tall gentleman with the iron-gray hair whom I have seen in here with you?"
"We have been staying here for nearly a week," she replied. "You must have seen us together, because we have no friends. I have not spoken to any one except the hotel and shop people since we arrived—until, she added, Mr. Wing was so kind to me."
Mr. Laxworthy glanced at the young man inquiringly.
"There, was a little foreign chap who persisted in following Miss Thorndyke about," Sydney explained.
Mr. Laxworthy cleared his throat.
"Referring to your father's disappearance," he continued, "this seems to me a case in which you should certainly inform the hotel people, and, through them, the police. Your father may have met with some slight accident, and in such cases the police are in direct touch with the hospitals."
Silently the young lady drew a thin sheet of paper from the small bag she was carrying, and passed it across the table. Mr. Laxworthy read the few lines of typewritten communication:
In case I am not home for some little time, Phyllis. I am sending you enclosed a note for twenty pounds. Do not mention my absence to any one. It would do no good and might easily involve me in further trouble. I can only tell you that I hope to be back very soon. Whatever you do, do not apply to communicate with the police. Your father, STEVENS THORNDYKE.
The signature was in ink.
"You father's handwriting?" Mr. Laxworthy asked.
She assented confidently. Mr. Laxworthy turned the envelope over in his fingers.
"How did you get this?"
"It was was found on the hall porter's desk on the morning father disappeared, about luncheon time. No one knows who brought it or how it got there."
"It is the only communication you have received from him?"
Mr . Laxworthy was silent for a few momenta.
"Miss Thorndyke," he said finally, I am to be of any service to you, I must ask you some more questions. How long have you been in this country?"
"A week to-day."
"Have you any friends at all in London?"
"Not one. I have never been here before."
"Is this a pleasure trip or a business one on our father's part?"
"I will tell you just what happened. I left boarding school about six months ago. We had an apartment, my father and I, on Riverside Drive, in New York.
"One evening we were out motoring and stopped at a restaurant for supper. There was a big, yellow car which had been just behind ours for over an hour, wherever we went.
"It.drew up too at the restaurant, and as my father was talking about a table to the waiter a man who had been riding in it touched my father on the elbow and gave him a note. I didn't like the looks of the man at all, but be didn't seem to want any answer. Just handed the note to my father and drove away.
"I couldn't help being a little curious about the matter, because it seemed such a strange time and a strange way to deliver a message. I did not ask any questions, however, because I could see that my father was very much upset.
"He drank three cocktails one after another, a thing which I had never seen him do before, and he was very white and shaken. He told me then, as are were sitting there, that as soon as we got home I must pack my trunks, as we were going to Europe the next day."
"He gave no reason for this extraordinary haste?" Mr.Laxworthy asked.
"None it all He was always so grave and silent that it was difficult for me to ask him questions. But 1 did ask him about the man in the yellow car who brought him the note. Naturally I could not help connecting that with our sudden journey."
"And what did your father say?"
"He told me that it was a message for which he had been waiting for many years. He said it quite quietly, but there little points of fire in his eyes when he spoke. The next day we sailed for England."
"Did you gather that your father was with the message, or angry, or frightened?"
"I could only say that he was agitated."
Mr. Laxworthy, after a few moments continued to ask questions.
What was your father's occupation?"
"I do not know. He had an office near Broadway where he went every morning and stayed till three or four. He never talked about his business."
"He had no business friends?"
"We had no friends at all—none except those we met at the beach or wherever we were, and we just knew our neighbors to nod to."
"There appear to have been all the elements of a first-class mystery about your father's life," Mr. Laxworthy remarked dryly. "Did you ever wonder [about the nature of his affairs?]"
"[I know nothing about his business," she re]minded him, "and father always hated being asked questions."
Mr. Laxworthy stirred his coffee thoughtfully.
"Is there any single person in America to whom one could cable for further information as to your father's business?" Mr. Laxworthy inquired.
"There was a lawyer named Gideon," she remembered. "I don't even know his address, though."
"Any one else?"
She shook her head decidedly.
"Do you know anything of your father's history at all?"
"Very little," she replied. "There was really no one to tell me. I know that he used to live a good deal in England and France. I have been in boarding schools ever since I was a child. My mother died before I could remember."
The hall porter suddenly appeared, making his way toward them through the maze of tables. He bowed to the young lady.
"This note has just been left for you, Miss Thorndyke," he announced. "I thought you would like to have it at once."
She took it from him eagerly. Mr. Laxworthy beckoned to the hall porter to come a little-closer.
"Can you tell us who brought that note?"
"I am sorry, sir. but my attention was distracted for a moment. I was answering the telephone. When 1 looked round the note was upon the counter. There was no sign of any one waiting for an answer."
Without a word the girl pushed the sheet of paper toward Mr. Laxworthy. Upon it there was only a single line of typewritten matter:
"I send you twenty pounds. Be careful to obey the injunctions which I have laid upon you."
This time the message was signed with initials only.
"You had better," Mr. Laxworthy suggested, "leave the matter entirely in my hands until to-morrow morning."
"You are really going to try to help me, then?" she asked hopefully. She was certainly rather a pathetic spectacle.
"I shall be glad to do what I can," he promised "You have set me rather a difficult task, though."
The three of them had risen to their feet together and they turned toward the exit of the restaurant. She had no sooner taken a few steps than she stopped short. She turned toward Mr. Laxworthy and gripped him by the arm. Her eyes seemed suddenly to have become distended.
"Mr. Laxworthy," she whispered, "quick! Look! You see that man at the table there—the one with the lady?"
Mr. Laxworthy followed her gesture.
"It is the man," she declared hoarsely, "who was in the yellow car! Wait. I shall speak to him."
Mr. Laxworthy pushed, her firmly along.
