CHAPTER XV. TUPPENCE RECEIVES A PROPOSAL
JULIUS sprang up.
“I thought you were aware of that.”
“When did she leave?”
“Let me see. To-day is Monday, is it not? It must have been last Wednesday—why, surely—yes, it was the same evening that you—er—fell out of my tree.”
“That evening? Before, or after?”
“Let me see—oh yes, afterwards. A very urgent message arrived from Mrs. Vandemeyer. The young lady and the nurse who was in charge of her left by the night train.”
Julius sank back again into his chair.
“Nurse Edith—left with a patient—I remember,” he muttered. “My God, to have been so near!”
Dr. Hall looked bewildered.
“I don’t understand. Is the young lady not with her aunt, after all?”
Tuppence shook her head. She was about to speak when a warning glance from Sir James made her hold her tongue. The lawyer rose.
“I’m much obliged to you, Hall. We’re very grateful for all you’ve told us. I’m afraid we’re now in the position of having to track Miss Vandemeyer anew. What about the nurse who accompanied her; I suppose you don’t know where she is?”
The doctor shook his head.
“We’ve not heard from her, as it happens. I understood she was to remain with Miss Vandemeyer for a while. But what can have happened? Surely the girl has not been kidnapped.”
“That remains to be seen,” said Sir James gravely.
The other hesitated.
“You do not think I ought to go to the police?”
“No, no. In all probability the young lady is with other relations.”
The doctor was not completely satisfied, but he saw that Sir James was determined to say no more, and realized that to try and extract more information from the famous K.C. would be mere waste of labour. Accordingly, he wished them goodbye, and they left the hotel. For a few minutes they stood by the car talking.
“How maddening,” cried Tuppence. “To think that Julius must have been actually under the same roof with her for a few hours.”
“I was a darned idiot,” muttered Julius gloomily.
“You couldn’t know,” Tuppence consoled him. “Could he?” She appealed to Sir James.
“I should advise you not to worry,” said the latter kindly. “No use crying over spilt milk, you know.”
“The great thing is what to do next,” added Tuppence the practical.
Sir James shrugged his shoulders.
“You might advertise for the nurse who accompanied the girl. That is the only course I can suggest, and I must confess I do not hope for much result. Otherwise there is nothing to be done.”
“Nothing?” said Tuppence blankly. “And—Tommy?”
“We must hope for the best,” said Sir James. “Oh yes, we must go on hoping.”
But over her downcast head his eyes met Julius’s, and almost imperceptibly he shook his head. Julius understood. The lawyer considered the case hopeless. The young American’s face grew grave. Sir James took Tuppence’s hand.
“You must let me know if anything further comes to light. Letters will always be forwarded.”
Tuppence stared at him blankly.
“You are going away?”
“I told you. Don’t you remember? To Scotland.”
“Yes, but I thought——” The girl hesitated.
Sir James shrugged his shoulders.
“My dear young lady, I can do nothing more, I fear. Our clues have all ended in thin air. You can take my word for it that there is nothing more to be done. If anything should arise, I shall be glad to advise you in any way I can.”
His words gave Tuppence an extraordinarily desolate feeling.
“I suppose you’re right,” she said. “Anyway, thank you very much for trying to help us. Good-bye.”
Julius was bending over the car. A momentary pity came into Sir James’s keen eyes, as he gazed into the girl’s downcast face.
“Don’t be too disconsolate, Miss Tuppence,” he said in a low voice. “Remember, holiday-time isn’t always all playtime. One sometimes manages to put in some work as well.”
Something in his tone made Tuppence glance up sharply. He shook his head with a smile.
“No, I shan’t say any more. Great mistake to say too much. Remember that. Never tell all you know—not even to the person you know best. Understand? Good-bye.”
He strode away. Tuppence stared after him. She was beginning to understand Sir James’s methods. Once before he had thrown her a hint in the same careless fashion. Was this a hint? What exactly lay behind those last brief words? Did he mean that, after all, he had not abandoned the case; that, secretly, he would be working on it still while——
Her meditations were interrupted by Julius, who adjured her to “get right in.”
“You’re looking kind of thoughtful,” he remarked as they started off. “Did the old guy say anything more?”
Tuppence opened her mouth impulsively, and then shut it again. Sir James’s words sounded in her ears: “Never tell all you know—not even to the person you know best.” And like a flash there came into her mind another memory. Julius before the safe in the flat, her own question and the pause before his reply, “Nothing.” Was there really nothing? Or had he found something he wished to keep to himself? If he could make a reservation, so could she.
“Nothing particular,” she replied.
She felt rather than saw Julius throw a sideways glance at her.
“Say, shall we go for a spin in the park?”
“If you like.”
For a while they ran on under the trees in silence. It was a beautiful day. The keen rush through the air brought a new exhilaration to Tuppence.
“Say, Miss Tuppence, do you think I’m ever going to find Jane?”
Julius spoke in a discouraged voice. The mood was so alien to him that Tuppence turned and stared at him in surprise. He nodded.
“That’s so. I’m getting down and out over the business. Sir James to-day hadn’t got any hope at all, I could see that. I don’t like him—we don’t gee together somehow—but he’s pretty cute, and I guess he wouldn’t quit if there was any chance of success—now, would he?”
Tuppence felt rather uncomfortable, but clinging to her belief that Julius also had withheld something from her, she remained firm.
“He suggested advertising for the nurse,” she reminded him.
“Yes, with a ‘forlorn hope’ flavour to his voice! No—I’m about fed up. I’ve half a mind to go back to the States right away.”
“Oh no!” cried Tuppence. “We’ve got to find Tommy.”
“I sure forgot Beresford,” said Julius contritely. “That’s so. We must find him. But after—well, I’ve been day-dreaming ever since I started on this trip—and these dreams are rotten poor business. I’m quit of them. Say, Miss Tuppence, there’s something I’d like to ask you.”
“You and Beresford. What about it?”
“I don’t understand you,” replied Tuppence with dignity, adding rather inconsequently: “And, anyway, you’re wrong!”
“Not got a sort of kindly feeling for one another?”
“Certainly not,” said Tuppence with warmth. “Tommy and I are friends—nothing more.”
“I guess every pair of lovers has said that sometime or another,” observed Julius.
“Nonsense!” snapped Tuppence. “Do I look the sort of girl that’s always falling in love with every man she meets?”
“You do not. You look the sort of girl that’s mighty often getting fallen in love with!”
“Oh!” said Tuppence, rather taken aback. “That’s a compliment, I suppose?”
“Sure. Now let’s get down to this. Supposing we never find Beresford and—and——”
“All right—say it! I can face facts. Supposing he’s—dead! Well?”
“And all this business fiddles out. What are you going to do?”
“I don’t know,” said Tuppence forlornly.
“You’ll be darned lonesome, you poor kid.”
“I shall be all right,” snapped Tuppence with her usual resentment of any kind of pity.
“What about marriage?” inquired Julius. “Got any views on the subject?”
“I intend to marry, of course,” replied Tuppence. “That is, if”—she paused, knew a momentary longing to draw back, and then stuck to her guns bravely—”I can find some one rich enough to make it worth my while. That’s frank, isn’t it? I dare say you despise me for it.”
“I never despise business instinct,” said Julius. “What particular figure have you in mind?”
“Figure?” asked Tuppence, puzzled. “Do you mean tall or short?”
“Oh, I—I haven’t quite worked that out.”
“What about me?”
“Oh, I couldn’t!”
“I tell you I couldn’t.”
“Again, why not?”
“It would seem so unfair.”
“I don’t see anything unfair about it. I call your bluff, that’s all. I admire you immensely, Miss Tuppence, more than any girl I’ve ever met. You’re so darned plucky. I’d just love to give you a real, rattling good time. Say the word, and we’ll run round right away to some high-class jeweller, and fix up the ring business.”
“I can’t,” gasped Tuppence.
“Because of Beresford?”
“No, no, NO!”
Tuppence merely continued to shake her head violently.
“You can’t reasonably expect more dollars than I’ve got.”
“Oh, it isn’t that,” gasped Tuppence with an almost hysterical laugh. “But thanking you very much, and all that, I think I’d better say no.”
“I’d be obliged if you’d do me the favour to think it over until to-morrow.”
“It’s no use.”
“Still, I guess we’ll leave it like that.”
“Very well,” said Tuppence meekly.
Neither of them spoke again until they reached the Ritz.
Tuppence went upstairs to her room. She felt morally battered to the ground after her conflict with Julius’s vigorous personality. Sitting down in front of the glass, she stared at her own reflection for some minutes.
“Fool,” murmured Tuppence at length, making a grimace. “Little fool. Everything you want—everything you’ve ever hoped for, and you go and bleat out ‘no’ like an idiotic little sheep. It’s your one chance. Why don’t you take it? Grab it? Snatch at it? What more do you want?”
As if in answer to her own question, her eyes fell on a small snapshot of Tommy that stood on her dressing-table in a shabby frame. For a moment she struggled for self-control, and then abandoning all presence, she held it to her lips and burst into a fit of sobbing.
“Oh, Tommy, Tommy,” she cried, “I do love you so—and I may never see you again….”
At the end of five minutes Tuppence sat up, blew her nose, and pushed back her hair.
“That’s that,” she observed sternly. “Let’s look facts in the face. I seem to have fallen in love—with an idiot of a boy who probably doesn’t care two straws about me.” Here she paused. “Anyway,” she resumed, as though arguing with an unseen opponent, “I don’t KNOW that he does. He’d never have dared to say so. I’ve always jumped on sentiment—and here I am being more sentimental than anybody. What idiots girls are! I’ve always thought so. I suppose I shall sleep with his photograph under my pillow, and dream about him all night. It’s dreadful to feel you’ve been false to your principles.”
Tuppence shook her head sadly, as she reviewed her backsliding.
“I don’t know what to say to Julius, I’m sure. Oh, what a fool I feel! I’ll have to say SOMETHING—he’s so American and thorough, he’ll insist upon having a reason. I wonder if he did find anything in that safe——”
Tuppence’s meditations went off on another tack. She reviewed the events of last night carefully and persistently. Somehow, they seemed bound up with Sir James’s enigmatical words….
Suddenly she gave a great start—the colour faded out of her face. Her eyes, fascinated, gazed in front of her, the pupils dilated.
“Impossible,” she murmured. “Impossible! I must be going mad even to think of such a thing….”
Monstrous—yet it explained everything….
After a moment’s reflection she sat down and wrote a note, weighing each word as she did so. Finally she nodded her head as though satisfied, and slipped it into an envelope which she addressed to Julius. She went down the passage to his sitting-room and knocked at the door. As she had expected, the room was empty. She left the note on the table.
A small page-boy was waiting outside her own door when she returned to it.
“Telegram for you, miss.”
Tuppence took it from the salver, and tore it open carelessly. Then she gave a cry. The telegram was from Tommy!
CHAPTER XVI. FURTHER ADVENTURES OF TOMMY
FROM a darkness punctuated with throbbing stabs of fire, Tommy dragged his senses slowly back to life. When he at last opened his eyes, he was conscious of nothing but an excruciating pain through his temples. He was vaguely aware of unfamiliar surroundings. Where was he? What had happened? He blinked feebly. This was not his bedroom at the Ritz. And what the devil was the matter with his head?
“Damn!” said Tommy, and tried to sit up. He had remembered. He was in that sinister house in Soho. He uttered a groan and fell back. Through his almost-closed lids he reconnoitred carefully.
“He is coming to,” remarked a voice very near Tommy’s ear. He recognized it at once for that of the bearded and efficient German, and lay artistically inert. He felt that it would be a pity to come round too soon; and until the pain in his head became a little less acute, he felt quite incapable of collecting his wits. Painfully he tried to puzzle out what had happened. Obviously somebody must have crept up behind him as he listened and struck him down with a blow on the head. They knew him now for a spy, and would in all probability give him short shrift. Undoubtedly he was in a tight place. Nobody knew where he was, therefore he need expect no outside assistance, and must depend solely on his own wits.
“Well, here goes,” murmured Tommy to himself, and repeated his former remark.
“Damn!” he observed, and this time succeeded in sitting up.
In a minute the German stepped forward and placed a glass to his lips, with the brief command “Drink.” Tommy obeyed. The potency of the draught made him choke, but it cleared his brain in a marvellous manner.
He was lying on a couch in the room in which the meeting had been held. On one side of him was the German, on the other the villainous-faced doorkeeper who had let him in. The others were grouped together at a little distance away. But Tommy missed one face. The man known as Number One was no longer of the company.
“Feel better?” asked the German, as he removed the empty glass.
“Yes, thanks,” returned Tommy cheerfully.
“Ah, my young friend, it is lucky for you your skull is so thick. The good Conrad struck hard.” He indicated the evil-faced doorkeeper by a nod. The man grinned.
Tommy twisted his head round with an effort.
“Oh,” he said, “so you’re Conrad, are you? It strikes me the thickness of my skull was lucky for you too. When I look at you I feel it’s almost a pity I’ve enabled you to cheat the hangman.”
The man snarled, and the bearded man said quietly:
“He would have run no risk of that.”
“Just as you like,” replied Tommy. “I know it’s the fashion to run down the police. I rather believe in them myself.”
His manner was nonchalant to the last degree. Tommy Beresford was one of those young Englishmen not distinguished by any special intellectual ability, but who are emphatically at their best in what is known as a “tight place.” Their natural diffidence and caution fall from them like a glove. Tommy realized perfectly that in his own wits lay the only chance of escape, and behind his casual manner he was racking his brains furiously.
The cold accents of the German took up the conversation:
“Have you anything to say before you are put to death as a spy?”
“Simply lots of things,” replied Tommy with the same urbanity as before.
“Do you deny that you were listening at that door?”
“I do not. I must really apologize—but your conversation was so interesting that it overcame my scruples.”
“How did you get in?”
“Dear old Conrad here.” Tommy smiled deprecatingly at him. “I hesitate to suggest pensioning off a faithful servant, but you really ought to have a better watchdog.”
Conrad snarled impotently, and said sullenly, as the man with the beard swung round upon him:
“He gave the word. How was I to know?”
“Yes,” Tommy chimed in. “How was he to know? Don’t blame the poor fellow. His hasty action has given me the pleasure of seeing you all face to face.”
He fancied that his words caused some discomposure among the group, but the watchful German stilled it with a wave of his hand.
“Dead men tell no tales,” he said evenly.
“Ah,” said Tommy, “but I’m not dead yet!”
“You soon will be, my young friend,” said the German.
An assenting murmur came from the others.
Tommy’s heart beat faster, but his casual pleasantness did not waver.
“I think not,” he said firmly. “I should have a great objection to dying.”
He had got them puzzled, he saw that by the look on his captor’s face.
“Can you give us any reason why we should not put you to death?” asked the German.
“Several,” replied Tommy. “Look here, you’ve been asking me a lot of questions. Let me ask you one for a change. Why didn’t you kill me off at once before I regained consciousness?”
The German hesitated, and Tommy seized his advantage.
“Because you didn’t know how much I knew—and where I obtained that knowledge. If you kill me now, you never will know.”
But here the emotions of Boris became too much for him. He stepped forward waving his arms.
“You hell-hound of a spy,” he screamed. “We will give you short shrift. Kill him! Kill him!”
There was a roar of applause.
“You hear?” said the German, his eyes on Tommy. “What have you to say to that?”
“Say?” Tommy shrugged his shoulders. “Pack of fools. Let them ask themselves a few questions. How did I get into this place? Remember what dear old Conrad said—WITH YOUR OWN PASSWORD, wasn’t it? How did I get hold of that? You don’t suppose I came up those steps haphazard and said the first thing that came into my head?”
Tommy was pleased with the concluding words of this speech. His only regret was that Tuppence was not present to appreciate its full flavour.
“That is true,” said the working man suddenly. “Comrades, we have been betrayed!”
An ugly murmur arose. Tommy smiled at them encouragingly.
“That’s better. How can you hope to make a success of any job if you don’t use your brains?”
“You will tell us who has betrayed us,” said the German. “But that shall not save you—oh, no! You shall tell us all that you know. Boris, here, knows pretty ways of making people speak!”
“Bah!” said Tommy scornfully, fighting down a singularly unpleasant feeling in the pit of his stomach. “You will neither torture me nor kill me.”
“And why not?” asked Boris.
“Because you’d kill the goose that lays the golden eggs,” replied Tommy quietly.
There was a momentary pause. It seemed as though Tommy’s persistent assurance was at last conquering. They were no longer completely sure of themselves. The man in the shabby clothes stared at Tommy searchingly.
“He’s bluffing you, Boris,” he said quietly.
Tommy hated him. Had the man seen through him?
The German, with an effort, turned roughly to Tommy.
“What do you mean?”
“What do you think I mean?” parried Tommy, searching desperately in his own mind.
Suddenly Boris stepped forward, and shook his fist in Tommy’s face.
“Speak, you swine of an Englishman—speak!”
“Don’t get so excited, my good fellow,” said Tommy calmly. “That’s the worst of you foreigners. You can’t keep calm. Now, I ask you, do I look as though I thought there were the least chance of your killing me?”
He looked confidently round, and was glad they could not hear the persistent beating of his heart which gave the lie to his words.
“No,” admitted Boris at last sullenly, “you do not.”
“Thank God, he’s not a mind reader,” thought Tommy. Aloud he pursued his advantage:
“And why am I so confident? Because I know something that puts me in a position to propose a bargain.”
“A bargain?” The bearded man took him up sharply.
“Yes—a bargain. My life and liberty against——” He paused.
The group pressed forward. You could have heard a pin drop.
Slowly Tommy spoke.
“The papers that Danvers brought over from America in the Lusitania.”
The effect of his words was electrical. Every one was on his feet. The German waved them back. He leaned over Tommy, his face purple with excitement.
“Himmel! You have got them, then?”
With magnificent calm Tommy shook his head.
“You know where they are?” persisted the German.
Again Tommy shook his head. “Not in the least.”
“Then—then——” angry and baffled, the words failed him.
Tommy looked round. He saw anger and bewilderment on every face, but his calm assurance had done its work—no one doubted but that something lay behind his words.
“I don’t know where the papers are—but I believe that I can find them. I have a theory——”
Tommy raised his hand, and silenced the clamours of disgust.
“I call it a theory—but I’m pretty sure of my facts—facts that are known to no one but myself. In any case what do you lose? If I can produce the papers—you give me my life and liberty in exchange. Is it a bargain?”
“And if we refuse?” said the German quietly.
Tommy lay back on the couch.
“The 29th,” he said thoughtfully, “is less than a fortnight ahead——”
For a moment the German hesitated. Then he made a sign to Conrad.
“Take him into the other room.”
For five minutes, Tommy sat on the bed in the dingy room next door. His heart was beating violently. He had risked all on this throw. How would they decide? And all the while that this agonized questioning went on within him, he talked flippantly to Conrad, enraging the cross-grained doorkeeper to the point of homicidal mania.
At last the door opened, and the German called imperiously to Conrad to return.
“Let’s hope the judge hasn’t put his black cap on,” remarked Tommy frivolously. “That’s right, Conrad, march me in. The prisoner is at the bar, gentlemen.”
The German was seated once more behind the table. He motioned to Tommy to sit down opposite to him.
“We accept,” he said harshly, “on terms. The papers must be delivered to us before you go free.”
“Idiot!” said Tommy amiably. “How do you think I can look for them if you keep me tied by the leg here?”
“What do you expect, then?”
“I must have liberty to go about the business in my own way.”
The German laughed.
“Do you think we are little children to let you walk out of here leaving us a pretty story full of promises?”
“No,” said Tommy thoughtfully. “Though infinitely simpler for me, I did not really think you would agree to that plan. Very well, we must arrange a compromise. How would it be if you attached little Conrad here to my person. He’s a faithful fellow, and very ready with the fist.”
“We prefer,” said the German coldly, “that you should remain here. One of our number will carry out your instructions minutely. If the operations are complicated, he will return to you with a report and you can instruct him further.”
“You’re tying my hands,” complained Tommy. “It’s a very delicate affair, and the other fellow will muff it up as likely as not, and then where shall I be? I don’t believe one of you has got an ounce of tact.”
The German rapped the table.
“Those are our terms. Otherwise, death!”
Tommy leaned back wearily.
“I like your style. Curt, but attractive. So be it, then. But one thing is essential, I must see the girl.”
“Jane Finn, of course.”
The other looked at him curiously for some minutes, then he said slowly, and as though choosing his words with care:
“Do you not know that she can tell you nothing?”
Tommy’s heart beat a little faster. Would he succeed in coming face to face with the girl he was seeking?
“I shall not ask her to tell me anything,” he said quietly. “Not in so many words, that is.”
“Then why see her?”
“To watch her face when I ask her one question,” he replied at last.
Again there was a look in the German’s eyes that Tommy did not quite understand.
“She will not be able to answer your question.”
“That does not matter. I shall have seen her face when I ask it.”
“And you think that will tell you anything?” He gave a short disagreeable laugh. More than ever, Tommy felt that there was a factor somewhere that he did not understand. The German looked at him searchingly. “I wonder whether, after all, you know as much as we think?” he said softly.
Tommy felt his ascendancy less sure than a moment before. His hold had slipped a little. But he was puzzled. What had he said wrong? He spoke out on the impulse of the moment.
“There may be things that you know which I do not. I have not pretended to be aware of all the details of your show. But equally I’ve got something up my sleeve that you don’t know about. And that’s where I mean to score. Danvers was a damned clever fellow——” He broke off as if he had said too much.
But the German’s face had lightened a little.
“Danvers,” he murmured. “I see——” He paused a minute, then waved to Conrad. “Take him away. Upstairs—you know.”
“Wait a minute,” said Tommy. “What about the girl?”
“That may perhaps be arranged.”
“It must be.”
“We will see about it. Only one person can decide that.”
“Who?” asked Tommy. But he knew the answer.
“Shall I see him?”
“Come,” said Conrad harshly.
Tommy rose obediently. Outside the door his gaoler motioned to him to mount the stairs. He himself followed close behind. On the floor above Conrad opened a door and Tommy passed into a small room. Conrad lit a hissing gas burner and went out. Tommy heard the sound of the key being turned in the lock.
He set to work to examine his prison. It was a smaller room than the one downstairs, and there was something peculiarly airless about the atmosphere of it. Then he realized that there was no window. He walked round it. The walls were filthily dirty, as everywhere else. Four pictures hung crookedly on the wall representing scenes from Faust. Marguerite with her box of jewels, the church scene, Siebel and his flowers, and Faust and Mephistopheles. The latter brought Tommy’s mind back to Mr. Brown again. In this sealed and closed chamber, with its close-fitting heavy door, he felt cut off from the world, and the sinister power of the arch-criminal seemed more real. Shout as he would, no one could ever hear him. The place was a living tomb….
With an effort Tommy pulled himself together. He sank on to the bed and gave himself up to reflection. His head ached badly; also, he was hungry. The silence of the place was dispiriting.
“Anyway,” said Tommy, trying to cheer himself, “I shall see the chief—the mysterious Mr. Brown and with a bit of luck in bluffing I shall see the mysterious Jane Finn also. After that——”
After that Tommy was forced to admit the prospect looked dreary.
CHAPTER XVII. ANNETTE
THE troubles of the future, however, soon faded before the troubles of the present. And of these, the most immediate and pressing was that of hunger. Tommy had a healthy and vigorous appetite. The steak and chips partaken of for lunch seemed now to belong to another decade. He regretfully recognized the fact that he would not make a success of a hunger strike.
