Between them Sir James and Tuppence lifted Mrs. Vandemeyer and carried her to the bed. There they dashed water on her face, but with no result. The lawyer fingered her pulse.
"Touch and go," he muttered. "I wish that young fellow would hurry up with the brandy."
At that moment Julius re-entered the room, carrying a glass half full of the spirit which he handed to Sir James. While Tuppence lifted her head the lawyer tried to force a little of the spirit between her closed lips. Finally the woman opened her eyes feebly. Tuppence held the glass to her lips.
Mrs. Vandemeyer complied. The brandy brought the colour back to her white cheeks, and revived her in a marvellous fashion. She tried to sit up—then fell back with a groan, her hand to her side.
"It's my heart," she whispered. "I mustn't talk."
She lay back with closed eyes.
Sir James kept his finger on her wrist a minute longer, then withdrew it with a nod.
"She'll do now."
All three moved away, and stood together talking in low voices. One and all were conscious of a certain feeling of anticlimax. Clearly any scheme for cross-questioning the lady was out of the question for the moment. For the time being they were baffled, and could do nothing.
Tuppence related how Mrs. Vandemeyer had declared herself willing to disclose the identity of Mr. Brown, and how she had consented to discover and reveal to them the whereabouts of Jane Finn. Julius was congratulatory.
"That's all right, Miss Tuppence. Splendid! I guess that hundred thousand pounds will look just as good in the morning to the lady as it did over night. There's nothing to worry over. She won't speak without the cash anyway, you bet!"
There was certainly a good deal of common sense in this, and Tuppence felt a little comforted.
"What you say is true," said Sir James meditatively. "I must confess, however, that I cannot help wishing we had not interrupted at the minute we did. Still, it cannot be helped, it is only a matter of waiting until the morning."
He looked across at the inert figure on the bed. Mrs. Vandemeyer lay perfectly passive with closed eyes. He shook his head.
"Well," said Tuppence, with an attempt at cheerfulness, "we must wait until the morning, that's all. But I don't think we ought to leave the flat."
"What about leaving that bright boy of yours on guard?"
"Albert? And suppose she came round again and hooked it. Albert couldn't stop her."
"I guess she won't want to make tracks away from the dollars."
"She might. She seemed very frightened of 'Mr. Brown.'"
"What? Real plumb scared of him?"
"Yes. She looked round and said even walls had ears."
"Maybe she meant a dictaphone," said Julius with interest.
"Miss Tuppence is right," said Sir James quietly. "We must not leave the flat—if only for Mrs. Vandemeyer's sake."
Julius stared at him.
"You think he'd get after her? Between now and to-morrow morning. How could he know, even?"
"You forget your own suggestion of a dictaphone," said Sir James dryly. "We have a very formidable adversary. I believe, if we exercise all due care, that there is a very good chance of his being delivered into our hands. But we must neglect no precaution. We have an important witness, but she must be safeguarded. I would suggest that Miss Tuppence should go to bed, and that you and I, Mr. Hersheimmer, should share the vigil."
Tuppence was about to protest, but happening to glance at the bed she saw Mrs. Vandemeyer, her eyes half-open, with such an expression of mingled fear and malevolence on her face that it quite froze the words on her lips.
For a moment she wondered whether the faint and the heart attack had been a gigantic sham, but remembering the deadly pallor she could hardly credit the supposition. As she looked the expression disappeared as by magic, and Mrs. Vandemeyer lay inert and motionless as before. For a moment the girl fancied she must have dreamt it. But she determined nevertheless to be on the alert.
"Well," said Julius, "I guess we'd better make a move out of here any way."
The others fell in with his suggestion. Sir James again felt Mrs. Vandemeyer's pulse.
"Perfectly satisfactory," he said in a low voice to Tuppence. "She'll be absolutely all right after a night's rest."
The girl hesitated a moment by the bed. The intensity of the expression she had surprised had impressed her powerfully. Mrs. Vandemeyer lifted her lids. She seemed to be struggling to speak. Tuppence bent over her.
"Don't—leave——" she seemed unable to proceed, murmuring something that sounded like "sleepy." Then she tried again.