"Miss Thorndyke," he begged, "don't do anything of the sort. If that man is really the one who brought your father the message it is all the more reason why you should leave me to find out what I can about him. I know something of the woman who is with him."
She turned reluctantly away. As they passed out of the restaurant into the little reception room Mr. Laxworthy had the air of a man who is genuinely in earnest.
"Miss Thorndyke," he said earnestly, "If you really desire me to help you in this matter you must do exactly as I tell you. You must not think of going back and accosting that man. You must go to your room now at once and stay there for a short time."
"But I am sure," she objected, "that that was the man in the yellow motor car. Why shouldn't I go and speak to him? He ought to be able to tell us why my father left America so suddenly."
"Doubtless be could tell us," Mr. Laxworthy assented. "The question is whether he would. I am inclined to agree with you that he may be concerned in your father's disappearance, but if we are to gain any real benefit through your recognition of him we must keep that fact a secret. Do as I ask you, I beg. Leave me for a time, at any rate, to do the best I can for you."
She sighed as she turned reluctantly away. Mr. Laxworthy and Sydney Wing reentered the restaurant.
"My young friend, have you lunched?" asked Mr. Laxworthy.
"Excellently," replied Sydney.
"A little unfortunate," his chief sighed, "because one of us has to lunch again. We will sit here, if you please. Now order whatever you like. I shall drink coffee and watch the man who your little friend, Miss Thorndyke, believes is concerned in her father's disappearance. You recognize, perhaps, the young lady who is his companion? It is just possible that their conversation may be interesting."
A few yards away from them the man talked continually with his companion. It was quite three-quarters of an hour before they rose to go. On their way out Paula Garesworthy paused at their table.
"Ah, Mr. Laxworthy!" she exclaimed.
Mr. Laxworthy rose to his feet.
"My dear young lady," he murmured, "It is charming to see you once more."
She hurried on with a little word of farewell. The man turned to her and asked her a question, glancing over his shoulder st Mr. Laxworthy. Then they disappeared. Sydney leaned across the table.
"Well?" he demanded.
"Nothing much," Mr. Laxworthy admitted. "One or two little points, however, were interesting."
"The young lady who affected to see me just now for the first time not only saw me some time ago but she carefully warned her companion. They have been talking absolute drivel—simply, I am sure, for effect.
"I feel convinced of this because as I entered the restaurant for the first time, before your protegée had appeared, I read a single sentence upon that man's lips which made me wonder. I put it aside in my mind as being just one of those fragments that one comes across— little detached epitomes of tragedy so entirely isolated that one simply wonders in curiosity and passes on."
"What were the words?"
Mr. Laxworthy rose from his place a little abruptly.
"'Power over your enemies, the power of life and death, is worth waiting for, is worth waiting for!' What did he mean by that, I wonder? Come."
The two men passed out into the hall. Mr. Laxworthy rang for the elevator. Then he came back and discussed with Sydney some trifling matter. Paula Garesworthy and her escort were parting at the door which led to the street.
["You go east?" the latter asked.]
She shook her head.
"I am going west," she replied, "and you, I imagine—"
"I am going to the city," he admitted smilingly. "We poor slaves, you know, must content ourselves with a snatched half-hour or so of relaxation."
"Au revoir, then!" she exclaimed, waving her hand.
She watched him drive off. Then she turned around and made her way at once to where Mr. Laxworthy was standing.
"I want to speak to you," she said.
Mr. Laxworthy showed no surprise. He led her to a couch set back in a corner of the place.
"Mr. Laxworthy," she began, "I know that you go about the world looking always for new things, new adventures, new interests. Nothing has puzzled me more than the fact that you should be interested in the affair of Stevens Thorndyke."
"How do you know that I am interested in his affair?" Mr. Laxworthy asked.
"It was his daughter who was telling you that pitiful story," she reminded him. "You were evidently interested. You re-entered the restaurant upon some excuse. You sat and watched us."
"And why should I connect you with the affair of 8tevens Thorndyke?"
"Because," the girl told him. "that child recognized my companion as the man who had given her father the note at the Claremont restaurant a fortnight ago which summoned him to England. Is that not true?"
"It is quite true," Mr. Laxworthy confessed.
"Mr. Laxworthy," she said in a low tone, "I am going to give you some advice, not for my sake, but for your own. There is nothing in it for you. I give you my word that there is nothing."
"But the child?" Mr. Laxworthy asked. "What is one to do about her?"
Paula Garesworthy rose to her feet and held out her hand.
"I have warned you, Mr. Laxworthy," she said, "because I like you. You must do as you think best"
Mr. Laxworthy escorted his companion to the door. While waiting for a cab he made a little farewell speech.
"You have given me some very useful advice, Miss Garesworthy," he remarked. "Let me reciprocate. I do not know that it is well for a young lady of your age to be seen lunching in a public restaurant with a man who has spent at least seven years of his life in prison."
She stood very still for a moment.
"You know everything!" she murmured.
"I know at least Richard Wardley," he answered.
The taxicab was at the door. She turned toward it.
"Well," she said, "such associations are part of the price I must pay for my bohemianism. you know. Nevertheless. Mr. Laxworthy, balance your advice against mine. Believe me when I tell you that there is no danger whatever for me in such companionship compared with the danger that awaits you if you disregard my warning."
She stepped into the cab with a little farewell wave of the hand. Mr. Laxworthy went round to see his friend, Mr. Marlin of Scotland Yard.
"I wonder," Mr. Laxworthy asked him, "if you remember anything about the London and South Westminster Bank robbery. It must have been—let me see—about ten or twelve years ago."
Mr. Marlin looked at his questioner curiously.