He prowled aimlessly about his prison. Once or twice he discarded dignity, and pounded on the door. But nobody answered the summons.
“Hang it all!” said Tommy indignantly. “They can’t mean to starve me to death.” A new-born fear passed through his mind that this might, perhaps, be one of those “pretty ways” of making a prisoner speak, which had been attributed to Boris. But on reflection he dismissed the idea.
“It’s that sour-faced brute Conrad,” he decided. “That’s a fellow I shall enjoy getting even with one of these days. This is just a bit of spite on his part. I’m certain of it.”
Further meditations induced in him the feeling that it would be extremely pleasant to bring something down with a whack on Conrad’s egg-shaped head. Tommy stroked his own head tenderly, and gave himself up to the pleasures of imagination. Finally a bright idea flashed across his brain. Why not convert imagination into reality? Conrad was undoubtedly the tenant of the house. The others, with the possible exception of the bearded German, merely used it as a rendezvous. Therefore, why not wait in ambush for Conrad behind the door, and when he entered bring down a chair, or one of the decrepit pictures, smartly on to his head. One would, of course, be careful not to hit too hard. And then—and then, simply walk out! If he met anyone on the way down, well——Tommy brightened at the thought of an encounter with his fists. Such an affair was infinitely more in his line than the verbal encounter of this afternoon. Intoxicated by his plan, Tommy gently unhooked the picture of the Devil and Faust, and settled himself in position. His hopes were high. The plan seemed to him simple but excellent.
Time went on, but Conrad did not appear. Night and day were the same in this prison room, but Tommy’s wrist-watch, which enjoyed a certain degree of accuracy, informed him that it was nine o’clock in the evening. Tommy reflected gloomily that if supper did not arrive soon it would be a question of waiting for breakfast. At ten o’clock hope deserted him, and he flung himself on the bed to seek consolation in sleep. In five minutes his woes were forgotten.
The sound of the key turning in the lock awoke him from his slumbers. Not belonging to the type of hero who is famous for awaking in full possession of his faculties, Tommy merely blinked at the ceiling and wondered vaguely where he was. Then he remembered, and looked at his watch. It was eight o’clock.
“It’s either early morning tea or breakfast,” deduced the young man, “and pray God it’s the latter!”
The door swung open. Too late, Tommy remembered his scheme of obliterating the unprepossessing Conrad. A moment later he was glad that he had, for it was not Conrad who entered, but a girl. She carried a tray which she set down on the table.
In the feeble light of the gas burner Tommy blinked at her. He decided at once that she was one of the most beautiful girls he had ever seen. Her hair was a full rich brown, with sudden glints of gold in it as though there were imprisoned sunbeams struggling in its depths. There was a wild-rose quality about her face. Her eyes, set wide apart, were hazel, a golden hazel that again recalled a memory of sunbeams.
A delirious thought shot through Tommy’s mind.
“Are you Jane Finn?” he asked breathlessly.
The girl shook her head wonderingly.
“My name is Annette, monsieur.”
She spoke in a soft, broken English.
“Oh!” said Tommy, rather taken aback. “Francaise?” he hazarded.
“Oui, monsieur. Monsieur parle francais?”
“Not for any length of time,” said Tommy. “What’s that? Breakfast?”
The girl nodded. Tommy dropped off the bed and came and inspected the contents of the tray. It consisted of a loaf, some margarine, and a jug of coffee.
“The living is not equal to the Ritz,” he observed with a sigh. “But for what we are at last about to receive the Lord has made me truly thankful. Amen.”
He drew up a chair, and the girl turned away to the door.
“Wait a sec,” cried Tommy. “There are lots of things I want to ask you, Annette. What are you doing in this house? Don’t tell me you’re Conrad’s niece, or daughter, or anything, because I can’t believe it.”
“I do the SERVICE, monsieur. I am not related to anybody.”
“I see,” said Tommy. “You know what I asked you just now. Have you ever heard that name?”
“I have heard people speak of Jane Finn, I think.”
“You don’t know where she is?”
Annette shook her head.
“She’s not in this house, for instance?”
“Oh no, monsieur. I must go now—they will be waiting for me.”
She hurried out. The key turned in the lock.
“I wonder who ‘they’ are,” mused Tommy, as he continued to make inroads on the loaf. “With a bit of luck, that girl might help me to get out of here. She doesn’t look like one of the gang.”
At one o’clock Annette reappeared with another tray, but this time Conrad accompanied her.
“Good morning,” said Tommy amiably. “You have NOT used Pear’s soap, I see.”
Conrad growled threateningly.
“No light repartee, have you, old bean? There, there, we can’t always have brains as well as beauty. What have we for lunch? Stew? How did I know? Elementary, my dear Watson—the smell of onions is unmistakable.”
“Talk away,” grunted the man. “It’s little enough time you’ll have to talk in, maybe.”
The remark was unpleasant in its suggestion, but Tommy ignored it. He sat down at the table.
“Retire, varlet,” he said, with a wave of his hand. “Prate not to thy betters.”
That evening Tommy sat on the bed, and cogitated deeply. Would Conrad again accompany the girl? If he did not, should he risk trying to make an ally of her? He decided that he must leave no stone unturned. His position was desperate.
At eight o’clock the familiar sound of the key turning made him spring to his feet. The girl was alone.
“Shut the door,” he commanded. “I want to speak to you.” She obeyed.
“Look here, Annette, I want you to help me get out of this.” She shook her head.
“Impossible. There are three of them on the floor below.”
“Oh!” Tommy was secretly grateful for the information. “But you would help me if you could?”
The girl hesitated.
“I think—they are my own people. You have spied upon them. They are quite right to keep you here.”
“They’re a bad lot, Annette. If you’ll help me, I’ll take you away from the lot of them. And you’d probably get a good whack of money.”
But the girl merely shook her head.
“I dare not, monsieur; I am afraid of them.”
She turned away.
“Wouldn’t you do anything to help another girl?” cried Tommy. “She’s about your age too. Won’t you save her from their clutches?”
“You mean Jane Finn?”
“It is her you came here to look for? Yes?”
The girl looked at him, then passed her hand across her forehead.
“Jane Finn. Always I hear that name. It is familiar.”
Tommy came forward eagerly.
“You must know SOMETHING about her?”
But the girl turned away abruptly.
“I know nothing—only the name.” She walked towards the door. Suddenly she uttered a cry. Tommy stared. She had caught sight of the picture he had laid against the wall the night before. For a moment he caught a look of terror in her eyes. As inexplicably it changed to relief. Then abruptly she went out of the room. Tommy could make nothing of it. Did she fancy that he had meant to attack her with it? Surely not. He rehung the picture on the wall thoughtfully.
Three more days went by in dreary inaction. Tommy felt the strain telling on his nerves. He saw no one but Conrad and Annette, and the girl had become dumb. She spoke only in monosyllables. A kind of dark suspicion smouldered in her eyes. Tommy felt that if this solitary confinement went on much longer he would go mad. He gathered from Conrad that they were waiting for orders from “Mr. Brown.” Perhaps, thought Tommy, he was abroad or away, and they were obliged to wait for his return.
But the evening of the third day brought a rude awakening.
It was barely seven o’clock when he heard the tramp of footsteps outside in the passage. In another minute the door was flung open. Conrad entered. With him was the evil-looking Number 14. Tommy’s heart sank at the sight of them.
“Evenin’, gov’nor,” said the man with a leer. “Got those ropes, mate?”
The silent Conrad produced a length of fine cord. The next minute Number 14’s hands, horribly dexterous, were winding the cord round his limbs, while Conrad held him down.
“What the devil——?” began Tommy.
But the slow, speechless grin of the silent Conrad froze the words on his lips.
Number 14 proceeded deftly with his task. In another minute Tommy was a mere helpless bundle. Then at last Conrad spoke:
“Thought you’d bluffed us, did you? With what you knew, and what you didn’t know. Bargained with us! And all the time it was bluff! Bluff! You know less than a kitten. But your number’s up now all right, you b—— swine.”
Tommy lay silent. There was nothing to say. He had failed. Somehow or other the omnipotent Mr. Brown had seen through his pretensions. Suddenly a thought occurred to him.
“A very good speech, Conrad,” he said approvingly. “But wherefore the bonds and fetters? Why not let this kind gentleman here cut my throat without delay?”
“Garn,” said Number 14 unexpectedly. “Think we’re as green as to do you in here, and have the police nosing round? Not ‘alf! We’ve ordered the carriage for your lordship to-morrow mornin’, but in the meantime we’re not taking any chances, see!”
“Nothing,” said Tommy, “could be plainer than your words—unless it was your face.”
“Stow it,” said Number 14.
“With pleasure,” replied Tommy. “You’re making a sad mistake—but yours will be the loss.”
“You don’t kid us that way again,” said Number 14. “Talking as though you were still at the blooming Ritz, aren’t you?”
Tommy made no reply. He was engaged in wondering how Mr. Brown had discovered his identity. He decided that Tuppence, in the throes of anxiety, had gone to the police, and that his disappearance having been made public the gang had not been slow to put two and two together.
The two men departed and the door slammed. Tommy was left to his meditations. They were not pleasant ones. Already his limbs felt cramped and stiff. He was utterly helpless, and he could see no hope anywhere.
About an hour had passed when he heard the key softly turned, and the door opened. It was Annette. Tommy’s heart beat a little faster. He had forgotten the girl. Was it possible that she had come to his help?
Suddenly he heard Conrad’s voice:
“Come out of it, Annette. He doesn’t want any supper to-night.”
“Oui, oui, je sais bien. But I must take the other tray. We need the things on it.”
“Well, hurry up,” growled Conrad.
Without looking at Tommy the girl went over to the table, and picked up the tray. She raised a hand and turned out the light.
“Curse you”—Conrad had come to the door—”why did you do that?”
“I always turn it out. You should have told me. Shall I relight it, Monsieur Conrad?”
“No, come on out of it.”
“Le beau petit monsieur,” cried Annette, pausing by the bed in the darkness. “You have tied him up well, hein? He is like a trussed chicken!” The frank amusement in her tone jarred on the boy; but at that moment, to his amazement, he felt her hand running lightly over his bonds, and something small and cold was pressed into the palm of his hand.
“Come on, Annette.”
“Mais me voila.”
The door shut. Tommy heard Conrad say:
“Lock it and give me the key.”
The footsteps died away. Tommy lay petrified with amazement. The object Annette had thrust into his hand was a small penknife, the blade open. From the way she had studiously avoided looking at him, and her action with the light, he came to the conclusion that the room was overlooked. There must be a peep-hole somewhere in the walls. Remembering how guarded she had always been in her manner, he saw that he had probably been under observation all the time. Had he said anything to give himself away? Hardly. He had revealed a wish to escape and a desire to find Jane Finn, but nothing that could have given a clue to his own identity. True, his question to Annette had proved that he was personally unacquainted with Jane Finn, but he had never pretended otherwise. The question now was, did Annette really know more? Were her denials intended primarily for the listeners? On that point he could come to no conclusion.
But there was a more vital question that drove out all others. Could he, bound as he was, manage to cut his bonds? He essayed cautiously to rub the open blade up and down on the cord that bound his two wrists together. It was an awkward business, and drew a smothered “Ow” of pain from him as the knife cut into his wrist. But slowly and doggedly he went on sawing to and fro. He cut the flesh badly, but at last he felt the cord slacken. With his hands free, the rest was easy. Five minutes later he stood upright with some difficulty, owing to the cramp in his limbs. His first care was to bind up his bleeding wrist. Then he sat on the edge of the bed to think. Conrad had taken the key of the door, so he could expect little more assistance from Annette. The only outlet from the room was the door, consequently he would perforce have to wait until the two men returned to fetch him. But when they did… Tommy smiled! Moving with infinite caution in the dark room, he found and unhooked the famous picture. He felt an economical pleasure that his first plan would not be wasted. There was now nothing to do but to wait. He waited.
The night passed slowly. Tommy lived through an eternity of hours, but at last he heard footsteps. He stood upright, drew a deep breath, and clutched the picture firmly.
The door opened. A faint light streamed in from outside. Conrad went straight towards the gas to light it. Tommy deeply regretted that it was he who had entered first. It would have been pleasant to get even with Conrad. Number 14 followed. As he stepped across the threshold, Tommy brought the picture down with terrific force on his head. Number 14 went down amidst a stupendous crash of broken glass. In a minute Tommy had slipped out and pulled to the door. The key was in the lock. He turned it and withdrew it just as Conrad hurled himself against the door from the inside with a volley of curses.
For a moment Tommy hesitated. There was the sound of some one stirring on the floor below. Then the German’s voice came up the stairs.
“Gott im Himmel! Conrad, what is it?”
Tommy felt a small hand thrust into his. Beside him stood Annette. She pointed up a rickety ladder that apparently led to some attics.
“Quick—up here!” She dragged him after her up the ladder. In another moment they were standing in a dusty garret littered with lumber. Tommy looked round.
“This won’t do. It’s a regular trap. There’s no way out.”
“Hush! Wait.” The girl put her finger to her lips. She crept to the top of the ladder and listened.
The banging and beating on the door was terrific. The German and another were trying to force the door in. Annette explained in a whisper:
“They will think you are still inside. They cannot hear what Conrad says. The door is too thick.”
“I thought you could hear what went on in the room?”
“There is a peep-hole into the next room. It was clever of you to guess. But they will not think of that—they are only anxious to get in.”
“Yes—but look here——”
“Leave it to me.” She bent down. To his amazement, Tommy saw that she was fastening the end of a long piece of string to the handle of a big cracked jug. She arranged it carefully, then turned to Tommy.
“Have you the key of the door?”
“Give it to me.”
He handed it to her.
“I am going down. Do you think you can go halfway, and then swing yourself down BEHIND the ladder, so that they will not see you?”
“There’s a big cupboard in the shadow of the landing. Stand behind it. Take the end of this string in your hand. When I’ve let the others out—PULL!”
Before he had time to ask her anything more, she had flitted lightly down the ladder and was in the midst of the group with a loud cry:
“Mon Dieu! Mon Dieu! Qu’est-ce qu’il y a?”
The German turned on her with an oath.
“Get out of this. Go to your room!”
Very cautiously Tommy swung himself down the back of the ladder. So long as they did not turn round… all was well. He crouched behind the cupboard. They were still between him and the stairs.
“AH!” Annette appeared to stumble over something. She stooped. “Mon Dieu, voila la clef!”
The German snatched it from her. He unlocked the door. Conrad stumbled out, swearing.
“Where is he? Have you got him?”
“We have seen no one,” said the German sharply. His face paled. “Who do you mean?”
Conrad gave vent to another oath.
“He’s got away.”
“Impossible. He would have passed us.”
At that moment, with an ecstatic smile Tommy pulled the string. A crash of crockery came from the attic above. In a trice the men were pushing each other up the rickety ladder and had disappeared into the darkness above.
Quick as a flash Tommy leapt from his hiding-place and dashed down the stairs, pulling the girl with him. There was no one in the hall. He fumbled over the bolts and chain. At last they yielded, the door swung open. He turned. Annette had disappeared.
Tommy stood spell-bound. Had she run upstairs again? What madness possessed her! He fumed with impatience, but he stood his ground. He would not go without her.
And suddenly there was an outcry overhead, an exclamation from the German, and then Annette’s voice, clear and high:
“Ma foi, he has escaped! And quickly! Who would have thought it?”
Tommy still stood rooted to the ground. Was that a command to him to go? He fancied it was.
And then, louder still, the words floated down to him:
“This is a terrible house. I want to go back to Marguerite. To Marguerite. TO MARGUERITE!”
Tommy had run back to the stairs. She wanted him to go and leave her. But why? At all costs he must try and get her away with him. Then his heart sank. Conrad was leaping down the stairs, uttering a savage cry at the sight of him. After him came the others.
Tommy stopped Conrad’s rush with a straight blow with his fist. It caught the other on the point of the jaw and he fell like a log. The second man tripped over his body and fell. From higher up the staircase there was a flash, and a bullet grazed Tommy’s ear. He realized that it would be good for his health to get out of this house as soon as possible. As regards Annette he could do nothing. He had got even with Conrad, which was one satisfaction. The blow had been a good one.
He leapt for the door, slamming it behind him. The square was deserted. In front of the house was a baker’s van. Evidently he was to have been taken out of London in that, and his body found many miles from the house in Soho. The driver jumped to the pavement and tried to bar Tommy’s way. Again Tommy’s fist shot out, and the driver sprawled on the pavement.
Tommy took to his heels and ran—none too soon. The front door opened and a hail of bullets followed him. Fortunately none of them hit him. He turned the corner of the square.
“There’s one thing,” he thought to himself, “they can’t go on shooting. They’ll have the police after them if they do. I wonder they dared to there.”
He heard the footsteps of his pursuers behind him, and redoubled his own pace. Once he got out of these by-ways he would be safe. There would be a policeman about somewhere—not that he really wanted to invoke the aid of the police if he could possibly do without it. It meant explanations, and general awkwardness. In another moment he had reason to bless his luck. He stumbled over a prostrate figure, which started up with a yell of alarm and dashed off down the street. Tommy drew back into a doorway. In a minute he had the pleasure of seeing his two pursuers, of whom the German was one, industriously tracking down the red herring!
Tommy sat down quietly on the doorstep and allowed a few moments to elapse while he recovered his breath. Then he strolled gently in the opposite direction. He glanced at his watch. It was a little after half-past five. It was rapidly growing light. At the next corner he passed a policeman. The policeman cast a suspicious eye on him. Tommy felt slightly offended. Then, passing his hand over his face, he laughed. He had not shaved or washed for three days! What a guy he must look.
He betook himself without more ado to a Turkish Bath establishment which he knew to be open all night. He emerged into the busy daylight feeling himself once more, and able to make plans.
First of all, he must have a square meal. He had eaten nothing since midday yesterday. He turned into an A.B.C. shop and ordered eggs and bacon and coffee. Whilst he ate, he read a morning paper propped up in front of him. Suddenly he stiffened. There was a long article on Kramenin, who was described as the “man behind Bolshevism” in Russia, and who had just arrived in London—some thought as an unofficial envoy. His career was sketched lightly, and it was firmly asserted that he, and not the figurehead leaders, had been the author of the Russian Revolution.
In the centre of the page was his portrait.
“So that’s who Number 1 is,” said Tommy with his mouth full of eggs and bacon. “Not a doubt about it, I must push on.”
He paid for his breakfast, and betook himself to Whitehall. There he sent up his name, and the message that it was urgent. A few minutes later he was in the presence of the man who did not here go by the name of “Mr. Carter.” There was a frown on his face.
“Look here, you’ve no business to come asking for me in this way. I thought that was distinctly understood?”
“It was, sir. But I judged it important to lose no time.”
And as briefly and succinctly as possible he detailed the experiences of the last few days.
Half-way through, Mr. Carter interrupted him to give a few cryptic orders through the telephone. All traces of displeasure had now left his face. He nodded energetically when Tommy had finished.
“Quite right. Every moment’s of value. Fear we shall be too late anyway. They wouldn’t wait. Would clear out at once. Still, they may have left something behind them that will be a clue. You say you’ve recognized Number 1 to be Kramenin? That’s important. We want something against him badly to prevent the Cabinet falling on his neck too freely. What about the others? You say two faces were familiar to you? One’s a Labour man, you think? Just look through these photos, and see if you can spot him.”
A minute later, Tommy held one up. Mr. Carter exhibited some surprise.
“Ah, Westway! Shouldn’t have thought it. Poses as being moderate. As for the other fellow, I think I can give a good guess.” He handed another photograph to Tommy, and smiled at the other’s exclamation. “I’m right, then. Who is he? Irishman. Prominent Unionist M.P. All a blind, of course. We’ve suspected it—but couldn’t get any proof. Yes, you’ve done very well, young man. The 29th, you say, is the date. That gives us very little time—very little time indeed.”
“But——” Tommy hesitated.
Mr. Carter read his thoughts.
“We can deal with the General Strike menace, I think. It’s a toss-up—but we’ve got a sporting chance! But if that draft treaty turns up—we’re done. England will be plunged in anarchy. Ah, what’s that? The car? Come on, Beresford, we’ll go and have a look at this house of yours.”
Two constables were on duty in front of the house in Soho. An inspector reported to Mr. Carter in a low voice. The latter turned to Tommy.
“The birds have flown—as we thought. We might as well go over it.”
Going over the deserted house seemed to Tommy to partake of the character of a dream. Everything was just as it had been. The prison room with the crooked pictures, the broken jug in the attic, the meeting room with its long table. But nowhere was there a trace of papers. Everything of that kind had either been destroyed or taken away. And there was no sign of Annette.
“What you tell me about the girl puzzled me,” said Mr. Carter. “You believe that she deliberately went back?”
“It would seem so, sir. She ran upstairs while I was getting the door open.”
“H’m, she must belong to the gang, then; but, being a woman, didn’t feel like standing by to see a personable young man killed. But evidently she’s in with them, or she wouldn’t have gone back.”
“I can’t believe she’s really one of them, sir. She—seemed so different——”
“Good-looking, I suppose?” said Mr. Carter with a smile that made Tommy flush to the roots of his hair. He admitted Annette’s beauty rather shamefacedly.
“By the way,” observed Mr. Carter, “have you shown yourself to Miss Tuppence yet? She’s been bombarding me with letters about you.”
“Tuppence? I was afraid she might get a bit rattled. Did she go to the police?”
Mr. Carter shook his head.
“Then I wonder how they twigged me.”
Mr. Carter looked inquiringly at him, and Tommy explained. The other nodded thoughtfully.
“True, that’s rather a curious point. Unless the mention of the Ritz was an accidental remark?”
“It might have been, sir. But they must have found out about me suddenly in some way.”
“Well,” said Mr. Carter, looking round him, “there’s nothing more to be done here. What about some lunch with me?”
“Thanks awfully, sir. But I think I’d better get back and rout out Tuppence.”
“Of course. Give her my kind regards and tell her not to believe you’re killed too readily next time.”
“I take a lot of killing, sir.”
“So I perceive,” said Mr. Carter dryly. “Well, good-bye. Remember you’re a marked man now, and take reasonable care of yourself.”
“Thank you, sir.”
Hailing a taxi briskly Tommy stepped in, and was swiftly borne to the Ritz, dwelling the while on the pleasurable anticipation of startling Tuppence.
“Wonder what she’s been up to. Dogging ‘Rita’ most likely. By the way, I suppose that’s who Annette meant by Marguerite. I didn’t get it at the time.” The thought saddened him a little, for it seemed to prove that Mrs. Vandemeyer and the girl were on intimate terms.
The taxi drew up at the Ritz. Tommy burst into its sacred portals eagerly, but his enthusiasm received a check. He was informed that Miss Cowley had gone out a quarter of an hour ago.
CHAPTER XVIII. THE TELEGRAM
BAFFLED for the moment, Tommy strolled into the restaurant, and ordered a meal of surpassing excellence. His four days’ imprisonment had taught him anew to value good food.
He was in the middle of conveying a particularly choice morsel of Sole a la Jeanette to his mouth, when he caught sight of Julius entering the room. Tommy waved a menu cheerfully, and succeeded in attracting the other’s attention. At the sight of Tommy, Julius’s eyes seemed as though they would pop out of his head. He strode across, and pump-handled Tommy’s hand with what seemed to the latter quite unnecessary vigour.