Tuppence bent lower still. It was only a breath.
"Mr.—Brown——" The voice stopped.
But the half-closed eyes seemed still to send an agonized message.
Moved by a sudden impulse, the girl said quickly:
"I shan't leave the flat. I shall sit up all night."
A flash of relief showed before the lids descended once more. Apparently Mrs. Vandemeyer slept. But her words had awakened a new uneasiness in Tuppence. What had she meant by that low murmur: "Mr. Brown?" Tuppence caught herself nervously looking over her shoulder. The big wardrobe loomed up in a sinister fashion before her eyes. Plenty of room for a man to hide in that.... Half-ashamed of herself, Tuppence pulled it open and looked inside. No one—of course! She stooped down and looked under the bed. There was no other possible hiding-place.
Tuppence gave her familiar shake of the shoulders. It was absurd, this giving way to nerves! Slowly she went out of the room. Julius and Sir James were talking in a low voice. Sir James turned to her.
"Lock the door on the outside, please, Miss Tuppence, and take out the key. There must be no chance of anyone entering that room."
The gravity of his manner impressed them, and Tuppence felt less ashamed of her attack of "nerves."
"Say," remarked Julius suddenly, "there's Tuppence's bright boy. I guess I'd better go down and ease his young mind. That's some lad, Tuppence."
"How did you get in, by the way?" asked Tuppence suddenly. "I forgot to ask."
"Well, Albert got me on the phone all right. I ran round for Sir James here, and we came right on. The boy was on the look out for us, and was just a mite worried about what might have happened to you. He'd been listening outside the door of the flat, but couldn't hear anything. Anyhow he suggested sending us up in the coal lift instead of ringing the bell. And sure enough we landed in the scullery and came right along to find you. Albert's still below, and must be just hopping mad by this time." With which Julius departed abruptly.
"Now then, Miss Tuppence," said Sir James, "you know this place better than I do. Where do you suggest we should take up our quarters?"
Tuppence considered for a moment or two.
"I think Mrs. Vandemeyer's boudoir would be the most comfortable," she said at last, and led the way there.
Sir James looked round approvingly.
"This will do very well, and now, my dear young lady, do go to bed and get some sleep."
Tuppence shook her head resolutely.
"I couldn't, thank you, Sir James. I should dream of Mr. Brown all night!"
"But you'll be so tired, child."
"No, I shan't. I'd rather stay up—really."
The lawyer gave in.
Julius reappeared some minutes later, having reassured Albert and rewarded him lavishly for his services. Having in his turn failed to persuade Tuppence to go to bed, he said decisively:
"At any rate, you've got to have something to eat right away. Where's the larder?"
Tuppence directed him, and he returned in a few minutes with a cold pie and three plates.
After a hearty meal, the girl felt inclined to pooh-pooh her fancies of half an hour before. The power of the money bribe could not fail.
"And now, Miss Tuppence," said Sir James, "we want to hear your adventures."
"That's so," agreed Julius.
Tuppence narrated her adventures with some complacence. Julius occasionally interjected an admiring "Bully." Sir James said nothing until she had finished, when his quiet "well done, Miss Tuppence," made her flush with pleasure.
"There's one thing I don't get clearly," said Julius. "What put her up to clearing out?"
"I don't know," confessed Tuppence.
Sir James stroked his chin thoughtfully.
"The room was in great disorder. That looks as though her flight was unpremeditated. Almost as though she got a sudden warning to go from some one."
"Mr. Brown, I suppose," said Julius scoffingly.
The lawyer looked at him deliberately for a minute or two.
"Why not?" he said. "Remember, you yourself have once been worsted by him."
Julius flushed with vexation.
"I feel just mad when I think of how I handed out Jane's photograph to him like a lamb. Gee, if I ever lay hands on it again, I'll freeze on to it like—like hell!"
"That contingency is likely to be a remote one," said the other dryly.
"I guess you're right," said Julius frankly. "And, in any case, it's the original I'm out after. Where do you think she can be, Sir James?"
The lawyer shook his head.
"Impossible to say. But I've a very good idea where she has been."