"Of course I remember," he replied "There were four men concerned in it —Richard Wardley got seven years, came out some time ago and went into business; Colshaw, four years; changed his name to Thorndyke and went to America; Proudson, twelve years, and the fourth man we never caught. We always believed that Greenlaw was in it. They shot the manager and got away with a lot of specie. I should think they must have cleared about thirty thousand pounds by it."
"Ah!" Mr. Laxworthy murmured. "Why did Colshaw get only four years?"
Mr. Marlin shook his head.
"I can't give away secrets you know, Mr. Laxworthy. Why on earth do you want to know? Queer that you should ask me about this. Proudson came out last week."
"Is that so?" Mr. Laxworthy asked. "I suppose if I wanted five minutes conversation with him—"
"Oh, I could find him fast enough if that's what you're after!" Marlin interrupted, "or Richard Wardley, either, for that matter. So long as we were allies, you understand. I can't have you come poking about among my pets unless I am on to the game."
"Quite so," Mr. Laxworthy agreed. "I wish you'd tell me why Colshaw got only four years?"
"Well, he was led into it by the others for one thing," Marlin explained. "Then there is no doubt that he had the cleverest counsel."
"That may have been it," Mr. Laxworthy assented amiably. "By the bye, Proudson will, of course, be under police supervision for some time?"
Marlin shook his head.
"He's clear, long enough ago. I believe he's doing very well in some sort of business. I don't even know his address without referring."
"Ah. well!" Mr. Laxworthy said, preparing to depart. "I always enjoy a chat with you, Mr. Marlin. I happened to see Wardley at luncheon time and I suppose that was what brought the affair back into my mind. I remember I sat all through the trial. Very interesting case it was, too. Of course, I understand why Proudson got twelve years. He was the one who used the revolver, wasn't he? But I can't quite understand the difference between the two other sentences."
Mr. Laxworthy returned to his hotel. He dined frugally and alone. Toward the end of the meal a cablegram was brought to him. It was signed Gideon and dated New York:
THORNDYKE'S LIFE HERE ENTIRELY RESPECTABLE. ENJOYED CONSIDERABLE INCOME FROM SALE OF PATENT CALF LEATHER, FOR WHICH HE HELD AGENCY. BELIEVE HE WAS IN TROUBLE IN ENGLAND UNDER NAME OF COLSHAW.
Mr. Laxworthy studied this message for some minuted with an air of satisfaction. Then, having concluded his meal, he sent for his coat and hat and umbrella, and, taking a taxicab out to the further part of Maida Vale, discovered with some difficulty a newly-built block of flats in a back street. He consulted a board for some moments and then rang for the elevator.
"I wish to go to Miss Garesworthy's flat," he told the attendant
The man stared at Mr. Laxworthy curiously as he opened the gate. He himself was a singularly unprepossessing looking object.
"It's on the top floor, sir," he remarked, "Step in, please."
Mr. Laxworthy nodded, and, affecting to arrange his tie in the small looking-glass of the car, kept his eyes fixed upon the attendant. There was some delay in starting. When they had gone up seven stories they came to a standstill. The man opened the gate.
"The lift don't go any further, sir," he explained. "I'll show you the way up to Miss Garesworthy's rooms."
Mr. Laxworthy followed his guide up two flights of stone steps. There was about the whole place a sense of emptiness, and, as regards this top portion, a sense of complete detachment. Since he had entered the building Mr. Laxworthy had neither seen nor heard any sign of a human being.
"Are any of these flats in the lower of part of the building occupied?" he asked the porter.
"One or two. sir," the man replied. "These are Miss Garesworthy's rooms."
Mr. Laxworthy handed him a shilling.
"Thank you very much," he said. "I will ring the bell. You need not wait."
The man, however, did not move. He was a thick, burly-looking person with the physique of a prize-fighter and small, narrow eyes.
"I said:that you need not wait," Mr. Laxworthy repeated sharply.
"I am waiting to see if Miss Garesworthy is in," the man answered surlily.
The door in front of them was suddenly opened. It was Paula Garesworthy who stood there. She looked at her visitor with an expression of amazement, which gradually changed into one of horror.
"Mr. Laxworthy!" she gasped.
"Madam!" he replied, raising his hat.
He stepped quickly across the threshold. Her hands were outstretched as though to push him away."
"I warned you not to come!" she cried quickly. "This adventure is not for you. What is happening is justice and justice only. Go down quickly. I will make some excuse."
"I am not altogether sure," Mr. Laxworthy answered, "whether that very amiable person behind would allow me to go even if I felt disposed. As a matter of fact, however, nothing would induce me to leave this place until my mission is accomplished."
There was the sound of a man's voice heard through the open door. Paula Garesworthy gave a little gesture of despair.
"It is too late!" she exclaimed.
Richard Wardley suddenly appeared, standing upon the threshold of one of the inner rooms. He looked across at Mr. Laxworthy with a curious expression.
"Close the door, Paula," he ordered.
She obeyed him. He moved between it and Mr. Laxworthy.
"Perhaps you will be good enough to tell us," he asked quietly, "what you want here?"
Mr. Laxworthy drew off his gloves and calmly deposited them in his hat.
"I wish," he said, "to have a word or two with Mr. Colshaw. His daughter is getting anxious as to his absence."
Paula looked at him and turned away in despair. Richard Wardley smiled. He was a fat, unhealthy-looking man, and there was something exceedingly unpleasant about his smile.
"You know that he is here, then?" he asked.
"I am quite convinced of it," Mr. Laxworthy replied cheerfully.
"Have you shared your suspicion with any one?"
"Not a soul. I am naturally, I am afraid, of a somewhat secretive nature."
"You shall have your wish." Richard Wardley announced. "Come this way."
They all three passed into a little sitting room, prettily and even daintily furnished Paula threw herself into an easy chair and covered her face with her hands. Richard Wardley opened a door beyond.