“Holy snakes!” he ejaculated. “Is it really you?”
“Of course it is. Why shouldn’t it be?”
“Why shouldn’t it be? Say, man, don’t you know you’ve been given up for dead? I guess we’d have had a solemn requiem for you in another few days.”
“Who thought I was dead?” demanded Tommy.
“She remembered the proverb about the good dying young, I suppose. There must be a certain amount of original sin in me to have survived. Where is Tuppence, by the way?”
“Isn’t she here?”
“No, the fellows at the office said she’d just gone out.”
“Gone shopping, I guess. I dropped her here in the car about an hour ago. But, say, can’t you shed that British calm of yours, and get down to it? What on God’s earth have you been doing all this time?”
“If you’re feeding here,” replied Tommy, “order now. It’s going to be a long story.”
Julius drew up a chair to the opposite side of the table, summoned a hovering waiter, and dictated his wishes. Then he turned to Tommy.
“Fire ahead. I guess you’ve had some few adventures.”
“One or two,” replied Tommy modestly, and plunged into his recital.
Julius listened spellbound. Half the dishes that were placed before him he forgot to eat. At the end he heaved a long sigh.
“Bully for you. Reads like a dime novel!”
“And now for the home front,” said Tommy, stretching out his hand for a peach.
“We-el,” drawled Julius, “I don’t mind admitting we’ve had some adventures too.”
He, in his turn, assumed the role of narrator. Beginning with his unsuccessful reconnoitring at Bournemouth, he passed on to his return to London, the buying of the car, the growing anxieties of Tuppence, the call upon Sir James, and the sensational occurrences of the previous night.
“But who killed her?” asked Tommy. “I don’t quite understand.”
“The doctor kidded himself she took it herself,” replied Julius dryly.
“And Sir James? What did he think?”
“Being a legal luminary, he is likewise a human oyster,” replied Julius. “I should say he ‘reserved judgment.'” He went on to detail the events of the morning.
“Lost her memory, eh?” said Tommy with interest. “By Jove, that explains why they looked at me so queerly when I spoke of questioning her. Bit of a slip on my part, that! But it wasn’t the sort of thing a fellow would be likely to guess.”
“They didn’t give you any sort of hint as to where Jane was?”
Tommy shook his head regretfully.
“Not a word. I’m a bit of an ass, as you know. I ought to have got more out of them somehow.”
“I guess you’re lucky to be here at all. That bluff of yours was the goods all right. How you ever came to think of it all so pat beats me to a frazzle!”
“I was in such a funk I had to think of something,” said Tommy simply.
There was a moment’s pause, and then Tommy reverted to Mrs. Vandemeyer’s death.
“There’s no doubt it was chloral?”
“I believe not. At least they call it heart failure induced by an overdose, or some such claptrap. It’s all right. We don’t want to be worried with an inquest. But I guess Tuppence and I and even the highbrow Sir James have all got the same idea.”
“Mr. Brown?” hazarded Tommy.
“All the same,” he said thoughtfully, “Mr. Brown hasn’t got wings. I don’t see how he got in and out.”
“How about some high-class thought transference stunt? Some magnetic influence that irresistibly impelled Mrs. Vandemeyer to commit suicide?”
Tommy looked at him with respect.
“Good, Julius. Distinctly good. Especially the phraseology. But it leaves me cold. I yearn for a real Mr. Brown of flesh and blood. I think the gifted young detectives must get to work, study the entrances and exits, and tap the bumps on their foreheads until the solution of the mystery dawns on them. Let’s go round to the scene of the crime. I wish we could get hold of Tuppence. The Ritz would enjoy the spectacle of the glad reunion.”
Inquiry at the office revealed the fact that Tuppence had not yet returned.
“All the same, I guess I’ll have a look round upstairs,” said Julius. “She might be in my sitting-room.” He disappeared.
Suddenly a diminutive boy spoke at Tommy’s elbow:
“The young lady—she’s gone away by train, I think, sir,” he murmured shyly.
“What?” Tommy wheeled round upon him.
The small boy became pinker than before.
“The taxi, sir. I heard her tell the driver Charing Cross and to look sharp.”
Tommy stared at him, his eyes opening wide in surprise. Emboldened, the small boy proceeded. “So I thought, having asked for an A.B.C. and a Bradshaw.”
Tommy interrupted him:
“When did she ask for an A.B.C. and a Bradshaw?”
“When I took her the telegram, sir.”
“When was that?”
“About half-past twelve, sir.”
“Tell me exactly what happened.”
The small boy drew a long breath.
“I took up a telegram to No. 891—the lady was there. She opened it and gave a gasp, and then she said, very jolly like: ‘Bring me up a Bradshaw, and an A.B.C., and look sharp, Henry.’ My name isn’t Henry, but——”
“Never mind your name,” said Tommy impatiently. “Go on.”
“Yes, sir. I brought them, and she told me to wait, and looked up something. And then she looks up at the clock, and ‘Hurry up,’ she says. ‘Tell them to get me a taxi,’ and she begins a-shoving on of her hat in front of the glass, and she was down in two ticks, almost as quick as I was, and I seed her going down the steps and into the taxi, and I heard her call out what I told you.”
The small boy stopped and replenished his lungs. Tommy continued to stare at him. At that moment Julius rejoined him. He held an open letter in his hand.
“I say, Hersheimmer”—Tommy turned to him—”Tuppence has gone off sleuthing on her own.”
“Yes, she has. She went off in a taxi to Charing Cross in the deuce of a hurry after getting a telegram.” His eye fell on the letter in Julius’s hand. “Oh; she left a note for you. That’s all right. Where’s she off to?”
Almost unconsciously, he held out his hand for the letter, but Julius folded it up and placed it in his pocket. He seemed a trifle embarrassed.
“I guess this is nothing to do with it. It’s about something else—something I asked her that she was to let me know about.”
“Oh!” Tommy looked puzzled, and seemed waiting for more.
“See here,” said Julius suddenly, “I’d better put you wise. I asked Miss Tuppence to marry me this morning.”
“Oh!” said Tommy mechanically. He felt dazed. Julius’s words were totally unexpected. For the moment they benumbed his brain.
“I’d like to tell you,” continued Julius, “that before I suggested anything of the kind to Miss Tuppence, I made it clear that I didn’t want to butt in in any way between her and you——”
Tommy roused himself.
“That’s all right,” he said quickly. “Tuppence and I have been pals for years. Nothing more.” He lit a cigarette with a hand that shook ever so little. “That’s quite all right. Tuppence always said that she was looking out for——”
He stopped abruptly, his face crimsoning, but Julius was in no way discomposed.
“Oh, I guess it’ll be the dollars that’ll do the trick. Miss Tuppence put me wise to that right away. There’s no humbug about her. We ought to gee along together very well.”
Tommy looked at him curiously for a minute, as though he were about to speak, then changed his mind and said nothing. Tuppence and Julius! Well, why not? Had she not lamented the fact that she knew no rich men? Had she not openly avowed her intention of marrying for money if she ever had the chance? Her meeting with the young American millionaire had given her the chance—and it was unlikely she would be slow to avail herself of it. She was out for money. She had always said so. Why blame her because she had been true to her creed?
Nevertheless, Tommy did blame her. He was filled with a passionate and utterly illogical resentment. It was all very well to SAY things like that—but a REAL girl would never marry for money. Tuppence was utterly cold-blooded and selfish, and he would be delighted if he never saw her again! And it was a rotten world!
Julius’s voice broke in on these meditations.
“Yes, we ought to get along together very well. I’ve heard that a girl always refuses you once—a sort of convention.”
Tommy caught his arm.
“Refuses? Did you say REFUSES?”
“Sure thing. Didn’t I tell you that? She just rapped out a ‘no’ without any kind of reason to it. The eternal feminine, the Huns call it, I’ve heard. But she’ll come round right enough. Likely enough, I hustled her some——”
But Tommy interrupted regardless of decorum.
“What did she say in that note?” he demanded fiercely.
The obliging Julius handed it to him.
“There’s no earthly clue in it as to where she’s gone,” he assured Tommy. “But you might as well see for yourself if you don’t believe me.”
The note, in Tuppence’s well-known schoolboy writing, ran as follows:
“It’s always better to have things in black and white. I don’t feel I can be bothered to think of marriage until Tommy is found. Let’s leave it till then.
Tommy handed it back, his eyes shining. His feelings had undergone a sharp reaction. He now felt that Tuppence was all that was noble and disinterested. Had she not refused Julius without hesitation? True, the note betokened signs of weakening, but he could excuse that. It read almost like a bribe to Julius to spur him on in his efforts to find Tommy, but he supposed she had not really meant it that way. Darling Tuppence, there was not a girl in the world to touch her! When he saw her——His thoughts were brought up with a sudden jerk.
“As you say,” he remarked, pulling himself together, “there’s not a hint here as to what she’s up to. Hi—Henry!”
The small boy came obediently. Tommy produced five shillings.
“One thing more. Do you remember what the young lady did with the telegram?”
Henry gasped and spoke.
“She crumpled it up into a ball and threw it into the grate, and made a sort of noise like ‘Whoop!’ sir.”
“Very graphic, Henry,” said Tommy. “Here’s your five shillings. Come on, Julius. We must find that telegram.”
They hurried upstairs. Tuppence had left the key in her door. The room was as she had left it. In the fireplace was a crumpled ball of orange and white. Tommy disentangled it and smoothed out the telegram.
“Come at once, Moat House, Ebury, Yorkshire, great developments—TOMMY.”
They looked at each other in stupefaction. Julius spoke first:
“You didn’t send it?”
“Of course not. What does it mean?”
“I guess it means the worst,” said Julius quietly. “They’ve got her.”
“Sure thing! They signed your name, and she fell into the trap like a lamb.”
“My God! What shall we do?”
“Get busy, and go after her! Right now! There’s no time to waste. It’s almighty luck that she didn’t take the wire with her. If she had we’d probably never have traced her. But we’ve got to hustle. Where’s that Bradshaw?”
The energy of Julius was infectious. Left to himself, Tommy would probably have sat down to think things out for a good half-hour before he decided on a plan of action. But with Julius Hersheimmer about, hustling was inevitable.
After a few muttered imprecations he handed the Bradshaw to Tommy as being more conversant with its mysteries. Tommy abandoned it in favour of an A.B.C.
“Here we are. Ebury, Yorks. From King’s Cross. Or St. Pancras. (Boy must have made a mistake. It was King’s Cross, not CHARING Cross.) 12.50, that’s the train she went by. 2.10, that’s gone. 3.20 is the next—and a damned slow train too.”
“What about the car?”
Tommy shook his head.
“Send it up if you like, but we’d better stick to the train. The great thing is to keep calm.”
“That’s so. But it gets my goat to think of that innocent young girl in danger!”
Tommy nodded abstractedly. He was thinking. In a moment or two, he said:
“I say, Julius, what do they want her for, anyway?”
“Eh? I don’t get you?”
“What I mean is that I don’t think it’s their game to do her any harm,” explained Tommy, puckering his brow with the strain of his mental processes. “She’s a hostage, that’s what she is. She’s in no immediate danger, because if we tumble on to anything, she’d be damned useful to them. As long as they’ve got her, they’ve got the whip hand of us. See?”
“Sure thing,” said Julius thoughtfully. “That’s so.”
“Besides,” added Tommy, as an afterthought, “I’ve great faith in Tuppence.”
The journey was wearisome, with many stops, and crowded carriages. They had to change twice, once at Doncaster, once at a small junction. Ebury was a deserted station with a solitary porter, to whom Tommy addressed himself:
“Can you tell me the way to the Moat House?”
“The Moat House? It’s a tidy step from here. The big house near the sea, you mean?”
Tommy assented brazenly. After listening to the porter’s meticulous but perplexing directions, they prepared to leave the station. It was beginning to rain, and they turned up the collars of their coats as they trudged through the slush of the road. Suddenly Tommy halted.
“Wait a moment.” He ran back to the station and tackled the porter anew.
“Look here, do you remember a young lady who arrived by an earlier train, the 12.50 from London? She’d probably ask you the way to the Moat House.”
He described Tuppence as well as he could, but the porter shook his head. Several people had arrived by the train in question. He could not call to mind one young lady in particular. But he was quite certain that no one had asked him the way to the Moat House.
Tommy rejoined Julius, and explained. Depression was settling on him like a leaden weight. He felt convinced that their quest was going to be unsuccessful. The enemy had over three hours’ start. Three hours was more than enough for Mr. Brown. He would not ignore the possibility of the telegram having been found.
The way seemed endless. Once they took the wrong turning and went nearly half a mile out of their direction. It was past seven o’clock when a small boy told them that “t’ Moat House” was just past the next corner.
A rusty iron gate swinging dismally on its hinges! An overgrown drive thick with leaves. There was something about the place that struck a chill to both their hearts. They went up the deserted drive. The leaves deadened their footsteps. The daylight was almost gone. It was like walking in a world of ghosts. Overhead the branches flapped and creaked with a mournful note. Occasionally a sodden leaf drifted silently down, startling them with its cold touch on their cheek.
A turn of the drive brought them in sight of the house. That, too, seemed empty and deserted. The shutters were closed, the steps up to the door overgrown with moss. Was it indeed to this desolate spot that Tuppence had been decoyed? It seemed hard to believe that a human footstep had passed this way for months.
Julius jerked the rusty bell handle. A jangling peal rang discordantly, echoing through the emptiness within. No one came. They rang again and again—but there was no sign of life. Then they walked completely round the house. Everywhere silence, and shuttered windows. If they could believe the evidence of their eyes the place was empty.
“Nothing doing,” said Julius.
They retraced their steps slowly to the gate.
“There must be a village handy,” continued the young American. “We’d better make inquiries there. They’ll know something about the place, and whether there’s been anyone there lately.”
“Yes, that’s not a bad idea.”
Proceeding up the road, they soon came to a little hamlet. On the outskirts of it, they met a workman swinging his bag of tools, and Tommy stopped him with a question.
“The Moat House? It’s empty. Been empty for years. Mrs. Sweeny’s got the key if you want to go over it—next to the post office.”
Tommy thanked him. They soon found the post office, which was also a sweet and general fancy shop, and knocked at the door of the cottage next to it. A clean, wholesome-looking woman opened it. She readily produced the key of the Moat House.
“Though I doubt if it’s the kind of place to suit you, sir. In a terrible state of repair. Ceilings leaking and all. ‘Twould need a lot of money spent on it.”
“Thanks,” said Tommy cheerily. “I dare say it’ll be a washout, but houses are scarce nowadays.”
“That they are,” declared the woman heartily. “My daughter and son-in-law have been looking for a decent cottage for I don’t know how long. It’s all the war. Upset things terribly, it has. But excuse me, sir, it’ll be too dark for you to see much of the house. Hadn’t you better wait until to-morrow?”
“That’s all right. We’ll have a look around this evening, anyway. We’d have been here before only we lost our way. What’s the best place to stay at for the night round here?”
Mrs. Sweeny looked doubtful.
“There’s the Yorkshire Arms, but it’s not much of a place for gentlemen like you.”
“Oh, it will do very well. Thanks. By the way, you’ve not had a young lady here asking for this key to-day?”
The woman shook her head.
“No one’s been over the place for a long time.”
“Thanks very much.”
They retraced their steps to the Moat House. As the front door swung back on its hinges, protesting loudly, Julius struck a match and examined the floor carefully. Then he shook his head.
“I’d swear no one’s passed this way. Look at the dust. Thick. Not a sign of a footmark.”
They wandered round the deserted house. Everywhere the same tale. Thick layers of dust apparently undisturbed.
“This gets me,” said Julius. “I don’t believe Tuppence was ever in this house.”
“She must have been.”
Julius shook his head without replying.
“We’ll go over it again to-morrow,” said Tommy. “Perhaps we’ll see more in the daylight.”
On the morrow they took up the search once more, and were reluctantly forced to the conclusion that the house had not been invaded for some considerable time. They might have left the village altogether but for a fortunate discovery of Tommy’s. As they were retracing their steps to the gate, he gave a sudden cry, and stooping, picked something up from among the leaves, and held it out to Julius. It was a small gold brooch.
“Are you sure?”
“Absolutely. I’ve often seen her wear it.”
Julius drew a deep breath.
“I guess that settles it. She came as far as here, anyway. We’ll make that pub our head-quarters, and raise hell round here until we find her. Somebody MUST have seen her.”
Forthwith the campaign began. Tommy and Julius worked separately and together, but the result was the same. Nobody answering to Tuppence’s description had been seen in the vicinity. They were baffled—but not discouraged. Finally they altered their tactics. Tuppence had certainly not remained long in the neighbourhood of the Moat House. That pointed to her having been overcome and carried away in a car. They renewed inquiries. Had anyone seen a car standing somewhere near the Moat House that day? Again they met with no success.
Julius wired to town for his own car, and they scoured the neighbourhood daily with unflagging zeal. A grey limousine on which they had set high hopes was traced to Harrogate, and turned out to be the property of a highly respectable maiden lady!
Each day saw them set out on a new quest. Julius was like a hound on the leash. He followed up the slenderest clue. Every car that had passed through the village on the fateful day was tracked down. He forced his way into country properties and submitted the owners of the motors to a searching cross-examination. His apologies were as thorough as his methods, and seldom failed in disarming the indignation of his victims; but, as day succeeded day, they were no nearer to discovering Tuppence’s whereabouts. So well had the abduction been planned that the girl seemed literally to have vanished into thin air.
And another preoccupation was weighing on Tommy’s mind.
“Do you know how long we’ve been here?” he asked one morning as they sat facing each other at breakfast. “A week! We’re no nearer to finding Tuppence, and NEXT SUNDAY IS THE 29TH!”
“Shucks!” said Julius thoughtfully. “I’d almost forgotten about the 29th. I’ve been thinking of nothing but Tuppence.”
“So have I. At least, I hadn’t forgotten about the 29th, but it didn’t seem to matter a damn in comparison to finding Tuppence. But to-day’s the 23rd, and time’s getting short. If we’re ever going to get hold of her at all, we must do it before the 29th—her life won’t be worth an hour’s purchase afterwards. The hostage game will be played out by then. I’m beginning to feel that we’ve made a big mistake in the way we’ve set about this. We’ve wasted time and we’re no forrader.”
“I’m with you there. We’ve been a couple of mutts, who’ve bitten off a bigger bit than they can chew. I’m going to quit fooling right away!”
“What do you mean?”
“I’ll tell you. I’m going to do what we ought to have done a week ago. I’m going right back to London to put the case in the hands of your British police. We fancied ourselves as sleuths. Sleuths! It was a piece of damn-fool foolishness! I’m through! I’ve had enough of it. Scotland Yard for me!”
“You’re right,” said Tommy slowly. “I wish to God we’d gone there right away.”
“Better late than never. We’ve been like a couple of babes playing ‘Here we go round the Mulberry Bush.’ Now I’m going right along to Scotland Yard to ask them to take me by the hand and show me the way I should go. I guess the professional always scores over the amateur in the end. Are you coming along with me?”
Tommy shook his head.
“What’s the good? One of us is enough. I might as well stay here and nose round a bit longer. Something MIGHT turn up. One never knows.”
“Sure thing. Well, so long. I’ll be back in a couple of shakes with a few inspectors along. I shall tell them to pick out their brightest and best.”
But the course of events was not to follow the plan Julius had laid down. Later in the day Tommy received a wire:
“Join me Manchester Midland Hotel. Important news—JULIUS.”
At 7:30 that night Tommy alighted from a slow cross-country train. Julius was on the platform.
“Thought you’d come by this train if you weren’t out when my wire arrived.”
Tommy grasped him by the arm.
“What is it? Is Tuppence found?”
Julius shook his head.
“No. But I found this waiting in London. Just arrived.”
He handed the telegraph form to the other. Tommy’s eyes opened as he read:
“Jane Finn found. Come Manchester Midland Hotel immediately—PEEL EDGERTON.”
Julius took the form back and folded it up.
“Queer,” he said thoughtfully. “I thought that lawyer chap had quit!”
CHAPTER XIX. JANE FINN
“MY train got in half an hour ago,” explained Julius, as he led the way out of the station. “I reckoned you’d come by this before I left London, and wired accordingly to Sir James. He’s booked rooms for us, and will be round to dine at eight.”
“What made you think he’d ceased to take any interest in the case?” asked Tommy curiously.
“What he said,” replied Julius dryly. “The old bird’s as close as an oyster! Like all the darned lot of them, he wasn’t going to commit himself till he was sure he could deliver the goods.”
“I wonder,” said Tommy thoughtfully.
Julius turned on him.
“You wonder what?”
“Whether that was his real reason.”
“Sure. You bet your life it was.”
Tommy shook his head unconvinced.
Sir James arrived punctually at eight o’clock, and Julius introduced Tommy. Sir James shook hands with him warmly.
“I am delighted to make your acquaintance, Mr. Beresford. I have heard so much about you from Miss Tuppence”—he smiled involuntarily—”that it really seems as though I already know you quite well.”
“Thank you, sir,” said Tommy with his cheerful grin. He scanned the great lawyer eagerly. Like Tuppence, he felt the magnetism of the other’s personality. He was reminded of Mr. Carter. The two men, totally unlike so far as physical resemblance went, produced a similar effect. Beneath the weary manner of the one and the professional reserve of the other, lay the same quality of mind, keen-edged like a rapier.
In the meantime he was conscious of Sir James’s close scrutiny. When the lawyer dropped his eyes the young man had the feeling that the other had read him through and through like an open book. He could not but wonder what the final judgment was, but there was little chance of learning that. Sir James took in everything, but gave out only what he chose. A proof of that occurred almost at once.
Immediately the first greetings were over Julius broke out into a flood of eager questions. How had Sir James managed to track the girl? Why had he not let them know that he was still working on the case? And so on.
Sir James stroked his chin and smiled. At last he said:
“Just so, just so. Well, she’s found. And that’s the great thing, isn’t it? Eh! Come now, that’s the great thing?”
“Sure it is. But just how did you strike her trail? Miss Tuppence and I thought you’d quit for good and all.”
“Ah!” The lawyer shot a lightning glance at him, then resumed operations on his chin. “You thought that, did you? Did you really? H’m, dear me.”
“But I guess I can take it we were wrong,” pursued Julius.
“Well, I don’t know that I should go so far as to say that. But it’s certainly fortunate for all parties that we’ve managed to find the young lady.”
“But where is she?” demanded Julius, his thoughts flying off on another tack. “I thought you’d be sure to bring her along?”
“That would hardly be possible,” said Sir James gravely.
“Because the young lady was knocked down in a street accident, and has sustained slight injuries to the head. She was taken to the infirmary, and on recovering consciousness gave her name as Jane Finn. When—ah!—I heard that, I arranged for her to be removed to the house of a doctor—a friend of mine, and wired at once for you. She relapsed into unconsciousness and has not spoken since.”
“She’s not seriously hurt?”
“Oh, a bruise and a cut or two; really, from a medical point of view, absurdly slight injuries to have produced such a condition. Her state is probably to be attributed to the mental shock consequent on recovering her memory.”
“It’s come back?” cried Julius excitedly.
Sir James tapped the table rather impatiently.
“Undoubtedly, Mr. Hersheimmer, since she was able to give her real name. I thought you had appreciated that point.”