"You have? Where?"
Sir James smiled.
"At the scene of your nocturnal adventures, the Bournemouth nursing home."
"There? Impossible. I asked."
"No, my dear sir, you asked if anyone of the name of Jane Finn had been there. Now, if the girl had been placed there it would almost certainly be under an assumed name."
"Bully for you," cried Julius. "I never thought of that!"
"It was fairly obvious," said the other.
"Perhaps the doctor's in it too," suggested Tuppence.
Julius shook his head.
"I don't think so. I took to him at once. No, I'm pretty sure Dr. Hall's all right."
"Hall, did you say?" asked Sir James. "That is curious—really very curious."
"Why?" demanded Tuppence.
"Because I happened to meet him this morning. I've known him slightly on and off for some years, and this morning I ran across him in the street. Staying at the Metropole, he told me." He turned to Julius. "Didn't he tell you he was coming up to town?"
Julius shook his head.
"Curious," mused Sir James. "You did not mention his name this afternoon, or I would have suggested your going to him for further information with my card as introduction."
"I guess I'm a mutt," said Julius with unusual humility. "I ought to have thought of the false name stunt."
"How could you think of anything after falling out of that tree?" cried Tuppence. "I'm sure anyone else would have been killed right off."
"Well, I guess it doesn't matter now, anyway," said Julius. "We've got Mrs. Vandemeyer on a string, and that's all we need."
"Yes," said Tuppence, but there was a lack of assurance in her voice.
A silence settled down over the party. Little by little the magic of the night began to gain a hold on them. There were sudden creaks of the furniture, imperceptible rustlings in the curtains. Suddenly Tuppence sprang up with a cry.
"I can't help it. I know Mr. Brown's somewhere in the flat! I can FEEL him."
"Sure, Tuppence, how could he be? This door's open into the hall. No one could have come in by the front door without our seeing and hearing him."
"I can't help it. I FEEL he's here!"
She looked appealingly at Sir James, who replied gravely:
"With due deference to your feelings, Miss Tuppence (and mine as well for that matter), I do not see how it is humanly possible for anyone to be in the flat without our knowledge."
The girl was a little comforted by his wards.
"Sitting up at night is always rather jumpy," she confessed.
"Yes," said Sir James. "We are in the condition of people holding a seance. Perhaps if a medium were present we might get some marvellous results."
"Do you believe in spiritualism?" asked Tuppence, opening her eyes wide.
The lawyer shrugged his shoulders.
"There is some truth in it, without a doubt. But most of the testimony would not pass muster in the witness-box."
The hours drew on. With the first faint glimmerings of dawn, Sir James drew aside the curtains. They beheld, what few Londoners see, the slow rising of the sun over the sleeping city. Somehow, with the coming of the light, the dreads and fancies of the past night seemed absurd. Tuppence's spirits revived to the normal.
"Hooray!" she said. "It's going to be a gorgeous day. And we shall find Tommy. And Jane Finn. And everything will be lovely. I shall ask Mr. Carter if I can't be made a Dame!"
At seven o'clock Tuppence volunteered to go and make some tea. She returned with a tray, containing the teapot and four cups.
"Who's the other cup for?" inquired Julius.
"The prisoner, of course. I suppose we might call her that?"
"Taking her tea seems a kind of anticlimax to last night," said Julius thoughtfully.
"Yes, it does," admitted Tuppence. "But, anyway, here goes. Perhaps you'd both come, too, in case she springs on me, or anything. You see, we don't know what mood she'll wake up in."
Sir James and Julius accompanied her to the door.
"Where's the key? Oh, of course, I've got it myself."
She put it in the lock, and turned it, then paused.
"Supposing, after all, she's escaped?" she murmured in a whisper.
"Plumb impossible," replied Julius reassuringly.
But Sir James said nothing.
Tuppence drew a long breath and entered. She heaved a sigh of relief as she saw that Mrs. Vandemeyer was lying on the bed.
"Good morning," she remarked cheerfully. "I've brought you some tea."