"This way," he directed.
Mr. Laxworthy followed him into a bedroom, plainly-furnished, with only an iron bedstead and a few chairs. Standing against the foot of the latter with folded arms was a tall, emaciated man, with hollow cheeks, dead looking eyes and grizzled gray hair. A few yards away Greenlaw was leaning against the wall with a revolver in his hand, as though on guard. Between the two was a horrible sight.
A third man was seated in a chair, to which he was bound with cords. There was a gag in his mouth and his hands were tied together with a rope which seemed to cut into the flesh. His cheeks were deathly pale, his head drooped a little, as though he were unconscious. His eyes, however, were wide open and they told something of the story of the last four days' horror.
"Mr. Laxworthy!" Greenlaw exclaimed with an oath.
Richard Wardley closed the door and stood with his back to it.
"My friends," he said, "we have here an example of the folly of meddling in other people's affairs. Mr. Laxworthy has on the solicitation of our friend Colshaw's daughter undertaken to find him. Mr. Laxworthy has succeeded. The interesting question now remains— what are we to do with Mr. Laxworthy?"
Greenlaw's face was dark with anger.
"You fool!" he cried to this most unwelcome visitor. "I told Paula to warn you. This is no affair of yours."
"Unfortunately," Mr. Laxworthy replied. "I was compelled to make it mine."
There was a dead silence for several moments. The eyes of the man who was bound in the chair were fastened upon his would-be deliverer.
Greenlaw shrugged his shoulders.
"Mr. Laxworthy," he said, "you know who we all are. You know very well that having discovered us like this we cannot possibly let you go hack. You may think perhaps that a block of flats in a populous neighborhood is a fairly safe place for any one, especially if he happens to have left a note of his destination behind him."
He looked inquiringly at Mr. Laxworthy, who only shook his head.
"Not a soul," the latter declared cheerfully, "Is in my confidence."
Greenlaw looked disappointed.
"You may even," he suggested, "have your friend Mr. Marlin in the vicinity."
His left eyelid twitched very slightly, but Mr. Laxworthy refused to take the hint.
"I am entirely upon my own account," he assured them.
Greenlaw frowned. He had somehow or other conceived a liking for this queer-looking person.
"You are a brave man, Mr. Laxworthy," he said irritably, "but you are also a fool. I would have been glad to give you a chance of escape if it were possible.
"These quarters, let me tell you, have [not been constructed without some] special features, I can assure you. There are four different ways by which you can be made to disappear from this room, or at any rate from this suite of apartments, into an undiscoverable eternity."
Mr. Laxworthy shook his head.
Thank you," he said, "I am not proposing to undertake any voyage of discovery of that sort. My mission here is a peaceful one. Contrary to my custom, I have even come unarmed. I see that my friend Mr. Wardley is making strategic movements toward me. I can assure you that it is unnecessary."
He lifted his bands a little way above his head. Nevertheless the two men closed slowly in upon him. The gaunt man at the foot of the bed broke the silence. His voice sounded strangely— be had spoken little during the last twelve years.
"It is an act of justice, this," he declared, pointing toward the man in the chair.
"Not at all," Mr. Laxworthy said sharply. "It is an act of injustice."
They all three looked at him steadily. Mr. Laxworthy loosened his coat and removed his muffler.
"You will forgive me," he continued apologetically, "but I find the atmosphere of this room a little warm, and I am subject to chills.
"To continue. It is because I believe that you—two of you at any rate—are fair men and because I believe that you have some sense of justice that I have come here unarmed, without taking any precautions and without communicating certain ideas or mine to Mr. Marlin or his friends.
"That man," he went on, pointing toward the wretched figure in the chair, "is being tortured by you because you believe that it was he who gave the police valuable information when you were all tried together—except my clever friend Greenlaw here—for the London and South Westminster Bank robbery. You also believe that he has either helped himself to the plunder or knows where it is.
"You are perpetrating, therefore, what you consider to be an act of justice. As a matter of fact it happens to be an act of brutal and flagrant injustice."
The gaunt man at the foot of the bed leaned a little forward. Instinctively, Wardley shrank back. Across his face there flashed some gleam of the horror to come.
"What do you mean?" Proudson demanded hoarsely.
"I mean that the informer was Richard Wardley," Mr. Laxworthy replied. "Colshaw never even received a lawyer in his cell. He never even knew what became of the gold."
Mr. Laxworthy's finger leaped out, pointing unfalteringly at the man whom he denounced. It was a splendid effort and it succeeded. Wardley's nerve failed him. He made one dash for the door. Greenlaw struck him with the butt of his revolver as he passed and knocked him half senseless.
"I got seven years!" he shrieked. "Why did Colshaw get four, then, and I seven?"
"It was at your own request," Mr. Laxworthy declared, "that you we not given too light a sentence, because you were terrified of the afterward. The afterward has come!"
Proudson was breathing heavily.
"But why," he muttered, pointing to the figure in the chair, "why didn't he tell us?"
"He never knew," Mr. Laxworthy replied. "He never knew that Wardley was the informer. He never had any idea where the money was. He has made his own living in New York. Better undo him, I think."
Greenlaw stood guard over Wardley while Proudson removed the gag from the mouth of the man in the chair and loosened his bonds. He was in a state of collapse. Mr. Laxworthy held a brandy flask to his lips.
"Come, be a man," he said, "and I'll take you back to your daughter."
I'm all right," Colshaw declared, struggling to his feet. They wouldn't believe me, though—they wouldn't believe me!" he sobbed. "I've been straight all the time. I knew nothing about the money. I never had a penny of it. I made a business and a living in New York. I came back directly I heard that Proudson wanted to see me."