“And you just happened to be on the spot,” said Tommy. “Seems quite like a fairy tale.”
But Sir James was far too wary to be drawn.
“Coincidences are curious things,” he said dryly.
Nevertheless Tommy was now certain of what he had before only suspected. Sir James’s presence in Manchester was not accidental. Far from abandoning the case, as Julius supposed, he had by some means of his own successfully run the missing girl to earth. The only thing that puzzled Tommy was the reason for all this secrecy. He concluded that it was a foible of the legal mind.
Julius was speaking.
“After dinner,” he announced, “I shall go right away and see Jane.”
“That will be impossible, I fear,” said Sir James. “It is very unlikely they would allow her to see visitors at this time of night. I should suggest to-morrow morning about ten o’clock.”
Julius flushed. There was something in Sir James which always stirred him to antagonism. It was a conflict of two masterful personalities.
“All the same, I reckon I’ll go round there to-night and see if I can’t ginger them up to break through their silly rules.”
“It will be quite useless, Mr. Hersheimmer.”
The words came out like the crack of a pistol, and Tommy looked up with a start. Julius was nervous and excited. The hand with which he raised his glass to his lips shook slightly, but his eyes held Sir James’s defiantly. For a moment the hostility between the two seemed likely to burst into flame, but in the end Julius lowered his eyes, defeated.
“For the moment, I reckon you’re the boss.”
“Thank you,” said the other. “We will say ten o’clock then?” With consummate ease of manner he turned to Tommy. “I must confess, Mr. Beresford, that it was something of a surprise to me to see you here this evening. The last I heard of you was that your friends were in grave anxiety on your behalf. Nothing had been heard of you for some days, and Miss Tuppence was inclined to think you had got into difficulties.”
“I had, sir!” Tommy grinned reminiscently. “I was never in a tighter place in my life.”
Helped out by questions from Sir James, he gave an abbreviated account of his adventures. The lawyer looked at him with renewed interest as he brought the tale to a close.
“You got yourself out of a tight place very well,” he said gravely. “I congratulate you. You displayed a great deal of ingenuity and carried your part through well.”
Tommy blushed, his face assuming a prawnlike hue at the praise.
“I couldn’t have got away but for the girl, sir.”
“No.” Sir James smiled a little. “It was lucky for you she happened to—er—take a fancy to you.” Tommy appeared about to protest, but Sir James went on. “There’s no doubt about her being one of the gang, I suppose?”
“I’m afraid not, sir. I thought perhaps they were keeping her there by force, but the way she acted didn’t fit in with that. You see, she went back to them when she could have got away.”
Sir James nodded thoughtfully.
“What did she say? Something about wanting to be taken to Marguerite?”
“Yes, sir. I suppose she meant Mrs. Vandemeyer.”
“She always signed herself Rita Vandemeyer. All her friends spoke of her as Rita. Still, I suppose the girl must have been in the habit of calling her by her full name. And, at the moment she was crying out to her, Mrs. Vandemeyer was either dead or dying! Curious! There are one or two points that strike me as being obscure—their sudden change of attitude towards yourself, for instance. By the way, the house was raided, of course?”
“Yes, sir, but they’d all cleared out.”
“Naturally,” said Sir James dryly.
“And not a clue left behind.”
“I wonder——” The lawyer tapped the table thoughtfully.
Something in his voice made Tommy look up. Would this man’s eyes have seen something where theirs had been blind? He spoke impulsively:
“I wish you’d been there, sir, to go over the house!”
“I wish I had,” said Sir James quietly. He sat for a moment in silence. Then he looked up. “And since then? What have you been doing?”
For a moment, Tommy stared at him. Then it dawned on him that of course the lawyer did not know.
“I forgot that you didn’t know about Tuppence,” he said slowly. The sickening anxiety, forgotten for a while in the excitement of knowing Jane Finn was found at last, swept over him again.
The lawyer laid down his knife and fork sharply.
“Has anything happened to Miss Tuppence?” His voice was keen-edged.
“She’s disappeared,” said Julius.
“A week ago.”
Sir James’s questions fairly shot out. Between them Tommy and Julius gave the history of the last week and their futile search.
Sir James went at once to the root of the matter.
“A wire signed with your name? They knew enough of you both for that. They weren’t sure of how much you had learnt in that house. Their kidnapping of Miss Tuppence is the counter-move to your escape. If necessary they could seal your lips with a threat of what might happen to her.”
“That’s just what I thought, sir.”
Sir James looked at him keenly. “You had worked that out, had you? Not bad—not at all bad. The curious thing is that they certainly did not know anything about you when they first held you prisoner. You are sure that you did not in any way disclose your identity?”
Tommy shook his head.
“That’s so,” said Julius with a nod. “Therefore I reckon some one put them wise—and not earlier than Sunday afternoon.”
“Yes, but who?”
“That almighty omniscient Mr. Brown, of course!”
There was a faint note of derision in the American’s voice which made Sir James look up sharply.
“You don’t believe in Mr. Brown, Mr. Hersheimmer?”
“No, sir, I do not,” returned the young American with emphasis. “Not as such, that is to say. I reckon it out that he’s a figurehead—just a bogy name to frighten the children with. The real head of this business is that Russian chap Kramenin. I guess he’s quite capable of running revolutions in three countries at once if he chose! The man Whittington is probably the head of the English branch.”
“I disagree with you,” said Sir James shortly. “Mr. Brown exists.” He turned to Tommy. “Did you happen to notice where that wire was handed in?”
“No, sir, I’m afraid I didn’t.”
“H’m. Got it with you?”
“It’s upstairs, sir, in my kit.”
“I’d like to have a look at it sometime. No hurry. You’ve wasted a week”—Tommy hung his head—”a day or so more is immaterial. We’ll deal with Miss Jane Finn first. Afterwards, we’ll set to work to rescue Miss Tuppence from bondage. I don’t think she’s in any immediate danger. That is, so long as they don’t know that we’ve got Jane Finn, and that her memory has returned. We must keep that dark at all costs. You understand?”
The other two assented, and, after making arrangements for meeting on the morrow, the great lawyer took his leave.
At ten o’clock, the two young men were at the appointed spot. Sir James had joined them on the doorstep. He alone appeared unexcited. He introduced them to the doctor.
“Mr. Hersheimmer—Mr. Beresford—Dr. Roylance. How’s the patient?”
“Going on well. Evidently no idea of the flight of time. Asked this morning how many had been saved from the Lusitania. Was it in the papers yet? That, of course, was only what was to be expected. She seems to have something on her mind, though.”
“I think we can relieve her anxiety. May we go up?”
Tommy’s heart beat sensibly faster as they followed the doctor upstairs. Jane Finn at last! The long-sought, the mysterious, the elusive Jane Finn! How wildly improbable success had seemed! And here in this house, her memory almost miraculously restored, lay the girl who held the future of England in her hands. A half groan broke from Tommy’s lips. If only Tuppence could have been at his side to share in the triumphant conclusion of their joint venture! Then he put the thought of Tuppence resolutely aside. His confidence in Sir James was growing. There was a man who would unerringly ferret out Tuppence’s whereabouts. In the meantime Jane Finn! And suddenly a dread clutched at his heart. It seemed too easy…. Suppose they should find her dead… stricken down by the hand of Mr. Brown?
In another minute he was laughing at these melodramatic fancies. The doctor held open the door of a room and they passed in. On the white bed, bandages round her head, lay the girl. Somehow the whole scene seemed unreal. It was so exactly what one expected that it gave the effect of being beautifully staged.
The girl looked from one to the other of them with large wondering eyes. Sir James spoke first.
“Miss Finn,” he said, “this is your cousin, Mr. Julius P. Hersheimmer.”
A faint flush flitted over the girl’s face, as Julius stepped forward and took her hand.
“How do, Cousin Jane?” he said lightly.
But Tommy caught the tremor in his voice.
“Are you really Uncle Hiram’s son?” she asked wonderingly.
Her voice, with the slight warmth of the Western accent, had an almost thrilling quality. It seemed vaguely familiar to Tommy, but he thrust the impression aside as impossible.
“We used to read about Uncle Hiram in the papers,” continued the girl, in her low soft tones. “But I never thought I’d meet you one day. Mother figured it out that Uncle Hiram would never get over being mad with her.”
“The old man was like that,” admitted Julius. “But I guess the new generation’s sort of different. Got no use for the family feud business. First thing I thought about, soon as the war was over, was to come along and hunt you up.”
A shadow passed over the girl’s face.
“They’ve been telling me things—dreadful things—that my memory went, and that there are years I shall never know about—years lost out of my life.”
“You didn’t realize that yourself?”
The girl’s eyes opened wide.
“Why, no. It seems to me as though it were no time since we were being hustled into those boats. I can see it all now.” She closed her eyes with a shudder.
Julius looked across at Sir James, who nodded.
“Don’t worry any. It isn’t worth it. Now, see here, Jane, there’s something we want to know about. There was a man aboard that boat with some mighty important papers on him, and the big guns in this country have got a notion that he passed on the goods to you. Is that so?”
The girl hesitated, her glance shifting to the other two. Julius understood.
“Mr. Beresford is commissioned by the British Government to get those papers back. Sir James Peel Edgerton is an English Member of Parliament, and might be a big gun in the Cabinet if he liked. It’s owing to him that we’ve ferreted you out at last. So you can go right ahead and tell us the whole story. Did Danvers give you the papers?”
“Yes. He said they’d have a better chance with me, because they would save the women and children first.”
“Just as we thought,” said Sir James.
“He said they were very important—that they might make all the difference to the Allies. But, if it’s all so long ago, and the war’s over, what does it matter now?”
“I guess history repeats itself, Jane. First there was a great hue and cry over those papers, then it all died down, and now the whole caboodle’s started all over again—for rather different reasons. Then you can hand them over to us right away?”
“But I can’t.”
“I haven’t got them.”
“You—haven’t—got them?” Julius punctuated the words with little pauses.
“No—I hid them.”
“You hid them?”
“Yes. I got uneasy. People seemed to be watching me. It scared me—badly.” She put her hand to her head. “It’s almost the last thing I remember before waking up in the hospital….”
“Go on,” said Sir James, in his quiet penetrating tones. “What do you remember?”
She turned to him obediently.
“It was at Holyhead. I came that way—I don’t remember why….”
“That doesn’t matter. Go on.”
“In the confusion on the quay I slipped away. Nobody saw me. I took a car. Told the man to drive me out of the town. I watched when we got on the open road. No other car was following us. I saw a path at the side of the road. I told the man to wait.”
She paused, then went on. “The path led to the cliff, and down to the sea between big yellow gorse bushes—they were like golden flames. I looked round. There wasn’t a soul in sight. But just level with my head there was a hole in the rock. It was quite small—I could only just get my hand in, but it went a long way back. I took the oilskin packet from round my neck and shoved it right in as far as I could. Then I tore off a bit of gorse—My! but it did prick—and plugged the hole with it so that you’d never guess there was a crevice of any kind there. Then I marked the place carefully in my own mind, so that I’d find it again. There was a queer boulder in the path just there—for all the world like a dog sitting up begging. Then I went back to the road. The car was waiting, and I drove back. I just caught the train. I was a bit ashamed of myself for fancying things maybe, but, by and by, I saw the man opposite me wink at a woman who was sitting next to me, and I felt scared again, and was glad the papers were safe. I went out in the corridor to get a little air. I thought I’d slip into another carriage. But the woman called me back, said I’d dropped something, and when I stooped to look, something seemed to hit me—here.” She placed her hand to the back of her head. “I don’t remember anything more until I woke up in the hospital.”
There was a pause.
“Thank you, Miss Finn.” It was Sir James who spoke. “I hope we have not tired you?”
“Oh, that’s all right. My head aches a little, but otherwise I feel fine.”
Julius stepped forward and took her hand again.
“So long, Cousin Jane. I’m going to get busy after those papers, but I’ll be back in two shakes of a dog’s tail, and I’ll tote you up to London and give you the time of your young life before we go back to the States! I mean it—so hurry up and get well.”
CHAPTER XX. TOO LATE
IN the street they held an informal council of war. Sir James had drawn a watch from his pocket. “The boat train to Holyhead stops at Chester at 12.14. If you start at once I think you can catch the connection.”
Tommy looked up, puzzled.
“Is there any need to hurry, sir? To-day is only the 24th.”
“I guess it’s always well to get up early in the morning,” said Julius, before the lawyer had time to reply. “We’ll make tracks for the depot right away.”
A little frown had settled on Sir James’s brow.
“I wish I could come with you. I am due to speak at a meeting at two o’clock. It is unfortunate.”
The reluctance in his tone was very evident. It was clear, on the other hand, that Julius was easily disposed to put up with the loss of the other’s company.
“I guess there’s nothing complicated about this deal,” he remarked. “Just a game of hide-and-seek, that’s all.”
“I hope so,” said Sir James.
“Sure thing. What else could it be?”
“You are still young, Mr. Hersheimmer. At my age you will probably have learnt one lesson. ‘Never underestimate your adversary.'”
The gravity of his tone impressed Tommy, but had little effect upon Julius.
“You think Mr. Brown might come along and take a hand? If he does, I’m ready for him.” He slapped his pocket. “I carry a gun. Little Willie here travels round with me everywhere.” He produced a murderous-looking automatic, and tapped it affectionately before returning it to its home. “But he won’t be needed this trip. There’s nobody to put Mr. Brown wise.”
The lawyer shrugged his shoulders.
“There was nobody to put Mr. Brown wise to the fact that Mrs. Vandemeyer meant to betray him. Nevertheless, MRS. VANDEMEYER DIED WITHOUT SPEAKING.”
Julius was silenced for once, and Sir James added on a lighter note:
“I only want to put you on your guard. Good-bye, and good luck. Take no unnecessary risks once the papers are in your hands. If there is any reason to believe that you have been shadowed, destroy them at once. Good luck to you. The game is in your hands now.” He shook hands with them both.
Ten minutes later the two young men were seated in a first-class carriage en route for Chester.
For a long time neither of them spoke. When at length Julius broke the silence, it was with a totally unexpected remark.
“Say,” he observed thoughtfully, “did you ever make a darned fool of yourself over a girl’s face?”
Tommy, after a moment’s astonishment, searched his mind.
“Can’t say I have,” he replied at last. “Not that I can recollect, anyhow. Why?”
“Because for the last two months I’ve been making a sentimental idiot of myself over Jane! First moment I clapped eyes on her photograph my heart did all the usual stunts you read about in novels. I guess I’m ashamed to admit it, but I came over here determined to find her and fix it all up, and take her back as Mrs. Julius P. Hersheimmer!”
“Oh!” said Tommy, amazed.
Julius uncrossed his legs brusquely and continued:
“Just shows what an almighty fool a man can make of himself! One look at the girl in the flesh, and I was cured!”
Feeling more tongue-tied than ever, Tommy ejaculated “Oh!” again.
“No disparagement to Jane, mind you,” continued the other. “She’s a real nice girl, and some fellow will fall in love with her right away.”
“I thought her a very good-looking girl,” said Tommy, finding his tongue.
“Sure she is. But she’s not like her photo one bit. At least I suppose she is in a way—must be—because I recognized her right off. If I’d seen her in a crowd I’d have said ‘There’s a girl whose face I know’ right away without any hesitation. But there was something about that photo”—Julius shook his head, and heaved a sigh—”I guess romance is a mighty queer thing!”
“It must be,” said Tommy coldly, “if you can come over here in love with one girl, and propose to another within a fortnight.”
Julius had the grace to look discomposed.
“Well, you see, I’d got a sort of tired feeling that I’d never find Jane—and that it was all plumb foolishness anyway. And then—oh, well, the French, for instance, are much more sensible in the way they look at things. They keep romance and marriage apart——”
“Well, I’m damned! If that’s——”
Julius hastened to interrupt.
“Say now, don’t be hasty. I don’t mean what you mean. I take it Americans have a higher opinion of morality than you have even. What I meant was that the French set about marriage in a businesslike way—find two people who are suited to one another, look after the money affairs, and see the whole thing practically, and in a businesslike spirit.”
“If you ask me,” said Tommy, “we’re all too damned businesslike nowadays. We’re always saying, ‘Will it pay?’ The men are bad enough, and the girls are worse!”
“Cool down, son. Don’t get so heated.”
“I feel heated,” said Tommy.
Julius looked at him and judged it wise to say no more.
However, Tommy had plenty of time to cool down before they reached Holyhead, and the cheerful grin had returned to his countenance as they alighted at their destination.
After consultation, and with the aid of a road map, they were fairly well agreed as to direction, so were able to hire a taxi without more ado and drive out on the road leading to Treaddur Bay. They instructed the man to go slowly, and watched narrowly so as not to miss the path. They came to it not long after leaving the town, and Tommy stopped the car promptly, asked in a casual tone whether the path led down to the sea, and hearing it did paid off the man in handsome style.
A moment later the taxi was slowly chugging back to Holyhead. Tommy and Julius watched it out of sight, and then turned to the narrow path.
“It’s the right one, I suppose?” asked Tommy doubtfully. “There must be simply heaps along here.”
“Sure it is. Look at the gorse. Remember what Jane said?”
Tommy looked at the swelling hedges of golden blossom which bordered the path on either side, and was convinced.
They went down in single file, Julius leading. Twice Tommy turned his head uneasily. Julius looked back.
“What is it?”
“I don’t know. I’ve got the wind up somehow. Keep fancying there’s some one following us.”
“Can’t be,” said Julius positively. “We’d see him.”
Tommy had to admit that this was true. Nevertheless, his sense of uneasiness deepened. In spite of himself he believed in the omniscience of the enemy.
“I rather wish that fellow would come along,” said Julius. He patted his pocket. “Little William here is just aching for exercise!”
“Do you always carry it—him—with you?” inquired Tommy with burning curiosity.
“Most always. I guess you never know what might turn up.”
Tommy kept a respectful silence. He was impressed by little William. It seemed to remove the menace of Mr. Brown farther away.
The path was now running along the side of the cliff, parallel to the sea. Suddenly Julius came to such an abrupt halt that Tommy cannoned into him.
“What’s up?” he inquired.
“Look there. If that doesn’t beat the band!”
Tommy looked. Standing out half obstructing the path was a huge boulder which certainly bore a fanciful resemblance to a “begging” terrier.
“Well,” said Tommy, refusing to share Julius’s emotion, “it’s what we expected to see, isn’t it?”
Julius looked at him sadly and shook his head.
“British phlegm! Sure we expected it—but it kind of rattles me, all the same, to see it sitting there just where we expected to find it!”
Tommy, whose calm was, perhaps, more assumed than natural, moved his feet impatiently.
“Push on. What about the hole?”
They scanned the cliff-side narrowly. Tommy heard himself saying idiotically:
“The gorse won’t be there after all these years.”
And Julius replied solemnly:
“I guess you’re right.”
Tommy suddenly pointed with a shaking hand.
“What about that crevice there?”
Julius replied in an awestricken voice:
“That’s it—for sure.”
They looked at each other.
“When I was in France,” said Tommy reminiscently, “whenever my batman failed to call me, he always said that he had come over queer. I never believed it. But whether he felt it or not, there IS such a sensation. I’ve got it now! Badly!”
He looked at the rock with a kind of agonized passion.
“Damn it!” he cried. “It’s impossible! Five years! Think of it! Bird’s-nesting boys, picnic parties, thousands of people passing! It can’t be there! It’s a hundred to one against its being there! It’s against all reason!”
Indeed, he felt it to be impossible—more, perhaps, because he could not believe in his own success where so many others had failed. The thing was too easy, therefore it could not be. The hole would be empty.
Julius looked at him with a widening smile.
“I guess you’re rattled now all right,” he drawled with some enjoyment. “Well, here goes!” He thrust his hand into the crevice, and made a slight grimace. “It’s a tight fit. Jane’s hand must be a few sizes smaller than mine. I don’t feel anything—no—say, what’s this? Gee whiz!” And with a flourish he waved aloft a small discoloured packet. “It’s the goods all right. Sewn up in oilskin. Hold it while I get my penknife.”
The unbelievable had happened. Tommy held the precious packet tenderly between his hands. They had succeeded!
“It’s queer,” he murmured idly, “you’d think the stitches would have rotted. They look just as good as new.”
They cut them carefully and ripped away the oilskin. Inside was a small folded sheet of paper. With trembling fingers they unfolded it. The sheet was blank! They stared at each other, puzzled.
“A dummy?” hazarded Julius. “Was Danvers just a decoy?”
Tommy shook his head. That solution did not satisfy him. Suddenly his face cleared.
“I’ve got it! SYMPATHETIC INK!”
“You think so?”
“Worth trying anyhow. Heat usually does the trick. Get some sticks. We’ll make a fire.”
In a few minutes the little fire of twigs and leaves was blazing merrily. Tommy held the sheet of paper near the glow. The paper curled a little with the heat. Nothing more.
Suddenly Julius grasped his arm, and pointed to where characters were appearing in a faint brown colour.
“Gee whiz! You’ve got it! Say, that idea of yours was great. It never occurred to me.”
Tommy held the paper in position some minutes longer until he judged the heat had done its work. Then he withdrew it. A moment later he uttered a cry.
Across the sheet in neat brown printing ran the words: WITH THE COMPLIMENTS OF MR. BROWN.
CHAPTER XXI. TOMMY MAKES A DISCOVERY
FOR a moment or two they stood staring at each other stupidly, dazed with the shock. Somehow, inexplicably, Mr. Brown had forestalled them. Tommy accepted defeat quietly. Not so Julius.
“How in tarnation did he get ahead of us? That’s what beats me!” he ended up.
Tommy shook his head, and said dully:
“It accounts for the stitches being new. We might have guessed….”
“Never mind the darned stitches. How did he get ahead of us? We hustled all we knew. It’s downright impossible for anyone to get here quicker than we did. And, anyway, how did he know? Do you reckon there was a dictaphone in Jane’s room? I guess there must have been.”
But Tommy’s common sense pointed out objections.
“No one could have known beforehand that she was going to be in that house—much less that particular room.”
“That’s so,” admitted Julius. “Then one of the nurses was a crook and listened at the door. How’s that?”
“I don’t see that it matters anyway,” said Tommy wearily. “He may have found out some months ago, and removed the papers, then——No, by Jove, that won’t wash! They’d have been published at once.”
“Sure thing they would! No, some one’s got ahead of us to-day by an hour or so. But how they did it gets my goat.”
“I wish that chap Peel Edgerton had been with us,” said Tommy thoughtfully.
“Why?” Julius stared. “The mischief was done when we came.”
“Yes——” Tommy hesitated. He could not explain his own feeling—the illogical idea that the K.C.’s presence would somehow have averted the catastrophe. He reverted to his former point of view. “It’s no good arguing about how it was done. The game’s up. We’ve failed. There’s only one thing for me to do.”
“Get back to London as soon as possible. Mr. Carter must be warned. It’s only a matter of hours now before the blow falls. But, at any rate, he ought to know the worst.”
The duty was an unpleasant one, but Tommy had no intention of shirking it. He must report his failure to Mr. Carter. After that his work was done. He took the midnight mail to London. Julius elected to stay the night at Holyhead.
Half an hour after arrival, haggard and pale, Tommy stood before his chief.
“I’ve come to report, sir. I’ve failed—failed badly.”
Mr. Carter eyed him sharply.