Mrs. Vandemeyer did not reply. Tuppence put down the cup on the table by the bed and went across to draw up the blinds. When she turned, Mrs. Vandemeyer still lay without a movement. With a sudden fear clutching at her heart, Tuppence ran to the bed. The hand she lifted was cold as ice.... Mrs. Vandemeyer would never speak now....
Her cry brought the others. A very few minutes sufficed. Mrs. Vandemeyer was dead—must have been dead some hours. She had evidently died in her sleep.
"If that isn't the cruellest luck," cried Julius in despair.
The lawyer was calmer, but there was a curious gleam in his eyes.
"If it is luck," he replied.
"You don't think—but, say, that's plumb impossible—no one could have got in."
"No," admitted the lawyer. "I don't see how they could. And yet—she is on the point of betraying Mr. Brown, and—she dies. Is it only chance?"
"Yes, HOW! That is what we must find out." He stood there silently, gently stroking his chin. "We must find out," he said quietly, and Tuppence felt that if she was Mr. Brown she would not like the tone of those simple words.
Julius's glance went to the window.
"The window's open," he remarked. "Do you think——"
Tuppence shook her head.
"The balcony only goes along as far as the boudoir. We were there."
"He might have slipped out——" suggested Julius.
But Sir James interrupted him.
"Mr. Brown's methods are not so crude. In the meantime we must send for a doctor, but before we do so, is there anything in this room that might be of value to us?"
Hastily, the three searched. A charred mass in the grate indicated that Mrs. Vandemeyer had been burning papers on the eve of her flight. Nothing of importance remained, though they searched the other rooms as well.
"There's that," said Tuppence suddenly, pointing to a small, old-fashioned safe let into the wall. "It's for jewellery, I believe, but there might be something else in it."
The key was in the lock, and Julius swung open the door, and searched inside. He was some time over the task.
"Well," said Tuppence impatiently.
There was a pause before Julius answered, then he withdrew his head and shut to the door.
"Nothing," he said.
In five minutes a brisk young doctor arrived, hastily summoned. He was deferential to Sir James, whom he recognized.
"Heart failure, or possibly an overdose of some sleeping-draught." He sniffed. "Rather an odour of chloral in the air."
Tuppence remembered the glass she had upset. A new thought drove her to the washstand. She found the little bottle from which Mrs. Vandemeyer had poured a few drops.
It had been three parts full. Now—IT WAS EMPTY.
CHAPTER XIV. A CONSULTATION
NOTHING was more surprising and bewildering to Tuppence than the ease and simplicity with which everything was arranged, owing to Sir James's skilful handling. The doctor accepted quite readily the theory that Mrs. Vandemeyer had accidentally taken an overdose of chloral. He doubted whether an inquest would be necessary. If so, he would let Sir James know. He understood that Mrs. Vandemeyer was on the eve of departure for abroad, and that the servants had already left? Sir James and his young friends had been paying a call upon her, when she was suddenly stricken down and they had spent the night in the flat, not liking to leave her alone. Did they know of any relatives? They did not, but Sir James referred him to Mrs. Vandemeyer's solicitor.
Shortly afterwards a nurse arrived to take charge, and the other left the ill-omened building.
"And what now?" asked Julius, with a gesture of despair. "I guess we're down and out for good."
Sir James stroked his chin thoughtfully.
"No," he said quietly. "There is still the chance that Dr. Hall may be able to tell us something."
"Gee! I'd forgotten him."
"The chance is slight, but it must not be neglected. I think I told you that he is staying at the Metropole. I should suggest that we call upon him there as soon as possible. Shall we say after a bath and breakfast?"
It was arranged that Tuppence and Julius should return to the Ritz, and call for Sir James in the car. This programme was faithfully carried out, and a little after eleven they drew up before the Metropole. They asked for Dr. Hall, and a page-boy went in search of him. In a few minutes the little doctor came hurrying towards them.
"Can you spare us a few minutes, Dr. Hall?" said Sir James pleasantly. "Let me introduce you to Miss Cowley. Mr. Hersheimmer, I think, you already know."
A quizzical gleam came into the doctor's eye as he shook hands with Julius.
"Ah, yes, my young friend of the tree episode! Ankle all right, eh?"