They both shook him by the hand.
"I am sorry," Proudson murmured in a broken voice.
"And I," Greenlaw echoed. "Thank God you took this on, Mr. Laxworthy! Take him away, sir. I'll pass you by our 'trusty' outside."
Mr. Laxworthy nodded and they moved toward the door. Wardley tried to steal to his feet, but Proudson, with a snarl, was upon him.
"We won't ask you how you found these things out, Mr. Laxworthy," he said "It isn't our business."
"I was at the trial from the beginning to the end," Mr. Laxworthy told them. "I didn't need to look at you three for ten minutes to know who the informer was. All the same," added with a slight smile, "if you'd asked me for proofs, I hadn't any. I simply knew."
"The whole thing's a lie!" Wardley cried, struggling to his feet. It's an invention—a pack of lies!"
Mr. Laxworthy smiled.
"Ten minutes ago," he remarked, "that might have saved you."
Paula sprang from the couch as they passed through the sitting-room. Her eyes were red with tears. She looked at the two men in amazement.
"They have let him go!" she shrieked.
"An affair of a substitute," Laxworthy explained with a little wave of the hand. "Come and lunch with me some day and I'll tell you all about it."
Mr. Laxworthy found the young woman of whom he was in search sitting with Sydney in one of the public rooms. She sprang to her feet when she saw him coming. Mr. Laxworthy's [mood] seemed as quiet and self-contained as usual, but the girl was inspired.
"You have found him!" she [cried].
Mr. Laxworthy handed her the key of her room.
"You will find him up there," he said. "You'd better order a little [drink] for him. He's all right, but he will need looking after for a short time—"
She was gone before he could finish his sentence. Sydney looked at him admiringly.
"Mr. Laxworthy," he declared, "I've got to thank you too. I don't know whether he's a thief or whatever in world he is. You've found my future father-in-law."
Mr. Laxworthy nodded approvingly.
"Miss Thorndyke is a really attractive young lady," he said. "I dined early, and I have been [up long]. We will take a light supper in the [grill] room."
MR. LAXWORTHY came to a standstill in the centre of the narrow London pavement. Although he was certainly not a man given to casual gallantries, it was obvious that he was engaged in watching a young woman now disappearing through the swing doors of a small restaurant on the opposite side of the street. As soon as she had finally passed out of view he turned and followed her.
The neighborhood was an unsavory one and the restaurant one of the smallest and meanest of its class. The muslin blinds behind the glass door which Mr. Laxworthy pushed open were soiled and torn. The restaurant itself was ill-ventilated, dirty and noisy. The young woman was sitting at a table holding the menu in front of her face. Laxworthy, whose presence the young woman was attempting to ignore, tapped with his finger upon the menu.
"Come, come, young woman!" he exclaimed a little testily. "I have seen quite enough of the back of that soiled bill of fare. In any case, it is of no interest to either you or me, because are going to lunch elsewhere."
Very slowly she lowered it and looked up at him. She was thin, and there was an expression in her eyes which Mr. Laxworthy had seen once or twice before during his life associated with different people and which he did not like at all. Her clothes were desperately shabby. She seemed thinner about the neck, and the fingers which still held the bill of fare were almost emaciated.
"How do you do, Mr. Laxworthy?" she said, with an attempt at her old manner. "I am sorry that I did not recognize you at once."
"Rubbish!" Mr. Laxworthy replied irritably. "You not only recognised me, you tried to avoid me. You ought to know by now that I am not a man to be avoided. Put on your gloves again, please, and come with me. We are going to lunch somewhere where the odor of other people's meals is not quite so insistent.
"Waiter," he continued, addressing a miserable specimen of his class who had shambled up, "I am depriving you of a customer. Here is recompense. Now open the door for us."
The girl followed her companion meekly enough out onto the pavement, but when he called a taxicab she protested.
"I cannot go anywhere to lunch with you!" she declared. "I am not prepared."
Mr. Laxworthy was either in a very bad humor, or else he had come to the conclusion that kindness was not the weapon by which he could easiest attain his ends.
"Get in and don't be foolish," he ordered. "I can assure you that I have no idea of going to the Ritz or the Carlton. Look at my own muddy boots and shabby hat. I've been tramping about Soho myself for two hours."
"What have you been doing here?" she asked.
Mr. Laxworthy almost pushed her into the vehicle, gave an order to the driver and seated himself beside her.
"Looking for adventures," he answered tartly. "I don't believe there is such a thing left in London. I have spent," he proceeded, with the air of one relieving himself of a grievance, "a most unsatisfactory and unpleasant two months. My young friend Wing has got married. I don't know whether you remember my other friend. Mr. Forrest Anderson, but his brother has left him four hundred a year, and he's gone round the world on a tour. Not a thing to do, not a thing to occupy a man of my peculiar tastes."
"Where are we going now?" she asked a little timidly.
"Young lady," Mr. Laxworthy declared, "if you would get out of that habit of asking questions we should get on better. We are going to Victoria Railway Station."
"God Mess my soul!" Mr. Laxworthy exclaimed. "What do you think we are going there for! Do you imagine I want to take you down to Brighton for the day, or elope with you to the Continent? We are going there to eat, of course.
"Best place I know of," Mr. Laxworthy continued, "to get a wholesome and satisfactory meal, is the dining room of a large railway station. Besides, no one will notice my boots."
The girl laughed faintly.
"You are a man of resource," she murmured. "Your boots, indeed!"
"If I am tactful enough, my dear Miss Garesworthy," Mr. Laxworthy continued to ignore the fact that you are not attired with your accustomed elegance, it is at least up to you to try and forget my boots. Here we are. This way, please."