“You mean that the treaty——”
“Is in the hands of Mr. Brown, sir.”
“Ah!” said Mr. Carter quietly. The expression on his face did not change, but Tommy caught the flicker of despair in his eyes. It convinced him as nothing else had done that the outlook was hopeless.
“Well,” said Mr. Carter after a minute or two, “we mustn’t sag at the knees, I suppose. I’m glad to know definitely. We must do what we can.”
Through Tommy’s mind flashed the assurance: “It’s hopeless, and he knows it’s hopeless!”
The other looked up at him.
“Don’t take it to heart, lad,” he said kindly. “You did your best. You were up against one of the biggest brains of the century. And you came very near success. Remember that.”
“Thank you, sir. It’s awfully decent of you.”
“I blame myself. I have been blaming myself ever since I heard this other news.”
Something in his tone attracted Tommy’s attention. A new fear gripped at his heart.
“Is there—something more, sir?”
“I’m afraid so,” said Mr. Carter gravely. He stretched out his hand to a sheet on the table.
“Tuppence——?” faltered Tommy.
“Read for yourself.”
The typewritten words danced before his eyes. The description of a green toque, a coat with a handkerchief in the pocket marked P.L.C. He looked an agonized question at Mr. Carter. The latter replied to it:
“Washed up on the Yorkshire coast—near Ebury. I’m afraid—it looks very much like foul play.”
“My God!” gasped Tommy. “TUPPENCE! Those devils—I’ll never rest till I’ve got even with them! I’ll hunt them down! I’ll——”
The pity on Mr. Carter’s face stopped him.
“I know what you feel like, my poor boy. But it’s no good. You’ll waste your strength uselessly. It may sound harsh, but my advice to you is: Cut your losses. Time’s merciful. You’ll forget.”
“Forget Tuppence? Never!”
Mr. Carter shook his head.
“So you think now. Well, it won’t bear thinking of—that brave little girl! I’m sorry about the whole business—confoundedly sorry.”
Tommy came to himself with a start.
“I’m taking up your time, sir,” he said with an effort. “There’s no need for you to blame yourself. I dare say we were a couple of young fools to take on such a job. You warned us all right. But I wish to God I’d been the one to get it in the neck. Good-bye, sir.”
Back at the Ritz, Tommy packed up his few belongings mechanically, his thoughts far away. He was still bewildered by the introduction of tragedy into his cheerful commonplace existence. What fun they had had together, he and Tuppence! And now—oh, he couldn’t believe it—it couldn’t be true! TUPPENCE—DEAD! Little Tuppence, brimming over with life! It was a dream, a horrible dream. Nothing more.
They brought him a note, a few kind words of sympathy from Peel Edgerton, who had read the news in the paper. (There had been a large headline: EX-V.A.D. FEARED DROWNED.) The letter ended with the offer of a post on a ranch in the Argentine, where Sir James had considerable interests.
“Kind old beggar,” muttered Tommy, as he flung it aside.
The door opened, and Julius burst in with his usual violence. He held an open newspaper in his hand.
“Say, what’s all this? They seem to have got some fool idea about Tuppence.”
“It’s true,” said Tommy quietly.
“You mean they’ve done her in?”
“I suppose when they got the treaty she—wasn’t any good to them any longer, and they were afraid to let her go.”
“Well, I’m darned!” said Julius. “Little Tuppence. She sure was the pluckiest little girl——”
But suddenly something seemed to crack in Tommy’s brain. He rose to his feet.
“Oh, get out! You don’t really care, damn you! You asked her to marry you in your rotten cold-blooded way, but I LOVED her. I’d have given the soul out of my body to save her from harm. I’d have stood by without a word and let her marry you, because you could have given her the sort of time she ought to have had, and I was only a poor devil without a penny to bless himself with. But it wouldn’t have been because I didn’t care!”
“See here,” began Julius temperately.
“Oh, go to the devil! I can’t stand your coming here and talking about ‘little Tuppence.’ Go and look after your cousin. Tuppence is my girl! I’ve always loved her, from the time we played together as kids. We grew up and it was just the same. I shall never forget when I was in hospital, and she came in in that ridiculous cap and apron! It was like a miracle to see the girl I loved turn up in a nurse’s kit——”
But Julius interrupted him.
“A nurse’s kit! Gee whiz! I must be going to Colney Hatch! I could swear I’ve seen Jane in a nurse’s cap too. And that’s plumb impossible! No, by gum, I’ve got it! It was her I saw talking to Whittington at that nursing home in Bournemouth. She wasn’t a patient there! She was a nurse!”
“I dare say,” said Tommy angrily, “she’s probably been in with them from the start. I shouldn’t wonder if she stole those papers from Danvers to begin with.”
“I’m darned if she did!” shouted Julius. “She’s my cousin, and as patriotic a girl as ever stepped.”
“I don’t care a damn what she is, but get out of here!” retorted Tommy also at the top of his voice.
The young men were on the point of coming to blows. But suddenly, with an almost magical abruptness, Julius’s anger abated.
“All right, son,” he said quietly, “I’m going. I don’t blame you any for what you’ve been saying. It’s mighty lucky you did say it. I’ve been the most almighty blithering darned idiot that it’s possible to imagine. Calm down”—Tommy had made an impatient gesture—”I’m going right away now—going to the London and North Western Railway depot, if you want to know.”
“I don’t care a damn where you’re going,” growled Tommy.
As the door closed behind Julius, he returned to his suit-case.
“That’s the lot,” he murmured, and rang the bell.
“Take my luggage down.”
“Yes, sir. Going away, sir?”
“I’m going to the devil,” said Tommy, regardless of the menial’s feelings.
That functionary, however, merely replied respectfully:
“Yes, sir. Shall I call a taxi?”
Where was he going? He hadn’t the faintest idea. Beyond a fixed determination to get even with Mr. Brown he had no plans. He re-read Sir James’s letter, and shook his head. Tuppence must be avenged. Still, it was kind of the old fellow.
“Better answer it, I suppose.” He went across to the writing-table. With the usual perversity of bedroom stationery, there were innumerable envelopes and no paper. He rang. No one came. Tommy fumed at the delay. Then he remembered that there was a good supply in Julius’s sitting-room. The American had announced his immediate departure, there would be no fear of running up against him. Besides, he wouldn’t mind if he did. He was beginning to be rather ashamed of the things he had said. Old Julius had taken them jolly well. He’d apologize if he found him there.
But the room was deserted. Tommy walked across to the writing-table, and opened the middle drawer. A photograph, carelessly thrust in face upwards, caught his eye. For a moment he stood rooted to the ground. Then he took it out, shut the drawer, walked slowly over to an arm-chair, and sat down still staring at the photograph in his hand.
What on earth was a photograph of the French girl Annette doing in Julius Hersheimmer’s writing-table?
CHAPTER XXII. IN DOWNING STREET
THE Prime Minister tapped the desk in front of him with nervous fingers. His face was worn and harassed. He took up his conversation with Mr. Carter at the point it had broken off. “I don’t understand,” he said. “Do you really mean that things are not so desperate after all?”
“So this lad seems to think.”
“Let’s have a look at his letter again.”
Mr. Carter handed it over. It was written in a sprawling boyish hand.
“DEAR MR. CARTER,
“Something’s turned up that has given me a jar. Of course I may be simply making an awful ass of myself, but I don’t think so. If my conclusions are right, that girl at Manchester was just a plant. The whole thing was prearranged, sham packet and all, with the object of making us think the game was up—therefore I fancy that we must have been pretty hot on the scent.
“I think I know who the real Jane Finn is, and I’ve even got an idea where the papers are. That last’s only a guess, of course, but I’ve a sort of feeling it’ll turn out right. Anyhow, I enclose it in a sealed envelope for what it’s worth. I’m going to ask you not to open it until the very last moment, midnight on the 28th, in fact. You’ll understand why in a minute. You see, I’ve figured it out that those things of Tuppence’s are a plant too, and she’s no more drowned than I am. The way I reason is this: as a last chance they’ll let Jane Finn escape in the hope that she’s been shamming this memory stunt, and that once she thinks she’s free she’ll go right away to the cache. Of course it’s an awful risk for them to take, because she knows all about them—but they’re pretty desperate to get hold of that treaty. BUT IF THEY KNOW THAT THE PAPERS HAVE BEEN RECOVERED BY US, neither of those two girls’ lives will be worth an hour’s purchase. I must try and get hold of Tuppence before Jane escapes.
“I want a repeat of that telegram that was sent to Tuppence at the Ritz. Sir James Peel Edgerton said you would be able to manage that for me. He’s frightfully clever.
“One last thing—please have that house in Soho watched day and night.
The Prime Minister looked up.
Mr. Carter smiled dryly.
“In the vaults of the Bank. I am taking no chances.”
“You don’t think”—the Prime Minister hesitated a minute—”that it would be better to open it now? Surely we ought to secure the document, that is, provided the young man’s guess turns out to be correct, at once. We can keep the fact of having done so quite secret.”
“Can we? I’m not so sure. There are spies all round us. Once it’s known I wouldn’t give that”—he snapped his fingers—”for the life of those two girls. No, the boy trusted me, and I shan’t let him down.”
“Well, well, we must leave it at that, then. What’s he like, this lad?”
“Outwardly, he’s an ordinary clean-limbed, rather block-headed young Englishman. Slow in his mental processes. On the other hand, it’s quite impossible to lead him astray through his imagination. He hasn’t got any—so he’s difficult to deceive. He worries things out slowly, and once he’s got hold of anything he doesn’t let go. The little lady’s quite different. More intuition and less common sense. They make a pretty pair working together. Pace and stamina.”
“He seems confident,” mused the Prime Minister.
“Yes, and that’s what gives me hope. He’s the kind of diffident youth who would have to be VERY sure before he ventured an opinion at all.”
A half smile came to the other’s lips.
“And it is this—boy who will defeat the master criminal of our time?”
“This—boy, as you say! But I sometimes fancy I see a shadow behind.”
“Peel Edgerton?” said the Prime Minister in astonishment.
“Yes. I see his hand in THIS.” He struck the open letter. “He’s there—working in the dark, silently, unobtrusively. I’ve always felt that if anyone was to run Mr. Brown to earth, Peel Edgerton would be the man. I tell you he’s on the case now, but doesn’t want it known. By the way, I got rather an odd request from him the other day.”
“He sent me a cutting from some American paper. It referred to a man’s body found near the docks in New York about three weeks ago. He asked me to collect any information on the subject I could.”
Carter shrugged his shoulders.
“I couldn’t get much. Young fellow about thirty-five—poorly dressed—face very badly disfigured. He was never identified.”
“And you fancy that the two matters are connected in some way?”
“Somehow I do. I may be wrong, of course.”
There was a pause, then Mr. Carter continued:
“I asked him to come round here. Not that we’ll get anything out of him he doesn’t want to tell. His legal instincts are too strong. But there’s no doubt he can throw light on one or two obscure points in young Beresford’s letter. Ah, here he is!”
The two men rose to greet the new-comer. A half whimsical thought flashed across the Premier’s mind. “My successor, perhaps!”
“We’ve had a letter from young Beresford,” said Mr. Carter, coming to the point at once. “You’ve seen him, I suppose?”
“You suppose wrong,” said the lawyer.
“Oh!” Mr. Carter was a little nonplussed.
Sir James smiled, and stroked his chin.
“He rang me up,” he volunteered.
“Would you have any objection to telling us exactly what passed between you?”
“Not at all. He thanked me for a certain letter which I had written to him—as a matter of fact, I had offered him a job. Then he reminded me of something I had said to him at Manchester respecting that bogus telegram which lured Miss Cowley away. I asked him if anything untoward had occurred. He said it had—that in a drawer in Mr. Hersheimmer’s room he had discovered a photograph.” The lawyer paused, then continued: “I asked him if the photograph bore the name and address of a Californian photographer. He replied: ‘You’re on to it, sir. It had.’ Then he went on to tell me something I DIDN’T know. The original of that photograph was the French girl, Annette, who saved his life.”
“Exactly. I asked the young man with some curiosity what he had done with the photograph. He replied that he had put it back where he found it.” The lawyer paused again. “That was good, you know—distinctly good. He can use his brains, that young fellow. I congratulated him. The discovery was a providential one. Of course, from the moment that the girl in Manchester was proved to be a plant everything was altered. Young Beresford saw that for himself without my having to tell it him. But he felt he couldn’t trust his judgment on the subject of Miss Cowley. Did I think she was alive? I told him, duly weighing the evidence, that there was a very decided chance in favour of it. That brought us back to the telegram.”
“I advised him to apply to you for a copy of the original wire. It had occurred to me as probable that, after Miss Cowley flung it on the floor, certain words might have been erased and altered with the express intention of setting searchers on a false trail.”
Carter nodded. He took a sheet from his pocket, and read aloud:
“Come at once, Astley Priors, Gatehouse, Kent. Great developments—TOMMY.”
“Very simple,” said Sir James, “and very ingenious. Just a few words to alter, and the thing was done. And the one important clue they overlooked.”
“What was that?”
“The page-boy’s statement that Miss Cowley drove to Charing Cross. They were so sure of themselves that they took it for granted he had made a mistake.”
“Then young Beresford is now?”
“At Gatehouse, Kent, unless I am much mistaken.”
Mr. Carter looked at him curiously.
“I rather wonder you’re not there too, Peel Edgerton?”
“Ah, I’m busy on a case.”
“I thought you were on your holiday?”
“Oh, I’ve not been briefed. Perhaps it would be more correct to say I’m preparing a case. Any more facts about that American chap for me?”
“I’m afraid not. Is it important to find out who he was?”
“Oh, I know who he was,” said Sir James easily. “I can’t prove it yet—but I know.”
The other two asked no questions. They had an instinct that it would be mere waste of breath.
“But what I don’t understand,” said the Prime-Minister suddenly, “is how that photograph came to be in Mr. Hersheimmer’s drawer?”
“Perhaps it never left it,” suggested the lawyer gently.
“But the bogus inspector? Inspector Brown?”
“Ah!” said Sir James thoughtfully. He rose to his feet. “I mustn’t keep you. Go on with the affairs of the nation. I must get back to—my case.”
Two days later Julius Hersheimmer returned from Manchester. A note from Tommy lay on his table:
“Sorry I lost my temper. In case I don’t see you again, good-bye. I’ve been offered a job in the Argentine, and might as well take it.
A peculiar smile lingered for a moment on Julius’s face. He threw the letter into the waste-paper basket.
“The darned fool!” he murmured.
CHAPTER XXIII. A RACE AGAINST TIME
AFTER ringing up Sir James, Tommy’s next procedure was to make a call at South Audley Mansions. He found Albert discharging his professional duties, and introduced himself without more ado as a friend of Tuppence’s. Albert unbent immediately.
“Things has been very quiet here lately,” he said wistfully. “Hope the young lady’s keeping well, sir?”
“That’s just the point, Albert. She’s disappeared.”
“You don’t mean as the crooks have got her?”
“In the Underworld?”
“No, dash it all, in this world!”
“It’s a h’expression, sir,” explained Albert. “At the pictures the crooks always have a restoorant in the Underworld. But do you think as they’ve done her in, sir?”
“I hope not. By the way, have you by any chance an aunt, a cousin, a grandmother, or any other suitable female relation who might be represented as being likely to kick the bucket?”
A delighted grin spread slowly over Albert’s countenance.
“I’m on, sir. My poor aunt what lives in the country has been mortal bad for a long time, and she’s asking for me with her dying breath.”
Tommy nodded approval.
“Can you report this in the proper quarter and meet me at Charing Cross in an hour’s time?”
“I’ll be there, sir. You can count on me.”
As Tommy had judged, the faithful Albert proved an invaluable ally. The two took up their quarters at the inn in Gatehouse. To Albert fell the task of collecting information. There was no difficulty about it.
Astley Priors was the property of a Dr. Adams. The doctor no longer practiced, had retired, the landlord believed, but he took a few private patients—here the good fellow tapped his forehead knowingly—”balmy ones! You understand!” The doctor was a popular figure in the village, subscribed freely to all the local sports—”a very pleasant, affable gentleman.” Been there long? Oh, a matter of ten years or so—might be longer. Scientific gentleman, he was. Professors and people often came down from town to see him. Anyway, it was a gay house, always visitors.
In the face of all this volubility, Tommy felt doubts. Was it possible that this genial, well-known figure could be in reality a dangerous criminal? His life seemed so open and aboveboard. No hint of sinister doings. Suppose it was all a gigantic mistake? Tommy felt a cold chill at the thought.
Then he remembered the private patients—”balmy ones.” He inquired carefully if there was a young lady amongst them, describing Tuppence. But nothing much seemed to be known about the patients—they were seldom seen outside the grounds. A guarded description of Annette also failed to provoke recognition.
Astley Priors was a pleasant red-brick edifice, surrounded by well-wooded grounds which effectually shielded the house from observation from the road.
On the first evening Tommy, accompanied by Albert, explored the grounds. Owing to Albert’s insistence they dragged themselves along painfully on their stomachs, thereby producing a great deal more noise than if they had stood upright. In any case, these precautions were totally unnecessary. The grounds, like those of any other private house after nightfall, seemed untenanted. Tommy had imagined a possible fierce watchdog. Albert’s fancy ran to a puma, or a tame cobra. But they reached a shrubbery near the house quite unmolested.
The blinds of the dining-room window were up. There was a large company assembled round the table. The port was passing from hand to hand. It seemed a normal, pleasant company. Through the open window scraps of conversation floated out disjointedly on the night air. It was a heated discussion on county cricket!
Again Tommy felt that cold chill of uncertainty. It seemed impossible to believe that these people were other than they seemed. Had he been fooled once more? The fair-bearded, spectacled gentleman who sat at the head of the table looked singularly honest and normal.
Tommy slept badly that night. The following morning the indefatigable Albert, having cemented an alliance with the greengrocer’s boy, took the latter’s place and ingratiated himself with the cook at Malthouse. He returned with the information that she was undoubtedly “one of the crooks,” but Tommy mistrusted the vividness of his imagination. Questioned, he could adduce nothing in support of his statement except his own opinion that she wasn’t the usual kind. You could see that at a glance.
The substitution being repeated (much to the pecuniary advantage of the real greengrocer’s boy) on the following day, Albert brought back the first piece of hopeful news. There WAS a French young lady staying in the house. Tommy put his doubts aside. Here was confirmation of his theory. But time pressed. To-day was the 27th. The 29th was the much-talked-of “Labour Day,” about which all sorts of rumours were running riot. Newspapers were getting agitated. Sensational hints of a Labour coup d’etat were freely reported. The Government said nothing. It knew and was prepared. There were rumours of dissension among the Labour leaders. They were not of one mind. The more far-seeing among them realized that what they proposed might well be a death-blow to the England that at heart they loved. They shrank from the starvation and misery a general strike would entail, and were willing to meet the Government half-way. But behind them were subtle, insistent forces at work, urging the memories of old wrongs, deprecating the weakness of half-and-half measures, fomenting misunderstandings.
Tommy felt that, thanks to Mr. Carter, he understood the position fairly accurately. With the fatal document in the hands of Mr. Brown, public opinion would swing to the side of the Labour extremists and revolutionists. Failing that, the battle was an even chance. The Government with a loyal army and police force behind them might win—but at a cost of great suffering. But Tommy nourished another and a preposterous dream. With Mr. Brown unmasked and captured he believed, rightly or wrongly, that the whole organization would crumble ignominiously and instantaneously. The strange permeating influence of the unseen chief held it together. Without him, Tommy believed an instant panic would set in; and, the honest men left to themselves, an eleventh-hour reconciliation would be possible.
“This is a one-man show,” said Tommy to himself. “The thing to do is to get hold of the man.”
It was partly in furtherance of this ambitious design that he had requested Mr. Carter not to open the sealed envelope. The draft treaty was Tommy’s bait. Every now and then he was aghast at his own presumption. How dared he think that he had discovered what so many wiser and clever men had overlooked? Nevertheless, he stuck tenaciously to his idea.
That evening he and Albert once more penetrated the grounds of Astley Priors. Tommy’s ambition was somehow or other to gain admission to the house itself. As they approached cautiously, Tommy gave a sudden gasp.
On the second floor window some one standing between the window and the light in the room threw a silhouette on the blind. It was one Tommy would have recognized anywhere! Tuppence was in that house!
He clutched Albert by the shoulder.
“Stay here! When I begin to sing, watch that window.”
He retreated hastily to a position on the main drive, and began in a deep roar, coupled with an unsteady gait, the following ditty:
I am a Soldier A jolly British Soldier;
You can see that I’m a Soldier by my feet…
It had been a favourite on the gramophone in Tuppence’s hospital days. He did not doubt but that she would recognize it and draw her own conclusions. Tommy had not a note of music in his voice, but his lungs were excellent. The noise he produced was terrific.
Presently an unimpeachable butler, accompanied by an equally unimpeachable footman, issued from the front door. The butler remonstrated with him. Tommy continued to sing, addressing the butler affectionately as “dear old whiskers.” The footman took him by one arm, the butler by the other. They ran him down the drive, and neatly out of the gate. The butler threatened him with the police if he intruded again. It was beautifully done—soberly and with perfect decorum. Anyone would have sworn that the butler was a real butler, the footman a real footman—only, as it happened, the butler was Whittington!
Tommy retired to the inn and waited for Albert’s return. At last that worthy made his appearance.
“Well?” cried Tommy eagerly.
“It’s all right. While they was a-running of you out the window opened, and something was chucked out.” He handed a scrap of paper to Tommy. “It was wrapped round a letterweight.”
On the paper were scrawled three words: “To-morrow—same time.”
“Good egg!” cried Tommy. “We’re getting going.”
“I wrote a message on a piece of paper, wrapped it round a stone, and chucked it through the window,” continued Albert breathlessly.
“Your zeal will be the undoing of us, Albert. What did you say?”
“Said we was a-staying at the inn. If she could get away, to come there and croak like a frog.”
“She’ll know that’s you,” said Tommy with a sigh of relief. “Your imagination runs away with you, you know, Albert. Why, you wouldn’t recognize a frog croaking if you heard it.”
Albert looked rather crest-fallen.
“Cheer up,” said Tommy. “No harm done. That butler’s an old friend of mine—I bet he knew who I was, though he didn’t let on. It’s not their game to show suspicion. That’s why we’ve found it fairly plain sailing. They don’t want to discourage me altogether. On the other hand, they don’t want to make it too easy. I’m a pawn in their game, Albert, that’s what I am. You see, if the spider lets the fly walk out too easily, the fly might suspect it was a put-up job. Hence the usefulness of that promising youth, Mr. T. Beresford, who’s blundered in just at the right moment for them. But later, Mr. T. Beresford had better look out!”
Tommy retired for the night in a state of some elation. He had elaborated a careful plan for the following evening. He felt sure that the inhabitants of Astley Priors would not interfere with him up to a certain point. It was after that that Tommy proposed to give them a surprise.
About twelve o’clock, however, his calm was rudely shaken. He was told that some one was demanding him in the bar. The applicant proved to be a rude-looking carter well coated with mud.
“Well, my good fellow, what is it?” asked Tommy.
“Might this be for you, sir?” The carter held out a very dirty folded note, on the outside of which was written: “Take this to the gentleman at the inn near Astley Priors. He will give you ten shillings.”