"I guess it's cured owing to your skilful treatment, doc."
"And the heart trouble? Ha ha!"
"Still searching," said Julius briefly.
"To come to the point, can we have a word with you in private?" asked Sir James.
"Certainly. I think there is a room here where we shall be quite undisturbed."
He led the way, and the others followed him. They sat down, and the doctor looked inquiringly at Sir James.
"Dr. Hall, I am very anxious to find a certain young lady for the purpose of obtaining a statement from her. I have reason to believe that she has been at one time or another in your establishment at Bournemouth. I hope I am transgressing no professional etiquette in questioning you on the subject?"
"I suppose it is a matter of testimony?"
Sir James hesitated a moment, then he replied:
"I shall be pleased to give you any information in my power. What is the young lady's name? Mr. Hersheimmer asked me, I remember——" He half turned to Julius.
"The name," said Sir James bluntly, "is really immaterial. She would be almost certainly sent to you under an assumed one. But I should like to know if you are acquainted with a Mrs. Vandemeyer?"
"Mrs. Vandemeyer, of 20 South Audley Mansions? I know her slightly."
"You are not aware of what has happened?"
"What do you mean?"
"You do not know that Mrs. Vandemeyer is dead?"
"Dear, dear, I had no idea of it! When did it happen?"
"She took an overdose of chloral last night."
"Accidentally, it is believed. I should not like to say myself. Anyway, she was found dead this morning."
"Very sad. A singularly handsome woman. I presume she was a friend of yours, since you are acquainted with all these details."
"I am acquainted with the details because—well, it was I who found her dead."
"Indeed," said the doctor, starting.
"Yes," said Sir James, and stroked his chin reflectively.
"This is very sad news, but you will excuse me if I say that I do not see how it bears on the subject of your inquiry?"
"It bears on it in this way, is it not a fact that Mrs. Vandemeyer committed a young relative of hers to your charge?"
Julius leaned forward eagerly.
"That is the case," said the doctor quietly.
"Under the name of——?"
"Janet Vandemeyer. I understood her to be a niece of Mrs. Vandemeyer's."
"And she came to you?"
"As far as I can remember in June or July of 1915."
"Was she a mental case?"
"She is perfectly sane, if that is what you mean. I understood from Mrs. Vandemeyer that the girl had been with her on the Lusitania when that ill-fated ship was sunk, and had suffered a severe shock in consequence."
"We're on the right track, I think?" Sir James looked round.
"As I said before, I'm a mutt!" returned Julius.
The doctor looked at them all curiously.
"You spoke of wanting a statement from her," he said. "Supposing she is not able to give one?"
"What? You have just said that she is perfectly sane."
"So she is. Nevertheless, if you want a statement from her concerning any events prior to May 7, 1915, she will not be able to give it to you."
They looked at the little man, stupefied. He nodded cheerfully.
"It's a pity," he said. "A great pity, especially as I gather, Sir James, that the matter is important. But there it is, she can tell you nothing."
"But why, man? Darn it all, why?"
The little man shifted his benevolent glance to the excited young American.
"Because Janet Vandemeyer is suffering from a complete loss of memory."
"Quite so. An interesting case, a very interesting case. Not so uncommon, really, as you would think. There are several very well known parallels. It's the first case of the kind that I've had under my own personal observation, and I must admit that I've found it of absorbing interest." There was something rather ghoulish in the little man's satisfaction.
"And she remembers nothing," said Sir James slowly.
"Nothing prior to May 7, 1915. After that date her memory is as good as yours or mine."
"Then the first thing she remembers?"
"Is landing with the survivors. Everything before that is a blank. She did not know her own name, or where she had come from, or where she was. She couldn't even speak her own tongue."
"But surely all this is most unusual?" put in Julius.
"No, my dear sir. Quite normal under the circumstances. Severe shock to the nervous system. Loss of memory proceeds nearly always on the same lines. I suggested a specialist, of course. There's a very good man in Paris—makes a study of these cases—but Mrs. Vandemeyer opposed the idea of publicity that might result from such a course."
"I can imagine she would," said Sir James grimly.