Mr. Laxworthy paid for his taxicab and conducted his companion into the station dining-room, where he ordered a substantial lunch. He then made a brief visit to the bar, from which he returned, followed by a waiter upon whose salver reposed two glasses of amber-colored liquid.
"A wonderful apertif," Mr. Laxworthy explained, "mixed under my personal supervision. Eat a mouthful of roll and drink it down—so!"
Somehow or other he seemed to manage to keep the conversation to trivialities until they were half way through lunch. He waited until he saw a [glow appear] in his his companion's cheeks [and ascertained] that her fingers had ceased to shake or her lips to tremble. Then, without the slightest embarrassment, he began in a most direct way [to ask questions].
"You have been having a rough time, haven't you?" he demanded. "Some of the things that have happened to you you don't care to tell, but I would like to know what became of Wardley."
For a moment she half-closed her eyes, and Mr. Laxworthy was afraid that he had been premature.
"Do you know anything at all?" she asked him.
"Nothing," he replied, "When I have finished with an adventure, especially one which me no near the sphere of my friend Mr. Marlin, I try to forget it as quickly as I can."
[She looked at him and said] slowly: "They treated him like terriers would have done a rat."
"A very infamous scoundrel, Wardley," Mr. Laxworthy declared, sipping his wine.
"Afterward," she went on, "they shut him up. There are empty rooms there without a single article of furniture. He was in one of these for three days.
"I used to hear him sobbing and. moaning at night. They got the money out of him, and I begged them to let him go. Dan Greenlaw would have consented, but Proudson was like a wild animal. He used to take a chair into the room, and sit and watch him writhe about, and listen to him moan for mercy.
"When he came out there was always the same sort of smile upon his lips. I—I couldn't stand it. One night I set Wardley free."
Mr. Laxworthy paused in his lunch. He looked steadfastly across the table at his companion.
"You set Wardley free," he repeated. "What was he to you that you took such a risk?"
"Nothing," she answered, with a low note of passion in her tone; "less than nothing. I hated him. I despised him. I never listened to him for one moment. He would have married me, anywhere, any time. I would sooner have died!
"But, Mr. Laxworthy," she went on, dropping her voice, "have you ever heard a man in pain sobbing himself to death? Have you ever wakened in the night and heard a low, weird moaning as though a man were being consumed with some awful pain which brought him nearer and nearer every moment to death, so near that already he was peering into the gulf, and the terror of it was in his brain?"
"Don't!" Mr. Laxworthy exclaimed testily. "You'll spoil my luncheon!"
"I set him free," she continued. "He went off like some badly wounded creature, without a word of thanks. He never even stopped, as a dog would have done, to lick my hand.
"Proudson would have killed me. Dan threw me out onto th e streets. He thought that I had done it for Wardley's sake, and bade me go to him. Since then I have mostly starved.
"I sold my clothes and bought cheaper ones, and I have lived on the difference—it wasn't very much. The few jewels I had were at the flat. I suppose the police have them now."
"What did Wardley do?" Mr. Laxworthy asked.
"Gave information at once," she replied. "He informed against Dan too for the bank robbery."
"I read the papers every morning," Mr. Laxworthy began. "I don't seem to remember—"
"Nothing has happened yet," she interrupted, "but in a way it is terrible. Dan is hiding for his life now., and I don't think Proudson means to be taken alive, although there is only the assault against him.
"Wardley is half hunter and half hunted. He sits in his house shivering with fear, though he has a police sergeant steeping in the adjoining room and burglar alarms on every window. He dare not go to his office; he scarcely dare leave the house."
Mr. Laxworthy smiled.
"Sometimes one is tempted to believe," he remarked, "that justice is one of the natural laws. I have no doubt that Mr. Wardley is having an exceedingly uncomfortable time. By the bye, have you communicated with him at all?"
"I have written to him," she replied. "I only wanted my own money. It was little enough, still it would have made all the difference to me now. He took no notice of my letter. Then I went to his house. He declined to see me."
Mr. Laxworthy ordered some coffee.
"I have enjoyed our talk Immensely," he said. "It has also interested me very much to hear your story. How much did you say you had entrusted Mr. Wardley with?"
"The amount was 100 pounds," she replied.
Mr. Laxworthy opened his pocket-book.
"I will buy that debt from you," he decided, counting out some notes. "It will afford me much satisfaction to collect it."
Her face suddenly lit up, but almost immediately clouded over again.
"You would never be able to get it," she said. "I daren't take the money."
"On the contrary," Mr. Laxworthy retorted, "I am very sure indeed that I shall get that money. If you had had claims upon Mr. Wardley of a more intangible character, it would have given me great pleasure to have increased the amount very considerably. On the whole, however, I am pleased to hear the truth as to your relations with him. Permit me."
He pushed the notes across to her. She looked at them, half frightened.
"A hundred pounds," Mr. Laxworthy continued, "is not a large sum. There are times, as I know, when it appears inexhaustible. As a matter of fact, a hundred pounds will not last you very long.
"I understand, of course, the peculiar difficulty connected with any claim you might make for your wardrobe, and I think you are quite wise to keep away from those flats altogether. You will have to start, therefore, by buying yourself a complete outfit.
"I shall require," he continued thoughtfully, "one smart tailor gown, at least two evening dresses, and for indoor work you will need several of those blouse sort of arrangements and neat skirts."
"What indoor work?" she gasped. "What are you talking about?"
"Did I forget to mention," Mr. Laxworthy asked, "that you are going to be my secretary? I am sorry."
"You are laughing at me!" she declared.
"Nothing of the sort," Mr. Laxworthy assured her. "For a man of my resources I must admit that I have been feeling during the last two months exceedingly bored. I need a companion."
"But you haven't any work to be done," she protested.