The handwriting was Tuppence’s. Tommy appreciated her quick-wittedness in realizing that he might be staying at the inn under an assumed name. He snatched at it.
“That’s all right.”
The man withheld it.
“What about my ten shillings?”
Tommy hastily produced a ten-shilling note, and the man relinquished his find. Tommy unfastened it.
“I knew it was you last night. Don’t go this evening. They’ll be lying in wait for you. They’re taking us away this morning. I heard something about Wales—Holyhead, I think. I’ll drop this on the road if I get a chance. Annette told me how you’d escaped. Buck up.
Tommy raised a shout for Albert before he had even finished perusing this characteristic epistle.
“Pack my bag! We’re off!”
“Yes, sir.” The boots of Albert could be heard racing upstairs. Holyhead? Did that mean that, after all——Tommy was puzzled. He read on slowly.
The boots of Albert continued to be active on the floor above.
Suddenly a second shout came from below.
“Albert! I’m a damned fool! Unpack that bag!”
Tommy smoothed out the note thoughtfully.
“Yes, a damned fool,” he said softly. “But so’s some one else! And at last I know who it is!”
CHAPTER XXIV. JULIUS TAKES A HAND
IN his suite at Claridge’s, Kramenin reclined on a couch and dictated to his secretary in sibilant Russian.
Presently the telephone at the secretary’s elbow purred, and he took up the receiver, spoke for a minute or two, then turned to his employer.
“Some one below is asking for you.”
“Who is it?”
“He gives the name of Mr. Julius P. Hersheimmer.”
“Hersheimmer,” repeated Kramenin thoughtfully. “I have heard that name before.”
“His father was one of the steel kings of America,” explained the secretary, whose business it was to know everything. “This young man must be a millionaire several times over.”
The other’s eyes narrowed appreciatively.
“You had better go down and see him, Ivan. Find out what he wants.”
The secretary obeyed, closing the door noiselessly behind him. In a few minutes he returned.
“He declines to state his business—says it is entirely private and personal, and that he must see you.”
“A millionaire several times over,” murmured Kramenin. “Bring him up, my dear Ivan.”
The secretary left the room once more, and returned escorting Julius.
“Monsieur Kramenin?” said the latter abruptly.
The Russian, studying him attentively with his pale venomous eyes, bowed.
“Pleased to meet you,” said the American. “I’ve got some very important business I’d like to talk over with you, if I can see you alone.” He looked pointedly at the other.
“My secretary, Monsieur Grieber, from whom I have no secrets.”
“That may be so—but I have,” said Julius dryly. “So I’d be obliged if you’d tell him to scoot.”
“Ivan,” said the Russian softly, “perhaps you would not mind retiring into the next room——”
“The next room won’t do,” interrupted Julius. “I know these ducal suites—and I want this one plumb empty except for you and me. Send him round to a store to buy a penn’orth of peanuts.”
Though not particularly enjoying the American’s free and easy manner of speech, Kramenin was devoured by curiosity. “Will your business take long to state?”
“Might be an all night job if you caught on.”
“Very good, Ivan. I shall not require you again this evening. Go to the theatre—take a night off.”
“Thank you, your excellency.”
The secretary bowed and departed.
Julius stood at the door watching his retreat. Finally, with a satisfied sigh, he closed it, and came back to his position in the centre of the room.
“Now, Mr. Hersheimmer, perhaps you will be so kind as to come to the point?”
“I guess that won’t take a minute,” drawled Julius. Then, with an abrupt change of manner: “Hands up—or I shoot!”
For a moment Kramenin stared blindly into the big automatic, then, with almost comical haste, he flung up his hands above his head. In that instant Julius had taken his measure. The man he had to deal with was an abject physical coward—the rest would be easy.
“This is an outrage,” cried the Russian in a high hysterical voice. “An outrage! Do you mean to kill me?”
“Not if you keep your voice down. Don’t go edging sideways towards that bell. That’s better.”
“What do you want? Do nothing rashly. Remember my life is of the utmost value to my country. I may have been maligned——”
“I reckon,” said Julius, “that the man who let daylight into you would be doing humanity a good turn. But you needn’t worry any. I’m not proposing to kill you this trip—that is, if you’re reasonable.”
The Russian quailed before the stern menace in the other’s eyes. He passed his tongue over his dry lips.
“What do you want? Money?”
“No. I want Jane Finn.”
“Jane Finn? I—never heard of her!”
“You’re a darned liar! You know perfectly who I mean.”
“I tell you I’ve never heard of the girl.”
“And I tell you,” retorted Julius, “that Little Willie here is just hopping mad to go off!”
The Russian wilted visibly.
“You wouldn’t dare——”
“Oh, yes, I would, son!”
Kramenin must have recognized something in the voice that carried conviction, for he said sullenly:
“Well? Granted I do know who you mean—what of it?”
“You will tell me now—right here—where she is to be found.”
Kramenin shook his head.
“I daren’t. You ask an impossibility.”
“Afraid, eh? Of whom? Mr. Brown? Ah, that tickles you up! There is such a person, then? I doubted it. And the mere mention of him scares you stiff!”
“I have seen him,” said the Russian slowly. “Spoken to him face to face. I did not know it until afterwards. He was one of a crowd. I should not know him again. Who is he really? I do not know. But I know this—he is a man to fear.”
“He’ll never know,” said Julius.
“He knows everything—and his vengeance is swift. Even I—Kramenin!—would not be exempt!”
“Then you won’t do as I ask you?”
“You ask an impossibility.”
“Sure that’s a pity for you,” said Julius cheerfully. “But the world in general will benefit.” He raised the revolver.
“Stop,” shrieked the Russian. “You cannot mean to shoot me?”
“Of course I do. I’ve always heard you Revolutionists held life cheap, but it seems there’s a difference when it’s your own life in question. I gave you just one chance of saving your dirty skin, and that you wouldn’t take!”
“They would kill me!”
“Well,” said Julius pleasantly, “it’s up to you. But I’ll just say this. Little Willie here is a dead cert, and if I was you I’d take a sporting chance with Mr. Brown!”
“You will hang if you shoot me,” muttered the Russian irresolutely.
“No, stranger, that’s where you’re wrong. You forget the dollars. A big crowd of solicitors will get busy, and they’ll get some high-brow doctors on the job, and the end of it all will be that they’ll say my brain was unhinged. I shall spend a few months in a quiet sanatorium, my mental health will improve, the doctors will declare me sane again, and all will end happily for little Julius. I guess I can bear a few months’ retirement in order to rid the world of you, but don’t you kid yourself I’ll hang for it!”
The Russian believed him. Corrupt himself, he believed implicitly in the power of money. He had read of American murder trials running much on the lines indicated by Julius. He had bought and sold justice himself. This virile young American, with the significant drawling voice, had the whip hand of him.
“I’m going to count five,” continued Julius, “and I guess, if you let me get past four, you needn’t worry any about Mr. Brown. Maybe he’ll send some flowers to the funeral, but YOU won’t smell them! Are you ready? I’ll begin. One—two three—four——”
The Russian interrupted with a shriek:
“Do not shoot. I will do all you wish.”
Julius lowered the revolver.
“I thought you’d hear sense. Where is the girl?”
“At Gatehouse, in Kent. Astley Priors, the place is called.”
“Is she a prisoner there?”
“She’s not allowed to leave the house—though it’s safe enough really. The little fool has lost her memory, curse her!”
“That’s been annoying for you and your friends, I reckon. What about the other girl, the one you decoyed away over a week ago?”
“She’s there too,” said the Russian sullenly.
“That’s good,” said Julius. “Isn’t it all panning out beautifully? And a lovely night for the run!”
“What run?” demanded Kramenin, with a stare.
“Down to Gatehouse, sure. I hope you’re fond of motoring?”
“What do you mean? I refuse to go.”
“Now don’t get mad. You must see I’m not such a kid as to leave you here. You’d ring up your friends on that telephone first thing! Ah!” He observed the fall on the other’s face. “You see, you’d got it all fixed. No, sir, you’re coming along with me. This your bedroom next door here? Walk right in. Little Willie and I will come behind. Put on a thick coat, that’s right. Fur lined? And you a Socialist! Now we’re ready. We walk downstairs and out through the hall to where my car’s waiting. And don’t you forget I’ve got you covered every inch of the way. I can shoot just as well through my coat pocket. One word, or a glance even, at one of those liveried menials, and there’ll sure be a strange face in the Sulphur and Brimstone Works!”
Together they descended the stairs, and passed out to the waiting car. The Russian was shaking with rage. The hotel servants surrounded them. A cry hovered on his lips, but at the last minute his nerve failed him. The American was a man of his word.
When they reached the car, Julius breathed a sigh of relief. The danger-zone was passed. Fear had successfully hypnotized the man by his side.
“Get in,” he ordered. Then as he caught the other’s sidelong glance, “No, the chauffeur won’t help you any. Naval man. Was on a submarine in Russia when the Revolution broke out. A brother of his was murdered by your people. George!”
“Yes, sir?” The chauffeur turned his head.
“This gentleman is a Russian Bolshevik. We don’t want to shoot him, but it may be necessary. You understand?”
“I want to go to Gatehouse in Kent. Know the road at all?”
“Yes, sir, it will be about an hour and a half’s run.”
“Make it an hour. I’m in a hurry.”
“I’ll do my best, sir.” The car shot forward through the traffic.
Julius ensconced himself comfortably by the side of his victim. He kept his hand in the pocket of his coat, but his manner was urbane to the last degree.
“There was a man I shot once in Arizona——” he began cheerfully.
At the end of the hour’s run the unfortunate Kramenin was more dead than alive. In succession to the anecdote of the Arizona man, there had been a tough from ‘Frisco, and an episode in the Rockies. Julius’s narrative style, if not strictly accurate, was picturesque!
Slowing down, the chauffeur called over his shoulder that they were just coming into Gatehouse. Julius bade the Russian direct them. His plan was to drive straight up to the house. There Kramenin was to ask for the two girls. Julius explained to him that Little Willie would not be tolerant of failure. Kramenin, by this time, was as putty in the other’s hands. The terrific pace they had come had still further unmanned him. He had given himself up for dead at every corner.
The car swept up the drive, and stopped before the porch. The chauffeur looked round for orders.
“Turn the car first, George. Then ring the bell, and get back to your place. Keep the engine going, and be ready to scoot like hell when I give the word.”
“Very good, sir.”
The front door was opened by the butler. Kramenin felt the muzzle of the revolver pressed against his ribs.
“Now,” hissed Julius. “And be careful.”
The Russian beckoned. His lips were white, and his voice was not very steady:
“It is I—Kramenin! Bring down the girl at once! There is no time to lose!”
Whittington had come down the steps. He uttered an exclamation of astonishment at seeing the other.
“You! What’s up? Surely you know the plan——”
Kramenin interrupted him, using the words that have created many unnecessary panics:
“We have been betrayed! Plans must be abandoned. We must save our own skins. The girl! And at once! It’s our only chance.”
Whittington hesitated, but for hardly a moment.
“You have orders—from HIM?”
“Naturally! Should I be here otherwise? Hurry! There is no time to be lost. The other little fool had better come too.”
Whittington turned and ran back into the house. The agonizing minutes went by. Then—two figures hastily huddled in cloaks appeared on the steps and were hustled into the car. The smaller of the two was inclined to resist and Whittington shoved her in unceremoniously. Julius leaned forward, and in doing so the light from the open door lit up his face. Another man on the steps behind Whittington gave a startled exclamation. Concealment was at an end.
“Get a move on, George,” shouted Julius.
The chauffeur slipped in his clutch, and with a bound the car started.
The man on the steps uttered an oath. His hand went to his pocket. There was a flash and a report. The bullet just missed the taller girl by an inch.
“Get down, Jane,” cried Julius. “Flat on the bottom of the car.” He thrust her sharply forward, then standing up, he took careful aim and fired.
“Have you hit him?” cried Tuppence eagerly.
“Sure,” replied Julius. “He isn’t killed, though. Skunks like that take a lot of killing. Are you all right, Tuppence?”
“Of course I am. Where’s Tommy? And who’s this?” She indicated the shivering Kramenin.
“Tommy’s making tracks for the Argentine. I guess he thought you’d turned up your toes. Steady through the gate, George! That’s right. It’ll take ’em at least five minutes to get busy after us. They’ll use the telephone, I guess, so look out for snares ahead—and don’t take the direct route. Who’s this, did you say, Tuppence? Let me present Monsieur Kramenin. I persuaded him to come on the trip for his health.”
The Russian remained mute, still livid with terror.
“But what made them let us go?” demanded Tuppence suspiciously.
“I reckon Monsieur Kramenin here asked them so prettily they just couldn’t refuse!”
This was too much for the Russian. He burst out vehemently:
“Curse you—curse you! They know now that I betrayed them. My life won’t be safe for an hour in this country.”
“That’s so,” assented Julius. “I’d advise you to make tracks for Russia right away.”
“Let me go, then,” cried the other. “I have done what you asked. Why do you still keep me with you?”
“Not for the pleasure of your company. I guess you can get right off now if you want to. I thought you’d rather I tooled you back to London.”
“You may never reach London,” snarled the other. “Let me go here and now.”
“Sure thing. Pull up, George. The gentleman’s not making the return trip. If I ever come to Russia, Monsieur Kramenin, I shall expect a rousing welcome, and——”
But before Julius had finished his speech, and before the car had finally halted, the Russian had swung himself out and disappeared into the night.
“Just a mite impatient to leave us,” commented Julius, as the car gathered way again. “And no idea of saying good-bye politely to the ladies. Say, Jane, you can get up on the seat now.”
For the first time the girl spoke.
“How did you ‘persuade’ him?” she asked.
Julius tapped his revolver.
“Little Willie here takes the credit!”
“Splendid!” cried the girl. The colour surged into her face, her eyes looked admiringly at Julius.
“Annette and I didn’t know what was going to happen to us,” said Tuppence. “Old Whittington hurried us off. We thought it was lambs to the slaughter.”
“Annette,” said Julius. “Is that what you call her?”
His mind seemed to be trying to adjust itself to a new idea.
“It’s her name,” said Tuppence, opening her eyes very wide.
“Shucks!” retorted Julius. “She may think it’s her name, because her memory’s gone, poor kid. But it’s the one real and original Jane Finn we’ve got here.”
“What?” cried Tuppence.
But she was interrupted. With an angry spurt, a bullet embedded itself in the upholstery of the car just behind her head.
“Down with you,” cried Julius. “It’s an ambush. These guys have got busy pretty quickly. Push her a bit, George.”
The car fairly leapt forward. Three more shots rang out, but went happily wide. Julius, upright, leant over the back of the car.
“Nothing to shoot at,” he announced gloomily. “But I guess there’ll be another little picnic soon. Ah!”
He raised his hand to his cheek.
“You are hurt?” said Annette quickly.
“Only a scratch.”
The girl sprang to her feet.
“Let me out! Let me out, I say! Stop the car. It is me they’re after. I’m the one they want. You shall not lose your lives because of me. Let me go.” She was fumbling with the fastenings of the door.
Julius took her by both arms, and looked at her. She had spoken with no trace of foreign accent.
“Sit down, kid,” he said gently. “I guess there’s nothing wrong with your memory. Been fooling them all the time, eh?”
The girl looked at him, nodded, and then suddenly burst into tears. Julius patted her on the shoulder.
“There, there—just you sit tight. We’re not going to let you quit.”
Through her sobs the girl said indistinctly:
“You’re from home. I can tell by your voice. It makes me home-sick.”
“Sure I’m from home. I’m your cousin—Julius Hersheimmer. I came over to Europe on purpose to find you—and a pretty dance you’ve led me.”
The car slackened speed. George spoke over his shoulder:
“Cross-roads here, sir. I’m not sure of the way.”
The car slowed down till it hardly moved. As it did so a figure climbed suddenly over the back, and plunged head first into the midst of them.
“Sorry,” said Tommy, extricating himself.
A mass of confused exclamations greeted him. He replied to them severally:
“Was in the bushes by the drive. Hung on behind. Couldn’t let you know before at the pace you were going. It was all I could do to hang on. Now then, you girls, get out!”
“Yes. There’s a station just up that road. Train due in three minutes. You’ll catch it if you hurry.”
“What the devil are you driving at?” demanded Julius. “Do you think you can fool them by leaving the car?”
“You and I aren’t going to leave the car. Only the girls.”
“You’re crazed, Beresford. Stark staring mad! You can’t let those girls go off alone. It’ll be the end of it if you do.”
Tommy turned to Tuppence.
“Get out at once, Tuppence. Take her with you, and do just as I say. No one will do you any harm. You’re safe. Take the train to London. Go straight to Sir James Peel Edgerton. Mr. Carter lives out of town, but you’ll be safe with him.”
“Darn you!” cried Julius. “You’re mad. Jane, you stay where you are.”
With a sudden swift movement, Tommy snatched the revolver from Julius’s hand, and levelled it at him.
“Now will you believe I’m in earnest? Get out, both of you, and do as I say—or I’ll shoot!”
Tuppence sprang out, dragging the unwilling Jane after her.
“Come on, it’s all right. If Tommy’s sure—he’s sure. Be quick. We’ll miss the train.”
They started running.
Julius’s pent-up rage burst forth.
“What the hell——”
Tommy interrupted him.
“Dry up! I want a few words with you, Mr. Julius Hersheimmer.”
CHAPTER XXV. JANE’S STORY
HER arm through Jane’s, dragging her along, Tuppence reached the station. Her quick ears caught the sound of the approaching train.
“Hurry up,” she panted, “or we’ll miss it.”
They arrived on the platform just as the train came to a standstill. Tuppence opened the door of an empty first-class compartment, and the two girls sank down breathless on the padded seats.
A man looked in, then passed on to the next carriage. Jane started nervously. Her eyes dilated with terror. She looked questioningly at Tuppence.
“Is he one of them, do you think?” she breathed.
Tuppence shook her head.
“No, no. It’s all right.” She took Jane’s hand in hers. “Tommy wouldn’t have told us to do this unless he was sure we’d be all right.”
“But he doesn’t know them as I do!” The girl shivered. “You can’t understand. Five years! Five long years! Sometimes I thought I should go mad.”
“Never mind. It’s all over.”
The train was moving now, speeding through the night at a gradually increasing rate. Suddenly Jane Finn started up.
“What was that? I thought I saw a face—looking in through the window.”
“No, there’s nothing. See.” Tuppence went to the window, and lifting the strap let the pane down.
The other seemed to feel some excuse was necessary:
“I guess I’m acting like a frightened rabbit, but I can’t help it. If they caught me now they’d——” Her eyes opened wide and staring.
“DON’T!” implored Tuppence. “Lie back, and DON’T THINK. You can be quite sure that Tommy wouldn’t have said it was safe if it wasn’t.”
“My cousin didn’t think so. He didn’t want us to do this.”
“No,” said Tuppence, rather embarrassed.
“What are you thinking of?” said Jane sharply.
“Your voice was so—queer!”
“I WAS thinking of something,” confessed Tuppence. “But I don’t want to tell you—not now. I may be wrong, but I don’t think so. It’s just an idea that came into my head a long time ago. Tommy’s got it too—I’m almost sure he has. But don’t YOU worry—there’ll be time enough for that later. And it mayn’t be so at all! Do what I tell you—lie back and don’t think of anything.”
“I’ll try.” The long lashes drooped over the hazel eyes.
Tuppence, for her part, sat bolt upright—much in the attitude of a watchful terrier on guard. In spite of herself she was nervous. Her eyes flashed continually from one window to the other. She noted the exact position of the communication cord. What it was that she feared, she would have been hard put to it to say. But in her own mind she was far from feeling the confidence displayed in her words. Not that she disbelieved in Tommy, but occasionally she was shaken with doubts as to whether anyone so simple and honest as he was could ever be a match for the fiendish subtlety of the arch-criminal.
If they once reached Sir James Peel Edgerton in safety, all would be well. But would they reach him? Would not the silent forces of Mr. Brown already be assembling against them? Even that last picture of Tommy, revolver in hand, failed to comfort her. By now he might be overpowered, borne down by sheer force of numbers…. Tuppence mapped out her plan of campaign.
As the train at length drew slowly into Charing Cross, Jane Finn sat up with a start.
“Have we arrived? I never thought we should!”
“Oh, I thought we’d get to London all right. If there’s going to be any fun, now is when it will begin. Quick, get out. We’ll nip into a taxi.”
In another minute they were passing the barrier, had paid the necessary fares, and were stepping into a taxi.
“King’s Cross,” directed Tuppence. Then she gave a jump. A man looked in at the window, just as they started. She was almost certain it was the same man who had got into the carriage next to them. She had a horrible feeling of being slowly hemmed in on every side.
“You see,” she explained to Jane, “if they think we’re going to Sir James, this will put them off the scent. Now they’ll imagine we’re going to Mr. Carter. His country place is north of London somewhere.”
Crossing Holborn there was a block, and the taxi was held up. This was what Tuppence had been waiting for.
“Quick,” she whispered. “Open the right-hand door!”
The two girls stepped out into the traffic. Two minutes later they were seated in another taxi and were retracing their steps, this time direct to Carlton House Terrace.
“There,” said Tuppence, with great satisfaction, “this ought to do them. I can’t help thinking that I’m really rather clever! How that other taxi man will swear! But I took his number, and I’ll send him a postal order to-morrow, so that he won’t lose by it if he happens to be genuine. What’s this thing swerving——Oh!”
There was a grinding noise and a bump. Another taxi had collided with them.
In a flash Tuppence was out on the pavement. A policeman was approaching. Before he arrived Tuppence had handed the driver five shillings, and she and Jane had merged themselves in the crowd.
“It’s only a step or two now,” said Tuppence breathlessly. The accident had taken place in Trafalgar Square.
“Do you think the collision was an accident, or done deliberately?”
“I don’t know. It might have been either.”
Hand-in-hand, the two girls hurried along.
“It may be my fancy,” said Tuppence suddenly, “but I feel as though there was some one behind us.”
“Hurry!” murmured the other. “Oh, hurry!”
They were now at the corner of Carlton House Terrace, and their spirits lightened. Suddenly a large and apparently intoxicated man barred their way.
“Good evening, ladies,” he hiccupped. “Whither away so fast?”
“Let us pass, please,” said Tuppence imperiously.
“Just a word with your pretty friend here.” He stretched out an unsteady hand, and clutched Jane by the shoulder. Tuppence heard other footsteps behind. She did not pause to ascertain whether they were friends or foes. Lowering her head, she repeated a manoeuvre of childish days, and butted their aggressor full in the capacious middle. The success of these unsportsmanlike tactics was immediate. The man sat down abruptly on the pavement. Tuppence and Jane took to their heels. The house they sought was some way down. Other footsteps echoed behind them. Their breath was coming in choking gasps as they reached Sir James’s door. Tuppence seized the bell and Jane the knocker.
The man who had stopped them reached the foot of the steps. For a moment he hesitated, and as he did so the door opened. They fell into the hall together. Sir James came forward from the library door.
“Hullo! What’s this?”
He stepped forward, and put his arm round Jane as she swayed uncertainly. He half carried her into the library, and laid her on the leather couch. From a tantalus on the table he poured out a few drops of brandy, and forced her to drink them. With a sigh she sat up, her eyes still wild and frightened.
“It’s all right. Don’t be afraid, my child. You’re quite safe.”