"I fell in with her views. There is a certain notoriety given to these cases. And the girl was very young—nineteen, I believe. It seemed a pity that her infirmity should be talked about—might damage her prospects. Besides, there is no special treatment to pursue in such cases. It is really a matter of waiting."
"Yes, sooner or later, the memory will return—as suddenly as it went. But in all probability the girl will have entirely forgotten the intervening period, and will take up life where she left off—at the sinking of the Lusitania."
"And when do you expect this to happen?"
The doctor shrugged his shoulders.
"Ah, that I cannot say. Sometimes it is a matter of months, sometimes it has been known to be as long as twenty years! Sometimes another shock does the trick. One restores what the other took away."
"Another shock, eh?" said Julius thoughtfully.
"Exactly. There was a case in Colorado——" The little man's voice trailed on, voluble, mildly enthusiastic.
Julius did not seem to be listening. He had relapsed into his own thoughts and was frowning. Suddenly he came out of his brown study, and hit the table such a resounding bang with his fist that every one jumped, the doctor most of all.
"I've got it! I guess, doc, I'd like your medical opinion on the plan I'm about to outline. Say Jane was to cross the herring pond again, and the same thing was to happen. The submarine, the sinking ship, every one to take to the boats—and so on. Wouldn't that do the trick? Wouldn't it give a mighty big bump to her subconscious self, or whatever the jargon is, and start it functioning again right away?"
"A very interesting speculation, Mr. Hersheimmer. In my own opinion, it would be successful. It is unfortunate that there is no chance of the conditions repeating themselves as you suggest."
"Not by nature, perhaps, doc. But I'm talking about art."
"Why, yes. What's the difficulty? Hire a liner——"
"A liner!" murmured Dr. Hall faintly.
"Hire some passengers, hire a submarine—that's the only difficulty, I guess. Governments are apt to be a bit hidebound over their engines of war. They won't sell to the firstcomer. Still, I guess that can be got over. Ever heard of the word 'graft,' sir? Well, graft gets there every time! I reckon that we shan't really need to fire a torpedo. If every one hustles round and screams loud enough that the ship is sinking, it ought to be enough for an innocent young girl like Jane. By the time she's got a life-belt on her, and is being hustled into a boat, with a well-drilled lot of artistes doing the hysterical stunt on deck, why—she ought to be right back where she was in May, 1915. How's that for the bare outline?"
Dr. Hall looked at Julius. Everything that he was for the moment incapable of saying was eloquent in that look.
"No," said Julius, in answer to it, "I'm not crazy. The thing's perfectly possible. It's done every day in the States for the movies. Haven't you seen trains in collision on the screen? What's the difference between buying up a train and buying up a liner? Get the properties and you can go right ahead!"
Dr. Hall found his voice.
"But the expense, my dear sir." His voice rose. "The expense! It will be COLOSSAL!"
"Money doesn't worry me any," explained Julius simply.
Dr. Hall turned an appealing face to Sir James, who smiled slightly.
"Mr. Hersheimmer is very well off—very well off indeed."
The doctor's glance came back to Julius with a new and subtle quality in it. This was no longer an eccentric young fellow with a habit of falling off trees. The doctor's eyes held the deference accorded to a really rich man.
"Very remarkable plan. Very remarkable," he murmured. "The movies—of course! Your American word for the kinema. Very interesting. I fear we are perhaps a little behind the times over here in our methods. And you really mean to carry out this remarkable plan of yours."
"You bet your bottom dollar I do."
The doctor believed him—which was a tribute to his nationality. If an Englishman had suggested such a thing, he would have had grave doubts as to his sanity.
"I cannot guarantee a cure," he pointed out. "Perhaps I ought to make that quite clear."
"Sure, that's all right," said Julius. "You just trot out Jane, and leave the rest to me."
"Miss Janet Vandemeyer, then. Can we get on the long distance to your place right away, and ask them to send her up; or shall I run down and fetch her in my car?"
The doctor stared.
"I beg your pardon, Mr. Hersheimmer. I thought you understood."
"That Miss Vandemeyer is no longer under my care."
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.