"That is precisely why I need a secretary," Mr. Laxworthy pointed out. "If I have a secretary I must get some work. If I have a secretary there is always the necessity of keeping her employed before me. Therefore I must do something. I must confess that I wonder the idea did not occur to me before. It is a positive inspiration."
She began to laugh softly to herself.
"Perhaps," she said, "the most amusing part of it all is that 1 should make a very excellent secretary. I started life in a typewriting office.
"I felt somehow that you were capable. I propose that the rest of the afternoon you devote to procuring your outfit, bearing in mind the fact that the only colors I have a weakness for in evening clothes are a sort of flame color for one and a deep violet blue for the other; both colors, I should imagine," he added critically, "likely to suit your complexion. If you find that the hundred pounds of your own are insufficient I will advance a portion of your salary."
"How much am I going to get. please, and how many hours a day do I work?" she asked.
"I shall pay you," Mr. Laxworthy replied, "as much as you are worth. You must leave the amount to me for a week or two. As regards the rest, you will have to work just as long and as much and as often as I choose. There is nothing regular about my life or my habits, except as regards my meals and my exercise. Do you understand?"
"I understand," she replied meekly.
"So far as my afternoon is concerned," Mr. Laxworthy went on, "I will collect that hundred pounds from Mr. Wardley, if you will be so good as to give me his address."
For a moment she smiled.
"I almost believe," she said, "that you will get it. He lives in rooms at No. 10 John street, Adelphi. It is really a house, but the bottom part is divided into offices.
"At six o'clock precisely," Mr. Laxworthy directed, as he carefully arranged his muffler and overcoat, "you will arrive at the Milan Court. The hall porter will show you the sitting room in which you will work and your own apartment. If you should see nothing of me you may take it for granted that I shall require you to dine with me this evening and make the necessary preparation. My favorite hour is eight o'clock. You will probably find me in the sitting-room at that time. Is everything quite clear to you?"
For a single moment her lip began to tremble again.
"I shall be there," she promised him.
Mr. Laxworthy took a taxicab to Scotland Yard and had a short conversation with Mr. Marlin, from whom he procured a note. He then drove to 10 John street, Adelphi, ascended one flight of stairs and rang the bell of a door upon which a small brass plate was emblazoned with the name of Richard Wardley. The door was opened, after a short delay, by a tall man in plain clothes and unmistakable build.
"Police Sergeant Choppin, I am sure?" Mr. Laxworthy remarked suavely, handing him the note. "This is from Mr. Marlin, at Scotland Yard, and is to insure my getting an interview with Mr. Wardley."
The man took it a little doubtfully.
"If it is from Mr. Marlin, sir," he said, "of course that's different, but Mr. Wardley is unwell and not seeing any one at present. You won't mind if I ask you to wait outside, sir?"
"Not at all," Mr. Laxworthy assented, "so long as you don't ask me to wait long."
Mr. Laxworthy waited upon the landing. It was at least five minutes before the door was reopened and the sergeant motioned him to come in.
"Mr. Wardley is exceedingly upset at the thought of seeing you, sir," he announced. "However. I gave him Mr. Marlin's message and he couldn't very well do no other. Will you come this way?"
Richard Wardley, fatter than ever, whiter than ever, more repulsive than ever, lay half dressed upon a sofa, surrounded by French comic papers and English sporting weeklies.
He watched Mr. Laxworthy as he entered the room with the eyes of a frightened animal.
"Don't go away. Choppin," he ordered. "What do you want with me?"
Mr. Laxworthy at once removed both his muffler and his overcoat, which he placed on Police Sergeant Choppin's arm.
"Well, you don't suppose I came for pleasure," Mr. Laxworthy retorted. "Now do you really want this excellent police sergeant to hear what I have to say to you?"
Wardley hesitated. Mr. Laxworthy winked at Police Sergeant Choppin, who slowly withdrew. This unwelcome visitor swept a chair clear of its encumbrance of periodicals and seated himself.
"Got your check book handy?" he asked.
Mr. Laxworthy had certainly found means to galvanise the indolent body of Richard Wardley into some show of animation. The latter sat up on the couch and banged the cushion.
"My check book?" he almost shrieked. "What do you mean? You too? Don't you know how they bled me—those two devils into whose hands you threw me? Thousands they robbed me of! They made me sell bonds, pay in the proceeds, draw checks till my brain swam. I tell you I'm ruined! I've no more money! I've no more money! Do you hear? What do you come for at all. you miserable—you sneaking—"
The man seemed suddenly to lose his voice. There was something about his visitor's quiet contemplation of him which seemed to draw that faint spark of courage from his heart.
"Mine," Mr. Laxworthy said, "is a very harmless errand. I want only the hundred pounds which Miss Garesworthy entrusted to you."
"Let her get it from her brother, then," Wardley answered sullenly. "He's had all my money—he and the brute Proudson."
"On the contrary," Mr. Laxworthy objected, "it seems to me that it was a part of their own money which they were getting back, and not all of that. Do you give me that hundred pounds?"
"No!" the man snarled.
"I am the inventor," Mr. Laxworthy continued patiently, "of a new scheme of compound interest. I will not explain its workings to you—in your present state you would scarcely be able to follow it—but since that last 'No!' of yours the hundred pounds has become 200. Now, then, do I get that 200 pounds or not?"
The man on the couch opened his mouth and closed it again.
"I'll give you the hundred pounds to get rid of you," he muttered.. "It's only a hundred pounds which she gave me."
"Pity you're a few seconds too late," Mr. Laxworthy remarked. "Two hundred pounds, if you please. You have ten seconds or thereabouts before it becomes three."
"I'll pay!" Wardley cried. "Oh, I'll pay!"
He staggered up to his feet and crossed the room—an untidy, miserable looking object. He sat down at his desk, drew out a check book from a drawer which he unlocked and wrote out a check with trembling fingers. Mr. Laxworthy received it and studied it carefully.