Her breath came more normally, and the colour was returning to her cheeks. Sir James looked at Tuppence quizzically.
“So you’re not dead, Miss Tuppence, any more than that Tommy boy of yours was!”
“The Young Adventurers take a lot of killing,” boasted Tuppence.
“So it seems,” said Sir James dryly. “Am I right in thinking that the joint venture has ended in success, and that this”—he turned to the girl on the couch—”is Miss Jane Finn?”
Jane sat up.
“Yes,” she said quietly, “I am Jane Finn. I have a lot to tell you.”
“When you are stronger——”
“No—now!” Her voice rose a little. “I shall feel safer when I have told everything.”
“As you please,” said the lawyer.
He sat down in one of the big arm-chairs facing the couch. In a low voice Jane began her story.
“I came over on the Lusitania to take up a post in Paris. I was fearfully keen about the war, and just dying to help somehow or other. I had been studying French, and my teacher said they were wanting help in a hospital in Paris, so I wrote and offered my services, and they were accepted. I hadn’t got any folk of my own, so it made it easy to arrange things.
“When the Lusitania was torpedoed, a man came up to me. I’d noticed him more than once—and I’d figured it out in my own mind that he was afraid of somebody or something. He asked me if I was a patriotic American, and told me he was carrying papers which were just life or death to the Allies. He asked me to take charge of them. I was to watch for an advertisement in the Times. If it didn’t appear, I was to take them to the American Ambassador.
“Most of what followed seems like a nightmare still. I see it in my dreams sometimes…. I’ll hurry over that part. Mr. Danvers had told me to watch out. He might have been shadowed from New York, but he didn’t think so. At first I had no suspicions, but on the boat to Holyhead I began to get uneasy. There was one woman who had been very keen to look after me, and chum up with me generally—a Mrs. Vandemeyer. At first I’d been only grateful to her for being so kind to me; but all the time I felt there was something about her I didn’t like, and on the Irish boat I saw her talking to some queer-looking men, and from the way they looked I saw that they were talking about me. I remembered that she’d been quite near me on the Lusitania when Mr. Danvers gave me the packet, and before that she’d tried to talk to him once or twice. I began to get scared, but I didn’t quite see what to do.
“I had a wild idea of stopping at Holyhead, and not going on to London that day, but I soon saw that that would be plumb foolishness. The only thing was to act as though I’d noticed nothing, and hope for the best. I couldn’t see how they could get me if I was on my guard. One thing I’d done already as a precaution—ripped open the oilskin packet and substituted blank paper, and then sewn it up again. So, if anyone did manage to rob me of it, it wouldn’t matter.
“What to do with the real thing worried me no end. Finally I opened it out flat—there were only two sheets—and laid it between two of the advertisement pages of a magazine. I stuck the two pages together round the edge with some gum off an envelope. I carried the magazine carelessly stuffed into the pocket of my ulster.
“At Holyhead I tried to get into a carriage with people that looked all right, but in a queer way there seemed always to be a crowd round me shoving and pushing me just the way I didn’t want to go. There was something uncanny and frightening about it. In the end I found myself in a carriage with Mrs. Vandemeyer after all. I went out into the corridor, but all the other carriages were full, so I had to go back and sit down. I consoled myself with the thought that there were other people in the carriage—there was quite a nice-looking man and his wife sitting just opposite. So I felt almost happy about it until just outside London. I had leaned back and closed my eyes. I guess they thought I was asleep, but my eyes weren’t quite shut, and suddenly I saw the nice-looking man get something out of his bag and hand it to Mrs. Vandemeyer, and as he did so he WINKED….
“I can’t tell you how that wink sort of froze me through and through. My only thought was to get out in the corridor as quick as ever I could. I got up, trying to look natural and easy. Perhaps they saw something—I don’t know—but suddenly Mrs. Vandemeyer said ‘Now,’ and flung something over my nose and mouth as I tried to scream. At the same moment I felt a terrific blow on the back of my head….”
She shuddered. Sir James murmured something sympathetically. In a minute she resumed:
“I don’t know how long it was before I came back to consciousness. I felt very ill and sick. I was lying on a dirty bed. There was a screen round it, but I could hear two people talking in the room. Mrs. Vandemeyer was one of them. I tried to listen, but at first I couldn’t take much in. When at last I did begin to grasp what was going on—I was just terrified! I wonder I didn’t scream right out there and then.
“They hadn’t found the papers. They’d got the oilskin packet with the blanks, and they were just mad! They didn’t know whether I’d changed the papers, or whether Danvers had been carrying a dummy message, while the real one was sent another way. They spoke of”—she closed her eyes—”torturing me to find out!
“I’d never known what fear—really sickening fear—was before! Once they came to look at me. I shut my eyes and pretended to be still unconscious, but I was afraid they’d hear the beating of my heart. However, they went away again. I began thinking madly. What could I do? I knew I wouldn’t be able to stand up against torture very long.
“Suddenly something put the thought of loss of memory into my head. The subject had always interested me, and I’d read an awful lot about it. I had the whole thing at my finger-tips. If only I could succeed in carrying the bluff through, it might save me. I said a prayer, and drew a long breath. Then I opened my eyes and started babbling in FRENCH!
“Mrs. Vandemeyer came round the screen at once. Her face was so wicked I nearly died, but I smiled up at her doubtfully, and asked her in French where I was.
“It puzzled her, I could see. She called the man she had been talking to. He stood by the screen with his face in shadow. He spoke to me in French. His voice was very ordinary and quiet, but somehow, I don’t know why, he scared me worse than the woman. I felt he’d seen right through me, but I went on playing my part. I asked again where I was, and then went on that there was something I MUST remember—MUST remember—only for the moment it was all gone. I worked myself up to be more and more distressed. He asked me my name. I said I didn’t know—that I couldn’t remember anything at all.
“Suddenly he caught my wrist, and began twisting it. The pain was awful. I screamed. He went on. I screamed and screamed, but I managed to shriek out things in French. I don’t know how long I could have gone on, but luckily I fainted. The last thing I heard was his voice saying: ‘That’s not bluff! Anyway, a kid of her age wouldn’t know enough.’ I guess he forgot American girls are older for their age than English ones, and take more interest in scientific subjects.
“When I came to, Mrs. Vandemeyer was sweet as honey to me. She’d had her orders, I guess. She spoke to me in French—told me I’d had a shock and been very ill. I should be better soon. I pretended to be rather dazed—murmured something about the ‘doctor’ having hurt my wrist. She looked relieved when I said that.
“By and by she went out of the room altogether. I was suspicious still, and lay quite quiet for some time. In the end, however, I got up and walked round the room, examining it. I thought that even if anyone WAS watching me from somewhere, it would seem natural enough under the circumstances. It was a squalid, dirty place. There were no windows, which seemed queer. I guessed the door would be locked, but I didn’t try it. There were some battered old pictures on the walls, representing scenes from Faust.”
Jane’s two listeners gave a simultaneous “Ah!” The girl nodded.
“Yes—it was the place in Soho where Mr. Beresford was imprisoned. Of course, at the time I didn’t even know if I was in London. One thing was worrying me dreadfully, but my heart gave a great throb of relief when I saw my ulster lying carelessly over the back of a chair. AND THE MAGAZINE WAS STILL ROLLED UP IN THE POCKET!
“If only I could be certain that I was not being overlooked! I looked carefully round the walls. There didn’t seem to be a peep-hole of any kind—nevertheless I felt kind of sure there must be. All of a sudden I sat down on the edge of the table, and put my face in my hands, sobbing out a ‘Mon Dieu! Mon Dieu!’ I’ve got very sharp ears. I distinctly heard the rustle of a dress, and slight creak. That was enough for me. I was being watched!
“I lay down on the bed again, and by and by Mrs. Vandemeyer brought me some supper. She was still sweet as they make them. I guess she’d been told to win my confidence. Presently she produced the oilskin packet, and asked me if I recognized it, watching me like a lynx all the time.
“I took it and turned it over in a puzzled sort of way. Then I shook my head. I said that I felt I OUGHT to remember something about it, that it was just as though it was all coming back, and then, before I could get hold of it, it went again. Then she told me that I was her niece, and that I was to call her ‘Aunt Rita.’ I did obediently, and she told me not to worry—my memory would soon come back.
“That was an awful night. I’d made my plan whilst I was waiting for her. The papers were safe so far, but I couldn’t take the risk of leaving them there any longer. They might throw that magazine away any minute. I lay awake waiting until I judged it must be about two o’clock in the morning. Then I got up as softly as I could, and felt in the dark along the left-hand wall. Very gently, I unhooked one of the pictures from its nail—Marguerite with her casket of jewels. I crept over to my coat and took out the magazine, and an odd envelope or two that I had shoved in. Then I went to the washstand, and damped the brown paper at the back of the picture all round. Presently I was able to pull it away. I had already torn out the two stuck-together pages from the magazine, and now I slipped them with their precious enclosure between the picture and its brown paper backing. A little gum from the envelopes helped me to stick the latter up again. No one would dream the picture had ever been tampered with. I rehung it on the wall, put the magazine back in my coat pocket, and crept back to bed. I was pleased with my hiding-place. They’d never think of pulling to pieces one of their own pictures. I hoped that they’d come to the conclusion that Danvers had been carrying a dummy all along, and that, in the end, they’d let me go.
“As a matter of fact, I guess that’s what they did think at first, and, in a way, it was dangerous for me. I learnt afterwards that they nearly did away with me then and there—there was never much chance of their ‘letting me go’—but the first man, who was the boss, preferred to keep me alive on the chance of my having hidden them, and being able to tell where if I recovered my memory. They watched me constantly for weeks. Sometimes they’d ask me questions by the hour—I guess there was nothing they didn’t know about the third degree!—but somehow I managed to hold my own. The strain of it was awful, though…
“They took me back to Ireland, and over every step of the Journey again, in case I’d hidden it somewhere en route. Mrs. Vandemeyer and another woman never left me for a moment. They spoke of me as a young relative of Mrs. Vandemeyer’s whose mind was affected by the shock of the Lusitania. There was no one I could appeal to for help without giving myself away to THEM, and if I risked it and failed—and Mrs. Vandemeyer looked so rich, and so beautifully dressed, that I felt convinced they’d take her word against mine, and think it was part of my mental trouble to think myself ‘persecuted’—I felt that the horrors in store for me would be too awful once they knew I’d been only shamming.”
Sir James nodded comprehendingly.
“Mrs. Vandemeyer was a woman of great personality. With that and her social position she would have had little difficulty in imposing her point of view in preference to yours. Your sensational accusations against her would not easily have found credence.”
“That’s what I thought. It ended in my being sent to a sanatorium at Bournemouth. I couldn’t make up my mind at first whether it was a sham affair or genuine. A hospital nurse had charge of me. I was a special patient. She seemed so nice and normal that at last I determined to confide in her. A merciful providence just saved me in time from falling into the trap. My door happened to be ajar, and I heard her talking to some one in the passage. SHE WAS ONE OF THEM! They still fancied it might be a bluff on my part, and she was put in charge of me to make sure! After that, my nerve went completely. I dared trust nobody.
“I think I almost hypnotized myself. After a while, I almost forgot that I was really Jane Finn. I was so bent on playing the part of Janet Vandemeyer that my nerves began to play me tricks. I became really ill—for months I sank into a sort of stupor. I felt sure I should die soon, and that nothing really mattered. A sane person shut up in a lunatic asylum often ends by becoming insane, they say. I guess I was like that. Playing my part had become second nature to me. I wasn’t even unhappy in the end—just apathetic. Nothing seemed to matter. And the years went on.
“And then suddenly things seemed to change. Mrs. Vandemeyer came down from London. She and the doctor asked me questions, experimented with various treatments. There was some talk of sending me to a specialist in Paris. In the end, they did not dare risk it. I overheard something that seemed to show that other people—friends—were looking for me. I learnt later that the nurse who had looked after me went to Paris, and consulted a specialist, representing herself to be me. He put her through some searching tests, and exposed her loss of memory to be fraudulent; but she had taken a note of his methods and reproduced them on me. I dare say I couldn’t have deceived the specialist for a minute—a man who has made a lifelong study of a thing is unique—but I managed once again to hold my own with them. The fact that I’d not thought of myself as Jane Finn for so long made it easier.
“One night I was whisked off to London at a moment’s notice. They took me back to the house in Soho. Once I got away from the sanatorium I felt different—as though something in me that had been buried for a long time was waking up again.
“They sent me in to wait on Mr. Beresford. (Of course I didn’t know his name then.) I was suspicious—I thought it was another trap. But he looked so honest, I could hardly believe it. However, I was careful in all I said, for I knew we could be overheard. There’s a small hole, high up in the wall.
“But on the Sunday afternoon a message was brought to the house. They were all very disturbed. Without their knowing, I listened. Word had come that he was to be killed. I needn’t tell the next part, because you know it. I thought I’d have time to rush up and get the papers from their hiding-place, but I was caught. So I screamed out that he was escaping, and I said I wanted to go back to Marguerite. I shouted the name three times very loud. I knew the others would think I meant Mrs. Vandemeyer, but I hoped it might make Mr. Beresford think of the picture. He’d unhooked one the first day—that’s what made me hesitate to trust him.”
“Then the papers,” said Sir James slowly, “are still at the back of the picture in that room.”
“Yes.” The girl had sunk back on the sofa exhausted with the strain of the long story.
Sir James rose to his feet. He looked at his watch.
“Come,” he said, “we must go at once.”
“To-night?” queried Tuppence, surprised.
“To-morrow may be too late,” said Sir James gravely. “Besides, by going to-night we have the chance of capturing that great man and super-criminal—Mr. Brown!”
There was dead silence, and Sir James continued:
“You have been followed here—not a doubt of it. When we leave the house we shall be followed again, but not molested, FOR IT IS MR. BROWN’S PLAN THAT WE ARE TO LEAD HIM. But the Soho house is under police supervision night and day. There are several men watching it. When we enter that house, Mr. Brown will not draw back—he will risk all, on the chance of obtaining the spark to fire his mine. And he fancies the risk not great—since he will enter in the guise of a friend!”
Tuppence flushed, then opened her mouth impulsively.
“But there’s something you don’t know—that we haven’t told you.” Her eyes dwelt on Jane in perplexity.
“What is that?” asked the other sharply. “No hesitations, Miss Tuppence. We need to be sure of our going.”
But Tuppence, for once, seemed tongue-tied.
“It’s so difficult—you see, if I’m wrong—oh, it would be dreadful.” She made a grimace at the unconscious Jane. “Never forgive me,” she observed cryptically.
“You want me to help you out, eh?”
“Yes, please. YOU know who Mr. Brown is, don’t you?”
“Yes,” said Sir James gravely. “At last I do.”
“At last?” queried Tuppence doubtfully. “Oh, but I thought——” She paused.
“You thought correctly, Miss Tuppence. I have been morally certain of his identity for some time—ever since the night of Mrs. Vandemeyer’s mysterious death.”
“Ah!” breathed Tuppence.
“For there we are up against the logic of facts. There are only two solutions. Either the chloral was administered by her own hand, which theory I reject utterly, or else——”
“Or else it was administered in the brandy you gave her. Only three people touched that brandy—you, Miss Tuppence, I myself, and one other—Mr. Julius Hersheimmer!”
Jane Finn stirred and sat up, regarding the speaker with wide astonished eyes.
“At first, the thing seemed utterly impossible. Mr. Hersheimmer, as the son of a prominent millionaire, was a well-known figure in America. It seemed utterly impossible that he and Mr. Brown could be one and the same. But you cannot escape from the logic of facts. Since the thing was so—it must be accepted. Remember Mrs. Vandemeyer’s sudden and inexplicable agitation. Another proof, if proof was needed.
“I took an early opportunity of giving you a hint. From some words of Mr. Hersheimmer’s at Manchester, I gathered that you had understood and acted on that hint. Then I set to work to prove the impossible possible. Mr. Beresford rang me up and told me, what I had already suspected, that the photograph of Miss Jane Finn had never really been out of Mr. Hersheimmer’s possession——”
But the girl interrupted. Springing to her feet, she cried out angrily:
“What do you mean? What are you trying to suggest? That Mr. Brown is JULIUS? Julius—my own cousin!”
“No, Miss Finn,” said Sir James unexpectedly. “Not your cousin. The man who calls himself Julius Hersheimmer is no relation to you whatsoever.”
CHAPTER XXVI. MR. BROWN
SIR James’s words came like a bomb-shell. Both girls looked equally puzzled. The lawyer went across to his desk, and returned with a small newspaper cutting, which he handed to Jane. Tuppence read it over her shoulder. Mr. Carter would have recognized it. It referred to the mysterious man found dead in New York.
“As I was saying to Miss Tuppence,” resumed the lawyer, “I set to work to prove the impossible possible. The great stumbling-block was the undeniable fact that Julius Hersheimmer was not an assumed name. When I came across this paragraph my problem was solved. Julius Hersheimmer set out to discover what had become of his cousin. He went out West, where he obtained news of her and her photograph to aid him in his search. On the eve of his departure from New York he was set upon and murdered. His body was dressed in shabby clothes, and the face disfigured to prevent identification. Mr. Brown took his place. He sailed immediately for England. None of the real Hersheimmer’s friends or intimates saw him before he sailed—though indeed it would hardly have mattered if they had, the impersonation was so perfect. Since then he had been hand and glove with those sworn to hunt him down. Every secret of theirs has been known to him. Only once did he come near disaster. Mrs. Vandemeyer knew his secret. It was no part of his plan that that huge bribe should ever be offered to her. But for Miss Tuppence’s fortunate change of plan, she would have been far away from the flat when we arrived there. Exposure stared him in the face. He took a desperate step, trusting in his assumed character to avert suspicion. He nearly succeeded—but not quite.”
“I can’t believe it,” murmured Jane. “He seemed so splendid.”
“The real Julius Hersheimmer WAS a splendid fellow! And Mr. Brown is a consummate actor. But ask Miss Tuppence if she also has not had her suspicions.”
Jane turned mutely to Tuppence. The latter nodded.
“I didn’t want to say it, Jane—I knew it would hurt you. And, after all, I couldn’t be sure. I still don’t understand why, if he’s Mr. Brown, he rescued us.”
“Was it Julius Hersheimmer who helped you to escape?”
Tuppence recounted to Sir James the exciting events of the evening, ending up: “But I can’t see WHY!”
“Can’t you? I can. So can young Beresford, by his actions. As a last hope Jane Finn was to be allowed to escape—and the escape must be managed so that she harbours no suspicions of its being a put-up job. They’re not averse to young Beresford’s being in the neighbourhood, and, if necessary, communicating with you. They’ll take care to get him out of the way at the right minute. Then Julius Hersheimmer dashes up and rescues you in true melodramatic style. Bullets fly—but don’t hit anybody. What would have happened next? You would have driven straight to the house in Soho and secured the document which Miss Finn would probably have entrusted to her cousin’s keeping. Or, if he conducted the search, he would have pretended to find the hiding-place already rifled. He would have had a dozen ways of dealing with the situation, but the result would have been the same. And I rather fancy some accident would have happened to both of you. You see, you know rather an inconvenient amount. That’s a rough outline. I admit I was caught napping; but somebody else wasn’t.”
“Tommy,” said Tuppence softly.
“Yes. Evidently when the right moment came to get rid of him—he was too sharp for them. All the same, I’m not too easy in my mind about him.”
“Because Julius Hersheimmer is Mr. Brown,” said Sir James dryly. “And it takes more than one man and a revolver to hold up Mr. Brown….”
Tuppence paled a little.
“What can we do?”
“Nothing until we’ve been to the house in Soho. If Beresford has still got the upper hand, there’s nothing to fear. If otherwise, our enemy will come to find us, and he will not find us unprepared!” From a drawer in the desk, he took a service revolver, and placed it in his coat pocket.
“Now we’re ready. I know better than even to suggest going without you, Miss Tuppence——”
“I should think so indeed!”
“But I do suggest that Miss Finn should remain here. She will be perfectly safe, and I am afraid she is absolutely worn out with all she has been through.”
But to Tuppence’s surprise Jane shook her head.
“No. I guess I’m going too. Those papers were my trust. I must go through with this business to the end. I’m heaps better now anyway.”
Sir James’s car was ordered round. During the short drive Tuppence’s heart beat tumultuously. In spite of momentary qualms of uneasiness respecting Tommy, she could not but feel exultation. They were going to win!
The car drew up at the corner of the square and they got out. Sir James went up to a plain-clothes man who was on duty with several others, and spoke to him. Then he rejoined the girls.
“No one has gone into the house so far. It is being watched at the back as well, so they are quite sure of that. Anyone who attempts to enter after we have done so will be arrested immediately. Shall we go in?”
A policeman produced a key. They all knew Sir James well. They had also had orders respecting Tuppence. Only the third member of the party was unknown to them. The three entered the house, pulling the door to behind them. Slowly they mounted the rickety stairs. At the top was the ragged curtain hiding the recess where Tommy had hidden that day. Tuppence had heard the story from Jane in her character of “Annette.” She looked at the tattered velvet with interest. Even now she could almost swear it moved—as though some one was behind it. So strong was the illusion that she almost fancied she could make out the outline of a form…. Supposing Mr. Brown—Julius—was there waiting….
Impossible of course! Yet she almost went back to put the curtain aside and make sure….
Now they were entering the prison room. No place for anyone to hide here, thought Tuppence, with a sigh of relief, then chided herself indignantly. She must not give way to this foolish fancying—this curious insistent feeling that MR. BROWN WAS IN THE HOUSE…. Hark! what was that? A stealthy footstep on the stairs? There WAS some one in the house! Absurd! She was becoming hysterical.
Jane had gone straight to the picture of Marguerite. She unhooked it with a steady hand. The dust lay thick upon it, and festoons of cobwebs lay between it and the wall. Sir James handed her a pocket-knife, and she ripped away the brown paper from the back…. The advertisement page of a magazine fell out. Jane picked it up. Holding apart the frayed inner edges she extracted two thin sheets covered with writing!
No dummy this time! The real thing!
“We’ve got it,” said Tuppence. “At last….”
The moment was almost breathless in its emotion. Forgotten the faint creakings, the imagined noises of a minute ago. None of them had eyes for anything but what Jane held in her hand.
Sir James took it, and scrutinized it attentively.
“Yes,” he said quietly, “this is the ill-fated draft treaty!”
“We’ve succeeded,” said Tuppence. There was awe and an almost wondering unbelief in her voice.
Sir James echoed her words as he folded the paper carefully and put it away in his pocket-book, then he looked curiously round the dingy room.
“It was here that our young friend was confined for so long, was it not?” he said. “A truly sinister room. You notice the absence of windows, and the thickness of the close-fitting door. Whatever took place here would never be heard by the outside world.”
Tuppence shivered. His words woke a vague alarm in her. What if there WAS some one concealed in the house? Some one who might bar that door on them, and leave them to die like rats in a trap? Then she realized the absurdity of her thought. The house was surrounded by police who, if they failed to reappear, would not hesitate to break in and make a thorough search. She smiled at her own foolishness—then looked up with a start to find Sir James watching her. He gave her an emphatic little nod.
“Quite right, Miss Tuppence. You scent danger. So do I. So does Miss Finn.”
“Yes,” admitted Jane. “It’s absurd—but I can’t help it.”
Sir James nodded again.