"Quite correct," he said pleasantly; "200 pounds. You see, I trust you implicitly, Mr. Wardley. I have no anxiety whatever. I do not ask you to send for the money. I content myself with knowing that if anything should happen to this check the amount will be 400."
"The check's all right," Wardley declared savagely. "Now you've got it, what else do you want?"
"I want nothing," Mr. Laxworthy assured him. "I am going, in fact, to relieve you at once of my presence. To tell you the truth, although my errand to you has been successful, as I knew it would be, I have not enjoyed my visit in the least.
"I think you are one of the most objectionable persons whom I ever met in my life, and I have not the patience to talk with a man who is such a coward that he has to skulk behind the shoulder of a police sergeant because he has enemies. I hope, Mr. Wardley, that we shall not meet again," Mr. Laxworthy added, with his hand upon the door, "unless at any time I have the pleasure of seeing you in the clearer atmosphere and more bracing surroundings of the Old Bailey."
Mr. Laxworthy called at the bank and cashed his check. Afterward he spent a few hours at his club, where he played auction with much skill and some pecuniary benefit. Afterward, following his accustomed routine, he returned to the Milan Court, took a bath and dressed for dinner.
At 8 o'clock precisely he entered his sitting-room. Miss Garesworthy, in a remarkably pretty evening dress of a deep shade of blue, was sitting before the table making some adjustments to a typewriter.
"Is the color all right?" she asked, as he entered.
"Exactly the shade," Mr. Laxworthy assented.
"I spent lots of money," she went on, and I have bought a typewriter."
"I have seen Richard Wardley and collected a little interest," Mr. Laxworthy announced grimly.
He handed her the further hundred pounds. She shook her head.
"Take it, my dear young lady, I beg," Mr. Laxworthy insisted. "To tell you the truth. I am proud of that hundred pounds. So far as I can remember, it is the first money I ever really stole. If you are quite ready, suppose we dine. It is nearly two minutes past eight, and I am accustomed to regularity with my meals."
At 9 o'clock that evening Richard Wardley was discovered lying in a corner of his room with a bullet wound through his heart. Mr. Laxworthy received the news by telephone from Scotland Yard, together with an intimation that as the last person who had seen he deceased alive, with the exception of the police sergeant who watched over him, he would probably be called as a witness at the inquest.
Later in the evening, however, Proudson was admitted to a London hospital with only a few hours to live and cheerfully signed a confession of the crime.
This was his explanation:
I killed Richard Wardley because he was one of the basest and lowest creatures who ever crawled upon the face of the earth—an informer, a thief, a bestial creature, living without regard [for any one but himself].
Knowing myself to be dying, I feel that I leave this world the easier for having rid it of such a person, and while I confess myself guilty of having forced my way into his rooms to-night and shot him through the heart, I neither repent nor regret that act. Before I lay down this pen for the last time I wish to add that the London and South Westminster Bank robbery was Wardley's affair and Colshaw's and theirs only. There was no other person concerned in it, and Wardley's statements to the contrary are lies.
Signed by JOHN PROUDSON
Mr. Laxworthy sat for long over his breakfast the following morning. reading this confession and a fuller account of the crime. Every now and then he glanced at his watch. At exactly ten o'clock Miss Garesworthy arrived.
"Am I too soon?" she asked, drawing off her gloves and looking at his breakfast fast tray.
"Not at all," he replied, "Ten o'clock was the hour. Have you been out already?"
"I went out to buy all the papers I wanted to read the news. I wanted to know if anything had been mentioned about Dan."
"This fellow Proudson tried to do you a good turn, anyhow," Mr. Laxworthy remarked.
"They win never find Dan," she declared confidently. "There is no one in the world has such gifts as he."
Mr. Laxworthy poured himself out a little more tea.
"I don't see any use in having a secretary," he grumbled, "who can't be here in time to make your tea."
"You told me 10 o'clock," she reminded him.
"Then make it half-past nine to-morrow morning," he replied, "and take your coffee with me, I suppose you breakfasted, by the bye?"
"Long ago," she assured him. "How about our morning's work?"
Mr. Laxworthy took off his spectacles, and rubbed them industriously.
"Ah!" he repeated; "our morning's work!"
"It would be a good plan, I imagine, to start with answering your letters," she suggested briskly.
Mr. Laxworthy glanced down at the the table. The only communication which he had received that morning was an invitation to patronize a [new] Strand tailor.
"To tell the truth," he confessed slowly. "I don't seem to be getting very much correspondence just now."
"Then what is there for me to do?" she demanded.
Mr. Laxworthy sighed.
"There is no help for it," he said, "You must marry me."
She looked at him. with her notebook in one hand and her pencil in the other.
"Don't be absurd!" she murmured.
"There is nothing absurd about it all," Mr. Laxworthy retorted brusquely. "I required your services as a companion—I preferred to put it as a secretary. I haven't any work for you. The only thing I can see to do is to marry you. Then, I suppose, you won't want company."
Her eyes filled with laughter.
"Really," she said, "I had no idea what was coming. I hadn't contemplated anything of the sort—and yet it is terribly difficult to refuse so ardent a suitor!"
"Is that a hint?! Mr. Laxworthy asked.
She looked at him from across the table.
"It had just occurred to me that you might take it in that way," she admitted.
Mr. Laxworthy held out his hand.
"At my time of life too," he sighed "Never mind: I ought to find you [use]ful."
"I shouldn't be surprised," she whispered. "You know I too am rather fond of adventures."
Mr. Laxworthy pushed the table to one side.
"We'll start one of our own, Paula," he declared.
This site is full of FREE ebooks - Project Gutenberg Australia