“You feel—as we all feel—THE PRESENCE OF MR. BROWN. Yes”—as Tuppence made a movement—”not a doubt of it—MR. BROWN IS HERE….”
“In this house?”
“In this room…. You don’t understand? I AM MR. BROWN….”
Stupefied, unbelieving, they stared at him. The very lines of his face had changed. It was a different man who stood before them. He smiled a slow cruel smile.
“Neither of you will leave this room alive! You said just now we had succeeded. I have succeeded! The draft treaty is mine.” His smile grew wider as he looked at Tuppence. “Shall I tell you how it will be? Sooner or later the police will break in, and they will find three victims of Mr. Brown—three, not two, you understand, but fortunately the third will not be dead, only wounded, and will be able to describe the attack with a wealth of detail! The treaty? It is in the hands of Mr. Brown. So no one will think of searching the pockets of Sir James Peel Edgerton!”
He turned to Jane.
“You outwitted me. I make my acknowledgments. But you will not do it again.”
There was a faint sound behind him, but, intoxicated with success, he did not turn his head.
He slipped his hand into his pocket.
“Checkmate to the Young Adventurers,” he said, and slowly raised the big automatic.
But, even as he did so, he felt himself seized from behind in a grip of iron. The revolver was wrenched from his hand, and the voice of Julius Hersheimmer said drawlingly:
“I guess you’re caught redhanded with the goods upon you.”
The blood rushed to the K.C.’s face, but his self-control was marvellous, as he looked from one to the other of his two captors. He looked longest at Tommy.
“You,” he said beneath his breath. “YOU! I might have known.”
Seeing that he was disposed to offer no resistance, their grip slackened. Quick as a flash his left hand, the hand which bore the big signet ring, was raised to his lips….
“‘Ave, Caesar! te morituri salutant,'” he said, still looking at Tommy.
Then his face changed, and with a long convulsive shudder he fell forward in a crumpled heap, whilst an odour of bitter almonds filled the air.
CHAPTER XXVII. A SUPPER PARTY AT THE SAVOY
THE supper party given by Mr. Julius Hersheimmer to a few friends on the evening of the 30th will long be remembered in catering circles. It took place in a private room, and Mr. Hersheimmer’s orders were brief and forcible. He gave carte blanche—and when a millionaire gives carte blanche he usually gets it!
Every delicacy out of season was duly provided. Waiters carried bottles of ancient and royal vintage with loving care. The floral decorations defied the seasons, and fruits of the earth as far apart as May and November found themselves miraculously side by side. The list of guests was small and select. The American Ambassador, Mr. Carter, who had taken the liberty, he said, of bringing an old friend, Sir William Beresford, with him, Archdeacon Cowley, Dr. Hall, those two youthful adventurers, Miss Prudence Cowley and Mr. Thomas Beresford, and last, but not least, as guest of honour, Miss Jane Finn.
Julius had spared no pains to make Jane’s appearance a success. A mysterious knock had brought Tuppence to the door of the apartment she was sharing with the American girl. It was Julius. In his hand he held a cheque.
“Say, Tuppence,” he began, “will you do me a good turn? Take this, and get Jane regularly togged up for this evening. You’re all coming to supper with me at the Savoy. See? Spare no expense. You get me?”
“Sure thing,” mimicked Tuppence. “We shall enjoy ourselves. It will be a pleasure dressing Jane. She’s the loveliest thing I’ve ever seen.”
“That’s so,” agreed Mr. Hersheimmer fervently.
His fervour brought a momentary twinkle to Tuppence’s eye.
“By the way, Julius,” she remarked demurely, “I—haven’t given you my answer yet.”
“Answer?” said Julius. His face paled.
“You know—when you asked me to—marry you,” faltered Tuppence, her eyes downcast in the true manner of the early Victorian heroine, “and wouldn’t take no for an answer. I’ve thought it well over——”
“Yes?” said Julius. The perspiration stood on his forehead.
Tuppence relented suddenly.
“You great idiot!” she said. “What on earth induced you to do it? I could see at the time you didn’t care a twopenny dip for me!”
“Not at all. I had—and still have—the highest sentiments of esteem and respect—and admiration for you——”
“H’m!” said Tuppence. “Those are the kind of sentiments that very soon go to the wall when the other sentiment comes along! Don’t they, old thing?”
“I don’t know what you mean,” said Julius stiffly, but a large and burning blush overspread his countenance.
“Shucks!” retorted Tuppence. She laughed, and closed the door, reopening it to add with dignity: “Morally, I shall always consider I have been jilted!”
“What was it?” asked Jane as Tuppence rejoined her.
“What did he want?”
“Really, I think, he wanted to see you, but I wasn’t going to let him. Not until to-night, when you’re going to burst upon every one like King Solomon in his glory! Come on! WE’RE GOING TO SHOP!”
To most people the 29th, the much-heralded “Labour Day,” had passed much as any other day. Speeches were made in the Park and Trafalgar Square. Straggling processions, singing the Red Flag, wandered through the streets in a more or less aimless manner. Newspapers which had hinted at a general strike, and the inauguration of a reign of terror, were forced to hide their diminished heads. The bolder and more astute among them sought to prove that peace had been effected by following their counsels. In the Sunday papers a brief notice of the sudden death of Sir James Peel Edgerton, the famous K.C., had appeared. Monday’s paper dealt appreciatively with the dead man’s career. The exact manner of his sudden death was never made public.
Tommy had been right in his forecast of the situation. It had been a one-man show. Deprived of their chief, the organization fell to pieces. Kramenin had made a precipitate return to Russia, leaving England early on Sunday morning. The gang had fled from Astley Priors in a panic, leaving behind, in their haste, various damaging documents which compromised them hopelessly. With these proofs of conspiracy in their hands, aided further by a small brown diary taken from the pocket of the dead man which had contained a full and damning resume of the whole plot, the Government had called an eleventh-hour conference. The Labour leaders were forced to recognize that they had been used as a cat’s paw. Certain concessions were made by the Government, and were eagerly accepted. It was to be Peace, not War!
But the Cabinet knew by how narrow a margin they had escaped utter disaster. And burnt in on Mr. Carter’s brain was the strange scene which had taken place in the house in Soho the night before.
He had entered the squalid room to find that great man, the friend of a lifetime, dead—betrayed out of his own mouth. From the dead man’s pocket-book he had retrieved the ill-omened draft treaty, and then and there, in the presence of the other three, it had been reduced to ashes…. England was saved!
And now, on the evening of the 30th, in a private room at the Savoy, Mr. Julius P. Hersheimmer was receiving his guests.
Mr. Carter was the first to arrive. With him was a choleric-looking old gentleman, at sight of whom Tommy flushed up to the roots of his hair. He came forward.
“Ha!” said the old gentleman, surveying him apoplectically. “So you’re my nephew, are you? Not much to look at—but you’ve done good work, it seems. Your mother must have brought you up well after all. Shall we let bygones be bygones, eh? You’re my heir, you know; and in future I propose to make you an allowance—and you can look upon Chalmers Park as your home.”
“Thank you, sir, it’s awfully decent of you.”
“Where’s this young lady I’ve been hearing such a lot about?”
Tommy introduced Tuppence.
“Ha!” said Sir William, eyeing her. “Girls aren’t what they used to be in my young days.”
“Yes, they are,” said Tuppence. “Their clothes are different, perhaps, but they themselves are just the same.”
“Well, perhaps you’re right. Minxes then—minxes now!”
“That’s it,” said Tuppence. “I’m a frightful minx myself.”
“I believe you,” said the old gentleman, chuckling, and pinched her ear in high good-humour. Most young women were terrified of the “old bear,” as they termed him. Tuppence’s pertness delighted the old misogynist.
Then came the timid archdeacon, a little bewildered by the company in which he found himself, glad that his daughter was considered to have distinguished herself, but unable to help glancing at her from time to time with nervous apprehension. But Tuppence behaved admirably. She forbore to cross her legs, set a guard upon her tongue, and steadfastly refused to smoke.
Dr. Hall came next, and he was followed by the American Ambassador.
“We might as well sit down,” said Julius, when he had introduced all his guests to each other. “Tuppence, will you——”
He indicated the place of honour with a wave of his hand.
But Tuppence shook her head.
“No—that’s Jane’s place! When one thinks of how she’s held out all these years, she ought to be made the queen of the feast to-night.”
Julius flung her a grateful glance, and Jane came forward shyly to the allotted seat. Beautiful as she had seemed before, it was as nothing to the loveliness that now went fully adorned. Tuppence had performed her part faithfully. The model gown supplied by a famous dressmaker had been entitled “A tiger lily.” It was all golds and reds and browns, and out of it rose the pure column of the girl’s white throat, and the bronze masses of hair that crowned her lovely head. There was admiration in every eye, as she took her seat.
Soon the supper party was in full swing, and with one accord Tommy was called upon for a full and complete explanation.
“You’ve been too darned close about the whole business,” Julius accused him. “You let on to me that you were off to the Argentine—though I guess you had your reasons for that. The idea of both you and Tuppence casting me for the part of Mr. Brown just tickles me to death!”
“The idea was not original to them,” said Mr. Carter gravely. “It was suggested, and the poison very carefully instilled, by a past-master in the art. The paragraph in the New York paper suggested the plan to him, and by means of it he wove a web that nearly enmeshed you fatally.”
“I never liked him,” said Julius. “I felt from the first that there was something wrong about him, and I always suspected that it was he who silenced Mrs. Vandemeyer so appositely. But it wasn’t till I heard that the order for Tommy’s execution came right on the heels of our interview with him that Sunday that I began to tumble to the fact that he was the big bug himself.”
“I never suspected it at all,” lamented Tuppence. “I’ve always thought I was so much cleverer than Tommy—but he’s undoubtedly scored over me handsomely.”
“Tommy’s been the goods this trip! And, instead of sitting there as dumb as a fish, let him banish his blushes, and tell us all about it.”
“There’s nothing to tell,” said Tommy, acutely uncomfortable. “I was an awful mug—right up to the time I found that photograph of Annette, and realized that she was Jane Finn. Then I remembered how persistently she had shouted out that word ‘Marguerite’—and I thought of the pictures, and—well, that’s that. Then of course I went over the whole thing to see where I’d made an ass of myself.”
“Go on,” said Mr. Carter, as Tommy showed signs of taking refuge in silence once more.
“That business about Mrs. Vandemeyer had worried me when Julius told me about it. On the face of it, it seemed that he or Sir James must have done the trick. But I didn’t know which. Finding that photograph in the drawer, after that story of how it had been got from him by Inspector Brown, made me suspect Julius. Then I remembered that it was Sir James who had discovered the false Jane Finn. In the end, I couldn’t make up my mind—and just decided to take no chances either way. I left a note for Julius, in case he was Mr. Brown, saying I was off to the Argentine, and I dropped Sir James’s letter with the offer of the job by the desk so that he would see it was a genuine stunt. Then I wrote my letter to Mr. Carter and rang up Sir James. Taking him into my confidence would be the best thing either way, so I told him everything except where I believed the papers to be hidden. The way he helped me to get on the track of Tuppence and Annette almost disarmed me, but not quite. I kept my mind open between the two of them. And then I got a bogus note from Tuppence—and I knew!”
Tommy took the note in question from his pocket and passed it round the table.
“It’s her handwriting all right, but I knew it wasn’t from her because of the signature. She’d never spell her name ‘Twopence,’ but anyone who’d never seen it written might quite easily do so. Julius HAD seen it—he showed me a note of hers to him once—but SIR JAMES HADN’T! After that everything was plain sailing. I sent off Albert post-haste to Mr. Carter. I pretended to go away, but doubled back again. When Julius came bursting up in his car, I felt it wasn’t part of Mr. Brown’s plan—and that there would probably be trouble. Unless Sir James was actually caught in the act, so to speak, I knew Mr. Carter would never believe it of him on my bare word——”
“I didn’t,” interposed Mr. Carter ruefully.
“That’s why I sent the girls off to Sir James. I was sure they’d fetch up at the house in Soho sooner or later. I threatened Julius with the revolver, because I wanted Tuppence to repeat that to Sir James, so that he wouldn’t worry about us. The moment the girls were out of sight I told Julius to drive like hell for London, and as we went along I told him the whole story. We got to the Soho house in plenty of time and met Mr. Carter outside. After arranging things with him we went in and hid behind the curtain in the recess. The policemen had orders to say, if they were asked, that no one had gone into the house. That’s all.”
And Tommy came to an abrupt halt.
There was silence for a moment.
“By the way,” said Julius suddenly, “you’re all wrong about that photograph of Jane. It WAS taken from me, but I found it again.”
“Where?” cried Tuppence.
“In that little safe on the wall in Mrs. Vandemeyer’s bedroom.”
“I knew you found something,” said Tuppence reproachfully. “To tell you the truth, that’s what started me off suspecting you. Why didn’t you say?”
“I guess I was a mite suspicious too. It had been got away from me once, and I determined I wouldn’t let on I’d got it until a photographer had made a dozen copies of it!”
“We all kept back something or other,” said Tuppence thoughtfully. “I suppose secret service work makes you like that!”
In the pause that ensued, Mr. Carter took from his pocket a small shabby brown book.
“Beresford has just said that I would not have believed Sir James Peel Edgerton to be guilty unless, so to speak, he was caught in the act. That is so. Indeed, not until I read the entries in this little book could I bring myself fully to credit the amazing truth. This book will pass into the possession of Scotland Yard, but it will never be publicly exhibited. Sir James’s long association with the law would make it undesirable. But to you, who know the truth, I propose to read certain passages which will throw some light on the extraordinary mentality of this great man.”
He opened the book, and turned the thin pages.
“… It is madness to keep this book. I know that. It is documentary evidence against me. But I have never shrunk from taking risks. And I feel an urgent need for self-expression…. The book will only be taken from my dead body….
“… From an early age I realized that I had exceptional abilities. Only a fool underestimates his capabilities. My brain power was greatly above the average. I know that I was born to succeed. My appearance was the only thing against me. I was quiet and insignificant—utterly nondescript….
“… When I was a boy I heard a famous murder trial. I was deeply impressed by the power and eloquence of the counsel for the defence. For the first time I entertained the idea of taking my talents to that particular market…. Then I studied the criminal in the dock…. The man was a fool—he had been incredibly, unbelievably stupid. Even the eloquence of his counsel was hardly likely to save him. I felt an immeasurable contempt for him…. Then it occurred to me that the criminal standard was a low one. It was the wastrels, the failures, the general riff-raff of civilization who drifted into crime…. Strange that men of brains had never realized its extraordinary opportunities…. I played with the idea…. What a magnificent field—what unlimited possibilities! It made my brain reel….
“… I read standard works on crime and criminals. They all confirmed my opinion. Degeneracy, disease—never the deliberate embracing of a career by a far-seeing man. Then I considered. Supposing my utmost ambitions were realized—that I was called to the bar, and rose to the height of my profession? That I entered politics—say, even, that I became Prime Minister of England? What then? Was that power? Hampered at every turn by my colleagues, fettered by the democratic system of which I should be the mere figurehead! No—the power I dreamed of was absolute! An autocrat! A dictator! And such power could only be obtained by working outside the law. To play on the weaknesses of human nature, then on the weaknesses of nations—to get together and control a vast organization, and finally to overthrow the existing order, and rule! The thought intoxicated me….
“… I saw that I must lead two lives. A man like myself is bound to attract notice. I must have a successful career which would mask my true activities…. Also I must cultivate a personality. I modelled myself upon famous K.C.’s. I reproduced their mannerisms, their magnetism. If I had chosen to be an actor, I should have been the greatest actor living! No disguises—no grease paint—no false beards! Personality! I put it on like a glove! When I shed it, I was myself, quiet, unobtrusive, a man like every other man. I called myself Mr. Brown. There are hundreds of men called Brown—there are hundreds of men looking just like me….
“… I succeeded in my false career. I was bound to succeed. I shall succeed in the other. A man like me cannot fail….
“… I have been reading a life of Napoleon. He and I have much in common….
“… I make a practice of defending criminals. A man should look after his own people….
“… Once or twice I have felt afraid. The first time was in Italy. There was a dinner given. Professor D——, the great alienist, was present. The talk fell on insanity. He said, ‘A great many men are mad, and no one knows it. They do not know it themselves.’ I do not understand why he looked at me when he said that. His glance was strange…. I did not like it….
“… The war has disturbed me…. I thought it would further my plans. The Germans are so efficient. Their spy system, too, was excellent. The streets are full of these boys in khaki. All empty-headed young fools…. Yet I do not know…. They won the war…. It disturbs me….
“… My plans are going well…. A girl butted in—I do not think she really knew anything…. But we must give up the Esthonia…. No risks now….
“…. All goes well. The loss of memory is vexing. It cannot be a fake. No girl could deceive ME!…
“…The 29th…. That is very soon….” Mr. Carter paused.
“I will not read the details of the coup that was planned. But there are just two small entries that refer to the three of you. In the light of what happened they are interesting.
“… By inducing the girl to come to me of her own accord, I have succeeded in disarming her. But she has intuitive flashes that might be dangerous…. She must be got out of the way…. I can do nothing with the American. He suspects and dislikes me. But he cannot know. I fancy my armour is impregnable…. Sometimes I fear I have underestimated the other boy. He is not clever, but it is hard to blind his eyes to facts….”
Mr. Carter shut the book.
“A great man,” he said. “Genius, or insanity, who can say?”
There was silence.
Then Mr. Carter rose to his feet.
“I will give you a toast. The Joint Venture which has so amply justified itself by success!”
It was drunk with acclamation.
“There’s something more we want to hear,” continued Mr. Carter. He looked at the American Ambassador. “I speak for you also, I know. We’ll ask Miss Jane Finn to tell us the story that only Miss Tuppence has heard so far—but before we do so we’ll drink her health. The health of one of the bravest of America’s daughters, to whom is due the thanks and gratitude of two great countries!”
CHAPTER XXVIII. AND AFTER
“THAT was a mighty good toast, Jane,” said Mr. Hersheimmer, as he and his cousin were being driven back in the Rolls-Royce to the Ritz.
“The one to the joint venture?”
“No—the one to you. There isn’t another girl in the world who could have carried it through as you did. You were just wonderful!”
Jane shook her head.
“I don’t feel wonderful. At heart I’m just tired and lonesome—and longing for my own country.”
“That brings me to something I wanted to say. I heard the Ambassador telling you his wife hoped you would come to them at the Embassy right away. That’s good enough, but I’ve got another plan. Jane—I want you to marry me! Don’t get scared and say no at once. You can’t love me right away, of course, that’s impossible. But I’ve loved you from the very moment I set eyes on your photo—and now I’ve seen you I’m simply crazy about you! If you’ll only marry me, I won’t worry you any—you shall take your own time. Maybe you’ll never come to love me, and if that’s the case I’ll manage to set you free. But I want the right to look after you, and take care of you.”
“That’s what I want,” said the girl wistfully. “Some one who’ll be good to me. Oh, you don’t know how lonesome I feel!”
“Sure thing I do. Then I guess that’s all fixed up, and I’ll see the archbishop about a special license to-morrow morning.”
“Well, I don’t want to hustle you any, Jane, but there’s no sense in waiting about. Don’t be scared—I shan’t expect you to love me all at once.”
But a small hand was slipped into his.
“I love you now, Julius,” said Jane Finn. “I loved you that first moment in the car when the bullet grazed your cheek….”
Five minutes later Jane murmured softly:
“I don’t know London very well, Julius, but is it such a very long way from the Savoy to the Ritz?”
“It depends how you go,” explained Julius unblushingly. “We’re going by way of Regent’s Park!”
“Oh, Julius—what will the chauffeur think?”
“At the wages I pay him, he knows better than to do any independent thinking. Why, Jane, the only reason I had the supper at the Savoy was so that I could drive you home. I didn’t see how I was ever going to get hold of you alone. You and Tuppence have been sticking together like Siamese twins. I guess another day of it would have driven me and Beresford stark staring mad!”
“Oh. Is he——?”
“Of course he is. Head over ears.”
“I thought so,” said Jane thoughtfully.
“From all the things Tuppence didn’t say!”
“There you have me beat,” said Mr. Hersheimmer. But Jane only laughed.
In the meantime, the Young Adventurers were sitting bolt upright, very stiff and ill at ease, in a taxi which, with a singular lack of originality, was also returning to the Ritz via Regent’s Park.
A terrible constraint seemed to have settled down between them. Without quite knowing what had happened, everything seemed changed. They were tongue-tied—paralysed. All the old camaraderie was gone.
Tuppence could think of nothing to say.
Tommy was equally afflicted.
They sat very straight and forbore to look at each other.
At last Tuppence made a desperate effort.
“Rather fun, wasn’t it?”
“I like Julius,” essayed Tuppence again.
Tommy was suddenly galvanized into life.
“You’re not going to marry him, do you hear?” he said dictatorially. “I forbid it.”
“Oh!” said Tuppence meekly.
“Absolutely, you understand.”
“He doesn’t want to marry me—he really only asked me out of kindness.”
“That’s not very likely,” scoffed Tommy.
“It’s quite true. He’s head over ears in love with Jane. I expect he’s proposing to her now.”
“She’ll do for him very nicely,” said Tommy condescendingly.
“Don’t you think she’s the most lovely creature you’ve ever seen?”
“Oh, I dare say.”
“But I suppose you prefer sterling worth,” said Tuppence demurely.
“I—oh, dash it all, Tuppence, you know!”
“I like your uncle, Tommy,” said Tuppence, hastily creating a diversion. “By the way, what are you going to do, accept Mr. Carter’s offer of a Government job, or accept Julius’s invitation and take a richly remunerated post in America on his ranch?”
“I shall stick to the old ship, I think, though it’s awfully good of Hersheimmer. But I feel you’d be more at home in London.”
“I don’t see where I come in.”
“I do,” said Tommy positively.
Tuppence stole a glance at him sideways.
“There’s the money, too,” she observed thoughtfully.
“We’re going to get a cheque each. Mr. Carter told me so.”
“Did you ask how much?” inquired Tommy sarcastically.
“Yes,” said Tuppence triumphantly. “But I shan’t tell you.”
“Tuppence, you are the limit!”
“It has been fun, hasn’t it, Tommy? I do hope we shall have lots more adventures.”
“You’re insatiable, Tuppence. I’ve had quite enough adventures for the present.”
“Well, shopping is almost as good,” said Tuppence dreamily. “Think of buying old furniture, and bright carpets, and futurist silk curtains, and a polished dining-table, and a divan with lots of cushions.”
“Hold hard,” said Tommy. “What’s all this for?”
“Possibly a house—but I think a flat.”
“You think I mind saying it, but I don’t in the least! OURS, so there!”
“You darling!” cried Tommy, his arms tightly round her. “I was determined to make you say it. I owe you something for the relentless way you’ve squashed me whenever I’ve tried to be sentimental.”
Tuppence raised her face to his. The taxi proceeded on its course round the north side of Regent’s Park.
“You haven’t really proposed now,” pointed out Tuppence. “Not what our grandmothers would call a proposal. But after listening to a rotten one like Julius’s, I’m inclined to let you off.”
“You won’t be able to get out of marrying me, so don’t you think it.”
“What fun it will be,” responded Tuppence. “Marriage is called all sorts of things, a haven, and a refuge, and a crowning glory, and a state of bondage, and lots more. But do you know what I think it is?”
“And a damned good sport too,” said Tommy.